Next time your car disappears into an unfilled pothole or you raid the kids' piggy bank to pay your real estate taxes, think of the $6.7 million the City of Fort Lauderdale wasted to police the demonstrators outside the Broward County Convention Center last weekend. The protest -- against the Organization of American States -- turned out to be a few people making a whole lot of noise.
On Sunday afternoon, a battalion of unsmiling, Kevlar-shielded cops took position in front of a union hall a mile west of the Convention Center. Nearby was a milling crowd of about 800 protesters. A Haitian contingent sang pro-Aristide chants to the beat of a half-dozen drums. A score of anarchists, including young men dressed in colorful skirts, arrived from Lake Worth. Brawny union men mingled with hippie chicks.
There was a painted banner of a vampire-fanged George W. Bush biting Lady Liberty in the neck and a banner depicting a leather-clad, whip-wielding Secretary of State named Condoleezza with this message: "Kinda-Sleazy Rice -- Transnational Dominatrix and Host of the OAS Meeting." But there were also the more Bush-friendly anti-Hugo Chavez crowd and the Free Luis Posada group.
The march moved forward, with Tailpipe rattling along to keep up. The cacophonous Haitians drowned out the sloganeering of the far fewer folks who opposed the Central American Free Trade Agreement. "All Haitians up front!" yelled Sierra Club coordinator Pedro Monteiro, who knows a photo-op when he sees one.
As the march headed east on 17th Street, cops dressed in black riot gear -- clubs the length of baseball bats, helmets with face shields, and Kevlar body suits -- stood guard at the side, every two feet. Finally, the marchers reached a fenced-in holding area, a couple of stone's throws from the Convention Center.
Not that the 'Pipe was even thinking of throwing stones. Sheridan Murphy, a representative of the American Indian Movement, futilely tried to make himself heard through a megaphone: "We are human beings, and we have to rise up and constantly protect, challenge, and, if necessary, extinguish the enemies of human beings." Right on, brother. Hand me my pea shooter.
In the end, it was a dozen Hollywood teens who made the only defining protest statement. They sat down in a line in front of a phalanx of Darth Vader cops. "I guess it just seems so over-the-top, all these guys standing there," explained a doe-eyed girl seated on the pavement. "What are they so afraid of?"
The OAS meeting did bring beaucoup bucks for local hotels, particularly if you had connections. Take Linda Gill, chief executive of Gill Hotels, which owns the Sheraton Yankee Clipper and Sheraton Yankee Trader. Her 501-room, wedge-shaped Clipper, made famous in the 1960 film Where the Boys Are, ain't what it used to be. Using a boat-themed décor including ship railings with sailboat ropes, the Clipper screams spring-break kitsch. A few months ago, Gill acknowledged the two hotels need $35 million to $50 million in renovations. She says she has a deal in the works to raise cash by selling a majority share of the company to a real estate investment company.
Still, the moldy Clipper was designated the official press hotel for OAS and the sole departure point for a shuttle bus running journalists to the Convention Center.
But wait. Didn't Gill help orchestrate this? As vice chair of the Tourist Development Council, the body that oversees the Convention and Visitors Bureau, she was part of the effort that lured OAS. You connect the dots, dear taxpayer.
Gill could not be reached.
Take Our Blood. Please.
"What would you give to guarantee a Heat victory tonight?" Tailpipe asked Miami Heat fans before ascending to the nosebleed seats at Monday night's Game 7 against the Detroit Pistons. The responses:
"I'd give up Scarlett's." -- Eric Mohr of Fort Lauderdale, who, yes, did notice the performers from the adult cabaret handing out coupons outside the arena.
"My vacation; I'm on my way to Bermuda tomorrow for a week." -- Barry Rubin of Delray Beach, a portfolio manager for Merrill Lynch.
"My blood. All of it. Take it all." -- Carlos Rodriguez of Miami, who said this immediately and calmly.
Wilton Manors Straight
Wilton Manors' many boosters like to throw around statistics when they talk about their little city. It's the fourth gayest city in the United States (after Provincetown, Massachusetts; Guerneville, California; and West Hollywood), the second to have a majority-gay city council, and the first where an openly gay mayor succeeded an openly gay mayor. This all reminds Tailpipe of the obscure bits of information that Joe Garagiola used to pull out when the action slowed during a World Series game. ("Here's one for the books, Bob. Rocky is the first 23-year-old left-handed hitter to get two hits in five straight post-season games while nursing an ankle injury!")
The important thing is that, in the past ten years, Wilton Manors has been transformed by an infusion of gay enterprise and creativity. There are dynamic new businesses, strikingly refurbished neighborhoods, and an atmosphere of civic pride -- all fueled largely by the city's burgeoning gay population.
You'd never know it to look at Cynthia Thuma's new book, Wilton Manors, a historical picture book, now at your local bookstore for $19.99. Of course, there's the early hemp farm that failed to make a go of it along the Middle River, the smiling milk-fed kids in a 1950s sixth-grade class photo, and the 1960s shot of a beefy local cop pretending to slap handcuffs on home-run king Roger Maris. There are beaucoup shots of churches, a 1961 little league team, portraits of local beauty Nancy Stafford (she had a recurring role on Matlock before writing books like Beauty by the Book: Seeing Yourself as God Sees You), even a picture of serial killer Gerard John Schaefer Jr. , who worked as a Wilton Manors cop while abducting and murdering women.
Where are Wilton Manors' famous gays? Not in the book, unless you count one picture of the parking lot of Georgie's Alibi, the bar that was a magnet for gays during the 1990s. Notes the caption: "The city was becoming increasingly attractive to gay people looking for a quiet, tolerant community to settle in." That's it.
Tailpipe called Thuma, president of the Wilton Manors Historical Society. "It's like Smalltown America in the middle of an urban metropolitan area," Thuma says of her native city. "After some incredible changes, it's a great, gorgeous little town again." Weren't gays the driving force behind those changes? You bet, she replies. How come so little about them in the book? "I guess because gays' arrival in the city has been so effortless and smooth," Thuma adds, "it never really occurred to me to do [the book] otherwise."
Maybe so. For the 'Pipe, a pictorial history of Wilton Manors without a shot or two of the guys drinking Long Island Ice Teas at Georgie's or of drag queens and Dykes on Bikes in the Gay Pride Parade is like Fort Lauderdale without yachts or Miami without Calle Ocho.