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Planning to rent a car at Miami's airport? First, you'll have to walk, walk and walk

WALK, THEY SAID: After my flight from Newark to Miami, I picked up my luggage and set off for the rental-car center, using elevators, ...

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Planning to rent a car at Miami's airport? First, you'll have to walk, walk and walk

WALK, THEY SAID: After my flight from Newark to Miami, I picked up my luggage and set off for the rental-car center, using elevators, 4 or 5 moving walkways, above and below, and a train. After I returned the car at the end of my vacation, I had to walk farther than normal when I found the elevator to my terminal was out of service.
MORE WALKING: These photos of the walkways and train, below, were taken on Aug. 3, when I dropped off my rental car and set off for the terminal, which is about a half-mile away from the rental-car center at an airport that puts travelers second.
NO SHUTTLE BUSES: At Miami International Airport, Alamo and other rental-car agencies don't operate small buses to shuttle customers between terminals and the rental-car center, as they do at other airports.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- What's the last thing you want to do when you get off your first flight to Miami from Newark?

Take elevators, push your luggage over several moving walkways and then take a train to the rental-car center a half-mile or more away from the terminal.

But that's what was awaiting me and other travelers on July 3o, when I had reserved an Alamo rental car for my 4-day vacation.

In Miami for some reason, the rental-car agencies don't operate those small shuttle buses I was familiar with from other airports.

A funny thing happened...

Once I got to the Alamo counter, I asked if any gas-electric hybrids were available, and was told I could have a Ford Fusion hybrid for an additional $15 a day over the $151.45 rate for a premium car I got from CostcoTravel.com (for or a total of $222.78 with taxes and fees).

But a funny thing happened when I pulled into the parking lot of my hotel, the Hyatt House Miami Airport:

The car's engine was still running, but I couldn't find the key fob; it wasn't in the cup holder or on the floor, front or back.

The Ford Fusion, like the Toyota Prius hybrid my wife drives, has a push-button start, and the engine will start as long as the key fob is in the car.

I looked everywhere: In the trunk, between the driver's seat and transmission tunnel, under the seats.

Back to Alamo

I called Alamo road service, and was told to return to the rental-car center.

A young woman greeted me when I arrived, and the search for the key fob commenced. She finally found the fob in between the front passenger seat and transmission tunnel.

And because I complained the interior of the car stank of smoke, she gave me another Ford Fusion hybrid, and knocked $70 off the rental price to compensate me for the inconvenience and what she called a "dirty car," for a final total of $139.56 for 4 days.

That's great customer service.

Toll penalty

But Alamo lost points when it came to the system for charging me and others for tolls on Miami's extensive highway network.

Instead of giving me a SunPass, the equivalent of the E-ZPass transponder we use in New Jersey, cameras captured an image of my license plate, and charged me twice the toll I'd pay with a SunPass.

Alamo also levies a $3.95 a day convenience fee for the toll system, up to a maximum of $11.95.

Alamo says the tolls will be billed to me in 4 weeks to 6 weeks.

FORD FUSION HYBRID: I drove a total of 240 miles on my 4-day vacation, mostly on highways at speeds of 60 mph or a little higher, averaging about 42 mpg, according to the car's computer. I bought regular gas at a Costco Wholesale station for $2.36.9 a gallon.
ROCKING CHAIRS: A homey touch is rocking chairs in one of the terminals at Miami International Airport. I saw about a dozen.
BLUE, NOT FONTAINEBLEAU: This curved building is an apartment tower in Miami called Blue.
MIAMI BEACH: The island city on an overcast day, as seen from one of the many pleasure craft.
WYNWOOD: Murals line the streets, above and below, in a Miami neighborhood called Wynwood.
COFFEE AND TACOS: I had a cafe latte with macadamia-nut milk at Panther Coffee while I was waiting for my nephew, and then we had lunch at Coyo Taco next door. Both places were packed and noisy, and Panther, with loud music, resembled a bar more than a coffee house.
LIVING LARGE: Motor yachts on the Miami River.
SPANISH COLONIAL: A home in the city of Coral Gables with roof tiles that are a distinctive feature of Spanish Colonial architecture.
CORAL GABLES: I paid to park in the lot at City Hall during a visit to Coral Gables on an overcast day, and noticed at least two all-electric municipal vehicles.
NO SECURITY: I was struck by the total lack of security when I entered Coral Gables City Hall. No one questioned why I was there, and offices had open doors.
GRAND LOBBY: This is the grand lobby of a building with a hotel and offices on a street in Coral Gables that is referred to as the Miracle Mile. The ornate facade of the building is shown below.
A MIAMI COSTCO: At the Costco Wholesale warehouse on West Flagler Street in Miami, I saw two things missing at the Teterboro, N.J., warehouse I frequent: Self check-out, above, and recycling containers, below. However, the Costco gas station is self-serve. I didn't find any lines because only members are allowed to fill up there.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

