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Angry Birds, Violent Felines, Catfood Surfing In Miami

March 30th, 2016 · Tags:Arts · Cities · Hotels · Wi-Fi

Once again The Dirty Gig* provided a venue to keep a tradition alive.  A couple of years back, working in the housing projects of New York City, I shared with my inner city workers the magic of the tape ball — a fun little thing I picked up from a high school coach.  Well … the tape ball resurfaced recently in Miami, with a twist.  Each day on the job, I would meticulous tear off one-inch strips of tape.  Roll the pieces up, sticky side out, and then mash together the ends of that little tube.  Picture a smashed piece of macaroni.


To build a tape ball you repeat that process a couple of hundred times and pack the little “tape macaronis” together.  The new twist — I made a tape ball every day for a week or so, and awarded “a game ball” to the hardest worker each day.  It sounds silly and it is.  But you know what? Each day these adult workers would tell me they were going to get that game ball!  Others would ask whether or not a game ball would be awarded that day.  Oh it works … it creates fun and healthy competition and adds a little interest to a somewhat mundane job.  Ha … I even found makeshift “wannabe tapeballs around the job, made by unskilled hands who had not perfected the sticky-side-out, rolled up step one.  (Is any of this making sense?) Any who … it was a lot of fun and a good team building exercise.



On the more mind-numbing jobs, it helps to come up with fun things for the troops.  Sometimes I “make” the crew listen to novelty songs on my iPhone. On several occasions, I have used the Spanish-language classic  “Matador” by Cadillacs Fabuloso to get the blood pumping on the job. Also, sometimes I feel the need to turn these young guys on to broader musical horizons, and they blast rap music and its abundant N Word tirades from their headphones.  I think all of the group was impressed when I shared Fort Worth’s hot and trendy Leon Bridges … a glimpse of what R&B, soul music used to be …

This time, a very obscure song came to mind.  Keep in mind, in Miami my labor team is comprised of both inner city guys, Cubans, and other Latinos from various parts of the Southern Hemisphere.  To entertain this diverse demographic group, it would take the perfect song.  Well, I don’t know what the perfect song is, so I settled on “Chicken Train.”  No.  You shouldn’t know Chicken Train, it is a deep track as they say, from a band with only one or two minor hits.  Do you remember The Ozark Mountain Daredevils and their “If You Want To Get To Heaven” tune?  They also scored with a song called “Jackie Blue.”  I loved them, but to most, even their hits are obscure.  So, no one knows “Chicken Train” … except for me and about 15 Miami guys now.

Chicken Train is a bizarre mix of mountain folk rhythms, nasal singing for humor and unusual instrumentation, with even more strange lyrics.  The best way I can describe it — this must be what happens when hillbillies take acid.  There’s guys blowing into moonshine jugs for bass rhythms, bending and playing mouth bows, tapping together spoons or sticks, strumming guitars and making hoots and hollers … while the lyricist wails about his crazy dream … “The laser beam, in my dream … I can’t get on, I can’t get off … chicken train takes the chicken away.”  … Maybe you had to be there.

But I played it for the guys a couple of times and eventually it became kind of our battle cry or running joke, each day as we attacked the job.  If a worker was perceived to be slacking off, I would  chide them with “Hey … dontchu be fallin’ off dat chicken train.”  They would laugh at me … or maybe with me … and work harder.  From time to time, I would walk by, and in their most authentic sounding hillbilly voice, one of the guys would play call-and-response … calling out “Laser Beam?” And I would answer with my best hillbilly “In My Dream.”  Yes we were bored.  Soon, most of the workers were playing the little game.  But it took a while to spread.  At first, one of the workers said he didn’t know what that music was, but he was sure it had something to do with the KKK. They all laughed and hooted and joined in acting like they were running from the KKK and yelling “Chicken Train.”  I assured the workers that was not the case.  I would wager the Ozark Mountain Devils are probably as open minded and positive and creative people as you could hope to meet.  But … the unfounded KKK comment made the joke even sillier.

See for yourself.  Here, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils unleash “Chicken Train” on a British audience:

We had lots of fun on the job, even though most of the project was so repetitive and bordering on miserable.  We were packing, cleaning and unpacking thousands and thousands of books in a library in which the air conditioning had been turned off.  Cold water and mind games go a long way, under those conditions.

