Every evening near Fort Lauderdale Beach, small, furbearing panhandlers gather near the entrance to Hugh Taylor Birch State Recreation Area. They dig for insects, get in fights, and await the tourists and retirees who used to show up with bags of food.
But the tourists and retirees don't show up any more, thanks to a police crackdown that began about a year ago. The raccoons of Sunrise Boulevard are getting back to their old, low-fat diet of lizards, crabs, roots, and berries. They remain fat but not very happy.
"There used to be dozens of cars and maybe a hundred people at a time," says Fort Lauderdale police detective Mike Reed. "It was almost like a tourist attraction. People would literally stop their cars in the road. Another problem is where the raccoons gather is right next to Fire Station 13. The firefighters would open up the garage door to respond to a call, and they'd be blocked in by cars parked in the driveway." City personnel have since erected no fewer than four signs admonishing would-be raccoon patrons.
Park manager John Frosbutter says the cuddlesome carnivores are still a nuisance and potential health hazard. "Have you ever seen someone walk past carrying a purse, and 12 [raccoons] chase her across the street? That's the nuisance part," Frosbutter explains. "They don't distinguish between a purse and a bag full of food." The health-hazard part: Some raccoons carry rabies, a sometimes-fatal virus transmittable to humans via scratches or bites.
Hagridden by hunger the raccoons now range across Sunrise Boulevard to Franco & Vinny's Italian Restaurant. About one per week gets squashed by traffic.
"Anytime you change wildlife habits, there's going to be a cost somewhere down the line," Frosbutter posits.
The new in-house promotions paint him as the just-plain-folks kinda guy you can "relate" to. The Sun-Sentinel's Ray Recchi supposedly deals with those "little things that send you screaming into the night." Like his moronic column.
Portraying himself as a lovable nitwit, Recchi is endlessly offering up those, "Gosh, I can't figure out my newfangled computer, can you?" type of columns. The Homer Simpson of Sunrise.
This Everyman approach to journalism shamelessly panders to the white middle-class folks trying to make sense of life in Broward. The column is also directed toward helping the mighty Tribune Co. squeeze every last subscription from the suburbs. And if Recchi is too ivory, then they offer Deborah Work's column, which is unabashedly promoted as "soul." And if you're Hispanic, then it's "resident philosopher" Enrique Fernandez. Golly, they have a columnist for every subscriber.
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Anyone can see it's mass-marketing in the multicultural era, but that doesn't mean it can lead to enlightenment.
Recently Uncle Ray offered up this reasoned critique of current cinema: "Whenever possible, I avoid serious films." His provocative analysis: A film has to be fun, or it will offend his sensibilities. Recchi admits this is "culturally backward." As if the readers need to be told.
He then declared that powerful and realistic movies should simply be avoided. We say it's his bland column that should be bypassed. As a service to newspaper readers, Undercurrents will sift through Sun-Sentinel columns (so you won't have to) and occasionally report the gems of wisdom.
Undercurrents wants to know about any and all political deals, media screwups, and particularly dumb memos from bureaucrats. Let us know. Call 954-233-1572, fax 954-233-1571, or e-mail email@example.com.