Sample Tire is run by John Hansen, a paragon of auto care in Broward County for the past two decades. Hansen, a tall, graying fellow who loves to fish, doesn't advertise -- he doesn't have to. Word of mouth keeps his garage full of cars and customers. Why? The guy -- and his team of mechanics -- is honest and fair. I know it's hard to believe. An honest mechanic? In South Florida, no less? But it's true. Hansen is as straight as a razor when it comes to engines. If you break down, you expect to spend $300 bare minimum, right? Well, he or one of his crack employees is liable to charge you $87.15 or something. And you actually feel like you should pay the guy more. Plus, the place is convenient. You can drop off and pick up your car past normal business hours as long as you leave the keys at the nearby Chevron station. So get thee to Sample Tire. Even if you live in downtown Fort Lauderdale, it's worth the trip.

There are not many things that'll make you feel more like a 5-year-old again than hanging off the backside of an antique fire truck in full firefighting gear. Andrea and Shawn Beckowitz, the husband-and-wife team that, with Shawn's parents, owns Fire Trucks for Fun, rent out a 1978 Mack fire truck for parties, carnivals, and other events, giving kids the full firefighter's treatment, complete with a Dalmatian mascot and working firehose. The white- and red-trimmed tanker is a picturesque firefighting machine, with a box-like cockpit in front of a 1,000-gallon tank. Driver Shawn Beckowitz knows firefighting; he's a second-generation smoke-eater who works for the City of Delray Beach. The couple bought the surplus truck last summer from a fire station in Virginia, and they have spent just about every weekend since renting it out. They charge from $225 to $550 for the "four alarm" package, complete with junior firefighter gear, activity trailer, and a trip around the block with sirens blaring. But there's bad news for all those dads: Only the birthday child gets to ring the bell. Says Andrea Beckowitz: "We try to save a little something special for the one who's having the party."

You won't actually drive that tongue-red Ferrari, not in this lifetime, not so long as you're loving thy neighbor and helping the small people of the world, fighting the good fight, taking only what you need, healing wounds, righting wrongs, giving for the sake of giving. Nor will you ever glide down Las Olas in that silver Bentley, not so long as you're walking for the cure and saving the whales and turning off lights as you leave the room. Nor, you deluded sap, will you ever receive oral pleasure from a rum-addled, spring breaking coed as you mash the accelerator of that cosmos-black Lamborghini down around the double-yellow center lines of A1A, one hand on the gearshift and the other on a pigtail, pinballing through traffic, checking the rearview only for the lights of Fort Lauderdale's finest receding in the distance as your speedometer needle counts briskly by tens. No, not in this lifetime -- and yet, you're free to look.

For those days when downloading music off the Internet isn't an option, you'd rather slit your skinny wrists than darken the doorstep of a Barnes and Noble, and you don't want to wait for Amazon.com to deliver the latest disc from Kamikazee Wombat (or whatever it is you damn kids listen to these days) via your friendly mail carrier, Uncle Sam's is so totally ready to hook you up. In fact, this Lauderhill locus of hip artifacts (the similarly awesome Tate's Comics is in the same shopping center) specializes in indie/alternative/punk/industrial/goth platters, both new and used. Odds are, the tres cool new Stereolab album or Sigür Ros single will be on sale at a price competitive enough to make you swear off big-box discount stores for good. And the store's well-stocked selection of posters, T-shirts, body jewelry, baubles, trinkets, geegaws, doodads, knick-knacks, and gizmos goes well above and beyond the call of duty. As independent record/CD stores go the way of the woolly mammoth, Uncle Sam's wants you to continue to spend your money at shops that still give a damn about music, instead of soy lattes and frou-frou cookbooks. Readers' Choice: Best Buy
While it's fashionable for hipsters to bemoan the lack of quality record stores in South Florida, such cultural curmudgeons would be wise to either (a) move somewhere that meets their hipness standards or (b) put their money where their collectively jaded mouths are and visit Kelly's Klassics. Granted, it's open only on Saturdays, and you gotta shell out some extra dough for the nicer finds ($30 for the Adverts' One Chord Wonders 45), but that's the point -- it's for collectors. Vinyl junkies. Not fair-weather music fans looking for some cheap, scratched-up LPs to hang on their bedroom walls. There are plenty of thrift stores around for those types of records. Instead, Kelly's Klassics is for the real record geeks: anyone who doesn't need a music reference guide to watch High Fidelity. Not catering to any specific genre, Kelly's has all types of records, from obscure and out-of-print punk and hardcore to classic jazz, hip-hop, new wave, '60s psychedelic, and lots of other stuff to satisfy your vinyl-hording needs. Kelly's typically is open from 9 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. every Saturday, though it's a good idea to call first.

