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R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Learn to spell that, Miami

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.  Learn to spell that, Miami

I have a post-doctorate graduate degree in cultural anthropology, and cultural matters are my forte, and I am always amazed how cultures vary in the levels of respect afforded to one another.

Earlier this year, Canadians were shocked when Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade decided to practice basketball shots instead of acting like a normal human, while a singer was at midcourt performing the Canadian national anthem.  Well, I guess he assumed since it wasn’t his country, he felt no need to show respect to the people of Canada. Where did the Miami athlete get such a notion that brazen disrespect was peachy keen?

I have a post-doctorate graduate degree in cultural anthropology, and cultural matters are my forte. I am always amazed how cultures vary in the levels of respect afforded to one another. The Japanese are sticklers when it comes to showing respect toward others; even their language has honorific suffixes built into the grammar. This year, the BBC published a remarkable article about omotenashi (Japanese hospitality), suggesting Japan is the world’s most polite country.  This begs the question, where are the world’s most disrespectful people?

This year, Travel and Leisure Magazine’s annual survey rated Miami number 1 on list of Rudest Cities in America. Adrienne Caravetta Torres wrote on The Miami Herald’s web site, “I grew up here. Miami is not like it used to be and would leave if I could. Traffic sucks and people are rude. Have you spent time in other places to realize why this city has a bad rap? There is a reason…”

Sperling’s BestPlaces wrote, “Miami’s violent crime rate is the highest in the nation, with especially high incidences of robbery and assault.” So many of these criminal acts are outright sick. Burglars ransacked the Miami-area home of Elaine Vasquez, the widow of a heart doctor who gave free medical treatment to the poor. The intruders also slit her beloved pet dachshund’s throat and left it hanging in her closet. The little dog, named Papi, was her late husband’s pride and joy.

This year, 24/7 Wall St. named Miami as the “Worst city to live in America.” Kyle Munzenrieder, writer for The Miami New Times commented, “It’s a sobering reality check for a city that knows it has problems but rarely gets serious about actually fixing them.” Kyle added, “Traffic is bad, and our public transit system is a joke.”

Many people say the traffic is bad; some say it is outright dangerous. Miami’s NBC 6 interviewed FHP Trooper Ms. Indiana Villalonga, who stated unequivocally, “I-95 is not safe.” She described drivers who have absolutely no respect for the safety of others, driving 70-plus miles per hour, texting, behaving like depraved degenerates.

What about the public transit system? Is it as bad as The Miami Times reporter claimed?  Last year, Laquito Alvin was struck by a “runaway bus,” a bus with no driver that suddenly started moving, picked up speed, jumped a curve, sideswiped another bus, then ran over Alvin, killing her at the scene. CBS reported “In the twelve months prior to Alvin’s death, CBS4 News has learned there were ten other incidents of runaway buses.”

So how is the light rail? Last year, the Sun Sentinel reported Tri-Rail was plagued by disastrous delays, however, its officials “pledged to restore passengers’ confidence in the service, which carries about 15,000 riders on weekdays.” Some say the pledge was nothing but a lie. We decided to take a ride from Fort Lauderdale Airport to Miami Airport and test it ourselves. After picking up our checked bags at the carousel, my partner Marco approached a hefty woman who apparently has the task of securing orphan suitcases for Spirit Airlines so thieves don’t get to them first. He asked the Spirit employee, “How do I get to Tri-Rail?” I heard her tell him in an abrupt, demeaning tone, “Go outside and ask them!”

We found the Tri-Rail shuttle stop that runs passengers to the station from baggage claim. While we waited, we watched the hefty Spirit Airlines woman walk right by us; she gave a brief look then averted eye contact. What a shrew! The shuttle appeared after 20 minutes or so. I was the first in line, but everyone behind me rushed ahead of me and jumped on the bus. Cutting line appears to be the norm in metro Miami. The driver saw I was using a walker but did not extend the ramp for me. As I struggled my way onto the bus I encountered a young woman who had taken the handicap seats and spread her belongings aside her. I stared at her for over a minute, waiting for her to move her suitcases so I could get inside. After it was obvious she had no intention of moving out of the way, I asked “Can I use these handicap seats, please?” She replied, “Use the seats over there.” “You are blocking me from getting inside,” I told her, which was code for “move your ass.”

