Once upon a time, the only things you needed to get to the big leagues were hopes, dreams, maybe a homemade bat, raw ability, desire, and a father who forced you to switch-hit from the time you were in diapers. My, how the times they have a-changed! The five-tool player of tomorrow probably smears mink-oil paste into his palm-padded glove before donning metal cleats, polarized sunglasses, and an Under Armour T-shirt just to take some cuts in the batting cage. Or he nestles a bat weight on a Big Barrel Plasma to get his speed up before cranking up the ol' batting machine and slapping the horsehide into the outfield. All of the aforementioned are abundant at Batter's Box (the Coral Springs shop has the batting cages, $2.25 for 20 pitches at a range of speeds), which is perfect for aspiring Cabreras, Sosas, and Jeters or just looking good through the beer inning.
The half-taunt on the front window says, "If you bought a bike here... you would have made that light," as if the indignity of sitting at the railroad crossing at Prospect and Powerline could be any worse. It's a funny jibe from a place that suggests by its very name that all bikers, from hot-shit punks to weekend-leather posers, are welcome inside. Funny thing, because the cozy, family-run shop in the light-industrial area does accommodate all kinds, including the tykes who can fire up a cassette of, say, "Iron Giant" while you browse the bikes or hammer out the details of a repair job in the shop out back. The owners, Bill and Ona Bustos, have a reputation as "decent and honest," as one customer literally on the street (on a Kawasaki, was it?) described them. The website could use updating, but at least it links to the contents of 23 parts and accessories catalogs for quick shopping.
It can be expensive to buy rubber. And, no, we're not talking about variety packs of contraceptive measures. Tires, baby, tires. These days, a set of four brand-new, off-the-production-line radials can set you back close to $1,000. That's a lot of dough, especially if you don't want to sink a ton of money into your ride. But Friendly Tire in Margate has the economical solution: used tires. Located in an industrial park near U.S. 441, Friendly Tire carries radials in all makes and sizes and does a brisk business. It's often busy any day of the week, because the service is (as the name implies) friendly and the tires are great deals, ranging from $17 to $22 per tire for an average tire size. And that includes installation! Although the tires are used, they have been inspected by Friendly Tire's staff, and many are roadworthy for tens of thousands of miles more. But be warned: You won't find an air-conditioned waiting room with the latest US Weekly. In fact, you have to wait outside as Friendly Tire's staff changes your tires. But that's no big deal. You go to Friendly Tire for a great deal on reliable radials.
There's something wonderfully mischievous about going swimming without so much as a millimeter of lycra between you and the water. There's something even better about doing it at night, and at a very public locale. A good place to disrobe and experience the all-American thrill of skinny-dipping is on Fort Lauderdale Beach, just north of the Yankee Clipper Hotel (1140 Seabreeze Blvd., Fort Lauderdale), where it's just dark enough to be inconspicuous, yet there's enough light for you to see any bad guys who might come your way. Or, for that matter, officers of the law.
Sloan's
Christina Mendenhall
Sloan's is an amazing sensory experience, with its hot-pink walls, giant lollipops, miniature choo-choo train, 47 flavors of ice cream, and toys, toys, toys! But the most amazing part is the bathrooms -- which have clear glass doors that look right in to the throne. When you venture in and turn the door handle, however, the glass fogs up and becomes completely opaque. An investigation by the Travel Channel -- which named this the tenth best bathroom in the entire world -- revealed that the door is actually made of two panels of glass. Sandwiched between the panels is a mixture of polymer and liquid crystals. A constant electrical current keeps the crystals in line and the glass transparent. But when the door handle is locked, the current is stopped, the crystals fall, and the glass looks clouded. For a cheap thrill, you can spend all day playing with the bathroom door. Better yet, take a friend, feed them a couple of bottles of water, and get a kick out of showing them the way to the loo.
Six years ago, kiteboarding was in its infancy. There were no magazines about it, no DVDs, no lessons. Pioneers just went out to the beach, tried to harness the wind, and got slingshot hundreds of yards down the beach in the process. That's when East Coast Kiteboarding's owner, Damien Wright, went to Maui to give it a try. "It took me about eight months to ride upwind," he says. "That's a long time." But he got hooked on the sport, which he describes as "wakeboarding, flying, and snowboarding" all wrapped into one, and started his traveling kiteboarding school, which now offers lessons from West Palm Beach to Miami. Kiteboarders have been clocked going 55 knots per hour (although the average speed is closer to 20), and waves can work like ramps, sending kiters 20 or even 40 feet in the air. There is a danger element, though. Says Wright's wife, Jen, who teaches with him: "You can put yourself or somebody else in the hospital." Lessons will help newbies learn to control their kites and perform self-rescues. At East Coast Kiteboarding, it costs $120 for a beginner lesson on land or $599 for a weekend camp that should get you up and riding -- but, as Damien puts it, "If you think of the $30,000 it costs to buy a wakeboarding boat, it's cheap." Beware: Jen says, "Once you get past the initial learning curve, you'll spend every day looking at the wind, just waiting for it to pick up."
