Check ´em again, doc
Dimly lit hotel room. Overturned furniture. Four corpses on the floor, covered with sheets. Who´re the stiffs? Tailpipe asks.
A wizened CSI, cigarette smoldering in the corner of his mouth, pulls back the sheet.
¨Pro sports,¨ he says.
¨Pro sports. You know, South Florida pro teams.¨ He pulls back a sheet. ¨Been dying a year or so. Somebody finished them off last night.¨
No way. The ´Pipe knows better. Check their pulse.
The CSI laughs out of the side of his mouth. ¨Dead, all right,¨ he says. ¨I´ve done the tests. All the symptoms. Read my report.¨
He hands Tailpipe a paper form on a clipboard. The ´Pipe struggles to understand the written scrawl.
Indisputable signs of death:
· Dead Man Walking. Thirty-year-old quarterback Daunte Culpepper still hangs on, haunting his fragile 37-year-old replacement, Trent Green, on the downwardly mobile Dolphins.
· Joe Versus the Mendoza. Sub-.200 hot prospect Joe Borchard tangles with the infamous Mendoza Line (the line beneath which no baseball prospect is supposed to sink) for hopelessly mired fourth-place Marlins.
· Goalie Nostalgia. No playoffs, no all-star goalie Roberto Luongo, who was traded to Vancouver for Todd Bertuzzi. The injury-plagued Bertuzzi lasted all of seven games, and the Panthers stink.
· Draft to Nowhere. Daequan Who? Daequan Cook. Try to remember the name. Give the former Ohio State guard a seat on the bench and, yo, Dorell Wright, get him an appointment at the tattoo parlor. Riley don´t play no rookies.
The ´Pipe reaches for his flask. Murder?
¨Nah. A rare quadruple suicide. ¨
C´mon. Maybe it´s just summer doldrums. Check their pulse one more time.
Hoods in Mailmen´s Clothing
That´s no mailman. That´s some hoodlum in a smoke-spewing car, driving down the wrong side of the street. It´s a new nonpostal employee, shoving letters in your mailbox and, according to the real-deal mailmen, maybe even dropping your precious credit card offers and supermarket coupons into a Dumpster somewhere. Should we worry about this dude? Hell, yes, says Don McMahon, who was picketing, along with about 100 other blue-uniformed mailpeople, in front of the new Artesia condominiums in Sunrise last Wednesday. ¨It could be the demise of the postal service!¨
He´s talking about the first glimmerings of a privatized U.S. Postal Service.
The USPS has been quietly using contractors instead of career-track, federally employed letter carriers to deliver some of the mail. Although the practice has been going on for decades in rural areas, the National Association of Letter Carriers is upset to see it growing in cities and towns. NALC spokesperson Tammy Cadwell says that, since 2002, there´s been a 34 percent increase in what´s known as the Contract Delivery Service. In Broward County, she says, contract workers are already operating out of at least three postal stations.
Postal Service spokesperson Debra Fetterly doesn´t understand all the fuss. She says contractors serve only 9,300 delivery points from Pompano Beach to Key West. Compare that with 2 million points served by regular letter carriers (none of whom are being laid off) in the same area, who deliver only three percent of the mail nationwide.
Fetterly says contract workers are required to pass the same hurdles as regular letter carriers: criminal history reviews, fingerprinting, prior employment verification, a driving background check. Drug screening is set to begin July 31. ¨The Postal Service appreciates the great job that letter carriers and rural carriers are doing,¨ Fetterly adds. ¨We´re very proud of our employees.¨
Yeah, your appreciation and a buck-fifty is worth a cold cup of coffee, the protesters say.
Ski (he wouldn´t give his full name), stylishly dressed in a post office-brand floppy hat and shorts, has delivered in sleet, been bitten by a German shepherd, and once even faced a snake that came through a mail slot. Delivering the mail is challenging, he says. He arrives at work at 7 a.m., sorts mail by hand (it´s not all automated, people!), and then has to complete his route by a certain time. Not everyone can hack it -- and not everyone should be allowed to try, he says.
Most drivers, Ski and his friends note, work 56 hours a week over six days. Overtime? Sure, they make overtime. And with a starting salary of $19.00 per hour, that adds up to well over $40,000 a year. So it´s a job worth protecting. Maybe the protesters exaggerate a little. But let the privatizers get a foot in the door and who knows what will follow? Workers with seniority are already seeing desirable routes -- dense ones with little walking or condos with air conditioning -- go to newbie contract workers.
The disgruntled mailmen know what this is really all about. ¨The government doesn´t want to pay middle-class Americans a living wage,¨ said one man who asked not to be named.
If there´s any satisfaction to be found, the mailmen will find it in one place: Washington (Zip Code 20510), where Congress may soon consider the Mail Delivery Protection Act of 2007. Don´t hold your breath. Tailpipe, for one, isn´t optimistic about the prospects of a bill to make working people a little less expendable.
Let´s Be Civil
So these developers want to build another tower, right next door to the tower that a lot of rich people spent a lot of money to move into. This is literally in-your-face development, and the residents of Las Olas River House, that blue 42-story building that looms over the New River in Fort Lauderdale, were ready to push back. Tailpipe is talking about an ¨informational¨ meeting of the Downtown Fort Lauderdale Civic Association the other day, at which plans for the new 27-story 100 East Las Olas were being discussed.
About 50 Las Olas River House residents, who stand to have their precious stratospheric views impeded by new construction, crashed the party in the seventh-floor conference room at the Las Olas Grand. It was not a pretty confrontation.
In the middle of an impassioned speech in which one River House resident called the development firm Tarragon ¨appalling¨ for its reticence about parking and traffic problems the proposed new building might cause, Tarragon Vice President Michael Dumala cracked a smile.
¨I´m going to wipe that smile off your face,¨ said a bearded man, dressed in a burnt-sienna button down.
Somebody else interrupted. He was here to hear a presentation on the new building, not the complaints of River House folks, he said.
¨Excuse me -- may I finish?¨ the angry man asked.
¨No, you´re done,¨ the would-be argument stifler replied. Then he repeated with emphasis: ¨You´re done.¨
No so fast. He wasn´t done. ¨Who are you to say I´m done?¨ the angry man asked.
¨I´m me,¨ said the argument stifler, who was beginning to seem more like an argument stoker. ¨Are you going to mop the floor with me?¨
Nervous laughter from the crowd. Then Roberta Schecter, an elderly member of the civic association who was wearing sparkly earrings, spoke up.
¨Can we be civil about this?¨ she asked.
¨Let´s be civil,¨ one crowd member said. ¨Let´s be civil,¨ agreed another.
¨I was civil!¨ said somebody who was not directly involved but apparently felt persecuted.
The angry man still wasn´t done. ¨If you sit there with a smirk on your face,¨ he said to Dumala, ¨I´m going to get even more angry.¨
¨I am not sitting here with a smirk on my face,¨ said Dumala, struggling to contain his smirk, ¨and I apologize if it came across that way.¨
The president of the civic association called the meeting back to order, somebody called the angry man a prick, and the presentation continued.
The big question from the River House side: Why couldn´t the developers make the neighboring building a little less hulking, a little less damaging to River House property values?
Tailpipe is not sure where this is heading. Will well-to-do tenants who bought apartments based on their sweeping views of the New River and the Atlantic convince city planners that the plan is truly appalling? Or will developers, propelled by the prerogatives of ownership, prevail? Quién sabe? All this emissions-venting cylinder knows is that, when it comes to property rights, the veneer of ¨civility¨ can be as fragile as that of a street brawl.