Like Swatting a Gnat
Forgive this smoke-belching tube for having a soft rust spot for cigars, those personal chimneys favored by sophisticated capitalists and chimpanzees in the entertainment industry. Whether man or monkey first innovated the cigar bar, it remains a stroke of genius: a venue to enjoy pungent smoke away from your living room upholstery, to knock back a glass of port, to clap other men between their meaty shoulders and call them sons of bitches, all in peace.
One such joint in Fort Lauderdale is a 700-square-foot slice of the high life called Macabi Cigar Bar, at 1221 E. Las Olas Blvd. The owner, an irascible, Ugandan-born, Hindu entrepreneur named Pat Patel, sets out oversized ashtrays and slices of homegrown mangoes with chili powder to dull the effects of alcohol. It's good times.
Alas, parking is at a premium in the frou-frou downtown shopping and dining district. At their most recent meeting, city commissioners -- in an unthinking stroke of administrative business that might just hurl Patel's cozy little sanctuary into the void -- voted 3-2 not to grant Macabi a reduction in the number of spaces it must provide to remain a bar under city zoning regulations.
Patel says he has already spent tens of thousands of dollars on lawyer bills, city fees, and a parking study that showed between 30 and 60 open spaces within safe walking distance of the bar throughout two February weekend nights. It was simple, he said. He just needed the city to overlook his shop's eight-space deficit. But with neighborhood residents complaining that cars in public parking along city streets interfered with their garbage pick-up, the commissioners declined Patel's request. Along the way, commissioner Cindi Hutchinson twice said that general parking snarls were the problem, not "Mister Macabi," apparently referring to Patel.
The merchant is sufficiently furious at the prospect of being busted down to a regular retail store, he told Tailpipe, that he intends to sue Hutchinson (who represents the Las Olas area) and Mayor Jim Naugle, who also voted against granting the parking variance -- though as of last week, city attorney Harry Stewart said Patel hadn't put the city on notice. "I'm going to fight for it," Patel said.
All things considered, the 'Pipe has to side with the sensible Collee Hammock residents who suggested to the commission that the city actually, uh, do something to fix the parking situation. Maybe neighborhood permits or parking restrictions on trash pickup days? Anything other than heartlessly putting the kibosh on "Mr. Macabi."
All I Want Is 7,900 Yo-yos
The sweet sound of capitalistic chaos radiating from the second floor of the Broward Convention Center last week went something like this: "Yibibibibibbybybybyby 15 five? Ombadombadomma 25, umityumityumity 25 thousand, dibidibidibidibi 22 jamayayamayamay now three! Boomayaboomayaboomaya 24 thousand 24 four! Four! Four! Four! Four!" By the end, someone had a couple of hundred gas scooters for about $40 per, with the caveat that they had to be exported to be used. It was the kind of deal clincher you learn to expect at one of the regular U.S. Customs Auctions at Port Everglades, stocked with about a million bucks' worth of wares confiscated in the course of various violations of federal laws.
The auction catalog read like a fat cat's Christmas list, if the cat had obsessive-compulsive, pack-rat tendencies. There were the baubles: tricked-out BMWs, flat-screen TVs, Rolexes, diamond earrings. There was also the mismatched dreck: damaged car doors; toner cartridges, "operation unknown;" 7,900 yo-yos; Bibles and bookmarks printed in Spanish; 85 cartons of leather jackets. Lots of crap in 300 lots. Keep it? Sell it? Tailpipe marveled at the possibilities.
"For someone willing to hustle a little bit, there's money to be made in somebody else's trash," said Britney Sheehan, a spokeswoman for EG&G Technical Services, which runs about 150 of these government auctions annually.
But it appeared that the crowd of more than 500 bidders and their assorted hangers-on was mostly expecting bargains that didn't materialize. Sheehan had already warned the 'Pipe not to expect big savings on automotive toys. "They mostly go at market value," she said. Dozens of would-be buyers filed out after the last vehicle sale, a yellow Hummer H2 to a North Lauderdale couple, Joel and Dawn Medina, who budgeted $40,000, earned from a recent home sale, for the status symbol/tank and won with a bid of $39,500. "We've got the new home, the truck, and some change left over," Joel said.
