Hurricanes and Cubano’s in Little Havana
This is a story I wrote toward the end of 2017 and found it recently while going through my many unfinished stories. Hope you like it.
Dateline Miami — Pacing back and forth in my hotel room, all I could think was, what in the fuck was I thinking? I’m still thinking it, and this was more than a year ago. Hey, maybe I’ll head down to the Caribbean. Huh? What? Hurricanes? Ah, no worries, I’ll be fine. Guess again, dummy. But on the other hand, suck it, Irma! Up yours, Jose!! Fuck, fuck, fuck……..
Where was I? Oh, yeah, the Jim Sloate hurricane tour. Yeah, that happened. It’s funny; after Irma passed through and missed the Bahamas, we thought we were good to go. Did I mention, FUCK YOU, IRMAAAA!? Yeah, Lauren and I figured we’d hit the beach and suck on a few rum punches, soak up some sun, and eat ourselves silly. As my conscious said, guess again, asshole. That bitch Irma slammed across the Caribbean, then went over and pissed all over Florida before evaporating in the press like an old porn star. Then, after Irma called it a day, that other ill-mannered dickhead Jose decided he’d join the party. Jose fucked up a little, though, and drank a little too much tequila and rum, spun out and hit the floor, pirouetting out into the Atlantic like a jet ski with a busted rudder.
So, awash with naive enthusiasm and believing that all the hurricanes had split town for the duration, we flew into Miami and got the news that another storm, this one named “Maria,” had decided to join the parade, only she was an entirely different type of meteorological beast. She went from a “tropical storm” to a Category 5 overnight. It was like, step aside, Irma and Jose, and let me show you how it’s done. This Maria, she was pissed off!
I did read up on hurricanes and found this nugget of African hurricane legend. Check it out: “The true meaning of the word Hurricane (Her-ricane), the spirit of the West African women who had been stolen, beaten, raped, murdered and thrown overboard the slave ships en route to enslaved lands. This is why all Hurricanes start at the same point, the exodus of West Africa, the post of the Atlantic slave trade, follow the routes of the former slave ships, and hit every stop where slaves were sold. All through the Caribbean and American coastline.”
Got that? Jim’s Notes version: “This is some serious shit that you don’t want to fuck with.” So I’m pacing my Miami hotel room, trying to figure out what in the hell we’re going to do with a huge storm coming our way. We have a few days to decide, but as long as we’re here, and Dorothy and Toto and the wicked witch of the southeast aren’t flying by the windows yet, we’re heading over to Little Havana, a neighborhood west of downtown Miami, to enjoy a Cubano and suck down a few cervezas while plotting our next move.
Acutely aware that we might have to bug out at any moment, we head straight to Miami’s best-known Cuban food joint: Versailles. If you ask any local about Cuban food in Miami, this is the name you’ll hear first. The place opened in 1971, and it’s definitely what Cuban food is all about. It took 25 minutes for our Uber to get us from our hotel to the restaurant and as we drove through the neighborhoods, evidence of Irma’s rampage could be seen everywhere. Every single house and building had piles of leaves, limbs, and random tree parts stacked up in front, ready to be scooped up before Maria could make new piles on top of the homes. Nothing like stacking up debris to have it fucking thrown right back at you!
We rolled up to Versailles, and it’s a sizable restaurant, with multiple large dining rooms filled with cafeteria style tables and chairs, and mirrored walls. A very focused and attentive maitre d’ met us at the door and escorted us to our table. As always, I’d done my research, and I knew exactly what I wanted. A waiter approached, and as I looked up at her, her name tag came into focus: Maria! Hold your breath, Sloate. The obvious dumb jokes floated up into consciousness, but, being of semi-sound mind, I decided against messing with my waiter.
We ordered Cuban cervezas, called “Hatuey” (named after a chief who fought the Spaniards in Cuba in 1512). Maria-the-waitress returned with iced mugs and beer and asked what we wanted to eat. Versailles is known for its Cuban sandwiches. The Cubano consists of a sourdough-type bread, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard, grilled in a contact press grill like a Panini. I’m a sweet, soft bread junkie (Hawaiian bread to be exact), so we ordered the “Midnight” – same as a traditional Cubano, but with a sweet, soft bread instead of a crusty, sour one.
Versailles has its shit together, operations-wise, I’ll say that for them. The sandwich appeared just minutes later, and I knew immediately that we’d come to the right place. The Cubano’s toasted dark brown outside shined, it’s gooey, oozing cheese reminding me of an old leather wallet with a melted white Hershey Bar in it. As I took a bite, all the flavors came into play. The soft crunch of the bread, the salty meat, the pop of a bright pickle, and the spiciness of neon-colored mustard. Oh, yes. As I took another hit off my Hatuey, I said to myself, “This is really, really good shit.” Fuck Maria (the hurricane) and all her relatives. At that moment, all was right with the world.
Unfortunately, we still had to decide what the hell we were going to do next – leave Miami in a day or risk getting stuck in a Category 5 storm in the Bahamas. We decided not to take a chance with the storm, but – what the shit – we traveled all the way to Miami, just to turn around and go back home? Fuck that noise. After cancelling our hotel and flight reservations and getting a full refund, we started discussing our options. We could fly to Europe, but then realized that all we’d packed were beach clothes. What about New York? Same deal. So, still enjoying my Cubano, I pulled out my iPad and started checking flights. After pondering our options for a while, we devised a plan to fly back to SFO, spend the night in the airport, and then fly out to Kona in the a.m. We could be poolside in the sun with cocktails in hand in less than 48 hours. Aloha! With our flights and hotel confirmed, we refocused our attention on our Cubanos.
Feeling happy and frisky again, I decided to share the joy with Maria (the waitress). “Hey, Maria, you seem really pissed off about something!” “What?” she said. “Maria the Hurricane! Are you as grumpy as she is? Haha.” Pausing for a moment, she responded, “Hey, Harvey the storm, do you hate people from Texas? Shut it and enjoy your sandwich. Oh, hey, can I get you another beer?”
Touché, Maria, touché – she stood there smirking, and I smiled back at her. I felt like a dumb white guy again, but I was giddy from the banter and happy knowing I had a beach chair waiting for me in the middle of a whole different ocean. Maria repeated her question: “Can I get you another beer? “ “No,” I said, “but can I get a Hurricane?”
If you enjoyed that story check out one I wrote on another on an incredible restaurant in San Francisco Boulevard .