Newspaper columnists are a little like familiar billboards on the way to work. They’re always there, always with something to say about matters not always of interest.
And like a billboard, when the day comes that, for whatever reason, you drive by and it’s no longer where it always was, you realize how much seeing it and getting The Message, liked or not, was a part of your day.
Howard Troxler’s column (St. Petersburg Times) was as much a part of my day as my first cup of coffee. I would settle into my lazy-boy under the singular dim light that makes reading the paper before daybreak in my living room like studying fine print, and with eagerness turn to his message for that day.
Without fail, Howard would greet me in return with a wash of views and words that would make me either contort in discomfort from disagreement or my pulse quicken in wonderment at his insight. There was no yawning spent with Howard in those early mornings under that dim light.
Here’s an excerpt from Howard’s Sunday column which is so dead-on relevant to what is happening to Florida today, I had to share it:
… A more recent book about Florida made a big impression on me. Its title is Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams, and it was written by our own Gary Mormino, a history professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
Mormino documents the rise of modern Florida - the megastate Florida, the crushingly developed Florida, the Florida of real-estate booms and quickie subdivisions that simply exploded in the years following World War II.
A generation of Americans was exposed to this paradise during military training; many of them decided to come back as visitors, or to seek a new life in a newly mobile postwar nation.
Florida sold itself eagerly, of course. Florida has always sold itself eagerly. And plenty of people made a lot of money doing it, and plenty of people made a living by throwing up the new cities and subdivisions and shopping centers and strip malls that it required.
Only in the last generation did Floridians begin to question the wisdom of this. We saw our lakes and bays choked to death. We saw the highways jammed, the quality of life degrading.
And enough Floridians said, maybe this is not the state we want. So we passed laws that said, yes, we will always grow, but maybe we can grow better. Smarter. Wisely.
We should make sure Florida has the water it needs, and the roads it needs, and the schools it needs. The business of our state should be something besides unrestricted, anything-goes growth. Those people making money off Florida should help pay for the costs of their growth.
That was long-term thinking.
But, you know, we live in the short term. We live in the moment. And in this moment, for various reasons, we have chosen a generation of leaders of Florida who do not believe in these values.
I do not think most Floridians fully realize, and will not for some time, the full damage of what has already happened in Tallahassee. Our state's governor and the majority of our state's Legislature believe in exactly one thing: making money off Florida. They have repealed many of the laws that Florida passed trying to make itself a better state. We have, quite literally, propelled this state back into the 1950s, and when the economy explodes again, look out.
It was an earlier generation of Republicans and Democrats working together who tried to save our state. Making Florida better was never about Republican vs. Democrat. Hardly a day passes that I do not hear from anguished, older Florida Republicans who are dismayed at what is happening. They say: This is not what we wanted.
Florida needs a world-class state university system or it will never be a great state. Florida needs to invest in itself. It needs to invest in public - yes, public - education. It needs a diverse, educated, intelligent work force. Florida needs to protect what is left of the physical Florida. In every one of these arenas we are pointed the wrong way.
Yet despite all this . . .
Despite all this, lately I have been feeling more and more optimistic, precisely because more and more Floridians realize what is happening. This state is coming into an interesting and exciting time, a battle afresh for its future, and its soul.
So why am I quitting now, just when it's getting good? For entirely selfish reasons that have nothing to do with any of this, and everything to do with living the one single life we each are given.
But whatever happens, and wherever I go, I will always be for Florida. I hope you will, too. Goodbye
Like billboards, columnists leave us for reasons not always given. They grow old and fail, they’re moved aside and replaced, or maybe their message is no longer relevant upon a vastly changing world stage. For whatever the reason, Howard Troxler’s last column, as always, dead-on relevant, was yesterday, Sunday, June 13, 2011.
Goodbye to you, Howard Troxler. Best wishes living the one single life we each are given, and thanks.
I will always be for Florida … too.