We always seem to play name games to.  Some guys came into the workplace already sporting nicknames.  Other left the job with new nicknames.  There was “Slo-Mo,” “Papa Smurf,” “Captain Louie,” “La Bamba,” TC, and perhaps everyone’s favorite “Angry Bird” a.k.a. “Big Bird.”  Ha … someone nicknamed Papa Smurf because he is a crazy, friendly, outgoing character although slightly height challenged.  Great sense of humor … and very much into old school funk and R&B and Motown music.  It was a magical moment, one day, when I handed him an empty trash bag.  He took it, looked at it, and said, “What’s this?”  I quoted the old James Brown song, “Papa’s got a brand new bag …”  He loved it. I digress …



Angry Bird’s real name is Ketrick, but everyone started calling him “Angry Bird” before we learned names, because he wore a hat with the cartoon-like computer game character on it.  I didn’t know what to think of Angry Bird at first, but you know what, he ended up being one of the better workers, right up until the last day, when other laborers had been sent home.  He worked hard, most of the time.  He is smart.  But most of all, he has a great attitude.  I would rather supervise a less-capable person with a good attitude — as oppose to a seasoned veteran with a bad attitude — any day of the week.  Late in the job, I noticed a couple of other people wore Angry Bird t-shirts and stuff … Was it a trend?  Was there a sale somewhere?  Did they want to be like the good worker?

So, Angry Bird worked so hard, not getting rich but making enough to get by, with thoughts of buying a car.  He rode a bicycle to work.  And it was a good bike … very attention getting, a bright yellow stunt bike.  Perhaps too noticeable.  On Good Friday, I noticed the bike chained to a picnic table just outside our workplace, as we all loaded up to have a farewell lunch.  As we got in our cars, a somewhat sketchy guy walked across campus, with a book pack, and sat down near the bike.  I watched him closely, and I thought for a second that he was going to whip out bolt cutters and take the bike then and there.  (Another colleague saw the stranger and thought he was one of our group and actually asked him if he was ready to go have lunch …)  We all saw this guy, and said, “You don’t think he’s going to  …?” (But then I always think I am such the detective …) Surely not.


I guess the group consensus was that there were too many eyes around for this guy to steal the bike in broad daylight.  Well … we had a great lunch, and went our separate ways.  I headed to the airport to return a rental car.  Angry Bird and friends returned to the college.  I got a call a few minutes later … the bike was gone.  What a scumbag!  The suspect, as I recall, is about 6-1, 155 pounds, with thin, long dreadlocks, and some gray in his beard and hair.  I bet he was in his mid-40s, but looked late 50s in his gaunt face from hard living, no doubt.  So much for the job being profitable for my friend.  But, I hear there may be a plan in place to replace the bike, if the Miami Police aren’t able to find it.  That was the last day of the job and sadly, how I will remember it.

Back in Texas now, reflecting on Miami and how quickly one month flew by … just a few observations.  Miami doesn’t have streets, or so it seems.  It has lots of little freeways with everyone driving as fast as their cars will go … until the next red light.  Good luck getting on a main street from a side street. Also, this is really bizarre, but numerous times I have noticed that the locals will pick their nose in the car … or anywhere in public for that matter, unabashedly, as if it was no big thing.  Ha … I saw some of the most beautiful women and most handsome guys just go at it.  Strange … methinks.  No, not everyone … but I saw this a lot.

But, once you get them out of their cars, Miamites are as friendly and courteous as anyone you will meet.  College kids open doors for each other and for strangers.  Oh this was a poignant moment: I was in the grocery store one day buying ice for the workplace, when a little old man in front of me fumbled through his wallet, trying to find a way to pay for his groceries.  With the help of the cashier, they tried several credit or debit cards. No dice.  He didn’t have enough cash.  I honestly think it was a “senior moment” which all of us will experience some day.  He looked so helpless … and lost … and beside himself.  I reach for my wallet but the the grocery sacker stepped in first, whipped out his own wallet and paid for the old man’s groceries.  I won’t lie.  It touched my heart. Then I looked down and smiled.  The old man’s cart was filled with just cat food.  Funny.

