Miami's nitty-gritty street party - Calle Ocho!

Calle Ocho is a traditional festival in Miami. It takes place on a single street, 8th of course, but the party extends for what seems to be miles. I walked at least a mile from where I left my bicycle to as far as I wanted to go knowing I had to cover the same distance back. Calle Ocho is an event for local Miamians. It's not designed to attract tourism, book hotel rooms, benefit exclusive sponsors or exclude anyone. It's free and the local businesses along Calle Ocho do their best to lure the crowd off the street. That means open Capitalism and that means cheap beer! The music is all "Miami"- Latin hip-hop; reggaeton and some side stages with traditional samba, soca, salsa, marimba...I get them all mixed up. But most of the music isn't "booked" and hardly any of the other entertainment is either.

A little band on the sidewalk outside a dollar store is playin' it back. Salsa I think. And couples dripping with sweat - dancing so classically, flawlessly. Just simple folks in a neighborhood sprung from refugees - Cuban, Nicaraguan, Dominican, Colombian, Panamanian, Venezuelan... Think of what they or their parents fled. The most notorious dictators in recent history - Castro, Noriega, Chavez, Somoza, Ortega, Pinochet. Here are thousands of exotic people celebrating freedom with unbridled glee. You will not see it anywhere else in America. The atmosphere is itself liberating and everyone is uninhibited, as if they were releasing hundreds of years of repression. It's not all pretty, though. The Miami Police are out in full force. And, while the throngs of people are, for the most part, incredibly cool, things can heat up quickly among the macho.

A fight breaks out just a few yards in front of me. Two girls are mad over something and the crowd is egging them on. I feel such a disappointment in these people as I make my way toward the scuffle. Fists were flying when I get there and all I want to do is stop it. I help someone pull back one of the girls. Soon the police are on the scene. Eight or ten of them bust through the blood-thirsty crowd and aggressively halt the melee. I'll never understand the pack mentality.

Moving up the street I see to the right and left spontaneous sideshows taking place. There are about a dozen people tightly surrounding a girl who's dancing. She's shaking her money-maker and lifting her skirt to reveal her thong, already stuck with plenty of dollar bills!

Later on, I need some cash and find a bank without a long line. Sitting on the ground in front of the ATM is a huge Creole mama, bosom bared and breastfeeding a baby. I step over her legs to make my transaction. Something else you just won't see at a lot of public street parties!

I guess my favorite moment happened at one of the official stages, a small one sponsored by Radio Caracol, a popular Hispanic station in Miami. The celebrity DJ was adeptly emceeing a dance contest that came down to two finalists. Both girls happened to be from Venezuela. Contestant #4 from San Cristobal was a skinny, auburn-haired girl whose ability to jiggle her small butt by way of some mysterious energy transmitted through the balls of her feet made her a force to be reckoned with. Yet, her opponent was winning most of the applause. This filly from Caracas was well-bred, well-fed and well-endowed top-to-bottom. Nothing she wore disguised it. The girl from San Cristobal was feeling the underdog and for a moment seemed to accept the inevitable. But in the final turns she leaned on her only advantage and that thing she did with her ass prevailed! Victory over Caracas, sweet victory.

With so many remarkable sights and sounds now banked in my head, it is time to get back to my bike and peddle home. Another marvelous day in Miami. Keep it secret though. I wouldn't want this turning into another Mardi Gras.