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You Betcha!

Earlier this month, nearly 60 people, including two veteran Jacksonville police officers, were arrested after a two-year investigation by the FDLE into a $300-million-dollar gambling scheme. I, for one, am shocked, not just at the operation itself or even its alleged participants but even more so, the number of people who are actually upset that the “Internet cafes” were shut down! Though I’ve never actually been inside one, I can’t imagine the allure of sitting in an old Quincy’s Steakhouse with blacked-out windows (that I highly doubt still smells like steak, baked potatoes and big, fat yeast rolls) when there are plenty of other legal ways to parlay a dollar into a million.

Florida Lottery: With 13,000 retail locations around the state, becoming a multimillionaire (or $2-aire in my case) is as close as your favorite supermarket, gas station or convenience store. The good news: You can become richer than your wildest dreams for only a dollar. Plus, you can scratch off your tickets in the privacy of your own home: You don’t even have to wear pants. The bad news: “Florida law mandates that the Florida Lottery provide the winner's name, city of residence, game won, date won and amount won to any third party who requests the information.”

Greyhound Racing: The best bet Orange Park offers live greyhound racing (that’s dogs, not buses) Monday and Wednesday–Saturday evenings, matinees Wednesday and Saturday–Sunday. The good news: It only takes a buck to play, and pools can get up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. And admission is free to the lower level. The bad news: Your friends who are PETA members will never set foot in the place.

Simulcast Betting: Both locations of Best Bet—Jacksonville and Orange Park—allow bettors to waste wager on thoroughbred, harness and greyhound racing and jai alai from round the country. The good/bad news: See “Greyhound Racing” above. …   More

The Specktator

Congrats to the Best Chef America Winners

UPDATED: June 21, 2013

Earlier this year, Best Chefs America announced its “ultimate chef’s guide to chefs.” Nominations were made by fellow chefs, other culinary professionals and food enthusiasts; 19 Jacksonville-area chefs made the cut.

Granted, I didn’t go to culinary school (unless you count the six-week Basics of Culinary course I took at Publix Apron’s Cooking School ... which was awesome, by the way). I’ve never worked in a restaurant (unless you count the two weeks I worked as a banquet server at Harbormaster’s ... did I just date myself with that reference?). I’m not a food critic (despite my inserting myself into any food judging opportunity in town ... Barbecue? Check. Gumbo? Check. Food trucks? Check.)  I do, however, consider myself a food enthusiastic (have you seen the size of my butt?) and, therefore, feel qualified to add five names to the list that were not acknowledged.

Chef Andrew Ferenc, On the Fly Food Truck

Best grilled cheese in town. Best chicken tacos in town. Best crab cake sliders in town. Best tomato shrimp bisque in town. And award-winning peanut butter pretzel bars that belong in a category of awesomeness all their own. I have never had anything at OTF that was not A+. Cooking since the age of 15 (and it shows), Andrew has worked at First Street Grill, Aqua Grill and Homestead. In addition to winning the inaugural and second annual Jax Truckies Competition as the judges’ overall champion and the people’s choice, OTF won Best Food Truck in Folio’s Best of Jax issue. Special shout out to Phyllis and Chef Eric.

Aurathai Sellas, Taste of Thai

“Aura” as she’s known to her devoted customers single-handedly changed my opinion of Thai food. Prior to visiting TOT, I was not a fan of the cuisine. But one bite into a crispy spring roll, and I was hooked. Matter of fact, when asked to choose my “last meal,” I'd pick …   More


Props to the WOP

Nothing personal, Miley Cyrus, but I really don't pay much attention to anything you do. I, unlike, your 11.5 million Twitter followers, couldn't give a flip about your boyfriend/fiance/ex or your new haircut. (I do confess that "Party in the U.S.A." was guilty pleasure for about a minute.)

But something happened 48 hours ago that has made me a fan for life, Miley: You posted a video of yourself dancing to "WOP" on your Facebook page.

"WOP," for those of you who don't know, is a hip-hop song written, performed and produced by J. Dash. J. Dash, for those of you who don't know, is a Stereofame recording artist/musical genius ("future Grammy winner," as I like to refer to him) who lives in Jacksonville — and was foolish enough to give me his phone number a long time ago.

The video, shot in black and white on a friend's iPhone, shows Cyrus, face obscured (until the final reveal), wearing a unicorn onesie wopping, twerking and moving her booty in ways I didn't know the kid had in her. Since posting it on her Facebook page March 20, the video has been shared more than 20,000 times and viewed almost 150,000 times on YouTube. It's been featured everywhere from to the Today Show to the Daily Mail. Ryan Seacrest wrote about it on his blog. LeBron James and Pharrell tweeted about it.

