Best Free Parking 2004 | Street meters just off Las Olas Boulevard | People & Places | South Florida
Parking on Las Olas Boulevard is a renowned pain in the derrière. The finicky, quarters-only meters prompted one restaurateur over the holidays to hire an 18-year-old fellow on a full-time basis to stand around a side lot making change for customers. The ravenous meters on the street slurp down spare change like Pac-Man gobbling power pellets. Fail to feed these steel sentries and your reward is a $25 ticket, which, come to think of it, would buy you a mere 20 hours of street parking anyway. The only chink in the system is to hit the meter spots on the side streets after dark, when those meters aren't monitored. Maybe it's the fear of parking a $60,000 SUV slightly off the beaten path that keeps the gentry coming back to the expensive spots along the main drag. Whatever. If you're hitting the Floridian for a slab of pie after a night of wine-fueled suck-face, you deserve at least the option of gratis parking on somewhere south of Las Olas. Because you, dear friend, are keeping it real.

Imagine God giving you his blessing to play a practical joke. That's what it feels like -- even if it's clearly not the case -- when you give the kids in the youth group at St. Joseph's 30 bucks and the street address. They'll arrive at your buddy's abode in the middle of the night with their truck full of two-foot-tall plastic flamingos and spread them throughout the front yard. Thirty flamingos for 30 bucks, 60 flamingos for $60, 90 for $90, and so on. Your friend wakes up to find that his home is a major source of rubbernecking. Since your money helps the junior God Squad organize church-related events and the kids even come pick up the flamingos after a few days, you get all of the amusement and none of the guilt. Besides, how many times will your friends fall for "Pull my finger!"? This particular St. Joseph's fundraising occurs only in the fall. Set up a prank with the youth director, Steffi, in November.

You just spent three months chipping ice off of your front steps and hunching your shoulders against the frigid north wind, which keeps coming like a sumo wrestler. Those Anglo-Saxon, winter-resistant genes are wearing thin. So jump in the car and drive the 2,500 or so miles to Hollywood Beach, mate. See what a doughty little Florida city can do for your battered Northern soul. Well? For starters, stick your bony white feet into the Atlantic. It's the icebreaker. It's also the only thing that comes cheap. That and the free playground and a few pizza joints, where the pies are thin and acidic. Hell, if you're Québecois and speak French, greet thousands of your pale fellow countrymen, who dominate the Broadwalk seven months a year. Au revoir, you locals. This place is ours!

Remember when you were 10 years old, sitting in a pizza parlor with your parents as the large video games in the corner beckoned you with their bells and flashing lights? You'd get a quarter from Dad, your hands greasy from pizza, and then slide that silver coin into Centipede. It would light up; the sounds would blare. You'd wrap your hand around that joystick and -- beep, beep, beep -- you were destroying that fast-moving creature. Forget today's Grand Theft Auto and Final Fantasy. Centipede was a real video game. But don't get too remorseful. In the age of $2 arcade games, a place still exists where you can slide quarters into such classics as Centipede, Donkey Kong, and Pac-Man. At Boomers! you'll find an impressive collection of the kind of video games that will remind you of pizza parlors, greasy quarters, and (yuck)... girls!

This small jeweler on the corner of Sunrise and 20th Avenue looks like a modest mom-and-pop joint, but if you've ever been stopped at that light and let your eyes drift to its marquee, you would see hilarious phrases like "We Accept Visa, AMEX, and Sugar Daddies" and "Buy Her a Diamond or Someone Else Will." Who says romance is dead?

