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For this year, the babble is on the road

Florida politicos are, as in any election year, busying themselves making sure nothing worthwhile or important gets done or discussed.

During odd-numbered years taxes get levied, pork gets trimmed and an occasional accidental act of statesmanship takes place.

During any year divisible by two, they throw us a few quick feints like threatening to double our telephone bills and rename the Florida Turnpike, and then the governor puts on a coonskin cap and goes out shooting potato guns at reporters, thereby distinguishing himself as the most useful and reasonable man in Tallahassee.

This year the babble du jour is the prospect of renaming the Florida State Turnpike for former President Ronald Reagan.



I won't kick a man while he is down, and Reagan's courageous struggle with Alzheimer's disease, and his willingness to go public with it, may be the moral and courageous high points of his life and career.

But we have too much of a fetish about naming things for people and then regretting it, or forgetting why we did it, and we almost always do it for the wrong reasons.

Ask most Pasco residents where Schrader Memorial Highway is. Ask Tampa residents who Dale Mabry was and ask anyone why they would ever name anything Tropicana.

Naming things "veterans" is standard fare for political hacks who need a quick grip-and-grin photo before returning to the tasks of limiting, dismantling and cutting services to the veterans of wars that have faded from the five-minute American attention span.

Pasco school administrators went nuts naming schools after each other a few years back and then refused to name one for me _ despite my very reasonable explanation that the Glidewell Middle School soccer team results and honor roll would make it into the paper so often that every time my bosses plugged my name into the computer they would get a gazillion hits and think I was working really hard.

Governments far and wide have labored throughout the last three decades at finding ways to name things for Martin Luther King Jr. that are insignificant enough that they don't make the racist voting bloc angry _ and failed every time. Business owners who seem to go through ZIP and area code changes and building number changes without a blink suddenly decide they will go belly up if they have to order new letterhead stationery with the name King on it.

The Turnpike has always been the Turnpike and, although it was a big deal in the years before the interstate highway system was developed, it is now sort of a pimple on the buttocks of the state infrastructure.

I'm not so sure that it would be a compliment to the former president to name after him a highway that, nearly 40 years after its beginnings, still seems to be in a perpetual state of construction and confusion, sort of like Star Wars was during his administration.

One friend of mine, knowing that the Republican-led Legislature is full of those guys who are always whining about manhood issues, suggested they name it for the late rock musician Jim Morrison. In 1969, Morrison got arrested in Miami, then the Turnpike's southern terminus, for exposing his . . . er . . . manhood . . . on stage.

Maybe renaming it for Bob's Barricades, which seems to have a substantial advertising stake along miles of it every time I drive it, would be appropriate. Who could hate a highway named "Bob"?

I think the best and most economicalmove would be to simply rename it the Florida State Ternpike.

It would save millions in relettering costs, honor a heretofore ignored sea swallow and give us a chance to update the state motto.

Given the amount of marijuana that moves up and down that highway and the fact that police have decided that driving a late model car within the speed limit and having skin any color but pink is good reason for suspecting you of smuggling, we could finally acknowledge the road's real purpose _ making it a safe bet that the state, finally, will have left no tern unstoned.