Speaking of catfood.  Did you know it is every bit as slippery as a banana on a sidewalk in a cartoon?  It is, and I proved it.  One day at lunch, sitting outside under the trees by the college coffee shop, my napkin blew away.  I stood up and found the nearest trash can and headed that way to discard  the trash.  WHOOPS! Someone pulled the rug out from under me … or so it seemed.  … Almost busted arse again, a would-be repeat performance considering my slip on black ice in Oklahoma on a job last year.  Somehow I pulled it together and didn’t plank.  I probably looked like I was playing Twister, without the game mat … (“Left hand yellow.  Right foot green …”) It hurt .. something stretched and something pulled and of course I was mostly embarrassed … looking around immediately to see if anyone had witnessed the catfood mishap.  Ha … The less-than-empathetic college kids were all smiling and holding up score cards.  I still wasn’t sure what had happened.  At first, I thought it was cat poo on my shoe.  But as I scraped my shoe on some tree roots and a pile of leaves, I didn’t pass out from the smell.  That’s when I realized it was Tender Victims … er Tender Vittles.  In my footprint, I could barely make out the outline of a fresh tin of cat food.  I wondered if the old man had planted it???

Darned cats … at this school, feral cats are everywhere. Which came first, the catfood land minds or the cats???  And these felines are pretty brazen. They don’t give a second thought to kids walking to class, or cars parking over their favorite napping place out int the parking lot.  Well … I must have been in a good mood despite the near death-by-catfood experience, because instead of setting traps for these beasts, I decided to have some fun with them.  The next day I brought them a treat that no one could trip on.  Have you ever played with a laser pointer and a few cats?  Ha … I had them all lining up and performing tricks and doing virtual search and rescue missions with the tiny bouncing red dot … out in the dark parking lot at 6 a.m.  A little bit of me wanted to coax them into the freeway – revenge for the cat food incident.  Just kidding. I didn’t.  I mean, it’s not their fault they are kept alive by dummies, or that I seem to go all “magic carpet ride”  and bust my tail about every six months these days.

OH … I am sure you heard the hoopla about the rock concert 90 miles south of this job site.  Yes.  The Rolling Stones, the first Western rock band to play in a somewhat-more-open Cuba.  Oh to have been there, despite the age of the band.  Such historical significance.  Among the more serious conversations I had on this job was a discussion with Rafael.  He and I had “talked” music for days.  He doesn’t speak a lick of English.  I am not much better with my Spanish.  But Rafael and I shared the universal language — rock ’n’ roll.  With the help of a co-worker/translator, Rafael had told me several times how much he loves rock ’n’ roll and that he is a drummer … he especially loves classic rock and also metal.  So after those initial conversations, Rafael might come up to me and just say, “Black Sabbath!,” to which I would respond, “Si. Bueno.”  A few hours would pass and Rafael would pop out from behind a book shelf and say, “Rush!,” to which I would say, “Muy Bueno.”  Ha! We went through the hard rock annals in this fashion, one word at a time … Doobie Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Triumph, Metallica, UFO, Genesis … and on and on.  When I struck up the conversation, I would say “Alice Cooper?” in an inquisitive tone … And Rafael would smile and gesture with outstretched arms to signify “definitely.” Each conversation was about as verbose as the previous:)

Ha … we also discussed (with an interpreter) that Rafael likes the sound of vinyl (LPs) better than digital music.  This conversation came to mind as I watched the new binge-worthy Vinyl on HBO … with many music characters making cameos in the show, including the above mentioned Alice Cooper who plays a cruel joke on a recording industry schmuck … I digress …

But, after the Rolling Stones show in Cuba — a concert event that probably upstaged President Obama’s controversial trip to Cuba — the journalist in me came alive, and I “interviewed” Rafael with he help of an interpreter.  It was really interesting.  He and his family had escaped the nightmares of the Castro regime … oppressive socialism and communism and political prisoners, and torture … fleeing to Honduras and then eventually working their way to The United States.  He had no kind or good words to say about the ruthless regime, not Fidel Castro nor his brother who took over the reins of the Communist country.  You know rock ’n’ roll was banned in Cuba, right?  Perhaps one of the reasons Rafael loves it so.  He talked of violence, oppression, cruelty, injustice … He said he didn’t like Fidel or his running buddy Che Guevara, despite the liberal media creating a lovable folk hero of the revolutionary Che.  “I don’t like Che Guevara.  He said if he could blow up The United States, he would.” Rafael was very adamant on all these opinions.  So … what about Obama “breaking bread” with the Communist Castros?  Rafael had mixed emotions.  He thought the gesture was too chummy with the dictators … but hoped that Obama’s visit would have a lasting effect and make things better for the Cuban people.  Rock on Rafael!

