Best Place to Confront Your Arachnophobia 2001 | Secret Woods Nature Center | People & Places | South Florida
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.
When it comes to relationships, everyone screws the pooch once in a while. Yet no one screws it more frequently or spectacularly than those darn heterosexual males. This particularly oafish lot is most often in dire need of extraordinary measures when it comes to begging forgiveness of their mates. And guys, when you're patching things up, the last thing you want is an audience. What if you flub your lines? What if she slaps your face? What if she's so moved by your contrition that she strips naked on the spot? Hey, it could happen -- and if it does you'll be glad you heeded our advice and took her to Big Cypress, South Florida's largest expanse of unspoiled nature. In it you'll find 729,000 acres of hiking trails, camping spots, endless views, huge cypress stands, swamps, gators, starry skies, a few easily avoided beer-swilling rednecks, and all the solitude freshly stitched-up romance needs.
Spend enough time watching these people, and you will come to an inevitable conclusion: In addition to providing great theater, the criminal justice system is also a babe magnet. Go to civil and you see hot-to-trot divorcées and racy, newly liberated dudes. Go to the criminal courtrooms and find the beautiful-yet-bellicose Bonnies and their glowering, deliciously dangerous Clydes. And don't forget all those Angie Harmons and Dylan McDermotts, the women lawyers in their sheer blouses and red power skirts, the men in their suits cut just so. Mm-mm-mm. Some of the finest legal tender you'll ever see. And as an added bonus, the ones in private practice are flush with cash. If you don't believe it, just watch them strut outside and climb into their Mercedes convertibles. The courthouse also offers a stage to try out your sure-fire pickup lines, like "With a corpus like that, you can habeas me anytime," or the more daring, "How about you and me get together and check out my legal briefs?" For those remorseless and oh-so-hot criminals, it's even better. Try: "I know you're an armed felon -- but damn you're fine!" Or the sweet, subtle, "Haven't I seen your wanted poster before?" And of course, the old standard: "What's a nice girl like you doing getting convicted in a place like this?"

The nation ogled the comings and goings at the courthouse during last fall's postelection battle, but the show goes on, folks. You want big names? How about Johnnie Cochran and Al Sharpton, who recently used the courthouse as a backdrop for basking in the outrage over the Lionel Tate life sentence? Your favorite -- or most irksome -- television news personalities routinely shoot standup footage across the street. And those annoying lawyers in television commercials who promise big bucks for your mishap? They'll be there. But it's the everyday citizenry who most intrigue: the guy who screws up enough courage to contest a speeding ticket; the would-be parents who beam with joy after a final adoption hearing; a guilty defendant's family looking stunned and puffy-eyed as they exit; school kids filing in for a civics field trip. And if you want a snack for the show, the peanut man is parked on the sidewalk most days. Buck a bag.
By the time you get to the police station to pick up an arrest record, you're probably in a rotten mood. Maybe the cops arrested your kid. Maybe your backyard marijuana farm caught a police officer's eagle eye. Maybe, in a last-ditch effort to ruin your fascist boss, you've launched an extensive background check on the bastard. But whatever your circumstances, a festering rage probably pumps through your veins as you stumble into the station; the last things you need are ornery bureaucrats crawling through the motions of locating incident reports. That's what you get, though, unless you had the foresight to commit your crime in Davie. The Davie Police Department records section, located in a spanking new building with an open, light ambiance, offers quick, polite service. The men and women retrieving records actually smile. They gladly explain and interpret police reports. And they even listen politely to the rambling stories of injustice that accompany each document.

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