A tale of three DUIs

#1 Karlie Tomica

Occupation: bartender

There are two kinds of mistakes that we can make – the ones that can be fixed, and the ones that can’t be fixed. I thought of this as I watched the sentencing last week of 20 year old Karlie Tomica, a young Miami Beach woman found guilty in the death of 49 year old Executive Chef Stefano Riccioletti, who was walking home after work at the Miami Beach Shore Club’s Terrazzo Restaurant at about 6am on January 29th of this year.

At about the same time Mr. Riccioletti was leaving work, Ms. Tomica happened to be doing the same thing – except in the case of Ms. Tomica, she was behind the wheel of her car, and she had, by her own admission, been drinking throughout  her shift. The paths of these two Miami Beach service industry workers would soon collide in the most unfortunate of ways, when Ms. Tomica’s vehicle struck Chef Riccioletti, catapulting the father of two into the driveway of the hotel.

Perhaps either out of fear, or out of oblivious alcoholic abandon, Ms. Tomica fled the scene, leaving Mr. Riccioletti to die in the street. Good Samaritan Jairo Fuentes witnessed the crash and followed Ms. Tomica’s car, calling 911 as he pursued her through the streets of Miami Beach to her Collins Avenue apartment. It was there that police would soon arrest her.

Last week, the tearful, self-proclaimed “Party Princess”, was sentenced in a Miami courtroom to serve four years in the penitentiary, followed by two years of house arrest, followed by 15 years of probation. In addition, her driving privileges were revoked for life. Also, in a unique but thoughtful sentencing twist, she is ordered to write a check to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) each year on Stefano Riccioletti’s birthday, the amount of the check to equal the age that Mr. Riccioletti would have been on that day.

The plea bargain that Ms. Tomica accepted saved her from what was thought to be an inevitable 30 year prison sentence.

#2 Donte Stallworth

Occupation: NFL wide receiver

On the morning of March 14, 2009, my wife and I were driving my niece to a Cosmopolitan magazine photo shoot at Nikki Beach Resort in Miami Beach (yes, the same place that Karlie Tomica worked).  It was early on a Saturday morning, so the trip to Miami Beach should have been a breeze, but it wasn’t. The MacArthur Causeway, a main arterial roadway that runs between Interstate 95, and Miami Beach, was shut down due to an accident that had occurred some hours before. As we crawled through traffic we could see the empty Causeway, and we could only speculate as to the nature of the devastating event that had caused it to be closed.

By the time we returned home that evening, television news was a abuzz with details about a deadly automobile crash on the MacArthur Causeway, a crash that involved none other than NFL wide receiver, Donte Stallworth. For those of you who may not follow U.S. professional sports, Mr. Stallworth is a professional football player of some repute. As such, he has enjoyed a successful career with the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns, and the Baltimore Ravens. In short, Mr. Stallworth is endowed with a great deal of athletic prowess and he has made a great deal of money on the football field.

In the early morning hours of March 14th, though, it was a severely impaired Donte Stallworth who was piloting his six-figure Bentley convertible across the MacArthur. Near the eastern end of the causeway, Mr. Stallworth struck and killed 59 year old construction worker Mario Reyes. Mr. Reyes was a crane operator who was hurrying to catch a bus home after his shift ended at a nearby work site. Reyes was, by police reports, not within the crosswalk, a fact not lost on Mr. Stallworth, who later stated that he flashed his lights at Reyes in an attempt to get him to move, as he bore down on him in his Bentley.

Toxicology reports determined that Mr. Stallworth was under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana, and on April 1st, 2009 police arrested the football star on charges of DUI manslaughter. He was released the next day after posting $200,000 bail. Mr. Stallworth later accepted a plea bargain in order to avoid years of jail time. He was sentenced to 30 days in the county lockup; 1000 hours of community service; and eight years probation. In addition, he received a lifetime revocation of his driving privileges.

Mr. Stallworth was released from custody on July 9, 2009 after spending 24 days in the County Joint. After being banned from football for the entire 2009 season, Mr. Stallworth has since been reinstated and continues to play professionally.

