Best Of :: People & Places
Panthers general manager Bryan Murray knows how to cut a deal, as he proved last year with the acquisition of Pavel Bure. This year he executed another shrewd move by swapping Radek Dvorak for Mike Vernon. In some ways the exchange looked less than sweet. Dvorak is young, fast, and talented. Since the trade he became a star on the Rangers' best offensive line. Vernon, in contrast, is a 37-year-old goalie who had been languishing as the backup in San Jose. But as Murray calculated, Vernon has a strong upside. In Detroit he twice played in the Stanley Cup finals, once winning the playoff MVP award. After arriving in Sunrise, he capably filled in for injured starting goalie Trevor Kidd, so capably, in fact, that he effectively outshone him. Vernon is always strongest in the playoffs. And in hockey, one offensive superstar and a hot goalie can win a championship. Thanks to Murray's maneuvering, the Panthers had both Bure and Vernon. Pretty sweet indeed. Now if only Murray had found a defense...
"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.
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.
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.
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.
In many American political plays, a guy (it's usually a guy) comes onstage and talks. The set, the costumes, the lighting -- they're all window dressing, which helps to explain the sorry state of political drama. Doug Wright's 1995 work Quills, however, dissects the issues of censorship through the trials of the Marquis de Sade. It's a play of ideas, driving home the notion that you can't get rid of art you don't like merely by destroying its author. But it's also a play of images. In the exquisitely designed Florida Stage production, Jim Fulton's lighting design reproduced the Marquis's naughty writing as luminescent streaks across the theater walls. Allen D. Cornell's inventive turntable set gave rise to multiple arresting scenes, not the least of which was the yanking out of the Marquis's tongue. Suzette Pare's costumes smartly outfitted the small-minded denizens of nineteenth-century France as well as the increasingly-more-disrobed Sade. And Scott Burgess's sound design created an asylumwide orgy we could "see," though it happened off-stage. At the helm was artistic director Louis Tyrrell, whose fluid hand and wicked sense of humor proved to be assets the Marquis would have loved.
In his many years as the public face of the county's public schools, Fraind had repeatedly proven himself to be inarticulate, insensitive, and inflexible. When school-board members finally got tired of him making them look bad and decided, at their March meeting, to appoint someone else as their spokesman, Fraind demonstrated the wisdom of the decision by offering an upraised arm and fist -- in the universal gesture for "up yours" -- to a parent who had questioned his salary level. How ironic that the first candid, straightforward, concise statement from this guy, captured by the television cameras that record each meeting, came only on the eve of his removal as the district's mouthpiece.
It's supposed to feel like a little bit of Nantucket down here on the lower peninsula. A fresh and crisp Northeastern respite from the scorching Southern sun. But really the lobby in the new Beach House is Florida through and through. This is no rectangular foyer, stop-over-while-you-check-in type of lobby. Instead you get different lounges with different flavors for different moods, all outfitted (if the blue hue didn't already give it away) by the Polo Ralph Lauren design team. If you enter from Collins Avenue, huge vases of fresh-cut flowers -- usually yellow -- greet the visitor at the entrance, which is decked out in muted blue and white. But no need to dally here. Head for the bright and playful room to the right -- the, well, Florida room. Two walls are windows, with views out to the pool and to the ocean beyond. Lime-green covers the walls; pink, salmon, yellow, green, and blue cover the cushions and pillows on the white-wicker furniture. That may sound noisy but it's not. The colors combine into a soothing balm, light and airy but well removed from the heat. All the rooms are furnished like a bed and breakfast -- knickknacks on the end tables, art books scattered about for a leisurely browse. The main lobby is toned down, furnished in brown wicker with blue upholstery, and trimmed with sophisticated Chinese porcelains and paintings (heavy on deep red and gold, adding an extra-lush touch). From here it's also possible to see the pool area, which really should be considered part of the lobby as well, with its multicolor cabanas, ample seating, and hedges sculpted into sea horses. Grab a drink from the bar and choose your mood: There's no better way to refresh your feeling for Florida.
In a season fraught with top-drawer solo performances (Charles Nelson Reilly in Life of Reilly, Kathleen Turner in Tallulah, Melinda Lopez in Medianoche, and Jean Stapleton in Eleanor: Her Secret Journey), Judith Delgado towered over all. Playing fashion diva Diana Vreeland, the actress delivered a performance that lived up to Vreeland's motto: "Give 'em what they didn't know they wanted." Vreeland's life story garnered 1996 Drama Desk and Obie awards for creators Mark Hampton and Mary Louise Wilson when Wilson starred in it. Elizabeth Ashley did the honors when the national tour passed through South Florida in 1998. Nonetheless Delgado, a genius at transforming herself, turned the tastemaker and long-time Vogue editor into something of her own (and director Joseph Adler's) making. Even the actress's elegant, oversize hands conspired to become a perfect physical match for Vreeland's elegant, larger-than-life personality. It was a performance that reached out and grabbed us by our lapels.
"Have Character, Will Travel." So reads the business card of Daniel Ricker, self-appointed "citizen advocate," who spent the past year attending county commission meetings, city commission meetings, school board meetings, and Public Health Trust meetings, all in an effort to better understand how government operates. He even sat through the public-corruption trial of former county Commissioner James Burke so he could hear firsthand how deals are made at the county level. Why did he do it? Ricker, who made his fortune managing international companies that sell coronary pacemakers, says he became so disgusted with the sleaze and corruption of politics in South Florida that, rather than withdraw into apathy, he became hyperactive in the community. He took a year off work and dedicated himself to his task. A man of limitless patience (a necessary attribute in order to sit through some of those meetings), he says he never became bored and always found the working of government fascinating and important. Simply knowing that an informed member of the public was attending those meetings, watching every move they made, undoubtedly had a sobering effect on Miami's less-than-trustworthy politicians and bureaucrats.
In a county with woefully slim public-transportation options, Miami Beach planners looked out their windows, past the backed-up traffic at the stoplights, and saw the future. It was pretty, environmentally friendly, and didn't cost a lot. The ElectroWave shuttle buses premiered two years ago and have proven to be a wonderfully hassle-free way to navigate the often congested streets of South Beach. And a good thing was recently improved: In April the routes were expanded to cover more city blocks north of the original South Pointe-to-Seventeenth Street loop. Plus the fleet grew from seven to eleven vehicles, and payment options were increased (you can now use your parking debit card to pay the 25-cent fare). The shuttles are completely electric, with propane-powered air-conditioning units. "We are the only all-electric transit system in the country," exclaims Judy Evans, executive director of Miami Beach Transportation Management Association. "We've become a model for other cities."