By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
The Waters Fine!
Or is it? With the budget ax hovering, we might never know.
On Saturday, April 12, in the name of journalism, science, and the American way — and a $75 gift card — Riptide donned a pair of flip-flops and prepared for the worst: to be submerged, head to toe, in human feces.
Well, almost. As part of a scientific water study at Hobie Beach, Riptide was actually assigned to be in the control group, which meant sitting under a little plastic canopy and reading a magazine for 15 minutes. We still got the 75 bucks. The experimental group, meanwhile, stood clustered together in the water about 50 feet from shore, looking like a sheepish bunch of flamingos — only fatter.
The University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine Biology as well as the Miami-Dade County and Florida health departments are conducting the study. It aims to determine the threat level of bacteria and fecal coliform to humans who swim at the popular destination off the Rickenbacker Causeway, known to locals as the one area beach where you don't have to leave your car far behind to take a dip — the American dream at its finest.
In 2007, about 10 percent of the 52 samples taken at Hobie Beach were found to be below federal health standards for the microbes, which are not actual human waste but are associated with its presence. Waterborne feces can cause eye infections, rashes, diarrhea, and stomach illness.
Samir Elmir, environmental health director at the county health department, emphasizes he is not aware of anyone ever getting sick from swimming at any area beach. In fact, he points out, Miami has some of the cleanest beaches anywhere in the nation. "They're fine, they're clean," says Elmir. "But sometimes, when you sample using those indicators, you may exceed the recommended standards."
One reason for the study, he says, is to see whether the threshold might actually be too low. Current EPA standards are based on studies that have been performed in colder climates. But researchers think it's possible that indicator microbes in warmer climates can grow independently of the pollution they're supposed to be indicating.
In other words, no shit.
Still, not everyone is quite so optimistic about the quality of water at Hobie and other area beaches. "I know there have been people with eye infections, sinus infections, rashes," says Erica D'Avanzo, Florida regional director for the National Surfrider Foundation, a beach watchdog group. Part of the problem, D'Avanzo says, is the health department lacks a mechanism to track whether people are getting sick from the water. "It's pretty much a common occurrence," she says. "And being that people are in the water all the time, we happen to feel it more than most."
Both Elmir and D'Avanzo agree on one thing: More testing is needed. Unfortunately, penny-pinching lawmakers in Tallahassee are coming to a different conclusion: The state House of Representatives is considering cutting water testing from the budget entirely; the Senate is deliberating whether to make cuts as well, though less drastic.
That, says D'Avanzo, is just plain stupid. "Think about it this way," she points out. "It's going to impact our tourism if everybody is getting sick."
Life in the Small Lane
Say what you will about the new mini Hummers; you can't call 'em gas guzzlers.
Hunched over a candy-red miniature Hummer convertible, Sammy Mizrachi finished bolting a new speaker into the six-foot-long electric car and looked up to answer an overzealous Israeli tourist's question.
"Can we take a photo in that?" the teenager asked in Hebrew.
Mizrachi gave a perfunctory nod, and a team of three young Israelis — decked out in diamonds and fake blond streaks — piled in. One of the girls did a little party dance, to no music, for the camera. Her boyfriend cocked his head back and flashed a peace sign. After the pic was snapped, both offered a "Whoo!" for passersby.
At Beach Scooter in South Beach, spring tourist season means mini Hummer season. The $16,000 car plugs in like a toaster, takes eight hours to charge, and goes up to 30 miles per hour for 65 miles.
Owners tout the gasless vehicles as "green," explaining they seat four comfortably and make parking easier on busy strips. Plus you can work on your tan while you drive. But the real reason South Beachers rent them is — of course — to be seen.
"They feel like a celebrity for the day," Mizrachi says. "They like the attention."
Renters are usually club kids, rich families, product promoters, and hometown exhibitionists. The glorified golf carts go for a minimum fee of $100 for two hours (with a $1,000 deposit). A little more than $300 gets you 24 hours.
Lacking that kind of scratch, Riptide recently persuaded Mizrachi to take us for a cruise along Ocean Drive to see how many heads we could turn.
He cranked up a rap CD at maximum volume (something about doing coke lines in a hotel room). And we counted how many people on the busy strip stopped to point and stare at us in our teeny, trendy SUV.
