When it comes to record setters in the world of sports, there's no shortage of those little asterisks -- you know, the symbol that refers to a less-than-clear title to fastest, longest, highest, or most.
But who'd expect controversy in the realm of champion trees? Back in March, Lake Worth passed a "champion tree" ordinance to protect a giant Ficus altissima tree located near North A Street and Fourth Avenue North. The Florida Division of Forestry considers that monster the largest of its kind. For the record, it's about 35 feet in circumference and 80 feet high, and it spreads almost 40 feet.
The problem, according to critics of the city's mine-is-biggest mindset, is that Ficus altissima is more deserving of woodchipping than worship. It's a weed, says Terry Mock, a Lake Worth resident and executive director of Champion Tree Project International, a not-for-profit agency. "Would anyone be acting this way toward a champion tree if it were a Brazilian pepper or melaleuca?" he asks.
Until recently, Ficus altissima was considered a benign invader. But then a Southeast Asian wasp showed up in South Florida, says Kathy Burks, a botanist who is a member of the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. That bug can spread the trees far and wide, smothering other plants. "As soon as the birds start carrying off fertile seeds, they show up everywhere," she says, adding that all the evidence isn't in.
So is Lake Worth ready to chop down its champion?
"The city feels pretty strong about maintaining and preserving the tree," declares Martin Cybulski, the city's horticulturalist. "As of now, it has not been shown that it's pushed out or crowded out any other native species."
From I-95 in southern Broward, it's hard to miss the Dania Beach Hurricane, the region's only roller coaster of note. The creaky, clackity wooden ride has been host to odd distinctions in the past: a wedding last year, for one, and a Guinness record in 2001, when its 30 passengers' average age was 69.5 years old. This week, the 'Pipe made tracks next door to Boomer's, off Griffin Road, to find a 24-year-old T.G.I. Friday's waiter named Bryan Bindman. The Davie resident wasn't hard to find, because he was a voluntary captive of the ride for the day, to raise money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Donors had pledged money, most about 15 cents per ride. In all, he said, the day would earn the charity about $2,000.
"This will be my 100th time," the bespectacled, blond Bindman said. He had been making hash marks on his wristband that were so tightly clustered, they gave the effect of surgical stitches. A long-time theme-park nut, he said he was inspired in part by his father, who in lieu of gifts at his recent wedding asked guests to donate to charity.
The day, he said, had been terrific. Two people saw him on television and came to the park to hand him $100 bills. He remembered fondly trips 80 through 90, when the coaster was most crowded and they really got a chorus of hollers over the hills.
The 'Pipe got in a final question about Bindman's favorite part of the ride as the coaster lurched to life. "The little 'bunny hops' at the end," he said. Then the red conga line of cars cranked up the incline. Bindman laced his fingers behind his head to cushion the jostling. Below, the surrounding county unfolded as a glittering patchwork quilt of sky and streets and trees and HOLYMYWhehhheeeeeeeeeeooooooooo!!!! Hillhillhill! Cornercornerbwaaaahhhhhh!!! Hahahahahaoooowhoaaaa! Tuuuurrrrrrnnnn! AAaAAAHHhhAHAAA!! Bankbankbankturn ... BUMP (whoof) BUMP (whooo) BUMP (WHUFF).
There's no other way of describing it.
The "bunny hops" at the end were a bear. Tailpipe took a lap bar to the groin but emerged none the worse for wear.
"Oh, my God," Bindman said. "That was great." He made it to 123 before packing it in about 11 p.m.
Negative New Times
Hollywood Police Chief James H. Scarberry doesn't like the tone of this weekly rag. Regarding Staff Writer Trevor Aaronson's June 30 article "Hollywood's Finest," which documented how improperly hired officers were wreaking havoc in Hollywood, Scarberry sent an e-mail to Mayor Mara Guilianti, City Manager Cameron D. Benson, Assistant City Manager Richard Lemack, and City Attorney Dan Abbott.
"We are all better off not talking to [Aaronson]," Scarberry wrote. "He is only going to compose an article that has the negative slant."
Tailpipe pondered the top cop's words. Perhaps New Times had been too negative. So, to appease Scarberry, the 'Pipe is going to put a positive slant on the findings of the New Times investigation:
Of 42 cops an independent investigator ten years ago found to have psychological or background problems, 30 are still on the force. That's good news for South Broward's mental health professionals.
Those 30 officers are responsible for 11 lawsuits and $230,000 in judgments or settlements and outside legal fees. That means good business for Hugh Koerner, Gary Kollin, and other Broward lawyers who've made a cottage industry out of suing Broward's roughest cop shop.
The Washington, D.C.-based Police Complaint Center classifies Hollywood as among the nation's 25 most troubled agencies. Hey, folks, that's better than the 50 most troubled!
Where the Streets Have No Names
Across South Florida, a revolt is revving. At least, if you believe the Miami Herald.
Last week, the daily newspaper published a story about the demand by many homeowners -- and some politicians too -- to rid themselves of those boring, numbered street names. In Bonaventure Lakes -- a neighborhood in Weston -- it seems that every envelope addressed to SW 34th Street or SW 67th Avenue is a veritable slap in the face.
Weston Mayor Eric Hersh told the Herald in its July 5 story that he "would much rather live on a named street" and that the Glades-suckers of his city recently began studying whether they can make some sort of change in Bonaventure Lakes. Iraq, AIDS, political corruption -- these problems can wait. But not Primrose Lane.
Tailpipe too wishes his street had a pretty handle instead of a faceless number. This catalytic converter realizes, though, that adding a faux-potpourri aroma -- Woodhaven Way -- to a stinker of a neighborhood ain't gonna change a damned thing. So this tube has a few suggestions of his odiferous own for the wealthy Glades-drainers:
Cookie Cutter Court
Endless Stucco Terrace
Mighty Muggy Drive
Hideous Unfettered Sprawl Trail
-- As told to Chuck Strouse