One last angry bird note … I was traveling on the Thunderbird one night in the dark, returning from Key West, headed to Miami.  It had been an uneventful ride … mostly because the speed limit out The Keys is 45, much of the way.  Finally, I hit the free way near Miami, when something hit me.  Up from the dark to the side, something cleared my bike’s windshield by about an inch.  INCOMING!  It was fast.  I barely ducked when I felt and heard a thud to my head.  Thank goodness for helmets.  A good size bird … perhaps an angry bird gave his life to take a shot at me.  It happened so fast, I didn’t see where he landed, but I imagined him cartwheeling over my head and landing somewhere on the back of the bike.  I assumed I probably had a splotch of blood and a new feathered headdress attached to my helmet … I rode on.  No head injury whatsoever … but a little jolt to the neck … perhaps for both of us.

In the Miami month, I only went to Miami Beach and South Beach a couple of times … mostly just rode through on the bike.  It was Spring Break and so crowded.  I pulled over once to visit South Beach’s Purple Lotus kava bar.  (See numerous kava bar references throughout this blog and on my Facebook …) Purple Lotus in Del Ray Beach was my first introduction to kava a few years back, before Austin, Texas got SquareRüt.  Ironically, a couple of guys I talked to at Purple Lotus had their first kava in Texas, at SquareRüt.  The Miami Purple Lots location was nice … kinda small … lots of  bamboo and tribal masks and served some smooth elixir from Vanuatu … had Wi-Fi too, I might add.

The one day I rode over to Biscayne Bay, the line of traffic was so long, that I eventually did a U-turn and headed to the popular, but less crowed Coconut Grove area.  My one day swimming in the ocean … like a salmon, I returned to one of my favorite places in the water.  At the southernmost tip of Key West, the southernmost tip of The United States is the southernmost beach in the U.S., — Zachary Taylor Beach.  Even though it was Spring Break, the place wasn’t overcrowded.   There is a nice little place where you can swim about 40 yards off shore and climb up on some rocks and watch the small waves crash.  I dig this. Had to repeat, an experience from 2003’s Wi-Fi Guy travel blog.  But it wasn’t easy.  I was traveling on the bike and didn’t want to park it near the beach.  I rode in jeans and didn’t want to change into a swimsuit in public for obvious reasons.  So, I paid for parking at the nearby Westin Hotel … snuck into a lobby restroom and changed clothes, asked if they would let me check my bag and did, then walked to the beach.


Crap.  I forgot there was a small admission to the beach area.  I promised the guard I would return later with money.  I had left my valuables at the hotel, about a mile away. The park ranger looked doubting, but let me in anyway.  After the swim, I walked quickly to the hotel.  The park was about to close.  I threw on warm clothes on a very hot day, and headed out of the garage.  Crud!  The parking gate ate my debit card!  I was stuck.  The gate wouldn’t open and Spring Breakers were lining up behind me, anxious to get out of the garage.  I called the attendant and a woman came out and purged my card from the entrails of the parking kiosk … and “We’ll let it slide,” she said.  Woohoo! … free parking, free changing room … free beach.  THAT is how PingWi-Fi rolls.  But, for the record, I hopped on the road, back to Zachary Taylor Beach, money in pocket to pay for my admission.  The guard was shocked I had returned.  “It’s what people are supposed to do,” I said … and he smiled, and wouldn’t accept the money.  Thanks man! … Another great memory … my Key West tradition at that tiny beach, a little off the beaten path …

Earlier that day, on the way south to Key West … I had just hit Marathon when it started pouring on me.  I pulled over and called an old buddy to invite him to lunch.  My old friend Ray is now the skipper of a nice sailboat, and the best I can tell he is living the life of Jimmy Buffet, for a lack of a better way to describe it.  Nice visit, although it was much too short.  I might just pass this way again.


Know what I sayin?

  • Editor’s note: The Dirty Gig is how I refer to jobs in the disaster recovery industry, the means to an end … the way  The blog is funded and the reason for this jumping around the globe.