Holiday Park
In the fall peewee football reigns and the smell of popcorn wafts from the concession stand. In winter Latin-American and Haitian teams in brightly colored soccer jerseys take to the field while, on the basketball court, shirts and skins dribble, then dunk. Paths offer biking and skating, an old train locomotive encourages climbing, and ample shelter is available for the days that rain dampens an intimate picnic. At Holiday Park, which was recently renovated, Broward County's white-skirted seniors can find love at the Jimmy Evert Tennis Center; the homeless may unfurl their bedrolls at twilight and enjoy the park's 91.1 acres of respite. And when the downtown skyline is dusted in sunset and framed by green, even a plodding, obligatory jog becomes a holiday indeed.
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Sorry, but not all of us are down with this whole New Urbanism kick. Building ritzy, cookie-cutter cities with hyperexpensive shops and homes doesn't sound like a good way to build a sense of community to us. It sounds more like a refuge for the Thurston and Lovey Howells among us -- and that's exactly what CityPlace has become. Go out there and see the beautiful people strolling along the fake Main Street or dining at Bellagio or shopping at some "art" store full of trinkets that only the two Dons -- Trump and King -- can afford. Our recent visit there was pleasant and the food and drinks were great (at $7 per margarita, they'd better be), but the atmosphere was so bland we started feeling like extras in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Rich white people everywhere. Yuck. If we see another brightly colored sweater wrapped around somebody's waist, we're gonna hurl. But CityPlace does at least one thing oh-so-right: parking. The huge parking garages are wonderfully located a short escalator ride from the action, and amazingly parking is free. That's right. No change, no bills, no crazy-ass chips that you have to cash in afterward. Fort Lauderdale, are you listening?

Really, what kind of man are you going to find at a bar? Sure, you'll get lucky -- if you consider a fling with a sallow, flabby, weak barfly lucky. We don't. We want taut buns, bulging biceps, healthy lungs, the whole package. That is why we recommend you skip the bar and try the Firm. We're not saying this is an exclusively gay gym; there is no such thing. But we are saying its strategic location near Victoria Park and not far from Wilton Manors makes it a more likely place than other gyms to meet like-minded bodies. And buff ones at that. Recommended pickup line: "Need a spot?"

It's 11 a.m. on the first Sunday morning of the month, and it's a bright sunshiny day. Call the girlfriends and grab the beach blanket or chairs -- you're going out. It's important to be a little more subtle than you are on Saturday night at the Sea Monster, although almost anyone and anything goes along the New River between the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and Las Olas Riverfront during the SunTrust Jazz Brunch. This is the best place to meet the right kind of girl. As one brunch regular puts it, "The unsavory types are nursing hangovers on Sunday, so they're not here." The cool girls come out in droves because they know that the tunes are good (though not always jazzy), and the people-watching is second to none. The smaller stages, such as the Connie Hoffman Gazebo and the New River Inn stage, provide good music and a few choice secluded and shady spots. Lots of foot traffic means that if you spy someone you like, it's not hard to bump into them "accidentally" and start a conversation about the weather or the music. While chatting, wander over to get a bite to eat from some of the vendors, then invite her over to your blanket in the shade. The rest is up to you.

Gilbrace Ristel may be mobile, but come summertime he isn't hard to find. Ristel hails from Haiti, but for seven years he's been a nomad, roaming the often road-blocked residential streets between Federal Highway and Andrews Avenue near downtown Fort Lauderdale. Listen for the tiny tinkling of ice cream truck themes such as "The Entertainer." The music has a languid sound, like a 45 rpm record played at 33. And though Ristel can't hear this classic summer soundtrack from inside his truck, he seems to move at the same easy tempo, never rushing his young customers as they choose from prepackaged treats with names like Creamy Krunch (Ristel's favorite) and Crazy Coconut.
The advantages of breaking off a relationship at a highway rest/food stop are almost too numerous to list. For one thing, thanks to passing traffic no one can hear you if you choose to make a scene. Then there's the transient nature of the other customers, who are more interested in a bathroom break and a quick burger than they are in your love life. The restrooms themselves provide safe refuge, whether it's to wash your face (if you're sad), scrawl some graffiti (if you're mad), or triumphantly groom yourself for your next, er, victim (if you're glad). And of course the metaphor of breaking up next to a highway can't be ignored: Love, like traffic, may stall. But you will always, eventually, move on.

South Florida breeds car burglars like cockroaches; they're everywhere, they like to rifle through your stuff, and they're pretty damn fast. (The only differences are that the thieves aren't quite as big as the roaches and can't fly.) So you never want to park your car out there in the public domain. But every now and then, it happens: You're meeting friends, you plan to ride in their car, and you wonder what to do with your vehicle. The park-and-ride lots have four attributes that make them perfect: They're centrally located along I-95, well-lit, patrolled by Wackenhut, and free. They also stay open round-the-clock. But Tri-Rail does not recommend leaving your car there overnight, because patrols cease about 9 or 10 p.m. and don't resume until 4 a.m. We, however, have braved it through midnight and even later at times and have returned to find our car as safe as a bug in a rug... or maybe a roach in a rug.
Secret Woods Nature Center
Along the south side of the New River, just west of I-95 and north of I-595, lies Secret Woods Nature Center, a 56-acre oak-hammock preserve that's a favorite destination for busloads of kids on school field trips and hikers wanting to explore short trails to observe flora and fauna. In addition to housing raccoons, otters, and other critters, the park is prime habitat for South Florida's big-ass banana spiders, the yellow-and-black arachnids that weave tremendous, orb-shape webs and sit smack in the middle of them, waiting for unsuspecting bugs to become victuals. Lining the trails on both sides and even creating a canopy above the planks, the eight-legged creatures are literally everywhere. If you're squeamish about spiders, rent Charlotte's Web, then saunter on down to Secret Woods and see if you can find a place in your heart for these colorful, if not exactly cuddly, creatures.

To hear some folks tell it, one can truly enjoy the Everglades only by dropping a canoe into the sawgrass and paddling into the sunset, armed with merely a compass, a bottle of insect repellent, and a healthy respect for the region's scaly dominant predator. Fortunately for the less intrepid among us, one needn't go to such extremes to view the wondrous flora and fauna of the River of Grass. The Royal Palm Visitor Center, located on a side road four miles from the park's main entrance in South Miami-Dade, marks the beginning of two short yet breathtaking walks. The Anhinga Trail, much of which extends over the swamp as a boardwalk, teems with wildlife; herons and egrets stalk the shallows, alligators up to 12 feet long vie for prime sunbathing spots, ospreys wheel overhead in search of aquatic prey, and female soft-shell turtles dig their nests -- sometimes within two feet of the trail. The nearby Gumbo Limbo Trail winds through a hammock of the red-barked trees and offers a cool, quiet respite from its more bustling neighbor, the silence broken only by the fluttering of the occasional flycatcher or catbird. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, the center stands near the entrance to the 28-mile network of Long Pine Key Trails, which wind through hardwood hammocks and sawgrass prairie. Or drop a canoe into the water; they're for rent in the Flamingo Lodge, Marina, and Outpost Resort, at the park road's end.
Yes, strolling along Rose Drive just south of Davie Boulevard can bring you more than a view of quaint houses and bougainvillea galore. You can also spot male peacocks preening and strutting as they try to entice their dull-feathered female counterparts into a little bump and grind. If you visit the area at night, you can hear both the conquerors and the conquered crying out from the shadows like cats. The occasional iridescent feather dropped on lawns and sidewalks is the price for all that prancing.

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