The shit's going down. Power's out. Government's fallen. Neighbor's fled. Fido's dead. The evil zombie's comin' down the road. What do you do? Well, if you were wise enough to shop at IPS 911 Store in Hollywood, you'd put on your riot gear helmet ($125), slide knives in your military boots ($79 to $199), and throw a fresh clip in that 9mm equalizer ($400 and up). Then you'd walk outside, calm as a yoga instructor, and pump that evil incarnate full of cold, hard steel. "That's for Fido, motherfucker!"

As presidential campaign 2004 heats up through the summer, you're gonna find yourself needing one thing above all: political masks. Whether you're for or against re-electing the Bushies, the gang's all here at this shop, which is visible from I-95 -- but a darn sight harder to get to via service roads. Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and W himself are in all their rubber-headed splendor for about 30 bucks apiece. They have the Axis of Evil guys too, like Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein (dictator era, not the spider-hole grunge period). If you're politically neutral -- is that even possible in post-2000 election Florida? -- try the Uncle Sam or Lady Liberty masks. Politics aside, the store's got hundreds of costumes and masks, from sexy to fantasy to celebrity. Visit the company's comprehensive website to avoid the hassle of driving.

Music Arts Enterprises -- the huge music instruments store on Davie Boulevard -- is not a corporate chain. Really. Though it's got more guitars than you could shake a pick at (and loads of other instruments, music books, DJ equipment, lighting, etc.), the 41-year-old MAE is as mom-and-pop as they come. Guitars comprise roughly 30 percent of the store's inventory, with separate sections for new, used, and vintage collectibles from all the major guitar manufacturers. Drummers, don't fret; there's plenty of stuff for you as well. Ditto for keyboardists, DJs, engineers, and even brass and woodwind enthusiasts. If you're looking just to borrow some gear, MAE offers top-of-the-line rental equipment, from instruments to sequencers to analog and digital recording equipment and more. And if last night's wild gig left you sans a functional instrument, bring it by to MAE's service center. Larry Rubin and luthier Ralph Seymour (or "Ralph the Guitar Guy," as regulars refer to him) will fix your dinged-up gear lickity-split. While they're at work, you can browse the store, brandishing your checkbook and wondering if the landlord really needs that rent money.

It's the grand opening of a new location for a national chain music store. Give it some type of cool, seemingly edgy name like "Axes of Evil" or "Drum Addicts Anonymous." Anyway, the store purports to have a special on guitars, which earns the enthusiastic attention of young Johnny Six String. Johnny, thinking he'll get a good deal, hurries over to the store and heads straight for the guitar section, where he spots a Fender Telecaster that tickles his finger-tapping fancy. After noticing a small dent in the guitar, Johnny finds a sales rep -- a scrawny, nervous-looking guy with a goatee -- and asks him about a discount. But before Johnny can say the word bamboozle, the sly salesman launches into a frenzy, telling Johnny that if he buys a Fender guitar, then he needs a Fender amp, a Fender cord, Fender strings, etc. Within minutes, Johnny's been duped out of a cool thousand bucks. This scenario happens all the time. And it could have been prevented, had Mr. Six String tried Marathon Music instead. There, he would have found that Fender Stratocasters -- typically ranging in price from $149 to $1,200 -- can be purchased separately from their accessories. What a concept! Also, Johnny could price gear for his bandmates, like keyboards (from $99 Casios to $3,500 Suzuki electric pianos), bass guitars (Ibanezes from $169 to $900), and drums (full Tama kits for $1,499), as well as other instruments and accessories essential to the working musician. There's no reason those who sell instruments can't follow the same rule as those who play instruments, which is: "Less talk, more rock."

The Metal Factory may have dropped the metal in its name. It may be difficult to find a white fringe jacket anymore. But if you find yourself longing for the touch of a B.C. Rich Warlock bass so you can finally perfect that Iron Maiden solo, God of Thunder is a haven for those of us stuck in the '80s. It also offers lessons by Damian, who assures you he won't teach any of that "'Pop Goes the Weasel' bullshit," as well as sales, rentals, repairs, and rehearsal studios for the li'l metalheads in training.

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