The driver just watched and said nothing. The man behind me, also disabled, started yelling at her to show some respect.  She moved a few feet out of the way, but spent the shuttle ride on her cell phone complaining to someone she had to move from the front of the bus and give her seat to a couple of “crackers.” The other disabled man heard her, and angrily told her, “If you think you are Rosa Parks, you are sadly mistaken.”

That man said he was a regular rider on Tri-Rail. He complained the entire time to the driver because the route was woefully long. “Why don’t you take the direct route, instead of this one that takes 25 minutes?” he asked.

The driver replied, “We only do the short route on weekends.”

“I’m going to miss the train because of this idiocy,” the disabled man said.

The driver replied, “I don’t make the rules. I’m a nobody who makes $10 an hour, and I have to do what I’m told.”

“Then people need to start complaining to Tri-Rail,” shouted the disabled man.

I asked, “Isn’t the shuttle synchronized so you get to the train in time?” “No,” said the disabled man, “They make me miss the train all the time.”

Sure enough, we missed the 10:17 train. There was an hour wait for the next one.  Then the station began announcing the 11:17 departure was delayed by 20 minutes because they didn’t have an actual train available to run on the track.

The automatic kiosk wasn’t working; it wouldn’t accept charge cards. I went to the cashier’s shack and loaded our pre-ordered rail cards so we could alight on the next departure, if they ever found a train.  Shortly after taking our money, the woman inside the shack (clerk ID 901058) decided to pull down the shades, and she simply abandoned her job. People were banging on the windows trying to get someone to help them, but the employee had decided to go shopping or something. Who knows? Customers were screaming at the unmanned shack, hoping someone was inside to raise the blinds. For the next hour, she didn’t come back. She may have just played hookie all day.

When the train arrived, I waited at the handicap platform. An employee was standing there to lay down the ramp so I could get on. Marco wanted to use the ramp to roll our heavy suitcases across it, but the employee wouldn’t let him; she told him he had to carry the bags down the steps then up onto the train. After entering the train car, we found that non-handicap people had taken every single handicap seat. We stood in the aisle and blocked it until a police officer came and made someone free one of the “reserved for handicap” seats. I thought it was a lucky coincidence there were police officers on the train. At first it made me happy; then I got a little irked when they came up to us and inspected our rail cards. It was if they suspected us of not paying our fare. They had a pad of forms they used to fine people who were stowaways.

There were constant stops as the train inched toward Miami. The conductor announced the rail guards at the streets were not working, so each street crossing had to be approved by a dispatch employee.

A passenger wearing a uniform from American Airlines was standing nearby; I asked him if delays such as this were rare. He said, “It happens constantly. Yesterday, they were 55 minutes late. Promises from Tri-Rail officials are all lies.”

When the train finally arrived at Miami Airport, I waited for an employee to lay down a ramp. One of the police officers set his papers on a seat, and I could easily read them. There were almost 20 people cited for illegally boarding the train without a valid ticket.

Were those people intentionally stealing from Tri-Rail? Or were they unable to load their rail cards because the woman at the cashier’s shack decided to abandon her post?

The rail terminus at Miami Airport is also the car rental building. This place is memorable, a couple years back it was the site of the worst service experience I ever had in my life. I’ll call the company “Hurts” because it felt like it was an introduction to sadism.

I’m a gold member with Hertz, and it’s a fine company; Miami is an entirely different story. Yelp reviews offer a window into the suffering endured after dealing with employees from Miami.

Robin S. from Katy, TX wrote, “Got Club Gold – doesn’t matter at Miami; the list of names is just a placebo! Still have to stand in line while Hispanic speaking customers are given priority. Still waiting been nearly 90 minutes since I got off the plane!”

