It happens — without fail — at the most inconvenient time possible. You've spent weeks working on a project, report, or dissertation that was due yesterday, and just as you begin booting up, your machine turns on you, emitting a series of ill-fated beeps and assuring you that your labor is lost in a netherworld of binary code. Now what? Where will you find an honest computer repairman who understands your situation, especially through your uncontrollable weeping? You are not: (1) rich, (2) working without time limits, or (3) educated in computers in any way. Fortunately for you, in the past year, an amazing, independent, computer fix-it shop set up camp in Fort Lauderdale. Nestled nearly unnoticeably between Firm Fitness Center and Office Depot in the Park Plaza on the Curve, this secret den of geekdom is populated with cool dudes — the kind you'd hang out with in real life and not just with your avatar. They'll diagnose the problem quickly for a minimal fee, then provide you with all of your options: from rebuilding the worn-out part on the cheap, replacing it with new stuff, or explaining that you're better off buying a new machine. Also, the turn-around time is so impressive that you might still make that deadline, without your boss being any the wiser.

They don't call the Scuba Club a "country club for divers" for nothing. It may not boast a croquet lawn or polo grounds, but it does feature a swimming pool, a deep tank, classrooms, locker rooms, a boat dock, a gear shop, a photo lab, a picnic area, a one-bedroom hotel suite, and even a steam room, all on site. And yet, you don't have to be Thurston Howell III to sample these lovely amenities; mere mortals can go to scuba camp (classroom instruction, pool work, and five ocean dives) for a totally affordable $300. Weekend boat trips are just $35. Not to mention, the Scuba Club employs the most capable staff around. Why, J.D. has a degree in diving; Ernie can "put a radiator in a BMW faster than most people eat lunch," and Wayne has been bringing novices back from the deep safely for ages and ages. (I swear, he pulled me from the jaws of a sea wombat in 1997!) If only they had a couple of cabana boys who'd go around with trays serving après-dive cocktails... What's that, Ernie? You're working on it?

Located right in the thick of downtown Delray's restaurants and nightclubs, the Gym 111 is a decidedly metropolitan experience. Other gyms buy up cheap strip-mall space in the suburbs, then pack the floor with loads of cheap equipment and a few cheaply paid employees — the better to offer cheap rates to the droves of gymgoers they hope to attract. By contrast, the Gym is a relatively small (7,000 square feet), second-floor walk-up. But it somehow feels both spacious and intimate — maybe because there are only several people working out and because the staff is friendly. (Must be the health benefits!) It gives the Gym the vibe of a neighborhood café. All this is by design. "We only want 350 members," says Jason Snyder, the Gym's director of sales and marketing. "I know every single member's name. That's our thing here. If you have too many members, you can't achieve the customer service level we want." The Gym, which opened last fall, currently has about 200 members. It sports an array of shiny new state-of-the-art equipment. Its trainer-guided programs emphasize real-world movements — not just to gain strength but to get the kind of balance and coordination that athletes strive for. At $72 per month, it's roughly twice as expensive as the corporate gyms, but it may be the difference between going to a place you enjoy versus one you dread. Or to put it another way, the difference between paying regular visits to a place that boasts of "billions and billions served" or one that advises you to make reservations.

I remember walking into Peace Pipe for the first time. My school uniform might have been the reason I got carded. But what almost got me kicked out was a friend who used the word bong. Everyone knows, in an age when government agencies are ridiculously spending taxpayer money to raid things like head shops, nobody sells bongs. They carry tobacco-smoking water pipes. And it's good to know that, in the substance-using communities of South Florida, things don't change. Like how on my last trip, I got carded upon entry and how, even in adult life, Peace Pipe is still where I go to buy the best bongs.

Just because Total Wine is a chain with 55 locations nationwide doesn't mean it's anything less than a tribute to the glory of booze. Walk into any one of its five South Florida locations and you'll find a playground for adults — albeit an expertly categorized and impeccably labeled one. Wines from every imaginable region are separated by country and varietal, so despite there being more than 8,000 bottles on hand, it's easy to find gems like a $17 bottle of critically acclaimed Terredora Falanghina (just head to the Italian section). Equally extensive is Total Wine's selection of beer: peek through the by-the-bottle collection of craft beer and you may come away with rarities like Brother Thelonious, a dark, strong Belgian ale that pays tribute to the late, great jazz pianist. Or check out the packaged section, where you'll find deals like a six-pack of Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA for less than $10 (most places sell the four-pack for as much). The bargain-bin prices extend to the enviable catalog of spirits, entire walls packed with hundreds of vodkas, gins, tequilas, and more. And as if to prove that no taste can be too refined, Total Wine caps it all off with a 12-foot section of the cheapest damned boxed wine you can find anywhere. Now that's a store that has all its bases covered.

