Xmas Spirit

Folks at Happy Times get the news just like the prez: with the ugly

To Tailpipe's distress, that was not the case. Last month, after more than 150 individual consumer stories had been posted, McDonald sold out. The two expose-Maroone domains now belong to AutoNation Holding Corp. The sites are offline. Reached at his home, McDonald wouldn't explain the arrangement or his reasons for selling when reached by the 'Pipe. "I signed a hush-hush agreement," he says.

A blast of carbon-flecked emissions at you, Rick. They offered you $10,000 a month ago, right? What did you finally get from them? "I'm sorry," he responds. "I'm not allowed to say."

Matt Sentinel, a 42-year-old Fort Lauderdale man who had posted his Maroone Dodge horror story on McDonald's website, swallowed his medicine like a man. "That's disappointing, but websites are going to come and go," he says. "Somebody will start a new one. Out of all those people [who posted on AutoNationRippedMeOff.com], someone has to put one up."

The 'Pipe takes this one as a lesson: H. Wayne really can buy whatever he wants -- even the silence of one of his most vocal critics.


Speaking of getting screwed, patrons of Fort Lauderdale's glitzy Las Olas Boulevard not only had to pay higher parking rates last summer in the public Lot H, on SE Second Court, but they found city-employed meter vultures striking faster than lightning. In the time it took to hustle up three quarters for an hour on the meter, many complained, they were getting hit with $25 tickets.

Those rate increases were just a little revenue generator for the city, concedes John Noelle, assistant parking division manager for Fort Lauderdale. The various hikes around the commercial center of America's Venice ought to raise more than $1 million annually.

Faced with growing patron discontent, the Las Olas Merchants Association brought in the big guns. Since November 26, Alex O'Rourke, a gritty 18-year-old Plantation resident with short, spiky dreadlocks, has been earning $7 an hour offering change to the good folks who lack sufficient bullion for the lot's 101 quarters-only meters.

On a recent weekday evening, as the sunset bled pink into the clouds above the skyline and the mercury plunged below 60 degrees, O'Rourke was a lone heroic sentry in the lot. In a white-hooded sweatshirt over a maroon apron, he moved his hands idly in the shirt's front pouch, jingling coins.

"This is a real boring job," the young Plantation man said. "Real boring. You just have to wait for people. Some people are like, 'You're the change guy. I've never seen one of you guys before. '"

In March, the city will begin offering a debit card system for existing meters. In O'Rourke's lot, the city may install four $12,000 multispace meters if the Las Olas Association chips in $15,000, which association President Chris Gaus says he's trying to raise. The gas-spouting 'Pipe gets the picture. How does Fort Lauderdale spell relief? G-o-u-g-e.

-- As told to Edmund Newton

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