Monthly Archives: July 2013

Making Life a Negative Split

The older you get, the slower you get, right? Not necessarily. In fact, I interviewed a guy who expected to die by age 60, but today at age 83 he is more active than ever. What happened?

Bob Beach, 83, decided in his thirties to start a new life.

Bob Beach, 83, decided in his thirties to start a new life.

He negative split.

In competitive swimming, a negative split means that the second half of your swim is faster than the first half. You give more and more effort to the point where you surpass the speed you had at the beginning.

Bob Beach did that with his life, and his profile appears here in the August issue of Swimmer magazine, the official publication of U.S. Masters Swimming (only members can access the full article). He is an inspiration and a true original.

The funniest bit about him is that he is a respected judge in Florida (it’s still possible in this state of strange decisions), and he likes to sleep in cars. Seriously, he travels the U.S. and the world and does not sleep in hotels or beds. He reclines and counts sheep in a classic Porsche (he owns two: one red, one blue).

“I’m only 5’6”,” said Beach by telephone. “To be honest, it’s very comfortable. It’s got contoured seats and I just put the seat back.”

Bob Beach's 2012 Christmas card shows his baby picture and recent adventures.

Bob Beach’s 2012 Christmas card shows his baby picture and recent adventures.

Around Christmastime, he compiles his annual adventures into a one-page photo collage. Here you can see the card from 2012. The card from 2009 shows him posing with women in costumes in disparate locations around the world, including one picture from Africa with the caption “Bobby with Ethiopian girlfriends.” They are taller than him.

Beach attributes his good health primarily to his twin decisions in his thirties to quit smoking and start swimming. He was not an athlete before, but he realized that he needed to change his lifestyle if he wanted to live a long life.

You can bet that today he woke up at 5:30 a.m. and swam nearly two miles in the pool–unless he is having one of his many adventures. One those days, he wakes up and starts driving.

Beach plans to keep going for decades. One of his Christmas cards made the prediction of living to 100 years old. If he makes it, and it looks like he certainly could, he will have achieved the ultimate negative split.

Digging Miami, Part II

As a follow-up to the book review, here are my Cliff Notes of Digging Miami’s interesting tidbits.

It is quite startling to read that the mouth of the Miami River has been occupied for at least 2,500 years, yet we still insist on saying that Columbus “discovered” America and Ponce de Leon founded Florida (this year marks 500 years, and publicity for tourism is in full swing). How can you discover something that has already been found?

The Miami Circle remains mysterious.

The Miami Circle remains mysterious.

Descriptions of the Tequesta people indicate that they were quite adept at living alongside the dual watery worlds of the swamp and the ocean, and Carr states that by canoe they could navigate a wide swath of South Florida within hours. And to think that in Miami today, we still don’t have a water taxi.

The Tequesta settlement in Miami persisted until 1761, when Uchises Indians forced them to flee to Key West and eventually to Cuba. By 1763, Spain lost Florida to England.

Some ancient Tequesta paths have become today’s busiest highways. The ever-congested 836 Expressway follows the canoe trail that used to connect central Miami to the Everglades. Even the new Intermodal Center near the airport was built on top of a prehistoric village. I hope someone erects a sign.

I also learned that the highest natural point in Miami-Dade County is 19 feet above sea level. This sand mound is called Madden’s Hammock, and it is composed of fine-grained quartz, like beach sand. Many of its skeletons were raided by curiosity seekers.

Lastly, there’s a much more recent Bahamian cemetery (abandoned around 1940) that has been re-discovered in Lemon City, just a few miles from my house, so I plan to visit the memorial placed there in 2011 and review it for my Park Patrol column. Visions of Poltergeists danced in their heads…

By the way, this is South Florida we’re talking about–the end of the road on the East Coast. If Native Americans originally migrated from a land bridge between Asia and Alaska, how long did it take them to arrive in Miami? Did they push onwards to Cuba, or vice versa? Great mysteries indeed.

