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6/17/2010

Columns > Happytown

Happytown

 

A loud rattling cough of protest could be heard throughout the county last week when somehow word leaked – well, actually, WFTV Channel 9 News published a false story online June 7 and then suspiciously pulled it – that Orange County might follow the lead of some of the country’s more controlled municipal environments by banning tobacco usage in bars, parks or the outdoor patios of local eateries. There was going to be a very important meeting between county commissioners and the Orange County Health Department on June 11, WFTV raised its furrowed brow of judgment, and soon all of the evil smokers would be forced to crouch in their closets next to empty beer cans, simpering away their woes as they burned another hole in that outdated polyester number that they should have thrown away with their ‘70s nicotine habit. Freedom was about to die.

Except it wasn’t. The whole story was a smoke-and-mirrors diorama of misinformation, according to both county and health department officials, although within the paranoia there may be a plume of truth. We caught musky wind of the controversy while talking to Corona Cigar Company president Jeff Borysiewicz, who – in addition to basically making us feel bad for smoking loser cigarettes and not enjoying the luxury of the far superior cigar – threw around fun terms like “lifestyle patrol” and “What’s next? You shouldn’t be allowed to drink?” Heavens no!

The real story is a little less dramatic. Earlier this year, the county began its assault on smokers by fining (or, basically raising the insurance rates of) its employees by $25 per pay period if they happened to smoke. Nothing new there. But the county also included a caveat that its employees would be allowed to smoke exactly four cigars a year, something rather arbitrary considering that there is no way to really monitor cigar usage. Then Mayor Rich Crotty went a step further – without consulting his commission, according to husky-voiced commissioner Linda Stewart – and had signs put up on county properties forbidding the possession of tobacco products by anyone. Those signs have since (for the most part) been taken down because they were a “mistake”; members of the public may still light up outside public offices, but staffers have been forced to sign agreements that they will not smoke on county property.

To confuse matters even more, the Orange County Health Department – which is a state agency, not a county one – received a $6.6 million federal stimulus grant in March meant to dissuade smokers from puffing over the next two years. Part of that dissuasion includes reaching out to county staff (not the commissioners) to establish means of dealing with second-hand smoke concerns, something health department spokesman Dain Weister says includes discouraging smoking in bars, at parks and on outside patios through education.. Oh, and, “we’re working toward making UCF a smoke-free school,” he says. Also, that shiny new Amway Center opening up this fall? According to commissioner Bill Segal, who recently toured the premises with Orlando Magic helmet-head Alex Martins, smoking will be forbidden in the bars and on the balconies because the building has been LEED certified. “There are a lot of wrinkles to this story,” he says. Uh-oh.

The state already has a law, the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act passed in 1985, that takes care of smoking inside restaurants and most other indoor establishments; bars are allowed to make the decision as to whether to allow smoking in their establishments or not. And though county spokesman Steve Triggs clarifies that “we have no desire to legislate” against smoking for private businesses or private citizens, there does seem to be something to the nervous fidgets of the smoking minority. When asked about possibly changing the law to clamp down on smokers, the health department’s Weister points out that as a state agency, “we’re not allowed to lobby the state.” You know who is? Cough. The county. Cough. We’ll see you in the closet.

Those familiar with the region probably already know that you can’t throw a bean in this town without hitting some kind of toast, meaning Central Florida is the unlikely home to a large population of black-sock-wearing, hip-purse-sporting, hooligan-worshiping Brits – which is fine by us. There’s nothing like a quizzical foreign accent (one that often implies greater intelligence than it actually indicates) pricking up your ears and allowing you to feel like a stranger in your own swamp. Blimey, etc.

It’s just that sort of cultural bifurcation that local “author” and entrepreneur Rochelle Peachey was counting on when she launched her dating website www.iloveyouraccent.com in January. Peachey (apparently) hosted some kind of World Cup Brit-sploitation event at the I-Drive Cricketers Arms on June 12 that involved accent contests rewarded with bar tabs. We didn’t go, but we did decide it was worthy to note Peachey’s prowess on this very page, mostly because it’s both questionable and disgusting. Also, her dating website is loaded with pictures of people looking sad, so we felt oddly compelled.

Anyway, according to an e-mail from her flack, Peachey “started the dating site after she went on 1,000 dates in research for a book and realised [sic!] that it was her British accent which attracted the American men.” Gross, right? Well we pulled up an article that Peachey recently wrote for the online edition of the UK publication Daily Mail earlier this year titled, “Still can’t find a man? Sorry, but it’s all your own silly fault” in which she derides her female readers for lying on dating sites about the number of “stones” they weigh. There’s a fucking picture of Bridget Jones! Anyway, in that article Peachey claims to have “been on more than 2,000 dates as a part of my research for two books.” Who’s lying now, Peachey? Also, you’re a slag.

Once upon a time, children, there lived an amorphous, amoral breed of lawyer known as the “ambulance chaser.” Bearing cartoonish dollar signs in its eyes, with teeth that resembled crumpled steel and fueled entirely by shattered bone marrow and baby tears, the chaser preyed on the shellshock of newly injured car-accident victims in the hopes of sustaining its McMansion and sating its incurable thirst for lawsuits against insurance companies who, in response, jacked up their premiums hoisted upon its own prey. Imagine the Nature Channel meets the Cloverfield monster’s parasitic minions, squared.

Once America caught on to the chasers’ methods, the Bar Association started looking down on the accursed beasts, driving them back to the hell-caves from whence they emerged. It looked like they might be driven to extinction until along came a man named Gary, who found a loophole. Billing his (its?) company as a “referral service” for the recently rear-ended, Gary offered to play intermediary between the chaser and the imperiled; you call Gary, he’ll find you a doctor or lawyer fresh from the nether realm and ready to get you a settlement. He called his service 1-800-ASK-GARY. It was also, according to some, an operating phone number for his company.

But in order to tell people to tell a doc or lawyer that you’re in need, Gary had to get the word out. So he took to the airwaves in a series of seemingly ubiquitous commercials, run mostly during daytime freak shows like The Jerry Springer Show, in which regular folk – usually wearing fake acrylics, which are like a Pavlovian wet dream for the chasers – attest to the “referral service” as a godsend. In most of these ads, the “ASK” part of the company’s name/phone number came out sounding, well, incorrect. (Don’t “ax.”)

On June 10, Gary and the chasers began Phase 2 of their world-domination plan. The excellent Ford Amphitheatre, a 20,000-seat concert venue in Tampa, was renamed the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre. You heard that right – the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre. Rather than its former name, which calls to mind American ingenuity, the industrial revolution and the Beach Boys’ “Fun, Fun, Fun,” concertgoers, merchandise peddlers and print publications like this one will have to actually say or type Gary’s oft-mispronounced legacy. Frankly, we’d rather be sideswiped.

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