Rachel Pasteris: Westchester 2021


Photo taken of Rachel Pasteris in 2020. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/ CC BY 4.0

Rachel Pasteris is a junior working towards a B.A. in Mathematics Education at Florida International University (FIU), as part of FIU Honors. Passionate about education, she is looking to specialize in teaching secondary and college students in the subject areas of mathematics and science. In her free time, she enjoys reading books, making music, playing soccer, spending time with loved ones, and volunteering in her community.


Map of Westchester. Photo from Google Maps

Though this area used to be referred to as West Dade, since the limits of Miami-Dade County seem to be ever-expanding, Westchester is now more central, most likely considered to lie within the midwest area of Miami. Its boundaries have also lessened the scope of land which used to be considered Westchester, leaving places like Westchester General Hospital, which used to be a part of the area, pushed outside its up-to-date designated boundaries. Its current area is 4.015 mi², with its elevation 3′ above sea level.

At the northern boundary is US 41, better known as Tamiami Trail, as well as 8th street or “Calle Ocho.” At the southern boundary is SR 976, better known as 40th street or “Bird Road.” At the western boundary is 117th avenue. At the eastern boundary is SR 826, better known as “Palmetto Expressway.”

The center of Westchester is at the intersection of 24th street, “Coral Way,” and 87th avenue, “Galloway Road.” Since Westchester has only officially been designated for nearly 20 years now, most of the land is used for residential neighborhoods as well as businesses and institutions. With a “perfect urban-suburban balance”, as Miami Herald article “Convenience, schools make Westchester worth a look” put it, it hosts famous franchises (e.g., Burger King, KFC, McDonald’s, El Palacio de Los Jugos, Taco Bell, Wendy’s) and local legends (e.g., Burger Beast, Martha of Miami, Only in Dade, Pitbull, Rev. Jorge Comesañas) as well as local family-owned shops and restaurants (e.g., Arbetter’s Hot Dogs, Bird Bowl, Frankie’s Pizza, Rio Cristal). Most of Westchester’s open spaces set aside by Miami-Dade Parks & Recreation for greenery is found on grounds of local public schools as well as the local public library. A lot of local residents embrace the natural landscape as well, with plenty of flora and fauna to be seen even from street view. Flora includes banyan, flamboyan, palm, sea grape, silk floss, and fruit trees (e.g., avocados, ciruelas, coconuts, mangoes), as well as bougainvillea, hibiscus, ixora, and plumeria flowers. Fauna includes iguanas, foxes, lizards, and, of course, stray cats.

Now that the geography has been surveyed, let’s dive deeper into the history of Westchester.


As it was subject to seasonal rains and flooding, under the 1862 Homestead Act, the land, like many areas of Miami-Dade County, was deemed ineligible to be developed in the 19th century. However, by the 1920, canal construction changed all this, the area then turned dry land as a result of the innovation. One residential subdivision was created—Olympic Heights, in 1924—despite the land boom era in South Florida. With the exception of Tropical Park racetrack and Tamiami airport (The Tower at FIU is the former air traffic control tower for Tamiami Airport, Tamiami Park is home to the Miami-Dade County Fair), the area we know today as Westchester was largely rural until the 1950s.

Post-WWII development boom, in 1955, a subdivision called Westchester served as inspiration for the neighborhood name, though the 1960s offered other subdivisions (e.g., Miracle Manor, Mirador, Westchester Park, Town Park, Coral Park) to make up what is largely the residential neighborhood we see today. During the same era, the area also experienced growth in commercial development, including notable sites such as the Tropicaire Drive-In in 1949 (now home to Best Buy, Publix, Target), Bird Bowl in 1956 (the only of these still remaining), and Westchester Shopping Center in 1959 (over time, changed to Kmart, now home to Walmart).

When Florida Senator Robert M. Haverfield introduced Senate Bill 711 in 1965, the area saw another major addition as they began planning for the development of a state university in Miami. As mentioned beforehand, after the Tamiami Airport closed by the late 1960s, the the new Florida International University was selected for the site, which, in 1972, had the largest opening enrollment in U.S. collegiate history, with 5,667 students. Today, FIU is among the top ten largest universities in the nation, with a student body nearly 59,000 as of 2019–20 enrollment. Tamiami Park, home to the Miami-Dade County Fair, still offers equestrian centers, as well as baseball, football, swimming, and tennis, in addition to the option for visitors to bike, walk, run, utilize the fitness, boxing, even attend a attend a farmer’s market.

Another educational institution was in the works: the Diocese of Miami, requiring that a seminary be founded within the diocese limits. Thus, St. John Vianney Seminary construction started in the late 1950s. Other Catholic schools, including St. Brendan Elementary and High School and Christopher Columbus High School, and churches, including St. Brendan and St. Agatha, were developed afterwards as well.

As mentioned beforehand, today, the area is predominantly residential, along with business and institutions. Thus is the “History of the Westchester Neighborhood,” with the help of a Memorandum dated August 11, 2020, per the request of Commissioner Javier D. Souto.


The population of Westchester is nearly 30,000 residents, according to the 2019 ACS 5-Year Estimates Dates Profiles.

When analyzing sex and age, it shows that, considering represented values indicated 46.3% are males while 53.7% are females, 4.5% are under 5 years old, 16.1% are under 18 years old, and 23.2% are 65 years old and older, leaving a majority of 60.7% between the ages of 18 and 65 years old.  Westchester’s median household income is $55,660 and 14.6% are living in poverty.  The cultural roots of Westchester grew more Hispanic or Latino after the 1960s, now with a population that is over 80% Hispanic.  As of 2019, its residents are 90.7% Hispanic or Latino, leaving only 9.3% identifying as otherwise.  In fact, as of 2000, Westchester had the highest percentage of Cuban residents in the US with 65.69% of its populace, Hialeah having the second highest percentage with 62.12% of its populace.  Soon enough, the Westchester Cultural Arts Center will be constructed in Tropical Park, providing cultural programming and instruction focusing on Hispanic arts and culture in celebration of Westchester’s Hispanic heritage.  I often hear people refer to Miami as “North Cuba,” with an entire webpage on Quora dedicated to offering an answer to the question, “Why do people say that Miami is North Cuba?”  Now I can see why that may be the case, especially in Westchester.  When it comes to the most Cuban place in Miami, as an article from Miami Herald titled “Please don’t confuse Westchester with Kendall. It’s so much better.” concurs on this matter, “The realest of the real know Westchester truly deserves the title.”

