The Go-Ped is an annoying little scooter, a kind of cross between a kid's foot-propelled Razor and the Vespa, those putt-putt scooters that jam European streets. Floridian motorists often see twerps on Go-Peds whizzing along sidewalks at speeds of up to 20 m.p.h., sending pedestrians leaping into hedges. It's a hot little toy, with a feisty one-horsepower engine and fat, treaded tires -- and, for asphalt veterans like Tailpipe, a cause for spitting black smoke in all directions. (Let's do away with the gewgaws, the 'Pipe says.) The market for the Go-Ped in South Florida seems to be wealthy adolescent boys and guys like Dan Robinson.
A 41-year-old handyman from Delray Beach, Robinson used to use his Go-Ped for nightcrawling; it was a handy means of transportation between bars and restaurants and Robinson's house.
But a year ago, Robinson was riding his Go-Ped through a Delray Beach neighborhood at 2 a.m. -- coming home from a late dinner, he insists -- when a cop stopped him. Robinson had made an illegal U-turn, cut off two cars, and rolled through a red light while making a right turn, Delray Beach Police Officer Vinnie Gray said. Smelling booze on Robinson's breath, Gray asked him to take a sobriety test. Robinson refused, and Gray arrested him.
It was a case of harassment, Robinson says now. Gray, who did not return a phone call for comment, had arrested Robinson on a DUI charge five years earlier, and he had it in for the handyman, Robinson claims. Robinson, who had already been busted twice for DUI while driving a real vehicle, decided to go to the mat to fight it.
Robinson hired Boca Raton lawyer Adam Frankel, who took the case to trial last month. Frankel argued that the state can't charge Go-Ped riders with DUI because they're not legal to drive on the streets anyway. The Go-Ped is not a motor vehicle, he argued, but a toy.
The argument worked. A jury on January 21 acquitted Robinson. "This very well may be precedent-setting," Frankel says. "The government has been saying these are not vehicles, so then it can't also charge them with drunk driving."
And you thought all the big air-clearing cases came from nine sourpuss justices in Washington, D.C.
Robinson isn't taking any more chances. "I parked my Go-Ped," he says. " I walk home."
Call Me, Darlin'
The Turbaned One is back. With her crystal ball and snake-oil smile, Miss Cleo (real name: Youree Harris) showed up recently on television ads for Plantation-based Uncle Mel's Used Cars. The shaman-seer has resurrected her controversial character, only this time around, it's just Cleo, no Miss.
"We've latched onto the iconic status she has," explains Michelle Eve, the PR maven who works with Uncle Mel's. The commercial, which pokes fun at Cleo's former career as spokeswoman for the Psychic Readers Network, features ad-libbed banter between Cleo and "Uncle" Mel Dubin, the dealership's owner.
In case you were living in a bomb shelter for several years and missed it, Miss Cleo used to be the television spokeswoman for the Psychic Readers Network, which offered late-night television viewers clairvoyant advice about relationships. The "free readings" from "psychic associates" sometimes ended up costing hundreds of dollars.
In 2002, assistant state attorney general David Aronberg (now a state senator from Greenacres) spotted Miss Cleo's "call me now for your free readin'!" ads and sued the Fort Lauderdale firm responsible for the ads. Miss Cleo wasn't found culpable for the misdeeds of the company, but the whole conniving enterprise was shut down. Crystal ball met mothballs.
But Cleo still has -- to paraphrase a recent Bushism -- media capital. "She's a superstar," Mel raves. "She knows what she's doing. I never got into any predictions with her, but she's a very spiritual lady."
Aronberg, who lives in West Palm Beach, missed Cleo's recent return to the airwaves. Thanks to TiVo, the former assistant attorney doesn't have to sit through late-night commercials ever again. Aronberg has no opinion of the new Cleo commercials. Tailpipe suggests, sure, check out Uncle Mel's cheap heaps. But when a glad-handing Jamaican lady comes around with contracts, sign nothing.
Very Happy Landings
Miami Herald Publisher Alberto Ibargüen, the newspaper's first head honcho of Hispanic descent, recently announced his resignation. A surprise, maybe. But Ibargüen's 10-year tenure at 1 Herald Plz. hasn't been a resounding success. Journalists criticized him for slashing editorial budgets. Circulation numbers continued to plummet, though the Herald became the most profitable of Knight-Ridder's newspapers. "Five-Minute Herald" was born. And Street, the Herald's free weekly newspaper designed to compete with New Times, published its final issue just last month.
But Ibargüen, a former Peace Corps volunteer and attorney, won't see any hard times ahead. Knight-Ridder, the Herald's parent company, offered the executive one hell of a golden parachute. Once he steps down from the Herald in July, Ibargüen will replace Hodding Carter III as president of the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes journalism ethics and free press. Based on Carter's most recent compensation package, Ibargüen will rake in about $400,000 per year, plus roughly $125,000 in benefits.
-- As told to Edmund Newton
Parimutuel owners are mounting a three million dollar campaign in Broward and Miami-Dade counties to convince voters to approve slot machines at race tracks and frontons on March 8. The gizmos could mean big tax bucks for local schools, the pitch goes, but -- the 'Pipe suggests -- why not go the full nine yards: Combine tracks with school work.