Bush campaign kickoff and Winter Music Conference

George Bush's re-election campaign kickoff March 20 brought a predictable mix of dirt-under-their-fingernails blue-collar types (sporting "I'm Not Fonda Kerry" shirts) and pant-suited, middle-class suburban Christians to the Orange County Convention Center, all of whom were waving plastic American flags, made in China and distributed free at the door courtesy of the Republican Party of Florida.

We got there just in time to see Billy Ray Cyrus, who had dropped into Central Florida for the day to support Bush and apply for a day job at one of the parks. A radio DJ from Miami tried to lead the crowd in a cheer that went, "We love George Bush, how about you?" But the drones were meek and weak, proving once and for all that liberals can outchant conservatives any day.

The energy in the crowd had reached a frenzied fervor by the time Mr. President arrived around 11:30 a.m. We had a hard time controlling ourselves and our pen was racing to capture the scene in a small black journal. His speech was standard Shrub fare: America is strong, won't be bullied by thugs, etc.

When Bush made his exit, we attempted to make ours, only to be grabbed by a hostile old woman. Her concern? Why would anyone be writing during a presidential speech? Liberal conspiracy? As the woman's accusations escalated, we took her hand and gave it the biggest, sloppiest kiss possible before wishing her a good day. If only we'd worn our "My Bush Could Make a Better President" T-shirt.

No sooner did we escape the clutches of Angry Old Republican Woman No. 1 when Angry Old Republican Woman No. 2 -- who had noticed the aforementioned incident -- began following us, shouting "dirty hippie" and "terrorist." Soon we were surrounded by a crowd of Angry Old Republican Women, a few of whom began pushing and shoving as we were crowded out of the convention center. At the atrium, we began to enjoy the name-calling, responding with chants and cheers of our own ("Hip hip hooray! One year of war today!"), which afforded us an escort out the door via a security guard named Brett.

It's always nice to get out of town for a few days during the second week of March to exotic South Beach for the Winter Music Conference -- made doubly awesome this year by the debut of M3, the Miami Music & Multimedia summit. What's not to love about a near week of electronic (and live) music bliss, featuring "seminars" by day (boring) and dozens of parties by night (yay!)? A city that embraces such decadence is a city to be embraced until around age 45-ish.

Six reasons why events like this don't happen in Orlando:

1. We don't have a topless beach.

2. A letter from the mayor of Miami in the M3 program welcomed the tens of thousands of partygoers -- because he parties too! And it doesn't hurt that the annual gathering, now in its 19th year, generates millions of dollars from visitors representing 60 countries. Have fun, make money. We can't seem to get the hang of it.

3. Clubs in Miami stay open until 5 a.m. (while Dyer's twiddling his thumbs over the late-night drinking issue). One club, Space, has a 24-hour liquor license. Dan-ger-ous.

4. The dreaded rave flashback: Orlando's draconian late-night ordinances and puritanical politicians don't want what happened between '89 and '97 to start up all over again, just like that stubborn goldfish-eating craze in the '20s. (Aahz at Beacham Theater, The Abyss, The Edge, The Club at Firestone ... those were the salad days.)

5. The Latin/European vibe down south is undeniable and makes you wish our own city were more international in feeling. Epcot and I-Drive don't count.

6. Orlando lacks flavor. What flavor is Orlando? You tell us, we'll print your answers.

So here it comes, precisely three years and one month after Rollins College rebuffed WMFE-FM's (90.7) efforts to take over its student-run radio station, WPRK-FM (91.5) -- word trickles in our e-mail box suggesting WMFE may be at it again. The timing seemed right: When Rollins stuck with student-run radio, it only committed to only three years.

To the relief of basement-radio fans everywhere, it looks like the status quo is still a go. Says Steve Neilson, dean of students at Rollins: "We have completed our evaluation and decided we're going to stay the course with WPRK as it is."

Good deal. But our Deep Throat also mentioned that WMFE was looking at WUCF-FM, the University of Central Florida's radio stage. That much is true, according to one well-placed source at the university: "They never give up. They regularly write letters to the president offering to take over." WUCF declined as well. Says Deep Throat, "Our ratings during the day are higher than their ratings. Our fund-raising is doing very well."

Yep. The mighty have officially fallen. Last week, a kind PR soul asked us if we'd be interested in covering Coverings 2004, "the ULTIMATE Tile, Stone & Flooring Expo" at the Orange County Convention Center, March 23 through 26. If there's any advantage to working here instead of the Sentinel, it's that we get to say "no thanks" to such offers.

Then the sales pitch got sweeter: Steve Forbes is the keynote speaker! Forbes, the goofy-ass kazillionaire who sought the Republican nomination for president in 1996 and 2000 coming to our (happy)town? Hot damn! Still, no story, though we have to wonder if Forbes is at all embarrassed by working the tile convention scene. Then again, he bathes in money, so who are we to judge?

Fun With Orlando Sentinel grammar: From the lead Local story, "Rapist's sentence doubled," on page B-1, March 16, we quote:

"On Jan. 26, `Brian Joseph` Huffman pleaded guilty to raping, kidnapping, beating and robbing the woman in exchange for a 21-year prison sentence to be followed by two years of house arrest and 15 years of probation."

Talk about a sweetheart deal.

Close call with Ben Stein: What follows is a genuine voice mail apology, making sure we weren't miffed about missing our minutes with Ben Stein during his scheduled press time prior to speaking at The Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida's "17th Annual Dinner of Tribute," March 18 at the Rosen Plaza Hotel:

"You were not overlooked last night. Ben got a late start. He had the three interviews waiting for him, back to back. Then he had to go back to his room to brush his teeth."

Colgate? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

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