In Miami, lots of seafood, traffic and tolls; plus don't miss Everglades National Park

COYO TACO: A pair of scrumptious Camaron Tacos were $9 at Coyo Taco in the colorful Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, where streets are lined with murals. But the staff was flummoxed when I asked whether the shrimp wrapped in flour tortillas were wild-caught and from the Gulf of Mexico.
CATCH OF THE DAY: This over-the-top special appetizer at Catch of The Day Restaurant near the airport in Miami is Shrimp Tapas Hemingway or wild Gulf Shrimp with guacamole over large tostones (twice-smashed and fried green plantains). I split them with my nephew, who treated me to dinner on my last night in Miami.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Florida's biggest city speaks with a pronounced Cuban accent.

That's no surprise:

For more than 60 years, Miami has welcomed generations of Cubans leaving the Caribbean's biggest island.

On a 4-day vacation last week, I encountered many of them working for a rental-car agency, at my hotel, in restaurants and just about everywhere else.

And I enjoyed reuniting with a Cuban family that opened their Havana apartment and cooked meals f0r me on most of my 7 trips to the island through 2004.

They prepared a wonderful meal of Cuban classics for me -- fish in tomato sauce, codfish fritters, tamal, congris or black beans cooked with white rice, salad, beer and coffee -- and they gave me a bottle of Havana Club Cuban Rum so I can prepare mojitos at home.

Driving, tolls 

What I wasn't anticipating was all of the highway driving I had to do, and all of the tolls I had to pay, not to mention the app that charges $3.25 to $4 an hour for street parking. 

When I picked up a Ford Fusion hybrid at the airport, the Alamo agent explained that cameras on highway ramps would capture my license plate, and tolls would be billed to me later. 

What he didn't say is that without a SunPass, the equivalent of our E-ZPass, I would be charged twice as much.

Highway construction is booming, especially flyovers. During rush hours, roads and highways are jammed. 

Did I land in Los Angeles?

After I posted this initially, I found a notice from Alamo that in addition to tolls, I would be charged $3.95 per day as a "TollPass convenience charge," with billing in 4 weeks to 6 weeks.

Streets, highways

Miami has an ultra-modern street and highway network unlike anything in northern New Jersey, where I live and curse patched and potholed local streets little changed since the 1960s, and where the turn lane seems to be an alien concept.

Still, in Miami, I drove 240 miles in 4 days, and spent a lot of time staring at tail lights in bumper-to-bumper traffic. 

And I never saw a single driver stopped for speeding, racing, slaloming through traffic at 20 mph above the speed limit, tailgating and other reckless behavior.

SLOW AND EXPENSIVE: Bumper-to-bumper traffic is common in Miami. You have to pay for street parking mostly through apps downloaded onto your smartphone.
STAY LEFT: At this underpass, the usual traffic pattern is reversed, and drivers like me hoping to jump on the highway stayed left, not right.

Fresh seafood

Miami is known for great seafood restaurants, and as a pescatarian, I was looking forward to exploring them with my nephew, who moved to Miami 27 years ago.

At Catch of The Day Restaurant, we split a great appetizer of Shrimp Tapas Hemingway -- jumbo Gulf Shrimp with avocado served over crunchy tostones.

My entree was sliced Yellowfin Tuna, prepared rare, served with a bowl of soupy black beans, some of the best I've ever had.

We finished our meal with a colada: Strong, sweet Cuban coffee served in a styrofoam cup, then poured into thimble-size plastic cups.

"The colada is the ultimate symbol of Cuban camaraderie," containing 4 to 6 shots of sweetened espresso "that is shared amongst friends," says Jody Edy of Kitchn.com.  

$23 lunch promotion

We had another great seafood meal at Casablanca Seafood Bar & Grill, where our shaded outdoor table overlooked the Miami River.

A 3-course lunch was only $23 during the city's 2-month-long restaurant promotion, called "Miami Spice."

