By the time Wyclef Jean arrived at the historic Bonnet House in Fort Lauderdale, party guests, paparazzi, and one of those never-catch-me-without-trendy-clothing guys from WSVN-TV's Deco Drive were being eaten alive by no-see-ums.
It was 7:30 on a late April evening, and photographers and cameramen were waiting impatiently near a red carpet placed in front of a silver backdrop promoting the new Trump International Hotel & Tower, a 298-unit condominium hotel currently under construction on Fort Lauderdale Beach.
Wyclef's entrance was unmistakable. Everyone else had been forced to valet his car in a dirt lot, then take a shuttle to the plantation-style estate near the Intracoastal Waterway. But Wyclef and his crew pulled right up to the entrance of the mansion and with ostentatious class. Wyclef and three associates piled out of a brown Maybach. Three others opened the doors of a silver Maybach. And two more popped out of a red Italian sports car with those gaudy doors that reach to the sky when opened.
There was nearly $1 million worth of automobile outside the Bonnet House.
Dressed in an expensive black suit and wearing a black-and-pink-striped tie, Wyclef waved at the gaggle of media and headed toward the red carpet. He'd come a long way since his days as a Fugee, when he would intone: "I'm far from a jive turkey."
And he is. These days, Wyclef is a businessman.
Wyclef was helping capitalist-turned-TV star Donald Trump sell gulp! condos to a bunch of white, starstruck dupes with too much discretionary income and an unwillingness to believe that South Florida's once-blistering real estate market started a nosedive in mid-2005.
A reporter asked Wyclef the obvious: Donald Trump and... you?
"[Trump] rules," Wyclef said with a straight face. "He's real tough when it comes to business. I'm like a sponge right now. I know I can pick up things from him."
Holding a microphone, Pina Darcyl pushed her way forward. An upbeat, blond Argentine with a nose as elegantly shaped as a boxer's, Darcyl is the host of ¡Viva Florida!, a TV show in Argentina that promotes Florida real estate to Latin American investors. But even on real estate shows in South America, one subject reigns supreme: Shakira, Shakira, Shakira, whose song with Wyclef, "Hips Don't Lie," has been in heavy radio rotation in both hemispheres.
"When Mr. Trump comes to Argentina to build a new project, will you and Shakira perform for us?" Darcyl asked.
Wyclef looked baffled.
"Maybe Mr. Trump will fly you down to Argentina so you can perform with Shakira," Darcyl added.
"If Mr. Trump will fly me down, I'll be there," Wyclef said, trying to recover as a handler touched his arm and directed him away from the media.
"¡Viva Florida!" Darcyl said into the camera.
Twenty minutes later, Donald Trump arrived, pulling up to the Bonnet House in a black limousine. His son Don was by his side as the flashing bulbs from the cameras popped in his face. Don looked on in a vacant stare, as if someone had exhausted him with a trigonometry exam in the limo.
Dressed in his trademark black suit and blue-and-white tie, Trump strode to the red carpet. He was here to answer questions from the media. Or so it seemed. In fact, only two correspondents had been preselected, their questions as heavily screened as the guest list.
"So do you like South Florida and Fort Lauderdale?" the guy from Deco Drive asked.
Trump gave a canned response about how much he loves the Sunshine State.
Darcyl followed. She represented the most important news media here tonight, the one that can reach deep-pocketed Latin Americans who aren't frightened by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's interest-rate-increasing campaign to halt inflation.
"So you like Florida, Mr. Trump?" she asked, apparently inspired by the brilliance of the Deco Drive stooge.
"I love Florida," Trump answered, opening yet another canned response. "Florida is an exciting place to be. It's an international destination. And the new Trump International Fort Lauderdale adds to that excitement. It's right here in beautiful Fort Lauderdale, near the wonderful city of Miami and close to my own home in Mar-A-Lago."
"Our show is broadcast in Argentina. Have you ever been there?"
"Many, many times."
A media handler's arm came into camera view: Time was up.