I only have a few hours left in Miami. After one short weekend, the sun-stained Times Square that is South Beach has lost much of its luster. I’ve seen too many bad pairs of jeans and Mr. Clean-looking men in unbuttoned shirts. Spring broke the week earlier, causing police to block off the streets of Ocean Drive in anticipation of the expected debauchery. During my brief stay, I had the opportunity to sample the first champagne designed to be served with ice, thanks to the generosity of a multinational luxury-goods conglomerate. “It’s huge in Miami, which you can imagine when you taste it,” says a brand rep. I do not taste it.
Workers at the front desk of my hotel sort out a dispute over room #222, suggesting Rick Ross’ presence, but it’s another of the city’s chubby titans I’m after: DJ Khaled, the living, screaming hip-hop cartoon and Snapchat icon turned restaurateur. He’s a co-owner at Finga Licking, which he describes as a purveyor of “real home cooking, Miami-style.” The restaurant is a $25 Uber ride away and the window of time to get there before my flight back home is shrinking, but I commit to the journey if only because it feels like something “they” wouldn’t want me to do.
Whether my dedication will be rewarded with a chance meeting with Khaled is yet to be seen. The never-ending Snapchat updates triangulating his location let me know he’s in Miami, so there’s hope, even though a
hater woman at Finga Licking assures me that I won’t be seeing him when I call several times to inquire.
Uber is surging, so I wait around for a half hour for prices to stabilize. I don’t really have a half hour to spare, but the added anxiety about possibly missing my flight for the sake of fried shrimp adds an air of exhilaration to my otherwise milquetoast life as an editor. I help an Italian tourist while waiting. I take UberPool to really sweeten the deal when my editor looks over the receipts.
The first half of the ride is wholly uneventful. Maybe there’s something interesting going on in the car, but I am obsessively calculating again and again whether or not I’ll make the flight on time. I must travel from the neon skyline of South Beach, built by major keys of a whole other sort in the 1980s, all the way to Miami Gardens to the north and west. I must eat as quickly as possible, turn around and get into another Uber, immediately retrieve my belongings from the hotel, and then get into another Uber straight to the airport.
Things get more lively in the car when we pick up our second passenger, who tacks an extra 15 minutes onto my journey to Finga Licking. The quiet driver turns talkative upon learning that he shares a mother tongue with this second passenger, and insists on speaking to to me in Spanish for the rest of the trip despite my obviously mediocre skills in the language. The driver and the second passenger speak of Donald Trump and Leftist movements in South America.
After dropping the second passenger off, the driver turns back around. He points us the direction of the restaurant, only to become somehow disconnected from the app that’s telling him where to go. It’s “delaying,” he says, and we are without direction for five precious minutes. For those moments I am DJ Khaled on his jet ski, lost. There is no green light in the distance and no Coast Guard to save me—that is, until the driver’s GPS reconnects, and he seems vaguely certain again of where we’re headed.
I commit to the journey if only because it feels like something “they” wouldn’t want me to do.
Our conversation from there is slim: There is a brief discussion on Miami Lakes versus Miami Gardens that I can offer little input on. He drops me at 17647 NW 27th Street in the parking lot of a plaza anchored on the north end by the spot Khaled ensures will bring “good energy, good food, good vibes.” Inside Finga Licking, the atmosphere isn’t what I anticipated.
For starters, Khaled isn’t there. I was warned of this possibility earlier, but my hopes weren’t fully dashed until I arrived. His only presence comes via the platinum plaques hanging on the walls and the songs playing on the radio. It’s Easter Sunday and the place is quiet. Older women are dressed for worship, but I bear witness to a different savior—He has risen, His career revived by social-media savvy and mastery of the meme.
What to order? I have little time to decide. WWKD? (What would Khaled do?) In recent days his Snapchat has been filled with calls of “vegan alert!” and reminders that he is cutting out animal products from his life. “They don’t want you eat vegan for 22 days,” he insists in the clips that flash by on my phone. In this instance, the persistent question of who “they” might be is answered by the menu floating above me: Finga Licking offers almost nothing aligning with Khaled’s current diet. There are a few sides he could get away with and that’s it.
The customer in front of me snipes the last piece of red-velvet cake for the day. I’d planned on capping off my fried food with a slice of the sinister dessert, which Khaled told First We Feast is a officially “a problem,” but I have no choice here but to take the L. I’m not happy, but it’s a reminder that we all fall short of the glory of Khaled. I also whiff massively by skipping the Famous Mystery Drink. I sit and wait for my order—a fried-shrimp dinner—feeling increasingly nervous. There would be some pride in telling people I missed a flight for this, but explaining it to the brand who flew me down to Florida for a completely unrelated event wouldn’t be easy. Finally, my order is called. Yes, I tell the woman at the counter, I want lobster sauce. The man responsible for “All I Do Is Win” would not want to see me walk out of here without lobster sauce. After collecting my food, I hit the parking lot and immediately queue up the next Uber.
At this point there’s no time for Pool, so I spring for UberX and pray again that the expense report goes through. I get a phone call shortly thereafter from the driver asking where I am. Good news: He knows the spot, so maybe I can get a local’s take on how Khaled’s cuisine has been received around here. “My shit was 30 dollars!” he says about the last time he ate there as we cruise back toward South Beach. “I’m like, ‘Khaled, you in the hood, come on.’” Was it a trap after all? Had I wasted my time and money by coming all this way for something just because a DJ put his stamp of approval on it? I won’t know until I eat the food, but I decide to wait on that because it feels disrespectful to the driver to dive into the fried shellfish sitting inside the black carton on my lap.
Miami Fingalicking open until 2a.m. #createurplate A photo posted by Miami Fingalicking Resturant (@fingalicking1) on
As I ponder this question of Uber etiquette, my driver fills me in on everything I missed during the weekend. We drive by a parking lot with a warehouse at the far end that is host to a hedonist party. “Everyone is naked in that bitch,” he says. “I dropped some people off, even the valet was naked.” He tells me about driving back and forth between the airport all day to pick up and drop people off for Puffy’s white party. Apparently, Puff has a Ferrari for every day of the week but can’t be bothered to drive them. We look at Puff’s house across the water as we head back to South Beach, and I learn that Khaled lives on the same island. This is likely the closest I’ve gotten to him all weekend.
The driver and I are in agreement that I have no time to eat when I get back to my hotel. My flight is an hour and forty minutes away at this point, and I’ve got no idea how difficult the airport is going to be. So the plan is to grab my stuff and immediately turn around for my third Uber trip of the day. (If anyone at Uber is reading this, let’s chat about getting me sponsored or something—you aren’t getting this level of influence anywhere else.) We creep through the final blocks of the trip and European tourists invade my vision again.
I hop out, grab my stuff, hop back in another car. My trust is tested only when the driver makes a sharp right turn out of nowhere, decides it’s the wrong way after the car behind us slams on the horn, and then gets us back on the highway. I’ve waited long enough. I’m not going to have any time in the airport to devour the Eucharist.
We are on what looks more or less like a straight path to the airport. I should be there in 20 minutes, giving me just enough time to make it to security and sit down at the gate for a half hour before my flight. “Can I eat in the car?” I’m not sure the driver understands my question, but he gives me a vaguely affirmative response.
As I gather my belongings in the backseat, I redistribute items between my bags, stuffing armfuls of free brand gear in to make everything fit. Knowing I’m nearly home free, I open my carton up and take a bite. This is what it feels like to be suffering from success.