At Coyo Taco, a noisy counter-service restaurant and bar in the Wynwood neighborhood, I demolished a large bowl of Organic Salad with guacamole, pumpkin seeds, queso fresco and chipotle ($8), along with a pair of Shrimp Tacos ($9).

My nephew ordered a pair of Carne Asada Tacos ($9). 

When I looked at my Coyo Taco receipt later, I saw that Jacquelyn C., the woman who took our order at the counter, charged us $2.50 for 2 plastic cups she gave us after we said we wanted to drink water (dispensed by a soda machine).

The receipt listed the $2.50 charge under "Fountain Drinks."

CATCH OF THE DAY: My entree last Friday night at Catch of The Day Restaurant in Miami was this rare steak of melt-in-the-mouth of Yellowfin Tuna, served with a soupy bowl of Cuban-style black beans.
COLADA: The strong Cuban coffee we drank from thimble-sized plastic cups to end our meal was sweet enough to stand in for dessert.
NOTHING FISHY: The entrance to Catch of The Day Restaurant, where outside tables afford a view of passenger and cargo jets landing at Miami International Airport. Valet parking is $3.
MY SALAD DAY: The wonderful Ensalada Organica or Organic Salad ($8) at Coyo Taco in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood.
RIVERSIDE DINING: At Casablanca Seafood Bar & Grill on the Miami River, I ordered the Fish Ceviche appetizer, above, prepared with a citrus blend, purple onions, glazed yams and toasted corn. My entree was Braised Mahi-Mahi Escabeche Style with roasted potatoes, tomatoes, onion and olives, below. The 3-course Miami Spice lunch was $23, including dessert. 
MIAMI SPICE: More than 250 restaurants in and around Miami are taking part in the Miami Spice promotion through Sept. 30, 2019, with 3-course lunches for $23 and 3-course dinners for $39.
CRUISING: As we were eating lunch at Casablanca Seafood, a boat motored slowly past our riverside table, then tied up, and a family came in and sat down for lunch.

The Everglades

After the complimentary breakfast at my hotel on July 31, I drove southwest to Everglades National Park, billed by the National Park Service as "the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States."

I parked in the free lot at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, and went inside to see what activities were planned.

On a day when temperatures soared past 90, along with oppressive humidity, I joined a 10:30 a.m. guided walk along the Pine Island Trails of a freshwater marsh filled with alligators, large soft-shell turtles and tropical fish that people dumped in canals.

I sprayed my arms and legs with mosquito repellent and sunblock, and carried 2 bottles of water.

Lubber grasshoppers, intent on mating, littered the walkway, both alive and dead, crushed by tourists gawking at their surroundings.

SHADE LOVING: We saw alligators after our noisy group disturbed them and drove them to find another shady spot to escape the relentless sunlight.
MATING SEASON: Two Lubber Grasshoppers mating on a walkway, oblivious to passing tourists. The smaller grasshopper on top is the male.
TAMING NATURE: The 83-acre Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Coral Gables are filled with plants I have never seen before.
RAIN CLOSED THE BUTTERFLY HOUSE: It was raining on the day I visited, bringing comfortable temperatures in the 70s, but the butterfly house was closed and tram tours were suspended. I was admitted for free.
TREES WITH FLOWERS: More exotic flowers hang from the branches of a tree.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Suez defends millions of dollars in charges to N.J. towns for 'public fire protection'

WATER WORKS: Suez North America headquarters are on From Road in Paramus, above and below.
GOING TO THE SOURCE: I had been trying to get Suez North America to comment after Hackensack officials complained in June about their bill of more than $343,000 for "fire protection." So, I went to Suez headquarters without an appointment, cooled my heels in the waiting room and finally was given the cellphone number of the company spokeswoman, who said she was on the road. On Friday, she emailed me what I needed.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- When a vehicle struck a fire hydrant and ruptured a water main in Fort Lee, the water company immediately dispatched a repair crew.

"The cost was substantial, but the safety of that block depended on a working hydrant," Debra Vial, spokeswoman for Suez North America, said on Friday. "We are always on call."

The cost of the repairs were $38,741.27, she said, defending the charges to Hackensack and other towns for "public fire protection."

"We work every day ensure that the 16,226 hydrants in our system and all of the infrastructure to support them are always ready whenever and wherever a fire erupts," Vial said.

"This is critical to keeping our communities safe. As part of our commitment to the communities we serve, rates for hydrants are lower now than they were in 2010."