All statistics are courtesy of the United States Census Bureau unless otherwise indicated with a hyperlink.

Resident Interview
Photo taken of Carmen Comesañas in 2021. Image courtesy of Ashley Nicole

Carmen is an 80-year old Cuban-American who is currently enjoying her retirement. Upon visiting her in her current home (formerly Westchester, presently University Park) I had the opportunity to interview her as one of Westchester’s residents on her perspective of her neighborhood. Though the area in which she now resides is currently considered University Park, she visits Westchester frequently to attend church services and spend time with loved ones.

Since this interview was conducted in what I would call “Spanglish,” the unofficial language of Westchester as well as the rest of Miami, I will provide both direct quotes and translated paraphrases.

Question 1: Where are you from and how long have you lived in Westchester?

“Yo nací en Artemisa, Pinar del Río. Pero mis papeles está Los Palacios, Pinar del Río, y es donde me escribieron legalmente.”

It was also said that she moved to Westchester in 1982, renting two different houses before moving into her current home in 1987. Though she technically lived in what is now considered Westchester for roughly 5 years, she has lived in the area for nearly 40 years.

Question 2: What’s it like living in Westchester?

“I love it. Yeah, I love it. It’s nice. It’s not too…muy, mucho movimiento, pero vaya no como el centro, pero buen…neighborhood, a good neighborhood here, good schools, everything, stores, everything. I love this place. Yeah.”

Question 3: What’s your favorite thing to do in Westchester?

“Si te digo que me gusta hacer en Westchester, trabajar en mi patio, en el jardín de mis casa y un parque atrás (Westbrook Park). I love this house. Yo vivo aquí en el nineteen-eighty-seven, in this house.”

Question 4: Out of all Westchester, what’s the best thing about it?

“Bueno, aquí trabajamos, aquí tenemos nuestro trabajo aquí mismo en Westchester, y, era un buen lugar para los hijos estudiar, bueno colegios, la iglesia, dónde trabajamos. Era un bueno lugar para vivir.”

Question 5: Out of all Westchester, what’s the worst thing about it?

“Yo no oigo nada malo en Westchester.”

Upon further inquiry, both Carmen and her daughter, Amy, informed me of other local lore as well, which will be discussed under the church and library portions of this page.


While Westchester does not have relatively any museums or monuments to offer its residents and visitors, there are some notable landmarks that most in the area would recognize. The majority of these may be seen included in the Westchester mural shown later on. I have highlighted three unmistakable landmarks here.

“The Whale” or “La Ballena” church
“The Whale” or “La Ballena” church, recognized as First Baptist Church of Coral Park or Primera Iglesia Bautista de Coral Park. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/ CC BY 4.0

There has been some speculation about its strange shape, as the architecture is said to have been inspired by the Biblical tale of Jonah and the whale.

Planted by Rev. Jorge Comesañas with his wife, Carmen Comesañas, the First Baptist Church of Coral Park purchased their current mid-century modern seemingly whale-shaped building from Temple Or Olom, with Rabbi Samuel April as one of the early leaders, as the area had attracted Jewish families during the late 1950s and early 1960s as Westchester grew. Though they had several sizable offers, they did not want their precious synagogue to be torn down to construct more shopping malls. Instead, they were more than willing to part with the property for Coral Park, knowing their building would be preserved for future generations to cherish its ingoing service as a house of worship. I wouldn’t be surprised if down the line, the National Register of Historic Places would designate the place to be preserved indefinitely. Hopefully one day, just maybe, I’ll live to see that come into fruition.

The church not only has Coral Park Christian Academy, a Christian private elementary school (next to a public high school, Miami Coral Park Senior High School), but also rents their facilities out on Saturdays to The Miami Hoshuko, Inc. (マイアミ補習校 Maiami Hoshūkō), a supplementary weekend Japanese school, where they hold classes (the school offices located in Doral).

Rev. Jorge Comesañas working in his office filled with his collection of gifted whales, January 1998.  Image courtesy of Carmen Comesañas.

In this photo, you can see Rev. Jorge Comesañas working in his office filled with his collection of gifted whales, which started when his daughter, Amy, bought the large gold figure pictured on the mid-right to create a brown replica out of clay to resemble the bronze-colored state of the building at the time in her pottery class at FIU. In 2010, it was announced on the local news that Senator Soto, as Jorge and Carmen’s youngest son, Pastor Alex, read, urged “the Florida legislator to codesignate SW 87th Avenue from 8th street to SW 24th street as Rev. Jorge Comesañas Way.” Luckily, he was able to hear the news before he passed away from brain cancer October 2011.

Since “The Whale” is on Ram Road as well, let’s take a quick detour as to why that is today. The street was promptly changed back to Ram Road, in honor of the local high school’s mascot. One of the notable alumni from this high school was José Canseco Capas Jr., a Cuban-American former Major League Baseball (MLB) outfielder and designated hitter. As a professional baseball he won honors, including Rookie of the Year in 1986, Most Valuable Player award in 1988, a six-time All Star, on top of becoming a two-time World Series champion, as well as the Silver Slugger award four times. After watching Netflix’s Screwball, I can now better comprehend the gravity of the steroid scandal. Canseco was one of many players who fessed up to having used performance enhanced drugs, and he actually published a tell-all book called Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big in 2005 creating even more issues for the community by bringing it all to light. Despite all of this, due to the drama now associated with his name, including a relatively recent mishap concerning tweets about politicians and sexual molestation back in 2018, the neighborhood reverted the decision they had made to name this specified portion of 16th street after him with a name change back to Ram Road, causing the county to consider background checks for street names.

“Welcome to Westchester”
Welcome to Westchester sign. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/ CC BY 4.0

While there exists two “Welcome to Westchester” signs, one outshines the other in its presentation.  However, for those who are willing to drive around town to have some fun scavenger hunting, there is a GEOCACHE located at the site of the second sign.

