A couple of weeks ago, Tailpipe got mental flashbacks to those famous pictures from Tiananmen Square where a lone man stood in the street defying four Chinese Army tanks. That's kind of what it looked like on Fort Lauderdale Beach on the evening of November 30, when bicyclist John Bochino stood in his spandex outfit and bike helmet, playing a game of chicken with a Broward County Transit bus heading north on A1A.
When the bus tried to skirt Bochino to the left, Bochino moved and blocked it. When it tried to pass on the right, Bochino switched back, blocking its path again. "I'm sick of this!" Bochino cried, holding his ten-speed like a shield between himself and the bus. The driver, Bochino claimed, had been "clearly speeding," then swerved into the bike lane and missed Bochino by an inch — something that happens all the time, he says. So Bochino raced to catch up with the bus at a stoplight and jumped in its way.
Tensions between cyclists using county bike lanes and heedless drivers, particularly bus drivers, are always coursing under the surface in South Florida, where motorists tend to think of those narrow beachside lanes as vehicular elbow room. Lately, a lot of cyclers are getting particularly testy. There's only so much diesel smoke you can eat (Tailpipe knows).
"Just about every serious cyclist I know has been hit by a car," vented Bochino, who runs a small manufacturing company. "It really is terrifying to ride around here! People don't realize the laws of the road and that a bicyclist has the same rights as someone in a motor vehicle." He says drivers are supposed to respectfully keep at least three feet away from cyclists, but instead they regularly get pissed, honk, and flick him off. This frustrates him. After all, he's doing the world a favor by putting one less car in traffic, and burning calories instead of fossil fuels.
The bus driver looked like he was tempted to make road kill out of Bochino, but he had no real choice but to throw his machine into park and turn on the hazard lights. He covered up his name tag, closed the doors, and slid his window shut. He refused to answer questions and radioed the dispatch office. Riders on the bus looked pissed.
"I feel bad for them!" Bochino said as the standoff continued. "It's not their fault. Now they're late — all because of this jerk driving like a maniac."
Bochino says he hadn't intended to stage a rare bit of civil disobedience; he was just trying to get a little empathy from the driver. "My philosophy is not to start screaming and get into a person's face," he says. "It's just to ask, 'Do you realize you came very, very close and almost hit me?' I just try to get them to acknowledge riders — and to please be more careful."
Broward County Transit spokeswoman Phyllis Berry acknowledged that drivers in general could use more education about bicyclists' rights, but she says that the proper way of resolving Bochino's conflict would have been to note the bus' route number and file an official complaint. "You gotta be careful who you do road rage with these days!" she warned.
Bochino had assumed a cop would show up to take a report, but after at least 20 minutes, none did. Asked what he'd do if cops gave him the ticket — for obstructing traffic — he decided he'd punished the driver enough, and rode away.
Was he satisfied? "Hell no!" Bochino said. "Because I know it's going to happen again."
Honest, I'm Clean!
It's been almost 15 years since Broward businessman Gonzalo Paternoster attended Hollywood Hills High, but he still remembers the guest speaker in one of his classes there. It was a guy who'd contracted AIDS from a sex partner who didn't disclose his sexually transmitted disease. "If only I'd known..." Paternoster remembers the poor dude saying.
That undying memory prompted Paternoster, now 30 and married with kids, to wake up in the middle of the night with an idea: a system that would allow participants to share — and verify — one another's STD status. On December 1, World AIDS Day, Paternoster launched the Safe Sex Passport.
It works like this: A participant pays $225 to get tested for five common diseases, plus $75 for six months' access to a PIN-protected database that contains the test results. When he meets a potential mate, he gives out an 800 number, plus his account number and password, so the partner can access his results. He can ask his partner to return the favor.
"If people interact with other Safe Sex Passport holders, it would significantly increase their chances of staying safe," Paternoster says. Even people who already have a disease would benefit by limiting their exposure to additional ones, he says.
Paternoster claims nearly 15,000 people have already signed up (but not yet paid) for the service. He says he was surprised by the interest in his online pitches. "I thought it would be mostly young people," he says. Instead he found strong interest from three principal groups: divorcees reentering the dating pool, members of the gay community, and swingers. "There are 10 million swingers in the U.S.," Paternoster says. "We did a poll on a swinger website. Seventy-four percent said they would use it and require it of others."
Paternoster says he's also in talks with dating websites to offer an online certificate that Safe Sex Passport holders can add to their profiles, like a gold star. "It shows you are responsible," says his website, www.safesexpassport.com. Paternoster would also like to build partnerships with government agencies to get whole communities tested. According to Florida statutes, it's a misdemeanor for someone with an STD to have sex without disclosing the disease; a felony for someone with AIDS to do so; and a felony for someone to maliciously disclose another person's STD-positive status.
But what about the most obvious loophole in Paternoster's service? A person could test clean one day but contract a disease the next; meanwhile, the database would remain inaccurate until the person got re-tested.
