As so much of Broward and Palm Beach counties becomes strip-malled, sanitized, faceless, and boring, this part of town is weird. The strips of stores here are old and crumbling, signs are in English, Spanish, and sometimes Creole, and the area pulses with a chaotic feel that's more downtown Miami than the Venice of America. Davie Boulevard, which cuts through the neighborhood, is where you can find papusas and empanadas, birthday cakes with Spanish lettering, media noche sandwiches, ancient pawn shops, even a botanica or two. But a drive just a half-mile down Riverland Road delivers a whole new perspective -- a private, hidden network of dead-end trails and finger canals with some of the most magnificent and varied architecture around. Doctors, lawyers, and college professors live back there in modern-looking glass/concrete/steel mini-mansions, which are almost invisible because of the impenetrable jungle of vines, palmettos, and trees that have obviously never been cut. It's an odd juxtaposition of stuff you don't find anywhere else and, unlike the rest of this place, isn't in any hurry to change.
Sure, Plantation's Jacaranda neighborhood doesn't have the Old Florida charm of neighborhoods close to downtown Fort Lauderdale, such as Victoria Park. And it lacks the tree canopy you'll find -- or, ahem, used to find -- in Sailboat Bend, also in America's Venice. But Jacaranda has a way of blending big-city amenities with the slower pace and convenience of suburbia. Jacaranda -- which runs roughly from Broward Boulevard to Sunrise Boulevard and between Pine Island Road to Hiatus Road -- is a collection of single-family homes, townhouses, and condominiums, most built from the '80s to mid-'90s. They orbit one of Plantation's greatest assets, Central Park, between Broward Boulevard and Cleary Boulevard, just west of Pine Island Road. The park hosts sports leagues for kids and adults and has a well-maintained gym available for Plantation residents. Grocery stores and chain restaurants abound. There is, of course, a Starbucks around the corner. And many Jacaranda residents are within walking distance of one of Broward's finest restaurants, Josef's. Amenity for amenity, house for house, it's hard to find a suburban neighborhood better than Jacaranda.
Yes, it's recently been unmasked as a bloated private company that drains big bucks from the public coffers. Yes, it's really just a fleet of glorified tugboats catering to the fat wallets of beached tourists. Yes, one ride up the Intracoastal will set you back ten whole kahunas. But let's admit it: Despite its flaws, Fort Lauderdale's Water Taxi is still the coolest way for nonmillionaires to get around Broward County. Unlike the Tri-Rail, it actually comes on time and stops within walking distance of destinations, not empty parking lots in office parks. And unlike land-bound buses, Water Taxi's poor cousins, it isn't permeated with exhaust fumes, hotter than flambé, or festooned with "PetPeePee" ads. It's South Florida's tourist-friendly answer to San Francisco's cable cars and New York's ubiquitous yellow cabs. The water taxi is one of the few reasons why Fort Lauderdale's dated title, "the Venice of America," is still valid; where else can you stroll around downtown sidewalks and then hop on a water-bound tour bus to see the sites? (OK, fine: Miami, New York City, Seattle, and Baltimore, for starters.) But still. You've got to admit that watching the honeycombed yellow barges belly up to the waterfront to swallow a column of tourists headfirst borders on the charming, and floating through downtown with only the quiet whirr of a propeller to distract you is a hell of a lot better than the bus.
The star of your Herald's local section is undoubtedly 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner Leonard Pitts, who writes forcefully about politics, culture, and race and happens to do so from Maryland. The less, uh, heralded columnist, Fred Grimm, you're more likely to notice loitering at Le Tub on the Intracoastal. His copy is likewise local and, lately, has been the most reliably solid read in the paper. In recent months, Grimm has leveled his pen at such deserving targets as Katherine Harris ("Before we elect leaders who covet a 17th century-style theocracy, maybe a few impolite questions might be in order"), helmet-averse bikers ("It's those who insist on lingering around hospital trauma centers whose personal freedoms intrude on the commonwealth"), and juvenile boot camps ("Oh, how we love to combat crime with military metaphors. Unless some brave political leader declares a War on Useless Policies, the failures just won't matter."). Grimm gets out of the office, fixes his gaze away from his own navel, and argues forcefully without taking the tone of an apoplectic PTA mother. Example: Rather than work himself into a froth during the immigration debate, he noted calmly that all six of the trophy winners at Broward's latest spelling bee were the children of immigrants. When a middle-schooler there told Grimm that he was familiar with his work, it boggled the columnist's mind: "Here was this 13-year-old in a tie, a dress shirt and shiny shoes, rather more sophisticated than the tieless writer in a knit pull-over. (The shine on all my shoes dates to the date of purchase.) I tried not to notice that kid didn't add, ÔI admire your work.'" But of course, the kid didn't. Goes without saying.
