This time of year, I spend hours — days, actually, if you add all the hours together — camped in front of the TV, watching the Tour de France.
It's not just about the sport, because even fans as blindly devoted as I am can't ignore that the riders are likely doped to the gills.
It's about the beautiful, mesmerizing countryside. It's about farmers who are so proud of their products that they mow portraits of chickens like crop circles in their hay fields.
It's about towns that have neat, well-defined beginnings, middles and ends. It's about perfectly preserved chateaus and castles, and the way aerial views of them pop up on the screen every few minutes and announcers Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen always know the dates of their construction along with a few context-establishing historical tidbits. And that's because — of course! — these gorgeous landmarks are almost as much a part of the race as the racers.
It's true the broadcasters don't seek out images of supermarkets and convenience stores, and that these probably don't look great in France, either.
But all the dazzling views make you wonder what Hernando County would look like if it hosted a famous race. How would State Road 50 appear in high definition? How mesmerizing would it be to see the Chick-fil-A, Starbucks and Five Guys fly by like fence posts?
How many people around the globe, checking out the tract housing on either side of the road, would mutter to a spouse or partner: "Honey, let's just sell everything and move there."
The hills north of Brooksville would look good on camera if you could ignore the vast, barren mining pits and the fate of the closest thing we have to a chateau, the 162-year-old Chinsegut Manor House.
Phil would have to explain that a state university leased the house for decades and is barely scraping the money together to keep it from crumbling to the ground while trying to unload it on another state agency, but that hasn't worked out because they're all pretty much broke and the American people think preserving culture, nature, history and beauty is for European wimps.
I exaggerate, of course, but just a little. Because to tell you the truth I was disgusted when I read that the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission couldn't afford to take over the Manor House and that this gem, this fountainhead of local history, is once again up for grabs. (Public agencies have first dibs, but, yes, it could end up in the hands of a private developer.)
That's not the only thing that's got me down. There's the decision to blow up the state department that tried for decades, vainly but sometimes valiantly, to control sprawl, and the bright (and fortunately now-abandoned) idea that we should let RVs bring their own kind of sprawl to state parks — the most stunning parks first, of course, because they're the ones that would bring in the most revenue.
Locally we're considering a plan to mine the western gateway to Brooksville. Hey, why not bring a little more ugly to SR 50? It's just our main commercial corridor. There's also the possible closing of county parks and the grabbing of money that's supposed to be reserved for buying natural land because we refuse to raise revenue by normal, honest means. That's not all, not even close. I could come up with a dozen other examples of the people and leaders in the county and state sacrificing quality of life either because we want to let well-connected folks make their cash or because we're unwilling to part with a little of our own in the form of a reasonable tax rate.
I recently read that Americans are the most patriotic people in the world and generally for good reason. But it seems as though this national feeling is so wrapped up with personal freedom and profit-seeking that we forget a country — or a state, or a county — is ultimately a cooperative, collective enterprise.
So maybe we should consider this heretical notion: If we really love our country, show it like they do in France.