I witnessed Spanish-speaking customers receiving priority service at Miami Hertz. I met several employees at this location who claimed they couldn’t understand a single word of English, so these employees can only help Spanish-speaking customers, even if English speakers were waiting longer.

Ashu M. from Manhattan, NY wrote on Yelp, “As a President’s Circle/Gold member, with dozens of annual rentals, I have come to expect great service at airport Hertz locations throughout the US.  The Miami location is easily the most dis-organized. I consistently receive smaller cars than I requested, get told to take SUVs because “sedans are all already reserved” – even though I can see 100+ sedans.”

I had the same experience at that location. I reserved a 4-door car so I can put my walker in the back seat. When I got to the car, it was a 2-door model. I went to the Gold booth to get the right car I reserved. There was no one there. The employees had abandoned their desks. I could hear two women in the back laughing and speaking in Spanish. I used to work as a government interpreter, Spanish to English, and I also taught Spanish at Oakland Community College. After waiting 10 minutes with no one coming to the desk, I went behind the counter, and into the private area where the two women were looking at photos from a party and laughing and wasting my time. I told them, in English, I have been waiting 10 minutes. The liars claimed they were busy doing company business, and I had to wait until they were ready.  I switched to Spanish and told them they had 30 seconds to come to the desk.

It took only about 10 seconds for one of the girls to reach the counter.  However, she looked at the reservation and falsely claimed I specifically requested a 2-door vehicle. This started an argument because I believe she was simply continuing to lie, as she did about performing “company business.” She demanded I pay more for a 4-door car to accommodate my walker. I told her “hold on.” I hobbled with my cane to my car to find my printed reservation, which clearly showed a Ford Fusion, a 4-door car. There is no such thing as a 2-door Ford Fusion. I was going to call the police to file a report for fraud and ADA discrimination, but by the time I got to the car, Marco had figured out a way to get the walker into the back seat. So we left in that car. I didn’t know if I could trust the Miami police to fill out a report honestly; an article in The Verge exposed “…police officers in Miami flooding Google’s traffic app Waze with false information….” The New York Times published an article about the FBI’s investigation into the Miami Police Department and “allegations of obstruction of justice, bribery, racketeering, robbery, theft, homicide, narcotics trafficking, perjury, extortion and gambling-related offenses by present and former members….” An entire Miami-area police department was busted laundering tens of millions for international drug cartels last December. “They were like bank robbers with badges,” said Dennis Fitzgerald, an attorney and former Drug Enforcement Administration agent.

Upon returning our rental car, we discovered the Hertz girl had altered our contract without permission to a 4-door model. The mysterious “replacement” vehicle had 3,000 more starting miles on it than the one in our possession. So upon return, the employee jokingly asked us if we had driven in reverse for 3,000 miles during our trip. Then he got serious and said, “The car you are returning is not the car on your electronic contract, and you owe us $320 for an upgrade to a 4-door car.”

It took 2 hours to get the contract straightened out. In the meanwhile, we sat on the 4th floor of the rental center and watched employee after employee play games with customers. If there is ever a mass shooting at the Hertz rental counter in Miami, people will say the writing was on the wall for a long time. I won’t go anywhere near there.

Filip D. from Wortegem-Petegem, Belgium wrote, “They [Miami Airport Hertz] will try to rip you off and make you sign papers that you agree to buy additional features or upgrades that you don’t want or need.”

Lisa G. from Long Beach, CA wrote, “Worst wait time for agents who were talking in back offices and trying to get us to use a broken kiosk! Service sucks.” It’s true. I saw a person make customers go to use the Skype kiosk and talk to someone in Phoenix, when the Miami employees were doing nothing but chatting about their familias.

Treavor W. from Seattle, WA wrote, “At time of writing this, I’ve been waiting for a car I already reserved, for over about 2 hours. There was mayhem, because people had been waiting 3 hours for cars they had already reserved.”