Bird Bowl

Bird Bowl sign & entrance. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/ CC BY 4.0

No one passing through can miss seeing the sizable Bird Bowl sign located off of Bird Road.  In addition to bowling, this place offers billiards, arcade, karaoke, and more, providing fun for all ages for the past 65 years, since it was established in 1956.  With competitive pricing for hourly rates and party packages, this popular locale has outlasted many others that have since faded away from this neighborhood.


Green through parks, recreation, and open spaces are not exactly a forte of Westchester either. There is only one that exists outside of an educational institution with the local library, which I will delve into in another section. For the sake of borders, I will not include Tropical Park here, which would technically reside within the current limits of Olympia Heights. Nonetheless, the majority of them share property with public school grounds, which I will highlight here.

Banyan Park
Photo of Banyan Park. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/ CC BY 4.0

Located on 30 Street & 87 Avenue, Banyan Park sits in the backyard of Banyan Elementary School.  As one can assume by its name, the park is lined with banyan trees around its perimeter.  There is a walkway suitable for walking, jogging, running, biking, roller skating/blading, and so on.  A playground set is also available for children to play on as parents can sit on the benches provided to watch them comfortably.

Most interestingly, there are signs that read, “NATURE ALERT: HAWK NESTING IN PARK,” outlining natural behaviors (“actively hunting to feed their young, protecting a large area of the park, including walkways near trees and open green fields.”) as well defenses (““dive bombing” and making territorial calls.”) to expect if the opportunity were to arise.  It advises visitors to “enjoy from a distance, avoid area until the baby hawk(s) flee the nest.”  It concludes with the following statement: “This hawk has been a resident of this community for many years.”  How sweet is that?  They consider these hawks the same way one would consider their neighbors, so much so that they care to inform others to take care as well and be on the lookout.

Coral Estates Park
Photo of Coral Estates Park. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/ CC BY 4.0

Located on 1405 SW 97 AvenueCoral Estates Park sits in the backyard of Coral Park Elementary School.  As is typical for almost any public park, a playground set is available for children to play on while parents can sit on the benches provided to watch them comfortably.  It has several amenities to offer for the enjoyment of the community, including a baseball field, recreation center, soccer field (no lights), as well as a tennis court.  The open areas, shelter, baseball field, soccer field, and recreation room may be reserved, with multiples rates to choose from.  In addition, funded by The Children’s Trust and offered by Parks Disability, an after-school care program is available for children with disabilities ages 6-21.  These children have the opportunity to participate in activities, including included physical fitness, literacy, art and music, during the after-school session on a rotating schedule.  They also provide homework help.

Rockway Park
Photo of Rockway Park. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/ CC BY 4.0

Located on 9460 SW 27 Drive, Rockway Park sits in the backyard of Rockway Elementary School & Rockway Middle School.  In addition to the standard playground set, they offer several programs, including Fit2Play Afterschool Program (qualifying families can receive financial aid), Fit2Lead Youth Enrichment and Sports (Y.E.S.) ProgramFit2Play Winter CampFit2Play Spring CampSummer Camp, as well as Learn-to-Swim (taught to swim by certified American Red Cross Water Safety Instructors), with their pool facility open year-round (not taking into consideration current COVID-19 pandemic restrictions for the public).


Westchester Circulator stop at FIU Maidique Campus Metrobus terminal. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/ CC BY 4.0

Primary modes of transportation in the area are walking, biking, and driving, and, since Westchester hasdirect access to the Interstates from Bird Road, this can take you to hotpots such as Miami International Airport, the Port of Miami, Downtown, the Beaches, among many others.  Many people also take advantage of the public transit systems, including the Metrobus, Metrorail, Metromover, and more.  In an attempt to beat daily traffic, one could also hop on the frequent local circulator Westchester Circulator (Route 82), Westchester’s own bus trolley system, providing convenient stops (from Tropical Park to FIU Maidique Campus Metrobus terminal) throughout the community for just 25¢ a ride!  The Westchester Miami Dade Chamber of Commerce was instrumental in the creation of the “Westchester Circulator” trolley system, and they continue to work as an advocate of mass-transit with various governmental bodies.  While the Westchester Circulator continues to be a popular transportation component of the community, there is also talk of a new and innovative car sharing system, as it is used in other others and could be a great addition to the area.


Westchester is known for a variety of Hispanic and Latino cuisine, including Cuban, Colombian, Salvadoran, Chilean, Mexican, and so on. Some legacy businesses still surviving, alive and well today, include Arbetter’s Hot Dogs (1959, current located 1970) as well as Frankie’s Pizza (1955). Several award winning restaurants, now with moved and/or multiple locations, made their start in Westchester, including Mojo Donuts & Fried Chicken, Nunzio’s Ristorante, PINCHO, Rio Cristal, Tropical Chinese, and so on. Aside from these honorable mentions, here I have highlighted three of my personal favorites.

Graziano’s Restaurants & Markets

They say that Argentina is the Italy of South America.

Located on 9227 SW 40th Street, Graziano’s Ristorante is the place to be to get churrasco asado. I’d also highly recommend watching the film “Todo sobre el asado” if you are interesting in learning anything about the rich history behind Argentinian grilling. The documentary describes the experience as such: “Roasting is a meal and a ritual. It is primitive and contemporary, wild and refined, an art and a science.” This place has almost as much pride as the country itself. The owners take pride not only in their country, but in their asado as well. If you’re ever in the area, be sure to check out their market as well, filled with Argentinian goods and fresh food from their bakery, butcher, deli, and panini shop.

Mojo Donuts & Fried Chicken
Mojo Donuts & Fried Chicken. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/ CC BY 4.0

Located on 8870 SW 40th Street, Mojo Donuts has award winning donuts, as seen on Guy Fieri’s Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Any other competition in the greater Miami area dims in comparison to their fresh gourmet doughnuts that are “sweet, salty and everything in between,” as they offer a wide variety of flavors. Not only that, but in addition to the best doughnuts in the area, they offer savory fried chicken and coffee drinks as well, notably their chicken brûlée sandwich and hot chocolate. As they’ve proven themselves, with a good product, being inventive can pay off.


