I wrote this feature for the Miami Herald. It was published on March 19, 1989.
Silly Northerners. They see a travel ad showing a couple relaxing on the beach, so they pack their bags and grab the first flight to Fort Lauderdale. Then they find out the truth: they’ve been conned. Broward is not the Relaxation Capital of America, it’s Stressville, USA.
Commuters drive like maniacs down Interstate 95, rowdies at the beach run wild and planes buzz overhead dragging banners that say: “Dwarf Toss Tonite at City Limits. Cash And Prizes.”
But if you know 1) what to expect and 2) where to go, you can venture into the craziness of Broward and come out alive. You can even enjoy yourself. At least, that’s what we found while preparing this unofficial, unsanctioned, unauthorized PEOPLE’S GUIDE TO BROWARD.
Our first stop was Broward’s 23-mile shoreline. Most of it was relatively calm, but one zone — the Strip in Fort Lauderdale — was absolutely nuts at 2:35 p.m. on a Tuesday.
Dan Waitz, a 22-year-old marketing major from Michigan, was leaning over the balcony of the Elbo Room bar, yelling at every young woman in sight and holding up plastic numbers as if he were judging an Olympic diving contest.
Two young women in the skimpiest of swimsuits prompted a “9.” Then, in a loud chant, Waitz and about 20 other Cro- Magnon-era revelers demanded that they strip off their bikini tops.
It didn’t go over too well. “Personally, I think they’re disgusting,” 21-year-old Samantha Andersen said of her admirers.
Just then, one of the beer guzzlers spilled a Miller Lite onto the head of a passerby, which brings us to . . . . LESSON NO. 1 — Avoid walking under balconies during spring break or carry a sturdy umbrella.
Our next stop was downtown Fort Lauderdale, where the bus benches are decorated with turquoise and pink letters saying, “1994 Mission: Best City.”
But we weren’t after the best city. We wanted the best hog dog.
We found it on Southeast 6th Street. Laurie White, 22, was selling New York-style hot dogs to customers from the 30-floor 110 Tower and the Broward County Courthouse. Regular hot dogs were $1.50 and jumbos were $1.75.
“A month ago, another vendor set up right next to me,” White said. “He dropped his prices down to 75 cents. I had to drop mine to a dollar. He told me, ‘I’m going to steal your spot.’ I said, ‘No. you’re not.’ Eventually, my customers chased him away. He never came back.”
LESSON NO. 2 — Watch out for flying hot dogs.
Our next mission was to learn about Broward’s roads.
We found out that rush hour begins at 6 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m. — 13 hours later. We also found out that there are more cars and trucks in Broward — 1.3 million — than people — 1.2 million. And all of the cars and trucks seemed to be on the road at the same time.
Before going any further, we decided to ask a traffic expert why it was such a mess.
Dave Foster, regional director of operations for Metro Traffic Control, which feeds traffic reports to 29 Broward radio stations, said part of the problem is “psychological.”
“Broward is supposed to be suburban,” he said. “People aren’t really expecting the kind of traffic problem they’re experiencing.”
One of the results is stress — and lots of it.
“The stress level for motorists in Broward is just below the Los Angeles shoot-’em-up level,” Foster said. “And there’s no question it’s getting worse.”
LESSON NO. 3 — Don’t stick your tongue out at motorists, particularly those armed with Uzis.
Now that we understood traffic, we decided to head south on I-95. We tried to turn west on State Road 84, but promptly hit a detour, took a wrong turn and ended up on the interstate again.
We decided to stop and rest. We noticed a big chunk of road — part of State Road 84 — draped over I-95 like a big covered bridge, waiting to be demolished. Towering above it, there was the reddish-pink underside of the new Interstate 595, a multimillion-dollar east-west connection touted as part of the solution to traffic woes.
A few hundred yards away, construction workers swarmed over another project, the widening of I-95.
Jerry Tindall, 32, of Hollywood, smoothed wet cement on a median strip as a gigantic yellow and black earth scooper dumped dirt into a dump truck.
“It ain’t gonna make no difference,” Tindall said. “As soon as they get it up, they’re gonna tear it down and build something else. You mark my word.”
As we talked, a Delta jet from the nearby international airport roared directly overhead.
LESSON NO. 4 — Look out for falling airplane parts while resting along I-95.
Our next mission was to try out Florida’s Turnpike.
We quickly noticed that commuters going through the toll booths frequently growled at the toll takers. We asked the state Department of Transportation why.
“Toll collectors are blamed for everything,” said Karen Greenawalt, a DOT management consultant. “They take a lot of flak.”
Some motorists just yell. But others toss food, razor blades and smelly diapers into the money baskets, which brings us to . . .
LESSON NO. 5 — Hold your nose.
The turnpike behind us, we decided it was time to explore the Seminole Indian Reservation and possibly participate in an actual ritual, such as buying a carton of cigarettes for only $11.
We went to the 24-hour drive-through at Seminole Smokes just north of Hollywood. But instead of seeing an authentic Indian, we met a talkative, 21-year-old non-Indian woman named Rhonda Shrouder.
She explained cartons of cigarettes were $2 cheaper at Seminole Smokes than non-Indian stores because the tribe didn’t have to pay state cigarette tax.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people come here,” she said. “I have people come in and buy over $200 worth. Some people come all the way from Homestead. It’s interesting.”
Then she added, sheepishly:
“I had a guy drive up completely naked one time. He didn’t have a stitch of clothes on. He got his cigarettes and went on his way. I just turned beet red.”
LESSON NO. 6 — Beware of naked men blowing smoke rings.
Our next stop was the wild frontier of Davie, where a landfill affectionately known as Mt. Trashmore was suspected of leaking dangerous chemicals into well water near a cluster of homes called Sunshine Ranches.
Gerard Vitale, a contractor, said he bought his 15-acre
dream plot at Sunshine Ranches in 1982. Now he’s worried.
“We’re very concerned there will be continued seepage,” he said, which brings us to . . . LESSON NO. 7 — Don’t drink the water.
Still thinking about trash, we decided to consult with an archeologist since archeologists are always poking through people’s leftovers.
“Looking back, an archeologist is probably going to say we were pretty stupid,” Broward archeologist Gypsy Graves said. “The archeologist will say, ‘Gee, they used everything once and threw it away.’ ”
LESSON NO. 8 — Unless you want archeologists calling you an idiot in the year 2091, recycle your trash.
Our final mission was to find a place to wind down and relax. First we called the ritzy, $40-million, 504-room Bonaventure Resort & Spa.
A nice woman named Mary Jane Enterkin explained that we could get a 90-minute Japanese massage for $75. Or, if that wasn’t enough, we could try a “Body Buff,” a “pampering treatment” designed to remove “dead layers” of skin from your entire body.
Unfortunately, Dallas TV star Linda Evans, the spa’s official spokeswoman, wasn’t in and so we decided to try somewhere else.
LESSON NO. 9 — Oh, yeah. If you want to save money, go for the Swedish massage. It’s only 30 bucks.
We ended our journey with a call to Ron Boender, who told us the ultimate way to relax: Walk into a room filled with 3,000 flittering, glittering butterflies, then turn on the classical music.
That’s what it’s like to visit Butterfly World, a butterfly farm and exhibit Boender created in Coconut Creek. Admission is $6.
“They fly all around, landing on you,” Boender said. “It’s great. We are the best-kept secret in South Florida.”
LESSON NO. 10 — No nets allowed.