Best Of :: People & Places
Since the mid-1970s Benitez has been the sober, soothing Spanish voice of South Florida news on WLTV-TV (Channel 23), but we like him better as a standup comic whose shtick is broadcast on the radio. The local affiliate of Colombian media giant Caracol already boasts the most rollicking drive-time show in this market in any language. Each weekday from 4 to 7 p.m., "Regreso a Casa" (The Return Home) bubbles with the exuberant puns and parodies of talk-jocks Alfonso Quintero, Paula Arcila, and Saulo Garcia, as well as the dulcet tones and improvised rhymes of Eduardo Vasquez and Gabriel Cuartas, better known as Los Trovadores. But this show really gets cooking at about 5:45, when the motorcycle sound effect heralds Benitez's arrival live from the Channel 23 studios. (Benitez is a Harley-Davidson nut, famous for tooling around town on his Hog.) After exchanging pleasantries, he adds his basso profundo to the segment called "El Chiste de la Tarde" (The Afternoon Joke), as the group engages in the hallowed Colombian tradition of sitting around telling guy-walks-into-a-bar jokes. Benitez more than holds his own with the hosts, with such winners as: "Manola arrives at the airport counter with this enormous TV. They say to her, Manola, don't they have TVs in Galicia?' Yeah, but the thing is, I prefer the shows from here.'" Rimshot, please! Many of the jokes involve untranslatable puns, especially off-color ones. (Suffice to say that arepa has one meaning when applied to a tasty corn patty and quite another when referring to a woman's anatomy.) Whether or not the jokes make the audience laugh, the fact that every one elicits cacophonous guffaws from the assembled joke-tellers can't help but amuse listeners, even those with an imperfect grasp of Spanish. When Benitez gives a rundown of that night's news at 6 p.m., the hilarity settles down just a bit -- hasta mañana.
When the Norton Museum of Art asked the West Palm Beach city commission to overrule the city's historic preservation board and OK the destruction of a 1920s garage to make way for the museum's latest round of expansion, the trustees expected to get their way. Not in Mango Promenade. The residents of this narrow peninsula of a neighborhood, less than 12 blocks long and a block and a half wide, have watched the well-funded cultural Goliath grow and devour their district's northernmost blocks through the years. Not this time. Mango Promenade was the city's very first automobile suburb, said the working folk whose sweat equity had revived the neighborhood in recent years, and those old garages are central to its character. The Mangoistas took that argument to a packed city hall hearing in February, outdueled a team of Norton lawyers and architects, and convinced the commission, for once, to do the right thing.
Boca Raton is notorious for symbolizing South Florida's anticulture: stuffy, platinum-pated, insufferably posh, and full of itself. We wouldn't want to grow up there. But if worse came to worst, at least there's one small pinpoint of hipness in this vast bad-jewelry-and-plastic-surgery capital. It's stuck behind a 7-Eleven off the corner of Palmetto Park Road and Dixie Highway. It's dark, dank, and about as unpretentiously pretentious as can be. For Boca's disaffected youth (or at least those of legal drinking age), it's nice to have a walk-to watering hole sans $13 chocolate martinis or dress-code elitism. What it does offer, besides reasonably priced cold frosty ones, is music of the live, local, and loud variety. How does such a bastion of anarchy survive in tanned, tony Tinselville? We haven't a clue, but we're sure glad the Boca Pub exists. Maybe there's hope for Boca Raton after all.
Who would have expected Japanese colonists in South Florida? Well, they were here, nearly a century ago, and although their Yamato farming community in Boca Raton didn't last, their legacy lives on in the form of the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. Think of this 200-acre complex as an organic whole, the way a Zen Buddhist might, and you'll begin to appreciate the architectural splendor of the place, which is actually made up of two distinct museum buildings and an intricate series of gardens linking them. The original "Yamato-kan," which opened in 1977, is a replica of a traditional Japanese villa, wrapped around a starkly beautiful rock garden and set on a small island. Nearly a mile of carefully manicured trails winds through half a dozen styles of gardens, each magnificent in its own way, to take you up the hill to the new museum, which opened in 1993. It's a much grander structure, also inspired by traditional Japanese architecture, featuring galleries, a teahouse, and a 225-seat theater. Between the two buildings is a large lake stocked with turtles and big, colorful Japanese carp that gather at a feeding station on the island, where, by the way, you can take in a collection of bonsai trees, which demonstrate that, in Japanese hands, even nature can be transformed into architecture.
