The Politics of Cruelty

Turning human beings into political pawns.

When you vote for someone, you are supporting their behavior and their attitudes and their policies. I’m not saying that you have to agree 100% with everything they stand for. Who among us has not had to vote for the lesser of two evils at least once in their lifetime? I don’t think there’s a politician alive who has lived up to all of her/his/their campaign promises, so sometimes we live to regret our votes. But never forget that voting is a huge responsibility. If your person wins, you have helped support the impression that the majority of people believe in this person’s platform, despite the fact that, to my everlasting disgust, the majority of us don’t even bother to vote.

In light of that, it stuns me that so many people are willing to support the cruel, the indifferent, the violent and the ignorant by giving them the gift of their vote. Just the other day Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose eye is fixed firmly on becoming president of this country, pulled a heinous act to prove a political point. In a rational world this stunt would definitely backfire on him. But in modern America, it’s anybody’s guess.

To shine a big old light on the great debate about immigration, DeSantis decided he would spend a portion of the 12 million dollars that the state has set aside to transport migrants outside of Florida. (Because we don’t like your kind here.) According to this article in Newsweek, ironically, those funds were provided by federal taxpayers, via Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which DeSantis opposed, and then through the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund, which he also opposed.

What did he spend the money on? Here’s where it gets even more outrageous. He spent that money to charter two planes to take about 50 immigrants to affluent Martha’s Vineyard… from TEXAS. Apparently he couldn’t scare up enough immigrants in Florida on short notice, even though, to hear him tell it, the place is fairly crawling with them.

Not only that, but he had his staff lie to these immigrants in order to coerce them onto the plane. They thought they were being taken to Boston or New York City for jobs and housing. Instead, they were dumped on the tarmac on an island, with no food or money and no clue as to where they were or what to do. They had to find their way into town on their own, and they hadn’t a clue as to what town they were trying to find their way into. And on these lovely chartered planes they weren’t fed, not even the children, and the trip wore on from 6 a.m. to well into the afternoon. They even had two layovers, and yet still no food. Oh, but DeSantis did provide them with a videographer who was able to funnel the footage to Fox News for their extra-special spin.

Naturally, DeSantis hadn’t given the island a head’s up either, so they had nothing in place to attend to these poor people. That was part of the plan. In DeSantis’ cruel, high school prankster mind, these people don’t matter at all. He just thought it would be funny to give entitled liberals a taste of their own medicine with regard to their “lax” attitude about immigration. He thought that a bunch of immigrants, huddled and starving and exposed to the elements, would be great optics to prop up his political stance.

Can you say kidnapping? Can you say human trafficking? Can you say abduction, fraud, and misuse of public funds? Can you say a complete and utter disregard for voluntary and informed consent? Can you say intentional infliction of emotional distress?

These people were treated like monkeys in a political circus. They were piled into planes like so much baggage, and treated as if their lives had no value whatsoever. The Statue of Liberty must be hanging her head in shame. These immigrants were maliciously sent to a place where their circumstances would be notably worse. There are not enough jobs on Martha’s Vineyard to absorb 50 additional people, especially with the onset of winter. There are few services for immigrants there. The housing situation isn’t ideal. That’s what DeSantis knowingly thrust these people into, under false pretenses. There was a great scramble to get these folks relocated.

If DeSantis thinks that this stunt was equivalent to the immigrant issues that Florida experiences, he’s clueless. Yes, there is a worldwide, overwhelming need to come to this country, especially if you seek a better life for your children. Yes, that’s hard for us to process, on the receiving end. But there is at least infrastructure at the normal entrance points. There are trained personnel. There are supplies. I think Martha’s Vineyard did an excellent job of caring for these people under the circumstances, but it wasn’t some lesson. It was a cruel joke. Every state has its challenges. That doesn’t mean they get to dump those challenges on other states. If we keep that up, every state will be an enemy to another, and that does not serve us well as a nation. DeSantis is a national embarrassment. Go ahead and throw your tantrum, but don’t harm others in the process. Go to a padded room or something. That’s where you belong.

Everyone, EVERYONE ON EARTH has a right to try to improve their lives and circumstances. There’s not a single person reading this who wouldn’t try to do the same thing if they had no other choice. Nobody migrates for the hell of it. They do it out of desperation or necessity. Nobody flees their home and loved ones unless their home is a battleground or a wasteland. Taking advantage of these people when they’re at their lowest point is akin to kicking puppies. And then abducting those puppies and leaving them in the middle of nowhere in the hopes that they starve or freeze to death.

I’m sure DeSantis was quite disappointed to discover that the people of Martha’s Vineyard came through for these unfortunate pawns. They provided food, clothing, and a place to stay for every single one of them. Because it’s the right thing to do. It’s what decent people do.

DeSantis thinks that by doing this, he proved some sort of political point. In fact, he only proved that he is heartless, cruel, fiscally irresponsible, emotionally stunted, racist, uneducated, and utterly devoid of compassion. He’s just a tiny fraction of a man. Of course, he’s been proving that for ages. Anyone who votes for this poster child of maliciousness is morally questionable by association.

Is this the type of human you want deciding your fate? Then heaven help us all.

“Dear Mom, We came here to improve our lives, and now we don’t even know where we are. Sorry. Your loving son.”

Sources:

https://www.cnn.com/2022/09/16/us/marthas-vineyard-community-response-migrants/index.html

https://www.businessinsider.com/migrants-desantis-put-on-marthas-vineyard-told-boston-was-destination-2022-9

https://www.businessinsider.com/migrants-ron-desantis-flew-marthas-vineyard-from-texas-not-florida-2022-9

https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/ron-desantis-migrants-marthas-vineyard-1234594051/

How Bridgetending Turns into Manslaughter

This whole situation sickens me.

This post is one of the hardest ones I have ever written. I keep getting up to pace back and forth. I keep going from shock to anger to fury to sadness. I have been operating drawbridges for 21 years. I worked on three Jacksonville, Florida drawbridges from 2001 to 2014, with a brief intermission to work on a drawbridge in the Charleston, South Carolina area. From 2014 to present, I’ve worked on 5 different drawbridges here in Seattle, Washington. I take this job extremely seriously.

So imagine what it felt like for me to hear that, once again, someone has died while crossing a drawbridge in South Florida. It has happened more than once. Google “Death and Drawbridges” and see what pops up. I’ve heard of several drawbridge deaths in that area, and there was also one in the Boston area many years back. In most cases, the tragedy was preventable.

Let’s start by dealing with the tragedy in question. Here are the undisputed facts: On February 6th of this year, Artissua Lafay Paulk was operating the Royal Park Bridge in Palm Beach, Florida. During her last opening, a 79-year-old woman named Carol Wright was still walking her bicycle on the sidewalk of the movable span. She tried desperately to cling to the bridge as it rose up. It continued to open even though a bystander was honking his horn, and another was trying to rescue the woman and at least one person was shouting and pounding on the bridge operator’s door. She must have been so frightened. This is what causes me to pace. Ultimately, though, the bridgetender continued the opening, and Ms. Wright fell 40-60 feet to her death, slamming into the concrete pit below.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have never been on the Royal Park Bridge, let alone in its operating tower. I don’t know, nor have I spoken to, any of the people who played a part in this death. I have never worked for Florida Drawbridges, Incorporated.

