Flashlight & A Biscuit, No. 2: Hurricanes & Milkshakes
The time a kid staked out a corner and built an empire
Hey, folks. Hope this finds you and yours safe, healthy and not yet ready to skin each other. Stay strong. We’ll all make it through to the other side of this. For now, a non-coronavirus, happy-ending story. With milkshakes.
Homestead, Florida is the place where the highway runs out.
It’s down at the tip end of the Sunshine State, wedged between the Everglades and Biscayne Bay, down where Interstate 95 narrows down to a thin road that zips right off the edge of the continental United States. It’s much like the rest of south Florida: hot, flat and asphalt-covered.
Almost 30 years ago, Hurricane Andrew basically blew Homestead off the map. At Homestead Air Force Base, planes were flung like toys, hangars were shredded, runways were fractured beyond repair. The entire town was vaporized—almost the only thing left standing was the water tower—and after the Department of Defense decided to convert Homestead Air Force Base to reserve status, Homestead itself was in danger of vanishing entirely.
The timely construction of a NASCAR track, of all things, helped stave off that fate. Homestead-Miami International Speedway hosted NASCAR’s championship race right up until last year, and it was scheduled to host a race this weekend, but … you know.
Homestead’s one of my favorite tracks, its art-deco architecture and brilliant pastels a welcome change from the prison rec yard color scheme and industrial office park architectural style of many NASCAR tracks. Plus, as you can see above, it’s got the best championship sunset this side of the Rose Bowl.
About six miles west of the track, right down 344th Street, sits another of Homestead’s landmarks, right on the edge of the Everglades. And it’s at this site our story begins.
Back in 1959, a farmer named Robert Moehling dropped off his six-year-old son, also named Robert, on a Homestead corner with a couple bushels of extra cucumbers and told him to sell them to passers-by.
He didn’t sell a single cuke.
So the next day, the elder Robert took a hurricane shutter, spray-painted ROBERT IS HERE on it, set it up on the corner, and told the boy to get back at it.
The cucumbers were gone by noon, and little Robert had himself a lifetime mission.
Little Robert would sell produce at the corner every day after school. He hired his first employee when he was nine years old, bought his first 10 acres of property at that corner when he was 14. And on that same corner, to this very day, stands the now-famous Robert Is Here Fruit Stand.
Six decades on, Robert still runs the fruit stand, with his entire family on the payroll. The sprawling fruit enclave is a must-visit for anyone traveling south to the Keys, a Sunday-morning rest stop for cyclists, a slice of roadside Americana—petting zoo and all—that’s as vintage-Florida as it gets. It’s survived 60 years of challenge and strife, including Hurricane Andrew, a testament to one kid’s willpower … and to the power of fresh produce.
The fruit stand’s motto is “Come taste the unusual,” and damn, does it deliver. You’ve got your usual A-listers like bananas, limes and strawberries; exotic offerings like dragon fruit, jackfruit and miracle fruit; and stuff I’ve barely even heard of, like canistel (RIH’s description: “shaped like a Hershey’s kiss, and is yellow. Wait until the fruit is extremely soft, then cut (or pull) it open and enjoy its sweet egg custard flavor inside”), black sapote (“you must wait until it turns black and juicy before you eat it. It tastes like chocolate pudding”), and monstera deliciosa (“The green kernels will fall off by themselves about an inch at a time starting at the stem. Throw the kernels away and eat the white fruit exposed. It tastes like a sweet pineapple-banana”).
And the milkshakes. Sweet heaven, the milkshakes. I know this is torture, just showing you these, but come on:
Fresh, made to order right there in front of you. If there’s a finer one in the Western Hemisphere, I haven’t found it yet. And I’m always looking.
Anyway, whenever I make it back to Miami, I’ll drive a few more exits south and find the fruit stand. And that milkshake’s going to taste sweeter than ever before. All thanks to a kid on a corner, and a sign announcing where he was.
Stake out your corner. Let the world know you’re here. And hang in there, friends. Things will turn back upward soon.
Not hawking any of my stuff this week. Instead, let me recommend you go buy something from your favorite indie bookstore, locally owned restaurant or record store. Even a gift certificate would be great.
A few of my favorite book shops:
Great Escape Comics, Marietta, Ga.
Eagle Eye Books, Decatur, Ga.
Burke’s Books, Memphis
Square Books, Oxford, Miss.
Sun Dog Books, Seaside, Fla.
Mermaid Books, Williamsburg, Va.
Order from any of them, or find one near you with IndieBound’s bookseller finder. Help out if you can.
Book of the Week:
Naked Came The Florida Man, Tim Dorsey
Florida’s a never-ending repository for lunatic crime stories; if you’re a novelist, you could create a full book just transcribing headlines, the same way you could feed a family of 12 just by taking a single pass through a Golden Corral. Dorsey’s one of the best of the breed, reliable as the sunrise; every January brings a new neon-covered dispatch, an investigative report disguised as a thriller, deeply shot through with Florida arcana. Fun, familiar and weird as all hell.
“You Have Stolen My Heart,” Brian Fallon
The Gaslight Anthem were the greatest band of the early 1980s. Unfortunately, they formed in the mid-2000s, a time when the creative zeitgeist’s movement from rock to hip-hop dealt a near-mortal blow to a genre still reeling from a generation of rap-rock doofuses. If GA had been around in, say, 1984, their combination of sanctified guitar hooks, Springsteen-2.0 narratives, and—yes—anthemic choruses would have put them in the Petty-Mellencamp stratosphere. As it is, they have to settle for being the best rock band of an era where rock is all but irrelevant … sort of like Clemson winning the last couple ACC football titles.
Anyway, the band’s on hiatus, but their lead singer, Brian Fallon, is cranking out some reliably brilliant and evocative albums that demand to be heard in moving vehicles with windows down. Maybe this is the quarantine talking, but this right here is one of the most aching, beautiful songs I’ve heard in a long time. It’s off Fallon’s new album “Local Honey,” which hits the world next Friday. Catch it when it does.
Menu of the Week:
Shivers’ BBQ, Homestead, Florida
Every time I went to Homestead to cover the NASCAR season finale, I’d fly into Miami, step out into the glorious Florida sunshine, climb into my disinfectant-scented rental car (with just a hint of cigarette smoke still lingering from some previous driver), and bolt south down 95 toward Homestead. And before I got to the track, I’d always stop at Shivers’ BBQ just a couple miles away. Long tables, barn-shaped dining room, quick service, mysterious shapes lurking behind the tiny window into the kitchen, and damn good BBQ … this place has it all. Love it & miss it.
Thanks for hanging, friends. Stay safe, keep in touch, and I’ll catch you with more soon.
Next time: The Masters won’t go down in April this year, but I’m telling some Augusta stories anyway.