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'Stiltsville' recalls when you could still hide from Miami

Stiltsville2 Sooner or later -- usually, sooner -- everybody has his Defining South Florida moment. Mine came as a young Miami Herald reporter covering Sunrise, back then just a ragged string of condo towers along the murky, mosquito-ridden frontier of West Broward. One night during a city council meeting, I listened in amazement as an irascible old woman rose from the audience to deliver a long, ranting demand that the council do something to get rid of a video-game parlor that had recently opened just inside the city limits.

It wasn't that the parlor was crowded or noisy or garishly lit. It just was, and that was enough. ``We don't need those kind of people here!'' the woman shouted, as murmurs of approval echoed through the room, and the councilmen enthusiastically nodded like a herd of bobble-head dolls in an earthquake.

Neither the woman nor anyone else ever specified exactly what kind of people had to be run out of town, but run out they were. Within a month, the video-game parlor had vanished, leaving the condo-dwellers to return peacefully to their ordinary business of kicking one another out for unauthorized door decorations and illicit color schemes. And I had my little epiphany, realizing that the most endangered species in South Florida was not some slithery amphibian or obscure fern but the concept of minding your own business. In the two decades since, it's been so rarely sighted that I'm pretty sure it's extinct.

WLRN's new documentary Stiltsville: Generations on the Flats is a wistful, fascinating reminder that once upon a time, South Florida -- or at least one waterborne little chunk of it -- was not always a circus of schoolmarmish snoopery. Just above the ocean waves off Key Biscayne, Hefnerian bachelor pads coexisted peacefully with Beaver Cleaver suburban dream houses and crusty cracker bait shops. Read my full review of Stiltsville: Generations on the Flats in Sunday's Miami Herald.

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