Pumpkins & Palm Trees – A Miami Halloween

(in a spooky voice) “Before we begin this article, there are some rules you must follow. One, please turn on a rain and thunder sounds app. Maybe with an owl hooting from time to time. Two, keep your limbs to yourself. Don’t touch the monsters lurking in these paragraphs. And three, read this at dusk or in the dark. Thank you. And now… the article!”

Halloween in South Florida has a vibe unlike any other in this country. The leaves may not have changed color, but the air takes on a lot less humidity and a lot more crisper days. My earliest memory of Halloween in Miami, I was holding my Mom’s hand walking with my older sister across the street from our house. 

It was on the block over, something out of one of those spooky books your elementary teachers would read out loud to the class when it turned autumn. I can’t remember loving this holiday until I came face to face with this home. Their yard was filled with all the ingredients my imagination needed for conjuring up my first round of supernatural fantasies. 

Fixed in my mind are the haystacks. Of course there were ghosts, skeletons, pumpkins of all faces. A “Parking for Witches” sign I just thought was the coolest thing. We must have stood out there for at least a good twenty minutes.

I was inside Halloween.

The sun from the west was setting so through the tree leaves of the many oaks which lined our neighborhood streets were streaks of orange, yellow, and white. The colors of candy corn. That magic hour spell. These tattered streams of fall light. How they’d cast our shadows long across the fresh cut green lawns of suburban living.     

Where I lived in Miami Shores there was a classic red brick building “Five n’ Dime” off 95th St. and NE 2nd Ave. It was the coolest place. They had this little Slushy machine by the back entrance of the store I could never pass up. I’d start calling this store around September, probably even earlier, and asking when their Halloween decorations were going to arrive. Thus began the tradition which continued way into my teens of calling everyone from K-Mart to Walgreens inquiring about their festive fall arrivals. 

I had been a hit one year dressed up as a Ghostbuster. I had the proton pack, a PKE meter, and a ghost trap I could roll out and open. So awesome. I walked across the Miami Shores Elementary school field the morning of that year to everyone from the basketball court where we would line up before class running up to me to congratulate me on what a cool costume I was wearing. Top 5 days of all time.

But I knew I had to try to top that year, so I went to this Magic Shop in North Miami off 125th St. and 16th Ave. Magic tricks were performed. Kits sold. A variety of costumes hung around the entire space of the place. Expensive, meticulous Halloween masks were all perched side by side on a shelf that stretched the length of the shop right under the ceiling. 

Next to this badass Predator mask, I’m talking Hollywood quality, and a gajjion dollars, was a Freddy Kruger one. Fred Kruger. The child killer. The Nightmare On Elm Street films. The “How sweet, fresh meat!” At the time there was a mass produced mask of his that pretty much looked like a slice of pepperoni was stuck to this cheap rubber cheek. How dare they. But this one. This one looked like it was handcrafted. 

My mom knowing how much I needed another “win on the field”, spent the $65 (or was it $99?) and took home my next school costume victory (I still have it and it still smells the same way inside of it it did then). Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my hands on the famous Freddy glove, so my mom improvised by buying a pair of knitted gloves and sticking screw nails through the tips of the fingers. It worked pretty cool. I was really impressed by my mom. She never gave up.

Come Halloween morning, as I made my way through the enamored crowd of kids parting ways while gazing at my costume as I made my way to class, I was grabbed by an administrator and taken straight to the Principal’s office. Apparently my glove was deemed too dangerous and would be given back to me at the end of the day. 

What’s weird is my parents are teachers and they never thought this glove would pose a threat. Strange, right? Wanna know what’s stranger? That Magic Shop? It disappeared. Like literally. I can’t find anything about it online. I can’t find anyone who remembers it. Hell, my mom only somewhat remembers it…. Yep… For real spooky.

Now, I’d like to pay tribute to the steamier, sexier side of South Florida come Halloween.

My very good friend Deyson Rodgriguez Osorno (legendary local MC/Photographer Soarse Spoken aka AtlasWon) was throwing costume parties over the years for all those who were way hipper than I was, am, or ever will be at places such as Purdy Lounge, Bizerq (now defunct), Chalk (now defunct), Blackbird Ordinary, and 1-800-Lucky. Here’s what he said as to why Halloween is the most unique holiday here in Miami:

 “The thing about Halloween in Miami, and what makes it special, is that we don’t have the restrictions other metropolitan cities around the country face during this holiday. We don’t have to wear coats to cover our costumes due to our warm October weather, we are a very party oriented city so we obviously take a debauched holiday like Halloween and take it to the next bastardized level… Thank god. We also don’t have last calls or normal schedules like most of America so we basically turn a one day holiday into a whole weekend. The only city that I’ve heard that can rival Miami for crazy Halloweens is New Orleans, but that’s a story for another day. 