All I have to go on are the multiple articles that have been written about this incident, and the many news clips I’ve watched on Youtube. My sources are listed below. For all I know, some of this information might be completely inaccurate. But based on everything I’ve read or seen, in my personal opinion, in this case it was the bridgetender who was directly at fault.

It kills me to say that. Most of the time, when problems occur on a drawbridge, it’s the bridgetender who is automatically blamed. Sometimes that’s true, but sometimes it’s not. You’d be surprised how often pedestrians crawl under gates, or attempt to climb rising drawbridges for fun. You’d also be stunned by how often drivers crash through closed gates and continue driving up a partially opened bridge. Sometimes these are daredevils who have seen that little caper in a movie and want to replicate it. (And FYI, it’s not possible.) Sometimes it’s an elderly or intoxicated person who gets rattled and hits the gas instead of the brake. I highly doubt that any of these things were the case with this 79 year old woman.

So, when I hear of an incident such as this, I usually withhold judgment, because I know how reckless the traveling public can be. But in this case, Ms. Paulk has been caught in way too many lies. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re innocent, you usually have no reason to lie.

First of all, she told the police that she had operated the bridge step by step as per procedure, which on this bridge apparently includes walking out on the balcony and looking around on three separate occasions during the opening. Unfortunately for her, camera footage of the tower during that day shows that she did not do so for any of her openings. Not one. And during their investigation, the police found deleted texts on her phone that were from her supervisor/mother-in-law which said something along the lines of, “Tell them you went out on the balcony three times during your opening. Now delete this text.”

And the most heinous part of this is that the victim of this negligent act was on the same side of the bridge as the tower is. That, and based on the drone footage I’ve seen of this bridge, there aren’t exactly a ton of blind spots for the operator to contend with. The bridge is straight as an arrow, with no girders above sidewalk level to obstruct one’s view. This should never have happened.

As the bridge rose up, Ms. Wright was probably 20 feet from the operator. The bridgetender didn’t hear her screaming for help. The bridgetender didn’t hear the man honking his horn. The bridgetender didn’t hear the other man pounding on her door and shouting. I’m guessing she must have been listening to music or something. And I’m here to tell you that when you are doing a bridge opening, you are not supposed to be doing anything else. You shouldn’t even be picking your nose, let alone doing something that prevents you from hearing what is going on.

Fortunately, the operator tested negative for drugs. That’s about the only thing in her favor. But the tragic result remains the same.

All this, to me, indicates a deadly level of complacency. This is not a job where you can be complacent. You can’t ever cut corners or skip steps. You have to be on point. You have to be on constant watch. We’re talking about a million pounds of concrete and steel on the move. A good operator realizes this, and the potential for danger is never far from her or his mind.

But there’s even more to this. The bridgetender is at fault, in my opinion, but she’s definitely not the only one to blame. There is a very negligent drawbridge culture in the state of Florida. Florida Department of Transportation contracts out all its bridges to the lowest bidder, and you definitely get what you pay for. I’ve seen it many times with my own eyes.

I worked for a different subcontractor, but that one used to do everything they could to cut corners so that the bulk of their contract money would be a profit for them. They would water down cleaning supplies. We used to have to beg for toilet paper. They would give us substandard equipment, such as old, used marine radios.

The turnover of employees with these subcontractors was horrific, because they pay about 1/3 of what I’m earning here in Seattle, and raises only come at the time of contract renewal, and these are often 6 year contracts. It’s not a living wage. Not even close. Raises could be written into the contract, but no one ever does that.

Toward the end of my tenure, my subcontractor only hired people part time so that they wouldn’t have to pay employees for sick leave. I worked for 10 years without health insurance. (Well, in truth, the contract required that they provide “adequate” health insurance, and since no one specifies what “adequate” means, they provided us with insurance that had a $20,000 deductible, something I could never afford to pay on their salary.)

Often people would be called in at the last minute to work a shift on little or no sleep. When they needed employees, they’d often hire relatives or friends with no real qualifications, or people with such serious problems that they were unemployable everywhere else. It was my contractor’s shocking habit to offer jobs to whatever drunks they found at the VFW bar.

And training was a joke in Florida. Here in Seattle, you are trained and evaluated for three days by multiple people, and have to perform at least 30 openings under supervision. In Florida, you trained for one shift with one person and had to do five openings. The next day, you were on your own.

So these subcontractors cut costs in training, in equipment and supplies, and hired a lot of really inadequate people who were so desperate they’d tolerate exploitation. But the reason Florida DOT subcontracts in the first place is that they wanted to save money, too. They didn’t want to have to give people the full benefits package required for a state employee. So, ultimately, it’s the traveling public who pays for it, sometimes with their lives. I’m so glad none of these things happen here in Seattle.

The prevailing culture in FDOT is that a trained monkey could do the job. They think it’s just pushing a button. Not so. This job requires a lot of independent judgment, vigilance, and professionalism. It’s not for everyone, and it shouldn’t be.

I’m proud to say that no one has ever been hurt by my actions, or the lack thereof, in the 21 years I’ve been on the job. I don’t think I could ever forgive myself if someone were injured or died.

So here’s my tip to avoid manslaughter. First of all, no subcontractors. Pay a living wage so you get responsible, mature, drug free, intelligent people applying for the job.

If you get hired to work on a drawbridge, spend your entire career avoiding complacency. You are being paid to keep people safe. In exchange for that pay, do your damned job. Policies are in place for a reason.

For those who only took the job because they thought it would be easy, please leave. Don’t give bridgetenders, the majority of whom are extremely conscientious, a bad name because you were hoping for a free ride. Lives are at stake. This is no joke. There should be a special circle in hell for those who treat other people’s lives as if they are a mere inconvenience.

This whole situation sickens me. It disgusts me to think that anyone might assume that most bridgetenders are like Ms. Paulk or her supervisor. They are a blight on this profession.

I don’t think they’re monsters, however. Ms. Paulk has definitely shed many tears in the aftermath of this incident. I’m sure she has regrets, and I expect she would do things differently if given the chance. And the supervisor was trying to stick up for her bridgetender, albeit in an extremely misguided way. Speaking from hard won experience, a supervisor that has your back is a rare quality in a supervisor, indeed. She just crossed way, way over the line. But in real time, neither one of them took the job seriously enough, and now someone is dead. That, to me, is unacceptable.

I would like to extend my sincere condolences to the family of Carol Wright. I’m sure bridgetenders around the world are keeping her in their hearts and minds, and having her there will encourage us to continue doing our very best to safely operate these bridges.

When all is said and done, if justice is truly served, the bridge should be named after Carol Wright. This contractor should be put out of business, Florida should have to completely reconfigure the way it deals with it’s drawbridges (and the City of Seattle would be the perfect model for that), and the settlement that the family receives should be so large that they could purchase the entire state if they wished.

