Russ Hoffman has Paul Newman eyes, Hulk Hogan wrists, and the nostalgia factor of Frank Sinatra. He also makes people reminisce just by delivering bottles of seltzer. So, what's the big deal about seltzer? After all, it's nothing but H2O with CO2: no color, no sugar, no salt, no flavor. Supermarkets have shelves and shelves of seltzer, cheaper than Hoffman's. So what's so special about his? Well, first, it's the authentic glass bottles (if it's your lucky week, a deep green). The bottle is three-quarters of an inch thick with 65 pounds of pressure inside; the carbonation can't seep out the way it can through the plastic bottles on those supermarket shelves. Second, the tops are real pewter. Third, the sound it makes when you push the lever: sprzzzzz. Fourth, the service. When was the last time you opened your front door and found a wooden case -- or two -- with six (or twelve) bottles of seltzer? Fifth, what it does for a gin and tonic. Or a New York chocolate egg cream.

It's a mid-Sunday afternoon in June, and our tire is as flat as Florida swampland, the victim of an ill-placed screw. We wage a futile battle with a lug wrench, dripping rivers of sweat onto the pavement for our effort, and contemplate calling a tow truck. Then a wise neighbor offers a tip: Pump the not-yet-completely-ruptured tire full of air and proceed to a tire healer before the thing has time to deflate again. But where to go on a Sunday afternoon? Nobody answers the phone at the half-dozen or so Goodyear outlets in the area, so we drive to a Citgo station on Sunrise Boulevard. Again, no dice. But Nick, as his work shirt identifies him, has advice: Try Smalley's, a few blocks down the road. Good call, Nick. Smalley's is not closed for a day of rest in some deferential nod to the big J.C. It's pretty much bumping. A diminutive tire vulcanizer spots us immediately. "Patch or plug?" he asks. Our dimwitted reply: "You tell us." And in seconds he does, staring down the offending screw, stanching the air flow, and plugging our tire with the automotive equivalent of a Band-Aid. The price? $5. See if you get that kind of deal at Goodyear or Don Olson Tire and Auto Center.

Everything nice, indeed. Sugar & Spice stocks plenty of couples-oriented midcore porn tapes mixed in with heavy-duty bondage and fetish films. The movies, however, occupy their own room, as does the store's huge inventory of sex toys. This means that couples shopping for intimate playthings needn't do so under the voyeuristic gaze of straight-up porn pervs. The two rooms are at opposite ends of the shop; in the middle resides a full selection of lingerie, leather, and other sexy clothing items for him and her (mostly her). With so much at your fingertips, you're bound to find something to satisfy. As they say, variety is the spice of life.

Ballsy Super Cock. Manhandler. Double Header. The names of these dildos might sound a tad intimidating, but this store is anything but. No dingy yellow exterior paint job, no peeling XXX decals slapped over blackened windows. Instead customers get an almost record-shop ambiance: gray-speckled rug, chrome accents, and the latest Garbage CD spinning from an unseen stereo. Sure, the stock here includes B/D/S&M (bondage, discipline, sadomasochism) must-haves like latex whips, training leashes, ball gags, and handmade deerskin floggers, but the store also offers cheesy bachelorette faves like edible undies, chocolate body sauce, and pussy lip gloss. There are also adult mags, varied porn videos, and short breathless reads like I Was a Teenage Dominatrix, but the real standouts are the Box's fetish wear, lots of which is designed and tailor-made by husband-wife owners Sean and Denise Newman. The entire right half of the space is devoted to latex cat suits (powder up and put 'em on), Italian leather pants and minis, hoods with zippered eyes and mouths, and Chinese silk corsets guaranteed to shave four inches off the waist. Color selection? Mostly black, of course.