The job of a news reporter is a Sisyphean cycle of ignorance turning to expertise, and it requires versatility of any prolific scribe. Here, then, in short, are some of the topics that Holland has covered in the past few months: a woman who pimped a 16-year-old girl; a kitchen-knife fatal stabbing; the Davie town government scandal; a police standoff with a hostage-taker; jai alai labor disputes; crocodile relocation; fatal car accidents; all manner of hurricane chicanery; the sad Lionel Tate legal saga; the confounding Mamdouh Ebaid terror saga; the epic Gus Boulis murder saga; sex offenders; Seminole parties; and a pathetic German shepherd named Bear nearly done in by infections in his ear canal and face, saved from euthanasia by concerned doctors. The guy has been all over Broward, in more ways than one. It should surprise no one if one day the Sun-Sentinel admits in print that some time back, John Holland cloned himself to better cover the news. The byline on that story would no doubt be Holland's own.
You rarely have good writing in newspapers without good reporting -- and Larry Keller provides the right blend of both skills in his stories for the Palm Beach Post. Take his extensive coverage of the sensational James Sullivan murder-for-hire trial in West Palm Beach, which begins: "Lita Sullivan probably saw the man who delivered a dozen long-stemmed roses draw the gun. Probably saw him aim it at her. She retreated into her upscale townhouse and futilely tried to shield her face with the box. A bullet from the 9mm pistol ripped through the box and into her left temple. She died about 80 minutes later. She was 35." Just the facts, ma'am, but with powerful style. That's Larry Keller. And that's good stuff.
For sheer silly fun on the airwaves, Miss Pat cannot be beat. In these dim radio days, when a live human being and a malleable playlist is rarer than a white rhino, someone like Miss Pat is a savior. Tune in to 1170 AM during a weekday drive home after work and let her laughter leak some levity into that traffic jam. Whether it's her "Afternoon Party Mix" or her "Reach Out" program, Miss Pat entertains with both new (Richie Spice, Baby Cham) as well as old-school reggae (Marcia Griffiths fans rejoice) and her home-spun call-in shows like "Who Wants to Be a Hundred-Dollaraire" and "Domino Grand Slam" -- which mix music trivia, Jamaican history, and patois-laced hilarity into a hearty pan-Caribbean stew. Any segment that Miss Pat lends her voice to is easy on the ears, but when she's live in the studio bantering with loyal listeners, there's an unplanned, unpredictable vibe that recalls the medium's golden age. Bless you, Miss Pat.
You're right, Joseph Cooper, he of the somnolent monotone voice, is a strange choice for best FM radio personality. He's no Howard Stern, assuredly. Cooper is a unique force in local talk radio, though. His weekday show, which comes on at 1 p.m., is, um, local. And these days, if it's not about sports or Steve Kane's rantings, it's hard to get homegrown programming in South Florida. Cooper has it in spades. No, he's not the most hard-hitting interviewer, but he does elicit some great information from local authors, journalists, and newsmakers. It might be about eminent-domain issues, a book about the Everglades, or dubiously sealed federal documents, but it's almost always going to have a local angle. And Cooper is more than just a seasoned pro -- he's a rock, as dependable as the turning of the clock and as soothing as a security blanket. If everybody got his daily dose of Cooper, the world would be a better place.
Let's face it: South Florida has one of the worst radio markets in America. If you want something other than cookie-cutter pop, rock, hip-hop, and country, you need to go satellite. But the publicly financed WLRN remains an oasis from the commercial combine, where you get a whole lot more than the solid NPR stuff. There's Topical Currents with Joseph Cooper, which is one of the last decent local shows left in South Florida. There's South Florida Arts Beat with Ed Bell, where you find out that, good golly, there are intelligent life forms growing in these parts. And the station also offers us interesting music. Every night, there's Evenin' Jazz with Len Pace. On Sunday afternoons, Michael Stock brings us his show, practically titled Folk and Acoustic Music. I know, I know -- you have to suffer those incessant pledge drives. Take the medicine, boys and girls, and throw some money their way every now and then. You won't know how bad you'll miss WLRN until it's gone.
Cuban-born newscaster Belkys Nerey performs on Channel 7 at 5, 6 and 10 p.m., and we use perform here for good reason. If local TV news has slid into a hybrid form of journalism and entertainment, at least we can watch someone like Nerey have more fun on-air than others. She laughs her ass off and spurs her on-air comrades to join in. But when she's delivering serious news, Nerey also has the smarts and gravitas to pull it off. Not to mention with a great sense of style. She may not be quite the fashion plate she was while hosting Deco Drive, but when she rocks the designer threads and a boyish haircut, her edgy look makes us think we're seeing the newscaster of the future. And speaking of exotic, we never get tired of hearing everyone else on the set say that unusual name.

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