None of this will bring Ms. Wright back, though. All she wanted to do was go to the bookstore, and instead her life was cut short due to someone’s pure laziness and indifference. That’s the worst crime of all.

Sources:

Artissua Lafay Paulk: Florida bridge tender charged with MANSLAUGHTER after woman’s deadly fall

‘I killed a lady on the bridge’: Details emerge about woman’s fatal plunge on Florida drawbridge

Bridge tender, supervisor involved in West Palm Beach deadly bridge fall fired, company says

Legal Liability after Woman Falls to Death When Drawbridge Opens

Miami Herald: Tender, supervisor fired following death of woman on rising West Palm Beach drawbridge

Video: Woman Plunges to Her Death From Rising Drawbridge

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Arlo Guthrie as a Yardstick

Arlo and I are both rounding out our lives with love and happiness.

One of the very first concerts I saw as a teenager was Arlo Guthrie. My older sister took me. I enjoyed it so much that we got all his albums back when vinyl was the thing. I’ve been going to his concerts ever since. I lost count around number eighteen. He was the beginning of my life-long love affair with folk music, storytelling, and writing.

It’s safe to say that I’m a fan. I’ve even blogged about him here and here. I’ve gotten his autograph a few times. I’ve also spoken to him, but he’s not as outgoing off stage as he is onstage, so mostly he has responded with a blank stare. Of course, I’d always get all flustered when I got close to him, so I’d usually say something inane, like, “I was born the same year Alice’s Restaurant came out!” or, “I think it’s wonderful that you have your kids performing with you now.” or, “I’ve seen you in concert 18 times!”

But the most mortifying encounter was at the Florida Folk Festival in 2004. He was set up under an awning in a field, and the crowd was surrounding him on all 4 sides. We got a patch of grass right behind him. We were so close that I could have slapped him upside the head if the spirit moved me. (Of course, it didn’t.) But before Arlo started performing, my boyfriend at the time gushed, “She’s your number one fan!”

Omigod. Stalk much? The poor man kept glancing nervously over his shoulder at me during the rest of his set. I wanted to crawl under a rock. (But not so much so that I was willing to leave.)

Back in 2012, I lived in Vero Beach, not that far from the home that he lived in when in Sebastian, Florida. No, I didn’t go knock on his door. That would be creepy. But I did keep my eyes open when running errands in town. It would have been cool to bump into him at the hardware store or something. No such luck.

When his wife passed away, I was still living right down the coast from him, and my heart was broken for him. They had been married for 43 years. A year and a half later, my guy also abruptly passed away. We had only been together for 4 years, and I was devastated, so I couldn’t begin to imagine what Arlo was going through after losing a relationship that had lasted ten times as long. I thought about that a lot over the next few months. Both of us in Florida, gazing out at the same ocean, both experiencing waves of crashingly painful emotions.

I’m not going to lie. I have had a bit of a crush on him over the years. He’s a good looking, talented man, and I love his storytelling abilities and his politics and his sense of humor. But I also knew he was happily married, is 17 years older than I am, and way, way cooler than I would ever be. Also, I wouldn’t cope well with the constant touring, and while his Florida home may have been called the CrabShack, Zillow currently places its value at nearly 3 million dollars. I’m not someone who would fit into a million dollar home. And, let’s face it, I really and truly know nothing about the real man. But it was a nice fantasy that made me smile during my darkest hours.

Over the years, I’ve watched his TV appearances, too. I try to watch Alice’s Restaurant every Thanksgiving. I caught him on the Muppet Show when I was really young, and looking at the footage now, I realize he was barely grown himself.

And I watched the show The Byrds of Paradise religiously during its short-lived run in 1994, simply because Arlo had a part in it. If you want a total hoot, check out Arlo rapping and dancing in this clip from that show. He has always charmed me.

Fast forward to February, 2022, when I happened upon this article in the New York Times that hit me with three things I didn’t know, all at once. First, Arlo has had several strokes. Second, because of those strokes, he can’t perform up to his standards and doesn’t walk as well, so he has retired from performing. Third, since 2016 he has been living with someone he loves very much, and they got married officially in December, 2021. They now live together in a much more modest home in that same area of Florida.

I also found out that he told his new wife, “I’m going to take care of you like a man should.” Omigod, crush validated. Having said that, though, I am truly happy for him. He’s 74, and deserves to have love in his life just like I do. (And I’d pick Dear Husband over Arlo every day of the week, now that I’ve I finally found him and have convinced him he needed to find me, too.)

But it did take me several days to absorb all that Arlo news. I couldn’t really understand why it rattled me so much. And then it dawned on me. First of all, I would never see him perform live ever again, and his concerts have been major mileposts throughout my life. Second, one day he’s going to die, and I’ll read about it and probably fall to pieces. I can’t imagine a world without an Arlo Guthrie in it. Third, half the time I was fantasizing about him, he was in love and shacked up, which is further evidence that my inner world is entirely fictional. Fourth, time is going by way too quickly, and therefore feels increasingly poignant to me.

You might say that Arlo has been one of many yardsticks by which I’ve measured my life. It’s a bit unsettling to be hit all at once with the fragility of that yardstick. Things fall apart. The center cannot hold.

But I’m glad that both of us are rounding out our lives with love and happiness. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, finally. I suspect that that’s the case for Arlo, too. He and his wife garden together. That makes me smile.

Thinking of Arlo as a yardstick and also as a gardener makes me want to leave you with one of my favorite Arlo songs. “Inch by inch…”  Despite the poor quality of the video, I hope you’ll watch it all. It will show you what an amazing performer and storyteller he has always been. It brings happy tears to my eyes. There will never be anyone like him again.

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Meet the Homeless of Seattle

Everyone has their own story.

When I first moved to the Seattle area in the Summer of 2014, I was shocked by the sprawling, garbage-strewn homeless encampments that I saw beside the highway and under the bridges. I had never seen so many homeless people in my entire life. They were, and still are, everywhere in this city.

I kept asking myself why it was so extreme here as compared to Jacksonville, Florida, where I had lived for 30 years. I mean, let’s face it. The weather here is pretty horrible for most of the year. When I see people huddling in makeshift tents in this cold, damp, unforgiving climate, I can’t even begin to imagine what they’re going through. In Florida, on the other hand, you can survive in a tent. As a matter of fact, I did so for what seemed like an endless portion of my childhood.

The general population would love for homelessness to be a simple problem that would come with a simple solution. But there are as many reasons for homelessness as there are homeless people. Society wants to think that all homeless people are either schizophrenics or drug addicts who have brought their problems on themselves. They want to believe that they remain homeless due to a lack of ambition or an inherent laziness. People justify avoiding the beggars on the street corners by assuming that they are all either scammers or part of the criminal element, and that every one of them is out on the lunatic fringe and therefore potentially violent. Or worse yet, they are illegal immigrants that our politicians have convinced us are a disease-laden, dangerous scourge.

