Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dream States

Take the money and run
One of many abandoned developments in CA and FL
Where you can live your crazy dream
Like immigrants who left the stratified old world seeking a new life, looking for opportunities, we of the colder latitudes dream of places where the sun shines and fruit hangs from the trees.  Where the horizon is blue sky meeting vast seas, not interstates chopping up the exurban sprawl.
That new life on the frontier has been pushed to the continent's shores; the only places where Americans can reinvent themselves, shed their old skins, are Florida and California.
The climate creates a new emotional reality; you feel your feet belonging to the sandy ground and your being is part of the ecosystem of flora and fauna, the gecko and you enjoying the sun and shade as easy partners.  Those beautiful dinosaurs, the waterbirds, go about their business as they have for a million years; the fish are plenty and business is good.
You abandon, more quickly than you would have guessed, your usual escapes into television and media, mostly forget the clock (the sun tells you of the day's waxing and waning) and think this is a place where you can actually trade dependence for simplicity...yes, it would work here.  Can you ever be a budding Buddhist in Boston?  Not-wanting is easy here, impossible there.
Careful -- things are different here, in many ways.  Dreamers without scruples have, for over a century, promoted boom and bust, trashing nature and fleecing naive northerners who can't wait to leave those winter coats and boots behind.  In the process, Florida went from the least populous Southern state (only a third are natives today) to one of the most populous in the nation.  But since the twin terrors of the 2004 hurricanes and the 2007 real-estate bubble-burst, you can see suburban developments of hundreds of acres eerily empty, and like California, people are leaving in increasing numbers.  The story of Lehigh Acres, in southwestern Lee County, is of epic, not recent, failure:  lots were advertised for only $50 down and $10 a month in faraway places like Detriot beginning in 1954.  It is still mostly uninhabited since the promised utilities were never installed; the poor roads the developer slowly put in over 20 years will cost the taxpayers $70 million to rebuild if it is ever done.  The chief salesman then shamelessly went on to promote the Jim Walter/Del Webb project, Sun City Center, where my parents live.  If you want to pick up a lot or abandoned house cheap, you can actually take a foreclosure boat tour courtesy of a local realtor.
The land is low, within a foot of becoming swampland if sea levels rise (and they will).  The retention ponds mandated in modern developments look like a great place to kayak, but any one of them might have an opportunistic alligator in it.  Retirees have learned not to let small pets outdoors or to walk within several yards of the deceptively quiet shoreline.
Communities for the more prosperous are gated for a reason: Orlando and Miami are in the top ten most dangerous cities.  But if a little humor is needed to diffuse anxiety, contemplate this:  the state is listed 47th in intelligence!  The goings-on are chronicled in the popular "FloriDUH" column in the Sun-Sentinel and other newspapers -- a tabloid writer would never have to resort to fiction here.  Humorists and observers like Dave Barry, John Grogan and Carl Hiassen have more bizarre material to mine than their counterparts a thousand miles north could ever hope for.  For instance:

Two teenagers tried to rob the Port St. Lucie police station with a pretend gun.  What they hoped to accomplish, no one knows.

James Fuqua sneaked away after his arrest this Fall in Panama City -- then went to Coyote Ugly for a drink with his handcuffs still on.

Traci Batcher, enjoying a few cool drinks in a Sarasota bar, went to the men's room by mistake and returned completely bare.  She had no explanation.

Seffner is a small community near Tampa Bay where you would expect nothing much to happen, but recently a swingers' pad, with a spanking table, was shut down after dozens of people a day paid a visit.  The owners and operators of the house, in their 50s, were so unattractive it just makes you wonder.
Also in poor Seffner, aggressive Asian cockroaches have multiplied to the point they are swarming in yards and crawling up people's legs; they don't  hide and avoid light at all.

Despite all that, while we were very much enjoying walking around the stalled resort development of Little Harbor on the south shores of Tampa Bay where we spent last week, I wondered about small apartment-sized condos that sold in 2004 for a quarter-million dollars and were now listed at $32,000 (four of them!).  There are two marinas, with very impressive powered and sail boats bobbing peacefully, and canals and lagoons full of wildlife everywhere.  Many waterfront houses with boat docks were for sale; a bargain-hunter's paradise, in paradise. 
So, Florida has both Rush Limbaugh and Jimmy Buffett.  Nature both beautiful and dangerous.  It's extreme, and it's heavenly calm.  A dream and a nightmare.



Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Too Much Monkey Business

The First Music Video, and a Lot More

When Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" hit us in 1965, we had a hard time understanding the rapid-fire lyrics, but we did understand  it was no novelty and that something significant had happened.  Looking back, we can see how it was an essential bridge in the continuum from the "talking blues" to rap.  It seemed unique at the time, but as one commentator noted, its blues structure and closeness to Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business" put it securely in the American popular music tradition.
A classic always rings true and is always current -- and this composition is as relevant this day as it was decades ago.  At the end of 2011, contemplating those societal, natural and economic changes that periodically build up to a turning point, this song makes me wonder if Bob Dylan's subconscious was roaming around in the future when he wrote it.

Johnny's in the basement
Mixing up the medicine

It was LSD then and it's meth now, and it was bathtub gin in 1922, but it's always something

I'm on the pavement
Thinking about the government

People are on the pavement all over the world -- Arab Spring and O.W.S. now, civil rights and stop-the-war then.  But we've learned that authoritarian repression always seizes power after revolutions.  Meet the new boss.

Six-time losers

He might have been thinking of Nixon and his McCarthyites hungrily eyeing the 1968 election; we still have a cast of perennial losers who just won't go away.

Look out, kid
It's something you did
God knows when
But you're doin' it again

The phone's tapped anyway

The Constitution-busting recent law allowing indefinite detention without charges if you're called a terrorist (do the Arab Spring and OWS people look like terrorists?  No, they look like you and me), the quickly-developing Security State after the Patriot Act, the ubiquitous surveillance and communications monitoring -- Bob, it got a lot worse than the FBI hounding the civil rights people.

Wants eleven dollar bills
You only got ten

Your income is basically where it was 40 years ago, but the cost of housing is ridiculous and those poor Millennials have $60,000 worth of student loans to pay back while unearned capital gains are taxed at 15%.

You don't need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows

Industry's lobbyists spend millions to support the climate change denial front, and most everyone votes for their puppet candidates while watching their trailer home washing away in a flood or blowing away in a tornado.  You don't need a weather man if you can't put two and two together on your own.

Get jailed, jump bail
Join the Army if you fail

Twenty years of schoolin'
And they put you on the day shift

Automate all the jobs or send them overseas, then offer the young these alternatives:  be cannon fodder or a fast-food cashier.  And remember -- with computerization, everyone's got a permanent record more durable than the inscriptions at Karnak.

Don't follow leaders
Watch the parking meters

Good advice for those in Soviet Russia.  Good advice now.  Remember everything goes on your credit report (as it did in the KGB dossiers) and it will be used against you, even if someone else made an error and you can prove it.

Don't wear sandals
Try to avoid the scandals

Stay away from those
Who carry around a fire hose

Referring to the police dogs, batons and fire hoses turned on the civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama back then; now they're pepper-spraying grandmothers and young people kneeling silently in New York and Berkeley.

So Dylan was saying that when you emerge from your subterranean life as a minor or a student to full participation in the social and economic mainstream, you're probably going to find that the system's been gamed ?   


Friday, January 6, 2012

Aida in the Air

Aida de Acosta Root, 1915
Flying the "IX"
We haven't had a spunky lady here at Just Sayin' in a while, so after finding her in the excellent blog, Obscure American History, I'd like you to meet the lady who beat the Wright Brothers in the race of history, only to have her story supressed for decades.
Aida was born to a Cuban father, a shipping tycoon, who joined the rebels in 1898 to drive out the Spanish, even though he had been raised in Spain.  Her mother was a descendant of the famous Spanish Dukes of Alba.  While in Paris in the summer of 1903, Aida discovered the Brazilian aviator Santos-Dumont's dirigible "IX" ("Nine").
The nineteen-year-old talked her way into lessons before piloting the airship solo at the end of June; the first of three such flights was for a half mile at 15 m.p.h.  The first woman to fly a powered aircraft, she took to the air six months before the Wrights.
The story was hushed up, though, because her parents thought it would scare away any suitable potential husbands.  She did marry twice, first to magnate Oren Root II and then to Col. Henry Breckinridge, but divorced them both.  Probably too slow for her.