And I, for one, couldn't be happier about it … even if it means J. never takes another call from me again.   More


'R' Is for 'R-rated'

Since 2011, the members of PB&J (Party, Benefit & Jam) have been raising money and awareness for area non-profits—in non-traditional ways. They’ve organized a pop-up party under the Fuller Warren Bridge for Sustainable Springfield and Riverside Avondale Preservation, a county fair at Intuition Aleworks for Forsaken Generation and Go Skate Day at Hemming Plaza for Kona Middle/High School. But it’s the group’s latest event — PB&J Presents: A Dirty Spelling Bee — that truly epitomizes its members’ desire to “think outside the box.”

Modeled after the Scripps National Spelling Bee, this 21-and-up-only version will have participants spelling actual medical terms, not slang, with The New Oxford American Dictionary serving as the official source of words and the final authority on spelling not In other words, don’t expect any references to an oxidized brass instrument or men’s neckwear named after a city in Ohio. P.S. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, just keep reading: You’re better off that way.

Up to 30 contestants are expected to participate in the “oral competition” (hey, that’s what Scripps calls theirs!) with contestants ranging from a business owner and hair stylist to theater director and teacher. As a contestant, I can only hope there won’t be any gynecologists or urologists on the stage.

That’s not to say I haven’t been, er, boning up on my anatomy and physiology vocabulary. Sure, there are some folks who think I may have an advantage considering I’m a writer and should know how to spell, but I can assure you that “uterine infundibulum” and “corpa cavernosa” are not words I have ever typed until this very moment. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know I had a mons veneris, let alone how to spell it. The one small asset I do bring to the …   More


Want to Sing at a Suns Game?

The Jacksonville Suns are holding auditions for national anthem performers 1-4 p.m. March 16 at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. Singers will be asked to perform the song "in a traditional fashion and in its entirety," where instrumentalists will be given "more flexibility with their rendition." Vocal groups are also invited to audition.

Lip synchers and crotch-grabbing, spitting Roseanne wannabes need not apply.

So you know what you're up against, here are the six most viewed performances on YouTube.

Sharon Wilbur

Heather Bureau

Blake Dawson

Mark Dorsett

Christy Saunders

AJ Neaher

And a special shout-out to Victoria Zarlenga, whose video has the least...



17 Ways to Celebrate St. Patrick's Day

Strange things happen on March 17. Beer turns green. People start talking like the Lucky Charms leprechaun. Corned beef and cabbage shows up on the menus of local sports bars. Yes, for one day, Northeast Florida residents — regardless of their true ancestry — pretend to be Irish. While many folks couldn’t imagine celebrating St. Patrick’s Day without tossing back some pints of Guinness or shots of Jameson, alcohol isn’t necessarily a requirement. In fact, I’ve come up with 17 ways to get in the spirit — without spirits ... or stewed cabbage.

1. Find a bar with a jukebox and play as many U2 songs as possible until you run out of money — or get hit over the head with a shillelagh. 

2. Take your dog—preferably an Irish setter, Irish terrier or Irish wolfhound—to the Jacksonville Landing for St. “Paw”ty’s Yappy Hour.

3. Hop aboard the Rally Bus and head to the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Savannah. It picks up somewhere on Dunn Avenue before 6 a.m. and will get you home 13 hours later ... if you're lucky.

4. Enjoy a “smooth and creamy” mint-flavored Shamrock Shake from McDonald’s — but only for a limited time! (I’m still waiting for the ultra-limited time McRib Shake.)

5. Drive to the Emerald Isle: actually Emerald Isle Circle in a neighborhood just off Beach Boulevard and Killarney Drive. And don't miss Blarney Stone Court, St. Patrick Lane or Leprechaun Court.

6. Take in the "mesmerizing blend of traditional and modern Celtic music and dance," known as Lord of the Dance on March 15 at the Times-Union Center.

7. Hit the road in the St. Patty's Day Run 10K and 5K on March 17 at 8 a.m. and try not to think about the fact that you're running through a cemetery.

8. Watch the green fireworks over the St. Johns River at the Northbank and Southbank.

9. Stock up on Jaguars St. Patrick's Day …   More


On the Tweet Beat: Dan Hicken

Since my recent foray into snooping around Governor Rick Scott's Twitter account was so well received (see sidebar), I decided to start "Tweet Beat." Like a sworn officer of the law, I will patrol the Twitterverse protecting and serving the Tweeters, their followers and the community at large. On today's docket is First Coast News Sports Director Dan Hicken.