True, Paternoster concedes. But he contends that all users pledge safe sex and proper condom usage when they sign up. "What's the alternative? We're no closer to a cure for AIDS than we were 20 years ago" (though retroviral medicines have been found to keep the disease in check).
Besides, there's a built-in assurance the system will work, Paternoster says, because it interests only those who are vigilant about keeping disease at bay — "especially if someone spends this much money."
Pure genius. Tailpipe doesn't do singles-cavorting anymore, but he can imagine slicing through the pick-up joints with a certified "I'm Clean" badge pinned to his shirt. How would the chickies resist?
Pipette: Daddy, I want to run a puppy rescue mission when I grow up.
Tailpipe: That would be noble and worthwhile. Puppies must be fun to work with.
And so cuuuute.
But it's a tricky business.
You mean you have to teach them tricks?
I was thinking about the tricky rules and regulations involved. Remember when Ellen DeGeneres adopted a puppy and then gave it away to her hairdresser? She broke the rules, and the adoption authorities came and took the puppy back. Very sad for Ellen, apparently.
But she's a celebrity. Don't celebrities all live in a make-believe world?
Well, there's also the case of Esse Rhodes from Deerfield Beach.
What's her story?
She's 56 and she's got multiple sclerosis. She says the only joy left in her life is the unconditional love she gets from her Shih Tzus.
I looove those little pushy-faced pups.
Yeah, but there was a small problem with one of Esse's four dogs. His name was Jack. One of the other dogs bit Jack one day. So Esse decided to give Jack to an outfit called South Florida Shih Tzu Rescue and Adoption, in Bradenton.
Why can't puppies get along?
The problem was that, right after Esse gave Jack away, another one of her dogs got bitten. The dog that bit Jack bit another dog, and Esse realized the biter was the problem, not Jack. She had mistakenly given away the wrong dog.
This is confusing.
Well, when you've got an illness like multiple sclerosis, you should be forgiven for making an honest mistake, right? So Esse asked for Jack back.
Good idea. Just explain the whole mess and bring Jack home.
But the woman who runs the rescue group, Dianne Perry, said Esse would need to fill out an adoption application and pay the adoption fee just like anyone else. Esse did just that. She listed references who could attest to her fine history as a pet owner. She even offered to pay $1,500 for Jack, five times the usual adoption rate. But she was denied.
That's right. Perry told Esse she wasn't sure if a home where dogs bit each other was appropriate for Jack and that too many moves would be stressful for a Shih Tzu. Esse says Perry never even contacted her references. Perry did e-mail Esse to say that Esse's medical condition played a role in Perry's decision not to return the dog. Well, Esse was upset. She hired a lawyer, but when fees got too high she had to let the lawyer go. "I'm on a fixed income," Esse explained. "I only have so much money. I just miss my dog." Perry wouldn't talk to me on the phone.
I thought Ms. Perry was so worried about stressing out the puppy. Now she's going to send him to another home?
Looks like it. And Esse resents the way Perry brought up her MS as a reason not to give Jack back. "There is very little that I have left that I could present to the world, or even myself, to justify my existence," Esse said. "The one thing that has stayed true is that I am nurturing. That is all I have. There is nothing else. And someone is telling me that I am not even capable of doing that."
Why can't grown-ups just get along?
Of all the dive bars in South Florida, none dived deeper than the Fort Lauderdale Saloon. On an otherwise beautifying strip of Federal Highway, just south of the Henry E. Kinney Tunnel, the dirty, red-brick building stood for ages (Noah once docked the ark on the New River and ordered a Seagram's 7 neat there).
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A teen could get a beer at the Saloon, an alcoholic could get over-served, and a band adept at playing loud and spitting beer at the audience could get a gig. It was a place of wonder. The bathrooms, of the sort you'd expect to find in a Matamoros pulquería, required either a HazMat suit or a great deal of alcohol- or drug-induced courage. All of which made the coin-operated washer and dryer in the bar's corner an ironic touch.
But even a worthy establishment that responds to a bona fide need in a market can succumb to the tides of history. The Fort Lauderdale Saloon's turning point seems to have come, of course, with a citation for serving an underage drinker. Now, almost two years after it closed, it's being reborn as a private health club. Gone are the signs advertising all-you-can-drink specials (talk about your bona fide needs), along with the whole shabby façade. The new owners, who live in the adjacent Rio Vista neighborhood, have covered it all in a brand new coat of pastel yellow paint.
"I'm not sure what else would have gone here," says David, one of the partners who bought the building a year ago. Behind him there are weight racks, bench presses, and mirrors, and it is now possible to see clear from one side of the building to the other without squinting through the dim lights and cigarette haze. The air actually seems as clean as one of those air freshener commercials.
The private club may remain nameless, David says. He's already got a full slate of personal trainers. He says their roughly 40 clients will begin pumping iron in the gym starting this month. For all the improvements, the building will no longer be offering its visitors the chance to do a load of laundry on site. One thing the new managers can't seem to get rid of, though, is a furry, wraith-like figure of a man, curled up behind the StairMaster with a king-size Old English 800 clutched in one hand, muttering "Sex Pistols will never die."