Story by Jeff Klinkenberg
Photos by Scott Keeler

Scott Keeler talks about La Palma restaurant
Scott Keeler on Little Havana
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Sundown. Out on the Trail, the constellation of the hunter, Orion, gleams from the zenith. A shooting star flashes by. Jupiter is rising. But look east and you see the big-city glow ahead.

Old timers call it Miam-muh and remember when they could see the Milky Way from their back yards. No longer. Florida's largest city, Miami is an exciting, frightening, diverse and crowded place, especially along the traffic-clogged Tamiami Trail. Young Hispanic folks fall in love at midnight while sharing a churro at La Palma a few short blocks from where Rory E. Conde, the so-called Tamiami Strangler, murdered six crack-addicted prostitutes between Sept. 17, 1994, and Jan. 12, 1995. Now prisoner M25274 lives out his days on death row.

In Miami the Trail is known first as SW Eighth Street and then Calle Ocho, which is the heart of Little Havana. During the day, Little Havana belongs to old men who sit on benches and argue and drink strong coffee or show up at Maximo Gomez Park to play dominoes and argue and drink strong coffee. Jorge Gonzalez, who moved here from Havana in 1993, waits for a chance at the dominoes table and gulps milk from a fresh coconut. A few feet away, Rodrigo Morejon, born in Matanzas, Cuba, in 1936, smokes a foot-long cigar and contemplates lunch. Anyone who drives into Miami on the Tamiami Trail eventually thinks of his or her stomach.

Comfort food is welcome sustenance for a motorist in a big city such as Miami, where horns are as important as disc brakes. A bus roars by spewing diesel fumes. A siren wails. A passing car's stereo bawls "Boomkatta boomkatta boomkatta." For some Miamians, it's a symphony. For others, perhaps someone who prefers the whistle of ibis wings over the Tamiami Trail, the sound of the city is torture.

Time to slow down! Stop and look. Stop and climb out of the car. But not for long.

"Hey, mister! Sir! Sir! Sir! Yes, you!"

It's a Hispanic man, polite but disturbed.

"Don't you know you can't park here?" he asks.

You have left your vehicle on the property of the Northern Trust Bank.

"Please, sir. Move your vehicle now."

You explain your mission.

"Okay. You can park here but just for a minute."

He watches as you walk through a canyon of skyscraping banks over to the sign on Brickell Avenue.

"End," the sign says, "East. 41."

The end of the Tamiami Trail.

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