Irony, thy name is weather. Especially here in South Florida, where the damn thing can turn on a dime and, historically, has been our greatest blessing, bringing tourists and settlers, and greatest curse, bringing Hurricane Andrew and its ilk. Dealing with this loaded material -- the one bit of news that always affects the viewer directly -- local cloud jockeys generally fall into one of two schools of delivery: upbeat Dr. Feelgoods or clinically precise Professor Krankenheimers. Lopicola alone, the weekend mainstay on this NBC affiliate, strikes a postmodern pose. His broad, pleasant face radiates both amusement and calm; the muscular body language -- cold fronts drawn down across the map with precise left jabs -- shows both engagement and control. This is the weather we have, for better or for worse, is his subtext -- and hey, at least we aren't shoveling snow. Lopicola's tousled brush cut makes him a "Best Hair on the Air" contender too, but his "love it or leave it" meteorology is distinctively cool.
Warning: Do not attempt to drive or bike down this winding, mile-long stretch unless you carry the maximum dental-insurance coverage. The opulent and luxurious multimillion-dollar estate homes on both sides of the road are sure to make your jaw drop. Many of the mansions are tucked behind lush vegetation and tall palm trees, but if you slow down enough (the speed limit is 35 mph anyway, and you'll fit right in), you can sometimes catch glimpses of the exotic and perfectly manicured gardens by peeking through the heavy metal gates and down the serpentine driveways. Architecture varies from the classic to the gaudy, and that makes the drive even more interesting. Among the oddballs are a medieval castle wannabe -- complete with tall, round turrets on each corner and gold-plated lions at the gate -- and a bright-white art deco mansion, with its walls and vestibules built in various geometric and pointy shapes. You can also catch a view of the sea here and there and breathe the fresh ocean air. If you're lucky, you might even spot Donald Trump or Oprah. Just don't forget to close your mouth if you do.
Warning: Do not attempt to drive or bike down this winding, mile-long stretch unless you carry the maximum dental-insurance coverage. The opulent and luxurious multimillion-dollar estate homes on both sides of the road are sure to make your jaw drop. Many of the mansions are tucked behind lush vegetation and tall palm trees, but if you slow down enough (the speed limit is 35 mph anyway, and you'll fit right in), you can sometimes catch glimpses of the exotic and perfectly manicured gardens by peeking through the heavy metal gates and down the serpentine driveways. Architecture varies from the classic to the gaudy, and that makes the drive even more interesting. Among the oddballs are a medieval castle wannabe -- complete with tall, round turrets on each corner and gold-plated lions at the gate -- and a bright-white art deco mansion, with its walls and vestibules built in various geometric and pointy shapes. You can also catch a view of the sea here and there and breathe the fresh ocean air. If you're lucky, you might even spot Donald Trump or Oprah. Just don't forget to close your mouth if you do.
If you've been around long enough, you probably remember when Wilton Drive was just a stretch of sleepy small-town road -- something to get through on your way from one part of Fort Lauderdale to another. No more. In the past five or so years, the drive, which begins where NE Fourth Avenue ends and arcs around to Manors' Five-Points intersection, has undergone a transformation that's nothing short of remarkable. Now, it's Wilton Manors' quirky answer to Las Olas Boulevard. The drive's centerpiece, the Shoppes of Wilton Manors, has gone from a dreary strip mall once anchored by a bank to a spruced-up, lively mosaic of businesses of all sorts. It's now anchored by the enormously popular Georgie's Alibi, a complex with a main bar, a sports bar, a small café, and a patio, all daily drawing a large, diverse clientele that's mainly but not exclusively gay. That's pretty much the pattern for the rest of the drive as well -- such old standbys as a Dairy Queen, a Social Security Administration office, and an Eddie Hauck's Wings N' Things franchise rub shoulders with a GayMart boutique, the gay-owned-and-operated Better Bodies Gym, and the AIDS charity Poverello. The old/new, gay/straight diversity continues from one end of the drive to the other: restaurants and bars (nearly 20 of them), antiques shops, hair salons, real-estate agents, car-repair centers, florists, specialty shops, churches, a children's furniture store, a pet grooming center, a tanning salon, a law office, a travel agency, a chiropractor, a pool hall, a laundry, a plant nursery, a marketing firm, a comic-book store, a lock-and-safe company, an insurance agent, a leather shop, a trailer park, a Christian bookstore, and -- our offbeat favorite -- a branch of the Women's World Wrestling Club. Best of all, the strip is still growing and evolving. Next year, it should be even better.
If you've been around long enough, you probably remember when Wilton Drive was just a stretch of sleepy small-town road -- something to get through on your way from one part of Fort Lauderdale to another. No more. In the past five or so years, the drive, which begins where NE Fourth Avenue ends and arcs around to Manors' Five-Points intersection, has undergone a transformation that's nothing short of remarkable. Now, it's Wilton Manors' quirky answer to Las Olas Boulevard. The drive's centerpiece, the Shoppes of Wilton Manors, has gone from a dreary strip mall once anchored by a bank to a spruced-up, lively mosaic of businesses of all sorts. It's now anchored by the enormously popular Georgie's Alibi, a complex with a main bar, a sports bar, a small café, and a patio, all daily drawing a large, diverse clientele that's mainly but not exclusively gay. That's pretty much the pattern for the rest of the drive as well -- such old standbys as a Dairy Queen, a Social Security Administration office, and an Eddie Hauck's Wings N' Things franchise rub shoulders with a GayMart boutique, the gay-owned-and-operated Better Bodies Gym, and the AIDS charity Poverello. The old/new, gay/straight diversity continues from one end of the drive to the other: restaurants and bars (nearly 20 of them), antiques shops, hair salons, real-estate agents, car-repair centers, florists, specialty shops, churches, a children's furniture store, a pet grooming center, a tanning salon, a law office, a travel agency, a chiropractor, a pool hall, a laundry, a plant nursery, a marketing firm, a comic-book store, a lock-and-safe company, an insurance agent, a leather shop, a trailer park, a Christian bookstore, and -- our offbeat favorite -- a branch of the Women's World Wrestling Club. Best of all, the strip is still growing and evolving. Next year, it should be even better.
