Oy, the resonant crack of wooden bat on ball, the pop of fastball into catcher's mitt, the soft murmur of Big Leaguers comparing hedge funds. Spring training brings a feeling of deep-seated well-being to Tailpipe, like eating a doughnut fresh from the fryer.
But when the 'Pipe got to Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter the other day, his beloved local team the Marlins must have been in a bar somewhere, celebrating the announcement of plans for their new stadium. About time, of course. This old car part has seen the vast stretches of empty seats in Dolphin Stadium during the baseball season, and clearly what the Marlins need — now that Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera have been traded to the Detroit Tigers — are some sparkling new empty seats to play in front of. Pop open the champagne, boys.
No Marlins, but the St. Louis Cardinals were in Jupiter in force, like a rollicking wave of red. The Cardinals, the 2006 World Series champs but a big 2007 disappointment, rippled with energy on the sunny field, with Albert Pujols and Rick Ankiel smacking the ball off their bats. Children and autograph hounds clung to the fences, roster cards in hand, begging for a broken bat or worn ball.
In the bleachers, though, a lot of eyes were on a slight man in a "Wizard of Oz" hat. No, Cards fans, it wasn't Ozzie Smith. The four-and-a-half-foot-tall dude munching hot dog after hot dog was a real Munchkin: Mickey Carroll, one of few surviving cast members from the Wizard of Oz movie. As a Munchkinland townsperson in the film, he wore a purple jacket and handlebar mustache. Now, in a blue blazer and that cute little hat, the 88-year-old St. Louis resident says he tries to come to Florida for Cardinals camp every year.
"It's about 5 degrees in St. Louis this time of year, with ten feet of snow," he said. "It's a beautiful day here. Why not sit outside and eat some hot dogs?"
During lulls in practice, Carroll told old showbiz stories to anyone who would listen and signed autographs (on photos of the cast from Munchkinland he carried with him in a bag). He wore a pin on his blue sports jacket commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Wizard of Oz, which was released in 1939. "You make one movie your whole life, and it happens to be a hit," he said in his high-pitched Munchkin voice. "Go figure."
Carroll said that, despite the biggest budget ever for a movie at the time (more than $2.7 million), he got only $25 a week, a pittance compared to the $500 per week he was making in vaudeville.
He told stories about Judy Garland (she and Elvis Presley were "the two greatest artists in American history," Carroll said authoritatively), and he described doing a song and dance for Al Capone as a 10-year-old boy in Chicago. There were even a few tidbits for serious movie buffs in the audience. The famous tornado scene? It was Carroll himself, not actress Clara Blandick, who voiced Auntie Em in the howling wind. Carroll stood up and belted out a perfect rendition of "Door-theee!" as if screaming into a twister.
The 'Pipe couldn't resist trying to get this octogenarian firecracker to sign on as a Marlins fan. If Carroll bought a season ticket, that would guarantee at least one little butt in the South Florida seats.
No soap, Carroll said. But he offered an autographed picture.
"May the magic of Oz always be with you," he wrote. "Follow the Yellow Brick Road."
Tailpipe passes those sentiments along to the Marlins. But stay away from those poppy fields, boys.
Take the Boat
It should be safer to go by plane from Haiti to the United States than riding in a rickety, overloaded boat. But the gap between air travelers and boat people may be narrowing, judging by reports from an American Airlines flight last week.
Carine Desir, a 44-year-old Haitian woman, was on Flight 896 from Port-au-Prince to JFK International Airport in New York last Friday when she experienced heart failure. According to Desir's brother, Joel Desir, who was on the flight with her, flight staff at first refused assistance, then grudgingly trotted out faulty life-saving equipment. Both of the flight's emergency oxygen tanks that flight attendants used to administer to Desir were empty, and a defibrillator appeared not to work. Desir died before the plane could make an emergency landing in Miami.
Then the pilot elected not to stop in Miami to unload the body. The flight staff moved it to the first-class cabin, and the flight continued to its scheduled destination in New York.
"If this was a JFK flight from London, this would have never happened," says an American Airlines flight crew member who has worked the Port-au-Prince flight. "I hear it from Haitian passengers all the time," said the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "They get treated like shit."
A standard preflight routine calls for flight attendants to ensure that first-aid equipment is working, the crew member says; it's also standard procedure to stop at the nearest airport when a passenger dies.
An American Airlines spokeswoman said Monday that an internal investigation found that the preflight checks had been made, and she alleged that Desir initially refused treatment. But the 'Pipe's source contends that flight crews often deal differently with Haitians. The source says that flight staffs wear rubber gloves only for those flights. It is also standard practice for commercial flights that land at Port-au-Prince Airport to spray the passenger area with insecticide as a plane departs.
