The Stories We Tell | Local






I have lived and worked in Key Biscayne for almost 50 years. For 43 of those years, I sold, rented and repaired bikes as the owner of Mangrove Cycles. After I closed the bike store, I opened the Miami Meditation Center and offered Zen meditation and mindful breathing sessions to relieve stress. Now I find myself embarking on a new career.

My affiliation with Islander News began in March 2019. An acquaintance and former editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Raquel Garcia, asked me to accompany him and help cover the Ultra Music Festival, a sprawling three-day event. which took place at the Miami Marine Stadium.

We arrived on the afternoon of the first day of the festival. I was quickly mesmerized by the pulsating rhythm of electronic music. This type of music was unfamiliar to me and I could feel the rhythm deep in my chest. As I stood outside the gates talking and photographing the hundreds of spectators entering the festival, many of whom were younger than me, I couldn’t help but marvel at how exciting it was to be. ‘observe something new and experience it through the eyes of a journalist, just witness and document the events.

I arrived home that evening elated but exhausted. At midnight, the phone rang. This was Raquel, asking me to return to the festival because an unexpected scene was unfolding due to a shortage of transport buses.

I jumped on my bike and returned to the marine stadium. Fortunately, I had just installed new batteries in the lights of my bicycle. It was 2 a.m. when I arrived, and I felt like I was in a scene from Woodstock. Thousands of young festival-goers were tired of waiting in the overwhelmed buses and marched rather peacefully, en masse, across the Rickenbacker Causeway.

The show seemed surreal. It was as if all of Miami’s police cars were there, the hazard lights flashing. But the young crowd seemed indifferent to this inconvenience. A hike in the middle of the night on the bridge was just another exciting chapter to end a busy day.

Very often, we can’t really appreciate a situation – especially a sprawling and chaotic one – when we’re at the heart of it. It takes time and thought to figure out what was really going on. So it was with my experience at the Ultra Festival and its suites. The scene on the pavement could have been dangerous, but somehow it wasn’t. For the most part, the people kept their cool and the police remained calm and helpful. Hopefully everyone has made it home safely.






photo taken by Bill Durham

The next day I sorted my photos and was delighted to find that I had captured a great photo. In it, a tired police officer stands by his motorbike on the bridge as he watches the army of festival-goers pass by, Miami’s magical cityscape glittering in the background. Raquel posted my photo with her story. And with that, I was hooked.

I am captivated by the stories people tell. For two years, I did my best to capture the Key Biscayner stories through photography, and published hundreds of images in the Islander. And then I decided I wanted to stretch more. I wanted to write. Never mind that I haven’t had any real training beyond a few first year English composition classes at the University of Miami.

Justo Rey, editor of Islander News, kindly agreed to give me a chance, as long as I limit my articles to less than 200 words. This is roughly the length of a recipe for baking a cake. But it was a start and a new challenge. As I gained more experience, my pieces grew beyond 200 words to 500, and the real fun began.

Readers of the Lighter Side column may remember its roots. One day, I was having coffee at the Golden Hog ​​when Tom Dannemiller showed me a golf ball he had picked up from a water hazard at Crandon Golf. The ball, which was in good condition, was marked with the name of a hotel that had closed in 1980. How did the golf ball end up there? The story attracted me and I became determined to write about it.

Afterwards, Miriam Esteve contacted me with an interesting personal story about the same hotel and asked if she could have the golf ball as a souvenir. Tom agreed and the second part of the story unfolded. Events continued from there, with new topics seeming to fall from the sky.

I want to express my gratitude to everyone who shared their story with me for this column. What is important to me is not the satisfaction of filling out a column (be it 500 or 700 or 1200 words) but of getting to know the people behind the stories. Each of you has enriched my life. I appreciate that you have allowed me to tell your story in a meaningful way. By sharing your stories with Island readers, I hope to foster friendships and connect neighbors as we continue to make our tropical island an even better place to live.

In addition to the golf ball streak, I wrote this year about a prayer group that meets next to a historic tree, a young aviator, a South Beach club promoter who transformed and a started charity in Haiti, a man who returned to the lighthouse with a painting he received as a child, a dolphin activist who made his debut on Mashta Island, parades, a senior who gives dance lessons, electric cars, a LightHouse race organizer and a businessman with a passion for new technologies. It’s a wide range of topics that showcase the diversity of people who share our island paradise.

I especially want to thank Justo for launching an open invitation to write about anything that interests me. Few journalists are so lucky. I try not to ask him too many questions or to solicit because, having seen his weekly to-do lists, I frankly do not know how he does it.

It is a great pleasure for me to work with Justo and continue the Islander’s 51 year local news tradition. Over the years there have been many competent people who have worked in this office including Anne Owens, Ann Tennis, Linda Thornton, Nancye Ray, Darrell Nicholson, David Gilmer, Rod Coffee, Raquel Garcia, George White, Hillard Grossman and others.

So, yeah, I like to sit on that chair, meet neighbors and tell their stories. But I realize this is a temporary effort. The newspaper has a talented team of interns. Who knows? Maybe one of them will take my place in the end.

I love the island lifestyle – a relaxed pace that allows cycling from place to place and gives time to stop and talk with strangers and old friends. And to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee in the middle of the day. Patience and the ability to listen to others are necessary qualities for aspiring journalists.

I am grateful to those who trusted me as a bicycle repairer and meditation teacher, and who now continue to encourage me in my new role as a newspaper columnist.

What gives meaning to my life is not the distance or the speed at which I have traveled. These are the people I meet along the way, the strangers on the road who, like me, seek happiness. Am I blinded trying to reach my destination? Or, like a Good Samaritan, can I stop to help others on the road to Jericho? It is you, all of you, who make this trip worth it.


If you have any suggestions for a topic, I would welcome them. Please email me at [email protected]

PS – And a special thank you to Catherine Malinin Dunn for maintaining a good sense of humor while viewing and editing this column.

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About John Villalpando

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