You've seen Bob Bekoff's boats, though, if you live in Fort Lauderdale, you've probably never boarded one. They're those 42-foot water taxis that ply local rivers and bays at a jellyfish pace. Bekoff's company, Water Taxi/Water Bus, is one of Liquordale's choicest ventures, pulling in a tidy $1.5 million in profits in the past three years and drawing the benign attention of city officials. Just last week, the city gave Bekoff a sweet deal on boat slips at Las Olas Marina. Overall, the city has funneled $4.5 million in federal mass transit aid his way.
Bekoff's argument -- swallowed hook, line, and sinker by the City Commission -- has long been that he's providing a service for commuters.
Former Water Bus Capt. Keith Prust laughs heartily at the idea. "It's always tourists," Prust says of the taxi ridership. "When you're driving around for a while, you see all five people who have that pass."
Combine the subsidies (almost half of which the company wasn't even eligible for, county auditors now say) with Bekoff's parsimonious salary rates and you understand why the water-taxi king is a rich man. When Prust worked for Bekoff two years ago, he contends that captains started at $10.50 an hour. After one year on the job, Prust had made it up to $12.75, or about $26,000 per year.
That stinks, Prust says. "By the time you get a captain's license," he adds, "you've logged 720 days sea time."
John Paul Jones is spinning in his Naval Academy sarcophagus.
For this, you wanted to make like Capt. Horatio Hornblower?
Photocopy operator: $30,358
Cafeteria cook: $25,392
Pest controller: $24,817
Mail clerk: $24,370
Laundry operator: $22,797
Bekoff's water-taxi captain: $21,840
Anybody Can Run, Right?
Now's the time for dreamers and hallucinators to come out of the woodwork and declare their intentions to run for president. The early bird in South Florida is self-styled world traveler and former semipro ice hockey player Dan Imperato, who announced last week that he's forming an "exploratory committee" to consider a 2008 run for the big one.
Imperato, 57, sat down with Tailpipe in the mezzanine of Trump Towers in West Palm Beach, where he owns a half-million-dollar condo:
Tailpipe: Does not having a college degree hurt your chances?
Imperato: I didn't have the opportunity to further my educational career in the college scene because of my inability to afford the status of college and the costs associated with it. I had the opportunity to go into the professional ice hockey arena and then decided to go into the business world.
Tailpipe: What kind of business do you do now?
Imperato: At this particular time, I do not operate any businesses. I am basically semiretired in the last two years since the telecommunications crash and the unfortunate 9/11 situation. I have many supporters around the globe who believe I would be an excellent candidate.
Tailpipe: Can you talk about the domestic violence complaint filed in 2003 by your stepson, Joshua Goldberg? [Goldberg claimed Imperato threatened to run him over and told Goldberg he had Mafia connections. A judge ordered Imperato to stay 500 feet away from Goldberg.]
Imperato: A stepson didn't take kindly to me capturing his mother and thought that maybe I was stealing his mother from him. It was a mistake he made, and I forgive him for it.
Tailpipe: You haven't run for office and you have no name recognition, so what makes you a viable candidate?
Imperato: The White House needs a man of the world, needs someone who understands what the rest of the world needs, not only what America needs. I believe I bring a huge wealth of knowledge, experience, and credibility to that agenda.
Tailpipe: How do we get our troops out of Iraq?
Imperato: There has to be policymaking, and there has to be some peacemaking. If it was handled with honey, it would be much better than with sour cream.
Alert the office staff, Rummy. Tailpipe just mailed you a couple of bricks of orange blossom honey.
Rx: More Acid
Thomas Lyttle went into a tailspin after New Times ran a story about him and his fabulous collection of "acid art" in January. Eventually he lost his job as a chef at a local hospital and is now living with family in Pennsylvania. All of his trippier-than-thou belongings -- including his signed sheets of blotter acid and Timothy Leary artifacts -- are being sold off for bargain-basement prices.
A recent visit to Lyttle's dark apartment in Imperial Point found price tags stickered to every couch, end table, and wall hanging. Collectible acid artwork that sold for upward of $500 was going for $100 a pop. A noted scholar and academician for the paisley underground just collapsing into a pitiful heap? Perhaps Lyttle's prodigious LSD intake contributed somehow to his downfall? "Nah," roommate Scott Wollman says after thinking for a moment. "I think the acid probably helped."
Tailpipe always wanted to be one of those heavy hitters who snarls at his secretary, "Get my lawyer on the phone." Well, the closest that mortals like you and the 'Pipe will get to that is probably a prepaid legal plan, which works a bit like an HMO. You pay a little and get even less.
That's the route Bernard Silver, a 60-year-old Boca Raton businessman, took this year when he decided to sue his business partner at Cruise & Travel Emporium.
"I couldn't afford $400-an-hour attorneys," Silver says. In March, he enrolled in a plan offered by Pre-Paid Legal Services, a company based in Ada, Oklahoma, that offers a free, one-hour consultation with an attorney, with reduced fees for further hours. Silver forked out $100 per month.
Pre-Paid Legal Services contracts with Glantz & Glantz, a firm in Plantation. An attorney there allegedly told Silver that his case "looked solid"; the Boca Raton man claims the firm agreed to take the case and reduced its hourly rate from $185 to $115. Silver paid the firm a $4,950 retainer.
About a week later, however, enthusiasm for Silver's suit had drained like love from a bad marriage. Silver met with a law clerk in the Glantz offices -- a man who announced that he was not licensed by the Florida Bar but who proceeded to dispense legal advice nonetheless.
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"I went home, pissed," Silver says. Then the firm told him "We're not representing you," and he was referred to another attorney. Oh, and Glantz & Glantz kept his retainer.
Silver recently filed a complaint with the Florida Bar and ran a small classified ad in New Times seeking others disgruntled with the world of prepaid legal. He got a half dozen responses.
Firm co-owner Ron Glantz responds testily: "I'm confident that his case was handled totally properly, that we've done nothing wrong or unethical or unprofessional," says Ron Glantz, one of the firm's owners. Still, Glantz has decided to refund Silver "every single penny he paid to this firm" because the former client is "creating bad energy toward our law firm that's totally undeserved."
-- As told to Edmund Newton