Hackensack's bill

As I reported on June 11, Suez's charges for "public fire protection" are $195.12 for each of Hackensack's 531 hydrants or $103,608.72; and $0.04 "per inch-foot of main" or $240,180.98.

The total bill for Hackenack in 2019 is $343,789.70.

Testing of hydrants

Specifically, Hackensack officials are upset about the $103,608.72 in charges for hydrants.

Fire Chief Thomas J. Freeman was turned down when he asked Suez about potential savings, in view of his department checking and servicing hydrants for roughly 10 years.

"The charge represents far more than the maintenance and testing of hydrants," Vial said.

"It includes the cost of providing the overall operation, maintenance and infrastructure necessary to ensure a robust system capable of providing the adequate pressure and capacity needed to fight fires.

"For example, we must build and maintain enough storage to handle the additional volume and pumps to deliver at a higher capacity that what is needed for domestic services only."

Other towns

Teaneck presumably pays more to Suez, as do Paramus and Englewood, all of which are larger than Hackensack and have more hydrants.

Ridgewood, Paterson, Clifton and Passaic all own their own water systems, and do not pay Suez for fire protection.

Vial, the Suez spokeswoman, said if I wanted a list of New Jersey towns and what they pay Suez, I should ask the state Board of Public Utilities, which sets the fire-protection rates.

SUEZ CANAL: In the waiting room, below, you can watch a video on the origins of the one of the world's biggest suppliers of clean water and waste-recycling services.
BASED IN FRANCE: Suez says the company provides water and waste-recycling services to more than 7.5 million people in the United States and Canada.
SUEZ ADVISORY: A sign in the company's 4th-floor men's room asks you to "please be considerate of the next person and clean up after yourself." Given the large number of slobs, litterers and smokers who toss butts out of car windows, I'd love to see signs like that all over northern New Jersey.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Cartoons speak for themselves on Trump's racist campaign to demonize immigrants

Many observers equate President Trump's racial views with Hitler or the Ku Klux Klan. Here, Cartoonist Adam Zyglis of The Buffalo (N.Y.) News agrees Trump doesn't have "a" racist bone in his body; he has dozens of racist bones, one shaped like the hood of the ghostly Klan outfit.
Cartoonist Nate Beeler of The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio shows sewage flowing out of Trump's mouth. The manhole cover is labeled "Racism."
Cartoonist Dave Granlund of PoliticalCartoons.com has Trump complaining about his treatment after he makes racist remarks. "Hey, there are others who agree with me," the president says, throwing his arms around Hitler and a Klansman.
Jimmy Margolies, former editorial cartoonist for The Record of Woodland Park, shows Trump in a Klan outfit saying, "I could lynch somebody on Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters..."
A second cartoon from Adam Zyglis labels as "vintage racism" Trump's words to four women of color in the House of Representatives: "Go back to where you came from!!"
In another cartoon from Dave Granlund, the ICE roundup announced by Trump ensnares Melania Knauss, his wife, for green card violations and illegal employment.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

North Jersey residents turn thumbs down on editor who says they must pay for news

The front page of The Record of Woodland Park on June 4, 2018, before reporter John Cichowski put readers out of their misery by retiring. He wrote The Road Warrior column for more than 14 years. The so-called commuting column focused almost exclusively on drivers.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- The executive editor of The Record today formally announced a policy that had been apparent to readers of NorthJersey.com for many months:

"A portion of our reporting will be available only to subscribers," Daniel Sforza announced on NorthJersey.com -- the paper's website -- via a link from Twitter.

"These will be labeled 'For Subscribers' on NorthJersey.com and our mobile apps," said Forza, a former Record assignment editor who rose to executive editor of The Record of Woodland Park and these other Gannett properties:

North Jersey.com, The Herald News, The Daily Record in Parsippany; The Journal News, LoHud.com, and The Poughkeepsie Journal, the last three in New York State.

The job came with a modest raise, but unlimited mileage reimbursement, some wags have suggested.

Reader reaction

"So the number of readers you do have, which I can assure you is very limited, will continue to plummet just like CNN's ratings," Johnny B Good @mastrfriendship replied on Twitter. "An interesting strategy for an already failed news source."

Apple Ridge Something @AppleRidgeGuy wanted to know, "Do your 300 ads per page still pop up for subscribers?"

"I'll guess I'll u follow you now. Bye, said G.O. @bankerdad73. 