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#3 John Goodman

Occupation: Polo Club Mogul

Travel with me now if you will, up Florida’s Turnpike to the very horsey community of Wellington. John Goodman (no relation to actor John Goodman) certainly had it all if anyone did – and perhaps he still does. Goodman was heir to a 1.4 billion dollar fortune, amassed by his father in the air conditioning and  heating business. Mr. Goodman founded the International Polo Club in Palm Beach, a really high end kind of place that attracted the ultra-rich, and the very famous, including Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Sylvester Stallone and Madonna. Personally, I am not up on my polo, so I don’t know who’s playing who, or how the game is played – but I do know how it starts – lots of cash.

On the evening of February 12, 2010, Mr. Goodman was drinking heavily at a charity event. After settling up a $200 bar tab (by the way, Mr. Goodman left the bartender a $60 tip), he barreled away in his Bentley, ostensibly, as he would tell the court in later testimony, to get a Wendy’s frosty before the ‘fast-food’ restaurant closed.

Ah well, the stories we tell ourselves…

In route to “Wendy’s”, perhaps for a frosty to cleanse his palate after enjoying a number of tequila shots, Mr. Goodman severely underestimated the proximity of an intersection and ran through a stop sign, ploughing his Bentley into a Hyundai driven by a 23 year old University of Central Florida engineering student named Scott Wilson. Mr. Wilson’s Hyundai, with Mr. Wilson still inside, was ejected from the roadway into a canal (we have lots of canals in South Florida), where he subsequently drowned.

Mr. Goodman, apparently unaware of what had just happened, rushed from his totaled Bentley to the comfort of a nearby barn, where a friend maintained a “man cave”. It was here that our Polo Mogul sought solace in a number of alcoholic drinks as he attempted to regain his composure before calling authorities. Small wonder his blood alcohol level would be nearly two times the legal limit when he was arrested on DUI manslaughter charges.

In the days since, much has transpired in this case. Mr. Goodman was in jail for some time, and then was released on house arrest (house arrest being somewhat more palatable when one’s house is the size of half a county).  But this is a slow winding case. Defended by Roy Black, one of the foremost defense attorneys in the United States, the future of Mr. Goodman is still unclear.

Although he received a guilty verdict in the case, Mr. Goodman has now won a new trial. This in spite of the fact that much has marred Mr. Goodman’s case, including his adoption of his girlfriend to help shelter his children’s assets from forfeiture. Fortunately for Mr. Goodman, a juror from his trial came forward with a confession that that juror had been less than forthright when being interviewed for a seat on the jury. Apparently, said juror’s wife had a DUI which the juror had failed to mention in the pre-selection interview.

Now all bets are off as Mr. Goodman looks forward to a second trial. He knows what he is doing. He has already paid a massive amount of money to his victim’s family (reported, but not confirmed to be, 46 million dollars). He has the best representation, and the best accommodations. He has also probably sheltered a fortune for the day he anticipates walking free.

As of this writing Mr. Goodman remains under house arrest in his Wellington, Florida mansion under 4 million dollars bail.

*

So there you have it. The story of the three DUIs here in Florida. All began with one common denominator – excess and recklessness. Three people are dead – all of them had years of life ahead.

Make of this what you will.

So I conclude…

Leave the last one on the bar my friend,

And call a cab.

Mahalo

Ed

Disappearing fishing tackle sparks my short rant on Wal-Mart…

So there I was, last week, at my local sports equipment store. It is a chain store near my house that I go to on a regular basis, although I don’t need much of what they sell there. I don’t golf, my bad knees forced me off of the running circuit years ago, and I am far too old to need football pads, or baseball cleats. I go to this particular store for one thing only – fishing tackle. And they stock lots of it, or at least they did. That is why I was so surprised when I stopped by the other day to replenish my supply of 2 ounce pyramid sinkers, and found their once packed shelves were nearly empty…devoid of tackle.

Frustrated, I  hailed a young store employee to find out what was going on with the fishing tackle.

“We’re not stocking ‘fishing stuff’ any more,” he said, sounding almost happy about it. Then he waved his hand at the few rods that were still standing in their vertical holders, and the nearly empty racks where lures and spoons and hooks were once displayed, and the empty shelves that once held a multitude of tackle boxes, bait bubblers and sand flea rakes.

“Why would you get rid of the fishing tackle?” I asked.

