Covenant House Florida

In a world of random cruelty, Covenant House is a blessed constant — a place where homeless teens can go at any time of the day or night to find food and shelter. If they elect to stay, they have the option of using Covenant House's in-house programs to save money, further their education, and find employment. Unlike the Salvation Army, Covenant House is never too full to take in one more person: There is always a bed, and if there is no bed, there is at least a mat and a blanket in a cool, clean room.

James Randi's crusade began in the early 1970s, when Uri Geller convinced a bunch of Stanford scientists that he could bend spoons with the power of his mind. Randi painfully exposed Geller as a fraud in a segment on the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. In the years since, he founded the James Randi Educational Foundation and has taken on faith healers, psychics, mediums, astrologers, redneck martial artists, homeopaths, theosophists, scientologists, spiritualists, fairies, and, beginning in 2003, gods. At the age of 36, Randi began offering money to anyone who could demonstrate a paranormal ability under proper laboratory conditions. Randi is now 80, the prize has swelled to $1 million, and nobody's claimed it yet. Randi's fairly certain that nobody will before he passes over into the Big Nothing. But as always, he is willing to be proved wrong.

Good government needs checks and balances, which is why Mayor Lois Frankel needs Mitchell. Frankel has had notoriously close ties to developers. That, plus her close friendship with Joan Goldberg, project manager of the city's ambitious, expensive waterfront project, begs the question of whether the mayor could really be objective on the matter. Mitchell wanted to use that money in the city's blighted neighborhoods — and her instincts are usually right. Take the massive City Center project. Mitchell was the one commissioner who thought the city should delay construction until after the voters had cast ballots on the issue. By forging ahead, the city got hauled into court, which brought costly delays and legal expenses. Mitchell is such a forceful, pesky adversary to Frankel that the Palm Beach Post wondered whether Frankel had directed the city attorney to disqualify Mitchell's reelection candidacy based on a petty technicality. The maneuver cost West Palm taxpayers the expense of a special election, and Mitchell won anyway. Today, she's more powerful than ever and planning a mayoral bid in 2011, when Frankel is termed out. Perhaps then, Mitchell will finally get the wish she made during a commission meeting in August when, after a fresh round of harassment from the mayor, Mitchell said "Leave me the fuck alone, Lois," and stormed off the dais. Frankel's tough, but in Mitchell, she has met her match.

PRL Euro Cafe
Carina Mask

Start off with tapas at La Barraca. Sample the sepia a la plancha, the Mediterranean cuttlefish, grilled and topped with drippy garlic and olive oil. Or order bravely from the chilled menu with boquerones en vinagre, white anchovies cured in a vinegar, garlic, and parsley solution. Then stroll down the road and knock back cold Polish beers with strangers at PRL Euro Café before stumbling into Beefeater, everyone's favorite Argentine steak house. Once you've stuffed yourself full of chimichurri sauce, pasta, and skirt steak, go walk it off with a lovers' stroll through the now wonderfully manicured Young Circle. (If you can, make out under the musical tree.) You will, inevitably, reach a point where you must have espresso in order to close the evening, so sit a spell at Chocolada. Let the beautiful Eastern European counter helpers guide you through row upon row of salivation-worthy pastries (most of which cost less than $3) as they prepare your doppio sidecar. If your date isn't smitten by the night's end, immediately delete his profile from your Facebook page and move on to someone more adventurous.

If you're looking for all the games they play in Las Vegas, you'll have better luck at one of the Seminole casinos (or, you know, Las Vegas). If you're looking for a taste of the swanky, martini-in-hand, expensive-cigar, high-roller lifestyle, there's only one place in South Florida. Isle of Capri just spent more than $100 million to make what was an anachronistic harness track full of degenerates into the finest upscale gambling parlor in the tricounty region. The slots are diverse and plentiful, the simulcast betting opportunities abundant, and the comforting wooden walls and high-tech tables in the poker room make it seem more like a captain's lounge than a casino. For booze, there are no fewer than four bars. Food patrons can have a pastrami sandwich and an egg cream at Myron's or a steak and cognac at Farraddays'. It's not the Bellagio, but it's as close as it gets down here.

It's almost 9 p.m. You're on the patio at Rosie's with a bucket full of rum and pineapples and you're about to bite into a Young Ranch Hand (a chicken sandwich with ranch dressing). From the speakers blasts a series of fabulous but forgotten pop songs. Down the block, men scoot down the sidewalk to the sounds of trance music pouring from the open shops. Across the street, a parade of drag queens marches by. Some of them are singing Disney show tunes. There's truly something for everyone in Wilton Manors. It's much more than the safe, clean neighborhoods that make this the best place to live. It's pizza at Humpys. Or beers at Georgie's Alibi. Coffee at Java Boys. A night of candy from To the Moon. A burger at Bill's Filling Station. The freaks in the middle of the night at Peter Pan Diner and breakfast at Simply Delish. It's the smiling faces of the dog walkers. It's certainly the friendliest place in South Florida. It's the insanity of Halloween, the biggest night of the year, and the most elaborate Christmas decorations around. Most of all, it's the celebration of diversity and acceptance.