Here's a story about a woman and her car. How the sunny streets of South Florida aren't pedestrian-friendly. Or car-friendly. How when her car kept overheating, she learned she needed a new radiator, water pump, and thermostat. And how she couldn't afford to pay the estimated $1,300 to fix it. This is when Ernesto the mechanic entered the story. Ernesto has been running J. Ko's Auto Repair with his son, Giovanni, and his daughter, Jackie, for the past six years. This is the point in the story when Ernesto became the people's mechanic. He asked to keep the car around a couple of days — maybe he could find an alternate, cheaper way to fix it. Ernesto figured out that cheap fix: He added a fan to the radiator that stopped the car from overheating. It cost only $150. That's when the woman decided this was the mechanic for her.

Masha'Allah! Look at all the selections. Of course you have all your fantastic, hard-to-get Middle Eastern foods and drinks. Crackers, snacks, packaging with funny pictures and words you may or may not understand — but love all the more. And before you shop, of course you'll stop for a meal at the restaurant next door — Lebanese-influenced dining and perhaps the best service in west Broward. But the best reason to go to Al-Salam is its amazing selection of hookahs and hookah tobacco. Hookah bars are one of the hottest new nightclub trends, but those places are ripping you off. There, you'll pay $20 for a bowl of the best mixed flavors. At Al-Salam, you can get two boxes of tobacco (each box is good for at least a dozen bowls) and three rolls of charcoal for about the same price. Or buy an entire hookah for under 100 bucks. Now go in peace.

See the guys at the beach waving their metal detectors over the sand. See the guys with kiteboards flopping around in the waves. Now see those guys get owned by Carlos Segnini and Oscar Aranguren of South Florida Powered Paragliding
, who are puttering over everyone's heads in their motorized flying machines. The men's formula is this: lawn chair + motor + parachute = something like a personal jet pack, only mellower. Segnini and Aranguren have backgrounds in engineering and aviation and are even certified to teach by the United States Powered Paragliding Association; Segnini says he's flown so many times, he stopped counting 15 years ago. During a five- to ten-day course, newbies can learn from the masters how to do both a running "foot launch" and a "trike launch," how to land on the sand as though drifting onto a cozy pillow of lamb fuzz, and possibly even how to buzz their friends lying on the beach, heh-heh. Eventually, perhaps, they can break the world record of 18,000 feet — a limit imposed not by paragliders' abilities but by the FAA, designating higher airspace only for jets. The powered paragliding course costs $1,500, but it's more worthwhile, Segnini says, if you make an additional "investment" in a powered paraglider for yourself — for just $7,000 to $10,000. Of course.

The whining. The nagging. The incessant need for coddling. Sometimes your spouse just drives you bonkers — the kind of insanity that only strolling through a labyrinth of home goods can cure. Of course, you still have the tykes to contend with. It is tedious mornings like these that demand freedom — and honey, that's why IKEA's Small Land exists. Geared toward children who are potty-trained but haven't yet gotten too big to cuddle (height requirements are between 37 and 54 inches small), the pseudo-forest allows you the opportunity to deposit your child in exchange for a pager, much like the kind you receive waiting in line at Chili's. That soon-to-be-blinking beacon of freedom guarantees you one hour of free child care, so make the most of it. While your lil' one is being slipped through various tiny doors — an identification door, a shoe removal door, and, finally, one that plops him into a playland of Lysol-ized surfaces — you're high-tailing it to the café for a 99-cent breakfast and the morning paper. Let the calming wave of grownup conversations wash over you, purifying the experience, while you take a decadent amount of time adjusting the sugar quantity in your coffee. You don't have to worry about your child's safety. He's now joined a legion of IKEA youth in coloring exercises, Disney movies, and exploration of the off-smelling ball pit. Sure, when he grows up, it might take years of therapy to associate these things with his fears of abandonment, but right now, that's not really your problem. You've served your time and earned your hour. Sip your coffee until that pager buzzes.

Recycle, reuse, reupholster is your mantra, especially since you became a homeowner. Rather than making another frantic excursion to the Home Depot, try exploring Habitat for Humanity Re-Store's labyrinth of nesting supplies. It is there, in that glorious warehouse of potential, that you'll find oddly shaped doors, avocado-colored sinks, and pile upon pile of tile — all waiting patiently for the right fixer-upper to discover their inner beauty.

With a bit of creativity and many coats of paint, you'll triumphantly solve home-repair dilemmas on a pitiable budget, with merchandise marked down 80 percent from retail stores. Consider it your way to get ahead in the housing race: When the housing market levels back out, you'll want yours to be ready to sell first — avoiding that apocalyptic traffic jam of (former) Floridians gunning it to North Carolina.

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®

Best Of