He shot me one of those, isn’t-it-obvious looks, and then he replied. “We need more room for the Lacrosse gear.”

“Lacrosse gear,” I snorted, “you’re kidding me. This is South Florida – sport fishing capital of the world. The Fishing Hall of Fame is a few miles down the road. And you’re clearing out the fishing equipment to make room for Lacrosse gear? Where are we supposed to go now for rods and tackle?”

“Try Wal-Mart,” he said over his shoulder as he walked away, “they have about everything we have.”

“Wal-Mart,” I said. “I never shop at…,” but the young sales associate was long gone.

Of course I was about to ask him why a seemingly bright young man like himself, would possibly direct a customer to Wal-Mart. Didn’t he realize that as goes the fishing gear, so go the propane stoves, tents, and overpriced sneakers? The golf clubs, weight sets and treadmills will soon follow. In another year he’ll be directing disillusioned young lacrosse players to the Wal-Mart Super Store two miles up the highway, and shortly after that he may find himself filling out an employment application at aforementioned store…doesn’t he know that!

Wal-Mart, with roughly 2,200,000 employees (2011 figures), is the number one private employer in not only the United States, but the entire world. And frankly, I could care less if they had ten million workers, as long as they made some halfhearted attempt to pay them better. Their anti-worker message is articulated clearly in the recent events going on up in our nation’s capital. Scheduled to open six new stores in D.C., Wal-Mart axed plans to open three of them based upon the D.C. City Council’s elevation of the minimum wage to $12.50 per hour for so called ‘big box’ stores. Big box stores being defined as those stores with floor space in excess of 75,000 square feet and annual revenues of over 1 billion dollars.

Since by some estimates, each Wal-Mart worker displaces 1.4 local workers it only seems right to me that they pay their workers a livable wage, whether $12.50 per hour is a livable wage in the D.C. metro area is debatable.

In vast areas of the United States, especially in the rural areas of the Midwest, Rocky Mountain West and South, the appearance of a Wal-Mart Super Center is viewed with the same tepid enthusiasm that accompanies news that a new prison is coming to town. It may not be exactly the industry that they want, but at least it will bring jobs. At least their young people will have somewhere to go to earn a paycheck…you know those young people, the ones that for a multitude of reasons are unable to pack up and leave for greener pastures as a good Republican friend of mine suggested to me recently.

And bring jobs it shall, and they shall be derived from the displaced workers that once owned and staffed local businesses.

Or so this seems to me.

Not much sun in the Sunshine State

For many of us, life is a set of mundane daily activities that distract us from world events. We trudge through our days, thinking that in the end our efforts will be rewarded. We think that our good deeds will bear fruit. Similarly, we believe that misdeeds will result in some sort of punishment. I’d like to think that the terrible person in the white Nissan that cut me off yesterday on I-95 will somehow suffer for this affront by having something bad happen to him, or her (nothing really bad, like an accident or anything, but something sort of bad like getting stuck in the drive-up at the bank for 45 minutes). But then something will happen that reminds me that this may not happen, because the world is not a fair place to live. The driver of the white Nissan may be, at this very moment, cashing in a winning lottery ticket

Saturday was one of those days for me – a day that something happened to remind me of how unfair the world can be. Here in South Florida the weather was miserable. Tropical storm Chantral had fizzled off of the coast, and was crawling northward. By mid morning, heavy storm clouds had gathered, as if to foretell events unfolding in a courtroom in Central Florida (okay, so now you know where this blog post is going). By mid-morning I had cancelled my outdoor activities, as lightning crackled across the sky in one menacing bolt after another. The Weather Channel said that the front would pass by 1 PM, but that didn’t happen, and by 3 the rain was coming down in torrents. Around 4, an explosion not unlike an artillery round being fired went off behind my house, and the power for half of the neighborhood went down as lightning struck a nearby transformer.

By six, after my wife finished her workday, we sloshed off to the bar at Cafe Med, a little place near the Deerfield Beach fishing pier, a block off of the water. Yup, you guessed it, not lots of people at the beach. The place was nearly empty. A few tourists (don’t ask me who vacations in Florida in July) were at the bar, and from the sounds of things they had been there for quite some time. A couple of locals sat at the bar staring grimly at the TV, which was tuned to live coverage of the George Zimmerman trial going on up in Orlando. The volume was muted so everyone was carefully monitoring the closed captions scrolling past.