One of the country’s best burgers is from Miami — again.

Located on 9860 SW 40th Street, the original Pincho Factory restaurant features a mural dedicated to the history of Westchester.  As you can see, it is packed with local nostalgia inducing references, including the now relocated Rio Cristal original restaurant. They have won several awards, mostly recently winners of the 2019 Food Network SOEBEWFF Burger Bash, 2019 Miami Newtimes Burgerfest, 2019 BurgerBeast Hamburger House Party, 2019 Burgerlicious, and many more. Besides their ponchos, they offer innovative take on the classic sandwich, including the Pincho burger (topped with lettuce, tomato, onions, cheese, potato sticks, and our secret pink sauce), the Fritanga burger (topped with fried white cheese, cabbage slaw, and crema), and the Toston burger (two fried plantains as the “buns,” then topped with jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, and homemade cilantro sauce).


What Westchester lacks in other areas, it more than makes up for with the widespread array of unique businesses it has to offer. Some legacy businesses still surviving, alive and well today, include Bird Bowl (1956) as well as Yesterday and Today Records (1981). Taking a look at what remains in modern day Miami, here are three highlighted locales.

Westchester Regional Library & “Francisco” Human Rights Park

I would say out of all the libraries in Miami, Westchester Regional Library (formerly known as West Dade Regional Library) is second only to the Main Library located in Downtown.  My love for reading was nurtured here, in these walls, throughout my childhood.  Every now and then I still try to visit when I can, last time I went to checkout the book The Prince of Los Cocuyos, a memoir of Richard Blanco’s childhood set in Westchester during the late 1970’s and ‘80s.

After all these years, I did not know that “Francisco” Human Rights Park had domino tables! Here I thought they were just for sitting around, but no, you can actually check out domino sets, conveniently available inside the library at the front desk, and play away in the day, right then and there! How amazing is that? It’s just so “Miami” I almost can’t believe it myself. It’s so ingenious. It’s the little things in life, you know?

Anyways, back to the point of the park. If a visitor walks around, they can see several stones with info-packed plaques dedicated to significant individuals who served vital roles in human rights movements along the walkways, including the Father Miguel Angel Loredo Domino Pavilion and Vaclav Havel Rotunda. What a great message for the next generations! Hopefully we as well as they will be able to continue to honor their memories and follow in their footsteps towards building a brighter future.

“Palo Borracho” or “Drunken Tree,” recognized as Silk Floss Tree. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/ CC BY 4.0

During the interview with Carmen, I asked her a follow up question on a story I had heard during my childhood, to which she responded in affirmation. Santeria, considering by many to be simply satanic devil worshipping, though it translates to English as “way of the saints,” is defined by Oxford Languages as “a pantheistic Afro-Cuban folk religion developed from the beliefs and customs of the Yoruba people and incorporating some elements of the Catholic religion.”  “Pero no me molestan, eso es en todo del Miami…son los Cubanos que trajeron,” replies Carmen, as Britannica confirms that it was “developed in Cuba and then spread throughout Latin America and the United States.” One of this tree’s common names is “Palo Borracho” or “Drunken Tree.” The phrase palo borracho directly translates to “drunken stick.” Because these deciduous trees, native to the subtropical areas of South America, drink up water when it is abundant and store it, their trunks have the swollen beer-belly shape. It is sort of fitting then that the Santeros choose landmarks like these to conduct their rituals and offer their sacrifices to their many gods. My best friend who lives a couple blocks away from me also had the joy of having their neighbors (promptly removed from the property) who were renting the house behind theirs chanting in their backyard with their fellow Santeros late at night and leaving behind a goat head on their curb they were met with the following mornings ever so often.

Santa’s Enchanted Forest
Santa’s Enchanted Forest entrance. Photo from Santa’s Enchanted Forest

Featuring over 100 rides, games, shows and attractions, Santa’s Enchanted Forest—the world’s largest holiday themed park—is one of Westchester’s claims to fame. Though a lot of their rides, acrobats & magic shows, plus traditional carnival food, are all similar to those The Fair already offers in the hot spring break, the cooler winter break has some merits, with beautiful Christmas lights strung throughout the treetops of Tropical Park to brighten the night and odd themed displays that allow you to pose atop a surfboard as you pretend to ride the wave alongside a Santa statue; can’t really beat that photo op anywhere else in Miami. Though some may rather save their money for a trip to Disney World, if you ever have the opportunity to go, this seasonal amusement park is open from Halloween night on October 31 up until the first week of January.

Only in Dade
Only in Dade headquarters. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/ CC BY 4.0

If you live in Miami, you may recognize Only in Dade from their popular Instagram page, with 611K followers to date. I was surprised to learn that the home of this local legend of a media/news company was right here in Westchester! They rose in popularity by reposting local relatable content. They continue to share “The Good – The Bad – The Funny” of Miami-Dade County on social media. Their employees also make an effort give back to the community, as you can see on their Only in Dade Cares Instagram page “to shine light, emphasize, and focus on content geared towards the community helping the community.”


Though I have lived here for nearly 20 years of my life (Hey, about just as long as Westchester has been official!), there is a lot more to Westchester than first meets the eye. Even though La Ballena is practically in my backyard, I really didn’t know all that much before looking into things further and taking a drive around town for myself. All it takes is a bit of digging around and, who knows, maybe you, the reader, or others, like Burger Beast with his blogpost “Many Things to do in my Hometown of Westchester in Miami” and The New Tropic with their article “Things to do: Welcome to Westchester“, would continue to add to this compilation of curiosities and hidden treasures found in Westchester has to offer over the years while it still has a presence in the great melting pot that is Miami. This is the good, the bad, and whatever else onlookers would care to add (Sergio Leone may say “the ugly” and Brendon Urie may say “the dirty,” while Only in Dade would say “the funny“). It’s not all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows everywhere; sometimes, we’re left to deal with traffic backed up on that left turn right next to Taco Bell at the center Westchester, crazy Miami drivers, fruit thieves (both animals and humans), those *special* neighbors who have their front lawns riddled with feral cats, pet feces left uncollected, stolen shopping carts abandoned on random corners, Santeria sacrifices left on the last curbs you’d expect them to be, as well as steroid scandals causing street names to be changed back to what they used to be before it all went wrong. Miami Herald can actually corroborate some of this in their article “Miami has some of the worst neighbors in the country, study says. Duh, says everyone in Miami.” Overall though, it is a decently great place to live, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Rachel Pasteris: Miami Service 2021

Student Bio

Photo taken of Rachel Pasteris in 2020. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/ CC BY 4.0

Rachel Pasteris is a junior working towards a B.A. in Mathematics Education at Florida International University (FIU), as part of FIU Honors. Passionate about education, she is looking to specialize in teaching secondary and college students in the subject areas of mathematics and science. In her free time, she enjoys reading books, making music, playing soccer, spending time with loved ones, and volunteering in her community.

