Asa Boynton deserves a spot in the South Florida Community Activist Hall of Fame. In his day job, the tall 59-year-old dresses in a purple gorilla suit and delivers singing telegrams throughout South Florida. Otherwise, he's a one-man gadfly, civic activist, and crime fighter in Hollywood's troubled south side. Ask Hollywood's city commissioners. They'll tell you how Boynton delivers the newspaper to their doorstep every time it has a juicy Hollywood story inside. Or ask the editors of those newspapers. They'll tell you how many letters to the editor they receive from Boynton. And Boynton is as brave as he is tireless. When he takes pictures of suspected drug dealers, he waves and smiles. He calls the cops to scenes of crimes he witnesses, times how long it takes police to arrive, and then distributes that information (often damning) to police brass, newspaper reporters, and other Hollywood activists. He once paraded through crime-ridden neighborhoods in South Hollywood with a sign that read: "Drug Dealers Suck." Even when Boynton is just being kind and generous, he can't get community activism off his mind. During Hurricane Wilma, a scared stray cat wandered to his door. He took in the feline and has since adopted him. He named the cat "Mr. Singley," as in Hollywood Police Officer Nick Singley, who was given a gun and a badge in Hollywood despite a psychological report that said he lacked "maturity and self-control." Boynton can tell you about that story. Just hope another distressed cat doesn't scratch at his door. Boynton's nickname for Hollywood Mayor Mara Giulianti -- likely the next cat's name -- just isn't fit for print.
Khurrum Wahid has the most unpopular important job in the country. An attorney with offices in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and New York, Wahid represents Muslims in federal court against terrorism charges. Wahid was a federal public defender in Miami when terrorists flew commercial airplanes into the World Trade Center. At that time, people asked him what he thought the U.S. government would do to Muslims in the country. "And I said, I wouldn't worry about it, because my experience has been the government and law enforcement have always been a group that has worked smart, has worked with surgical precision as opposed to the broad brush," Wahid told National Public Radio for a segment on post-9/11 civil liberties. "I was wrong. It turns out they were as reactionary and as emotional as everyone across the country." Now a private attorney, Wahid has handled the cases of dozens of Muslims who have been detained by the government, many without just cause. What's more, Wahid hasn't shied away from controversial cases. Most recently, he represented Abu Ali, who in March was sentenced in Virginia to 30 years in prison for conspiring to assassinate President George W. Bush and aiding al Qaeda. The government's case was built around confessions Ali made in Saudi Arabia. Wahid has maintained that Ali was tortured before making the confessions and is appealing the case. Let's be clear: Wahid's job isn't to defend terrorists; it's to defend civil liberties. And at a time when hundreds of men sit in a military-run jail, with no access to lawyers and no knowledge of the charges against them, the United States needs more fearless attorneys like Wahid.
If there were more people like Stephen Gaskill, maybe the Democratic Party wouldn't be in such an ugly mess. That's because Gaskill is a smooth media man and political operative who knows the game and how to play it well. A spokesman for Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich during the Clinton administration, Gaskill moved from the Beltway to sunny Fort Lauderdale in 2001 for a change of pace. He dreamed of a slower life as a consultant. No more political rat races. But in 2004, the Dems started calling. Gaskill agreed to become the communications director for former Wilton Manors Mayor Jim Stork's well-funded campaign against Republican U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw. Gaskill gave a professional appearance to Stork's laughable candidacy. It wasn't his fault that Stork flaked out and dropped out of the race 100 yards from the finish line, leaving the Democrats scrambling for a replacement candidate. Besides, after Stork's flameout, Gaskill landed a cherry gig with the Kerry-Edwards campaign, handling media relations for the candidates' families. It's possible that a Kerry-Edwards victory in 2004 would have sent Gaskill back to Washington, but fortunately for South Florida, he remains here. Today, Gaskill serves as the communications director for the Fort Lauderdale-based Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus.
Perhaps nowhere in the entire state exists a better spot to bear witness to the forces of change than this small strip of land in downtown Fort Lauderdale. A hundred years ago, someone standing at this spot would have seen a single structure -- the clapboard, cracker-box Stranahan House, where the city started -- and maybe a Seminole paddling a skiff down the river. The area was surrounded by thick undergrowth and wild, vine-filled jungle. Now, Smoker Park sits in a thicket of multistory condominium towers, on top of the Federal Highway tunnel, next to a massive, noisy ventilation unit. Instead of Native American traders, the river is choked with pleasure craft and tourists. The Stranahan House (now a museum) is still there, surrounded as it is by a Cheesecake Factory and every other abomination developers could envision -- just wait for the 45-story-condo where Hyde Park Market now sits. Take a trip to the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society and ask to see a postcard of Smoker Park in the early 1900s, and marvel at the old wood-frame homes. Then go visit today, for a dose of future shock of the present.
