Fear and Loathing in South Florida

During my most recent trip to the East coast of South Florida, which turned out to be much lengthier than anticipated, I knew before hand there would be much to loath and probably more to fear. I was not disappointed on either account.Upon arriving at the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport, I purchased a copy of the Miami Herald and immediately sensed fear, for I read that Governor Jeb Bush was about to sign a bill just that week that would become known as the "Stand Your Ground" law.

The law immunizes citizens who use deadly force in self-defense against criminal prosecution and civil liability. Quickly realizing that under this "Shoot First" law, as long as the shooter "is not engaged in unlawful activity" and is "attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be" the shooter has the right to use deadly force. Thus , if a fist fight escalates to lethal violence, the shooter could receive immunity under the law even if he initiated the confrontation, as long as he "reasonably believed" that shooting a gun was necessary to prevent "great bodily harm" to himself.

Needless to say, even before I drove out of the parking lot, I swore to myself that I would be on my very best behavior and look straight ahead even after being insulted or otherwise abused during any road rage incidents.which, in Florida, are virtually impossible to avoid. Cautiously glancing at the faces of some of the drivers while driving north on dangerous 95 brought to mind Jack Nicholson in the Shining.Now don't get me wrong.

I'm no shrinking violet, and NH Senate Bill 318, recently introduced by Senator Peter Bragdon, R-Amherst, if passed, will thankfully bring NH law more in line with that of Florida.and that's a good thing since no person should face the possibility of prison time for standing up to an attacker. But present NH law does just that. It states that deadly force used in self-defense outside of one's own property is not justified if one can, with completee safety, retreat from the situation or surrender property to which the aggressor claims a right. So, if faced with a car jacker in, say, Wal-Mart's parking lot, let him drive off with your pickup.

In our "Live Free or Die" state, crime victims are at an disadvantage while a crime is being committeed. If Governor John Lynch does the right thing, this is about to change.Once safely ensconced in the family condo in Delray Beach, I received recorded non-stop phone messages from just about every scamster in the state with just about every illicit idea imaginable.

A particularly despicable one asked if my brother had passed away yet. He was "offering assistance during this time of grief." In Florida, these are apparently known as obituary predators. After scores of other calls, it became clear just how vulnerable the elderly and/or the lonely might be in this state, and how helpless they are to do much about it. This is loathsome, indeed.But getting back to road rage, Florida does not have a turning signal law so lane jumping is commonplace.

In fact, many multiple lane jumpers have it down to an art form.perpendicular finger and all. And I am not just talking about driving around some protected enclave like Route 1 through Palm Beach or Boca Raton or on the other side of the state. No, I'm talking about driving south on 441 toward Plantation or on treacherous 95 toward Wilton Manors or in and around West Palm Beach or Miami proper where returning an insult can lead to something sudden and serious. When you combine this with the new "Stand Your Ground" law, you have something that can only be described as toxic alchemy.

On one sunny morning while driving south on 441 toward Margate, I suddenly noticed that cars were swerving to the left and right of center, some going on the shoulder. Finally, I saw what the cause was. A smiling George Burns look-alike, cigar and all, was driving his golf cart down the center of the road in the wrong direction. Hardly believing my eyes, I quickly swerved to the shoulder and let the fellow geezer pass.

I never found out what happened to him or how he found his way onto a major highway but I had a funny feeling the incident was not all that unusual. Fear and loathing? No. Amusing? Oh God, yes! Dangerous? Most definitely.On the positive side and given its population of retirees, Florida does have a fantastic network of medical care facilities running from out-patient care to hospice and everything in between. The medical teams in Florida are simply incredible and if one has to take ill, this is one of the better states in which to do it. Conversely, the governmental bureaucracy in Florida is extremely cumbersome and difficult to engage without an attorney and something as simple as transferring title to a vehicle can become arduous.

However, there are plenty of attorneys to choose from since Florida state motto could well be "I'll Sue You. One uses a shopping cart at his or her own legal peril while shopping for groceries at Winn Dixie, particularly on the days following a hurricane when water is in short supply. It's helpful, of course, to be Tri-lingual, that is, fluent in English, Spanish, and New York. That I was fluent in only the first two did not make my stay any easier.

Florida weather can be treacherous in its unpredictability. Heavy rain storms suddenly pop up while the sky is blue and then disappear just as quickly. This, of course, adds to one's driving pleasure, especially while the lane jumpers are perpetrating their madness. Speaking of weather, what would a visit to Florida be without at least the threat of a tropical storm or hurricane. Hurricanes are not romantic.They are nasty, scary and equal opportunity renderers of severe damage, not only from wind and water, but from the after effects of being without power for weeks.

Indeed, the subtle ripple effects of these storms are just plain awful and too numerous to describe in this piece. Yet, to cushion the discomfort, there are thousands of little acts of kindness that neighbors do for each other that are so very wonderful and tender. During the aftermath of the hurricane that blew directly over Delray Beach (though not my first experience with one), the fact I was able to make instant coffee and cook soup with sterno made me quite popular in my condo complex. Meanwhile, someone named "Boyardee" quickly became the most famous chef in Palm Beach County.

To this day, I cannot fathom why people waited in two-mile long lines to get ice. Why? What did they do with it? Martinis, medicine, food? No one seemed to know the answer but people still waited in long.and I mean long.

lines which were supervised by heavily armed members of the Florida National Guard even though those waiting appeared to pose no threat given their frailty and median age. Meanwhile, burly State Troopers and local police directed traffic and did a superb job though some of the high speed collisions at unprotected intersections during the evening hours were almost surreal in their spectacularity.But for sheer fear, nothing topped waiting in long lines at service stations for gas (at those stations smart enough to have generators) where the attendants wore holsters packed with lethal-looking weapons. Combining this with the new "shoot first" law, the fact that being able to shower with safe and warm water was a luxury long forgotten, being in slow and long lines with hot tempered, ill-mannered and dangerous looking people, and doing all this while toting up the costs incurred by a damaging hurricane, and finally reeling from daily customer service that seemed to go out of its way to be aggressively offensive and would better be termed "customer abuse" .

all this presented a supreme test of one's will.I did make many solid and lasting friends during my stay in Delray Beach and Palm Beach County, particularly during the storm. Most were from other states since a Florida native along this part of the East coast is about as rare as a manatee. But I was truly elated when it came time to finally return home to my wife, dog, friends and home in good old North Conway, New Hampshire.a place the overall pleasantness of which should never be taken for granted.

A limo took me to the Ft. Lauderdale Airport for an agreed upon price of $ 70. Upon arriving, I handed the driver a one hundred dollar bill and pleasantly said "please give me back $10" whereupon he replied he did not have any change (apparently, a near 30% tip was not enough for him).

Little did the poor guy know I was hep to his scam and that my frustrations had been building for weeks. He simply gave me the excuse I was looking for.but that's another matter.

"The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature." Anne Frank.

.Ted Sares, PhD, is a private investor who lives and writes in the White Mountain area of Northern New Hampshire with his wife Holly and Min Pin Jackdog. He writes a weekly column for a local newspaper and many of his other pieces are widely published.

By: Theodore Sares

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