Toss back a couple of drinks at Ugly Tuna or Martini Bar, hook your arm around your date's waist, and saunter north. Past the scooped-out palm stump where sparrows sip and bathe, across the train tracks, and beside the Old Fort Lauderdale Museum of History. The only thoroughfare here, in the heart of a car-mad sprawl, is the New River, nuzzling against its concrete banks where the yachts nod and the algae faints, recovers, and faints again beneath the surface. The sabal palm and acacia absorb noise and light. From a few blocks away comes the rasp of tires raking over the steel drawbridge on SW Fourth Avenue. A little farther on, near the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science, find the curious educational displays on the mechanics of human sight and the use of the astrolabe. Underfoot are the personalized bricks dedicated to loved ones both living and lost, with little notes ("Dearest Samuel, You intoxicate my soul! Love, Angela") that describe lives lived not in stone but in temporary flesh. To that end, the walk includes memorials to fallen police officers and a local Audie Murphy type named Sandy Nininger, whose heroics in the Pacific Theater made him (posthumously) the first Congressional Medal of Honor winner in World War II. So what if the $7.7 million Riverwalk project is mired in construction delays, contract disputes, political finger-pointing, and general Fort Lauderdale civic botchitude? You get ornithology, marine biology, botany, anatomy, astronomy, history -- all while you're just trying to walk off a $20 buzz in relative peace.
Wait a second. This looks familiar. Yes, it's on the water, and yes, the boats are cool -- but something's amiss. Do you see the kiosks selling $12 sunglasses, little panda figurines, and beaded bracelets and displaying the "We can write a name on any buckle" sign? Do you hear the sounds of a cover/garage band playing "Brown Eyed Girl" for the umpty-jillionth time? Have you tried the $3.99, you-get-what-you-pay-for lunch special at Max's Grille? Are you seriously telling me that you're buying "home décor" from a store that also sells T-shirts remarking "mr. winkie wants to buy you a drinkie"? Do you hear the visitor from the Midwest comment about the whole setting, "It just seethes with tacky energy"? You say this is prime downtown commercial real estate and a centerpiece for the whole county -- but this is common, this is fungible, this is derivative, this is a Hooters above a Johnny Rockets. This looks a lot like -- a damned mall. People come from all over the world to visit Fort Lauderdale. And when they leave, this is what they tell their friends about. Or not.
If you can do without a room -- which would set you back $285 to $3,650 a night -- the Breakers is actually a cheap thrill. You need not be a guest of the hotel to take advantage of a lot of its amenities. Bellmen crowd the lobby doors like penguins, while locals and tourists swarm in and out to get treatments at the spa, shop in the boutiques, or dine in one of the hotel's eight restaurants. Munch on the free peanuts and spring for a drink (the $7.50 Pinot Grigio is a better deal than the $9 bottle of Evian) at the Seafood Bar, where the countertop is actually an aquarium full of live fish and the windows look out on the Atlantic Ocean. No one will stop you from playing a game on the six-foot-high vertical chessboard in the Tapestry Bar or from walking through the hedge maze or from killing time in the video arcade. You can even skip the valet by parking for free just past the guard gate.
For $2 per minute, you could see a top-of-the-line sex therapist, hire Michelle Kwan's ice-skating coach, or get a private reading from psychic Zayna Ravenheart. For the same price, you can get a serious adrenaline high at Speed Indoor Racing, the high-speed go-kart track that opened last year. Racing costs $11 for a five-minute session, $19.95 for a ten-minute session, $28 for a 15-minute session. A clean headsock -- a ski mask-looking thing that you slip on under your helmet to protect you from other people's sweat and cooties -- will run you another $3. After the high school kids who run the place have schooled you on how to drive the low-riding karts and shown you how not to burn yourself on the motor while sliding in and out, slam the pedal on the right and go whipping around rubber corners at speeds of 45 mph -- seat-belt-free! After your short stint as a human centrifuge, you'll receive a stats page that gives you all your lap times. The track is open to anyone over 8 years old, 53 or more inches tall, and under 300 pounds. Here, grown men giggle like little boys, little boys drive like demons, and girls who discover that the karts vibrate while idling get their not-so-cheap thrills before even pressing the gas pedal.
Ron Dupont doesn't want to be known as the roach guy, but these days, he just can't help it. Dupont says his is the only pet store he knows of selling roaches -- live roaches -- something desperately needed for owners of most reptiles. And what's worse, Dupont's roaches are notoriously tasty. "We call them 'tropical cream-filled roaches' because they're so juicy," he says. Dupont sells thousands of the little buggers every week at 8 to 39 cents apiece, and soon, he fears, he'll likely be known for them. Really, he'd rather be known for his reptiles. Dupont's been in the reptile business since he started catching snakes at 15 years old in his back yard and selling them to pet stores. Now at 63, he imports reptiles from around the world at his shop, Wild Cargo Pets & Supplies. He sells about 2,700 lizards a year. Usually, boa constrictors start from $119 to $149, and monitor lizards can be found for at least $40. Dupont will also special-order, like yellow phase tree pythons that run about $700. Dupont also sells tarantulas ($20 to $150 for rare ones) and an odd assortment of reptile food, including bloodworms, mealworms, and crickets. But more than anything, Dupont can't keep the roaches in the store. "People will come back and say, 'Man those roaches are juicy.' They can't get enough of them."
A great vet becomes truly noteworthy after you've had a few bad ones. Arch Gordon's tableside manner is so effortlessly kind, benevolent, and caring, it's worth giving him his due. We know a certain cat terrified of thunderstorms, vacuum cleaners, doorbells, and even its own shadow that regularly melts into Gordon's capable hands during checkups, purring contentedly. Feline and canine office visits run around $40; rabies shots are $15 extra. He seems to have a way with dogs too -- from the little yappy lap dogs to the poodles-as-fashion-accessories and the pampered pooches belonging to the high-class ladies living near the beach. Be you one of the bejeweled set or just a normal sort with a normal pet, Gordon's comforting, compassionate aura of concern makes a visit to the vet as painless as possible.
OK, you've got Fido on that special vegan diet, and his mock turtleneck sweater is made of hemp. So what's next to make your dog a true reflection of your hippie roots? Holistic medicine, of course. It's sure to restore your mutt's inner peace -- which does not require a pooper scooper. At Friendship Animal Wellness Center, veterinarian Carol Falck will give your pet a holistic checkup for $125, followed by a recommendation for treatment from Chinese medicine to traditional veterinary care (which runs about $42 per visit). For some animals, the prescription is for acupuncture ($50 a visit), which can especially aid with arthritis. Follow it up with an aromatherapy bath with slippery elm and rose geranium. Top it off with a spritz of doggy cologne made from nutmeg and lime. The center also offers Reiki, an ancient form of medicine that, according to its website, involves moving energy, restoring your pet's "natural state of wholeness on all levels -- mental, physical, emotional and spiritual." That's right, spiritual. Don't you know what dog spelled backward is?
These things just don't look like they should fly. A powered parachute is no more than a shopping-cart-sized craft with a big fan on the back, attached to a parachute fluttering above. But somehow, it can glide along at 30 mph, 800 feet above the hard, unforgiving Earth. Larry Littlefield, a retired airline pilot and powered-parachute instructor, promises it's not as precarious as it looks. Littlefield gives lessons at the Lantana Airport and sells the powered-parachute crafts, which cost about $17,000 new and $13,000 used. Lessons cost about $100 an hour and require about 35 hours before students can go off on death-defying -- uh, we mean safe -- trips on their own. Littlefield says the trips are worth the constant questions about whether he's nuts. "Ever seen the movie E.T. ?" he asks. "Remember the kids gliding over the houses on bikes? That's what it's like." The slow, careful glide of the powered parachute allows its pilot and a single passenger to take everything in, he says. "You just watch the world drift by. Slow and low is where it's at." Hopefully, just not too slow or too low.
Eduardo, the short aerobics instructor who is trying to kill you, looks at you with zero sympathy as you lift the medicine ball above your chest, looking not unlike a dying cockroach. "Get stronger!" he says. And you do. Tough and unsmiling as Eduardo is, you still manage to feel very happy, very healthy, and very buff by the end of his Circuit Sculpt class, during which you'll race from station to station lifting weights, doing squats, and performing a sick amount of lunges. The other instructors -- like kickboxing coach/Japanese drummer Roy or cute little bendy thing Tara -- also make exercise a good time at the Zoo. It's not a big place, but what it lacks in space it makes up for in homey quirks. The bottom floor of this Fort Lauderdale beachside institution fits only the check-in desk and a smoothie bar. The second floor has just one aerobics room and a modest assortment of free weights, exercise bikes, and machines. But the roof is like a ghetto penthouse. Sure, the free weights are a little rusty from the weather, but here, you can join a cycling class, get a tan, watch kiteboarders, take in the sunset (or sunrise), and feel superior to all the fatsos down below. Membership (about $45 a month) includes a parking pass.
At first, Dewing's Fly & Gun Shop may look a bit out of place, sandwiched between a doggy bakery and an upscale seafood joint in downtown West Palm Beach. But a look at the 2,700 guns inside -- and their price tags -- reveals why Dewing's does so well. The guns, with inlays of ivory and gold and encrustments of rare jewels, can run as much as $1.5 million. That's a rare price; most cost several thousands of dollars for rifles that often took years to make. Dewing's is one of three gun shops in the country selling a large collection of high-end, handmade shotguns, owner Adam Trieschmann says. Palm Beachers looking to stock their hunting lodges out west or gazillionaires flying in on private jets to pick up rifles is common. "I can never have enough unique pieces," Trieschmann says. "I got a $50,000 rifle in yesterday, and it sold yesterday." Despite the high prices of some of the guns, the store is surprisingly approachable. The place has the feel of a hunting lodge with mounted animals, comfy leather couches, and wood paneling. Most of the guns can be picked up, although the more expensive ones are behind glass. And its neighbors appreciate the business; women hit the doggy bakery while men browse the rifles, and then together they hit Spoto's Oyster Bar next door for lunch.

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