Manatees are everywhere now, slow-moving, bovine, as graceless as hippos in ballet slippers. So prevalent have they become that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the American Watercraft Association lobbied to get manatees downgraded to "threatened" from "endangered." There are an estimated 3,000 manatees roaming Florida waterways, they say, up from 1,500 a decade ago.
Well, thanks to environmental and save-the-manatee groups (with a nudge from Gov. Charlie Crist), the downgrade failed — for now. Boaters will have to keep slowing to no-wake speed while skimming through known manatee hangouts.
But has anyone actually seen one lately? The 'Pipe set out on a manatee hunt this month and turned up a whole lotta nada. And, yes, it is the season for manatee sightings. The slow-moving creatures typically begin arriving in these parts from chillier waters in northern Florida after November 15.
First stop on the 'Pipe's manatee expedition: Port Everglades. Many a Broward school child remembers navigating flimsy wooden docks to get a peep at the blubbery mammals that used to congregate there. The kids would toss in bits of bread and leaves, hoping the sea cows would snarf up the grub. The water was crystal clear, they said, and brimming with tropical fish. It was an experience no aquarium could match.
Port security viewed Tailpipe's mission with the same excoriating skepticism with which they look at Arab kids with wires sticking out of their shirts. Where did this miserable auto accessory think he was going?
To look at manatees.
"Oh no you're not. You're making a U-turn."
Well, then, tell me. Are there any manatees out there in restricted waterfront?
"I seen 'em," said the guard.
Anecdotal evidence. A start.
Next stop: the Dania Cut-Off Canal, a reported manatee haunt just south of the port entrance. Finding a public vantage point there is tricky. Tailpipe headed along winding roads bordered by thick overgrowth. When he got to the north end of the canal, on Taylor Lane, he discovered that the entire waterfront was blocked by private boatyards with gates and, yes, more bleepin' security guards.
There's an open gate at the Playboy Marine Center — a do-it-yourself boatyard with a laid-back, Key West vibe. A welcome sight for an aspiring manatee spotter. The guys working on their boats at Playboy say they've heard that manatees are out there in that there canal's deep, dark green waters. Some fella saw one, once-upon-a-time, or so the story goes. "They [the manatees] just come once in a great moon," said Jim Ringer, Playboy's manager.
Down the canal a piece, a young angler named Tony Smith swears he spotted a manatee a few days ago. His fishing buddy, who declined to reveal his name because he's "a wanted man," suggests trying the dock at Shooters Café near Oakland Park Boulevard. Throw back enough beers, and you're bound to see a sea cow in the Intracoastal Waterway.
One expensive lunch later at Shooters, and the 'Pipe still hadn't glimpsed any manatees. Neither had Carl, a dock attendant at Shooters, who says it's been a year since he observed one — unless you count the artistic renderings of the gentle giants that decorate Shooter's walls, or the sketches gracing signs warning boaters that they're in a manatee zone.
Suddenly Carl blows his whistle at a speeding ski boat. "You're in a no-wake zone, sir! And a manatee zone!" Tweet!
Maybe manatee watchers have a better chance of ogling the critters at a nature preserve. Well, Mark E. Foley, a park ranger at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, says his little tropical oasis might satisfy manatee seekers. Maybe. "On the Intracoastal side of the park, we often spot manatees. They're not on cue, obviously. It's kind of a chance meeting."
Tailpipe isn't buying this. 'Fess up, somebody. What did you do with our manatees?
Anybody But Bush
When Tailpipe thinks about American politics, he's starting to feel like that waterboarding guy you see on television. You know, the one who's being held down with a black towel over his face while some other guys pour water over his mouth and nose? It's like, who can save me before I drown?
Well, Tailpipe's not counting anybody out. Anybody. Not even Ryan Lipner of Tamarac, who has distinguished himself in 24 years of life by an arrest for grand theft, a court-ordered stint in a mental hospital, and a long, testy feud with local civil court judges.
Hand it to Lipner. He'll stop at nothing to get what he wants. And right now, he insists, he's got his eye on the Oval Office.
Back when he was just 18, Lipner's insatiable ambition seemed harmless enough. The kid just loved Hallmark stores. He had been running his own illicit Hallmark store in North Miami Beach by age 16, and he was arrested for fraud at 17, as chronicled in New Times ("The Rise and Fall of the Hallmark Kid," October 11, 2001). Since then, Lipner has been a busy guy. In 2003 he went into the doughnut business, opening a Krispy Kreme franchise in Fort Lauderdale. When Krispy Kreme found out about Lipner's history, the company revoked his franchise agreement. But Lipner had already planned for this contingency by stocking up on Krispy Kreme containers, which he filled with Dunkin' Donuts products, telling the Dunkin' folks he was having a fundraiser for his synagogue. That was enough to persuade the company to sell him doughnuts at wholesale.