Review of dirty book, Digging Miami

Digging Miami by Robert S. Carr, 2012, University Press of Florida4206

The first archaeologist of Miami-Dade County has penned his account of discovering the Miami Circle and other impressive pre-historic artifacts in the most urbanized part of Florida. It also turns out to be one of the state’s most ancient areas, as it has been inhabited continuously for thousands of years.

The book’s title, Digging Miami, and its cover photo of the Miami Circle caught my eye. The Circle became a park in 2011, and the site was unknown until 1998. While not fully understood, the Miami Circle sits at the mouth of the Miami River where it feeds into Biscayne Bay, and this strategic site is also where modern-day Miami began. The Circle is attributed to the Tequesta Indians who lived in South Florida until they went extinct after colonization (learn more here).

While full of interesting facts, the book suffers somewhat from the lack of a continuous narrative and diversions into archaeologist talk. For people unfamiliar with pre-historical Florida, it may be hard to follow the jumps between periods and locations, and for non- archaeologists, it gets difficult to remember which site is meant by “8DA11.” Named sites are much easier to envision.

What was enjoyable was the sense of discovery that accompanied many digs and especially those of gravesites. So many bones are buried beneath the skyscrapers of downtown that you start to worry about ancient curses arising to engulf the buildings or the sidewalk where you are strolling.

The book makes me excited to visit the Deering Estate again because of major finds on that property that may still be inaccessible to the public (I’ll have to work my contacts for an insider’s tour).

Everglades Hunt - Tequesta, by artist Theodore Morris

Everglades Hunt – Tequesta, by artist Theodore Morris

Although a strong and ancient connection to the sea should not be surprising, given Miami’s location, it’s quite dramatic to read that South Florida was one of only two places in North America where Native Americans “developed complex chiefdoms based on marine resources rather than agriculture” (p. 245). The other location is the Pacific Northwest. On the East Coast, this is it.

This book is recommended for people who want to discover a history of Miami that is completely opposite of its current tourism and television-based image. It is hard to imagine how people lived here when the Everglades licked at Miami’s doorstep and Miami Beach was an impenetrable mangrove swamp. But they certainly did, and the best evidence we have is in the dirt.

Tomorrow: Nuggets of Intrigue from Digging Miami


Stories behind my Times stories


This kitty was the only visitor to the “park.”

This month’s Park Patrol column was a first: the first time that I have given a “zero” rating to a park. Read the review here. After seven years of visiting and ranking Miami’s parks, I found the bottom of the barrel in Gratigny Plateau Park.

Could there be worse parks in Miami-Dade County? This one had nothing to indicate it was anything other than an empty lot–and an ugly one at that.

I learned about this park from an email from the Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade, which is trying to raise money along with Channel 10 News to rehabilitate the park. The estimated cost is $500,000. Meanwhile, how many millions is the county spending on the new museum park near downtown? While this hidden neighborhood park has a low profile, its children still need a place to play.

In my other Biscayne Times monthly column, called Going Green, the graphic editor did a poor job of selecting an underwater photo of a reef in the Pacific to illustrate my story about Our Florida Reefs (please join this worthy cause at The article is here.

A community meeting held in June to promote "Our Florida Reefs."

A community meeting held in June to promote “Our Florida Reefs.”

This story would have been published earlier, but it was requested after my deadline, which comes mid-month, or about 15 days before the monthly newspaper gets published. As a small operation based mainly on freelance writers, it cannot afford to have assignments appear at the last minute.

I’m always open to new ideas about what to cover in the next issue. For parks, I need to expand beyond the paper’s region of the “Biscayne Corridor,” because I’ve reviewed every major (and most minor) parks in the area–about 70 in total. I’m planning to tour the larger parks in the region, and next month’s stop is planned for Biscayne National Park.

For Going Green, I was thinking about addressing the shift of greenhouse gases to beyond the level of 400 part per million. This landmark needs some explanation as to why 400 is so much worse than 350. Numbers make no sense if they have no context. Any ideas on how to explain it?