At that time, the jury of six (Florida felony trials require only a jury of six), had asked for clarification of what constituted ‘manslaughter’.

“They are going to find him guilty of manslaughter,” said my wife. “That’s all he’s going to get, I just feel it.”

“I dunno,” I said. “I think he’ll walk.”

“No,” said my wife. “He killed that kid…that unarmed kid…he can’t just walk away free…can he?”

By the time we got home later in the evening, the rain had subsided, although sheet lightning flashed in skies over Miami forty miles to the south. Eventually, a Florida Power and Light crew arrived to fix the power problem, so for a bit we were distracted from the Zimmerman trial, as we watched a power company worker reset a giant transformer fuse while standing on the ground using a 35 foot pole – ah modern technology.

Sometime around 11, my wife received a text message from her sister in Philadelphia.

“Oh no,” she said. “It can’t be true – he’s been found innocent!”

And so it goes here in the Sunshine State. The predicted riots that would erupt in the wake of an acquittal did not occur, although today there are some reports of riots in Los Angeles. Locally though, there were protests, and lots of tears, but they were peaceful protests, as the reality of what had happened began to sink in.

Today, conservative rock star, gun advocate Ted Nugent has weighed in with a predictable comment, calling Zimmerman’s action “the purest form of self-defense there is“.  Really Ted? Shooting an unarmed man is pure now?

The talking heads on the morning shows still speculate on the verdict, and today the first juror has spoken. There will probably be an upcoming civil trial, and George Zimmerman will undoubtedly wish that he were somewhere else that night of February 26, 2012. Trayvon Martin would certainly wish the same – if he only could.

As time goes on, we will discover more about the jury’s reasoning in finding Zimmerman not guilty. I imagine that Florida’s controversial ‘stand your ground law’, which pretty much makes it possible to gun down anyone whenever you feel threatened, is to blame. That, a six member jury, and some very good lawyering on the part of the defense probably were responsible for Zimmerman’s leaving the courthouse a free man.

To all, stay safe, and to my fellow Floridians, keep our laws in mind when your ire is roused by errant drivers, or that rude guy who edges his cart ahead of you at Publix. Remember the fine line that we have drawn in our sand – we might be but one altercation away from finding ourselves in Trayvon Martin’s shoes.

Mahalo

–Ed

Thoughts on Government surveillance

“If this government ever became a tyranny … the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government … is within the reach of the government to know.” – Senator Frank Church

If you are not wondering what the hell is going on with our government these days, or what the hell the government is doing to us, or where the hell all of this is going to lead, then you haven’t been paying attention. But make no mistake about it, this Big Brother, Big Government, Snoop/Spying/Prying into our lives started a long time before a 29 year old Booz Allen Hamilton hacker copied off a stack of his employer’s classified documents and flew west, leaving both his clandestine job and glamorous girlfriend in the jet vapors.

Citizens are now blogging, commenting, tweeting, and using all forms of media to express their shock and disdain for the apparent intrusion of the United States government into their personal lives. The scandal rages. Techie type analysts scramble to educate the masses about the nuances of government eavesdropping, hoping that perhaps a better understanding of ‘metadata’ will help assuage the concerns of The Public. Meanwhile, Edward Snowden, the aforementioned hacker, remains ensconced in a luxury Hong Kong hotel room, sitting high atop his stack of stolen documents as he lashes out at  the Obama Administration for its failings:

“Obama’s campaign promises and election gave me faith that he would lead us toward fixing the problems he outlined in his quest for votes. Many Americans felt similarly. Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge…”

So how could such a condition come about? What of those great ‘checks and balances’ that we learned about in our tenth grade American Government classes? Aren’t those supposed to save us from tyranny? Or, perhaps it was the Bush Administration that set us upon this road to Orwellian doom.

Perhaps a good place to begin to understand our recent condition is by reading “The Puzzle Palace”, by James Bamford, an amazingly insightful and well researched book about the National Security Agency (NSA). This book takes the reader inside the NSA’s Ft. Meade, Maryland facility and documents in detail, the NSA’s intrusive, albeit effective, role in monitoring, if not influencing, international events, including the Iran-Contra affair, the downing of KAL flight 007 over the Kamchatka Peninsula by the Soviets, and the first Gulf War. It is important to note that this book was published in 1983.

