Travel "Essentials," South Beach Style

Living in spring break central when you're stuck working makes Riptide feel like the crabby chaperone of a high school dance: left out of the party and slightly bitter about the whole thing.

So when we heard the Mondrian South Beach -- the sparkling, chandeliered $700-per-night waterfront hotel on West Avenue -- was "unveiling" something to vacationers this week, we dropped by to live vicariously.

The latest addition to the white-pillared resort: a technological experiment-meets-recession oddity that amounts to a hoity-toity vending machine for the wealthy. Dubbed the "Semi-Automatic," it is stocked with stuff such as $400 marabou feather vests, $75 fake eyelashes, $350 24-karat-gold handcuffs, and the dazzling gold retainer necklace above. Oh, and a $90,000 Bentley Arnage T (a voucher is printed and the vehicle is delivered to the hotel in hours).
Guests use a touch screen to select their product of choice and swipe a credit card. Then a futuristic mechanical metal arm plucks the item from a shelf and drops it into a pristine white receptacle. (Think Rosie Jetson with less personality.)

Spokesperson Melissa Martinez says in all seriousness: "It's for anyone who forgot to pack, essentials-wise." Then she points out the $20 Paul Frank toothbrush and Korres Sweet Orange Spray Sunscreen.

Around 3 p.m. Wednesday, nobody at the hotel seemed to notice the Semi-Automatic, which cost the Mondrian $250,000 to install. The spotless lobby was completely empty. Not far from the machine, out by the pool, two teenage girls in sundresses shouted "Cooool!" in unison after hearing about the machine. A balding businessman rolled his eyes and went back to his copy of the New York Times.

Nearby, Max Highley -- a 25-year-old visiting from St. Louis with sun-kissed cheeks and a surfer-boy drawl -- was a little more opinionated: "Who the hell would spend that much money at a vending machine? I mean, if something gets caught, can you shake it?"

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