We are a strange people in Florida. Never understated and rarely predictable.
And though we often are ridiculed as America’s sideshow, it is actually our diversity rather than our indigenousness that makes us so peculiar. We are crackers, we are immigrants, we are Yankee refugees.
We have no enduring identity other than our penchant for creating endless stories. Many are comical, some are tragic, and a few are just plain bewildering. From the outside looking in, Florida is what happens when the scientists forget to lock up the lab.
What might be worth exploring, however, is what each story says about us. Not just the outcome, but the prelude. Look deeply enough, and you will see where we are coming from and, possibly, where we are headed. You might even begin to understand what makes us, oh, so Florida.
And thus, before the 2018 calendar makes its final turn, let’s revisit some of the major moments from the past year with a fresher perspective.
The Parkland tragedy
Four minutes that changed countless lives. The death toll at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High was 17, and the reverberations were felt around the globe.
For the first few days following Nikolas Cruz’s Valentine’s Day rampage, we talked about the victims and their stories. And then we spent the rest of the year assigning blame.
We excoriated the school cop. We blasted the Broward School District policies. We faulted the NRA. Gov. Rick Scott blamed the head of the FBI, and one of the surviving students then blamed Scott. The state Legislature demanded more guns on campus, and local school districts complained Tallahassee offered more pretense than substance.
We seemed to care more about winning the argument than finding the solution. And so today, more than eight months after the attack, there is no consensus and little faith in our impregnability.
Feb. 14 was the darkest day of the year. The political infighting that followed somehow made it worse.
Once again, the people of Florida came together in the face of a devastating storm. We respond, we clear a path, we pick each other up better than anyone. Our resilience is unquestioned.
What’s lacking is our prudence.
Storm after storm comes ashore, and year after year we rebuild. The same type of structures with the same waterfront access. There was a time, 20 years ago, when we were starting to look like pioneers in building codes. Now, for the sake of economic expediency, we have sacrificed some of that diligence.
Rays stadium search
We all deserve better than what we have recently witnessed. The Rays are one of the best-run franchises in professional sports and are entitled to better fan support than what they have received the past decade. And the fans deserve more information and fewer implied threats than what the Rays have typically supplied. A solution may not be found, but the community needs to recognize the Rays have a legitimate point, and the Rays need to acknowledge the ransom they are seeking.
Red tide, algae blooms
There is no doubt Mother Nature perpetrated this environmental and economic horror. There is also little doubt Gov. Scott was guilty of aiding and abetting.
Environmental regulations were thrown out, and budgets were gleefully slashed during the past eight years. The result was the critical mass that killed tons of fish and polluted waterways.
The good news is Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis promised to be a better caretaker of our precious resources. And since the election, he has not backtracked.
The Markeis McGlockton shooting
How is it possible that so many people could watch the exact same video and see two completely different stories? It would be understandable if we were to lean in one direction or another, but this incident produced an all-in or all-out reaction.
One side saw a wannabe vigilante killing a father who was merely protecting his family. The other side saw a violent instigator get what he had coming. There was little middle ground or nuance to be had.
It is not a stretch to trace this division in perspectives back to Florida’s “stand your ground’’ statute. It’s not just the legal implications of the law, but the way it has invaded our psyches.
For those who see a world full of lawlessness, it is a comforting equalizer. For those who favor stricter gun control, the law encourages an armed society.
An election bungle
They say elections have consequences. In Florida, elections also have lawsuits, recounts, late-night monologues and Jungian therapy sessions.
The idea that, election after election, we can turn the simple act of voting into a mini-series chock full of surreal characters is a small example of our indifference toward common sense.
This time it was officials in South Florida who seemed caught by surprise that it was A) an election year and B) no longer the 19th century. Finally, days and days after the actual election, it was confirmed that Scott had taken Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat and DeSantis had beaten Andrew Gillum in the gubernatorial race.
So what does it say that Republicans continue to dominate in a state populated by a plurality of Democrats? It could be apathy on the part of Democrats. It could be most no-party-affiliation voters lean Republican. It could simply be better Republican candidates.
Personally, I think a lot of Florida voters have grown to view Republicans as doers and Democrats as dreamers.
If you are not a fan of football, you might have missed one of the most uplifting stories of the year. Griffin, a 23-year-old from St. Petersburg, was a star linebacker at the University of Central Florida, and a fifth-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks in April. That’s impressive enough. What’s extraordinary is Griffin had his left hand amputated as a child due to a congenital disorder.
Now he is playing alongside his brother Shaquill in the NFL, starring in national advertising campaigns for Nike and Gillette and inspiring differently abled children around the nation. Sometimes, we get it right in Florida.
The quintessential Florida story
It could have been as wacky as the people who were using a convenience store microwave to warm up borrowed urine to pass their drug tests, or as outlandish as the surgeon who removed a woman’s kidney because he thought it was a tumor.
But my favorite was the couple who stole a motorized shopping cart from a Largo Walmart and went joyriding. Alas, their crime spree ended when they parked their ill-gotten scooter outside Jimmy’s Sports Lounge and were apprehended inside the bar.
The story was trashy, foolish and yet somehow amusing and endearing.
Just like Florida, itself.
Contact John Romano at [email protected] Follow @romano_tbtimes.