Miami in Miami Chicken Key Cleanup April 2021. Photo by Annette Cruz/ CC by 4.0


I volunteered at The Deering Estate, one of the few remaining Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) in Miami-Dade County, in which we specifically participated in one of the organized Chicken Key Cleanups. Thanks to Nicole Patrick, a former Miami in Miami student who now works at The Deering Estate, they are able to continue organizing and hosting Chicken Key Cleanups throughout the year.

The Deering Estate’s Chicken Key is an uninhabited located inside of Biscayne Bay. A friend told me that the island is named so since the Deerings are said to have kept their chickens there, though many of them are sure to have fallen victim to local wildlife, such as alligators and crocodiles. It is there that we worked on removing debris washed onshore by the ocean waves.


This specific volunteering opportunity was offered to us as students of the Miami in Miami course at FIU.  The excursion took place alongside Professor John William Bailly, Teaching Assistant Annette Cruz, as well as my fellow peers, totaling 18 individuals.

Though it did not specifically relate to my major, Mathematics Education, it does tie in with several experiences I have had in the past.  During my time at Dade, I served as vice president of the Yes! For Environmental Sustainability Club (which received the Presidential Service Award in addition to recognition from the college for contributing the most community service hours as a club at Kendall Campus during my time there).  In the spring of 2020, I traveled abroad to Austria, now a fellow of the Global Citizenship Alliance Seminar.  The topic that year focused on sustainability, in which my group in particular focused on researching and proposing solutions to the issue of soil health by presenting our findings to the seminar attendees.  Thus, environmental efforts have long been an interest of mine.  One of my newfound hobbies is actually tending to my plethora of plants, so going out in the wild on excursions like these to not only experience nature firsthand but also being able to contribute giving back by educating ourselves and organizing cleanups are always great opportunities that I eagerly welcome with open arms.


This opportunity far exceeded my expectations.

The flora and fauna alone were a beauty to behold in and of themselves.  There were fish swimming just about everywhere, hermit crabs scuttering away from the strange looking island visitors into the shade beneath the rocks, spiders struggling to weave their webs back together distraught that their homes were destroyed despite their hard work to build them each night after these so-called invaders took a brief claim over their territory to do some dirty work, and many more lurking about.

Hermit Crab in Chicken Key. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/ CC by 4.0

The connections I was able to make with fellow volunteers was also something I had not anticipated.  We discussed our roots, talked about our home loves, related with another about our relationships, our studies, our futures, our aspirations, our hopes.

In all honesty, I could not have asked for a better day to get away from it all before the onslaught of finals week took over me just a couple days later.

where & What

We kayaked/canoed in out onto the open waters from The Deering Estate to Chicken Key, fighting against the wind and the waves. After an hour or so of struggling, we all made our way back to The Deering Estate, having filled 8 canoes with debris that we collected off of Chicken Key together as a group. We helped load up the trash containers into a pickup truck and deliver their contents to the dumpster locate onsite.

Under a shady tree in Chicken Key. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/ CC by 4.0

There were a lot of strange items discovered onsite.  A lot of bottles and especially their caps, which took me back to my days of collecting them for our CAPture Miami sustainable art project.  These microplastics especially pose a threat to local species, as those which are threatened or endangered, like manatees, often eat them along with their desired meal unsuspectingly.  I also found a child’s plastic blue chair caught in the mangrove knees along the shoreline.  While I was getting even more lost in the mangrove forest, I found a couple ropes with what seemed to be Styrofoam tetherballs attached to their ends.  In fact, Professor Bailly even managed to retrieve an abandoned mattress on site, in which rats had made their home.  Now that they no longer have this place of refuge, it is likely that they will fall prey to local wildlife, such as birds and alligators.  This is great news, as they pose a threat to the endangered turtles who lay their eggs on the island.


registered and approved hours on myhonors


View of Deering Estate in the distance from the mangrove forest in Chicken Key. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/ CC by 4.0

A lot of things worked, while other things, not so much.

On one hand, canoeing to and from Chicken Key and Deering Estate was a mission in and of itself.  I had not canoed since I was in middle school, and even then, I had grown used to the one-way current riding a canoe in a river carries you in, making things much more predictable than the open ocean.  While the wind seemed to be in our favor on the trip there, only about half an hour or so, the journey back was not as kind to us, fighting the current on top of trying to paddle against the wind and the waves throwing us to and fro.  Coordinating directions with our partners also required a learning curve, muscles we may benefit from exercising in our future endeavors.

On the other hand, picking up nearly every little thing I saw did work in the favor of all, as microplastics in addition to the bigger and bulkier items pose a threat to the ecosystem.  I filled up three heavy duty trash bags myself, which, if you factor in the 18 individuals present and the eight canoes available to transport it all back to the dumpster, we were able to collect a whole lotta debris that otherwise would have kept pilling up over time.  Hopefully the flora and fauna will benefit from this and other cleanups that have been organized in the past and will be continued to occur in the future.

All in all, it was a rewarding day, to say the least. I hope to be able to return in the future to continue contributing back in ways like these cleanups.  As they say, a little goes a long way.  I had not noticed how much I had missed going out on excursions like these that not only immerse ourselves in local nature, but also help to preserve it for future generations to enjoy.  Lord-willing these will continue to run and others will be inspired to lead and keep the sustainability movement going, that we would cultivate communities from a learning locally to a growing globally.