Chris C. from Chicago, IL wrote, “I’d like to thank Hertz for leaving me stranded in a foreign country without the vehicle I reserved, and no vehicle whatsoever. You have completely ruined my family’s vacation and cost me hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.”  Well, Miami is not a foreign country, but it certainly is nothing like the rest of “normal” America.

Melissa L. from Los Angeles, CA wrote, “Make sure not to leave any belongings in your rental car here. They will steal it and claim they never saw it.” We had a similar issue with my handicap hang tag. I went back to the return area because I forgot my permit hanging on the mirror and someone pilfered it within 3 minutes.

Margo B. from Miami said she made a reservation, but no one at Hertz could find it, then her charge card was billed for the reservation no one could find. Corporate told her to call the Miami location. She wrote, “There is no way to get this location on the phone. The phone rang and rang and went to a voicemail…. After trying to reach them over and over, we just headed over there, mainly because my card was charged and there was not a reservation anywhere under my name…. The first guy I encountered was super rude. He talked as if we made up the incident… it’s unbelievable that people like that are employed.”

I believe Margo. After my handicap permit was stolen at the Hertz location, I called them three times a day for a month. That was 90 times. Not once did they pick up the phone in 90 calls. Not once did they return any of the messages I left on their voice mail.

Raw D. from Melrose, MA summed it up on Yelp: [edited for grammar] “I’ve legitimately never seen teamwork like this.  Everyone on the Hertz Miami airport team was extremely focused on not getting anything done. I’ve been in line the past 25 minutes and I hate these people, and it’s not because I had to wait, it was watching these supremely unconcerned dipshits mill around ignoring people, or pawning them off to kiosks which simply don’t work. If I had to pick one word to describe this team of small-brained upright walking mammals, it would be incompetent.”

The problem is cultural. This is how the people of Miami are. You could fire every single Hertz employee at that location, but when you hire new employees, they are going to bring the Miami culture right back with them … utter disrespect, rudeness, theft, ignoring their job responsibilities, everything associated with the culture.  Travel and Leisure Magazine had their reasons for rating Miami number 1 on list of Rudest Cities in America; Miami culture condones it. Culture is the behavior of a group of people, what they tolerate, and how they do things.

This year, after picking up my non-“hurts” rental, we carefully left the car center, zig-zagging our way to Miami Beach, avoiding those traps on all the major roads connecting to the airport. Little stretches of streets, sometimes only a few blocks, have tolls of 10 to 20 cents. If you go through one, not only does the car rental company bill you for it, there is a $10 to $25 administrative fee for every tiny toll you accrue. Your $1 in total tolls can set you back $200 in fees. The major problem is there are no toll booths; you can’t actually pay the 20 cents for using the little part of the street you accidentally stumbled upon, it is electronic toll by plate only. These are systematic traps set up to scam tourists leaving the airport, and the rental car companies milk customers in fees for the forced “convenience” of paying the tolls for the renter.

Before reaching Miami, we stopped at a KFC located just before crossing the causeway to Miami Beach, at 3515 N.W. Seventh Avenue. Broiled chicken is on my diet and I’ve never had a negative experience with Colonel Sanders. Oh, what a disappointment here. There was only one handicap parking spot, and a young man was occupying it. His car did not have handicap plates or a disabled permit hanging from his mirror. I rolled down my window and asked, “Are you handicapped? I have muscular dystrophy and I really need this space if you are not.” He replied, “I am waiting for my food order from the drive thru, and they told me to wait here until they walk my food out to me.” I took out my camera to photograph him, and at that point he moved his car. I remained outside the door. I watched the manager deliver food to the young man, and I stopped the manager, saying, “Do not instruct your customers to wait in the handicap spot while you deliver orders.”  I did not say please, and I did not ask him to consider the idea. He responded in a nasty, curt voice, “If you don’t want people in the handicap spot, then call the police.”  I wish I had known what people were saying about this KFC on Yelp before going there. Comments include, “Terrible, slow, rude service,” “The employees at this place are a joke,” and “This is like the worst branch of KFC I’ve ever visited. The staff don’t know what they’re doing and even the manager does not know what he’s doing. Drive-through is the worst!”