Every Florida tourism ad ever made shows someone out for a solitary stroll on the beach, watching seabirds skim over the lapping waves as the sun lights the sky afire. What greater contentment can there be than a barefoot hike with the sea breeze in your face? Well, OK, there are a few. But a warm and solitary beach is way up there. Trouble is, everybody wants his own patch of sand. That's why 2.7 million people are crammed into Broward and Palm Beach counties. And most of them are lucky to own the sand in their shoes. Still, amid all this bustle, there are still a few lonely spots where the honks and screeches of the city recede to a gentle murmur, lost in the whooshing waves. Tops has got to be John U. Lloyd Beach State Park, jutting out from Dania Beach just south of Port Everglades. There, isolated from the troubles of the mainland, the lucky few can trudge two and a half miles of usually empty beach backed by tangled trees, with only shriveling jellyfish for company. The park is accessible from Dania Beach Boulevard and A1A, 8 a.m. to sundown. Or park at the Dania Beach Fishing Pier at the beach's south end for a nominal fee (open 24-7 for fishermen, until 11 p.m. for everyone else) and just stroll up the strand. Pedestrians and cyclists get into John U. Lloyd park for $1, single motorists for $2, and up to eight people in a car for $4. But that would defeat the purpose, wouldn't it?
Every Florida tourism ad ever made shows someone out for a solitary stroll on the beach, watching seabirds skim over the lapping waves as the sun lights the sky afire. What greater contentment can there be than a barefoot hike with the sea breeze in your face? Well, OK, there are a few. But a warm and solitary beach is way up there. Trouble is, everybody wants his own patch of sand. That's why 2.7 million people are crammed into Broward and Palm Beach counties. And most of them are lucky to own the sand in their shoes. Still, amid all this bustle, there are still a few lonely spots where the honks and screeches of the city recede to a gentle murmur, lost in the whooshing waves. Tops has got to be John U. Lloyd Beach State Park, jutting out from Dania Beach just south of Port Everglades. There, isolated from the troubles of the mainland, the lucky few can trudge two and a half miles of usually empty beach backed by tangled trees, with only shriveling jellyfish for company. The park is accessible from Dania Beach Boulevard and A1A, 8 a.m. to sundown. Or park at the Dania Beach Fishing Pier at the beach's south end for a nominal fee (open 24-7 for fishermen, until 11 p.m. for everyone else) and just stroll up the strand. Pedestrians and cyclists get into John U. Lloyd park for $1, single motorists for $2, and up to eight people in a car for $4. But that would defeat the purpose, wouldn't it?
Some things just shouldn't be too civilized. The Everglades is one of them. Even as the state and feds plan to spend untold billions to clean up what we've already done to the River of Grass, the Moloch of commercialization still rears its reptilian head at tourist traps like Everglades Holiday Park and the Billie Swamp Safari. Of course, no one wants to go back to the stinky hell that was the lot of our pioneer forbears, but a simple nod to the creature comforts should be enough when searching out the beauties of nature. That's just what the happy motorist will find at Mile Marker 35 on Alligator Alley. The modest rest stop has a few vending machines, half a dozen picnic tables, and two boat ramps, all watched by a Wackenhut security guard. The big bonus is the only public restroom between Weston and the Miccosukee reservation near the Collier County line. No noisy airboats, nobody pestering you to buy shellacked alligator heads -- just you, your bass boat, and a swamp. Like it was meant to be.
Some things just shouldn't be too civilized. The Everglades is one of them. Even as the state and feds plan to spend untold billions to clean up what we've already done to the River of Grass, the Moloch of commercialization still rears its reptilian head at tourist traps like Everglades Holiday Park and the Billie Swamp Safari. Of course, no one wants to go back to the stinky hell that was the lot of our pioneer forbears, but a simple nod to the creature comforts should be enough when searching out the beauties of nature. That's just what the happy motorist will find at Mile Marker 35 on Alligator Alley. The modest rest stop has a few vending machines, half a dozen picnic tables, and two boat ramps, all watched by a Wackenhut security guard. The big bonus is the only public restroom between Weston and the Miccosukee reservation near the Collier County line. No noisy airboats, nobody pestering you to buy shellacked alligator heads -- just you, your bass boat, and a swamp. Like it was meant to be.
If you combine West Lake Park with the Anne Kolb Nature Center next door, you have one of the biggest public spaces in all of South Florida: almost three square miles of water, mangrove, and room to roam -- all just a whistle away from the ocean. West Lake has a wonderful kids' playground, a big lake where Broward Community College offers sailing and windsurfing classes, and top-notch picnic facilities. On any given weekend, the park bustles with high-powered basketball games, trick in-line skaters, and birthday parties. The six-year-old nature center next door provides a view of Florida as it ought to be. There's a five-level observation tower and delightful canoe trails. Both places are cheap. West Lake admission costs $1; entry to Anne Kolb is free. They're open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the winter and 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in summer. So go east, young man (or woman or child). Leave the 'burbs behind.

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