Mike Royko was easily the most entertaining and evocative columnist I've yet to read and I'd rank Jimmy Breslin second probably because I lived in Chicago for 22 years. The Chicago wonder has been gone two weeks more than 15 years and I continue to miss his incisiveness and wit. The wonder of it all was that he wrote his column five times a week--a staggering output. He knew Chicago better than the back of his hand and he could spot a phony by way of uncommon insight.
Royko had a lot of targets. Writing for first the Daily News, then the Sun-Times and, finally, the Tribune, the columnist went after the Mayors Daley, aldermen on the take, cops with more than character flaws, the Cubs when they were playing badly (and that was most of the time), Hollywood's latest darlings, and adjacent states including Indiana.
Were he still among us, I think Royko would have been absolutely captivated by Florida, that skinny Texas of extraordinary confusion.
It's difficult to know where to begin with something as curious as Florida. There are the people past including: railway magnet Henry Flagler; the fabulous Mizner brothers who became the rogues of the 1920s Florida Land Boom and whose raffish personalities gave further understanding of the affinity New Yorkers have for Florida; Meyer Lansky, otherwise known as the "Mob's Accountant," and Hank Meyer, a public relations whiz so persuasive that he talked Second Corner weathermen into never crediting Miami Beach with temperatures higher than 89. They do today, but Meyer is no longer among us.
Let us leap immediately into the contemporary Florida now recognized as the fraud capital of the U.S., a reputation well-established long before Bernie ripped off so many friends and relatives in Palm Beach, easily his favorite hunting ground. Florida led the nation last year with 130,449 complaints while also grabbing the top spot in home foreclosures and identity theft. The Bermuda Triangle of the latter is the Miami metropolitan area where 51 percent of the state's complaints originated last year. Way to go, Miami, whose numbers were nearly double those of the next-highest U.S. metro area.
While best known for 114 hurricanes (37 major) since 1851, dead beat Florida also has impressive credit card debt records with four cities in the top 25.
In the dumper job-wise, Florida will have to wait at least another year to realize all the magnificence inherent in a mega-casino bill pulled from consideration the other day by House sponsor Erik Fresen when it became clear passage was not possible. Not even a statewide TV advertising campaign, in addition to glitzy architectural renderings we've come to expect from the Sunshine State, could make possible three $2 billion mega casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. Las Vegas-style gambling in South Florida can yet be a reality. After all, like corporations, casinos are people.
As if living in Florida isn't difficult enough, The National Transportation Safety Board tells us the state is on its list of those needing the most improvement in highway safety. The problem involves an out-of-touch legislature unwilling to pass a single distracted driving law. While more than 70 percent of Florida voters support a ban on text messaging while driving, the legislature has been turning down safety bills since 2006 when the problem was timidly referred to as "hands free."
The concerned have statistics to back up their contention tht keeping legal outrageous driving is not acceptable. During the first 10 months of 2011, electronic distractions led to 2,218 vehicle accidents in the state with 145 linked to texting and drivingl. The big year for messaging bills that never made it out of committee was 2008 when in e met such a fate. Of little help is Gov. Rick Scott, a conservative Republican (thought I'd never get there, did you?) who vetoed a bill in 2011 that would have required education about the dangers of electronic distracted driving. What a flippant thought.
Sometimes referred to as the Persistent Vegetative State, voters not long ago passed a law making the wearing of baggy pants a criminal offense that can cost the offender up to $150 and 60 days in jail. Ah, priorities where in Florida baggy pants are more important than electronic distraction while driving.
Oh, yes. Did you know that Orlando, where Mickey Mouse is king, is the kiddie porn capital of this here country? That's according to a Men's Health Magazine study based upon such factors as hard core DVD purchases, rentals, and streams. Florida is so salacious that Las Vegas finished second with New York coming in 77th out of 100.
It may have been the butterfly ballot of 2000 that first brought our attention to Florida in terms of how corrupt and screwed up it is. The hanging chad became one of those infamous terms forever associated with America's only stolen election although Jack Kennedy's win in 1958 is a reasonable Republican response. The brilliant punch card design was on its way out with but 37.3% of voters using the system in 1996. Socioeconomics determined which counties would keep punch card voting and Palm Beach County was considered disadvantaged without funds to buy voting machines.
