Ralphie Shows He's The Real Deal

All Sun-Sentinel "Lifestyles" columnist Ralph De La Cruz planned to do was write another silly sentimental piece, this one on his favorite bridge, a step above his usual column, which often doesn't get beyond his couch or kitchen table. But funny things happened on his way to bridge bliss, a set of unfortunate events that led to the best story to be published in the Sun-Sentinel this year.

When Ralph stopped by to talk to the tender of the 11th Street swing bridge in Fort Lauderdale, she made the mistake of entertaining his interest. For that, the company in Clearwater that has the city contract to operate the bridge canned 59-year-old Jeanie Curtiss for breaking protocol. Suddenly, Ralph was in the middle of a real story and he showed his chops. He found out the company, Tri-Angle Maintenance, was way overpaid.

'We pay a company in Clearwater $138,546.70 a year — $379.58 a day — to provide $9-an-hour tenders for that one little iconic

bridge," he wrote. "You'd think we could get them to tell us why they fired someone."

I'm with you, Ralph. If you're going to fatten some company's bankroll on the taxpayers' dime in the name of "privatizing" government, couldn't you at least make it a local firm? And is the city really incapable of hiring a couple of tenders for the bridge to save another layer of bureaucratic fat?

He also tells us about the frustration he had getting public records out of the city.

When newspapers ask a city or county for a public record, the expectation is that they'll be received the next day. Certainly within a week.

On July 11, more than a month after the City Attorney's Office asked for the records, I finally got the files.

In all the 169 pages, there was no evidence of a single past transgression by Curtiss. But there was a star next to the paragraph in the rules that stated, "Only the bridge tender scheduled for a particular shift shall be in or around the bridge house."

With the public records stuff, he gets meta to great effect. In fact the whole story is basically an affront to the dry lifeless way of telling stories that seems to be the norm at 200 East Las Olas. Sure, there could have been a couple fewer aw-shucks "all I wanted to do was tell a story about a charming little bridge" references, but it was still a first-rate tale.

And it showed that Ralph -- when he's not writing about his wife or ruminating about buying his kid a damn cell phone -- has real reporter's blood flowing through him.