• In his Twitter profile (@DanHicken), he describes himself as: “sports guy, father of three awesome kids, hubby of BWR, friend to all, YOU KNOW IT!” ("BWR," for those who don't follow Hicken, is "beautiful wife Reagan." All together now: aw!)

• At this moment, Hicken has 7,141 followers which is pretty impressive considering legendary WJXT sports director Sam Kouvaris has fewer than 2,500 — and Action News’ Steve Wrigley doesn’t even have a Twitter account.

• He’s currently following 217 accounts including the PGA Tour, Cecil Shorts III, Florida Gators, Scott Van Pelt and Ryan Lochte.

• The first Twitter account he followed was Tony Boselli. (Can you say "bromance"?)

•According to his Twitter timeline, his first post was on May 27, 2012 at 5:36 p.m. in response to a coworker’s Tweet about heading to the beach: “be careful out there big guy … stormtracker!”

• Since then, he has posted 8,562 times.

• Gramatically speaking, he does not like to use uppercase letters but is a big fan of double question marks, double exclamation points and ellipses.

• Regarding college sports, he hates Miami. (I mean, "he hates miami!!")

• But judging from a recent Tweet, he is a big fan of cheesy reality TV: “i don't know about you....but i simply can't wait for the reality tv show SPLASH to debut this week … #MUSTSEETV!”

• Finally, I would caution Hicken about some potential awkwardness around the newsroom. First Coast News colleagues Phil Amato, Shannon …   More


RAM, a Band and a Ding-dong

Dubbed the “coolest thing ever” by Folio Weekly (and we would know), the Riverside Arts Market reopened last weekend with a full-on parade led by RAM founder Wayne Wood and Mayor Alvin Brown and featuring the Stanton College Preparatory School marching band. RAM staff, volunteers and some kooky blogger with a penchant for orange Ray-Bans who made the mistake of mentioning that she used to twirl the baton in elementary school also participated in the festivities.

Despite the chilly weather, hundreds of folks came out to the event to shop, eat and be entertained. Check the photo gallery above for a small sample of the day's activities and characters.

Or better yet, come out and see it for yourself. RAM is located under the Fuller Warren Bridge at Riverside Avenue and is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. every Saturday through December.   More


Living Strong Is One Thing, Living Honest Is Another

Last night, NBA Hall of Famer turned author, advocate and founder of The Skyhook Foundation, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, spoke at the Times-Union Center as part of The Florida Forum benefiting Wolfson Children's Hospital. As inspiring and eloquent as KA-J was, I wondered what Lance Armstrong, originally slated to speak at the event, would have said. And I couldn't stop thinking about a local man's poignant — and pointed — open letter to Armstrong following his confession about using perfomance-enhancing drugs, that I discovered on Twitter …

Dear Lance,

It is with great regret that I'm compelled to write you this seemingly antagonistic letter although I assure you that isn't my intention at all... Empathy, then, is my goal for you after you read this letter.

They say that empathy is knowing how a person feels regardless of whether or not you've ever been in their situation. Martin Luther King had empathy. John F. Kennedy had empathy. And for the most part, it seemed that you did too. But now, after your confession [aired] on the Oprah Winfrey Network, I fear that you won't realize exactly what people like me are going through. My fear is that you won't recognize the embarrassment you've caused us, and I don't want to sit on the sidelines, not affording you the opportunity to hear what I have to say. I fear that you won't feel our pain. Thus, begins my open letter to you...

For the better part of the past decade, I have aspired to what I thought was the LiveStrong way of life and the embodiment of an attitude that says anything, no matter how difficult, can be accomplished so long as you combat it with the iron will that we're all born with yet fear to use. I believed in that lifestyle — and I believed in you.

As a young plebe at the United States Naval Academy, I was given my first LiveStrong bracelet by my squad leader JD Dunivant. I wore it with pride as it was a reminder that regardless of how difficult life was as a young …   More


Oscars Schmoscars

As usual, I didn’t see any of the films that were nominated for an Academy Award. Probably because I rarely go to the movies … and the fact that I don’t particularly like musicals, period films, subtitles, action flicks or animation. However, that didn’t stop me from making snarky comments throughout the show (while I do draw the line at poking fun at “In Memoriam” segment, I do pay attention to who gets the most applause). Since I didn’t actually care who won (or lost), I spent most of the broadcast wondering: What if Jacksonville had its own version of the Oscars? Who would win best actor? Best actress? Best picture? Hence, the inaugural presentation of the Sposcars, The Specktator’s own version of the Oscars. 

Check the photo gallery above for all of the winners and losers. 

And if you think we missed anyone, let us know in the comments section!