Hockey at this hot spot is played in several forms. One, the ice version, which requires skates that may be rented for a couple of bucks on top of the $6 rink admission. The others, of the dome and air varieties, require quarters. But you're here to beat heat -- why sweat? Grab a beer from the snack bar, prop up the bladed dogs, and watch some ESPN on that mammoth big screen. At midday, the Zamboni evicts skaters to take a turn around that frozen cement pond. The air inside the arena settles and thickens. Walking in feels like the blank, brisk frost blast when a freezer door first opens. But this is full-body, a chill you can swallow in and wallow in. Exhale slowly, from the deepest, hottest pits of your lungs. Breath looks cool in summertime. Free skate is Monday through Friday 9:20 to 11:50 a.m. and 1:40 to 4 p.m.; Friday night from 7:30 to 10 p.m., Saturday from 1:30 to 4 p.m. and 8 to 10 p.m. And Sunday, it's 1:30 to 4 p.m.
When it's Florence Henderson's birthday, everyone knows it. At least, everyone at the Cheesecake Factory on Las Olas, an eatery the former Brady Bunch mom frequented while she was performing in the Florida Follies down the street at Parker Playhouse. Back in February, she was spotted by several hungover 20-somethings enjoying a sensible salad with a group of girlfriends. After the waiter brought out a piece of chocolate cake with a candle (just one, of course), her gals began singing "Happy Birthday," making sure to put extra emphasis on the "dear, FLORENCE." Heads turned; people whispered. As Flo got up to leave, she approached the table next to the hungover patrons. "Hello," Henderson said, handing a girl a rose, "did you ever watch the Brady Bunch?" Everyone looked a tad confused. The Brady what? Yeah, in reruns on Nick at Nite. But, hey, Henderson gets an "E" for effort! According to a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory, Flo came in quite often while she was in the play. Scottie Pippen and other celebs, come in too, as well as others who "are usually a bit... older."
She attended her first North Broward Hospital District meeting in 1993, angry about what she felt were bloated salaries for officials. Back then, Jane Kreimer, a native of Pittsburgh, was a 69-year-old grandmother who lived in Pompano with her retired husband. Since then, she's become a most dogged watchdog of the controversial -- and utterly corrupt -- public hospital system. While the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald often failed to do their jobs, Kreimer would be there, criticizing sleazy land deals, crooked business propositions, and bad medical practices. Even though Kreimer is an inveterate critic, she's always done it with style. When she attends monthly board meetings -- which she almost never misses -- she wears fine dresses and hats, as if she were headed for a skybox at the Kentucky Derby. She also keeps up a steady discourse (and believe us, Kreimer can talk with the best of them) with commissioners to maximize her effectiveness. Back in 1995, the board even allowed her to vote with the seven commissioners on whether to hire Wil Trower as CEO. Though Kreimer cast her ballot against Trower, he was approved by a majority. Well, Trower has proven to be a monumental disaster as district leader. Maybe Kreimer hasn't been able to clean up the district altogether -- nobody could -- but she's investigated and done more than just a little good while she's been at it. We tip our hat to the grand dame of the district.

Searching for that elusive Big O, only to be stopped cold by a 40-foot dike? Or maybe you've tried to take a gander at Lake Okeechobee, the second-largest freshwater lake fully in the United States (the Great Lakes are half in Canada, eh), only to gaze upon marshy islands or grassy shoals instead of the open water of the 730-square-mile inland sea. The earthen levee built to protect us from floodwater makes it impossible to see the lake from the road that circles it, and the southern and western sides provide few vantage points to see it at its best. The eastern shore is far better, and Port Mayaca (about two miles north of the Palm Beach County line on Highway 441) offers the best view of the entire "liquid heart of the Everglades." Drive to the top of the dike and hike down to the water's edge, where you'll certainly see wading birds, alligators, and maybe a manatee or two. If your timing is good, you'll see a variety of small boats pass through the lock system that connects the lake to the St. Lucie Canal and into the ocean. Bring a fishing rod and you'll probably snare a load of bass too.

Remember when the downtown skyline of Broward County's largest city was just a scattered handful of high-rise office buildings? If you've lived in South Florida for more than a few years, of course you do. And if you go back more than two decades, you'll remember a skyline distinguished largely by the edifice widely known as "that big brown building with the neon that looks vaguely like an outline of the state of Florida." No more. The accelerating construction boom has led to an increasingly dense mass of big buildings downtown, including a surprising number of residential towers. One of those, the unfinished 42-floor River House, is already the tallest building in the greater metropolitan area. Now, when you approach downtown Fort Lauderdale from almost any direction, the looming skyline provokes roughly the same reaction you get heading into Miami -- this is a real city. Best view: from the sweeping arc of the flyover from eastbound I-595 to I-95 north. You probably don't want to be down there driving in it -- the construction and all it entails continues -- but it's great to look at from afar.

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