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Columns > Happytown



Didn’t get enough crazy last summer with tea-partiers shouting angry slogans at anything and everything they could shake a fist at? Well, voter, now you have an alternative. You can be an official member of the Florida Tea Party and cast your ballot for people just as indiscriminately pissed-off as you are!

That’s right, Florida has (finally!) recognized the Tea Party as the legitimate “minor” political party it is. Check out the Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections page if you don’t believe us: There you will find the Tea Party sandwiched between the Surfers Party of America and the Term Limits for the United States Congress Party. Of course, the Tea Party is one of 32 minor political parties recognized in Florida, and it’s really not all that difficult to get a party registered with the state. Hell, the surfers did it between tasty sets. (We’re throwing our support behind the Possibility Party, however, because just imagine the possibilities.)

Tea Party chairman and local attorney Fred O’Neal sees the beginning of a tidal wave of change ready to sweep over a land of discontent. “So many people have cried out for a real choice in the political arena,” O’Neal press-released. “The Tea Party will help provide taxpayers the opportunity to compare and contrast with candidates from other parties.”

As evidence he cites the “incredible success” of Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in the race for New York’s 23rd Congressional District last week. Hoffman, you may recall, lost the race to Democrat Bill Owens, despite an endorsement from Sarah Palin, thus turning the district over to a Democrat for the first time in more than 100 years. With success like that, who needs failure?

In related news, the “Tea Party Express” is making its last stop in Orlando 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, at Lake Eola Park. It started in San Diego and rolled through the country, though no one is really paying much attention anymore. Go and get angry about health care or whatever. You’ll feel so much better afterward.

Let’s take a look at a couple of recent events that nicely bookend the maddening conundrum that is Orlando, shall we?

First up, the official end of the saccharine social-media experiment 67 Days of Smiles was Nov. 1. That was the day paid smilers Kyle Post and Stacey Doornbos shut off their perpetual grins and went home to New York.

Post and Doornbos were guests of the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, the organization that put them up in luxury downtown digs, rented them a convertible and sent them all over Touristan to blog, tweet and Facebook until their happy little fingers fell off about how wonderful life here is. It was, as one of their Twitter followers noted, a luxury paid vacation, and one that didn’t reflect the reality of your average Orlando denizen any more than the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street USA reflects downtown anywhere.

Not the point, though. They were here to flog our town to outsiders and bring in the tourist dollars. Successful? Hard to say. They had 10,481 fans on their Facebook page and 927 Twitter followers. How much, if any, of that translates to economic stimulus is anyone’s guess.

Five days later, the pendulum swung hard and Orlando was all over the social networks for being the home of the second mass shooting in as many days. We all know the story by now: Jason Rodriguez went on a rampage at his former employer’s office, killing one person and injuring five others. While TV reporters nattered away on the scene and the Sentinel did its best to stay current on its website, the real reporting star was Twitter, on which every breaking crumb of the story could be had before TV or media websites. The term “Orlando” quickly became a trending topic, and the world was left to wonder if we were smiling or cowering under our desks dodging bullets. Or both.

Mixed messages. We need better spin control.

We also need more places to hide from crazy drivers. Yes, it’s official. Orlando is the most dangerous place in the country for pedestrians. You take your life into your hands every time you park the Family Truckster and hoof it. Which is sad, really, because we’re a nation of fat-asses and walking to the store once in a while would do us a world of good.

The damning study, “Dangerous by Design,” comes courtesy of Transportation for America, a coalition group of businesses, tree-huggers, transportation nerds and others who realize that the whole oil thing can’t go on forever and building more and more roads for more and more cars isn’t a working solution. The group puts facts and figures together and gives them to Congress in the hope of persuading legislators to do something about the problem, then legislators go to lunch with their developer buddies and nothing changes. But at least someone is trying.

The Orlando-Kissimmee area scored an impressive 221.5 on something called the Pedestrian Danger Index, or PDI. Other Florida cities were similarly shamed: Tampa came in at No. 2 on the list with a 205.5 on the PDI, while South Florida in general got a 181.2. Our pedestrian fatality rate in 2007-2008 was 2.9 per 100,000 residents, which doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that not many people actually walk anywhere here. Factoring that in, which the study does, shot us right to the top of the list.

What’s the problem around here? Roads designed for cars, not people. Ever try to cross State Road 50 on foot?

Finally, one last bit of cheery Orlando news: We are a petri dish for swine flu. Or at least the theme parks are, according to the New York Times, and since Orlando is theme parks to most people in the world, we all get to wear that particular scarlet letter.

A Nov. 8 online article in the Times’ “Practical Traveler” section notes that Disney fan sites are buzzing with advice for families who don’t want to get sick. But fear not, Mr. and Mrs. Middle America, Disney is on the case with 200,000 individual hand sanitizers, free vaccinations for employees and a policy that encourages cast members to change their costumes should, say, Goofy get a hug from a particularly snot-clogged child.

Of course, the risk of getting sick from going to a theme park is no greater than it is in any situation involving close quarters with a large number of people. But that just doesn’t make for sexy headlines.
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