You probably think parking valets, the spry soldiers of the asphalt who park and fetch your vehicles amid heat, humidity, and Hummer-size hubris, get to keep the five- and ten-dollar bills you slip into their palms. How nice it is, you think, to be a fat-cat lawyer or big-time hoodlum who can afford such service and largesse. You might even slide your valet dude a twenty, contemplating how many of these glorified gophers send 80 percent of their earnings from this and their other jobs to relatives in, say, Camagüey or Cali.
But beware when you tip a valet working for RS Parking Systems, a Hallandale-based company that parks autos for Morton's Steakhouse at 1200 Brickell Ave. in downtown Miami and other places. Under one of RS's systems, valets must systematically turn over tips to the boss, says an outraged member of the parking underclass who requested anonymity. Their only compensation is seven to eight dollars per hour, often in cash, regardless of how much tip money piles up. (It costs four dollars for the valet service at Morton's.) Our source tolerated the injustice for about six months and then complained. The response to his activism: You're fired. "For having told the truth I ended up without work for three months," he says.
At first RS Parking Systems owner Ronald H. Sussman steered away from confirming or denying the existence of a tip-siphoning system. "Every place is run different. It's in my manager's hands," he dodged by cell phone. But by the end of the conversation he assured that his valets at the downtown Morton's get to keep all their tips: "Absolutely. They sure do."
And the valiant ex-valet? "Never worked for the company," Sussman replied quickly. "I'm absolutely positive." Why, then, would a non-ex-employee bother to buttonhole The Bitch? The parking exec didn't know either. "Could be somebody from another company," Sussman surmised. "Could be the competition."
A valet for PK1, a competing company, says he receives five dollars per hour and keeps any tips he's given.
News travels fast on the valet circuit. Shortly after taking Sussman's disclaimer, The Bitch received word that the RS Parking president "contacted" someone at the Morton's unit. Employees there then notified our tipster. "[Ronny] must have called or passed by and said that through fault of mine, New Times had called," the ex-valet says.
One night earlier this week, The Bitch paid a visit to Morton's to corroborate the, uh, tip. "Yes, we give them to the company," a shorts-and-windbreaker-clad valet confirmed. When asked whether he thought that was fair, he just shrugged.
The Bitch likes big ships and she cannot lie. For Miami Beach residents as well as the seafaring canine, the Olympic Voyager has become as permanent a fixture on the eastern horizon as the downtown skyline is to the west. But the cruise ship won't provide a sunrise silhouette much longer.
The vessel has been anchored off South Beach since February. The 836-passenger ship tied up at the Port of Miami in January, cutting short a planned cruise to the Amazon after Greek owner Royal Olympic Cruises went bankrupt. The company couldn't afford to dock the ship while navigating the red tape necessary to auction it, so they moved it out to sea, where a skeleton crew has been tending to nautical affairs: hauling in the mizzenmast, securing the bots'un, battening down the yardarm -- stuff like that. Aside from basic maintenance, what does the crew of a ghost ship do for three months? Read Gravity's Rainbow? Play laser tag with the flare guns? "Right now [crew members] are in the process of changing the flags, and they'll probably have to change the name, too," says ship's agent Nelson Rengifo of V-Ships Agency, who firmly denied The Bitch's request to come aboard.
A triumvirate of German banks bought another Royal Olympic ship, the Olympic Explorer, on March 24, two days before they spent $97.2 million to buy the Voyager at an auction on the steps of the Broward County Courthouse.
Our waters run rampant with renegade reptiles. A marauding crocodile has been feasting on the exotic bird population at Crandon Park Gardens, leaving Valerie Cassidy in a foul mood. As founder of the nonprofit group that transformed the abandoned zoo at Crandon Park's south end into a lush tropical garden filled with ponds, lagoons, and meandering paths, Cassidy has been populating the Gardens with exotic birds for more than a decade. To date the crocodile (estimated at six feet in length, and growing) has eaten about $5000 worth of waterfowl. Among the animals consumed: a pair of black-necked swans (worth about $1100 apiece), a mute swan, and two European shelducks.