If you think you're too old or too sophisticated for those gooey, flowery birthday cakes you used to get as a kid, you're probably right. And anyway, they cost a fortune and taste terrible. But at Flakowitz's you can get the Rose Cake, a minimalist's dream come true: rich, dark, hard-chocolate icing on the outside, with one perfectly formed rose in your choice of red, yellow, blue -- even a purple the color of Elizabeth Taylor's eyes -- in the center. The inside is yellow cake with chocolate buttercream filling. Mmm, mmm. The Rose Cake is not just for birthdays, though -- the bakery staff will write anything on the cake, for any occasion. And at $6.99 for a six-inch and $8 for a seven-inch that serves eight, the price is right, too.
We don't mean to be morbid, but all of us are going to move on to the hereafter eventually. But after an eventful and full life, how will you be remembered? Leaving your personal history behind when you die is one way. Maybe you're one of those people who loves to listen to your grandmother tell what it was like in "the old country" (or before there were computers), and you swear that one of these days you're going to write it down. How about videotaping it? At ARC Video Productions, Penny Cohen and her brother, Steve Almes, will do it for you. Their legacy-video concept evolved from their own loss -- the death of their father. As an offshoot of their corporate marketing and training videos business, they decided to produce legacy videos -- people's life stories that they could pass on to future generations. Cohen and Almes tape the up-to-two-hour video in the customer's home or in the living room set at their video studio. They have a list of questions that they -- or a member of the family -- can ask the interviewee, or the interviewee can talk extemporaneously. Or it can be a little of both.
Florida, dontcha know, is one of the largest beef-producing states in the country, with a cowboy tradition that invented crackers. Not the crackers that Polly eats but whip-crackers who chased cows and wore, yup, leather boots. The best place to buy that culturally essential footwear is Trader Jim's, where the long aisles offer roughly 8000 pairs of boots and a smell of new leather that will make you long to put your butt in a saddle. A few saddles are scattered around, and the usual peripheral apparel is for sale -- bola ties and belt buckles the size of the Panhandle, for example. And the folks here are friendly, too. They'll fit you into something either comfortable enough to wear to the mall or real enough to fit a stirrup. You can buy boots made in a variety of snakeskins, including water moccasin, rattlesnake, and boa, or you can get lizard, ostrich, alligator, shark, or plain old bullhide boots. The prices? Well, shucks, you can get booted for less than $100 or more than $1000, depending upon your needs.

The trouble with kids' clothes is that kids continually grow out of them. About two months after you shell out $100 for clothes at Old Navy, they'll be tight at the seams. Then they'll be relegated to the bottom drawer, and from there it's on to a younger sibling, a garage sale or the thrift store. Smart parents just skip the retail level and head straight for the secondary market -- the garage sales and thrift stores -- where little-used, name-brand kids' clothes are cheap and plentiful. There was much rejoicing among thrift-store aficionados last fall when the Salvation Army opened its Super Store on Broward Boulevard just east of I-95. Clean, well-organized and brightly lit, the Super Store is Saks Fifth Avenue for the tightwad set. There is an excellent selection of boys' and girls' duds, and you'd be hard-pressed to pay more than $3 for any single item (though shoes might run you $4-$5). You're guaranteed to walk out with a bag full of clothes for less than $20. And remember -- you're under no obligation to tell anyone where you got the stuff.
Two types of people frequent marine-supply stores: those who already own a boat and those who wish they did. For either a trip to West Marine is an enlightening experience. Both Fort Lauderdale locations are big stores stocked to the gunwales with everything from boat sandals, line, and global positioning systems to heads, radios, and dinghies. (They even sell bikes, though we never did determine what differentiates a marine bike from a terra firma one.) If you own a boat, you already know that this stuff isn't cheap. The old saw is that you can take anything, slap a "marine" label on it and double the price. That may or may not be true, but when we saw winches on sale for $800, we decided to keep dreaming for a bit. Meanwhile, you'll find us loitering in the aisles at West Marine, fondling the macerator pumps and marveling at the price of anti-fouling paint.
This nursery is so high-quality it draws landscapers from as far away as West Palm Beach and attracts celebrities like Dan Marino. But we find it the best place to unwind -- without any chemical assistance. Stroll through row upon row of hundreds of different flowers, from yellow dandelionlike Euryops to satiny magenta New Guinea impatiens. Then listen while the wind plays a symphony on dozens of chimes and water gently trickles down numerous stone waterfalls, all of which are for sale. The nursery, set on 21 acres, scours Homestead farms and plant shows for unique sprouts and orders from Costa Rica and Puerto Rico. The vegetation it can't find, well, employees concoct themselves: The nursery is awaiting a patent on a leafy plant with a white-and-pink bloom that resembles exploding fireworks (called the Brandon I, after the owner's son) There are also hand-painted clay pots, artistic metal flamingo figurines, 25-foot palm trees, sundials, and wrought iron benches engraved with roses.

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