When the Gallery at Beach Place opened ten years ago on A1A, it epitomized the "New Fort Lauderdale": big chain stores and restaurants teaming up with expensive boutiques and corporate hotels to draw a higher class of tourist. Attached to the Beach Place Marriott, the commercial plaza replaced a few of the less polished boozing establishments along the beach, where men and women of all ages could drink themselves stupid and maybe even pass out on the pavement. The elevators that carry patrons from the parking garage to the main courtyard still have posters advertising "Beach Chic," though you might not see them if you're too focused on the ambiguous sticky substance on the elevator floor or the not-subtle scent of urine.
The place seems like a bit of a dank dungeon these days — lots of dark corners, signs broken off, foul smells emanating from the bathrooms. A female friend of 'Pipe's described the parking garage as "a rape waiting to happen."
"Beach Place is no longer just the most expensive place to park on the beach," says Kenii McIntosh, manager of GBX Shoes, which is upstairs in the plaza, "it's also a dangerous, smelly hell that's being run into the ground." McIntosh contacted 'Pipe to spill his guts about the inner workings of this outdoor beach mall. He's worked there since it opened and remembers the good old days: "We were doing $2,000 worth of business a day," he says wistfully. But now he's fed up with everything about the place.
"It's filthy from top to bottom," McIntosh says. "Two-thirds of the storefronts are vacant. They say business will pick up when the new CVS opens, but there won't even be any more foot traffic because the entrance [with direct access from the sidewalk] won't even face the plaza. And it doesn't help that all the escalators have been broken since before summer."
McIntosh says there have been numerous incidents of vandalism in the parking garage, which gets little protection from Beach Place guards.
"Everyone at Beach Place knows if you want security, you have to call up to Hooters, because that's where the security guys hang out all day and night."
The final straw for McIntosh came two weeks ago, when Beach Place management cleaned out the sewage system. "They had guys out here with big hoses, pumping out raw sewage. It was the worst thing I've ever smelled in my life. People all over the plaza were going home sick. I felt horrible and ended up going to the hospital that night after breathing that stuff in all day." McIntosh says he had a fever of 103 degrees. "The workers there had gas masks and HAZMAT suits on. I wonder why."
McIntosh's account is generally confirmed by other store managers in the complex, with varying emphases on management problems and utility breakdowns. Beach Place general manager Gabriel Rodriguez, though, says Tailpipe is being spun by a disgruntled employee on his way out. Sure, the mall is chaotic right now and business might be down, he says, but that's because there is so much work being done to improve the place. "Marriott is completely refurbishing the entire building," Rodriguez says. "They are putting up plasma screens all over the place, fixing things, cleaning everything up. And we just spent more than half a million dollars on new escalators we had crane-lifted in." The new escalators (now wrapped in cardboard) should be functional soon, he says.
The idea is to finish construction by the beginning of tourist season in November, Rodriguez says. "We want to be up and running to kick into season in high gear. CVS is scheduled to open in November, Marriott is scheduled to be done within weeks. I know this is all for the betterment of the property and we will all benefit from it."
As for security spending so much time among the busty women and spicy wings at Hooters? "Hooters is a security checkpoint. There is a lot of activity there. They are one of the most successful businesses here and a lot of the activity is fueled by liquor. There are incidents where people don't want to pay their bill and things like that. When you have people getting intoxicated and having a good time, obviously there will be some incidents. We do have 24-hour security here all the time." No question about it. Hooters is exactly where the 'Pipe would park himself if he were an $8 an hour rent-a-cop. Keep an eye on those spicy wings.
Either way, it's all too much for Kenii McIntosh. He says he's put in his two weeks notice at GBX. He says he might work at a different shoe store, or maybe pursue his career as a musician. "I'd rather be any other place on Earth than in this pit."
Beauty and Brawn
You'd think Thursday night's charity boxing match at the Seminole Hard Rock between South Florida cops and firemen should have been packed with members of the fairer sex. Hot, half-naked, buff guys — it's a no -brainer, right? Not so. It was a dudefest. The male-to-female ratio was about five-to-one. Tailpipe overheard one bleached-blond cougar making this appeal into her cell phone, trying to get a girlfriend to head over: "This place is crawling with hot boys. Lots of great eye candy."
A different kind of candy was being pitched by the announcer, Channel 7 sports reporter Mike DiPasquale, who urged the guys to show their appreciation for the statuesque redhead in a string bikini and high heels making her way around the inside of the ring with a sign announcing "Round 3."
And there was more!
"I've just been informed," DiPasquale blurted out, as if someone had just handed him a telegram, "that the fifth fight will be between girls. If you guys want to see some chicks fight, make some no-oi-se!"
Chicks, chicks, give us chicks.
Finally, as promised, Aileen O'Neill, a 25-year-old paramedic with the Broward Sheriff's Office Fire Rescue, and Pam "Bam Bam" Bradley, a 40-year-old agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, took to the ring. Slim, feminine, and daaangerous, the "chicks" defied all the stereotypes about female law enforcement officials and firefighters. (Like, you wouldn't expect Scarlett Johansson to appear at your upper floor window, ready to heave you over her shoulder and haul you down a ladder, would you?)
When the bell rang, the ladies pounced out of their corners and circled each other. O'Neill chased Bradley down with a flurry, and Bradley danced out of the way — then came right back swinging. "Oooooh!" the crowd sighed (chicks at last — and mean ones).
Tight match, to be sure. While Bradley is a mother of three and a former female Golden Gloves state champ, O'Neill had only been training for three weeks. O'Neill took the decision. Her co-workers were giddy.
"She's amazing!" said Vivian Vascos, a Fire Rescue worker in stiletto heels.
Neither of the two gladiatrices was particularly keen on the chick label — but, hey, it was for a good cause. Just keep that language out of the workplace.
"I know everyone digs it," Bradley said. "I'm OK fighting the girl fight." Her blond opponent was nearby, nursing a shoulder in white bandages. Bradley shouted over to O'Neill: "Hey, your arm wouldn't hurt so much if you hadn't hit me so many times!"
Tailpipe vowed, right there, to never use the word "chick" again.
Power to the People
Just as Sen. Barack Obama was surging in Florida polls to a dead heat with Sen. John McCain, someone apparently decided it was time to fight back Nixon-style: Last Tuesday night, sources close to the campaign say, some shadowy political operative cut the power lines to the Obama volunteer headquarters on Sistrunk Boulevard.
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The campaign's official position, as voiced by spokesman Bobby Gravitz: This was "a complete coincidence." Gravitz added that in the same building, "There is a barber shop and a state rep," either of whom could have been the targets of the saboteur.
Tailpipe's had some bad haircuts in his time, but he's never seen fit to avenge the insult with wire cutters. And who even knows their state rep well enough to hold a grudge? (For the record, this one is freshman Democratic Rep. Perry E. Thurston Jr.) Clearly, the motive was presidential.
Asked whether McCain or his vice presidential pick, Gov. Sarah Palin are suspects in the vandalism, Gravitz replied obliquely, "You're joking right?"
In truth, McCain happened to be in Florida that day — Tampa, to be exact, a short hop by private jet from Fort Lauderdale. All right, the 'Pipe is joking. But he's not so sure about that chick in glasses. (Did the 'Pipe just say that?)