"$7.99 a month for a digital only subscription is way too much so sadly I guess I won't be seeing your posts," tweeted Paige Ryan @paigeonedesigns.

"Bye," said Pinky @NJPinkSky, showing an emoji with a waving hand.

Layoffs, cuts in local news

In his statement, Sforza invokes the glorious history of The Record without mentioning the layoffs of more than 350 employees after the Gannett Co. paid nearly $40 million in cash to the Borg family for North Jersey Media Group in July 2016.

Then-Publisher Stephen A. Borg had engineered the biggest downsizing in The Record's history in 2008, then abandoned Hackensack in 2009, moving more than 1,000 employees to Woodland Park and Rockaway Township.

Gannett not only cut the payroll. Local news pages in the print edition dwindled and ads increased. 

The Record no longer runs an editorial everyday. And as the Local news section shrank, the Sports section was expanded.

A few weeks ago, The Record included an 8-page Sports section and only 3 pages of local news, much of it from Passaic County and of little interest to the heart of the readership in Bergen County.

Sforza's statement fails to acknowledge that he has helped Gannett turn The Record into a rag:

"In a few short months, The Record will be celebrating its 125th year of publication.
"That's more than a century of covering North Jersey, from its time as a rural farming community to the building of the George Washington Bridge to its place as a retail and residential hub in the shadow of New York City.
"Over that time, we've worked to deliver information that's important to you, to your families, to your businesses and to your future.
"The Record still does all of that, landing on newsstands and in your driveways each day. But it now does so much more.
"First and foremost, it's the storytelling engine behind NorthJersey.com, our virtual home where you can get not only our award-winning articles, but view fantastic videos, photo galleries, newsletters and more.
"That shift, which brings local news to you around the clock on your mobile phones, laptops and tablets, has also changed how we support the journalism that is so intrinsic to the way we live and to our democracy.
"Now more than ever before we are relying on our subscribers to support our news gathering.
"In recognition of that growing reliance on our readers’ support, a portion of our reporting will be available only to subscribers, starting Tuesday. This will include many of our exclusive stories unavailable from other news sources. These will be labeled “For Subscribers” on NorthJersey.com and our mobile apps.
"As savvy readers, you have no doubt noticed that we have been scaling back on the number of free stories available each month on our digital site. That's because we value our journalism and we know that you value it as well.
"Often, readers will tell me that they get their news through Facebook or Twitter. But behind the stories you find on social media networks are organizations like NorthJersey.com and The Record, where hard working journalists are doing the on-the-ground reporting to get to the bottom of a scandal, tell you about the new restaurant opening up, or analyzing the latest Yankees victory.
"It's important to realize that. And it's important to acknowledge that the content provided through social media is not generated by social media. 
"The success of local media will increasingly depend on support from our most loyal readers — those of you who subscribe to The Record and NorthJersey.com. 
"Many of you may already have subscriptions to The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. But only The Record and NorthJersey.com cover the towns you live in, the schools in your neighborhood, and the high school athletics your sons and daughters participate in.
"In addition, as New Jersey is comprised of more than 500 towns, it's important to keep watch on what is happening in our local governments. Only reporters from The Record and NorthJersey.com are keeping tabs on our politicians, our school boards, our downtowns, our health organizations, public transit agencies and the environment.
"This type of reporting is critical to a functioning democracy. It's critical to watching how your tax dollars are spent. And it's critical to how you make decisions that are in the best interest of your family, your business and your career....
"We have also returned coverage of the New York Rangers to our sports pages, adding it to our already robust coverage of the Devils, Knicks, Yankees, Mets, Giants and Jets. And we do it like no other.
"In the coming months, we will be adding searchable online databases of everything from state employee salaries to tax data to education statistics.
"None of this would be possible without our subscribers....
"To get all your digital benefits, you just need to log in our activate your digital account. 
"As a lifelong resident of North Jersey, I know how passionate we all are about the role The Record plays in our lives. And I'm grateful to everyone who supports our efforts.
"Again, thank you, and please don't hesitate to reach out with your suggestions for coverage."
Daniel Sforza is the executive editor of the The Record, NorthJersey.com, The Herald News, The Journal News, LoHud.com, The Daily Record and The Poughkeepsie Journal. He can be reached at sforza@northjersey.com, on Twitter @sforzadan. Subscribe to our independent reporting that supports our local communities and our democracy.