Like their signature blimps, the prices at tire megastores can be inflated. So roll those baldies (carefully!) over South Florida's gauntlet of road debris, past a row of dodgy-looking used-tire shops along Sunrise Boulevard, to Tire Hut. The name evokes a primitive, thatched-roof building with a rubber tree out back, but don't be misled. Trucks from local exotic car dealers line up in Tire Hut's front lot because owner Jerry Rosenthal stocks Uniroyal, Michelin, and B.F. Goodrich, all at discount prices. Locally owned and operated, Tire Hut is not a chain but does offer chain-store features, such as free rotation every 5000 miles (provided you save your receipt) and optional road-hazard protection plans. The waiting room is small and the gumballs taste a little stale, but that's not the point. It's Tire Hut, remember? In just minutes you'll hit the streets again on fresh rubber bought at a fair price, thankful that in Florida there's at least one thing it's legal to burn.

Your back twinges. It aches. Sometimes it completely lays you out for days on end. Well, here's a store made just for you. Everything that Relax the Back sells is designed to lessen pressure and reduce the pull of gravity on your throbbing spine. The stores sell beds, mattresses, pillows, wedge cushions, car seat supports, office equipment, recliners, and couches. If you don't believe the stuff works, just sit down once in the $2600 NASA-designed recliner and feel the magic. Or listen to the numerous orthopedic doctors and dozens of chiropractors who recommend the store to their patients. The California-based franchise (there are about 150 Relax the Back stores across the U.S.) markets unique exercise equipment and stretching tools, such as water belts, that allow you to work out while floating in the pool. It also peddles those great big sports balls you lie on to stretch your back muscles and cool inversion tables that allow you to hang upside down like a bat. Take that, gravity!
If you've ever wondered what happens to the ones that didn't get away (and that weren't eaten), check out the big, blue glass building on I-95 with the dancing swordfish in front. It's Gray Taxidermy, probably the world's largest marine taxidermist. Like Apple computer, Gray's was started in a garage 35 years ago. Today founder William Gray has retired to Stuart and the business is run by his former apprentice and partner of 22 years, Ian Hall. Stuffing fish isn't what it used to be, Hall says. Only 10 to 15 percent of the 1200 specimens produced monthly are "skin mounts," the actual fish that someone caught, dried or froze, and delivered to Gray's. The rest are made from Fiberglas; some anglers catch a big one, snap a photo, and instruct Gray's to make a double. Others do the unthinkable; they simply call, request a 24-foot hammerhead shark or a four-foot barracuda, and then wait three months until it shows up on their doorstep. Hotels, restaurants, and movie companies (and maybe even a few, um, exaggerators) do it. The original jaws from Jaws hang on Gray's wall. Even so, the big charge for these guys, who spend most of their time molding, sanding, and painting, is when a parent brings in a kid clutching his first catch and proudly says, "Stuff it, please."

Beyond the nondescript white walls and through the heavily tinted French doors is a room that looks a bit like a hotel lobby. It offers a comfy leather couch, a nice mirror, and a cherry-wood table, upon which sit several pictures of attractive women as well as two vases, 14 roses in one and 16 in the other. Three other postcard-size snapshots depict a blindfolded woman licking the tip of a stiletto heel, a pair of breasts with nipple clamps, and the back of a woman wearing a leather brassiere. Now that's a bit odd for a hotel lobby. Then without warning a man, naked except for a black headband, comes into the room, gets some cleaning supplies from a closet, and leaves again. This is definitely no hotel. Welcome to the home of the International Dominant Divas, where for $200 per hour, a man can become the plaything of a beautiful young woman. Owner-operator Maxine Stern has run the place for just more than two years now and employs six professional dominatrixes. The clientele varies widely but includes some very affluent folk. As an example Maxine pointed out that a man is flying in from Ecuador over the weekend to use the facilities -- for the fourth time. She happily states, "Everyone here is very interested in creating mutually beneficial role-playing experiences." Indeed, with the jail cell, the cross-dressing room, the nursery, and the torture dungeon, it seems she has covered quite a few of the most popular kinky fantasies.

Kyoya Japanese Market is like a 7-Eleven with subtitles. Earnest if syntactically challenged English on the wrappers and ingenious packaging of its mini-mart merchandise elevate it from banal to exotic. Gum is somehow more appealing when flavored with lychee nut or green tea; mayonnaise becomes mysterious when it squirts from a bottle shaped like a Kewpie doll. For three years owner Yasutaka Kyo has brought a bit of home to customers, mostly Broward County's small group of Asian residents and exchange students. But Kyoya's appeal doesn't end with its victuals. Where else can you rent Japanimation videos, find strawberry toothpaste, and pick up some aloe vera-flavored water all at once? And since Kyoya saves you a trip to Tokyo, it may just be the area's ultimate convenience store.