What set up confusion in Palm Beach County was the state's 1998 gubernatorial election in which Jeb Bush beat incumbent governor Lawton Chiles. Had George W. Bush's brother lost in Florida, Gore would have won in 2000 because of a first position on the ballot. The 1996 election found Republican Bob Dole second on the ballot because Chiles was in office so Dole got all the ruined ballots. With Jeb Bush Governor, Gore got second place on the ballot and lost the election. It was those error-prone folks in Palm Beach County who determined the election along with a lot of help from the U.S. Supreme Court. Proof that Bush was unfairly awarded the Presidency is every one of Pat Buchanan's 3,407 Palm Beach County votes. The total represented 19.6% of votes cast, a highly suspect number since the Reform Party candidate pulled but 5.4% of the total in 1996. There were 336 registered Reform Party members in 2000. Once Bush was in office, he made certain that the lede paragraph of his obituary will make mention of his war criminality rather than the flukiness of the 2000 election.
Speaking of criminals, there's a burgeoning number of Floridians who will steal anything not nailed down. Among them is a guy who concentrates on ripping off large amounts of medical equipment. His specialty: heart monitors unhooked from their owners.
Floridians are often challenged by a lack of awareness as evidenced by the flight trainer who didn't find it unusual shortly before 9/11 when he was told by a cash-paying aviation "student" to forget about landing instructions and "just teach me to fly it around."
Key West, where weirdness might peak, is worth mentioning if only because of the German doctor who fell in love with a young tuberculosis patient. She eventually died and he tried to restore her to life after stealing her from her tomb. In a plot twist Tim Burton probably wouldn't touch, the doctor had sexual relations with her corpse quite possibly proving, once again, that a good bedside manner can go a long way.
Let's make it encore, Key West, where in 1984 the entire police department was declared an illegal enterprise under the RICO laws--usually used to shut down mobsters. One witness testified to delivering bags of coke to city hall on a regular basis.
Of much more recent vintage has been the Trayvon Martin shooting by George Zimmerman in which Florida's short-sighted stand your ground law is being questioned now by even the fools in government who came up with such an un-civilized law. It's always interesting to learn what adjoining states are doing and, to little surprise, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama have similar laws. Yahoo states do as Yahoo states are.
A town with an innate ability to insult a celebrity is Lauderhill that once invited actor James Earl Jones to speak at a Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration and receive a plaque to commemorate the occasion. Everything went according to plan until the presentation of the plaque. It was inscribed to James Earl Ray, the man who assassinated King.
Enormously funny author Carl Hiassen has kicked the state around while living in South Florida. It was during a Steve Kroft interview on "60 Minutes" that Hiassen revealed a lot of his plot developments are based upon actual people including the heroine of Skinny Dip who was flung off the stern of a cruise ship, only to be saved by a floating bale of marijuana. Other characters include a professional wheelchair thief, a school board candidate whose legal residence was a tool shed, and a U.S. attorney who bit a stripper during a table dance. Oh, and let's not forget a South Florida mayor who tried to employ city hall workers to kill her husband.
One of the verities of Florida, sometimes referred to as "America's Penis," is the vast number of retirees living in places like The Villages whose TV advertising budget is probably exceeded only by that of Super PAC Restore Our Future. The Villages residents, as might be expected, resort to print advertising including the following under the heading: Long Term Commitment: Recent widow who has just burned fourth husband, and am looking for someone to round out a six-unit plot. Dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath not a problem. It would appear it's possible to have a sense of humor in the Alligator State despite living conditions on the challenging side.
Adding to Florida's uniqueness is the topography. The lowest high point of any state is Britton Hill at 345 ft. To no one's surprise, there are theorists fully convinced a great day is coming when a really significant tsunami will do what Floridians have been unable to do thus far: put the state out of its misery.
And, as the saying goes, there's much, much more not touched upon in this sally including the continuing role of Miami's Little Havana in our Cuban policy and the laugh-out-loud rewriting of Senator Marco Rubio's family history; the unusual death 10 years ago of a Joe Scarborough ("Morning Joe") employee in Walton Beach; the odd case of Terry Schiavo kept alive for six years in a vegetative state for political purposes; and Jeb Bush's request for an Orlando court-appointed guardian for the fetus of a mentally disabled rape victim. He was refused.
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