I saw dozens, if not a hundred, non-handicapped people using handicap parking as standing spots in greater Miami during my past couple of visits. They are commonly used by commercial vehicles. When I tried to park at Office Depot at 1771 West Avenue in Miami Beach, a FedEx truck hogged both handicap spots while the driver was inside the building. This sort of disrespect made me sick to my stomach. There is a saying that one can judge a community by the way it treats its most vulnerable population, to wit, young children and the disabled. What can a handicapped person do? Complain?

The U.S. Department of Transportation fined Miami-metropolitan area based Spirit Airlines $100,000 for failing to appropriately record and respond to complaints about the carrier’s treatment of passengers with disabilities. The DOT caught this Miami-area company lying about the number of complaints it received. A generation ago, Time wrote its infamous Paradise Lost cover story that made featured South Floridians look as if the demons mentioned in Matthew 8:31 swam to the shores of Dade County.

Cruise lines have many ships that depart from Miami; this funnels tourists to the area. Kyle Munzenrieder wrote in Miami New Times, “14.6 million visitors stayed in Miami in 2014, a new record according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. And all those tourists bring money with them as well. The study estimated that they pumped $23.8 billion into our economy (that averages out to $1,600 per visitor by the way).” Some aggrieved travelers have suggested a repeat of attorney H. T. Smith’s “Quiet Riot,” a three-year boycott of Miami; the historic shunning cost the city dearly. German Consul General Klaus Sommer once threatened Miami with a massive boycott over the depraved violence foisted upon tourists. A German tabloid trashed Miami with the headline “Die Todesfalle Unter Palmen,” calling it a deathtrap under the palms. Germans don’t put up with that kind of behavior.

The Greater Miami CVB receives boatloads of money to promote tourism providers in the area. ASTA’s website says, “The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau is a sales & marketing organization. Its mission is to attract, encourage and induce all persons and organizations to visit Greater Miami and its Beaches for conventions, business and pleasure. As the voice of the visitor industry, it is our mission to effectively position Greater Miami and the Beaches as the world’s premiere tropical cosmopolitan destination.” That sounds lovely.

Most CVB’s have familiarization programs for travel professionals and travel writers to visit area attractions. Marco knew someone who worked in the travel professional department many years ago, and he contacted her. She told him Jenny Leyva had passes for IATAN-carrying professionals to visit Miami area attractions. Marco contacted Señora Leyva and told her we would be in Miami for two nights, and wanted to pick up the passes on our day of arrival, since we were really strapped for time. She replied she was going to be in a meeting our day of arrival and wouldn’t be available for him. So Marco asked if she could leave them with a receptionist on the first floor of the building, or if he could meet her at lunch break, or if the passes could be sent to the Hyatt Confidante in Miami Beach. Her reply was… well, actually she didn’t reply. She was like the employees at Hertz and Tri-Rail, she simply deserted him. “I can’t believe she just blew me off like a hook up on Craigslist,” Marco exclaimed.

Meanwhile, I contacted a separate employee at The Greater Miami CVB whose job is to assist media professionals. I wrote to media coordinator Frank Trigueros and asked if their CVB had media passes for journalists to use so we can publicize Miami attractions. I included a scan of my business card, showing I have publishing credits in USA Today, Examiner News, CBS News, Broadway World, Mensa Bulletin and eTurboNews. Trigueros replied, “Yes we do. Please include dates, assignment description and information so we can vet the request accordingly.”

My reply to Trigueros gave my dates, and included, “I’ve been a journalist for 30 years. I make my own assignments now. I don’t know what your passport covers, so I can’t know until I see the list what I would be interested in writing about. Can you tell me what is on the list for the passport?” His reply was… well, actually he didn’t reply. He was like the employees at Hertz and Tri-Rail, and his colleague at The Greater Miami CVB. He lacked the integrity to answer me.