Whether you live in an efficiency apartment or on an expansive estate, nothing livens up a home like a few -- or a few hundred -- nice plants. And you're not likely to find a better selection than that at NU-turf, where the claim to be "South Florida's largest garden center" seems indisputable. You could easily spend hours strolling around the five neatly organized acres in this veritable Garden of Eden, breathing in the fresh O2 while trying to decide if your place has room for coconut trees, roses, and hanging baskets, complete with all the fixings. Knowledgeable workers -- some on hand since the place opened 30 years ago -- will help guide your quest if you like; they'll even deliver and install big orders for you.

Uncle Sam's store in Lauderhill is not merely a record store. Oh, sure it has CDs. Lots of them. But this place specializes in the stuff you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else: a vast line of punk, industrial, and dance-oriented music, as well as a selection of CDs by local bands, all in a store that is bigger and better than the original location in Pompano Beach. And even if store manager Richard Kammeraad doesn't have the title you want in stock, he can order just about any album in distribution: "If it's obtainable, I can get it." While you're there shopping for music, maybe there's something else you need to add to the shopping cart. Uncle Sam's boasts any number of items that you can't pick up at the megachains like Best Buy or CD Warehouse, including a wide selection of European posters, those massive three-foot- by-five-foot jobs that, in proper numbers, can easily substitute for wallpaper. And there's a nice little set of tobacco accessories that the stores of the other Sam, the late Mr. Walton, will stock only when hell freezes over. Add to that a wide variety of lamps, club toys (glow-sticks and glow-rings, for example), and incense, as well as heaps of other goods, and it's a one-stop shop for all your rock 'n' roll needs.
Grocery stores around South Florida are pretty boring. You have your Winn-Dixie, your Publix, the occasional Albertson's, and a handful of independents. And that's about it. Seems as if there should be more competition in a region with five million hungry souls. Thank God for Doris's places. These stores, which are located in Hollywood, Sunrise, Plantation, Coral Springs, and Boca Raton, pack a lot of great food into little spaces. Each deli is a delight to behold; it features trays of lasagna, sausages, subs, calzones, and other Mediterranean dishes. A seafood counter offers fresh fish daily (we can personally recommend the tuna steaks), and a bakery turns out huge, soft loaves of bread for less than a buck each, not to mention a cornucopia of desserts. If you're looking for hot dogs, potato chips, and beer, hit the mainstream stores. If it's a touch of ethnicity and epicurean style you seek, visit Doris.

Perfectly round, the building's shape reflects its origins; it was designed as a computer-operated, drive-thru convenience store. On the same spot for 30 years, this local landmark now carries everything you need for great fishing -- a smorgasbord of tackle and gear that covers half the store's shopping area --and everything you need for lousy fishing, too, such as 500 different brands of bottled beer, lovingly displayed in a rainbowlike series of coolers that curve around the store's other half. Co-owner Robert Lamelas says he gave up selling guns when he realized firearms and alcohol weren't a good mix. Consequently, funky as it is, the store's selection of wines is surprisingly good. Who'd expect a 1997 Mt. Veeder cab and some decent Burgundies among the Slim Jims and bait?
First off let's get one thing straight: This is about TEQUILA. And if you think Cuervo is tequila, stop reading right now -- you probably believe Budweiser is beer and Domino's is pizza, too. For the rest of us with -- ahem -- more-educated palates, true tequila is only the 100 percent blue agave variety, not the stuff that José sells, which is actually half tequila and half fermented sugar. Not only is the good stuff a damn sight yummier, it's also much less likely to give you a hangover. That's not to say, though, that a night drinking shots at the Margarita Cafe on A1A just north of Las Olas won't result in a head full of hurt the next morning. But at least you'll be sipping in style. You'll find a wide assortment of the cactus-based nectar including steely young blancos, more refined reposados, and aged, perfumey añejos. Highly recommended: shots of Patrón, Herradura, or Porfidio. After familiarizing your taste buds with those popular boutique brands, move up to the supersmooth Chinaco and the velvety-soft Hacienda del Cristero. But save room for our personal favorite -- El Tesoro de Don Felipe -- its three versions are the tastiest tequilas we've ever tried. In fact, after a night with Don Felipe's treasures, you'll never look at a bottle of José Cuervo without deep-seated scorn and derision. Just as you should.

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