On the trail of 007 in South Florida
12/25/15, 9:30 p.m. eastern — Apart from the yuletide wreath hanging over a hotel advertisement sign, it could have been any other night at Miami International Airport. Crowded, humid, noisy, the corridors blared with the clamor of announcements, beeping luggage carts, and the collective drone of chattering voices. I had just broken through a wall of Japanese tourists (who were excitedly photographing the signs to the car rental area) and walked into the first bar I noticed. I’ve got to say I felt like there had been a kind of adventurous zeal in effect on this trip. While my travel companions looked upon it as our annual Christmas vacation, I had secretly plotted a trip full of Bondian commemorations. For here, under the Florida sun, was Ian Fleming country. To celebrate this clandestine mission, I ordered two double bourbons, just as the literary Bond does in the Miami prelude in Goldfinger, while my companions looked in puzzlement at this sudden stop at the bar. For the record, apart from my intrepid 10-year old niece Kristen, all personally connected individuals have stipulated not to be described in this article. Henceforth, this shadow group of travelers shall be collectively referred to as “The Anonymous Gang.”
In Goldfinger, a novel about a psychoneurotic Latvian obsessed with gold, agent 007—on route to New York from Mexico City—is stranded at Miami International and stares at his glass of bourbon as he remembers the Mexican gangster he had killed during the disruption of a heroin smuggling ring. Likewise, my situation was just as full of intrigue and suspense: I arrived in Miami from exotic Charlotte, North Carolina where I had celebrated Christmas morning with the Anonymous Gang. The two-hour flight was enough time to sift through a couple of 007 novels to get reacquainted with some of Bond’s adventures in Florida. A few years before the events in Goldfinger, Bond passes through Jacksonville and the Tampa-St. Petersburg area in Live and Let Die. Later in the novel, his observation of the Sunshine State, high above from a plane on route to Jamaica, evokes the luxury of foreign travel, a dream for most readers circa 1954. Bond, though, expresses a touch of disdain for the creeping commercialism:
The plane swept on across the waist of Florida, across the acres of jungle and swamp without sign of human habitation. . . . Soon they were over Miami and the monster chump-traps of the eastern seaboard, their arteries ablaze with neon. Away to port, state Highway No. 1 disappeared up the coast in a golden ribbon of motels, gas stations, and fruit-juice stands, up through Palm Beach and Daytona to Jacksonville, there hundred miles away (149).
I’ve driven many times along Highway 1, as well as the scenic A1A, which runs along the Atlantic coast and weaves in and out of oceanfront towns. Today, Fleming’s Bond would do a bit of Roger Moore eyebrow-cocking as he realizes that most of this coastal stretch has all the scenic glory of a carnival midway. Traffic congestion, crowded restaurants, jam-packed vendors, and a glut of real estate have replaced what was once so natural, pristine, and evocative of the Caribbean spirit. Nevertheless, in the books, what saves Bond from complete cynicism and disgust is his own keen interest for adventure, which reflects his creator’s persona. As the Fleming-Bond lore goes, the journey in Live and Let Die is based on the author's trip in January 1953, when he boarded the Silver Phantom in New York, which carried him south to St. Petersburg and eventually to Miami, where he boarded a plane for Jamaica. Florida is, in essence, a special region in the James Bond enthusiast’s world. Even beyond Fleming, it’s a prominent setting in other aspects of the 007 world: John Gardner’s fifth Bond novel, Nobody Lives Forever, has its finale in Key West; and this tropical isle also featured prominently in the film Licence To Kill.1 In this spirit, I wanted to follow Bond’s trail to acknowledge the character’s jaunts in South Florida.
But here’s the thing: the Florida of Fleming’s time is obviously long gone; and today, Miami Beach and Key West—with their crowded tourism and "exotic" un-kid friendly ambience—are pale shadows of the glamor depicted in the films Goldfinger and Licence To Kill. In context to 007-related history, these places felt like ghost towns where Bondian past events have been forgotten. But I was determined to grasp the essence of Fleming on this trip. I remembered a line from his article “How to write a Thriller” that implies the great need for all of us—and not just writers—is to be “far more aware of the world around you” (7). The line was enough of a mandate for me. I would delve into my surroundings, drink a bit more bourbon (and, well, vodka), and remember the connections to Bond and Fleming. For the discerning fan, Miami and Key West still hold traces of mystique of the 007 world. And, as an added bonus, Hemingway's shadow looms over this tropical region, inviting us to explore his subtle connection to Fleming to enhance the literary aspect of this adventure.
|1||One would be remiss not to mention the brief scene in Miami in the vacuous 2006 version of Casino Royale. The scene has something to do with the Craig-Bond disrupting a terrorist plan to blow up a jetliner. Director Martin Campbell stages a synthetic trifling pyrotechnic exercise on the tarmac with a tanker truck, fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, and explosions—a desperate attempt to distract us from seeing that Craig’s mind seems elsewhere.|