Best Of :: Shopping & Services
When Bill Di Scipio heard that officials were trying to land a contract for an immigration detention center in the quiet, low-tax town of Southwest Ranches, he went to a few meetings to investigate. What he thought he saw was a handful of bumbling and conspiratorial city officials bent on sealing a deal behind the backs of residents. The proposal — still in the works — calls for a contract between the town and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with a majority of the proceeds going to Corrections Corporation of America, which wants to build the 1,500-bed jail. Di Scipio launched a torrent of public-records requests for everything from emails to receipts, focusing on the shadowy work of Town Attorney Keith Poliakoff, who told council members, "The less we say, the better off we will be." When his requests went unanswered, Di Scipio started writing new ones, in broken English under the nom de plume of Frank Nurt. His name now elicits an audible groan from the city clerk in charge of public records, and Poliakoff smacked down a lawsuit from Di Scipio and his rookie lawyer over the $1.25 that he was incorrectly charged for copies of records. Di Scipio's tactics may be unorthodox, but his work has resulted in important information seeing the light of day, and his activist group persuaded Pembroke Pines to oppose the facility, opening that city to a big lawsuit from CCA.
Millions of years from now, when archaeologists are trying to figure out how we lived circa 2012, they need only unearth the site of the Sawgrass Mills Mall. Our entire culture can be deduced from a Marshalls, a Best Buy Mobile, and a SuperTarget, plus a 23-screen theater with IMAX and some fossilized Chick-fil-A. Although the mall is a legendary draw for tourists — easy to recognize because they're pushing three shopping carts apiece — we locals would go mad and broke if we came here habitually, because the place is so massive that it triggers sensory overload. But once in a great while, when the skies are gray and you've gotten a good night's sleep, come here to shop — and shop hard. While the prices in many shops aren't hugely discounted, you sure as hell can't beat the selection. Among the 350 stores are a TJ Maxx, a Burlington Coat Factory, and a Bed Bath and Beyond — seriously, it's like Sawgrass Mills eats a box store every morning for breakfast. Be strategic. Try not to get sidelined by the tower of gumball machines or the SpongeBob pajama seller, and save your energy for the real deals at Last Call by Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom Rack.
Sincerity is an increasingly endangered species. When someone earnestly tells you to "prepare to rule the world" after performing a few hip-opening stretches, its tempting to roll the eyes or, at the very least, stifle a laugh. But just one muscle-melting session inside this cocoon of a studio will cure that cynical knee jerk. Pick a class — seriously, any class; all of the instructors are fantastic — and see what you've been missing at your atmosphere-free corporate gym. Hot or warm, Vinyasa or raja, easy or seemingly death-defying, this recently expanded space caters to yogis of all ilk. Don't try to fight it: The passion and positivity exuded by the staff and classmates are catching. Just get your ass in the studio, chant a few "oms," and admit that you actually like feeling this good.
Once upon a time, massages seemed like fairy-tale creations available only to Condé Nast-reading, spa-going rich men and their trophy wives. But then a friend tipped us off to this cool studio that puts massage in reach of us little people. Owners Frank Velaz and MaryLou DiNicolas use massage to alleviate real injuries — from accidents, sports, baby-making, stress, and carpal tunnel — so they accept insurance. One arm of the business caters to pregnant ladies whose backs are aching from the baby weight; specially designed massage tables have cutouts that make room for a big belly and two bloated boobies, and MaryLou doubles as a doula. The therapy is not just physical but emotional too. They'll talk like new best friends if you're chatty and need to vent, but if you're jonesing for some quiet time, they'll shut up and let the darkened room and aromatherapy work their healing magic. Thai massage, couples massage, cupping, and yoga classes are all in their repertoire too.
When it comes to finding safe activities for kids, parents are in a major bind these days. What's that, you say? Go to the beach? In this 100-degree heat? Snoogums will get a sunburn. The indoor play place? Those rackets charge $20 a pop. A private babysitter? Sigh... they're probably pedophiles. There is an oasis in this swamp of iniquity. At Calvary Chapel's flagship 75-acre campus in Fort Lauderdale, there's a massive playground with a state-of-the-art seesaw, an athletic field, and an entire skateboarding park. Four on-site eateries include a gourmet restaurant with table service (try the portobello steak; it's divine) and a Starbucks-like coffee shop. Should you want to explore this resort-like paradise sans kids for a while, browse in the bookstore or take a Tae Bo class at the sports complex — or catch the sermon; that's an option too. While you do, young'uns can be dropped off for free childcare. Infants and toddlers play with toys, albeit biblical-themed, in the nursery, and school-aged kids act out plays in the theater. Sure, your precious pumpkin might come home with a little Jesus on his play clothes, but is there really any harm in it? Just make sure the kids don't get too addicted... next, they will be asking you to shell out $2,550 so they can spend spring break with the high school missionary team in Uganda.
The folks who don Statue of Liberty costumes and dance the day away for all the cars on Hallandale Beach Boulevard are so reliable that they should be reference points in local traffic reports. Jesus Abikarram, manager of Liberty Tax Service (get the costume reference?), says he employs a steady flow of dancers on the sidewalk from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. during tax season, rotating them through four-hour shifts. All the dancers have their own approach to get through a shift. One, who wished to remain nameless, was jamming the Bee Gees and lip-synching into a water bottle on a warm March day. "I get a lot of honks and a lot of whistles," he said. "I get a lot of middle fingers too."