First, a pale family hauling coolers and beach towels waved and snapped a photo. Then a dumpy middle-age woman nudged her friend and they both laughed. As we headed back to the shop, a leather-skinned bum with no teeth gave us an encouraging thumbs-up.
"See how they're looking at us?" Mizrachi shouted over the music. "I just made you famous."
At FIU's besieged journalism school, budget cuts are greeted with shrugs.
Over a pitcher of Icehouse in a dark corner of the North Miami Beach Ale House last Thursday, four Florida International University journalism students began hatching their plan: Road trip!
But this would be no jaunt to Daytona Beach. Instead, the students, who are set to graduate this Monday, would trek to Tallahassee to visit budget-squeezing legislators, in protest of the 12 percent cutback FIU administrators are socking to their program.
"If we just sit aside, we're going to keep getting hit," said Monique Matiace, one of the students planning to object.
Earlier in the week, FIU President Modesto Maidique had announced the administration was slashing nearly a half-million dollars from the journalism school over the next three years. He made it clear the university's yet-to-be-built medical school is more important, as is its athletic program, which gets $19 million, the majority of which funds a football team that is 1-11 this season.
Maidique outlined administrative budget trims of 9.5 percent, but not quite across the board: There was no mention of the president's office slimming down. Defending his position, Maidique said he had taken a $30,000 budget cut last year.
"I challenge you to find any administrator who has taken a higher cut," Maidique said. Still, he makes $476,486.65 a year.
Hyped up on their itinerary, the students returned to the school's Biscayne Bay campus to try to gather more recruits for the trip. But their proposal garnered more inaction than traction.
In one journalism school classroom, they were met with foot-tapping, eye-rolling students who seemed more worried about getting out of class early than about the budgetary ax. The instructor further squashed the group's idealism by downplaying the threat. "It's not the death of a school to be part of a larger school," said instructor Carlos Suris, referring to the possibility that the program might lose its independence and be shuffled into the School of Arts and Sciences.
Some students said they believed things aren't as bad as they've been made out to be. One went so far as to call the outcry a conspiracy of fear mongering.
"I think it's a tactic," said student Javier Correoso, a regional director of the Republican Party of Florida. "Administrators are trying to protect their salaries by putting fear in the students."
A fog of confusion and uncertainty had settled around the school in the days since Maidique's announcement. "We've been hearing a lot of different things: where is the school going, that we can't take money from [one group] but they can take money from us. It's just going to get worse," said journalism student Marlene Pimentel. "I can't imagine what's going to happen for people graduating two or three years from now."
The students planning the trip to Tallahassee left the classroom disillusioned and unsure about the prospects for their protest.
"We have to see if we get enough people, if we we can get a bus ... it's really up in the air," said a doubtful Matiace, who soon landed on an alternative: "We are going to write letters [to Gov. Charlie Crist]."
Mamas got a brand-new bum.
By Tamara Lush
Sometimes here in South Florida, it seems as though crazy news, weird stories, and impossibly tasteless tidbits are served up on a silver platter, just waiting to be skewered.
Take this week's only-in-Miami offering: Bal Harbour plastic surgeon Michael Salzhauer's recent self-publication of a children's book titled My Beautiful Mommy. In the words of the doctor, it's a "must-have for any mother" going under the knife: "Join a young girl as her Mommy goes through her plastic surgery experience, and learn how the entire family pitches in to help Mommy receive her beautiful results."
The book follows a mom who is getting a nose job and a tummy tuck, though her boobs look suspiciously larger — and surrounded by fairy dust — by the end of the colorfully illustrated tale.
Says the mommy character to her daughter: "You see, as I got older, my body stretched and I couldn't fit into my clothes anymore. Dr. Michael is going to help fix that and make me feel better." The kindly doc is a dead ringer for Prince Charming. Postsurgery, Mom looks like a tarted-up Ariel from Disney's The Little Mermaid, wearing hip-hugger jeans and a half-shirt with her bellybutton exposed.
Riptide smells a sequel: My Mommy's Beautiful New Butt.
"Hey, Mom! Where did your behind go?"
"Why, darling, can you say, 'Brazillian butt lift'? Now Mommy can drop it like it's hot at the upcoming Power 96 MILF Olympics!"