If David Lynch were scouting for locations around Fort Lauderdale to film his next bizarre odyssey, chances are that Charlie's Rustic Bay Inn would be near the top of his list. But even if Lynch doesn't introduce dancing midgets, locals can say with some certainty that this is one of the weirdest watering holes around. Wedged between auto body shops in a forbidding industrial neighborhood, Charlie's looks like a place you'd bring your truck to have the engine valves adjusted. But inside the tiny, smoky, wood-paneled room is a small range of liquor and bottled beers peeking from an old cooler. The clientele is rough, gruff, and seedy -- just the type you'd expect at a clandestine joint such as this. But the real attractions are the tag-team servers behind the bar. These pneumatic women exude a certain scent of naughtiness that makes one wonder what might happen if the mood were to strike them. Imagine the possibilities.
If you've done any B&B-hopping in your life, you know the stellar inns are historied, meandering mansions. Stay in those B&Bs -- often Victorian style -- and you can almost hear the echoes of butlers announcing guests and piano lessons in the music room. Trouble is, Queen Victoria held little sway in South Florida, and venerable homesteads are few. Though it doesn't date back quite to Her Majesty's reign, the mansionesque Caribbean Quarters, built in 1939, captures some of the feel of yesteryear -- and stands within a block of the beach. The three-story B&B's spacious courtyard is an oasis from the hubbub of the beachfront and features a spa, lush vegetation, trellis centerpiece, and tables from which to eat that namesake breakfast. Rooms are swank, some with hardwood flooring and tiles preserved from original construction. Prices range from $75 to $175 during summer season, $110 to $220 in the winter. We are amused.
Flash back to 1909: There's little ten-year-old Winnie Lancy at her great-grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary in Vermont. As the festivities die down, her great-grandfather, a Civil War veteran who is about 81 years old, starts talking about something he rarely mentioned: Gettysburg. And Winnie listens with awe as he talks of shaking Abraham Lincoln's hand on the day the 16th President gave his most famous speech. Suddenly her schoolbooks come to life.
Zoom forward to November 11, 2000. There's 101-year-old Winnie standing between President Clinton and actor Tom Hanks at the groundbreaking for the new World War II memorial. She has a place of honor at the ceremony because she is the last known living mother of a soldier killed in World War II. Her son, Norman, was killed August 4, 1944, on what was supposed to be his final air mission before coming home. (She loves Hanks but doesn't care much for Clinton, though she shook his hand anyway.) Winnie, who has lived in Plantation for the past 48 years, earned her own place in history through incredible longevity. Born in 1899, she turned 102 years old April 5; her mind remains remarkably sharp, seemingly resistant to the decaying rigors of time. "God gave me a strong mind," she says. "If my mind ever goes, then I want to go." She's been widowed since 1973 and now lives in Plantation Acres with a daughter, one of her two surviving children out of six. She credits her long life to a good diet (at five-foot-two, she usually weighed a healthy 130) and having never touched cigarettes or alcohol, at least not voluntarily. She says the reason booze repulses her dates back to Christmas in about 1911, when her uncles, playing around, doused her with beer. We're thankful for that prank, since it might have contributed to the reason we have such a human treasure in our midst today.
YP president John Haley sums up his fundraising philosophy thus: "Give them what they want, and like, so that it becomes irresistible." And what do yuppies want? Parties! At least 3000 people in their twenties and thirties have joined, making this the largest young-professionals group to support a charity in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Last year YP hosted 42 events ranging from nightclub mixers to ski trips. Its members contributed $250,000 to Covenant House's $9 million budget last year, an admirable 82 percent of which went directly to the costs of helping the runaway, homeless, and at-risk youth who come to Covenant House for help. Perhaps all that beneficence explains why so many people at YP functions are smiling -- or maybe it's because they have something to confess on Sunday. Covenant House, is, after all, a Catholic charity (though it is not affiliated with any archdiocese and does not discriminate in its programs). And though the Holy Father may not sanction all the goings-on at a YP function, he certainly can't complain about all the good the group is doing.
