For a teenager from South Miami-Dade in the 1990s, US-1 was a highway to mischief, mayhem, and memory.
Along its east and west banks were the sites and haunts of a teenage Miamian’s after-hours, high school adventure.
For South Dade kids who came of age in the 1990s, US-1 was more than a road. It was a runway that led to life.
We knew the thoroughfare the way generals understand the battlefield. Every strategic touchpoint was committed to memory and ready to be called into action when the situation warranted.
What did the Texaco station on 168th Street and the Amoco on Le Jeune have in common during the first term of the Clinton Administration?
Don't think too hard. (If you were there, it's knee-jerk.)
They were both reliable sources where an underage, confidence-faking teen could regularly buy beer without a fake ID.
How many pay phones were there between Eureka drive and 136th street?
Think like a 90's kid. Back then, knowing where a pay phone is when one of your crew gets a beep from a friendly could change a night.
In a world before cell phones were standard-issue teen gear and beepers were few and far between among teens, quick access to pay phones could make the difference between you and crew not finding out about an impromptu backyard party and instead spending Friday night with a twelve pack at Coral Reef Park.
(The cops always found you and they always laughed when they made you dump the beer.)
Spanning 2,369 miles from Key West to the Canadian border in Maine, U.S. Route 1 is the largest north-south road in the country.
In the early 1990's, it was a perpetually-congested thoroughfare that served as the raceway for recently-licensed teens to test their skills and contribute to Miami’s notorious reputation for offensive driving.
New York streets may have a bark-but-don’t-bite attitude.
Los Angeles may have its 24-hour, smog-inducing congestion.
Miami traffic can be summed in a popular South Florida bumper sticker from the late 1980s:
So wary of US-1’s notorious dangers was my Connecticut-born mother that she demanded I prove a working knowledge South Dade back roads before allowing me to drive alone.
That brings us to Old Cutler Road.
We called it the Gauntlet, in part because so much of Old Cutler’s entire 15 or so mile stretch is lined with banyan trees that sprawl from either bank of the road, enveloping it in a picturesque canopy of limbs and leaves.
Old Cutler runs parallel to US-1, just east of Biscayne Bay, from SW 224th street (unincorporated Dade County in 1992, Cutler Bay since 2005) north to the circle at Cartegena Plaza in Coral Gables.
To run the Gauntlet, as we often did in the ’90s, meant a kid traveled from our end of Old Cutler (roughly south of 152nd Street) to Coral Gables without getting stopped by cops from any of the multiple police forces along the way--no easy task, even for “white-and-polite” kids like yours truly.
Traveling north through the Gauntlet was an ascension through layers of socio-economic strata, with working-class Cutler Ridge on one end of the spectrum and opulent Coral Gables on the other.
Along the way, police cruisers from every municipality--Miami, South Miami, and Coral Gables-- were staked out in inconspicuous locales, waiting to ensnare a speeding teen. (Old Cutler was notorious for its winding curves and lack of traffic lights--driving conditions that inspired the lead foot in all of us.)
At night’s end, there was often a decision to be made.
Is US-1 or the Gauntlet the better road to take home after an evening of exploits fueled with octane stronger than chips and soda?
Both roads had their pros and cons for kids who probably shouldn’t have been driving in the first place.
US-1 offered the straighter passage with more traffic and an endless series of stoplights.
Old Cutler’s meandering byway was congestion and stoplight-free by comparison, but still had plenty of cops and trees, both with a knack for springing on you during momentary lapses of concentration.
Two roads, two thruways to indelible memories.
The inner high-school kid in me smiles when I think of US-1 and Old Cutler Road, remembering the good times, having survived them (mostly) unscathed.
As a father, however, with a little girl who's just a few years shy of driving, I cringe with dread just knowing those two roads exist.
Good thing I live in Tampa.
If you're from South Dade in the early 90s (like me) and you enjoyed this story, you'll love my debut novel, The Coolest Labels.
It's set in Miami, 1992 and follows a group of high school kids from South Dade trying to put their lives back together in the immediate wake of Hurricane Andrew.
The book will be available on August 24, 2019.
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Fred Smith grew up in Miami in the 1990s. His debut novel,The Coolest Labels, is about a group of Miami teens trying to find their way after Hurricane Andrew devastates South Florida.
You're on his site. So kick back, have a few rounds on the house, then, you know...buy something.