Rachel Pasteris: Miami as Text 2021

Photo taken of Rachel Pasteris in 2020. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/ CC BY 4.0

Rachel Pasteris is a junior working towards a B.A. in Mathematics Education at Florida International University (FIU), as part of FIU Honors. She recently transferred from Miami Dade College (MDC), graduating with an A.A. in Mathematics as part of MDC Honors. Passionate about education, she is looking to specialize in teaching secondary and college students in the subject areas of mathematics and science. In her free time, she enjoys reading books, making music, playing soccer, spending time with loved ones, and volunteering in her community. As she was born and raised in the multicultural city of Miami, where she grew up surrounded by a large extended family, she is eager to explore what more her home has to offer.

Downtown as Text

Fort Dallas and the William F. English Plantation Slave Quarters. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/CC By 4.0

“History Hidden Through Time”

By Rachel Pasteris of FIU at Downtown, 22 January 2021

Originally called “William F. English Plantation Slave Quarters,” this historic “Long Building,” currently standing in present day Lummus Park, is now known as “Fort Dallas.”  Following the events of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, in 1831, the Second Seminole War transpired.  Consequently, the first three wooden buildings constructed for Fort Dallas commenced in 1835.  Its ownership changed hands when the war ended in 1842.  The fellow who had leased the land in the first place sold the land to his nephew, William F. English, who would adapt the building’s former use at Fort Dallas to plantation slave quarters.  He abandoned the property in 1849 for the California Gold Rush.  Once again, the Army requisitioned it as soldier barracks and a storehouse.

The property continued to be repurposed over time, serving a myriad of means: trading post, county courthouse, post office, restaurant, tea room, and hotel.  In fact, those largely responsible for its successful relocation from Miami River were the Miami Women’s Club and the Everglades Chapter of the American Revolution (DAR).  After being rebuilt in 1929, the city finally designated it a historic site in 1984.  Originally called “City Park,” the site now recognized today as “Lummus Park,” Miami’s first designated park, is the current standing place of this historic structure.

It is quite unfortunate to see how much of Miami’s rich and colorful history has fallen victim to the whims of time.  One may conjecture that few of the residents residing in the city of Miami are even aware of such a complex past. Perhaps in the future society would grow to recognize and appreciate its historic roots.

Source material courtesy of plaque located onsite. Further information may be found online at http://www.historicpreservationmiami.com/pdfs/Fort%20Dallas.pdf

Everglades as Text

Slough Slog at Everglades National Park. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/CC By 4.0

“The Living Amongst the River of Grass”

By Rachel Pasteris of FIU at Everglades National Park, 5 February 2021

As one slogs through the “River of Grass,” is it evident to the trekker how even the air itself is teeming with life, from bough to slough.

The trees, the bald cypress and the pond cypress the two in particular which call this cypress dome home, stand tall and proud, swaying in the wind, their branches bare for the time being, until spring. They carry up on the weight of their limbs several species from the family Bromeliaceae (to which pineapple plants also fall under). These particular kinds, better known as “air plants,” belong to the genus Tillandsia, donning silvery-green leaves as they stay home in the trees.

Several of the cypresses’ bark are speckled with cavities left behind by what one may credit to be some of the prominent local species of woodpecker that can be found year round, among them the pileated woodpecker or “woody woodpecker” (the largest of the woodpecker species), the red cockaded woodpecker (an endangered species that has been reintroduced to the Everglades), the red bellied woodpecker, and the ivory billed woodpecker. Warblers also twitter to and fro, singing about as they go. Many of these have migrated south due to the cold season, currently enjoying the warm weather South Florida is so famously known for, as other “snowbirds” of sorts also flock here during this time of year.

Amongst the numerous insects found onsite, both dragonflies, with approximately 65 species identified thus far, and damselflies (including or the Florida bluet or “the Everglades sprite”) thrive in this Everglades environment.  In fact, a discarded exoskeleton of a dragonfly nymph, remains of the second stage in their life cycles as part of incomplete metamorphosis, was witnessed and photographed by the slough sloggers on the day this post was made. 

Many more creatures may be discovered high and low; these are just but a few of the near and dear flora and fauna which can be seen located along the Slough Slog at Everglades National Park.

Slough Slog with Park Ranger Dylann Turffs. Further information may be found online at https://www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/sloughslog.htm

South Beach as Text

McAlpin Hotel on Ocean Drive. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/CC By 4.0

“Colorful Culture: Miami Beach’s Art Deco Historic District”

By Rachel Pasteris of FIU at South Beach, 19 February 2021

For the past 21 years, I have grown up in Miami, visiting South Beach solely within the vicinity of the South Pointe Park Pier.  Never had I walked far beyond the shore, let alone be aware that a whole world seemingly trapped in time, evidently displaying the wonders originating from the heights of the Roaring Twenties, existed outside of the zone I had begun to strictly associate with South Beach.  Today, living in a contrasting kind of twenties, one overrun with widespread shutdowns due to the current global coronavirus pandemic, visitors may now walk down Ocean Drive since the roads have been closed to traffic.  In fact, the City of Miami Beach is now seriously considering the case for a permanently car-free Ocean Drive, which would, in turn, prioritize pedestrians and, no doubt, benefit local tourism.  That being said, there is much to be said about the roots and influences of this particular district located within the confines of Miami.

Barbara Baer Capitman, writer, artist, preservationist, founded the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) in 1976.  The MDPL is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving, protecting, and promoting the appearance and integrity of the Miami Beach Architectural Historic District.  She lead the crusade to establish the Miami Beach Art Deco District, the first 20th-century neighborhood to be recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, much of which is now preserved and restored to their original style is thanks to her efforts.  The neighborhood is made up of over 800 buildings and structures, built between 1923 and 1943.  Aside from Art Deco, Miami Modern (MiMo) and Mediterranean Revival belong to the three predominant architectural styles found in the Art Deco Historic District.

