If there’s anybody left who reads this, you might be wondering where I’ve been. The answer is Miami. I was there for seven weeks this spring, with the House Theatre of Chicago’s production of The Hammer Trinity. It’s the longest I’ve been away from Chicago since I moved here, and the longest I’ve been away from my wife since we started dating. She did get to fly down and spend a week with me in the middle, but still. It was a long time away from home. I think it was good for me.
I can’t say that Miami is my kind of town. Nothing against the place, but she and I, we move at different speeds. Miami is about partying. I am not really a partier. Miami is about nightlife. I like to spend my evenings sitting on my couch eating pizza and watching movies on HBO. That said, I loved the weather. The weather in southern Florida cannot be beat. It was never not nice there. Even when it got particularly hot, it was still a nice kind of hot. In the seven weeks we were down there, there was only one day where the weather was bad enough that it was preferable to stay inside. This was something I learned about myself: I like being outside. This is not the same as liking the outdoors, mind you, but sitting outside with my laptop or a book is just about the best thing ever. Since I got back I’ve already spent more time on my balcony than I did all of last summer.
One area where Miami and I jive is the food. Oh man you guys, the food. This year I discovered the Conch Fritter. It’s as simple as it sounds. It’s fried batter with conch meat in it. It is delightful. I could live off of them exclusively. I ate many, many conch fritters down there. I also tried alligator for the first time, and yeah, it tastes like chicken. But really, really good chicken. And the Cuban food that I tried was, across the board, fantastic.
One area in which Miami does not do well: Fast food. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But I did on a couple occasions break down and opt for McDonalds because it was convenient and I am a creature of very bad habits. I might have done it even more often, but the fast food down there was just not very good. Also, not very fast. For a town full of sports cars, Miami has a surprisingly slow pace. It is impossible to run out for a quick… anything.
Our show went fine. It was so great to be back in the room with that group of people, telling that story. I wish more people had come to see it. Those who did, however, seemed to really dig it – although I had one particularly strange response that reminded me how far I was from home. In the show I use an Irish accent. In between parts a man came up to me and told me I was doing a good job. I said, “Thank you very much! I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” or words to that effect. The man replied, “Oh good. I just wanted to make sure you were American.”
It might have been a compliment. Maybe he was saying my accent sounded very authentic. But what a weird way to say so.
Our schedule in Miami was insane, in that we were basically getting paid living wages to work two days a week. Since the decision had been made to only run the full 10-hour marathon shows, we only performed Saturdays and Sundays. So we had vast swaths of time to kill. A lot of time was spent at the beach. People went camping, or made trips up to Orlando. A couple people went on a cruise. I spent a day down in Key West, which was just magic. We ate and drank our way up and down the main street, toured Ernest Hemingway’s house, saw some fun street performers, watched an incredible sunset over the Gulf of Mexico, and saw creatures called sea hares. It was there that I finally figured out why so many people retire to Florida. I’ve always thought of myself as a city-dweller, but there was something about that place that made island life look really attractive. Maybe it was the conch fritters.
With this vast expanse of free time before me, I thought for certain I would be able to plow through another rewrite of my next play (Miss Holmes, opening in September!) and probably get some really solid work in on one or two other projects. I was mistaken. When I tell people about this they assume it was because Miami lured me away from my work with promises of sun and fun. That was not the case. I was actually fairly disciplined, and had carved out a chunk of each day to park myself at a table in the courtyard beneath my hotel room, open my laptop, and work. It’s just that I could only manage the first two of those things. The problem was not the siren call of Miami. It was the fact that I had nothing in front of me but spare time. I learned that I’ve conditioned myself to work best with a tight schedule. If I know I have two days to get these rewrites done, and I need to fit that writing time around work and other obligations, then I will find a way to make it happen. But when I sit down to write and have nothing but all the time in the world ahead of me, then my momentum dissipates and my creativity fizzles out. I just stare at the screen and wonder what to do.
So, my plan to use the Miami trip as a writing retreat was a bust. Oh well. Once I’d resigned myself to the idea that I would be getting no writing done that day, I’d either grab a book and head for the pool area, or I’d go out and explore. All in all, not a bad way to spend almost two months. I might have a chance to head back there for a few days this fall. If that happens I know exactly what I’m doing first. It involves conch fritters.