Low-Rent Airport

Goodbye, North Perry

You could say North Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines is an aging, chronically underfunded facility. And that was true before Hurricane Wilma came along and shook the place up like a popsicle-stick cabin in a blender. Still, the busy general aviation airport is crucial to balancing South Florida's air traffic, and it needs North Perry, where privately owned small planes land and take off. And the airport needs tenants — the kind who pay their rent and invest their profits back into the hangars and aircraft that will produce revenue for the airport in the future.

This brings Tailpipe to Mike Szatmary, an aircraft maintenance expert who did business at North Perry for 40 years, until he was forced to shut down last year. In early 2005, Szatmary says, he was ready to pour up to $900,000 into his county-owned North Perry facilities — whose two giant sliding doors had blown off twice even before Wilma got there and whose rafters were spongy with termite damage.

But his plans got bogged down in the famously methodical bureaucracy that is the Broward County Aviation Department, which wouldn't grant Szatmary a lease because of an insurance wrinkle having to do with how planes were refueled at Szatmary's site. The two sides were close to an agreement in October 2005 when Wilma shredded the place.

The hurricane was almost the final knockout blow for Szatmary, already reeling from financial problems. He was insured for hurricane damage, he says, but he couldn't afford to pay the deductible. Under the terms of his lease with the county, he would have to vacate his space.

That would have been the time for creative problem-solving. Szatmary had been a reliable tenant, and he approached the county to request its help in paying his deductible, roughly $20,000. He asked for half. The county refused him. How about a low-interest loan? No again. Another North Perry tenant, who had learned of Szatmary's plight, offered to buy the facilities and let Szatmary remain there while he made the payments to get back his buildings. But the Aviation Department wouldn't allow that either.

So in May 2006, Szatmary abandoned North Perry.

Szatmary and his wife, Sue,moved north to Ocala. Since Mike suffered an injury that keeps him from doing the maintenance work he used to do, funds have gotten tighter. The Szatmarys' goals are set considerably lower these days. All they want now is the $13,000 or so that the county has been holding in escrow for two years. That's one month's rent and a security deposit. While Mike Szatmary's retirement fund melted away and Sue Szatmary interrupted her own retirement to return to work, the county commissioners have postponed ruling on the release of those funds five times since January.

Greg Meyer, a spokesman for the Aviation Department, says that the commissioners are waiting for a ruling from their legal department. He doesn't know why that has taken a year.

"They give me nothing but excuses," Mike Szatmary rages. It's all about North Perry's being the county's ugly stepchild, as county bureaucrats fawn over sexy Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International and Fort Lauderdale Executive airports.

As the Szatmarys stew, their buildings at North Perry remain empty. The Aviation Department still hasn't gotten around to demolishing them. "It's like a big open sore," Sue Szatmary says. "It's really a shame."

A shame for the county too insofar as the Szatmary space is no longer providing the airport with much-needed revenue. Add one more cruel irony: Last month, the county announced plans to use county funds to spruce up North Perry, in part to help the airport attract more tenants.

One Man's Admirable

Congrats may be in order for George Hanbury II, chief operating officer at Nova Southeastern University. Hanbury is getting a Leadership Broward Foundation Award for "understanding and improving the quality of life in our region."

You remember Hanbury. He's the guy who oversees Nova's day-to-day operations in areas like human resources and finances, a driving force in a boldly anti-employee action recently against a bunch of janitors, groundskeepers, and other low-wage service employees on the Davie campus.

When the workers voted for union representation, the school decided to put its services contract — held for 12 years by Massachusetts-based Unicco — up for re-bid. Unicco, which had recognized the union, lost the contract. As of February 19, about 100 of Unicco's former Nova employees were out of jobs, according to the union.

There are many ways to skin a cat, Tailpipe has heard, and just as many ways to get rid of employees who might start to ask for things like health care and a living wage.

This makes Hanbury admirable, right?

The person who nominated Hanbury as one of Broward County's outstanding leaders of 2007 is Horace McHugh, president-elect of Leadership Broward and assistant city manager of Miami Gardens. He worked under Hanbury for eight years while both men were employed by the City of Fort Lauderdale. Hanbury was the city manager credited with ridding the Venice of America of rowdy spring breakers and then spurring a stucco-happy revitalization of downtown. McHugh was his assistant. McHugh also happens to be pursuing a doctoral degree at Nova.

McHugh concedes that there's some "overlap" between his previous employment history, his academic aspirations, and the award.