I’ve hosted Halloween parties and costume dance/booty contests every year for Halloween for over a decade and I (expletive) love it! It’s as fun as any fun can get. Girls dress to their most creative and/or sexy and the guys follow suit. I honestly feel bad for anyone not dressed on a night out for Halloween in Miami. You can tell they’re truly uncomfortable and awkward with everyone else around them dressed up and having a great time (and the times are great). They deserve it, too. They should’ve put in the effort. Anyway, for anyone who hasn’t experienced the phenomenon that is Halloween in the magic city, I highly recommend it. You won’t be disappointed.”

I also spoke with former hipster/now pretty hip comedian wife Pauley Paulerson (she dropped the “Mc” from Paulerson for this article… she’s maturing) who has lived here for over twenty years and these were her thoughts:  “We had great Halloween parties at Purdy Lounge. Chocolate Sundays. It was good to avoid the busy streets and be around the people I knew. But now, nothing beats a good Miami house party. Where you end up in the pool washing off your body paint at 6am I mean who can go in the pool in October? Miami can.” 

South Florida’s steamy, sexy tropical backdrop only contributes to the overall feeling that we experience something different than the rest of the country. It’s a juxtaposition of the traditional decorative stylings against the hot sandy concrete environment we roam around the rest of the year. Humidity on Halloween night in Miami is like a misty fog wetting the air with a tinge of the cinematic. When we watched any horror movie, classic or modern, our city looked nothing like the towns portrayed during this holiday. Maybe some local filmmaker will pull from all that is unique about this time of year here and write a horror narrative worthy of our scenery.

On and off for over twenty years I worked for Norberto’s New York Deli

The 31st of October was my favorite day to work. All day I’d stare out the window and watch how all of these venders and village workers blocked off from 96th St to I think 103rd and constructed what was known as the Halloween Howl.

All walks of life would descend upon “The Howl”. Neighbors and neighboring neighbors alike would enter best costume contests, stop by local pop up tables advertising their services or products, getting to chat local chat and making new friends. We’d keep the deli open late and people who we served throughout the year would come in in full costume, buy a hotdog or a beer to shoot the shit, bring their kids by for some trick or treats we’d give out or introduce us to relatives we’d maybe only heard about from our regulars. It was always so cool to see everyone in this way. How they’d dress. The families all together. I hope something like this still exists somewhere… 

I can’t remember when trick or treating ended for me. I forget what age. I’d try all I could all year long to make it feel like it does around this time of year. Boy was it my favorite time of year. My dad and his friend springing up from some tall leaves and scaring the bejesus out of us. The pumpkins and the palm trees. Houses became haunted ruins. Front yard graveyards. Homemade special effects and stunts. The traffic slowed and we owned the night. Us kids. Our dreams and fantasies taken seriously for one day. In the second grade, at my after school care club, they blacked out a room and draped dark sheets over the seats of chairs that ran the course of the room, and different scares would occur along the way as we made our way on our hands and feet. 

So much fun.

Truth be told, I didn’t start writing this with the intention of describing what Halloween was like for me growing up. Obviously it’s had such an impact on me I’ve hijacked this article for my own self indulgent reminiscence. Halloween in Miami. The spooks of SoFlo. My memories electrified by ghosts and haystacks. And as a married couple, we recently purchased our very first Halloween tree together. Wait. You don’t have a Halloween tree?! It’s pink. The lights a shade of orange. With tiny cauldrons of real candy corns. Little ravens perched on branches. And a bunch of other creepy crawlies hanging around.

In fact I don’t know if you know this but there’s a new trend on the rise which combines the traditional Halloween decoration but with a tropical vibe. A pumpkin’s face carved into a pineapple. Skeletons whose body’s go from human to fish. It’s kinda pretty cool I think. And as for trick or treating with a child of my own? My wife and I don’t plan on having kids anytime soon. But I will tell you one thing. Even if we never have children, I will always have Halloween in South Florida to relive this holiday’s magical influence over my past as a child, and continue to weave more autumn thread into the fabric of how my present and future memories will unfold. 

Pumpkins and palm trees…  How lucky are we?!   

Full disclosure: My parents let me keep up cobwebs all year round. We’d have to explain to company, handymen and other assorted people who passed by and under the stretchy cotton with plastic spiders that had gathered real dust over time. My parents are awesome. Probably a lot more awesome than yours. I don’t think anybody’s parents can top that level of love. 

Happy Halloween, everyone. Or as we say in my family…  Happy Spooky Oooky!

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Travis Roig

Travis Roig is a Miami Shores native, creator of old timey horror radio podcast “Terror on the Air,” a singer songwriter and most recently, the host of Roig Rage: A Podcast, a hilarious look into the struggles of a simple man trying to live in modern day Miami.