Four of the local Miami Beach Historic Districts together comprise the National Register Art Deco District.  One of these is Española Way, the first commercial development on Miami Beach in the early 1920s, built to serve as an artists’ colony.  As of May 2017, a revitalization project went underway, making it a pedestrian-only street.  Another notable recent development may be found on the intersection of 12th Street and Ocean Drive: “The Rainbow Crosswalk.”  On the designated plaque, it reads: “Dedicated on November 9, 2018, the Rainbow Crosswalk celebrates Miami Beach as a diverse and inclusive city and salutes the many LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer +) people who worked for decades to preserve and revitalize this unique historic community.”  Bestowed with a beautiful myriad of intricate mosaics, the Jewish Museum of Florida, now owned and run by FIU, was also placed under the National Register of Historic Places.  At the time, Jews were solely permitted to live south of 5th Street.  It is there that they created their first congregation and cemetery in 1913, the beginning of many things for Miami’s Jewish History.  Years later, long overdue, in 1949, a law was passed by Florida’s Legislature that ended discrimination in real estate and hotels.  Many of the Miami Beach Art Deco buildings, now architectural treasures known throughout the world, were designed, built and operated by Jews.  As mentioned before, Barbara Baer Capitman, a Jew, launched the campaign in the 1980s that established the Art Deco District.

Many other colorful cultures not mentioned here contributed to the beauty in art and architecture that tourists travel from far and wide to see for themselves firsthand.  I would encourage anyone intrigued by my brief blurb here to research the representation of those who may have taken part that are not as renowned nor remembered for their part in making Miami the cultural melting pot that it is, that we would rightly respect and honor all for their work.

Source material courtesy of plaques on location, along with various linked websites. Further information may be found online at https://mdpl.org and https://www.miamiandbeaches.com/things-to-do/history-and-heritage/art-deco-historic-district.

Deering as Text

Nature Preserve Trail Bridge at Deering Estate. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/CC By 4.0

“Dying to the Past whilst Living in the Present”

By Rachel Pasteris of FIU at Deering Estate, 5 March 2021

Over a decade ago, I visited these grounds for the first time, for my tío and tía’s wedding. Now, I experienced Deering Estate for what it is and what it was, taking in all its former glories, as well as surviving beauties.  We explored several ecosystems onsite, three of them notable in particular: the Tropical Hardwood Hammocks, the Pineland Rocklands, the Mangrove Forests. 

In the Tropical Hardwood Hammocks, porous oolitic limestone have gradually been eroded away as a result of the acidity associated with rainfall, slowly carving into the Miami Rock Ridge drop by drop, creating solution holes.  Over time, serveral of these solution holes have dried up, leaving sinkholes behind of varying depths.  Hundreds of caves can also be found scattered around alongside the other topographic features of South Florida.

The most famously called “Gumbo Limbo” (elsewhere recognized as “copperwood”) trees by Miami locals, is known for growing extremely fast, so much so that it can grow from seed into a 6- to 8-foot-tall tree in a year and a half.  Funnily enough, it is also nicknamed the “tourist tree,” as it constantly sheds its red flaky exterior bark, resembling sunburnt skin.  These traits make them ideal for resisting hurricane conditions, which so often visit South Florida.

In the Pine Rocklands, other trees have grown to stand their ground as well.  Saw pines remain resistant to the not so uncommon brush fires that often accompany the harsh heat of the summers here.

In recent years, a wooden walkway has been built around a Tequesta burial mound.  As of 2012, the structure was rebuilt, its plaque identifying it as the “Cutler Burial Mound Boardwalk.”  Atop this Miami mountain, a might oak tree had been planted, honoring their dead by bringing life to the site to this day.  Unfortunately, no traceable Tequestan descendants have been delineated, thus, much of their history is lost to us now in the present day.  Hopefully, the little we do know now shall not be forgotten, as we hold on to the treasures the past provides.

Along the trail, one may find iron nails, originally designated as markers for a railroad whose construction site was relocated as a result of the cries of the people.  Off the beaten path, several shell tools can be found adjacent to the mangrove forests.  These so-called tools were merely broken pieces of shells, repurposed for everyday use, such as digging.  The Tequestans and paleo natives utilized their surroundings in ways such as this to support their livelihood amongst the local flora and fauna.

Within the mangrove forests, an unexpected curiosity remains: a stolen plane crash site.  Its tale, largely unknown, but it is believed to have been taken to carry out illegal activity.  And yet, deep within the hardwood hammocks, another mystery still unsolved: an abandoned stone well.  Down below, a Star of David, along with several other unknown inscriptions, is inscribed within its inner walls.

Although some stories may never be uncovered, shrouded or even gone altogether due to divisions within our world or simply lack of care, it is important to value what we have discovered, accessible, within our reach, now.  At Deering Estate, one may glimpse at what Miami, perhaps all of the Florida coastline itself, used to be in its prime, existing untouched in its pure natural state, what a rare site, at that.  As such, we should feel a certain sense of duty to our current homeland, preserving and protecting that which we hold to be precious, wisely stewarding wildlife and all else that exists within these natural ecosystems.  The future is in our hands. Let us not permit history to repeat itself, but yet, learn to grow from our mistakes, withstanding hardships as they come our way, as seen with the nature surviving and thriving ‘till this day.

Source material courtesy of plaques on location, along with various linked websites. Further information may be found online at https://deeringestate.org/miami-hiking-trails-parks/ and https://deeringestate.org/conservation/.

Vizcaya as Text

Secret Garden at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/CC By 4.0

“Fateful Encounters”

By Rachel Pasteris of FIU at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, 19 March 2021

Since I was little, I’ve always been an avid reader. One of my favorite books in middle school was The Secret Garden, authored by Frances Hodgson Burnett. In it, a young English girl, recently orphaned, named Mary, sent to live with her uncle Archibald, whom she had never met before, returns to England from India. Left to explore the house on her own, one day, she discovers the Secret Garden, and, in it, a sad, sickly young boy named Colin, later revealed to be her cousin. Several other individuals belonging to a curious bunch join along the way, leading to a lot of growth, not only in their gardening skills, but in character as well. As a bookworm with well over a hundred books under my belt, along with hundreds more on my shelves still waiting to be read, I would like to imagine that the Secret Garden at Vizcaya would foster a similar tale, both in the past and in the present.

Though the Secret Garden was originally known as the Orchid Garden, the new name is quite fitting nonetheless. The Miami Herald interviewed the chief horticulturist at the gardens, Ian Simpkins, who divulged the following observations:

“You could be anywhere in this garden and you would feel like you were by yourself. That was one of the reasons they called it the Secret Garden. The family had a place to retreat to where they could be by themselves while the head of the house did all of the entertaining.”

