ImageBoojie Rico owned and operated, El Rico Sabor, the fanciest coffee shop in Hialeah dominating a corner of the strip mall across from the Opa Locka/Hialeah flea market.  El Rico had glossy wood booths with shiny red leather cushions and a big copper cappuccino machine behind the counter. The customers were happy to pay two bucks and more to drink freshly ground and brewed cafecitos y coladas with postres in that café that treated you like a star, if only for the length of a coffee break.  The shop had made Boojie wealthy enough to buy an expensive two story near the Immaculate Conception Catholic church.  He owned new cars and his children went to the Catholic school at no small expense. Boojie came to believe he was a man of class and privilege. He began to look down on his customers, at least the motley crowd that tumbled in from the street on their way to or from that giant human circus of a flea market across the wind-blown and dusty six lane avenue.

One day Boojie decided he could not continue to be successful while still serving the market crowd. He set his mind and went down to city hall to lodge a zoning complaint. A zoning complaint in Hialeah is taken very seriously because almost nobody follows the zoning codes and any complaint exposes the system and embarrasses the Mayor. So it was not surprising, though it was on the other hand astounding, that Boojie walked out of the zoning department with an order for the flea market to close subject to numerous zoning violations and lax inspections. The parking lot alone was in violation of twenty different and sometimes opposing codes. Part of the paved lot had infringed upon a small patch of natural wet lands that bordered the Amelia Earhart city park. Wet land violations are state enforced, so the whole process turned serious overnight. Hundreds of stalls of small empresarios were closed. Another hundred wandering hawkers of merchandise were dispatched.  Innumerable food kiosks shut their awnings. The equivalent of a small town had been put out of business by Boojie Rico and he was proud as a strutting gallo.

The very next day Boojie opened early, shined the place up nicely, made himself a nice cup of coffee, and sat in the perfect place in the perfect chair from his perfect coffee shop to watch that wretch of a flea market not open. Not one stall flag flying. Not one car pulling in or away and kicking street sand into the wind. Not one pedestrian just off the bus or just from the market, arms filled with discounted goods.  After two hours Boojie thought to himself, “Not one dime of foot traffic. Not one Marielito with a couple of dollars for me.  Not one guajiro who wants to ignore where he’s from for ten minutes.” In fact, by noon, Boojie had still not sold even fifty dollars worth of coffee, down almost a three quarters of a normal day’s receipts.

The way zoning works in Hialeah is this: don’t get caught or you’ll have to green some palms to make it all right.  And with so many violations many palms needed attention. The state negotiations were most expensive and took more than a month to complete. In a month, Boojie was close to closing the shop, having lost his customer base and unable to maintain the lease on it and the mortgage on his house and the car payments and cell phones and insurance on everything. What was worse was that he knew, but could not openly admit, even in the silence of his mind, that he had brought his ruin upon himself. Without the flea market he was bankrupt, and it was he alone who had done it. One day five weeks after the flea market had closed, a man secretly representing the market’s investors offered Boojie one tenth of the value of the coffee shop in cash.  Boojie Rico, defeated, took the offer and sold his house to rent an apartment by the horse track.  He was miserable, crushed and bitter.  And to those feelings add foolish when on the sixth week he heard that the flea market had reopened better than ever with a new cafeteria/coffee shop across the street selling discounted coffee for the weary customer. It is on a private wa wa or shuttle that we leave Senor Rico on his way to the flea market to purchase a pair of inexpensive chanclas to protect his tender feet from the fiery public sidewalks.

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