Rush-hour drivers crawled by on Johnson Street, gawking and open-mouthed.
A reporter on her cell phone waved at one of the choppers as she spoke to someone inside it a few hundred feet in the air.
Nothing going on down here, she said, cutting through the hive of her peers.
Meanwhile, back on the rez, most employees of the Seminole Hard Rock were oblivious to the fact that Anna Nicole Smith who, according to Tailpipe's sources, was actually in town to buy a boat had been staying there this week (she had checked in Monday). And they would hardly have raised an eyebrow if they'd seen her. "She's always here," a female employee said, "ever since she filmed a TrimSpa commercial out by the big Hard Rock sign about two years ago." Smith would rarely gamble or party in public at the hotel. "She would just go to the restaurants and go upstairs to her room."
One young employee said he had been working at a retail shop near the Hard Rock restaurant when he saw the paramedics wheeling a gurney by, but "I didn't think anything of it. It happens all the time all the old people, you know. I thought someone won the jackpot and had a heart attack."
Another staffer, who had helped in maintenance during his two years on the job, said that he didn't see Smith this week but that he wouldn't be surprised if her death were attributed to a drug overdose. "Last time she stayed here, her room was closed for two months because we had to remodel there were razor blade scratches in all the tables. We had to replace the furniture, fix the stereo, paint the walls they were all stained. We had to change the carpet it smelled in there." He would not be surprised if Smith's death occurred on the 12th floor home of "what we call the live-like-a-rock-star suites." (Actually, she'd been staying on the sixth floor. But then, Anna wasn't exactly a rock star.)
But death and debauchery are not new to the facility. "Do you have any idea of how much shit happens that people never hear of because it never makes it out of here? Homicides, suicides. People lose all their money and kill themselves," the female employee claimed. She said that because the Seminole nation doesn't have to report incidents in the hotel because it's on the reservation, arrests, drug use, and even deaths were going unnoticed by the larger public. Managers, they said, "treat you like shit," and the turnover is so high that there are "two new people every week."
So why stick around?
Said the young woman: "I meet celebrities all the time. I've seen every single celebrity zooted out of their head." Just this week, she said, she met Dennis Rodman, R. Kelly, Pauly Shore, and Magic Johnson. And besides, "the money is amazing." When she worked as a server, "I made $500 a night."
At 4 p.m., there had been a shift change, so many of the employees were just learning the news as they got to work. Mumbled a dealer manning a poker table: "They don't tell us much. She's always here, though."
A worker in the food court said she saw paramedics wheeling Anna Nicole through the lobby. But she didn't know anything more Thursday was her first day of work. Four other people we questioned said the same thing.
A Hooters waitress was saying that she had never seen Anna Nicole when her manager appeared, got right in her face, and said, "Why were you 20 minutes late tonight?" She blamed traffic.
In front of the fancy seafood place Bluepoint, a teary, hand-wringing waitress was singled out for an outdoor upbraiding from her boss. He was pointing at her. Pacing. Swearing. Screaming. A New Times writer made eye contact, and her whole face trembled with embarrassment.
Guests, meanwhile, were chattering about the news, many talking into cell phones.
A pair of pierced and tattooed young punks was discussing Anna Nicole's drug use. "It's not crack if you're rich, dude," one admonished the other. "It's called freebase!"
What all of this meant, Tailpipe surmised, was that a troubled little South Florida city with more than its share of overdevelopment and corruption has now graduated to a kind of post-millennial media Valhalla, where paparazzi hungrily prowl for celebrity sightings, familiar faces are unmasked in unflattering mug shots, and reality-television stars come to die of drug overdoses.
That's real progress, Tailpipe thought. At least, the Hard Rock can expect a lot of new business.