The 221-square-mile refuge occupies the last of the northern Everglades. The wetlands were once connected with the Loxahatchee River (hence the name) 50 miles away, but the area between the two was dredged and developed long ago. For more than a half-century, the refuge has been kept alive by a series of pumps, canals, and levees. And we're happy to report that the project has been an astonishing success. Trek there yourself to see the thriving ecosystem of tree islands, sloughs, wet prairies, sawgrass, cattails, and open water. Alligators are everywhere, as are great blue heron, owls, anhingas, white ibis, and egrets. It's open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and it's good for a day of hiking, biking, or canoeing, all for five bucks a carload.
So this young right-hander is an odd choice. He's barely 23 years old, and he flamed out last season, ending up on the disabled list three times. But Josh Beckett was the second overall pick in the 1999 free-agent draft and boasted a 14-1 record in the minors in 2001. His earned run average that year was a mind-numbing 1.54. Then came the blisters on his right middle finger, blood on his pants, and a broken-up bathroom. Finally, after pickle brine and rice cream, the kid discovered Stan's blister cream, which he applies every day. Now his 96-mile-per-hour fastball is set to light up the league. And hey, considering the pathetic showings of the other major sports teams -- the Heat, Panthers, and Dolphins -- why not pick potential over performance?
If ever there was a place built for rollerblading, it's Broward County's finest beach, between Las Olas and Sunrise boulevards. There's a wide sidewalk and plenty of challenging obstacles (otherwise known as tourists) to maneuver around. The soothing surf and cool ocean breeze are on one side, and bustling bars and shops are on the other. Both offer particularly good people-watching opportunities. There are public bathrooms and showers when you need them. And there are fellow bladers to commiserate with after a nasty wipeout or collision. When you get tired, you can always stop at the Elbo Room for a beer, a soda, and maybe a song. This isn't exercise; it's the good life.
We got some Canes over here, whoosh, whoosh! Yes, it's a pretty lame cheer, but fans shout it loud and proud on any given Saturday in the Orange Bowl, and for good reason. UM is and has been a perennial football powerhouse since 1983, but gone are the days of the swaggering, trash-talking, fatigues-wearing hooligans who played for Jimmy Johnson. The NCAA violations, scholarship reductions, assorted PR gaffes, and the specter of Luther Campbell left a bad taste in the mouths of critics and fans alike. It's always darkest before the dawn, right? Even when things got really bad, they eventually got better: J.J. and his hair jumped to the NFL; their replacement, Dennis Erickson (despite winning two National Championships in '89 and '91), abandoned the team right before the school was hit with NCAA sanctions; Butch Davis exorcised the demons, cleaned up the program, and took the Canes to victory over the Gators in the 2001 Nokia Sugar Bowl. Then Davis bailed for the NFL, leaving the team and the fans in the lurch. Would the Canes revert back to their evil ways? After Athletic Director Paul Dee conducted a nationwide search for Davis' replacement, the UM players lobbied for Assistant Coach Larry Coker, who in turn led Miami to an undefeated season in 2001. In 2002, the Canes rocked the Nebraska Cornhuskers like a Category 4 storm in the Rose Bowl only to crash back down to Earth in a devastating loss to Ohio State University a year later in the Fiesta Bowl. Although the loss to OSU ended Miami's historic winning streak at 34 games and some egos (and ligaments) got bruised, rest assured that the Canes will reload and return to dominance. Whoosh, whoosh!There's no better place to undertake the vice of gambling than Dania Jai-Alai's "Cellar," a smoky crypt of simulcasts flickering on dozens of screens. Above it in the auditorium, spectators lend a classier air to the goings-on as they watch live games taking place in the fronton, the court on which this hoary Basque game is played. The Cellar, however, is a classic den of iniquity. It's here that paychecks are really lost or multiplied. Here, you can avoid the lines by placing bets on self-service terminals for everything from harness racing to jai-alai. Color touch-screen terminals allow you to open an account, establish a balance, and handle all your betting online from your own carrel. For the more mobile-minded, there're the palm-sized wireless terminals. They make trips to the Cellar's bar a whole lot easier.
It's not the bombs over Baghdad. It's the whole damn world gone crazy. We used to dismiss that little voice; "Firearms," it would whisper. "They'll make you feel safe." Back then, it was serial killers. Anger over not being able to wander freely without fear of rape. Now it's the government that has us thinking about weapons of less-than-mass destruction. Maybe the survivalists had it right all along. That's a crazy thought, no? And the voice keeps getting more insistent as the vise tightens on our civil rights. Feeling flattened yet? Hear the creak as the handle's turned? Not that we urge you to bear arms against the government. It's just our right to be prepared. At Big Al's, you can get a private lesson for $30 per half hour. Just one will enable you to shoot in the general direction of where you're aiming. After that, it's only $4.50 a person, unlimited time, $10 for gun rental, and $10 for 50 rounds. Proficiency is a long way off. In the meantime, maybe you better dust off the ol' critical intelligence. It's a weapon of unlimited potential. And your country needs you. Heck, you need you.

