Rolling down Ocean
Drive in the convertible Lamborghini, Slick Rick blaring from 16 speakers,
Johnson weaves in and out of traffic, flipping the steering-wheel-mounted
gearshift as he accelerates and decelerates. Then he sees some daylight, blows
past a panel truck and takes the car up close to 100 mph and onto the MacArthur
Causeway, over the blue blur of Biscayne Bay, the skyscrapers of downtown Miami
filling the windshield.
As he slows on
approaching his exit, a black SUV pulls up beside him. "What up?" a
gentleman with a shaved head shouts to Johnson. "I got some stuff at the
store for you. Come by."
Chad rolls down
his window and shouts, "I'll come by."
all kind of shoes and stuff for me," he explains to his passenger.
And then he's off
the highway and onto the narrow grid of Liberty City, heading to the corner
house where he grew up and where he still stays when he's in Miami: Momma's
house. Bessie Flowers is Chad's maternal grandmother, but he calls her Momma.
With Chad, that is a loaded word.
Momma," he says after parking the Lamborghini in the carport. The house is
a white single-story bungalow with a tiny circular red-tile driveway that loops
around a dry, three-tiered white fountain flanked by stunted palm trees. Bessie
sits on the front porch. "Why you need all those cars? He's always leaving
his cars here."
He is already past
her and into the living room, crowded with cabinets full of chinoiserie and
little ceramic Louis Armstrong dolls. Flowers is particularly fond of kitschy
statues of Chinese men and women in sweeping robes that she finds at flea
markets. "I buy them in pairs," she says, then points to an empress in
a pink robe. "Isn't she just beautiful? Isn't this one just
Flowers has Chad's
almond-shaped eyes and a bun of gray and black hair. She's a proud, pretty
woman who seems as exasperated by Johnson today as she was when he was a
10-year-old who'd just crashed her car into the front gate. (He'd told her he
was planning to get it washed.) Chad slips off his diamond watch and white gold
305 MIAMI DADE COUNTY necklace and lays them on the octagonal coffee table.
going?" she asks.
shower," Johnson says. "Then I gotta go get some new shoes."