Happy Birthday to Me

Dear Friends:

I’m so glad I had to cancel that trip to Amsterdam. Europe can wait. I just had the best birthday ever.

Saturday afternoon, Heather and I dragged our sleep-deprived asses to the airport and got on a plane to Charlotte, North Carolina.

No, come back! It gets better, I swear.

Our already late-night flight was delayed due to weather, so we spent four hours in Charlotte, which was exactly four more hours than we wanted to be there. I whined and fidgeted and complained until Heather told me to go away so she could read. I can say with assurance that I have seen every square inch of the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, from the cigar-store Indian with giant man-breasts to the Stock Car Cafe, and every women’s room and Starbucks in between. It’s not as big an achievement as it sounds.

Finally, our plane arrived and dumped its load of crotchety old people on their way back from Vegas into the airport, many of whom got back on the flight to Miami. I spent the next two hours hearing every single detail of one such woman’s worst vacation ever. Because it was my birthday, I decided to forgo smacking her, but I’ll admit that I did consider it once or twice.

We got to Miami at 2:15am, and Alex was there waiting at the gate. He drove us to the hotel, then showed us around South Beach, which was mobbed even in the middle of the night. I ate black beans and rice and fried plantains at a little Cuban restaurant at 4am, and laughed my ass off at the old waiter, who had it out for Heather. Alex introduced me to Cuban coffee (the cortadito in particular), which was probably a huge mistake on his part, as I’ve been jonesing for it ever since. After dinner, we went to the beach, because my plan was to watch the sun rise over the ocean. I wanted my own perfect 30th birthday moment. And that’s exactly what I got.

We walked back to the hotel. Alex, who had finished a 12-hour shift at 8pm that day, headed directly to work for another 12-hour shift. Heather and I went upstairs and slept for two hours, then headed to brunch. I ate the best gardenburger in the universe. Or half of it. The thing about Miami is, it’s hot. No, you don’t understand: it’s so fucking hot. And humid. You go outside and your clothes are immediately damp, and they never, ever dry as long as you stay outdoors. So you go inside, thinking you can dry off and cool down, but that’s a huge mistake. Everyone has the air conditioning on full-blast all the time, so the second you walk in, you become cold and clammy, and every passage between inside and out is a brush with pneumonia and your potential death. So, anyway. The other thing about the heat? You don’t want to eat. You want to drink iced coffee and sugar-free smoothies all day. Or maybe that’s just me.

The other thing about Miami, or South Beach in particular, is that everyone is beautiful. Even the ugly people. The women wear outfits so insubstantial they’re pointless. Everyone is in perfect shape, only you get the feeling it has nothing to do with being healthy, just looking good. So when you’re a pasty white Minnesotan wearing wrinkly, perpetually-damp clothing and running shoes on the high-fashion streets of South Beach, you might as well be something that escaped from the zoo.

After eating and wandering and gawking and shopping, I did the next logical thing: I got a tattoo.

I don’t know, it just seems like the right thing to do when you’re newly 30, recently liberated from regular employment, and on a 30-hour last-minute trip to a place with palm trees. Here’s the result:

With my arm wrapped fashionably in blue saran wrap and masking tape, we headed up to Lincoln Road, home of no less than one billion good restaurants and some really incredible people-watching at outdoor tables.

We had a late lunch, or half of lunch. By 4pm, the heat and humidity had reached levels previously unknown to Midwesterners. As I stood up from the table, I discovered that my entire right pants leg was wet from sitting with my legs crossed. We walked back to the hotel to rest and dry off. Heather decided to take a nap, but I was too deep in lack-of-sleep (at that point, I had slept 7 hours in the past 72) and caffeine consumption to even be able to sit down. I let my clothes dry for ten minutes, then put them back on, starting to regret my decision to only wear one outfit all weekend, because the only thing worse than hot, damp, clingy clothes is cold, damp, clingy clothes.

I walked over to check out the beach during the daytime, got more iced coffee, and headed up Ocean Drive. It had started to rain, but it’s not like it made any difference in the humidity. I wandered through dinner crowds at even more nice restaurants, watched girls dancing on tables in a club, managed to limit myself to just looking in the cute shops, stood and pondered the Versace mansion, and walked. And here’s observation #3 about Miami: people don’t walk there. They stroll. They amble. They sometimes even sashay. But they don’t walk. That, coupled with narrow, crowded sidewalks, is enough to drive a girl who’s always in a rush absolutely crazy.

I went back to the hotel in time for Alex’s return. He had come over directly from work, not having slept in almost two days. He took us to dinner at a place in Coconut Grove, where we shared a bunch of food and laughed like idiots. Afterwards, he drove us back to South Beach and dropped us off at the hotel, where it was finally time to sleep.

Monday morning, I was awakened at 6am by Heather banging on the phone, trying to get it to stop ringing for our wakeup call. I finally gave in and put on a different shirt. We packed up, checked out, and got a taxi to the airport. I was a little disappointed that we were flying something as bland as US Air, considering the many colorful alternatives offered in Miami, most of which I never knew existed, stuff like ‘Jamaica, Mon’, ‘

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