Saturday, September 12, 2009

Impressions of Florida - still great, but beaten down some by the economy.

It is hot as the blazes down here.
When I arrived late in the afternoon yesterday, it was steamy -- 92 degrees with a blanket of stifling humidity. But I almost did not mind it because the summer has been so cool and breezy in Michigan this year.
I love my sister Sharon's new condo just south of St. Petersburg. It's in a gated community on Coquina Key, a tiny little island that hangs off the foot of the mainland kind of like a big toe. Her condo is on a canal that runs out to the Gulf of Mexico.
The view in all directions is fantastic. Nice warm, gusty breezes off the water. It's raining here now, but the forecasters say that will pass and we'll have another hot one today. We plan to have a nice easy day around her condo pool, watch Michigan spank the daylights out of Notre Dame and then I may whip up a batch of Dave's Word Famous Spaghetti. We'll see.
Florida still looks the same to me. Lots of people, especially the kind who make me feel like a youngster (for that reason I love them, man).
But there are tons of signs indicating that the devastated national economy has taken a heavy toll on Florida. Things are horrible back in Michigan, where we've lost a million jobs since the downturn started, but times are tough here, too.
Plenty of dark, empty houses with weeds sprouting from the cracks in their paved driveways. For Sale and foreclosure declarations are posted almost everywhere you turn -- even here in my sister's gated community.
One thing I noticed while we were driving yesterday is that there are so many homeless people. You see tired, worn-looking people swarming the parks and empty lots.
At one stoplight, I watched a young woman with a sign that asked for handouts. It said she was trying to keep a roof over her family's head. Heart-wrenching. I didn't the sense that she liked what she was doing or enjoyed panhandling. I saw desperation in her eyes.
Sister Sharon says that the homeless problem has gotten so bad in the St. Pete area that every so often the cops round 'em up like cattle and drive them out of the city to an open area where tents have been set up for shelter.
But that only works for awhile. Before long, the homeless find their way back into town.
Who can blame them? That's where the action is. That's where the lifelines are. That's where the people are. And it may be the only place where they find hope.
Before I leave, I'm hoping we can visit Tent City. That's a side of Florida I've never seen before, and I'm sure it's unlike anything we'd find at Disney World ....

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