I have a theory that the vast majority of Seattleites are skirting on the edge of homelessness whether they care to admit it or not. The cost of living here is outrageous. According to Salary.com, it’s currently 35.7% higher than the national average. Granted, it’s cheaper to live here than it is in San Francisco, New York, or Washington DC, but that’s setting the bar rather high. The average mortgage payment in this town, according to this article, is $3014 per month. The median rent for a one bedroom apartment, according to this article, is $1850 per month, and you can anticipate a 24% increase in rent from one year to the next.

Suffice it to say that it takes a heck of a lot of money to keep a roof over your head in this town, and it takes even more money to plan for all contingencies. If you’re laid off because of the pandemic, you can sink into poverty almost instantly. If you have a catastrophic health condition that causes you to be unable to work, you are screwed. If a natural disaster strikes, or one of your family’s breadwinners unexpectedly dies, what then? The safety net in Seattle is much further away from your tightrope than it is in other communities, and the net is full of holes. Don’t even think about falling. You could very easily find yourself on the pavement along with so many others.

People in Seattle are getting so used to seeing homeless people that they barely even blink anymore. Yes, everyone says that “something has to be done” about them, and every now and then the city will sweep through a camp and throw away everything within it, leaving the people tentless and without even a change of clothing, but that’s quite obviously not a viable or humane solution.

There are no affordable housing options, and not enough hospital beds. The drug rehabilitation facilities are few and far between, and even when you can get in, their success rates are as abysmal as they are everywhere else in the country. There are a lot of high paying jobs here, but you have to be highly educated and trained in a very specific niche to get one, and now with the pandemic, everyone seems to be downsizing, and these plum positions are becoming harder to obtain. Expect to be faced with a lot of competition.

Another factor that makes Seattle’s homeless more evident than Jacksonville’s is that, crammed between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington as it is, Seattle is densely populated. There’s no room for expansion, and there are very few places for the homeless to “hide”. Jacksonville, on the other hand, is a large, sprawling berg where the cost of living is 7.4% below the national average, and there are plenty of open fields and forests.

That, and Jacksonville is very hostile to its homeless. The police have been known to drive them to the county line and dump them off there to walk the 20 miles in the blistering heat that it takes to reach civilization again. They also trash the encampments with annoying frequency, and they make sure all the park benches have arm rests every foot or so to prevent people from lying down. Even so, I’m now hearing from friends that homeless camps are increasing even there, and that makes me really sad.

Bottom line, though, is that all these people may not have homes, but they are fellow human beings, each with their own story. So many of us try to ignore them or avoid them that we tend to dehumanize them. That’s why I was thrilled to stumble upon the “You Know Me Now” website. Visit that site to hear some very poignant stories as told by the homeless people of Seattle. In the future, there will also be a podcast on this site, and I’m very much looking forward to that.

In the meantime, don’t avert your eyes. Look at your fellow humans. From the privacy of your warm, dry home, read their stories. If the 1 percent continue to refuse to allow people to have living wages, there will always be plenty of stories to read. Here’s hoping your story or mine will never need to be told there.

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Making the Most of Florida

Doing my best to reign in my attitude.

Recently Dear Husband and I took a trip that we are calling “Autumn Back East 2021”. Our goal was to visit friends and family, and I wanted to show DH what autumn leaves really look like in a region that isn’t primarily covered in evergreen trees, and introduce him to our nation’s capital.

We flew to Atlanta, picked up a rental car, then drove to Alabama, North Florida, Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and then drove to Washington DC by way of Virginia. Then we flew back home.

It was an amazing trip which lasted 15 days, and since I’m now only blogging every other day, if I gave you a day to day account like I have on trips past, it would take a month, and you’d be heartily sick of the subject before we even left peach country. So I’ve decided to focus on highlights, which I’ll do my best to keep in order. You can find the first post in the series here and a link to the next post in the series, when it becomes available, below.

I had spent 40 years trying to get away from Florida, with its backward politics, its unrelenting heat, and its cockroaches and snakes and fire ants. And yet, here I was, crossing the state line once again. To say I was triggered is putting it mildly. I was fighting a panic attack.

For most of my time in this particular state, I had been lonely, scared, depressed, and desperately poor. I always felt like I didn’t fit in. I was beat up a lot in school, unsupported at home, and underpaid at work. I didn’t want to feel that way again. Not ever. Even worse, I didn’t want Dear Husband to see the person I was back then. It would scare anyone but the most loyal and devoted human on earth, which, fortunately, he is.

Forgive the awful picture. I was freaking out.

We were here to visit friends and family, so I was doing my best to reign in my attitude and look at the positive things. We had only been back in the South for a few days, and already I had noticed a few of those positives that I had forgotten all about.

There were squirrels. Oh, how I miss those. I’ve only seen about 5 in Washington in the past 7 years. I was also looking forward to seeing lizards (actually, anoles, but nobody calls them that). Some of the roads are sparkly. There’s different and familiar signage. The trees are different. The birdsong is different. The stores are familiar and don’t feel foreign. The parking spaces are actually wide enough to park your car in! There seems to be more space in general. The streets are wider. The highways have wider medians and shoulders. There’s more space between businesses.

There’s kudzu everywhere, and most Americans don’t realize that it’s edible, if not sprayed with pesticides. (Here’s how.) That’s a shame, because no one in the South would ever go hungry again. On the other hand, for some reason Florida DOT seems to delight in using Oleanders in their landscaping. I get it: low maintenance, pretty flowers. But they’re also toxic to the point where you shouldn’t even breathe the air if you burn them, let alone touch the sap or ingest any part of them. And please don’t let your dogs near them, either.

Kudzu

I’d forgotten how many billboards there are. You can’t get away from the ugly things. And there are more junk food chain restaurants than you’d see in the Seattle area in a million years. There’s plenty of opportunity to eat unhealthy food in Florida. Oops. There I go, being negative again.

One of the first things we did was buy bananas. I wanted DH to understand why I find the ones we get in Washington State such a crashing disappointment. They must pick them when they’re dark green to travel to Washington, and the result is that they barely have any flavor at all. When DH ate his first Southern banana, he exclaimed that it tasted like banana candy. We ate a lot of bananas on this trip.

North Florida was bringing back a lot of memories. We passed Blackwater River State Park, where I spent a week in summer camp the one and only time I got to go. We passed Eglin Air Force Base, where my oldest sister was once stationed, and where I saw my first burning cross after Cubans were housed here during the Mariel Boatlift. Scary.

Eglin is also where I worked on the Youth Conservation Corps, which I wrote about here. I couldn’t remember where any of my work sites were, and that’s probably for the best. I was really proud of the work I did, and seeing it after 40 years of wear and tear would most likely be heartbreaking.

The Gulf of Mexico is beautiful. I’d forgotten how nice it is to gaze on a body of water and know it will be warm enough to swim in. I wish we had spent more time doing so. Our hotel was in Destin, and a friend of mine says Destin is the place God goes when God goes to the beach. But we didn’t see her anywhere.