Have our God-given rights been taken from us, in one fell swoop. Did the erosion start with a Republican President riding a nationwide ‘save-us-at-all-costs’ attitude that came about as a result of  the worst terrorist attack on our soil in history? Were those same policies given a wink and a nod by our current POTUS?

I think that the march of the government into our personal lives has not happened suddenly. It is just that are many more opportunities today for governmental abuse of power. In 1983, the internet was, for the average citizen, non-existent. Today we have cellular phones that revel our whereabouts, Facebook pages that record the minutia of our daily lives, and Linkedin pages that document business associates, and organizations. Mysterious magnetic strips on credit cards, and driver’s licenses, hold facts about us that sometimes even spouses do not know about. Our medical histories, where we spend our money, and where we travel to from the assumed anonymity of our computers, is all meticulously recorded and available for tracking should the ends justify the means.

This did not happen overnight. Many of us have remained silent for decades, not taking the opportunity to lash out when we could. Perhaps requiring urine testing as a condition of employment for even the most low-level, non-governmental position, was an intrusion we could have stopped had the outrage been great enough. But as a friend of mine smugly told me after submitting to such a test in order to get a relatively mundane clerical position, “I have nothing to hide. They can test me all they want.”

Meanwhile, in a report that I read today, Mr. Snowden still remains in hiding in his Hong Kong hotel, doing what he believes to be right and waiting for the fallout. Interesting, in a brief description of his days in hiding, it is reported that when he logs into his laptop, he does so under a hood, so as not to give the prying eyes of the NSA the opportunity to discern his password. And so the paranoia shall grow.

Mahalo

–Ed

Climate of fear in the Sunshine State…

For those who think that life in South Florida consists of lazy days at the beach, sipping poolside Mai Tais, or partying till dawn with South Beach hipsters and celebrities, while the rest of the country shivers in the cold and shovels snow, you will be pleased to find out that there is plenty of gloom and doom here, just like everywhere else.

Giant pythons, released by irresponsible reptile enthusiasts now slither through the Everglades; African killer bees, introduced by well-intended, but sadly mistaken, Brazilian scientists, are on the swarm; and now we face the invasion of the Giant Snails. Yes, I said Giant Snails. You can read about them here. To make matters even worse, the 2013 hurricane season is only days away, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicting an active to extremely active season. The names of the upcoming storms have been posted, and one has to wonder which one (if any) will be retired in the wake of loss of life, and devastation, as have the names Katrina, and most recently, Sandy.

So with all this stuff out there to scare the beejesuz out of us, do we really need yet another government program to put us even more on edge than we already are? Apparently, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office believes that we do. The recently instituted, Community Partners Against Terrorism (CPAT) program, has been recently rolled out, complete with a sampling of the kind of behavior that we law abiding citizens should be on the lookout for. Among the behaviors we should be watching for, according to CPAT, are people taking pictures of bridges without a person in the picture.  One would think a savvy terrorist would simply deflect undo attention from his or her plot by simply placing a fellow terrorist in front of the camera.

In any case, I am starting to wonder if we really, really, need to be reminded to be on the lookout for just damned near anyone doing anything that we don’t do ourselves. A rowboat with a man lashing a package to the girders of a bridge certainly demands a call to the authorities, but to think that a hapless tourist, or student, or even some blogger like me, looking for a quick jpeg to upload for a paper, or blog, is at risk of being questioned by Sheriff’s deputies as to his or her motive is startling . And yes, I know that if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear, and I don’t necessarily agree with that line of thought. There is plenty to fear when a fear induced police state impinges on the rights of an individual to conduct a peaceful activity in a public place.

New York City, perhaps numero uno in the list of likely terrorist targets, and undeniably the site of the most tragic terrorist attack on U.S. soil, is home to some of the most photographed bridges and buildings in the world, as is San Francisco, Boston and Chicago.

