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Best Of 2000

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Best Of :: People & Places

Best FM Radio Personality

As you roll down the highway in your car, the radio blasts the last few notes of the Commodores' sappy hit "Three Times a Lady." Suddenly your speakers begin to rattle. You turn down the volume, fiddle with the bass, adjust the treble. Nothing works. That hum is still there. Not to worry: Your stereo is fine. It's just broadcasting the basso profundo voice of trusty disc jockey Freddy Cruz. Host of the station's nighttime love-song serenade The Quiet Storm, Cruz has been unleashing his sultry Spanish accent over the Hot 105 airwaves for the past fifteen years. Back in 1985 the show was heard 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. on weekdays. A loyal listening public has made the station number two in the market for the 25-to-54 age category, and now the people get five stormy hours of music per night during the week (8:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.) and a special old-school edition on Sunday (8:00 to 11:00 p.m.). After a hard evening on the air, what's a radio personality to do? Why get a day job, of course! For a while Cruz's inimitable pipes could be heard in two languages. After a few years on Spanish-radio WCMQ-FM (92.3), he became the production director for the Spanish Broadcasting System, a local chain of FM radio stations. When does he sleep? He claims to get five hours per night. "People hear me on the radio so relaxed but I'm really hyper," he notes. "I like to stay busy. I like to work." Not that he has to do much of that when guiding his listeners through the storm. In 1985 he spun records on turntables, then moved on to using CDs and tapes. Now thanks to computers, music is brought forth at the touch of a button. Fine by Cruz, who gets more time to take on-air dedications, growl song titles, and chat with the folks at home. "I love it," says the deep-voiced DJ about his long-time job. "The listeners are so loyal. I talk to people who started listening fifteen years ago and now they have kids; some even have grandchildren. I feel like I'm in their living room. I'm part of their family."

Best Chatter at a Cafetería Window

"If you could call this place something, it would be tantamount, in Spanish, to that sitcom in English where everybody knows your name -- Cheers," says Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Lt. Eddie Ballester. The firefighter and paramedic, stationed five blocks away, is a regular at this window. Over the years Brothers to the Rescue leader José Basulto has scarfed not a few pastelitos at this locale while pondering his next move. Miami-Dade County Manager Merrett Stierheim also has been spotted here, along with several of his assistants. Univision's answer to Walter Cronkite, newsman Guillermo Benitez, is another familiar face. Policemen, businessmen, plumbers, retirees, and Harley-Davidson aficionados all make this their chitchat haven. On a recent Saturday, while waiting for his coffee and Danish, Ballester talked about saving lives with Retavase, a new clot-busting medication for heart-attack victims currently being tested at his station. You never know what new things you'll learn at the Universidad de la Carreta.

Best Chatter at a Cafetería Window

"If you could call this place something, it would be tantamount, in Spanish, to that sitcom in English where everybody knows your name -- Cheers," says Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Lt. Eddie Ballester. The firefighter and paramedic, stationed five blocks away, is a regular at this window. Over the years Brothers to the Rescue leader José Basulto has scarfed not a few pastelitos at this locale while pondering his next move. Miami-Dade County Manager Merrett Stierheim also has been spotted here, along with several of his assistants. Univision's answer to Walter Cronkite, newsman Guillermo Benitez, is another familiar face. Policemen, businessmen, plumbers, retirees, and Harley-Davidson aficionados all make this their chitchat haven. On a recent Saturday, while waiting for his coffee and Danish, Ballester talked about saving lives with Retavase, a new clot-busting medication for heart-attack victims currently being tested at his station. You never know what new things you'll learn at the Universidad de la Carreta.

Best Movie Theater

There was much trepidation about the coming of this monster movie theater to our much-treasured Road. Would this cold and corporate megaplex shoveling out Hollywood hits put an end to any remaining pretense of funkiness that the mall had? Surprise: The Regal on South Beach has fit in more snug than many thought. First, it lived up to its promise to show alternative movies. At least two screens per week show foreign or gay-theme films, or films that otherwise might not have unspooled here. Second, the theaters themselves are comfortable: medium-size rooms, plush seats, and good views from every one of them (so often not the case at a megaplex). Parking hasn't been a problem, either; in fact you can often find a spot right on Alton Road, just a block away. There is a good selection of food, a café, even an outdoor patio and balcony, and absolutely no loud video arcade anywhere on the premises. Finally, before or after the movie you can stroll down the street that, while it has lost much of its counterculture vibe, remains Miami-Dade's most people-friendly urban area.

Best Political Miscalculation

Miami Commissioner J.L. Plummer had his re-election formula down pat: Raise tons of cash, glad-hand voters at community festivals, and have his Cuban friends praise him on Spanish-language radio. It had worked seven times before, after all. Upstart businessman Johnny Winton might push him into a runoff, but the veteran's vast war chest would crush him. Oops! While Miami politics changed, Plummer didn't. District elections had turned the city's politically neglected Upper East Side into a powerful force that overwhelmed Plummer's traditional base in the Cuban community. He also underestimated how badly the city's scandals sullied his reputation. Most voters, including many in Plummer's Coconut Grove back yard, didn't buy his pleas of ignorance as his colleagues were arrested, the city fell into disarray, and taxes climbed. In addition the 29-year incumbent didn't take underdog Winton seriously. The end result: Plummer maintained his unprecedented streak of seven elections without a runoff. But he was clobbered in the eighth.

Best Salsa Scene
Salsa Lovers Dance Studio

It all began here in 1993: salsa classes on Monday and Wednesday nights at the spacious and charmingly down-at-the-heels Blue Banquet Hall. By now the place is packed four nights a week, and Salsa Lovers is a huge enterprise, having expanded to two more locations. But the West Miami-Dade scene has a festive, nightclubby quality all its own, and it just keeps getting hotter (sometimes literally; the AC is erratic). Monday through Thursday a large and varied crowd descends on the hall, everyone from senior citizens to families to middle-school students, though the 20- to 30-year-old crowd dominates. The sheer energy generated by hundreds of slaves to the salsa rhythm is irresistible. Some people skip the classes and instead hang out, flirt, or practice moves with a partner. Between classes (three levels, each one hour long, beginning at 7:00 p.m.) the DJ spins a "practice song," and a gigantic circle of couples fills the entire main dance floor, so big the instructors have to call out the turns on a microphone. Oscar D'Leon blares from the speakers, and pretty soon everyone's in a whirl -- dile que no, dame una, hips going and fondillos shaking, abrázala, abanico, arms rising and feet pivoting, montaña, balsero, and sometimes the lights will dim and the tacky disco balls will turn. For seven dollars (price per lesson) you get all this, and you might even learn the paseo por el parque.

9848 Bird Rd., Miami, 33165
MAP
305-220-7115
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Best FM Radio Personality: Freddy Cruz

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