We spent our first evening in Florida having dinner with my dear friend Vicky. It was so good to see her after 9 years! I wanted to introduce DH to grouper cheeks, but sadly that restaurant that serves them had gotten taken out by a hurricane. In fact, a lot had changed on this coast. Nature is never kind to Florida. Instead, we ate at Schooners in Panama City Beach. It was wide open, and we had an excellent view of the sunset over the water. We didn’t warn DH until the last possible moment about the cannon they fire off every night at sunset. We did want him to have the opportunity to brace himself and cover his ears, though.

We visited Seaside, Florida, where The Truman Show was filmed. That’s something I had always been meaning to do but never quite did. Like Celebration, Florida (which I wrote about here), it is a community based on the New Urbanism philosophy. Extremely planned, to the point of feeling a bit Stepford Wife-y. Multi-million dollar homes, immaculate shops with cute names like the Blue Giraffe, the Badass Coffee Company, The Surfing Deer, The Perfect Pig, and Pizza by the Sea. Everywhere you looked there were over-privileged teenagers wandering around with nothing to do. The real world will probably hit these kids hard, if they ever see it. Now there’s another overpriced town adjacent to Seaside called Watercolor. More of the same. Cool name, though.

The next day we visited the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. Think SeaWorld, only smaller. And with an albino alligator! We saw a sea lion show and a dolphin show. It was actually quite crowded, and few people were wearing masks. But it was the ultimate Florida tourism experience.

Then we did something that I’d really been looking forward to for months. We went parasailing! I had done this twice before, once in this very location, and once in Acapulco, so I knew what to expect. It was DH’s first time. We got towed out to the boat on one of those banana boat things. The water was choppy, so I had to cling onto it for dear life with my messed up wrists. That was the only part that scared me.

I highly recommend parasailing. Yes, you’re high up, but you don’t feel like you are. It’s like sitting on a swing. A swing that’s tied to a parachute and 800 feet of line, that’s being towed behind a motor boat, but yeah, a swing. It’s quite peaceful. And of course the views were beautiful. It was wonderful to enjoy the sunshine knowing that we were avoiding two weeks of crappy winter weather in the Pacific Northwest. As he was reeling us in, the captain playfully dunked us in the water as we were nearing the boat. That’s a traditional part of the experience. Refreshing!

We also visited some of the kitschy tourist shops full of plastic sharks and seashells from China. They kind of made me nostalgic, too, oddly enough. Except for the Trump bumper stickers for sale. I could have done without seeing those.

On this Florida leg of our journey, we also got to visit DH’s sisters, who both live in the area with their husbands. It was a pleasure to break bread with them and see their lovely homes. We spent the bulk of our time outside, because we didn’t want to expose anyone to any virus we might have picked up on the airplane.

From there, we went to see one of my oldest, dearest friends, Steve, along with his wife and grandson. I had arranged to meet them at my very favorite place in Florida, Ichetucknee Springs State Park. I wanted to show DH the most beautiful place in the state. That, and I wanted to avoid Jacksonville. I had lived there for 30 years, and for 30 years I struggled to leave. It would be entirely too triggering to go there. Not now. Not yet.

About two hours into our journey, our last hotel called to say that DH had left his laptop behind. Fortunately, his sister was able to pick it up and ship it ahead of us to a FedEx store in Asheville, North Carolina, where we’d be several days later. Crisis averted, but it gives me the opportunity to hit you with a Public Service Announcement: ALWAYS check all the nooks and crannies of your hotel room, even those you think no reasonable person would store stuff in, before checking out!

DH got to meet Steve for the first time as we rafted down the river, past turtles and cranes and cypress knees. The water is not as turquoise blue as it once was, but it did not disappoint. It was a quiet, lazy float. Some of my fondest Florida memories are from this place. Since Ichetucknee is far from the tourist trail, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. (That’s not the case in summer, though, trust me.) Toward the end of our float we punctured our raft on a cypress knee, and I spent the rest of the time trying to hold the hole closed as we slowly sank into the cool spring water. But that, too, is part of the Ichetucknee experience. It kind of made me smile.

Since this bit of paradise is in the middle of nowhere, there weren’t any hotels, so we rented cabins in a campground. Had I known that Steve’s wife is deathly afraid of bugs, I would have made another plan. Not that the cabins were infested, but we were, after all, in the woods. It kind of felt like I was the architect of her torture, and I still feel bad about that. But it was good to have some heart to heart talks with Steve, who gave DH some very high praise, so that made me feel good. His wife liked him, too, and I think that surprised her. Like she herself said, though, she’s seen some of the guys I used to date.

It was sweet, watching DH play with Steve’s 3-year-old grandson. But I’m still glad we don’t have children of our own. It wore me out just watching the little cutie. I don’t know how parents do it. Truly, I don’t.

One of the cool things about my Pokemon Go app is that it shows me nearby points of interest that might otherwise be overlooked. That’s how we came across the very old and neglected Ichetucknee Memorial Cemetery that is right next to the campground, lost in the underbrush. DH and I wandered there, looking at the tragic headstones from the 1800’s. One guy’s tombstone, below, says he was murdered, but I can’t seem to find anything online that describes the circumstances. And there were a lot of babies there who didn’t make it to their first birthday. It was kind of sad, tucking into our cozy cabin for the night, knowing that there were dozens of dead babies out there in the woods. To live in this swampy area of North Florida back then, without air conditioning or medical care, meant you were prone to endless numbers of diseases and viruses. Thank God for vaccinations, sanitation, and civilization.

We slept relatively well, despite the dead babies and the murdered guy and the squeaky, plastic-covered mattresses. We all went to the Waffle House for breakfast the next morning, and then parted ways. I hate saying goodbye to people I care about when I have no idea when I’ll see them again. It chokes me up just thinking about it.

And then, just like that, we left Florida. So simple. Has it always been that simple to leave Florida? No.

And I survived. Well, except for the chigger bites. Weeks later, I’m still trying to heal from them. I definitely do not miss chiggers. That’s what I get for wandering around untended graveyards.

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PTRTSESSD: Post-Traumatic Racially Tense Southern Elementary School Stress Disorder

What horrible lessons to teach a child.

When we moved from Connecticut to Florida when I was 10 years old, I don’t think any of my family knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into. I’m quite sure we didn’t expect to be living in a tent. We had no idea that my stepfather would never have a decent job again, and that my mother would make so little money that we’d struggle to survive.

And then there was the culture shock. I could barely understand what anyone was saying. I didn’t know how to cope with the unrelenting heat and humidity. The food was strange. And after spending my entire school life up to that point in a school where the only black child had to be bussed in, I had zero comprehension of the racial dynamic I was entering when I was enrolled in Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in Apopka, Florida.

According to this report, for context (and, mind you, I knew none of these things at the time): The school that eventually became Wheatley Elementary had been established in 1886 as a school for the children of African American field hands. Segregation was the unbreakable code back then, and the teachers were paid less, had little or no school supplies, and coped with secondhand books and substandard facilities.