Ergo, one may care to speculate the hypothetical happenings that could have been made possible by having such an elusive getaway so close to home on the property. Maybe family, guests, and servants alike had reserved rendezvous, obscured beneath botanical beauties. Other mysteries remain regarding the personal life and sexuality of James Deering, as attempts to document these aspects prove inconclusive. Some speculate that, due to the fact that he never married, he may have been homosexual. As famously quoted from Pride and Prejudice, authored by Jane Austen, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Thus, who is to say that a substantial case may not be made in favor of this theory? Coincidentally enough, artist Paul Chalfin, who worked on Villa Vizcaya (surprisingly never working on another after Deering’s death despite receiving high praise), undoubtedly was homosexual. After a major hurricane in 1934, Chalfin even returned, again, after Deering’s death, to Vizcaya to consult on rehabilitation of the property. Either way, the world may never know.

About 320,000 visitors are welcomed annually to fulfill fairytales of their own, for European-inspired gardens, photography and filming, birthdays, communions, quinceañeras, graduations, engagements, weddings, pregnancies, you name it. It is indeed a very Miami-esque bucket list type of tourist attraction, for romantics, dreamers, adventurers, historians, educators, and tree huggers (like me) alike.

Source material courtesy of plaques on location, along with various linked websites. Further information may be found online at https://vizcaya.org/.

Margulies as Text

“Untitled” by Barry McGee at The Margulies Collection at the WAREhOUSE. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/CC By 4.0

“It’s a Piece of Art because It’s an Idea”

By Rachel Pasteris of FIU at The Margulies Collection at the WAREhOUSE, 16 April 2021

“Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eyes.”

H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

As we roamed the halls of The Margulies Collection at the WAREhOUSE, Mr. Martin Z. Margulies in the flesh divulged his intimate feelings regarding his collection. It all started with a story: a couple decades ago, a lady friend of Margulies said to him, “All you’re interested in is chasing women and sports: football, basketball,” to which he responded, “What else is there?” to which she suggested, “Well, a guy like you, you could go and collect art.” Margulies continued telling the tale: “so, she goes ahead, and she saw a future with me wasn’t too encouraging,” we laughed, as he presented further, “so what she did is, she found a nice man, and she moved up to Princeton, New Jersey. I lost touch with her. We were really just friends. There was no real romance there, but it was a very wonderful friendship.” Turns out, after all these years, she got married and ended up becoming quite a successful woman, teaching speech therapy, in addition to teaching companies how to communicate with customers, employees, and various people. Coincidentally enough, Margulies actually received a letter from his dear old friend, who had read in a magazine that he was a top collector, to tell him that he’d be happy to know she was coaching the New York Giants. Funny to see how their roles reversed as time went on, apart from each other. Thus is the inspiration for Margulies’ beginnings in collecting art. As to why he opened The Margulies Collection at the WAREhOUSE to the public, well, “I collect art, and I ran out of space in my house,” as good a reason as any, I’d say.

Margulies is an interesting character, to say the least. He began by discussing abstract expression, demonstrating brushstrokes as a composer would wave his baton to orchestrate beauty, gesturing dripping as a pianist would caress the keys to create a cacophony, but not in the way you would think. “If you know the outcome of this painting, then you’ve lost,” he proposed, emphasizing that abstract expression is a subconscious effort on your part. It was their arms, their wrists, their hands that took them to a place of psychic automatism, the theory of not knowing the result. “So, when you doodle, you’re an abstract expressionist,” he remarked, and again, we chuckled.

Another philosophy that he brought to light within the realm of art is the idea of alchemy. I thought of how, like in Merlin, people believed and hoped in these philosophical doctrines, magical practices, and direct investigations of nature, aiming to find the Philosopher’s Stone, the principle that could reveal the secrets of life and transform the very essence of things, turning base metals, such as lead, into gold. As to the tools these artists used, many viewed them as essentially alchemy, as the rust would eventually be gold, eventually that the grass and trees would astound and plant. The coal and clay would one day transform into something of greater value, for now resting in the power of potential. What a beautiful perspective to consider! If only such things were reality; but maybe it’s better that they’re not. Optimism can only take one so far in life.

Finally, Margulies and Bailly touched on the topic of art itself. What is art? Bailly challenged our “traditional notions of art, that it’s a painting on a canvas on a wall, or a sculpture is a freestanding figure,” pointed out how a French artist contradicted this, expressing his sentiment as, “you’re obsessed with an object, when art is an idea.” I found this article from Artspace Magazine titled “It’s The Idea That’s Important”: Christian Boltanski Thinks Art Is Like a Musical Score that Anyone Can Play.” In it, we can read direct quotes from Christian Boltanski on this observation:”…I think that the idea of the relic is completely stupid, especially in art today…what I have been trying to do for a few years now is to escape this idea of the relic…but it’s not an object, it’s an idea…it’s the idea that’s important.” You know what? He’s absolutely right. Bailly elaborated that “the idea is the most important part of art, and then, along with that idea, manifests itself materially is secondary; the idea is most important.” This is the idea of conceptual art. It’s a curious matter. Makes me think of when I read George Orwell’s 1984 in high school and our teacher asked us if eradicating words would destroy the ideas behind the terms themselves, as the government aims to accomplish in the book by implementing Newspeak. Can art exist without a physical, tangible medium? As I answered my teacher then, I believe so. These things are not merely objects in and of themselves. The power of something is not in itself, but in what it can do, its purpose. To close, I’ll leave you, the reader, with this question:

Without ideas, would we even be human?

Private Tour with Martin Z. Margulies. Further information may be found online at https://www.margulieswarehouse.com/.

Silhouette of Rachel Pasteris featuring “Blind Eye 3” by Jennifer Steinkamp at The Margulies Collection at the WAREhOUSE. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/CC By 4.0

“One must always be careful of books and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.”

Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel

“All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring;

Renewed shall be blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of The Ring

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

Augustine of Hippo

“I would rather die of passion than boredom.”

Vincent van Gogh
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