Best Of :: People & Places
Panagioti Tsolkas has his fingers in so many pies, it's a wonder he hasn't keeled over from diabetic shock. Tsolkas, who says he got his first taste of political activism in tenth grade, when he and fellow students stood on tables in a "spontaneous refusal" to continue taking the FCAT, has become an expert in the decade since at staging much taller stunts. He likes being up in the air: Acting with the Lake Worth Global Justice Group in 2004, Tsolkas mounted a giant tripod on Dixie Highway to protest a luxury condo being built in downtown Lake Worth. In 2009, he led an affinity group protest from the roof of a building on Dixie Highway and Banyan Boulevard in West Palm, where he hung a banner decrying FPL's plans for expansion into prized wetlands. Last year, he helped organize an action against FPL's West County Energy Center construction site that involved 25 activists tying themselves together to blockade Palm Beach Aggregates' rock mining operation. Tsolkas did 14 days jail time for his trouble (he still has more to serve). Now, Tsolkas is involved in a campaign to pass Slow Growth Amendment 4; he runs the Night Heron Grassroots Activist Center in Lake Worth, hosting lectures, art shows, classes, and afternoon tutoring sessions for kids; he plays key roles in the PBC Environmental Coalition, Everglades Earth First!, and the Green Party, with which he recently cowrote a green paper on Florida energy policy. How he found time this year to tangle with his Lake Worth Neighborhood Association, Tropical Ridge, is a mystery. But he managed to prod it into a new level of professional conduct: The association has a new set of bylaws and rules governing elections now, along with a renewed sense of the demographic it serves — association members had to shift their seats slightly left to make room for the radicals.
Being a very green mode of transportation, bicycling tends to appeal to the same people who believe in recycling. So why is it so damned hard to find a used bike? Well, it's not anymore — at least not for those who've discovered the Bicycle Fix, a little shop at the corner of Federal Highway and NE 26th Street that opened late last year. Behind this venture is Jason Deal, a young mechanic who can bring a bike back from the grave — at considerable savings for customers, to boot. But that's not nearly Deal's greatest act of heroism. The young entrepreneur donates a large number of refurbished bikes to humanitarian groups, which in turn distribute the bikes in poor nations. Long before the earthquake struck Haiti, Deal was sending bicycles there; some of his wheels have also made it to Africa. So while the Bicycle Fix doesn't have a slick interior, it does have passion and purpose — and that makes cyclists want to reward it with their business.
Rock 'n' Roll was the most complex play of the season — a serious meditation on the intersection of politics, ideology, music, and freedom at the end of the Soviet era. Basically: Velvet Underground, meet Velvet Revolution. Set in both crumbling Soviet Czechoslovakia and the home of a jaded English Marxist, Rock 'n' Roll followed numerous people through 30 years of upheaval and argument and in some moments seemed as big and full of mystery as the era it documented. A hyperwordy play, Rock 'n' Roll was made accessible through a loving, whip-smart, and bottomlessly sensitive production that found two brilliant actors — Antonio Amadeo and Laura Turnbull — doing their best work in several seasons, and one brilliant actor, Gordon McConnell, boiling all of Marxism's bright dreams and grim failures down to a low, angry growl.
You've figured out this much about Sawgrass Mills Mall: By the time you exit the mall, your discounts must outweigh the pains. Sure, for bargain shoppers, Sawgrass Mills Mall is mecca — more than 300 stores. But when the discounts are dismal, when the only clothes on sale are size XXXL, you'll need a three-day recovery from this four-hour trip. The potential pitfalls are many. Your trigger-happy wallet can force you to haul heavy dishes around a retail space of 2.3 million square feet. Sure, you can land three new T-shirts, but you have to park essentially in Boston. You may save 100 bucks on designer jeans, but the mall is crowded, the restrooms sparse, and four people run over your feet with shopping carts. And not one apologizes. You have sore limbs, stubbed toes, and the emotional suffering that comes from when you almost pee your pants. Is it worth Nordstrom, Saks, BCBG, Neiman's, and Barney's? Or Guess, Nike, American Eagle, Ralph Lauren, and Reebok? Time to count the discounts. Before leaving, you may try to unwind at the Rainforest Café, where the fake rain droplets don't mask the screams of children.
Gotta give it to the big fella this year. DeFede, the former Miami New Times and Herald columnist, is one of the few TV reporters still doing real investigative work. He's also about as up on local and state politics as anyone you'll meet. But what he'll best be remembered for this year isn't so much his scoops or his in-depth reports but the questions. When Ponzi wife Kim Rothstein gave a planned speech after her husband, Scott, pleaded guilty to overseeing a $1.2 billion scam, DeFede asked her, "When did Scott tell you he was a crook?" He followed that with, "The money he stole — did you have fun with it?" Some might find them mean-spirited, others might question whether they were fair or professional, but they were exactly the questions a lot of people following the Rothstein affair wanted to ask. And they were pure DeFede in all his rabble-rousing and populist-leaning glory. Alas, DeFede's moment was a bit overshadowed by what happened next: A fight broke out between Kim's bodyguard, Joe Alu, and WSFL/Sun-Sentinel reporter Jack Hambrick during which the much smaller reporter slammed the muscular and tattooed Alu into a planter. Ah, just another day covering South Florida.
The first time we spotted that guy in the chicken suit on 17th Street, it was August. It was a diabolical way to lure customers, really, by exploiting this desperate soul in such heat. Stay strong, Chicken Dude. Some time later, he was minus the chicken head, leaning against the Harbor Shops water fountain, smoking. A pack of scruffy, mean-looking kids ridiculed him with cruel laughter. But Chicken Dude just smiled, Zen-like, enjoying the last few drags of his cigarette and the cool air on his sweaty brow. More recently, he has taken his smoke breaks at his work station — the sidewalk in front of the Embassy Suites — and in that mode, he does not wave. Lately, the chicken head has come off as often as on; perhaps the stress of the job has made him a chain smoker. And there's no trace of that Zen spirit at the fountain months ago. His expression is twisted with disgust and despair. Don't begrudge him; he's entitled to every bit of it, poor fellow. Violent and ingenious methods to avenge his humiliation have certainly occupied those smoke breaks. In one possible scenario, the Chicken Dude, in full costume, takes offense to a remark by his boss and throttles him, in full view of the Chicken Grill surveillance cameras. By the time he's out of jail, the Chicken Dude has become a YouTube celebrity and a hero to recession-ravaged Americans. Police would find the chicken suit, still reeking of sweat, on the shoulder of some road, and the Chicken Dude would be free at last.