When segregation became illegal in 1954 thanks to the federal courts, nothing changed in Orange County, Florida. No, siree. It was not until a group of parents sued the school board in 1962 that the district was required to desegregate fully. And yet 11 area schools, including Wheatley, were still considered segregated in 1970. According to the report, “In 2010, Orange County Public Schools achieved what is called unitary status, freeing the district from the court order and requiring the replacement of a group of aging schools attended predominantly by black children. Those construction projects were completed in 2018.”

That’s right. I said 2018. So now imagine tiny, white, 10-year-old, yankee me wandering into this place in 1974. Even though only a quarter of that county’s population was black, 80% of the students at Wheatley were. (To this day, only 26% of the students are white.)

Not only did I talk funny, but I probably looked funny. I started working at that age, growing and selling houseplants at the flea market, just so I would have a few school clothes and a pair of shoes that I wasn’t ashamed of. I did wear a lot of hand me downs, and this was the 70’s, so you can just imagine what a horror show that was. A lot of plaid bell bottoms were involved. I also remember wearing a pair of faded jeans with about 5 inches of dark jean material that I had sown onto the bottom as I grew. I’m sure my teacher viewed me as white trash.

My first impression of Wheatley was that it looked like a prison, and because of that I was terrified. The buildings are of concrete block. The concrete hallways, at least at the time, were outdoors, with hard plastic patio roofing to keep off the rain, but with no walls. I was introduced for the first time to the concept of “portables”, which are trailer-like classrooms set on wheels. Those were scattered amongst the concrete block buildings.

To my horror, I discovered that none of the bathroom stalls had doors, because of drug deals. I had never even heard of people dealing drugs in Connecticut, especially elementary school students. I was very sheltered, there.

After a few short days in my classroom, I realized that concrete block sweats in the heat as much as humans do, and there was mildew everywhere. There was no air conditioning anywhere in the school, except up at the front office. My teacher would prop open the door and the screenless windows, and lizards and cockroaches would run in and out. One time a snake came to visit.

And as for my 5th grade education, I got none, really. My teacher didn’t know what to do with me. I was reading at a college level. It took my mother several months to realize that I never brought homework home. I could do the work before the teacher was finished teaching it. (In fact, I had been in the Florida school system for 3 years before they taught me anything I hadn’t already learned in Connecticut.)

I had very little respect for my teacher. I had never been taught to say ma’am or sir, and she took great exception to that. I quickly noticed that she would often teach things incorrectly. At first I’d speak up and correct her and explain why. (Yes, I was exactly that brand of obnoxious.) You can imagine that that didn’t go down well. Eventually I just stopped listening altogether.

When my classmates learned about the Civil War, they treated it like it was a football game. All of them, without exception, were rooting for team South, because you root for the home team, don’t you? I remember nearly losing my mind that day. I remember shouting that the South was for slavery. How could they be for slavery? That’s when I gave up all hope. I was just doing time in my violent little elementary school prison.

And violent it was. I witnessed my first knife fight in my first week there. It happened in the cafeteria. Furniture was toppled and thrown. The two boys involved had to be wrestled to the ground and hauled away, kicking and screaming. The rage was palpable. My whole life up to that point, I had never seen anything worse than your basic playground scuffle.

I’m sure that those boys got paddled and suspended. That was also new to me. Paddling. In Connecticut at the time, it was unheard of to lay hands on students, let alone hit them on the back side with a board. No one had ever done that to me, and despite the fact that I never acted up, and despite the fact that my mother had written a letter, on file at the office, saying that she did not give them permission to paddle me, I lived in constant fear that some huge misunderstanding would happen, and I’d be beaten by an adult.

And while the school was theoretically desegregated, none of the black kids would talk to me other than to threaten my life. They didn’t even speak as they beat me up, which happened pretty much daily. I was smaller than everyone. I learned to curl up into a ball to protect my stomach, and wait for them to get bored and stop kicking me. I have no idea where the adults disappeared to during these events. They certainly weren’t rushing to my aid. I spent most of 5th grade being afraid for my life.

After much pleading on my part, and after bruising that could no longer be ignored, my mother spoke up about this eventually, and the school’s solution was to have the secretary escort me to and from the school bus every day. That made me even more of a target. All the kids jeered at me as we walked by. My own little walk of shame. I got my mother to call me in sick a lot. I attended school maybe 3 days on a good week. The rest of the time I’d stay home and read books all day. In my mind I can still see my mother’s handwriting on my notes.

“Please excuse Barbara from school yesterday and the day before. She was ill.”

These notes were never questioned. I still got straight A’s all the way through school, so I don’t think anyone much cared.

On the rare occasion that something good happened at the school, it was quickly trampled on. Once, my class planted 100 tree seedlings on the hill beside the playground. I was really proud of that. But they had all been ripped out of the ground and thrown over the fence in less than 24 hours. No supervision. Students gone wild.

The one bright spot in that year was that my teacher operated the class on the star system. You got gold stars for good behavior. Good behavior included things like actually doing your homework. Actually showing up. Actually staying awake. Not attacking anyone. Remaining seated. Thumping the chalk dust out of the erasers. At the end of the week, your stars would be tallied up, and you’d get to bid on various privileges or treats. I always had the most stars, so I always got the most “expensive” privilege: the opportunity to go be a teacher’s aid for a few hours a day for the kindergarten teacher.

The kindergarten class was my oasis. I was surrounded by kids who were much too small to hurt me. I got to eat cookies and milk with them. I did cool stuff like go to the air conditioned office to run off dittos on the ditto machine that the kids would then get to color on. And the teacher was very kind. She always made me feel safe.

On the last day of school, the kindergarten teacher gave me a ring as a thank you. It was big and clunky and it turned my finger green, and one of the big blue plastic “gems” fell off and was never seen again, but I wore that ring for years. For me it was a symbol that somewhere in the world, someone liked and understood me.

I never saw or heard from her again. The next year I went to Ocoee Junior High School, where things were still pretty bad, but I only feared for my life about half the time. That was a vast improvement, relatively speaking.

When I look back at my 5th grade experience, which I try not to do very often, the adult me gets very angry. I’m sure that that year damaged me in ways that I still haven’t grasped. I know I was beginning to learn that people in positions of authority could not be trusted. I also started to believe for the first time that the world is an inherently unsafe place, and that most people are basically stupid, and that, most of all, my cries for help would, by and large, not be taken seriously by anyone.

What horrible lessons to teach a child.

Oddly enough, I never blamed the school itself for the chaos and neglect that surrounded me. It didn’t occur to me. I had always viewed schools as being beyond reproach up to that time. Education is precious. Thinking otherwise was a very bitter pill to swallow.

What I couldn’t accept or understand was my mother’s passivity. I still can’t, really. I know she was under a great deal of pressure herself, just trying to keep us fed. She was unable or unwilling to hear about the constant danger I was in. She didn’t take my 3 year gap in learning seriously. She did take me to the library a lot, but the rest was up to me.