The other big exodus of the early afternoon followed the sale of lot 146, a 42-inch Sony plasma TV. For once a no-brainer, eh? The auctioneers' signs went up and down like a game of whack-a-mole until someone had agreed to pay $2,500.
Hallandale Beach would-be investor named Mark Barkow shook his head in disgust. Brand new, the Sony goes for $1,998, including a warranty, Markow said. The auctioned model comes with an "as is" designation; auction officials won't even let you plug it in and turn it on to see if it works.
"You don't know if it fell off a truck!" Barkow exclaimed to anyone who would listen on his way to the parking garage. "The problem is," he continued astutely, "people are stupid!"
You Dig, Hunk?
Just how bad have West Palm Beach's infamous construction problems gotten? So bad that local business owner Patty Doherty decided that the only way to get women to come downtown was to make sex objects out of the construction workers. Seriously.
Doherty, who owns the Table 13 graphics design and advertising agency, assembled about two dozen women on a steamy Friday afternoon to pick the first "Hunk of the Week" out of construction crews that have been turning downtown streets into a sandbox for three years now.
Doherty's idea was clever enough. The problem was that there are rarely enough construction workers present to fill a backhoe. Doherty and her crew of judges went forward anyway. Foremen agreed to give the ladies 15 minutes to select their hunk before the boys needed to get back to leaning on shovels. Unfortunately, the guys turned out to be a bit shy, so the ladies picked the first one who sheared off his shirt. The winner was pipe layer Russell Williams, whose rippling pecs and row of gold teeth melted the judges' hearts.
Williams was awarded a bright yellow T-shirt with "Hunk of the Week" inscribed on the back, which he then wore while doing whatever he was doing in a hole five feet below Dixie Highway. He'll wear the title for about a month. Doherty says the less-than-stellar turnout convinced her that a weekly selection would be too much.
"It just shows you the depths that we'll go to help downtown," Doherty said afterward. "I just don't know if women will go out in droves to go into the dig zone, even if it's to pick out a hunk."
So you want to be a big-time radio star with your own station and everything? Well, South Florida may no longer be the place for FM self-starters. Long known as the U.S. capital of pirate radio, Florida recently passed a state law making unauthorized radio broadcasting a felony. Last month, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement made its first bust under the new law, arresting Rasheem Oriley and Marquis "Kash" Mcdonald. The pair is accused of running Flava 88.7 FM, which served up a rich mix of unmediated local, underground rap and R&B tunes, much of it liberally sprinkled with X-rated street talk.
One of the busted radio buccaneers says he's being forced to walk the plank for a crime he didn't commit.
The police report says that Mcdonald was arrested as he entered the apartment Flava was being broadcast from. He then called Oriley (known on and off air as "Sheem") and asked him to come to the station because the police wanted to have a word with him. Once Sheem arrived, the cops say, he admitted to owning and operating the radio works and claimed responsibility for the station's existence.
But Sheem, a 26-year-old Fort Lauderdale mason and sometime party promoter, denies saying any such thing to the cops. He claims he admitted that he'd been on the air a few times and even had a key to the dingy studio, but owner/operator of an illegal radio station? "Please," he said. "I lay bricks for a living, and I got kids to feed. Am I really going to put that in jeopardy? Why would I admit to anything?"
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Indeed, Florvil St Louis, landlord of the building on NE 11th Street from which the station broadcast, says he'd never seen Sheem until the day the FDLE showed up. It was another man who arranged the handshake lease for the apartment, brought in most of the equipment, and paid the rent in cash every month.
A quick trip up a filthy stairway and you're in the rooftop apartment that used to house Flava. The condition of the place reveals just how much fun pirate radio can be. Empty Belvedere and Remy Martin bottles share floor space with condom wrappers, playlists, promotional CDs of local acts, and fliers from the nightclubs XIT and Ecstasy. Written in pencil on the wall next to a broken mic stand, "Ladies in free by 12:00 each and every Sunday!"
No matter the outcome, Sheem says, the damage to his reputation has been done. "When you do something good, nobody notices," he says ruefully. "The minute you do something bad, that shit spreads like a plague."
-- As told to Edmund Newton