Watch Out, Red Baron

The 'Pipe breaks loose

Piloting a small plane seemed to Tailpipe like trying to aim a gun while maneuvering a windsurfer. The Cessna kept drifting. But somehow, it made quick progress down the coast, reaching the Miami-Dade line in about 15 minutes. Padilla pulled a wide U-turn off of Aventura, buzzed a meandering superyacht, and headed the plane north.

"Hey, I wouldn't mind havin' a house like that," he said, pointing at a beachside mansion with a kidney-shaped swimming pool. The passing scene looked like opening shots on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. "Or that. Or that. Or that."

As the plane approached Sunrise Boulevard, Tailpipe called Mrs. Pipe on his cell phone, yelling over the noise of the engine that he was about to fly within view of the family homestead. The plane trundled past central Fort Lauderdale, and he thought he saw a tiny commotion on an upstairs terrace out there. That would have been Mrs. Pipe, dutifully waving at her husband.

Finally, Padilla relieved Tailpipe of the controls, curved back across the Pompano beach, circled the big Goodyear blimp hangar, and landed the Cessna.

Tailpipe climbed out of the cockpit as wobbly as Buzz Aldrin after three weeks in orbit. He watched as Padilla tied the trusty little Cessna down again. Yeah, he was hooked — ready to fire up again, with or without the flask.

Let 'Em Eat Dirt

When times get tough, the wealthy serve pigs in a blanket at their cocktail parties.

Actually, those little bite-sized wieners (What? No smoked-salmon roulades? No caviar torte?) were the only hint of scaling back at a recent elbow-rubbing event at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach. You know the place. Oh, wait. Most commoners have probably never set foot inside this exclusive club.

Quick lesson for the hoi polloi: Mar-a-Lago is a mini-Alhambra that cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post commissioned in the 1920s. To re-create a Moorish palace, the heiress imported three boatloads of Dorian stone from Genoa for the exteriors, as well as black and white marble ripped out of a castle in Cuba for the floors. The ceilings are gold. There are sprawling Persian rugs on the outdoor patio.

In short, Mar-a-Lago, once Donald Trump's abode, now his private club, might be the most ostentatious place in Florida. It's faaabulous.

Members of the Hialeah-based Developers and Builders Alliance gathered at the estate recently to discuss fantasy architecture and how to get richer. Under bulging crystal chandeliers, well-heeled property owners talked beachfront property in Costa Rica and shopping malls in Cairo. They turned their attention to a planned skyscraper in Dubai that will actually undulate like a belly dancer. And they talked about how everyone in his or her right mind should invest in a little piece of paradise known as South Florida.

"All you have to do is observe the lifestyle we have here," Brickell-based developer Evangeline Gouletas confided between bright red lips. "International buyers have been to the great cities of the world. You can't buy land like this anywhere else."

Gouletas hears tell the economy is sagging. Politely covering those lips with one hand, she chortles in recounting a tale of somebody's housekeeper — a housekeeper! — who bought a $5 million unit. Then had the gall to ask for her deposit back! If only Gouletas had a zillion dollars to bargain-shop in this "soft" real estate market!

In fact, tens of millions just fell in her lap. There's a little $130-million project that she's got under way. Well, it used to be $130 million. Now, thanks to that so-called sputtering economy of ours, it's a $90-million project. Beaucoup savings, my dear. Thank you, Recession of '08!

Real estate consultant Michael Cannon, also of Miami, pooh-poohed all the headlines about the weak housing market. "I'm guessing that only 25 percent of foreclosure filings actually end up in foreclosure sales," he opined sagely.

You want to get into real estate in a really upscale way? Italian architect David Fisher has a deal for you! He wants to build a rotating tower in which penthouse dwellers will be able, via a moving platform, to park a Ferrari in their living room.

Why not? The sky's the limit! Let the poor souls lining up for unemployment (at a 14-year high right now) eat pigs in a blanket.

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