She heard about my daily beat downs and watched my self-esteem and my sense of security get chipped away, and yet the only thing that changed was deep within me. I became more determined to grow up and get the hell out of Apopka with each passing year. I’m not a parent myself, so maybe I can’t understand it from that perspective, but I do know this: if someone I was responsible for was thrown into the equivalent of a child prison, where she was chewed up like raw meat in a lion’s den, I’d move heaven and earth to change that one way or another. If there was ever a child who was meant to be home schooled, for example, it was me.

I think this is perhaps why I am so sympathetic toward immigrants. I know what it’s like to feel constantly terrified, and to want, more than anything else in the world, to go somewhere safe. No one should have to experience that. Especially at age ten.

I have no idea what Wheatley is like these days. I hope there are doors on the bathroom stalls. I hope there is air conditioning. Their website is awash with pride, as all school websites tend to be. It’s also sprinkled with spelling errors. According to this report card, the parents give it high marks. Based on the standardized test scores, which I take with a grain of very conflicted salt, approximately 55 percent of the kids are doing “satisfactory or better” in English and Science. The students are also now required to wear school t-shirts, which suggests that the administration worries about gang activity. So yeah, it’s a mixed bag.

I just hope that none of the kids who go to Wheatley today will have the same visceral, tear-filled reaction that I do, nearly 47 years after the fact, when looking at this picture of that school’s bleak and relatively unchanged façade. I see they’ve added a second floor, and the windows look closed which suggests climate control, and the 8 foot high chain link fence appears to be gone. That’s something, anyway.

I guess.

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A Seven Year Reassessment

Sometimes I’m astounded that this is my life.

Seven years ago in August, I decided my entire life needed a do-over, so I packed up my two dogs and the rest of my stuff and moved 3100 miles from Jacksonville, Florida to Seattle, Washington. I had never been here before. I knew no one. I was 49 years old, and had absolutely no idea what the future held for me. I only knew that my present was dismal and I couldn’t imagine that any change could possibly make it any worse.

Fortunately I did have a job waiting for me on the other end, because the prospect of homelessness held no appeal. I also had a rental house, which I’d only seen in pictures. But other than those two solid-ish things, I felt as though I were jumping into an abyss.

During the 5 days that I drove across the country, I spent much of the time asking myself if I had lost my mind. One of my cousins (who knows me not at all) accused me of running away. I preferred to think of it as running toward, because what I was leaving behind was nothing of value, except for a few really close friends with whom I knew I’d keep in touch. My future in Florida was of me running on the same desperate, depressing hamster wheel I had been running on for the past 40 years. It had gotten me nowhere.

So, with equal parts trepidation, excitement, and hope, I approached the Emerald City, wondering what adventures it held in store for me. The not knowing was the scariest part. The not knowing was also the most exciting part.

I don’t think I realized what a culture shock I was about to experience. Seattle still feels like a foreign country to me to this day, although I’d like to think I’ve learned the language somewhat, as well as the lay of the land. Now I feel like an established expat. Back then, I felt like an alien from outer space.

I had to get used to driving on hills. I had to learn to dress appropriately for the seasons. I had to figure out which grocery stores to shop in, and while a lot of the products were identical, they had different brand names.

The first two years were particularly hard. I spent most of the time just going from work to home and back again, with occasional solo outings to explore the city. I was so lonely it was physically painful. My skin felt like it would atrophy due to lack of touch. That, and the supervisor of my bridge was a full-blown psychopath. Administration knew it and no one did anything about it. I was clearly in it alone. Work was hell, and at home I had nothing better to do than stew about work. Many’s the night that I cried and said to myself, “My God, what have I done?”

But throughout that dark period of adjustment, little glimmers of light kept creeping in. I loved the exotic sounds of morning birdsong, which was nothing like the birdsong on the east coast. I loved the changes in season. I loved the lack of bugs and the absence of oppressive, soul-sucking, sticky heat. I loved the flowers and the fruit and the neighborhood in which I lived. I loved the views from the bridges in which I worked. And I adored the paychecks. Union strong!

It’s hard to make new friends when you’re in your 50’s. People my age usually have established friendships and set routines. That, and the general vibe out here is very reserved. People also seem to be a lot less reliable. I got stood up a lot. I still do. That takes some getting used to.

But I discovered I had some really cool neighbors, and I picked up friends here and there. It was such a relief being able to count on the fact that most people here had my politics. In Florida I felt like a liberal turd in a republican punch bowl.

I joined a few groups and took a class or two. I even tried internet dating, but that was an unmitigated disaster. (I can laugh about that now, but it wasn’t so funny at the time.)

Little by little, day by day, I built myself a life. The psychopath retired. I published a book. I bought myself a house. I found myself someone to love. And now things are so good that they hardly seem real. Some mornings I wake up and I’m astounded that this is my life.

The other day I had a party. I invited 4 friends over to paint rocks and do crafts. We sat on my patio, my favorite room in the house, and laughed and hugged and commiserated and talked about reality TV and insulted anti-vaxxers and ate guacamole. We also talked about what an amazing husband and home I have.

At one point, and I hope nobody noticed, I got tears in my eyes. Happy tears. It’s just that my life has come so far in the past seven years. There were times I would have despaired of ever having a get together like this. It all felt so completely out of reach.

And yet, here I am, feeling the serenity and painting solid, colorful rocks to prove it. It was all worth it. Life is good and the future is bright. What a difference seven years makes.

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Wow. The nerve of some people.

For once, the people with the nerve aren’t the rich ones.

Imagine this. You’re rich. Very, very rich. So rich, in fact, that you’ve put your mansion up for sale to the tune of 5.7 million dollars. And it’s worth it. According to Zillow, it’s 16,313 square feet, including 9 bedrooms and 15 baths. It has a heated pool as well as a spa and a sauna and a lagoon pool. It also has a bar, a two lane bowling alley, a tennis court, and a movie theater.

The owners come from IHop money, which sounds about as tacky as your average Florida millionaire. But they’re not the ones who have nerve. More power to them, I say. Way to be capitalists while your wait staff at the IHop are probably on Food Stamps.

Anyway.

No, in this rare case, the people with nerve aren’t the rich people. They are an engaged couple who decided it might be fun to have a two day wedding celebration, without permission, in a mansion that they assumed was abandoned. Because Florida. You can’t make this stuff up.

According to this article, and this one, Courtney Wilson attended several open houses at this location, pretending to be a prospective buyer of the estate. At that time, he approached the owner about having his wedding there, but the owner politely declined. You’d think that would be the end of the story.

But no.

It seems that Courtney Wilson and his bride-to-be, Shenita Jones, decided to push forward with the wedding anyway. Their very elaborate, multi-page wedding invitation calls the place “The Wilson Estate”, and “our dream home”. It goes on to describe how they met in high school, but that Courtney was a bit of a “bad boy” at the time, so Shenita paid him no mind.

