Paparazzi Pandemonium

For the photographers who recently swarmed over Miami Beach, J.Lo isn't a celebrity, she's a meal ticket

"We're trying to act as a mediator, but we're really limited in what we can do," says Miami Beach Police spokesman Det. Bobby Hernandez with a frustrated sigh. After fielding a week's worth of calls from angry residents and scoop-seeking reporters, he's just now coming up for air. The cause of this fracas, which lured hordes of television camera crews and helicopter-borne photographers? Not the much-ballyhooed arrival of 70,000 "anti-globalization" protesters for next month's Latin American trade summit, but a force with even more potential to bring Miami Beach to a grinding halt: J.Lo.

"That whole Jennifer Lopez debacle" is how Hernandez refers to the international press corps that descended on the Beach in the wake of Lopez and Ben Affleck's canceled September 14 nuptials. Affleck headed for his Georgia estate while Lopez holed up in her $9.5 million, eleven-bedroom mansion on the Beach's North Bay Road. There a reportedly tearful Lopez feasted on take-out Cuban food from Puerto Sagua while watching videos fetched from Blockbuster by her staff. But the true melodrama unfolded on the street outside. A sea of photographers and reporters gathered in front of the sprawling manors neighboring Lopez's, all desperate for pictures and footage of her -- or at least a tidbit of break-up gossip. The scene soon came to resemble Camp Elian, with a dash of O.J. Simpson's notorious freeway chase.

Lopez's trips beyond her gated driveway -- on one occasion hidden in the back of a delivery van, other times with decoy vehicles deployed first -- drew a pack of paparazzi in hot pursuit. And as if Detective Hernandez weren't busy enough patiently explaining to Lopez's neighbors that the press couldn't be evicted from the area, now he had to contend with numerous reports of reckless driving.

With teams of photographers stalking J.Lo, the picture price has dropped, but it's still lucrative enough to draw a crowd
With teams of photographers stalking J.Lo, the picture price has dropped, but it's still lucrative enough to draw a crowd

Kulchur spoke with seven photographers on the J.Lo beat, all of whom insisted on anonymity. Some were fearful of jeopardizing their regular freelance jobs with respected national daily papers and news magazines; others felt that being identified as "paparazzi" would cost them future access to sanctioned photo-ops.

Two European photographers told Kulchur of gunning their car up to 115 miles per hour as they trailed Lopez's two Lincoln Navigators across the Julia Tuttle Causeway, swerving in and out of afternoon traffic. An American photographer followed Lopez at 70 mph down Alton Road, watching in amazement as her SUV suddenly swung a violent U-turn to pull a James Bond escape: "The driver was a maniac! There's no reason for that. They think this is all a game, but somebody's going to get killed. And then they're going to blame the paparazzi. ... It's going to be Princess Diana all over again."

What seemed to particularly incense the photographers was their belief that off-duty Miami Beach police officers were behind the wheel as Lopez re-enacted 2 Fast 2 Furious on city streets. Her security detail seemed intent on fostering that impression: One British photographer tailing Lopez's white Navigator on I-95 found himself buzzed from behind by a black Navigator outfitted with flashing strobe lights and a siren. Initially he thought he was being pulled over by an unmarked police car, but the two men who subsequently gave him an earful were Lopez's own bodyguards. A veteran Miami-based photographer told of having a badge thrust at him as he tried to follow Lopez into the spa at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

"Absolutely untrue," declares police spokesman Hernandez regarding the alleged involvement of Miami Beach officers. Last year off-duty cops manned a boat in Biscayne Bay to prevent intrepid photographers from zipping up to the waterfront rear of Lopez's mansion and leaping on her private dock. This time out, Hernandez says, not a single off-duty officer was employed. Hernandez himself, however, had a taste of the behavior that has branded J.Lo as a diva. "Lopez's people said since they paid a lot in taxes, we -- the police department -- should give them officers," he recalls somewhat incredulously. "I had to explain that there are a lot of people with money here on Miami Beach. They have to hire off-duty officers like everyone else. We can't just pull officers who are assigned to patrol the city because she doesn't want people following her around. That's the price you pay when you're a celebrity. It comes with the job."

Like Hernandez, the 300-plus residents of the Waverly, one of the high-rise condominium buildings that have sprouted on the Beach's West Avenue, also had a novel encounter with the humble, Bronx-born girl that Lopez insists she remains. Plunking down $350,000 at the Waverly may buy you a room with a view, but if Jenny's on the block, forget about hitting the weights.

Lopez's entourage arrived at the Waverly on September 15, where bright red signs in the lobby and elevators announced that the gym would be closed from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., with apologies "for the inconvenience." While residents assumed maintenance or renovations would be taking place, Waverly sales agents were busy crowing to prospective condo buyers that Lopez would be working out inside the building's fourth-floor gym all week long.

Waverly chief financial officer David Greeff confirms that Lopez's personal bodyguard, who lives in the building, had pitched him the idea. "I'm not as starstruck as some of the other people on the board of directors," he laughs, but he recognized the potential free publicity. In fact, he quips, he already has a condo sales slogan in mind: "When Jennifer Lopez wants to work out at the best gym on South Beach, she knows where to come."

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