Tailpipe stumbled into the current Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach last week like Rip Van Winkle coming out of a long snooze. Like, uh, where's the finish line? the 'Pipe asked a scowling bettor.
Just then, a pack of thoroughbreds galloped past, aimed in the general direction of an unlighted scoreboard and a jumble of heavy construction equipment.
As you might have heard, the blush is off Gulfstream's colorful gladioli, so to speak. It's a transitional season. By early next year, there will be a new, four-story grandstand and clubhouse on the spot, to be followed by a mixed bag of condos, shops, and restaurants, maybe even a hotel and a movie theater. It's a $200 million project, and it figures to change the face of racing in South Florida.
For the moment, though, it's really low on the equine scale. "It's not much fun," said Joe Sugar, a veteran horse breeder and co-owner of the Beulah Park racetrack in Ohio. "You can't see the horses. I mean, you can see them go by in a pack, but you can't see how they finish."
Sugar is a traditionalist. He wants to see actual horses rocketing across a finish line. What's wrong with him, the 'Pipe would like to know.
For now, races end a quarter of a mile south of the main viewing area. To allow bettors to make note of the order of finish, the track has installed several 32-foot-wide plasma monitors (don't get too close or you'll see nothing but twinkling pixels of light and color) as well as a lot of smaller screens at spots around the cramped infield. Even if you wanted to, you couldn't see a 13-1 nag named Victory Lap nose out the opposition in the sixth race unless you watched on television.
Gulfstream used to be able to handle 30,000 customers, but if more than 8,000 people try to jam in now, it gets tight and sweaty. There are tents (not mildewed canvas tents with center poles but semi-permanent structures built on wooden frames) for wagering and dining, and there are "walk-around tellers" with portable computers. But that sense of sunny well-being that a track can provide for winners or losers? The 'Pipe found it in short supply.
Attendance is down 40 percent, track President Scott Savin acknowledges. "But we're doing better than we expected," he says. "Per-capita wagering has actually increased."
Give Gulfstream credit. The bread and butter of weekday meets has always been older white guys from frigid climates -- "people who want good food and air conditioning and who spend 150 bucks and laugh about it," as horse trainer Larry Reed put it. They're still coming, and they're still laughing. Take Danny Feld, a gray-haired jeweler from Chicago, dressed in classic out-of-towner garb (black slacks, leather brogans, and a polyester polo shirt). He looked approvingly at the new setup. "I like it," he said. "You get more atmosphere. I got everything I want plus the sun."
Did Jacques Turner, a 16-year-old Nova High School sophomore, rip off two iPods and a laptop? He and his dad, Dan, say no. But authorities recently threw the proverbial iBook at the kid, suspending him for ten days. And they're considering criminal charges.
Indeed, Dan is trying to attract attention to his kid's case: He alleges Jacques took the stuff for a night and then returned it. Moreover, he says, the Davie school's band director, Jamie Roth, had told the Turners that the boy could borrow equipment without signing it out.
Why would a kid borrow the equipment, then return it? "I knew my dad was going to be livid at me," Jacques says.
Roth couldn't be reached -- and school and district officials declined to comment on the case. District spokesman Joe Donzelli said officials are proceeding with caution. "When you're talking school district property, you're talking some pricey, high-ticket items," he said, "so we want to make sure what exactly took place and tell what if anything went wrong."
The 'Pipe remains unconvinced that a bright kid, if he actually had intended to gank the gizmos, would cover his tracks so ineptly. Then again, who knows what a high schooler will do?
Medium Is the Massage
You're a discerning gentleman looking for satisfaction, aware of South Florida's wide array of spa/massage parlors tucked away on industrial side streets. But which of these low-rent bordellos offers the best services? Ralph Teetor's Pynk Pages claims to remove the guesswork from the equation. His magazine, available in adult bookstores and movie theaters, recently revealed the secrets to achieving carnal bliss on an 18-inch-wide, 5-foot-high, thinly padded table.
Of course, you're not really in search of a massage; you want a "happy ending." Teetor's research and rating system makes it easy for the uninitiated to avoid a Lookee No Touchee parlor and head straight to a Whack Shack.
Discretion and cost-to-value ratios are some of the factors the Pynk Pages uses in rating spas:
A video-monitoring system is minus three points.
A front door in full view of passing traffic is one point off.
A bed is worth two points, a couch one. Take off half a point if the furniture is ratty.
Waterbeds, whirlpools, showers, and saunas all add half a point.
Subtract three points for a male manager.
No "happy ending" is a whopping 16-point penalty.
In western Palm Beach County, where most of the houses of joy operate, Teetor has capably separated the proverbial wheat from the chaff.
Parlor A, West Palm Beach, a "legendary divorce-party spot" where "the girls are available for take-out."
Parlor B, West Palm Beach, employs "girls [who] are very pretty and they will run out the full harem before they let you escape." Plus, "the $40 plus a tip of $80 is a real deal."
Parlor C, West Palm Beach, is noted for a neon "open" sign next to a bail bonds office. "Having the bondsman right there might be handy," Teetor notes.
Best to avoid:
Parlor X, West Palm Beach, described as "a sticky floor spa, with plain girls, small rooms, small cheesy beds and an all-around air of desperate sleaze." At least the rooms come with doors that lock, so "you won't have a bouncer wandering in to comment on your technique while he admires your naked butt with the glow from his flashlight."
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Parlor Y, Pompano Beach, where "the atmosphere was as erotic as a cold bedpan."
Parlor Z, Boca Raton, next door to the railroad tracks: "When a train goes by, you can get rattled right off the table onto the concrete floor. The $100 fee seems excessive for a rub & tug with only one old crow and a massage table."
Parlor ZZ, West Palm Beach, is the place where $150 will get you a girl, a room, and an article of lingerie. "What you do not get is any satisfaction unless you do it yourself, and if you complain about the cost versus the service, a very large and unpleasant man will toss you out on your ass."
-- As told to Edmund Newton