Best Of :: People & Places
South Florida is the Wild, Wild West — in the East. You can't turn around without bumping into a crooked cop, a corrupt minister, an embezzler, or a child molester. Probably, that's because the daily newspapers have decided to essentially cease covering politics and crime in favor of school bake sales and spelling bees. Or maybe it's because we're in a region dominated by transients, with no interest in nor spiritual ties to our subtropical paradise. Regardless, nobody much cares about the doings of the region's pols, profiteers, and power junkies. And what's in it for you? In Florida, more than any other state in this great nation, you can get away with anything.
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.
Whether you're on the hunt for Madame Bovary, a Maurice Sendak coffee-table book, or the latest Twilight saga page-turner, Bookwise probably has a gently used copy tucked where you can actually find it — no small feat, considering there are more than 75,000 volumes in stock. If the store's plain exterior and humming fluorescent lights don't scream "you never need to enter a Barnes & Noble again!," half-off paperbacks and autographed Walker Percy novels might do the trick. As in a collector's home, the titles are organized lovingly and with attention to detail, with sizable sections devoted to classics, film, business, politics, New Age, children's books, and more. The "Granny's Bookcase" is worth a look for rare, old finds. Sorry, neat freaks — some overflow is piled in aisles, but Bookwise is spacious enough to accommodate, even providing some comfy chairs so you can take that tome for a test read.
Just a two-hour drive from South Florida, Everglades City would be a one-horse town if it had a horse. But the preferred vehicle of locomotion here requires a paddle, not spurs. This "city" — made up of a couple of small hotels, a few restaurants, and a hell of a lot of water — doesn't resemble a city in anything but name. It's essentially a launching-off point from the world as we know it: Step off dry land and float along on aquatic highways winding among the 10,000 islands the place is famous for — hummocks of oyster shell, coral, and mangrove with names like Rabbit Key, Osprey Nest, and Sandfly Pass. Adventurous kayakers can download a GPS map and get semi-lost for days; the less intrepid might settle for a leisurely half- or full-day guided paddle courtesy of Everglades Adventures (with a stop for lunch), which also leads moonlight, fishing, and naturalist tours. But even committed landlubbers feel pleasantly estranged here: sipping a gin and tonic over the antique pool table at the Rod and Gun Club, diving into a bowl of stone crab claws and plates of grouper fingers at City Seafood, or pondering what's in the spice mix that fires up Camellia Street Grill's deep-fried corn on the cob. Whatever's got you tied up in knots these days, you'll find easy instructions here for slipping free of your bondage.
In the sportswriting game, features and profiles are always nice, but nothing racks up points like breaking news. And by this standard, the Miami Herald's Jeff Darlington is South Florida's leading scorer. Whether it's who the Dolphins are going to trade (starting center Samson Satele), which coach is joining the staff (Mike Nolan), who's about to get cut (Joey Porter), who got an offseason DUI (Ronnie Brown), or how Bill Parcells negotiates with Ricky Williams (via Post-It note in the middle of the practice field, apparently), Darlington gets the story. And he usually gets it first. His sources — both named and anonymous — are widespread and accurate. His reporting is efficient. And his writing is effective. He's also a regular on local radio (The Joe Rose Radio Show) and several national television shows (ESPN's First Take, Outside the Lines, and NFL Live), so Darlington often delivers South Florida's most important sports stories to the rest of the country. In our fantasy sportswriter draft, Jeff Darlington is a guaranteed first-round pick.
Well, you just about have to be rich to eat at the swank, over-the-top eatery at the Galleria Mall on Sunrise Boulevard. It ain't cheap. That's probably one reason Scott Rothstein, the big-spending lawyer who turned the town upside down with his $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme, liked to eat there so much. It was one of the many ways he showed people that he was the man who should be given sums of money from well-heeled investors. Rothstein, you see, surrounded himself with gaudy things like gold toilets, matching $1.5 million sports cars, and ridiculously expensive dinners with friends at the Grille to create the illusion that he was Midas himself. And it was at the Capital Grille where he wined and dined some of those investors who handed him great sums of money that Rothstein promptly stole. And that's the thing: Just about all of Rothstein's victims are extremely wealthy, so wealthy that it seems most people don't feel sorry for them. In fact, the greed from not only Rothstein but his victims is so monumental that there is clamoring for them to trade in their truffle fries and wagyu beef carpaccio at the Capital Grille for the fine cuisine served in our federal centers of detention.
Face it, there's no such thing as a painless bikini wax. But the folks at Bliss, the W Hotel's super-chic spa, deserve credit for getting close. The wax they use is aromatherapeutic (betcha didn't know that word existed!), melts at a low temperature, and can be used on even really short hairs. Plus it's a cool shade of blue, so at least there's something amusing to distract you from the inevitable. Kudos to Bliss for also eliminating three major downfalls of waxing: 1) redness, 2) the ruining of fancy panties (they give disposable undies to everyone), and 3) the embarrassment of describing what we want done. (A "Look Out Down Below" menu tastefully lays out every option from "The Love Triangle" to "My Bare Lady." Prices range from $35 to $70.) The best part is the relaxation room loaded with snacks; there's nothing like a smorgasbord of brownie and blondie bites to make a bikini wax bearable.
Sure, all you biceps-curling, muscle-loving junkies could break a sweat at any old gym in South Florida — but at Gold's Gym on Commercial Boulevard, every cardio machine will not be taken during rush hour when the business day ends; the sauna always works; and the gym contract isn't as binding as a marriage certificate. This facility has all the requisites — new cardio machines, complimentary classes in Boot Camp, Cardio Kickbox, and Zumba — plus a few extra-special touches. For instance, the staff is friendly (no frowning desk clerk hovering over you when it's ten minutes to close). The spinning room has black walls with neon decoration (how awesome is riding in the dark?). The agreements are reasonable (you pay your last month with your first, so simply give 60 days' notice and you're out). On top of all this, the cardio machines have iPod hookups (so your battery will never go dead again), and Gold's understands the ladies (there's a women-only workout area).