You’re driving northbound on the Palmetto when you pass a sign that says your exit is two miles away. Your friend Dan is “copiloting” in the passenger seat, which just amounts to him scrolling through Instagram.
The realization that you must move one lane to the right causes your blood pressure to rise. This is always a tricky proposition. You start to slowly transition over when a F150 pushing Mach 2 plows by, causing you to jerk back into your lane and let out a choice bilingual expletive.
“Dude, just put on your indicator,” suggests Dan without glancing from his phone.
You look at him like he’s a goddamn idiot, and then tell him as much. This isn’t how things work in Miami.
Dan locks his Samsung and gives you a meaningful stare. “You know,” he begins. “You’re just adding to this city’s terrible driving culture. Back home, everyone makes complete stops and lets people merge because they understand that…” You tune out.
Five years in South Florida and this corn fed, Tevas-wearing, cold brew-drinking, Metro Mover-taking good ol’ boy from BFE Ohio still doesn’t know the difference between a French roll and Cuban bread. And he’s lecturing you on how to drive in your hometown.
“No one’s going to let me in,” you explain.
This launches Dan on another tirade, to which you don’t even pretend to listen. It includes the words “civil society” and “moral equivalency,” but your eyes glaze over before you catch anything else. A Dodge Caravan slides into your blind spot.
“Fine!” you interject. “But whatever happens is your responsibility.”
Every fiber in your body and neuron in your brain screams as you flip the turn signal. You start merging when the Caravan lays on its horn like its auditioning for the New World Symphony. Thoroughly rattled, you stay in your lane.
The Caravan accelerates until it’s parallel to your car. You turn your head, lock eyes with its driver, and instantly see into his soul.
Carlos Bustamante is a 49-year-old Venezuelan émigré who moved to Miami twelve years ago. He has a wife named Gloria, a three-year-old daughter named Estefani, they’re both in the car, and not a single one of them gives a flying fuck about you.
You recognize Carlos’ look, that steely mix of determination and disdain. No matter the cost, no matter the sacrifice, he will never, ever let you into his lane. Gloria and Estefani are fully committed as well. This is about family. It’s about honor. You. Shall. Not. Pass.
One mile to your exit.
“I’ll ask them to let us in,” suggests Dan, oblivious to the mortal combat he’s entered. The Ohioan rolls down his window, gives Carlos a big, dumb, Ohioan smile, and pantomimes what looks like churning butter with a broken wrist. Estefani, princess binkie in her mouth and distilled contempt in her face, gives him the middle finger.
“What the… hell…” he starts.
“This is your fucking fault, Dan!” you cry. “Strap in and shut up!”
Dan sheepishly rolls up the window.
You floor the accelerator, pulling half a car’s length in front of Carlos, but he clearly opted for the Caravan Fast & Furious NOS kit from Planet Dodge, because he quickly makes up the difference.
Half a mile to your exit.
“Just let him pass!” shouts Dan, hand firmly welded to the Oh Shit Bar.
This is the Palmetto at 11:34 AM on a Saturday. There is no slowing down. There is no mercy. There is only win or lose. Success means arriving at Tío Sergio’s barbeque 40 minutes late. Defeat means your imminent death continuously replayed in an ONLY In DADE IG story for the next 24 hours.
Quarter mile to your exit.
You need to get creative, and maybe take down some innocents with you. A white Civic looms in your windshield, going a good thirty miles slower. You move one lane to the left and zoom around the Honda.
“What are you doing??” screams Dan.
“Making my ancestors proud!” you below.
You cut in front of the Civic, causing it to swerve into Carlos’ lane.
100 feet to your exit.
Carlos slams on his horn, and veers into the emergency lane. A maniacal grin spreads across your face. You’re so close to victory, yet cheek by jowl with death. This is the chilling rush of a lion hunt. It’s a midnight raid on a rival clan. It’s instinctual, brutal, total vehicular warfare.
You swing across two lanes, clip your side view mirror on the railing, and careen onto the offramp.
The car decelerates as it rounds the oval turnoff. After holding your breath for the last minute, you finally let out a loud, exhausted sigh. You see the Caravan and just barely meet Gloria’s stare. Her pursed lips, furrowed brow, and light nod communicate a begrudging respect before your former antagonists disappear behind a retaining wall.
The three minutes to Tío Sergio’s house are driven in complete silence. You pull into the driveway and turn off the engine. A thumping reggaetón beat and peals of muffled laughter let you know the party’s been going for a while.
“What… just… happened?” pleads your friend.
“You messed with the order of things, Dan,” you respond calmly, putting the keys away. “And all hell broke loose.” You unbuckle your seatbelt, lean over the center console, and look right into those big, terrified Ohioan eyes.
“Miami’s insane. But it has a system.”
You lean in closer and lower your voice. “Don’t fuck with the system, Dan. And don’t ever, EVER make me put on my indicator again. Understand?”
“Good!” you exclaim. “Let’s eat lechón.”
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