One day after the paper reported that Glades Central's girls' basketball team "beat the crap out of" William T. Dwyer's squad, 62-33, it printed the following Editor's Note: "A brief article in the high school girls' basketball roundup in The Post Tuesday used inappropriate language to describe the Glades Central High School victory, 62-33, over William T. Dwyer High School. The Post regrets the lapse in judgment and apologizes to readers." Boy, those editors really wrote the shit out of that one.
True story: Lee Hillier, then a Plantation city commissioner, is sitting at the bar at Grin's Pub, a pleasant dive, having a few beers. The gnarliest half-drunk patron in the place, a man with few teeth and a dirty gray beard, comes up to him and starts complaining about a house in Plantation that gets on his nerves. The house has a trailer on the property and violates half the codes in Plantation's book, the drunk says. Hillier listens for a while and -- bam! -- the commissioner remembers the house in question. Soon, he's telling the drunk how he tried in vain to have his city enforce codes there.
The story illustrates both the best and the worst about Hillier, who lost his reelection bid in March. He knew more about Plantation -- every cul-de-sac, intersection, zone, rule, and code -- than anyone else in the city. He also had one hell of a vision: He wanted to create an international marketplace on State Road 7, and thus revitalize the predominantly black area east of the Turnpike. He wanted to thwart the power of lawyer/lobbyist Emerson Allsworth (who happens to be a convicted drug money launderer) and Allsworth's partner, Bill Laystrom, who together represent developers and control the Plantation commission. Hillier fought to clean up the city, add sidewalks and lights, and increase access to public facilities for disabled citizens. The problem: He failed to build any consensus on those issues. The ingrained, aging, white conservative Plantation political machine, which has neglected the east side for decades, beat Hillier down at every turn. He was far too blunt for diplomacy and thus never managed to clean up the city, or even that run-down house, for that matter. In the end, he proved you can't even fight City Hall from within its walls -- at least not in tight-fisted, cowardly Plantation. But we salute him for trying.
We like Lori Parrish. We really do. She's a Southern lady with an attitude almost as big as her hair, and we respect her for that. Sure, we've slammed her a couple of times, but we're paid to do that. It's nothing personal. Because we like her. We really do. Of course we might have raised her ire a bit last August when we exposed the fact that she charged a whopping $13,000 in cell phone bills to her campaign -- in which she ran virtually unopposed. But now at least we know who was on the other end of those phone calls: good old lobbyists. They are, after all, her best friends, according to statements she made in an April 2 article written by that cute and rascally Sun-Sentinel columnist, Buddy Nevins. In the story Parrish called attempts to regulate lobbyists and limit their power a "bunch of B.S." To clarify her point, she gave a classic quote about the relationship between politicians and influence peddlers: "All of us play golf, play cards, go to the movies, are attendants in [lobbyists'] weddings, or a variety of other things," Parrish said. "Some of us even married a lobbyist or two along the way. To me, [curbing lobbying] is simply unnecessary." Now, don't that just wrap a soft blanket around your little heart and make it coo? Who knew that government here in Broward was such a love-in?
Late one night police cars crowded the parking lot, but no one was at the pumps. Was it closed? Had it been robbed? As it happens, it was neither. Still, a Fort Lauderdale officer sternly warned that this is among the most dangerous places in town. Oooh, we're shaking! It's the entertaining kind of danger. For example, when a frantic customer didn't know the English word for his desired purchase, he made a crude pantomime instead. The clerk never missed a beat, handing his enthusiastic patron a condom. A youthful employee may wink and throw in a free bottle opener with your Friday-afternoon beer purchase, though such gifts may be just as easily snatched back by the disapproving boss (his father). You just never know at this family-owned Amoco. Pump your petrol and take your chances.