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.

One of the first things you'll notice upon entering Bookwise used bookstore is how neat and organized it is. Whereas lesser used bookstores are not much more than giant dustbins serving as the owners' storage closets, the books at Bookwise are all of like-new quality. And they're conveniently classified so you won't spend a whole afternoon trying to delineate which section is which. Bookwise has a huge selection of all genres, old and new, including a well-kept classics section in which the books are preserved inside glass cases. Perusing the various sections, you'll find books on just about every subject and by all manner of writers, from the philosophic musings of Herman Hesse to the time-warping sci-fi of Robert Heinlein; from books about the Rolling Stones to books about Rolling Stone; and just about anything else that's fit to read. You could spend a week looking through it all -- but you'd be guaranteed to turn up at least a few gems. Hard-cover books typically cost $5 to $10, though some of the older, rarer finds cost a few bucks more. Just keep in mind the cardinal rule of secondhand shopping: It's best to arrive without a shopping list; that way, you'll be pleasantly surprised at what you find. Readers' Choice: Borders
Everybody knows that the best way to find a mechanic is to ask someone for referrals. And who better to ask than other mechanics? After he had the timing belt in his Lexus fixed by the guys at Elder Automotive, a local airplane mechanic said, "They're good, and they're fair." What else do ya want in a mechanic?!? Bonus: If you're the penny-pinching, wrench-turning type, "They'll even wait if you want to go get a part from the junkyard, because it's cheaper than buying a new part through them."

Kids, pull up a chair and listen a spell. Paw wants to tell you a story about his favorite beer. 'Course, you can't find it nowadays. But back when your Grandpappy was alive, the finest beer you could drink was called Watney's Red Barrel. Damn if that wasn't just the swellest brew ever, a perfect balance of slightly sweet maltiness and just a li'l bitter bite from them hops. Oh, don't even get me started on Killian's Red. That swill ain't fit to wash your hubcaps with. Luckily for your old Paw, Fort Lauderdale brewmaster Adam Fine has whipped together a red ale recipe that does Watney's one better. Which is like doin' Killian's... whut? Six better? That's 'cause I'm talking about good old Number Seven, the smooth, eminently quaffable red ale that should be the flagship beer of Fine's Fresh Beer Inc. It's so damn tasty, and it takes me back to a simpler time. The billiard-ball tap is a nice touch too. Look for the stuff on tap at clubs like the Poor House and Alligator Alley but not in the refrigerator section of your neighborhood grocery store.

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