Best Of :: People & Places
As so much of Broward and Palm Beach counties becomes strip-malled, sanitized, faceless, and boring, this part of town is weird. The strips of stores here are old and crumbling, signs are in English, Spanish, and sometimes Creole, and the area pulses with a chaotic feel that's more downtown Miami than the Venice of America. Davie Boulevard, which cuts through the neighborhood, is where you can find papusas and empanadas, birthday cakes with Spanish lettering, media noche sandwiches, ancient pawn shops, even a botanica or two. But a drive just a half-mile down Riverland Road delivers a whole new perspective -- a private, hidden network of dead-end trails and finger canals with some of the most magnificent and varied architecture around. Doctors, lawyers, and college professors live back there in modern-looking glass/concrete/steel mini-mansions, which are almost invisible because of the impenetrable jungle of vines, palmettos, and trees that have obviously never been cut. It's an odd juxtaposition of stuff you don't find anywhere else and, unlike the rest of this place, isn't in any hurry to change.
This Best Of marks a New Times fall from grace for Cynthia Berman-Miller. Three years ago, in our 2003 Best Of issue, Berman-Miller, then director of the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, received a "Personal Best" nod. She talked to New Times about her love of reality TV. But after that issue, Berman-Miller became ambitious, and things went terribly wrong for the artsy lady. After taking a job with the City of Hollywood as director of the newly created Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, Berman-Miller became responsible for promoting arts in Hollywood and for raising funds for the taxpayer money pit that is ArtsPark. But Berman-Miller then tried to create a taxpayer-funded golden parachute. While a city employee, Berman-Miller led the creation of a private organization called the Greater Hollywood Arts Foundation. She helped GHAF receive $480,000 in seed money from Hollywood taxpayers at the same time she expected to become a paid staff member of the organization. But it didn't stop there. Also while a city employee, Berman-Miller submitted two separate development proposals to the city. For one proposal, she partnered with state Rep. Ken Gottlieb to ask for roughly $8.2 million in development incentives. Of course, she didn't mention that she received her real estate license a month before she submitted the proposals. Conflicts of interest? Berman-Miller says everything is on the up-and-up. She says she's just working hard for a city she loves. Tsk, tsk.
Derek Hayward has a way with words. A general-assignment reporter with WSVN-TV (Channel 7) since 1991, the English-born Hayward has an uncanny ability to drop phrases that only he could get away with. Our favorite: When police were looking for a murder suspect recently, Hayward told his audience that the boys in blue were looking to have a "wee chat" with the man. An old-school, shoe-leather television reporter, Hayward is known for his casual, disarming style with sources behind the scenes and a beat-on-the-door-for-a-comment approach to on-camera journalism. He's the guy you see in front of the courthouse or police station when big news breaks. Heck, he's often one of the first reporters on the ground when big news happens. And that hard work has paid off for Hayward, who has won three Emmy Awards for journalism in South Florida and, before that, Jacksonville. But Hayward is also a regular guy. Unlike some TV reporters, Hayward hates pretension. In the off hours, it's not uncommon to happen across Hayward at a pub, his jacket and tie in the car and hand cradling a pint of beer. Sit down with Hayward, buy a pint, and have a wee chat. After all, whether he's on camera or off, Hayward is always one of the good lads of South Florida journalism.
This is no contest. In terms of local programming, WPBT kills the competition. For local politics, you've got Issues with Helen Ferré. Sure, Ferré's show is low-key, but you usually learn something when you watch the area's politicians, educators, and journalists yap about important, um, oh yeah, issues. Listening to Broward County Mayor Ben Graber talk about how he thinks the commission gets a bad rap for corruption is priceless. It's not just local politics, though. Capitol Update takes you to Tallahassee for the latest from that little cesspool of special interests. The station also has the only local newsmagazine out there. New Florida is a well-produced show that features two classy (and lovely) hosts in Debra Ball and Hunter Reno. If that's not enough, then turn to Florida Crossroads for homegrown documentaries. What's amazing about these shows is that they offer a lot more than your average -- and so often boring -- public television tripe. The shows have solid reporters who know how to tell great tales. They pull you in to the Florida that's around you -- and that's worth the price of admission right there.
Joe LaRue has achieved renown by ingesting large quantities of food -- pancakes, corn on the cob, hamburgers, hot dogs -- better and faster than almost anyone else. He is South Florida's foremost competitive eater. To watch the six-foot-eight LaRue down Nathan's Famous at the annual hot-dog-eating contest in Coney Island (where he placed 14th last year) is a wondrous sight, a rarely viewed natural function, akin to watching a python swallow an alligator. This has absolutely nothing to do with LaRue's choice of snakes and lizards for pets (actually, living in an apartment, he couldn't have a dog or cat) or with his selection of Pet Paradise on Hiatus Road in Sunrise as his favorite mom-and-pop establishment. The friendly little pet store is where LaRue, who owns three pythons and a leopard lizard, goes to do his reptile thing. Paradise is where LaRue gets the rats to feed the pythons and the crickets and worms for the lizard. It's also where he gets knowledgeable advice from Paradise's proprietors, Robert and Patricia Kesselman. Like, what kind of heating system should you get for your python terrarium? The Kesselmans will school you. It's all for love. Reptiles can be surprisingly personable, LaRue contends. "They actually do have personalities," he says. "It's hard to find them, but they're there."
She began humbly as Tropical Depression 12, dawdled for a bit over the Bahamas, and eased over to South Florida in the last week of August. Around the time she breached our shore, she graduated from a tropical storm to a full-blown hurricane, although with sustained winds no faster than your grandma drives on I-95. But it was just enough to snuff your electricity and blunt your weekend. Candles and Jameson and Scrabble came out of the cabinets; milk and meat went into the garbage -- c'est la vie, welcome to Florida. The storm passed, FPL made its rounds, TVs awoke, news spread: Our kitten of a 'cane killed 14 people in Florida, then swelled in the balmy Gulf to a 175-mph, 902-millibar, Category 5 civilization-stopper of a storm. We then watched her go all Old Testament on Louisiana and Mississippi. It was horror. And as we gaped and grieved and beheld a thousand dead and a million homeless and $200 billion in destruction, we could feel at least a tingle of providence, knowing that for us, at least, the jazz-hating, Superdome-wrecking, family-killing cycloptic scourge that was Katrina could have been much, much worse. At least we got to say we knew her when.