Hollywood Beach Theatre

We're not exactly breaking news when we tell you that the beachside Hollywood Broadwalk is one of the best places to stroll around for a look-see; heck, even USA Today named it among America's "top ten nostalgic promenades." The 2.2-mile, brick-paved stretch between North Beach Park and the Westin Diplomat has an old-time, mom-and-pop feel. Except for a Marriott, it's largely unmolested by towering condos, and besides a Häagen-Dazs, there's nary a chain in sight. Here, the scenery is modest but satisfying: Buff guys don headbands and grunt around the paddleball (yes, paddleball!) courts, hairy-chested Russians in thick gold chains slurp their borscht, and seasonal refugees from Quebec can be overheard babbling gossip in French. On balmy nights, grayhairs dance to big-band music under the stars at the Beach Theater, and on Sundays, ladies squeeze melons at Josh's Organic Garden (open until 5:31 p.m.). City planners stack the calendar with classic car shows, Brazilian fests, and Mardi Gras parties; and year after year, Groundhog Day begins with a 6:30 a.m. spaghetti breakfast at Ocean Alley restaurant, followed by a polar dip. All this good, grungy fun and eye candy draws lookers from that other Hollywood — the show Burn Notice was filmed at the Diane Motel, Owen Wilson shot scenes from Marley & Me at Nick's Restaurant, and even Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan — known as the Brad Pitt of India — starred in singing and dancing sequences on the beach (in the film Dostana). Take that, Mizner Place!

Who shares your crush on author Neil deGrasse Tyson? Who could understand that your goals include touring the Galapagos Islands and observing the mating dance of the blue-footed booby? Who else wants to gather around cake and educational discussion on Darwin's birthday? The Center for Inquiry of Fort Lauderdale, that's who. This group of educators, and science enthusiasts from all walks of life is a geeky refuge in a world where "intelligent design" jockeys constantly for the limelight. It is here, over dinners, campouts, and informative lectures, that you know you can let your inner geek roam freely without fear of it being stuffed inside the Great Locker of Religion-Influenced Society. CFI's organizational crew brings in revered scientists and professors from across the country to speak at its events. Some chisel apart factually infeasible portions of the Bible, while others share new ideas about evolution's influence on the human psyche. The best part? You're encouraged to approach all of it skeptically, then research what you've learned and argue the points that feel weakest to you. This is a place for debate, discussion, and discovery, and we are grateful to have it in our own backyard. [Insert glasses readjustment here.]

The Palm Beach Country Club

The first rule of stealing from the rich is not to talk about stealing from the rich — at least, not until you're in prison. Now that I, Bernie Madoff, am securely behind bars, let's talk. By now, you must know that the Palm Beach Country Club was founded in the 1950s so that wealthy Jews like me could enjoy all the luxury of those WASP clubs.

Here we suffered no ethnic slurs, no tasteless Jewish jokes. Here we could trust one another — if only here. The social pressure against violating that trust made it sacred. It is said that I convinced a third of the club's 300 members to invest with me.

That sounds about right. They are all fabulously wealthy but none as wealthy as they wished, and the genius of my stealing from the rich (if you must call it that) is my way of making the victim believe that he was the one getting money for nothing.

It took $1 million to even converse with me about investing and a great many millions more for me to decide it was actually worth my while. Had I taken more than a third, you see, then the club clique of Madoff investors would lose too much of its air of exclusivity, a quality every bit as appealing to my victims as the absurdly high rate of returns my investments allegedly made.

The Florida Research Institute for Equine Nurturing, Development and Safety Inc. ranch is just a good place — for birds, for raccoons, for pigs and goats and donkeys, for a family of very happy old farm cats, and especially for the 40 horses rescued by the ranch. The horses are available for sponsorship, but their full-time caretaker and custodian is 60-year-old woman Lynne Mandry: a no-shit-taking kind of chick who most every morning loads 40 horses' worth of hay and alfalfa onto a tractor, distributes it to the horses, brings the animals in from pasture, loads and distributes a bunch of feed, checks the horses for wounds or signs of illness, gives them their meds, tops off their water, and then preps their feed trays for the next day. She moves tons of grain, gives lime dips and baths, tends to the pigs and goats, and generally keeps the ranch's animal populations alive and healthy. It's a lot for a lady to do, and she's always grateful for help. Those who decide to offer it wind up grateful too — for the opportunity to get out in the air, befriend some fantastic creatures, and do good for their fellow mammals.

It was a banner year for white-collar criminals, and it seems that every single one of 'em had Boca Raton stomping grounds. Bernard Madoff suckered Boca members of the Palm Beach Country Club. Alleged mini-Madoffs R. Allen Stanford of the Stanford Group and $700 million man Marc Dreier both kept Boca Raton offices, presumably to tap into a vein of wealthy, miserly retirees liable to look credulously at fairly incredulous investment returns. So by the time the feds busted Boca accountant Steven Rubinstein in early April, the financial-fraud superstar trope had run its course. And that's a shame, because if the case against him is any indication, Rubinstein deserves his place on the region's Mount Rushmore of fraudsters. Where his cohorts were flamboyant and reckless in their greed, Rubinstein was modest, punctilious even — his alleged crimes swimming in a sea with those of hundreds, maybe thousands of other filthy-rich Americans who relied upon the secrecy of Swiss bank accounts to swindle the U.S. of A. out of tax dollars. In Rubinstein's case, it meant the alleged failure to report millions of dollars held in UBS accounts. But after the U.S. Justice Department and IRS caught the Swiss bank in its cheat, UBS had to pay a $780 million settlement and betray the confidences of its wealthy clientele. The first sacrificial lamb to be offered: the suddenly luckless Steven Rubenstein, a 55-year-old with a pristine legal history who probably never imagined he'd see the inside of a jail cell. Surely, as the feds pry open this massive can of worms, there will be many more Rubinsteins. But if Swiss tax shelters were a Garden of Eden to the nation's most affluent, then Rubenstein is Adam, alleged committer of the original sin whose exile may stand as a lesson to all who come hence.

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