Although Haitians may get inferior service, Port-au-Prince flights still require premium rates, more than $700 roundtrip. Since there are so few U.S.-bound flights from the Haitian capital, American Airlines has no competition and offers almost no discounts. High demand for seats on the flight makes it one of the company's three most profitable flight paths, the source told Tailpipe. "Lots of times, it's cheaper to fly roundtrip to Tokyo than to fly from Port-au-Prince." The 'Pipe is still waiting for further comment from the airline.
Blah Blah Blah
From the Miami Herald sports section, February 21, under a picture of National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell addressing a news conference:
XXXX: Xadf asdf asdf asdf asdf asf asfasf asf asf asdf asdf asdddd.
People have been telling Goodell for years to drop the Klingon bit and find a new speechwriter.
He lost the 'Pipe at asfasf.
In Hollywood, it's affectionately known as PLR, the Publix of Last Resort. As in, when your preferred Publix is plagued with locusts or maybe it has one of those termite tents draped over it, you might consider going to the PLR for nonperishables. But never for sushi. Or at night.
The supermarket sits on Young Circle, a last vestige of the era when Hollywood's Arts Park was more like Little Red Riding Hood's forest and the now-shuttered Greyhound Bus terminal around the bend doubled as prime real estate for sex workers. The parking lot is difficult to navigate. Tight squeeze for cars. With the occasional presence of troubled men hurling angry taunts at passersby, a sometimes tighter squeeze for pedestrians.
Sarai Vasquez, who lives in the neighborhood, says she and her husband now drive up to a Publix on Sheridan Street before she'll hit the poorly stocked shelves on Young Circle. You see, she has a year-old son now. "With the baby, I feel I'm at a disadvantage," says Vasquez, who's from Brooklyn and has little fear of ordinary street rowdies. "I can't move so fast with him."
Have no fear, but be ready to duck and dodge.
Hollywood Mayor Peter Bober, brand new to office, told the Hollywood Lake Civic Association last week that he'll make a Publix cleanup a priority, though those who attended the meeting say he was short on specifics. Nearby residents say the presence of panhandlers, drunks, and disturbed people has only gotten worse since Young Circle became an entertainment focus, with its trapezes, dancing fountains, and a soundstage.
The 'Pipe sent a young woman to check the place out last week, and she reported:
"After I loitered for ten or 20 seconds between the entrances of Publix and the Walgreens next door, a security guard rushed to my side. 'Can I help you? Are you OK?' he asked, his voice quivering with concern. After being assured of my safety, he sighed with relief, 'Whew, I just had to check. There are all of these pedophiles hanging out around here.'
"When I told my white knight about the mayor's proposed crusade to clean up his daily stomping grounds, his eyes lit up behind his reflective sunglasses. 'Good! With all the money they're making out of those condo buildings over there,' he said, gesturing to Radius 200, the newest condominium project to open on the Circle, 'they need to spend some of it fixing up this place.'
"But if locals avoid the place, shouldn't the laws of supply and demand put this wilted Publix out of its misery? 'No,' the security guard (who asked that his name not be used) said, 'it's the tourists. They wander over here looking for groceries and tourist information, and all they get is this place and these pedophiles. I get worried sometimes, and I have a gun.'
"Even with a firearm on his hip, he assured me, he wouldn't visit his day job after dark. 'You won't catch me here at night,' he said firmly."
Sounds like it's time for Mayor Bober to jump into his Superman outfit.
Voice of the Populace
Tailpipe loves to see newly elected officials coming into office, ready to dispose of waste and corruption. So it was with great interest that he checked out Hollywood's new commissioner, Patty Asseff, who was recently asked by some constituents to talk about her priorities in her new position.
Asseff said forthrightly: "I'm going to clean up City Hall!"
Before the 'Pipe could swoon with admiration, Asseff added: "Not the inside but the outside!"
Priority Number One, it seems, is mulching.
In Asseff's view, Priority Number Two is to keep the Hollywood dog beach. Number Three is to get another charter school, and Number Four is to do something about the disturbingly mismatched architecture: "We've got an art deco downtown, and now a Mediterranean bridge, and the Ramada wants to go Mediterranean Renaissance! Somewhere along the line, we need consistency!"
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Nary a mention of bread-and-butter subjects like fire services, police, or taxes.
Asseff, a big woman with a blond bob, a raspy voice (like one of Marge Simpson's twin sisters, somebody said), and a telltale silk scarf pinned at the neck (yes, she's a real estate agent), did show that she had her finger on the pulse of the populace.
In the middle of her blustery speech, she went vigorously for the cojones. "We need an Outback Steakhouse!" she declared. "We need a Chili's!"
Or would that be the love handles?