"I think the overlap is a basis for which I'm able then to say: I know this person on the merits," McHugh asserted the other day. "So, yes, you are correct, there's a lot of overlap, but it's not a coincidence."

So McHugh isn't hoping to get anything out of nominating his former boss for a leadership award?

"No, and I'm glad you asked me that question directly so that I can directly say no."

So cronyism never entered the picture. Right, then. Congratulations, George Hanbury II.

Old School

Even the young'uns are getting all kinds of excited about some high school relics recently discovered at Lord's Jewelers, Fort Lauderdale's oldest jewelry store. Owner Bill Horvath was doing some spring cleaning and found a few boxes full of class pins circa the 1950s from Fort Lauderdale High School, Pompano Beach High School, Stranahan High School, Pine Crest High School, Dillard High School, Northeast High School, and St. Thomas Aquinas High School.

The 'Pipe was passing around some examples of Horvath's finds the other day, and a 1999 Pine Crest alum squealed that she just had to have one of the vintage charms. She lovingly held the gold and green enamel memorial to her alma mater and wondered how she would wear it. Did this 20-something have a charm bracelet? No, said the whippersnapper.

Horvath, whose shop is in the Gateway Shopping Plaza at Sunrise Boulevard and Federal Highway, is giving away the few hundred charms — for free, just in time for this year's graduation season. A free beer for the first person to attach a high school pin to a nose piercing.

Hairy Balls

Beer Pong is a lot like Ping-Pong without the paddles. Players toss the little bouncing ball into cups half-full of beer at their opponents' end of the table; if a ball lands in a player's beer, he or she has to drink the whole cupful. A two-person team loses when all of its beer — six cups — is gone.

Tailpipe is here to tell you that there are so-so players, good players, and champions. Separating the chaff from the Beer Pong wheat was supposedly what was going on at Cloud 9 in Davie the other day.

The championship matches at Cloud 9 were reminiscent of a Golden Gloves tournament in a rough neighborhood. It was: Stand back or you might get hurt (or splashed).

Here were Hollywood residents Jorge Diaz and William Rinehart, accompanied by their "manager," a hyperactive, mustachioed guy named Mick. What's the secret of Beer Pong success? "I tell them, 'You lose, I kick your ass!'" he says, laughing gruffly. No, really. "If they win, we're going VIP to Scarlett's!" Mick laughs again and dangles a couple of strip-club passes, presumably to motivate them — as if the $500 prize money, spread out in small bills on a table, was not incentive enough.

The tournament is open to people who'd won Monday matches for the past six months. To play, athletes had to be at least 21 and to have designated drivers. In addition to the cash prize, they would win Beer Pong Champion T-shirts.

That's nothing, says JoLynn Longo, cool and confident is tinted glasses, as partner Courtney Schirmer looks on. "We went to Vegas last year and found a Beer Pong bar," Longo says. "There were projection screens, 100 teams, announcers..." and a $25,000 pot.

At the national level, the National Beer Pong League and the American Beer Pong Association of America jockey to regulate — and capitalize off of — the game.

Longo talks about how she and Schirmer prepare for competition: "Oh, we eat a lot of bread during the day. You see people in midgame going over to the 24-hour McDonald's — they come back with a cheeseburger. It's like professional athletes going into the locker room for a cortisone shot!" Longo brings three packs of cigarettes to matches and thrives off the energy of the crowd in the "cheering section" (eight bar stools in a line).

One of the hazards of the sport: The Ping-Pong balls often land on the floor. Each team gets a cup of water with which to rinse the ball off, but Longo thinks that bar-floor residue can sometimes work like a good-luck charm. "It's the best when you pick up the ball and it's got four pieces of carpet fuzz, two random hairs..."

Sometime around 2 a.m., Will and Jorge actually make it to the final round. Mick chips in by trying to break their opponents' concentration, crouching beside the players' table, shaking his keys, and yelling "Twaah!" and "Woodle-hoo!" But he just distracts his own team, which is quickly decimated by Jessie "White Bread" Warrington (in a black baseball hat and gold chain) and tiny, tank-topped Naomi Spencer. The two winners employ no particular strategy, Warrington says. "We just vibe off each other."

Schirmer bounces over and congratulates Warrington on winning the wad of cash: "Buy me a fuckin' drink, bitch!"

Ah, the burdens of being a champion...

— As told to Edmund Newton

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