The diminutive Brit recently spent a night in the wilds of the Gardens, trying to find out where the crocodile hides. "I had a flask of coffee and some biscuits, and I put my plastic sheet and blanket down on the ground," Cassidy says. "But it just appeared in the water in front of me. I never saw how it got there. Then I fell asleep and woke up with guardian angels -- cranes -- on either side of me.
"Mothers with children see the sign [warning of crocodiles] at the entrance, and they ask, 'Is there really a crocodile here?' When we say, 'Well, yes, it's in that lake right in front of you,' they leave," Cassidy says.
Cassidy doesn't want the big fella blown out of the water, just moved. "We've tried to get Fish and Wildlife to remove it for months, but they've done nothing. As I understand it, they're pretty quick to act when a crocodile shows up on Fisher Island."
"The problem at Crandon Park Gardens is they've got more than one crocodile, and if we remove them, they'll come right back," says Tim Regan, wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "They're inadvertently feeding these animals with their waterfowl."
Regan told The Bitch the crocs will stay, and denies being more responsive to residential croc complaints. "They basically need to fence [the fowl] off so the crocodiles can't get in there. We're not going to kill or remove an endangered species because they're raising a bunch of exotic ducks down there."
South Florida is the only part of the United States where American crocodiles (which can grow to thirteen feet in length and weigh 500 pounds) live, and since the mid-1990s they've been spotted eating ducks in the Miami River, eyeballing golfers on the Crandon Park golf course, and crossing Arvida Drive in Coral Gables, among other places.
The Bitch is dazed and confused by the bizarre campaign for Guinness that has sprung up along the mass-transit corridors of Biscayne Boulevard and NE Second Avenue. Bus stop shelters are plastered with posters for the Irish stout featuring images apparently intended to appeal to the urban hipster crowd -- a demographic often found riding public transportation. The models for the ads are African-American men paired with upwardly mobile text fragments ("Antoine King: DJ ... record deal") along with the slogan "Guinness Stout: Be Extraordinary." The suggestion seems to be that much upscaling of the old lifestyle -- perhaps even the acquisition of a personal vehicle -- will occur upon consumption of said stout. According to a Guinness flack, the campaign is the creation of Gerry Graf of TBWA/Chiat/Day in New York, who is also responsible for the current Red Stripe lager ads festooning the nightclub-pocked neighborhood around Eleventh Street, which more simply and colorfully exclaim, "Hooray Beer!"
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Pinecrest Mayor Evelyn Greer has locked up the head-banging vote in her bid to become a school board member this November. Lars Ulrich, the Chuck D-battling, Napster-hating drummer for Metallica, recently sent her a $500 campaign contribution. The connection comes through Greer's long-time law partner, James Jay Hogan, whose daughter Skylar is married to the Denmark-born, elfin Ulrich. The pair live in San Francisco with their two young sons, where Mrs. Ulrich (former girlfriend of actor Matt Damon) is a public-health doctor, and Mr. Ulrich continues to rock. "Jay told them I was doing this and they sent a lovely little note with a check," says Greer.
Greer has known the Ulrichs for years and describes Lars as "very sweet and smart" and an "eclectic thinker." Facing a crowded field of six other candidates, Greer acknowledges that while heavy-metal fans may not be the new soccer moms of politics, getting the nod from Ulrich can't hurt. "I am hoping he will do a benefit concert for me," she quips.
"Well, there's squirrels.org, and squirrelrescue.com. There are tons of Websites about squirrels. Then you've got the whole Midwest ... the center of squirrel culture in the United States. Madison, Wisconsin -- that's a place I'd go on vacation, to see some squirrels." -- Andrew "DJ Le Spam" Yeomanson, on his obsession with the small mammals