Heaven knows how many of those wedding invitations were sent out, but I’d love to know why no friend or family member questioned their sudden, miraculous acquisition of a multi-million dollar home. (Especially Courtney’s ex-wife.) Sure! I’ll come to your wedding! And I’ll also come the next day for the brunch by the pool, accompanied by a jazz band!

Imagine the homeowner’s shock, on the morning of the big day, when Courtney shows up, expecting to set things up for the big event. The owner called 911 and said there were people trespassing, and that they said it was God’s message that they have their wedding there.

I don’t know about you, but the god of my understanding does not encourage breaking and entering and illegal trespass. Even coveting is frowned upon in most spiritual tomes, as far as I know. But hey, to each his own interpretation, right?

Needless to say, the wedding did not take place. A couple other questions spring to mind. Did Shenita Jones even know that the wedding venue hadn’t given permission for its use? Did she really think it was owned by Wilson? Are they still getting married or did god inform them that there would be a slight change of plans? Were they able to get any of their deposits back for cake and chairs and jazz band? And did the poor homeowner have to spend the rest of the next 48 hours turning away wedding guests?

The mind boggles.

“The Wilson Estate”

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Artistic Utility

A brilliant way to beautify an ugly grey box.

When I lived in Jacksonville, Florida, there used to be a rogue artist who would paint the utility boxes in my neighborhood. Everyone that I talked to absolutely loved this art. It was a brilliant way to beautify an otherwise ugly, grey box. But the city council absolutely hated it, to the point where they would have the art removed as quickly as possible, and I believe the artist was actually faced with legal consequences.

Jacksonville was an extremely conservative city at the time. (Not so much anymore, it seems. They voted blue in the presidential elections! Woo hoo!) They considered art to be very controversial. Oh, sure, the confederate statuary was just fine and dandy, but do not produce art that’s open to interpretation. Heavens no! Anarchy might ensue! So Jacksonville’s public art used to be thin on the ground. I was not at all upset to move west.

When I moved to Seattle in 2014, I was thrilled to discover that the art on utility boxes is actually part of a beautification project. Now I look forward to seeing what the various artists will come up with. I love that those dull grey boxes were viewed as an opportunity, not a scandal.

Since then, I’ve seen decorated utility boxes everywhere that I travel. It’s a delight, seeing how varied they are. It brings me joy. It’s like going to a museum from the safety of my car.

What follows are pictures of artistic utility boxes that are either in my neighborhood or the pictures were sent to me by Pokemon Go friends from around the world. Enjoy the creative freedom!

In the interests of full disclosure, most, if not all of the confederate statues in Jacksonville have been removed since I left, and good riddance. I was also told by a friend who lives there that they don’t decorate their utility boxes because it has something to do with the leasing of equipment from vendors. I have no idea. I just can’t imagine they couldn’t find a workaround for this when so many other cities do.

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My Most Memorable Year

You just never know what’s in store for you.

On my way to work the other day, I was thinking about the fact that, ten years from now, if people are asked what their most memorable year has been, a good percentage of them are going to say 2020. That’s heartbreaking, because this year SUCKS. I’m sure most of the memories from this year won’t be happy ones. I’ll be happy to get past this year and move on, no matter what that looks like. I think that’s the scariest bit. We have no idea what the world is going to be like after this year.

Fortunately, 2020 is not my most memorable year to date. If I had to pick one, it would be 2014, because it was overflowing with the really, really bad, but ended up really, really good. It was the most pivotal year of my life.

For starters, in 2014 I went to visit my favorite aunt, Betty, in Connecticut. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be the last time I saw her face to face. I wish you could have known her. She was amazing.

Unfortunately, while I was there, I got a phone call from the Jacksonville, Florida Sheriff’s Office telling me that they found my boyfriend dead in his truck, still clutching his asthma inhaler, in the pharmacy parking lot a few short blocks from my apartment. Upon hearing that, I instantly came down with the flu, and couldn’t hear a thing for three days, which made flying home in tears quite fun. It felt like I was ground zero at a nuclear blast, such was the devastation this caused in my life.

There was a huge family conflict over whether or not I should attend his memorial service (thank God I ignored them and went), and the taking of all his possessions (and a few of mine) by his adult children. Other than that, I really don’t remember much about those next few months, except a lot of tears, forgetting to eat, and a constant ringing in my ears. I did go to work, though. I had to. Fortunately, there can be tears in bridgetending.

Not long after that, my landlord, who lived in the other half of the house, figured out that I’d probably not be able to make the rent without my boyfriend’s assistance, and she kicked me and my two dogs out of my apartment with no notice at all. I was too devastated at the time to fight it.

Fortunately I had a place to store my stuff, but I got to experience a brief stint of homelessness there. Nothing quite like sleeping with two dogs in a crapped out Buick LeSabre to make you appreciate all the comforts of home. Then I did a bit of couch surfing and realized who my friends really were.

Finally, I found a place to rent that I could just barely afford. I hunkered down in anticipation of an existence in which I would be all alone, working a dead end job, and living paycheck to paycheck. I was resigned to my fate.

I was talking to a coworker about just that when he mentioned that there was a job opening for a bridge operator in the City of Seattle. I had never been to Seattle. I had never even been to the state of Washington in my life. I didn’t know anyone there. But man, was I ever due for a do-over. My life was going nowhere fast and I was miserable. So what the hell, I applied. What did I have to lose?

And, what the hell? They hired me. Sight unseen. Over the phone. Just like that.

Now I had to figure out how I was going to move across the continent. Fortunately, my sister and my husband not only loaned me money, but they gave me a more viable van. And for the rest, I dipped into what little savings I had, and also did a crowdfunding campaign.

That campaign was amazing and humbling. Not only did friends from decades ago come out of the woodwork, but also total strangers gave me money. Without all that generosity, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Because of that, I do my best to pay it forward every chance I get.

House hunting from a distance is not at all fun, but somehow everything fell into place (including the breaking of a lease I had only signed 2 months before) and the next thing I knew, I was driving across the country with two dogs and entirely too much stuff.

The cross country trip was amazing. (Read more about it here.) You have no idea how vast this nation is until you drive 3100 miles across it. It’s magical. I will never forget that experience.

And then, on this very day (August 24th) in 2014, I arrived in Seattle. I was scared half to death, and second guessing myself the entire time, but I was also extremely excited for this fresh start. And my life has been, despite a few false starts, an ever-increasing high ever since.

Because I came here, I’m actually making a living wage for the first time in my life. Because I came here, I published my first book. Because I came here, I bought a wonderful little house. Because I came here, I met my amazing husband-to-be and was married for the first (and only) time ever.

No one at my wedding had known me more than a year or two. That kind of smarted. But, as a dear friend says, onward and upward and into the future!

I’ve met some wonderful people here and have had too many exciting experiences to list. (You may want to check out the archives of my blog for that.) And I’m happy to say that I feel as though I’ve made an excellent life for myself.

So, yeah, 2014 beats 2020 all to hell. And because of that, life is ever so good, and I am exactly where I want to be. You just never know what’s in store for you. Truly, what a ride…

Colourful 2014 in fiery sparklers

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5