I was talking about this rude disregard to one of my cousins who was born and raised in Argentina. She said, “Sinvergüenza [shameless]! That behavior is Latino for “F you, I get paid whether I do my job or not.”  Don’t take it personally, they probably do that to people all day long.”

The real losers are organizations like Miami Seaquarium, Jungle Island, Lion Country Safari, Vizcaya Museum, Zoo Miami and other organizations who pay the CVB money to represent them, and who rely on the CVB to secure positive publicity for them. If the CVB’s mission is to “attract, encourage and induce all persons and organizations to visit Greater Miami and its Beaches,” they need to clean house, and do it quickly.

My experience has a happy ending, at least for me, that is. After an absolutely wonderful vacation at Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa earlier this year, we reserved Hyatt’s Confidante Hotel in Miami Beach. Like the Grand Hyatt, The Confidante’s Tripadvisor reviews were spectacular. To sweeten the pot, all handicap people with a disabled plate or hang tag get free parking at all metered spots in Miami Beach. What a welcome! The Confidante is a newly acquired Hyatt property; it opened as the Lord Tarleton Hotel in 1940, became the Crown Hotel in 1955, reopened as the Thompson Hotel after an $82 million renovation in 2014, then became a Hyatt in April 2016. The ocean-front luxury property retains its Art Deco design, but has all the service and perks associated with Hyatt. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. As I approached the property’s check-in lobby, four employees greeted me, and opened the doors for me so I could enter with my walker. There were four staff at the reception counter, all giving perfect attention to guests. One of the clerks really stood out; he was impeccably dressed, had excruciatingly polite conversation with a guest, and exemplified the Hyatt hospitality vision. What a joy it was to see such respectful employees!  At one point, he answered his phone and identified himself as Omar. I recognized the name from all the Trip Advisor reviews praising him. I knew this place was special within five minutes.

I entered my room, 835, and my jaw dropped. Oh, it was incredible. Art Deco features, pops of color, and 1950s flair permeated the room. The bathroom was giant, just perfect for a handicapped person using a wheel chair. There was generous floor space, and the bed had meticulously ironed linens. In the corner was a table in front of two large picture windows with a million-dollar view of the turquoise ocean. What a thrill! Hyatt truly understood how to accommodate disabled people! This was one of the best ADA rooms I have ever seen. The hotel was spotless, it looked like you could eat off the floors. The employees were so attentive and courteous. One of the employees told me he was hired when Hyatt took over the hotel earlier this year; apparently, they cleaned house thoroughly, and only kept the cream of the crop staff. The rest were hand-picked for their ability to meet Hyatt’s high standards of service.

I am so happy to see Hyatt come to Miami Beach; travelers have wanted it for a very long time. I also love Hyatt’s “Unbound Collection.” This brand features unique hotels that have their own character; every property is special in its own way. In the 1950s, the Confidante property broke rank by openly welcoming many races and religions. Today, they openly welcome gays and handicapped people. Their employees are the polar opposite of the Miami stereotype; there wasn’t a rude or disrespectful person to be found in the building. What a treasure this oasis of hospitality is!

The Confidante has two pools, you can go from the pool area directly to the boardwalk and stroll along the ocean at any time. Or you can enjoy a Hemingway Royale served in an antique crystal glass at the 1930’s bar house relocated onto the property. Coffee is free in the lobby every morning, and each room gets a pair of beach chairs at the ocean.  Marco loved the free bicycles available to guests; he took a ride through Miami Beach and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the splendid Art Deco buildings. The staff left marvelous impressions on everyone we spoke to; they clearly are first class.

The morning we checked out, I noticed one of the bicycles was missing. That seemed odd, because it was raining. I asked an employee about the missing bike. A look of sadness came over his face. “Yesterday,” he sighed, “one of our guests was enjoying the bicycle, and a thief came up and stole it from him when he had his back turned.”

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.  Learn to spell that, Miami.

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