It's 11 a.m. on the first Sunday morning of the month, and it's a bright sunshiny day. Call the girlfriends and grab the beach blanket or chairs -- you're going out. It's important to be a little more subtle than you are on Saturday night at the Sea Monster, although almost anyone and anything goes along the New River between the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and Las Olas Riverfront during the SunTrust Jazz Brunch. This is the best place to meet the right kind of girl. As one brunch regular puts it, "The unsavory types are nursing hangovers on Sunday, so they're not here." The cool girls come out in droves because they know that the tunes are good (though not always jazzy), and the people-watching is second to none. The smaller stages, such as the Connie Hoffman Gazebo and the New River Inn stage, provide good music and a few choice secluded and shady spots. Lots of foot traffic means that if you spy someone you like, it's not hard to bump into them "accidentally" and start a conversation about the weather or the music. While chatting, wander over to get a bite to eat from some of the vendors, then invite her over to your blanket in the shade. The rest is up to you.

Gilbrace Ristel may be mobile, but come summertime he isn't hard to find. Ristel hails from Haiti, but for seven years he's been a nomad, roaming the often road-blocked residential streets between Federal Highway and Andrews Avenue near downtown Fort Lauderdale. Listen for the tiny tinkling of ice cream truck themes such as "The Entertainer." The music has a languid sound, like a 45 rpm record played at 33. And though Ristel can't hear this classic summer soundtrack from inside his truck, he seems to move at the same easy tempo, never rushing his young customers as they choose from prepackaged treats with names like Creamy Krunch (Ristel's favorite) and Crazy Coconut.
The advantages of breaking off a relationship at a highway rest/food stop are almost too numerous to list. For one thing, thanks to passing traffic no one can hear you if you choose to make a scene. Then there's the transient nature of the other customers, who are more interested in a bathroom break and a quick burger than they are in your love life. The restrooms themselves provide safe refuge, whether it's to wash your face (if you're sad), scrawl some graffiti (if you're mad), or triumphantly groom yourself for your next, er, victim (if you're glad). And of course the metaphor of breaking up next to a highway can't be ignored: Love, like traffic, may stall. But you will always, eventually, move on.

South Florida breeds car burglars like cockroaches; they're everywhere, they like to rifle through your stuff, and they're pretty damn fast. (The only differences are that the thieves aren't quite as big as the roaches and can't fly.) So you never want to park your car out there in the public domain. But every now and then, it happens: You're meeting friends, you plan to ride in their car, and you wonder what to do with your vehicle. The park-and-ride lots have four attributes that make them perfect: They're centrally located along I-95, well-lit, patrolled by Wackenhut, and free. They also stay open round-the-clock. But Tri-Rail does not recommend leaving your car there overnight, because patrols cease about 9 or 10 p.m. and don't resume until 4 a.m. We, however, have braved it through midnight and even later at times and have returned to find our car as safe as a bug in a rug... or maybe a roach in a rug.
Along the south side of the New River, just west of I-95 and north of I-595, lies Secret Woods Nature Center, a 56-acre oak-hammock preserve that's a favorite destination for busloads of kids on school field trips and hikers wanting to explore short trails to observe flora and fauna. In addition to housing raccoons, otters, and other critters, the park is prime habitat for South Florida's big-ass banana spiders, the yellow-and-black arachnids that weave tremendous, orb-shape webs and sit smack in the middle of them, waiting for unsuspecting bugs to become victuals. Lining the trails on both sides and even creating a canopy above the planks, the eight-legged creatures are literally everywhere. If you're squeamish about spiders, rent Charlotte's Web, then saunter on down to Secret Woods and see if you can find a place in your heart for these colorful, if not exactly cuddly, creatures.

To hear some folks tell it, one can truly enjoy the Everglades only by dropping a canoe into the sawgrass and paddling into the sunset, armed with merely a compass, a bottle of insect repellent, and a healthy respect for the region's scaly dominant predator. Fortunately for the less intrepid among us, one needn't go to such extremes to view the wondrous flora and fauna of the River of Grass. The Royal Palm Visitor Center, located on a side road four miles from the park's main entrance in South Miami-Dade, marks the beginning of two short yet breathtaking walks. The Anhinga Trail, much of which extends over the swamp as a boardwalk, teems with wildlife; herons and egrets stalk the shallows, alligators up to 12 feet long vie for prime sunbathing spots, ospreys wheel overhead in search of aquatic prey, and female soft-shell turtles dig their nests -- sometimes within two feet of the trail. The nearby Gumbo Limbo Trail winds through a hammock of the red-barked trees and offers a cool, quiet respite from its more bustling neighbor, the silence broken only by the fluttering of the occasional flycatcher or catbird. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, the center stands near the entrance to the 28-mile network of Long Pine Key Trails, which wind through hardwood hammocks and sawgrass prairie. Or drop a canoe into the water; they're for rent in the Flamingo Lodge, Marina, and Outpost Resort, at the park road's end.
Yes, strolling along Rose Drive just south of Davie Boulevard can bring you more than a view of quaint houses and bougainvillea galore. You can also spot male peacocks preening and strutting as they try to entice their dull-feathered female counterparts into a little bump and grind. If you visit the area at night, you can hear both the conquerors and the conquered crying out from the shadows like cats. The occasional iridescent feather dropped on lawns and sidewalks is the price for all that prancing.
So maybe it didn't prove a very good hiding place for William Colee's family, whom Seminole Indians slaughtered in this very place in 1836, but that doesn't mean the park isn't good for something. For downtown Fort Lauderdale pencil pushers, this park is a prime spot for ducking deadlines. Only a few blocks away from the grind, this green space offers the cubicle-bound more than four acres to kick back and contemplate tame squirrels, Spanish moss, and watercraft of all sizes and descriptions gliding along the Intracoastal. There is no phone, park ranger, or any other way of getting snagged playing hooky -- nothing but quiet. Bring a book, and leave the cell phone in the car.

The number one fringe benefit of living in this section of older ranches and ramblers? Not the proliferation of bail bondsmen in case you get into trouble. Not the proximity to the New River, though that is nice. Not the fact that you're within walking distance of the jail so you can go see Mom during visiting hours. No, the best thing is the free legal advice gleaned from chats with the neighbors over your backyard fence. In some places it looks like about every other home has been transformed into a lawyer's office. And these aren't the persnickety uptown lawyers who wouldn't give you the time of day -- at least not yet, anyway. These are the little guys hungry for business and eager for action. These are the guys who bring their work home with them.
It sounds like a nightmare: You're driving your black Eddie Bauer-edition Ford Explorer through a maze of roads lined with cookie-cutter, single-family homes. Slowly the houses melt together into a blur of fawn-colored stucco, garage doors, and sentrylike mailboxes. Perhaps you've passed your house several times already -- you cannot even recall whether you opted for the model A, with the picture window, or model B, with the bonus room. Your neighborhood, which has the hypnotic monotony of the ocean's rolling waves, has lulled you into a stupor. It sounds silly, but unless you're a homing pigeon or have Lewis and Clark's sense of direction, buying a house in Pembroke Falls could mark your mental undoing. But if the lure of this gated community intoxicates you, try putting a little red flag on your roof -- and hope no one else follows suit.

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