Best Cure for Insomnia 2011 | WLRN-FM's Topical Currents | People & Places | South Florida

Welcome back to Topical Currents. I'm your host, Joseph Cooper. Today's guest is, well, it actually doesn't matter who today's guest is, because he has long ago fallen asleep. Apparently he has listened to our show before, because he brought his own pillow. He's spooning with it now on the floor of the studio. Anyway, I'll be taking your calls for the rest of the hour. Hello, Pembroke Pines, you're on the air. Pembroke Pines? Asleep, I'm guessing. Seeing as that was our only caller, I'll be taking my own nap now. By now, I assume you are all asleep and nobody will notice. So stay tuned at the top of the hour for NPR News, or as we call it here on Topical Currents, our alarm clock.

For political climbers eager to win big on the national stage, the general rule is to hide the crazy — the KKK enthusiasts, the anarchists, the fringe lunatics. Allen West never got that memo. In November, before setting foot in his congressional office on Capitol Hill, he nominated Joyce Kaufman, who hosts an ultraconservative talk show on lowly WFTL-AM (850), to be his chief of staff. Within hours, all hell broke loose. Rachel Maddow unearthed a video clip of Kaufman telling a Tea Party crowd, "If ballots don't work, bullets will." An unhinged woman in New Port Richey saw the clip, got angry, and emailed a threat to Kaufman's radio station that led to a lockdown of all Broward County schools. Overnight, Kaufman and West's peculiar brand of right-wing insanity became national news. Kaufman promptly quit the chief-of-staff post and enjoyed a brief flicker of infamy before fading back into talk-radio obscurity. Turns out, Allen West is plenty crazy all on his own.

In the gritty spring-break bars by the beach in Fort Lauderdale, they call him a "fixture," a "landmark," the man who comes around to put all the regulars in a cheery mood. In what seems like another life, he taught art at Harvard and fronted one of the country's first punk bands. But now he roams these bars. For a dollar or two, he draws delightfully crude caricatures in crayon. Hundreds, maybe thousands of Mickey Clean's drawings dot the walls of drinking establishments all over town. Perhaps more than anybody, though, Mickey personifies this part of Fort Lauderdale: He's a bit dirty and vulgar but also a special kind of charming, and he's as reliable as the morning tide. He offers his artistic services and a moment of companionship to the happy and the sad alike, to the tourists and the locals, to the drunk and the sober, to the lost and the wayward. He isn't beloved by all, and he won't be around forever, but we're lucky to have him while we do.

When Gypsy fortuneteller Gina Marks was swindling vulnerable and desperate people out of their life savings, nobody seemed to be able to stop her. She walked away from numerous criminal allegations, often after paying off the victims with some form of restitution. It happened over and over again — and to add insult to injury, HarperCollins, a major publishing house, put out her bogus book, Miami Psychic, which she wrote under the fake name Regina Milbourne. It wasn't until her victims found a dedicated Palm Beach PI named Bob Nygaard that Marks was brought to justice. He worked the case for several of Marks' victims and then handed it to law enforcement on a silver platter. Nygaard didn't go the easy route and try to work out an off-the-table restitution deal that would have kept Marks on the street to find more marks — he fought for justice and put her behind bars.

More specifically, the Fort Lauderdale Riverwalk just west of the railroad bridge, where looming trees and a gazebo provide discreet and scenic respite. But don't take our word for it: On certain evenings, as lulls of conversation rise from groups of shadowy friends, the brackish air is ripe with the smell of smoke, both marine-grade and more organic. And if anyone in blue should inquire about that steaming wad floating seaward, of course you have — cough — no idea.

The celebrities here are of a... different sort. Hollywood is filled with the nation's down-and-out second-starters who settled here because they thought the name sounded nice. They mix with those of us who revel in that kind of diversity. The locals include rednecks, trannies, yuppies, hipsters, addicts, professors, urban pioneers, and everything in between. Find a chair outside on the tree-lined sidewalks, order a drink, and enjoy downtown Hollywood's star-studded fishbowl all its own.

Moving in South Florida can be a scary endeavor. Locals are ready with stories of "bad neighborhoods" that wildly contradict each other; luxury and crime coexist block by block. Well, nut up and shack up in one of the few truly historic neighborhoods Broward County has to offer. Rich, poor, black, and white coexist along the quiet, walkable streets lined with live oaks north of the New River. Housing ranges from 90-year-old studio apartment buildings with hardwood floors to charming cottages and modern condo flats, all within walking distance of downtown (any closer and you'd hear Himmarshee on a Saturday night). Head east to the Broward Center or west to the Sailboat Bend Artist Lofts, hosting a gallery with frequent exhibitions; walk the pup down to Cooley's Landing Marina to chat with boaters at the site of an Indian massacre. If it weren't for all the lovely dappled sunshine, you might forget you live in Florida. Oh, and don't worry: The Fort Lauderdale police headquarters abuts the neighborhood.

As it should, a zombie apocalypse would start out at a bar called Laser Wolf. Housed in a budding arts district called FAT — which stands for Flagler Arts & Technology — Village, there is irony here. As soon as Fort Lauderdale finally gets a regular, walkable art event, let's destroy it with zombies who run amok. Drab-dressed zombiefolk are so yesteryear; pretty, tatted, indie trendsetters who know how to drink real tasty microbrews at Laser Wolf are in! And no zombie apocalypse worth filming should start at any other time than Saturday at dusk, the fourth one of the month at that — for that FAT Village Art Walk. So the zombies torpedo through warehouses, which are converted into artist studios, theaters, businesses, galleries, a puppet workshop. The zombies are munching on artists (and who wouldn't?). We told you warehouse partying was unscary; not tonight. We said that it was fun, that you would like it. But you're a zombie now. Yes! Cameo! And what other place should the new-zombie-you ransack and eat everyone? Of course, downtown Fort Lauderdale — where there is now no Coyote Ugly, the natural enemy of a profitable movie, to hurt our sales.

Two blocks from the Clematis Street debauchery in downtown West Palm Beach is a Key West-style cottage with a white picket fence and a courtyard bar. There are tiki torches, palm trees, and a koi pond. Patrons graze on Brie-and-raspberry tarts and crab cakes while sipping melon martinis. Yes, there are plenty of gay men here but also straight women and the obligatory drunk in the corner. Most important, the TV screen is displayed near the French double doors. So when your crew starts to swoon over Matthew Morrison's abs or jeer at Lea Michele singing Liza Minnelli, you'll have plenty of good company.

Mention to someone in the know that you're planning to stop by the Boys for the first time and he'll likely let you in on two things: 1) The meat, cheese, bakery, and produce sections are out-of-control good; and 2) watch the hell out. The Tetris-like parking lot is overflowing with land yachts commandeered by people who are far too focused on getting inside for a hunk of fresh mozzarella or lamb steaks to pay attention to such trivial matters as rear-view mirrors, strollers, pedestrians, or how to avoid a low-speed collision. And heaven help you if you get between one of those vehicles and the last remaining spot in sight. You're better off parking elsewhere and hoofing it to the entrance. Once inside, you'll be facing a similarly hazardous situation as shoppers wield their carts like battering rams through the tight aisles, with the occasional appendage acting as collateral damage. A harrowing ordeal, yes, but that cheese selection really is quite divine.

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