Better have a thick wad of bills or a sturdy stack of plastic if you want to spend much time on Fort Lauderdale's version of Rodeo Drive. Shopping and eating along this upscale quarter-mile, it's easy to burn through cash by the hundreds. Amid this, the Christian Science Reading Room is an oasis of solitude and thrift. By offering no more than a friendly "howdy" and a tip o' the hat to the manager, you can relax in a comfy chair and read the day's edition of the Christian Science Monitor. You save the $1 price on one of the best English-language newspapers covering world events. Hey, a buck is a buck. Open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Atlantic Resort & Spa
Remember those driving vacations you took with your family as a kid? Motoring just outside Nothingville, USA, you'd spot a giant roadside sign touting "Miracle Hills" or the "Wonder Spot." You'd bully and sob your old man into making the detour, and he'd shell out the five bucks apiece for a tour led by an enthusiastic old man. Inside specially built hillside shacks that played with your senses, balls seemingly rolled upward, chairs balanced on two legs. You can recapture that childhood thrill at the Atlantic's dark-marbled restroom in the lobby, which also serves the adjoining Trina Restaurant and Lounge. As you gaze down at the automatic stainless-steel faucets, you realize that there is no sink basin beneath them. There is only a flat, faux-marble surface. It's obvious that water out of the spigot will have no place to go but over the front edge and onto your feet. Ahh, but the great joy of a potty pit stop here is the barely noticeable backward grade of that even top. The water is engineered to flow at just the right rate to not overwhelm the sink, and it drains out the back.
There was much grumbling and gnashing of teeth when the Broward County School Board laid out $29 million in the 1990s to build its new headquarters, soon derisively dubbed "The Crystal Palace." For many, the shiny, dark-blue 14-story juggernaut jutting up beside the county courthouse was an example of a bloated bureaucracy out of touch with its constituency. Then when Hurricane Wilma whipped through here last October, the K.C. Wright Building took a real pummeling and became the most visibly damaged structure downtown. Most of the glass on its west side shattered and rained down upon streets and sidewalks. Through the gaping holes vomited papers and folders and fixtures. In the days following, the palace became the leading sightseeing destination, an example of mother nature's wrath, poor construction, and official hubris.
Hibiscus House
The best area hotel is not a hotel at all -- it's a B&B, one of the few stalwarts of its kind to survive surrounded by sprouting condos and opulent resorts. Hibiscus House offers luxury on a small scale, trading the quiet ambiance of a palm-lined street in West Palm's Old Northwood neighborhood for the valet-lined drives that accompany the area's heavy-hitter luxury hotels. Owners Colin Raynor and Raleigh Hill maintain eight unique bedrooms, most with private porches and four-poster beds, and serve up a vast and elaborate breakfast every morning with china and Waterford crystal. The house, a 1922 historic structure in the land of vinyl siding and concrete-slab construction, is the kind of sprawling, multiroomed manse that populates Faulkner novels. It sits in a verdant jungle of a garden fringed with high palm fronds that provides each room with its own lush view. There's no concierge and no Swedish massage, but those would just interfere with the simple delights of staying in a unique and lovingly decorated home, far from the fetters of conspicuous consumption that chain the denizens of Worth Avenue to their monocles and bellhops. Best of all, a stay in Hibiscus House costs just $95 to $210, unheard-of affordability for an accommodation in West Palm Beach that both feeds you and swaddles you in simple elegance.
Argue all you want about whether Sears is "Where America Shops," but the vast parking lot at this long-in-the-tooth strip mall sits mostly empty. Not that Sears and a half-dozen other little businesses at this locale don't get business; it's just that there are so many cars bordering the shopping center, all bogged down in one of the worst designed intersections in Fort Lauderdale. First, there's all the traffic headed east on Sunrise from I-95, which meets the steady, tar-thick flow of north/south traffic on Federal Highway. In this intersection, they merge into one, with drivers who are jockeying into position or, worse, are clueless. Here's a suggestion: Let's get a couple of road engineers, give 'em slide rules and paper, and direct them to incorporate part of Sears Town to devise an intersection that's not a recipe for road rage and brain hemorrhage.
Less than a half-hour flight east lies Bimini, the closest foreign island to mainland America. This seven-mile-long sliver of the Bahamas offers a peaceful respite from the hectic pace of South Florida 50 miles away. You can split your weekend between hanging at the beach and biking and kayaking. The north end of the island is an intricate mangrove forest. In it is a natural phenomenon dubbed "The Healing Hole," which is a section of creek connected to a warren of underground tunnels. When the tide goes out, cold mineral water flows out of the tunnels that some believe has mystical healing powers. If paddling and self-healing isn't your bag, stick to the island's commercial strip, Alice Town, where you'll find saloons the likes of Compleat Angler and End of the World. There are a number of flight options to the island, but Lynx Air (www.lynxair.com) makes a weekend getaway simple and not too expensive. A round trip out of Fort Lauderdale airport for just under $200 leaves Friday afternoons at 12:30 and departs Bimini on Sundays at 2:15 p.m.

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