I almost April fooled myself when I arrived at 4:30 p.m. just before afternoon rush hour; a little too early for the event’s slightly late start. I started to head home, thinking O, Miami’s "Flip the Script" performance, kicking off their month-long celebration of National Poetry Month, had been that morning. But something told me to get off at the next Metro Mover stop and circle back to the Bayfront Park Station. I wasn’t disappointed.
Seated on a metal stool, a dunce cap perched on her pig-tailed head, was what looked like a little school girl in all her plaid parochial finery. She held a sign styled after the kind you see roadside hawkers twirling to direct you to sell your gold, or more often, to try the newest vape joint. Instead of some garish shade of neon, hers was plain white, asking simply, “Are you sorry?” She occasionally flipped it on its other side to reveal the question, “Will you be sorry?” while she hopped off her stool to do a little two-step in tap shoes.
Reactions to the schoolgirl, played by local Miami performer Ana Mendez, ranged from amused indifference to a slightly disturbing proposition from a too arduous construction worker. Several passersby took both surreptitious and open selfies in between. She was one of four characters flipping signs that afternoon, each featuring selected lines from the poem "Twenty Questions" by Miami's mostly forgotten son, the poet Donald Justice.
Even event coordinator/performer Rudi Goblen, dressed in a dapper fitted black suit, flipped a sign that asked, “Will you take off your glasses?” Anita Jungbauer, the affable, bespectacled matriarch of a family of German tourists on a 2-day sojourn to Miami, kindly obliged Rudi, asking him, “Now what?” When I stopped the slightly sunburned quartet, comprising mama Anita, papa Hans, and daughters Pia and Hannah, and asked them what he said, she replied, “He said, ‘thank you,’ and we laughed!” When I asked them why they stopped to engage Rudi, she answered, “I don’t know; I was curious, and he seemed interesting.”
Rudi, who conceived the project as a unique way to visually expose pedestrians to Justice’s work, collaborated with three other local Miami performers to create the unique characters developed from lines of the poem. They included a goggled young man in a bright yellow rain slicker, played by Louis Cuevas, whose sign asked “Is it raining out?” (most existential answer: “I can tell you that it’s not raining out, but I’m not sure whether it’s raining within.”)
Gerardo Pillatti played a Where’s Waldo expy (who elicited a honking, “Hey, I found you!” response from a passing driver at some point), whose sign asked, “Do you often travel alone?” The crowd favorite seemed to be the lady with the curvaceous pink print dress and sky-high heels, played by Katie Stirman, serving it to the rush hour traffic as her sign asked, “What is your occupation?”
“I thought she was a model, she was dressed so fabulously,” said Mariella Lopez-Albear, who was in the downtown area for her re-certification as a Supreme Court certified mediator, when I asked her what was talking about when she stopped to engage Katie. “I thought she was doing something for New York with the photographer, then I saw the sign, so I stopped to ask.” They discussed the project, O, Miami. Mariella plans to visit the site tonight when she gets home. “We need more culture in Miami, not just people looking different or talking different languages. Real, intellectually stimulating culture, so thank you for doing this.”
Clidiane Aubourg is a writer living in Miami, Fl. She will be contributing blog posts for O, Miami Poetry Festival 2016.