Forlorn on the Fourth of July

Years ago, when Dean Powell moved to Broward, he swore off Miami for good. In the eyes of the Sixties hippie turned computer-programming yuppie, the Magic City had lost its luster, yet another soulless metropolis with neither direction nor purpose, bloating in the sun.

Yet something called him back for the Fourth of July festivities at Bayside. More than patriotic pride or a fervor for fireworks, Powell was drawn by nostalgia. Starship -- that oft-renamed relic from the Sixties -- was coming to Bayfront Park for a concert. The 38-year-old Powell, who owns every record the group has made, says he'd even heard a rumor that Grace Slick might take the stage.

So along with his buddy, A.J. Dennis, Powell braved the holiday traffic and made the drive down from Fort Lauderdale. After a search for a parking space near the amphitheater reminded him of why he left town in the first place, Powell finally resorted to a city-owned garage at 90 SW First Street. "We took the Metromover over and partied for the rest of the night," Powell says. "Starship was great. I didn't want to leave."

With such classics as "We Built This City" still ringing in their ears, Powell and Dennis arrived at the garage at about ten minutes past midnight. But instead of riding the winds of change home, they found that the garage had been locked up, their car hopelessly trapped inside. They were stranded. "I don't know if you know the kind of people that are roaming downtown Miami after midnight," Powell reports ominously, "but it is not a friendly group."

Eventually Powell phoned a friend who rescued the pair and put them up at her apartment for the night. But on Sunday, when they returned to the garage, it was still locked. Incensed, Powell dialed 911, informing the emergency operator that if no one was summoned to spring loose his car, he intended to take matters into his own hands by going to the Home Depot, buying bolt cutters, and breaking in.

For the next several hours, police sought help from Off Street Parking officials, who oversee the operations of city garages. Powell waited. Eventually he was told that he'd have to come back on Monday. "Their attitude was, `We don't care,'" he says. "This is one of the reasons I don't live in Miami any more."

Powell was made to suffer one final indignity. On Monday, before his car was set free, he was assessed a sixteen-dollar charge to cover three days' parking. "It really sucked," he says. "They lure people down to these special events and then trap them here. This is a fine testament to the City of Miami."

In response to Powell's protests, Karen Wilson, deputy executive director for Off Street Parking, looked into the matter. Apparently, she says, the security guard at the First Street garage decided to go home a little early to enjoy the Fourth of July weekend himself. "I have evidence that the guard did leave early and I will deal with that," she vows.

Furthermore, Wilson admits, Powell's Sunday SOS to 911 should have inspired an Off Street Parking employee to release the car. Unfortunately, when a manager was finally reached at home, he didn't have a car to drive downtown.

"Frankly this is a little embarrassing," says Wilson. "Someone should have been there Saturday night until 12:30. And then all of the back-ups of having a manager contacted failed as well." Wilson has given Powell her word that he will be reimbursed for the sixteen dollars he paid to ransom his car.

Powell, who had gone so far as to threaten the city with a lawsuit for his time and anguish, is somewhat mollified. "I feel bad now that I got so mad," he says, noting that Wilson was extremely apologetic. "I was being a real jerk. But this turned out to be the Fourth of July from hell. It was just an absolutely miserable weekend.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede