Thursday, November 16, 2000

Ah, Florida


Wild, weird place for a recount

map
        The nation has stubbed its toe on Florida, and I'm not surprised. It's an epically strange and stupid state. I had a great time there.

        All journalists do. Besides the big stuff — hurricanes, riots — people there have bizarre mishaps. In 1994, for instance, someone at the Miami Herald got to write this headline: “Man's penis gets stuck in motel pool.”

        No wonder last week's voting went awry.

        Broward, Palm Beach and Dade counties are now at the center of the battle for the presidency. Democrats want a manual recount. Republicans don't.

        I lived in Broward from 1988 to 1993. I don't recall the ballots, but I do remember this: South Florida is America raw. The heat, the gaudiness, the wealth and poverty — how unsettling that our next president will be chosen there.
       

Birthplace of bad TV
        Broward County inspired television's tawdriest invention, the reality-based cop show. Airing in 1989, the first episode of COPS spawned a nation of voyeurs, addicted to pathetic scenes from society's dregs.

        Now Florida has given us an even scarier show. In a state of 15 million, the would-be presidents are separated by 300 votes. Ballots have been lost and found. Others were mispunched by confused voters.

        It can't be real, but it is. I often had this feeling in South Florida.

        I worked in a news bureau in a shopping center behind a Shells restaurant, near Fort Lauderdale. The early-bird dinner at Shells was a big hit with retirees.

        One evening, a story broke as they were lining up. A motorist had accidentally lurched forward instead of back, pinning a man to the side of the restaurant.

        I still remember the paramedic's disgust. One of the victim's legs had been nearly severed. There he was, bleeding on the sidewalk, with greedy diners stepping around him to keep their place in line.
       

Barflies kidnap kids
        I lived not far from another fine establishment, the Hotsy Totsy lounge.

        One day, some customers launched a bizarre plot. One of them had just told a sad story: His girlfriend was abusing her children, and he couldn't get social workers to respond.

        Outraged and tipsy, the Totsy regulars went to the apartment, spirited the kids out a window and fed them hot dogs at the bar.

        I went to the Broward County Jail to interview the chief kidnapper. Surprise: She turned out to be my favorite waitress from a nearby doughnut shop. Prosecutors released her after confirming the abuse of the kids.

        Screwy stuff happens everywhere, of course. It just seems more lurid, more often in Florida.

        Now the state is both a political crisis center and a national joke. I'm sure Floridians are cringing, and I halfway sympathize.

        In 1992, I was robbed by two men in front of my condo. I moved, and soon after, the condo association voted to surround the place with barbed wire.

        OK, it was an extreme solution. But the newspapers went too far, portraying the place as the enemy of humanity. I kept thinking: “Wait a minute. What about my mugging?”

        But that was then. Today, I'm rolling my eyes along with the rest of the country.

        Florida ... what a joke. What a great place to be a reporter.

       KarenxSamples is Kentucky columnist for the Enquirer. She can be reached at (859) 578-5584 or ksamples@enquirer.com.

       



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