The fate of one New Times sidewalk distribution box doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this cockeyed world of ours. It's there one minute — on the sidewalk in front of Donald Trump's brand-new Trump International Hotel & Tower on A1A — and gone the next. Mysteriously gone. But so what? It was just another one of those abused metal boxes that passersby kick, bump their cars into, or sometimes use for its intended purpose — to pick up a copy of the latest issue of this newspaper. Its absence meant 40 or 50 people wouldn't get the paper. Big deal, right?
Still, when circulation director Chris Terrell noticed the empty space on the sidewalk two weeks ago, he had to stop to investigate. It was his job. And he has a big stake in the 50 or so circulation boxes on Fort Lauderdale streets. The city just put new regulations in place requiring, among a lot of other things, new black boxes (you probably remember the red ones) and a $125 licensing fee for each location. You see, New Times is invested in Fort Lauderdale.
Terrell started poking around Trump's building site, where 298 "ultra-luxury" apartments will be available for occupancy some time next year. He lifted the lid of a construction Dumpster, and there lay the box. Like a corpse. Not only had it been torn from its moorings but its display window had been smashed, and there were hammer dents on its side. It was slathered with drippy white plaster and covered with construction debris.
Workers on the site told the aghast Terrell that the person to talk to about the box was Mick Fournier, project executive for the Trump Organization. "Mick's the man to speak to," said a man in the general contractor's office.
Terrell couldn't find Fournier, but a man in the Trump office questioned whether any newspaper had a right to place a box in front of the Trump project. "Go ahead, get the attorneys involved," he said to Terrell. "We've got a gang of them." Terrell did contact New Times' legal counsel, and he filed a police report.
There was much the same reaction from project executive Fournier himself the next day. In a telephone conversation, he told Terrell, "Listen, we don't want it there. It's unacceptable to us. We don't want a box in front of our $200 million project."
Terrell pointed out that the box was on a city sidewalk at a location that had been approved by Code Enforcement.
Of course, this is no ordinary hotelier that New Times is dealing with here. This is the dude with the most celebrated comb-over in civilization. The Donald is not used to being impeded by mere city ordinances or by snippy newspapers unimpressed by his celebrity heft. So it came as no surprise to Tailpipe when he learned that Fournier complained to Fort Lauderdale's Code Enforcement Office, saying there should be an exception to the policy of newspaper distribution. 'Cause it's like, you know, Trump!
The 'Pipe is also proud to say that code enforcement officer Deborah Hernandez reportedly reaffirmed city policy (New Times' box was on city property and, as such, Trump's minions had no right to remove it). This old car part would like to point out that there are also constitutional issues here (the First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press), making Terrell's battle all the more important.
As of now, there's a new box in front of the Trump site (with a notice that its theft will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law), and New Times issued a demand that the Trump organization reimburse the newspaper for $660.40. This, in fact, is cheap, representing just the cost of a new box. It doesn't count the expense of re-bolting a new box to the sidewalk and the loss of revenue from lack of distribution, among other things.
So, Donald. Our lone but determined lawyer will see your gang of lawyers in Small Claims Court.
Last Thursday, parts of the South Florida coast looked like scenes out of Waterworld. Waves crept far past the normal high-tide line, and water in the Intracoastal rose so high that it flooded up over seawalls, gushed onto roads, and nearly floated a bunch of yachts into the streets. At Joe's Market in Hollywood, the whole parking lot was submerged under about five inches of water. In Fort Lauderdale, four blocks of A1A were shut down, and a few streets in Victoria Park were almost impassable.
Among the laid-back, flip-flop set, it was the talk of the town.
Marc Weiss, the greeter/salesman of the Frequent Flyer fishing boat near Las Olas Boulevard, said that water was rushing the wrong way through storm drains, from the Intracoastal backward, to submerge rather than empty the roads. Small fish rose with the tide onto grassy banks and got stuck in the dirt, he said. "I kicked a few of 'em back in."
At Ed & Elaine's Tiki Hut, a semisecret hangout on A1A just south of the Dania Beach bridge that functions more like a backyard than a bar, owner Ed Colville said his whole property was pretty much underwater. "In 31 years, I've never seen it that high," he said.
Weatherpeople attributed the cause to a high-pressure system in the Atlantic crashing against a low-pressure system off the Carolinas. But boat captains could be heard trying to outsmart one another with competing theories. (Did you hear the one about Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle opening up the New River Dam?).
Colville sagely mused that the cause was probably more complicated, citing the moon, melting polar ice caps, and autumnal high tides. "Instead of the Perfect Storm, it was like the Perfect Flood," he said on the telephone.
"You can't get mad, though," he added in his typical laid-back style. "It's nature." His wise words were punctuated with the sound of a beer cracking open nearby.
Tailpipe waited for the TV-show punch line. Hey, dudes, you've been globally warmed!
The stuffed suits in Washington don't know nothin' about economic "crisis." Let 'em come to South Florida and spend a few weeks looking for work on a construction site. The industry is so devastated by the housing slump that some workers are toiling for free just for the prospect of a paycheck.
At the site of the former Sheraton Yankee Trader, the iconic resort on A1A in the midst of a $65 million makeover before it reopens as the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, some bills go unpaid month after month.
"[Some] workers are being paid by their employers, but the company that hires other companies [the general contractor] isn't paying the subcontracting companies," an on-site source who asked to remain anonymous told the 'Pipe.
The contractor is BE&K, a Charlotte-based subsidiary of KBR, a Houston-based firm that had been a subsidiary of Halliburton until last year. KBR is the single biggest contractor to the U.S. Army and a major player in Iraq. The corporation is certainly not hurting in the cash-flow department, recession or not.
But Tailpipe's on-the-job source, who's a manager for one of the beleaguered sub-contractors, says that BE&K hasn't paid a dime to his company since it started at the site in June. Not surprisingly, BE&K, which contracted the project through its Orlando office, did not return calls requesting information.
At the site itself, workers told Tailpipe that, aside from the job being split between two towers, there are so many subcontracting companies at the site that it's hard to keep track of which companies are being paid and which are muddling along on a wing and a prayer.
Tailpipe's loquacious friend says one unpaid company, Gulf Plumbing, walked off the site last Friday. A staff member at the company's office in Miami refused to comment.
"They don't want to go public," Tailpipe's source says. "They're going to handle it a different way" — the way that involves lawyers.
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As for his own company, walking off the site isn't an option. "If you pull out, [BE&K] will get someone else."
By continuing to work, the company at least keeps alive the hope that it will be paid — eventually — while establishing its rights to a legal claim. Even though hope for a quick payoff fades, the man says, coming to work at the Westin job site beats the other option, which is not working at all.
"There are not too many other jobs out there," says the disheartened construction manager, who hasn't gotten paid in three months. "In the present economic situation, you're lucky to have a job like this." BE&K, he contends, is "taking advantage of our situation."
His boss, he adds, "moves forward on hopes. Today, he went to the bank to get a loan just to make the payroll. Small companies like ours are really hurting."