Boom times have wreaked havoc at most dollar stores, where prices have crept up ten, 20, even 30 ticks above the promised 100 cents. Still, it's quality that really counts, even at around a sawbuck, and quality is where Dollar Heaven earns its halo. Four bits and change grants you access to three long aisles of crazy bric-a-brac, including a surprisingly comprehensive tool selection and a respectable array of spices. Jewelry? You've got the finest plastic imports from Mexico. Cookware? The best that China has to offer. Children's toys? Hoo, Mama -- it's Christmas. A tank of helium brooding in the corner for the occasional balloon inflation and displays of essential oils are just some of the extras thrown into the mix that a plain old Family Dollar will always sadly lack. And to top it off, every purchase comes with an inevitable sassy remark from Dollar Heaven's owner, who lives for the small pleasure of teasing his customers. He won't let you out the door without an observation about your purchase, but he is always patient with the now-commonplace dollar-store question: "But really, how much?"
Jezebel
Jezebel isn't just for '40s sock-hoppers and vintage couture queens anymore. The venerable vintage clothing store, which in previous incarnations was also called the Stock Exchange, has kept Fort Lauderdale in funky duds for 15 years. But the managers couldn't keep their enthusiasm for quirky inventory entirely tethered to clothing, which means the store's rabbit-warren interior is lined with bizarre tchotchkes that beat out the schlock in the beachside tourist shops any day. No sno-globes or shot glasses here; at Jezebel, some of Florida's more unlikely stuffed animals jostle for space with neat stacks of prewritten to-do lists, imaginative soaps, and some of the coolest hats you'll see outside of a milliner's. Because Jezebel began life trafficking in used threads, many of its gifts, like the Fiesta-ware silverware, take their cues from bygone eras. And the entire backroom is still dedicated to a carefully chosen selection of vintage clothing at reasonable prices. So the next time cold-weather friends and relatives set up camp on your fold-out, ensure that they won't return north with the usual tacky knickknacks that tourists shell out for in their complacent, sun-warmed stupors. Just steer them toward the mermaid riding the lobster right near the beach off Federal Highway, and Jezebel will take care of the rest.
Dragging a haul of bell-bottoms and turtlenecks to the Women in Distress thrift store in Margate makes you feel like a saint and involves face time with some of the feistiest ladies in Broward County. The store, in a tired-looking strip mall, accepts donations of clothing, furniture, and household goods, then turns around and resells them for ridiculously low prices -- we're talking $2 for a shirt, $5 for shoes, etc. The money helps fund WID's wide array of services for battered women, which include advocacy, counseling, and a women's shelter, the only certified one of its kind in Broward. The gals who staff the thrift store will greet your haul with open arms and crows of delight, and some can tell you touching stories of how your act of generosity will benefit womankind. Soon, if your castoffs are cute enough, they'll be festooned around the showroom in makeshift display cases, making you the Calvin Klein of the thrift-store catwalk.
It's been called the L.L. Bean store of gay sex toys, and for good reason -- Catalog X is the retail outlet for the vaunted gay sex-toy catalog of the same name and stocks the three-foot silicone cocks and gallon-sized vats of personal lubricant that the rest of the country can obtain only via mail-order. Fifteen years ago, convinced that a sex toy catalog marketed specifically to gay men would hit one out of the park, Mark Possien abandoned a career as a lawyer and founded the catalog, which immediately owned the niche, gay sex-toy market in its glorious entirety. Specializing in butt plugs, dildos, and high-quality lubes, Catalog X's toys aren't for the faint of heart -- some of the more advanced penetrationware measures size in feet and girth in sphincter-wrenching screams. In case the hardware's charms ever falter, Catalog X also stocks a wide variety of accessories, from porn to embroidered cum rags to an entire line of clothing, Cocksure, which the owners design on-site. Such frippery gives first-timers a chance to relax while they contemplate reaming themselves with the 17-inch Dick Rambone massive cock. More of a high-quality outfitter for bedroom-sport enthusiasts than your run-of-the-mill sex megastore, Catalog X is in a sex-shop class of its own.

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