The stiff arm. The explosive power. The speed. The moves. The dreads. The personal website. The strangeness. The weird spats with police. The social disorder. This is almost too easy a choice. Williams isn't just a great running back; he's a hell of a complex person. There is an unpredictability about him that makes for great suspense and tension -- like a tautly filmed movie with an unsettling ending. Never before have we seen one person concurrently display such raw and powerful violence with such sublime sensitivity; you can't help but wonder which side will win out. He practices photography, and if he brings half the artistry to that craft that he does to rushing, he'll be the next Richard Avedon. But nowhere will he ever achieve the sheer beauty -- the apocalyptic explosion at the line of scrimmage, the fiery sweep to the sideline -- that he creates on a football field. Miracles like that don't occur twice in a lifetime.
This guy is a smorgasbord of tot-inspired talent. For a fee, he offers sno-cones, cotton candy, face-painting, and that nemesis of paranoid parents, a bounce house. To calm adults' jittery nerves, he sometimes even makes frozen margaritas -- though he generally avoids such fare at kiddie shindigs. Gary Cardonick's specialty is balloons. The 36-year-old Coral Springs dweller, who boasts an associate's degree in business, can make motorcycles, Bugs Bunny, even a working Ferris wheel by mangling a little rubber-cum-air. He got his start a decade ago at the Baja Beach Club in Fort Lauderdale, where he did just about everything you can imagine to make a buck. He even recalls selling his clown shoes for $200 to a rich guy who was trying to impress his date. ("I went home in stocking feet," he comments.) He started face-painting four or five years ago, added the bounce house in 1999 after a stock tip paid off (we love a clown who plays the market), then added the food in the past couple of years. Twisty don't come cheap: His full-service birthday costs $350. You might consider starting a preschool if you really want him over. That's only $150 a shot. "Good advertising there," Cardonick says.
There's a great path between water and trees in Pompano that is one of the few places in South Florida where you can run without getting hit by a car. If you like to space out when you move, this strip of concrete is safe. You have to worry most about tripping over one of the walkers or bicycle riders. But the path is pretty wide, and the people are polite, so the risk of person-versus-person collision and injury is low. If you like to focus on surroundings rather than accomplishment, keep your eye on the water while you sweat. There'll be ducks on the surface, turtles on the bank, and fish that jump from the water and splash down several yards downstream. And hey, a couple of bridges give you one of the few places in this flat region with slight elevation, so you can work your quads. To get there, follow Palm Aire Drive south from Powerline Road; this beauteous place to exercise runs between Atlantic Boulevard and McNab Road.
There's not much to do in Easterlin Park, and that's just the point. Unlike busy, high-energy gathering places, Easterlin is a passive, urban wilderness area, much of whose 47 acres are taken up with an honest-to-God cypress forest -- rather amazing, since it's only a stone's throw from the hyperbusy intersection of Oakland Park Boulevard and Powerline Road. All of which means that it's a good place for a quiet walk, a good locale for a peaceful picnic, an oasis amid a firestorm. Take a relaxing stroll through the unspoiled forest -- admire 250-year-old trees and other native flora while birds converse in the treetops and squirrels skitter across your path. Notice that the occasional train whistles are just far enough away to blend in with the sounds of nature. Sit trance-like while ducks glide serenely across the smallish lake, and fish if you like... it's allowed. Camping is an option too; there are 55 campsites, many for tents only, not RVs. Volleyball and shooting hoops are permitted if you must do something. But really, this park's simple charm is the peaceful escape it affords. Maybe that why it's a workers' favorite at lunchtime. Admission is free during the week, only $1 per person on weekends and holidays.
So what do you want from a picnic spot? A little quiet. A little solitude. A nice view. And, if you have kids, a playground nearby to keep them entertained while you soak up the best Mother Nature has to offer. If that's your criteria, you can't do better than John D. MacArthur State Park. The 336-acre idyll (161 acres are underwater) is the perfect place to peel off the stresses of work-a-day life. While some naturists have taken the park's allure literally, stripping off their bathing suits much to the dismay of park staff, this is no place for controversy. With towering pines, a nature center, a 1,600-foot boardwalk, playgrounds, and 1.8 miles of beach, the place allows visitors to do as much or as little as they like. And in this setting, less is truly more. Grab a picnic table. Grill a hotdog. Sit back. Enjoy.This place rocks if you're 7 years old or younger. It swings too. And it has one of those gizmos that kids hold with both hands as they slide across a rail while suspended eight feet in the air. There's also stuff from smaller, less-sophisticated playgrounds like slides, climbing bars, and bridges to walk over. Lots of 'em. There are even two sections to this monstrous facility, one for very little ones and one for big kids. Then there are the huge sun shades that keep it cool in the summer. And the facility, located in the center of TY's 150 acres, is close to dozens of other recreational activities like the water park at Castaway Island, boat rentals, tennis and basketball courts, picnic shelters, and a campground. The place's name means "meeting place" in the Seminole language; your kids are sure to meet others here. Thus, you can kick back and enjoy some peace -- a rarity on the parental front. On weekends, as many as 100 kids jam this place, so get there early. The park is open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the summer and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in winter. Admission is a buck a person. Kids under age 5, the real target audience for this sixth wonder of the juvenile world, are admitted free.

Memo to the Lake Worth City Commission: You have spent much of the past decade wringing your hands about what to do with the city's municipal beach. Stop it! Leave it alone. This throwback to the 1950s has everything any beachgoer could want. For those who are content to spend an afternoon soaking up the rays, there's 1,300-feet of uninterrupted white stuff. For those who begin to get bored shortly after the sunscreen kicks in, there are plenty of diversions, including a 962-foot fishing pier, surfing, volleyball, and even a pier-side restaurant where you can down a couple of cold ones while checking out the near-naked crowd. Like your water without salt? Venture across the street and do a couple of laps in the city's Olympic-sized swimming pool, then cool down by taking a stroll through a half-dozen kitschy shops. Improve it? How do you improve upon perfection?Two words: free parking.

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