Perhaps in the wake of the tragedy in Boston earlier this year, we are all a bit more on edge, at least at public events and in public places. A week or so after the Boston Marathon bombing, I was at a large South Florida shopping mall. It was lunch time and the food court was filled with people. I couldn’t help but notice a young man rushing through the mall lugging a backpack. A half dozen people stopped what they were doing and  watched him pass with eyes riveted. One lady looked absolutely terrified. Suspicious? I thought not – but then again,  his activities were probably as suspicious as some guy taking a picture of a bridge. Here’s the non sequitur – young men with backpacks were responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing, therefore young men with backpacks are terrorists – that’s paranoia setting in.

A short time later, I spotted the young man with the backpack riding a bicycle, turning onto the campus of Florida Atlantic University, a mile down the road. Obviously, he was a young college student late for a class and had to stop at the mall for something or other. Since bicycles do not offer a secure compartment into which one can lock ones valuables, the young student was therefore forced to lug his backpack through the mall.

So there you go, and that’s what I am thinking about today – at what point do the vigilant  become the paranoid? I am thinking of other things too, but I don’t want to come off too grumpy. I think the early arrival of the rainy season is affecting my mood, so enough for now; dark storm clouds are on the horizon, and I have got to go prepare for Hurricane Season.

Stay alert – stay safe – stay sane.

Mahalo,

Ed

My final gun control post…Adolphus Busch IV dumps on the NRA

The last time that I blogged about gun control, I told myself that it was the absolute last time that I was going down that rabbit hole, there being so many topics out there that interest me more than the stupidity going on in Washington, D.C. For that reason, along with a few other reasons that I shall not go into here, I felt that pouring yet more frustrated rhetoric, out into the blogosphere would be, simply put, pointless.  But here I go again…

Personally, I do not have strong feelings about gun ownership or gun owners, per se, as I am not anti-gun. I do not, however, as of this writing, own any weaponry as there is nothing that I care to shoot. I gave up hunting animals at an early age when I discovered that I got little joy from killing them, and my fear of the human species has not yet ‘red-lined’ at a level that I feel the need to arm-up to protect myself and my family (naivety being akin to bliss).

I am well aware that many people hunt legally for sport, and people in remote areas often keep guns for protection from four footed vermin as well as two. Still others in urban areas feel the need for guns, for a variety of reasons, some of them valid, and others not so much. I have no quarrel with any of them. I would hope never to see the day that I could not legally purchase a gun in the U.S., should I want to own one. And I am not a gun illiterate. I know the difference between a pistol and a revolver, a breech loaded shotgun vs. a pump model, and I know that .40 caliber ammo is not as easily obtained as .45 caliber. But I also know one other thing about guns…they are damned dangerous.

In the hands of the homicidal, the suicidal, and the genocidal, guns are capable of inflicting great harm quickly. You need to know what you are doing when it comes to guns, so making certain that only the right people get to own them is really important. It is also really important that once the right people own them, they hang onto them, and they don’t peddle them to just anybody with a wad of cash. So it goes without saying that I was more than a little disappointed last week, when the gun control bill, proposed by President Obama (and backed by lots of other people , Democrats and Republicans alike), floundered like a sick panfish on the floor of the United States Senate.

“Well, I expected that to happen,” I said to my wife when I heard the news. “No blogging about gun control for me.”

“Why not,” she asked.

“Because the gun thing is a dead horse,” I said, “and nobody wants to continue to beat one of those. Then I read about Adolphus Busch IV.

Adolphus Busch IV, the brewing company heir, recently rescinded his membership in the National Rifle Association (NRA), thus inspiring me to write here again about guns and their control, or lack thereof. I mean, if a brewing company magnate has the moxy (not the word I really wanted to use, but you get the impression), to stand up to the National Rifle Association, then I owe the issue one more blog.

Mr. Busch recently renounced his NRA membership with a scathing letter to that organization that read, in part:

“I fail to see how the NRA can disregard the overwhelming will of its members who see background checks as reasonable.”

Perhaps if we had more gun owners of Mr. Busch’s mettle, some sanity might one day settle upon our Nation. Mr. Busch further noted that today’s NRA is quite unlike the NRA that he had joined back in 1975, an organization that was formed to protect the interests of hunters and gun owners. Today’s NRA, according to Mr. Busch, looks nothing like that, and has instead morphed into a special interest lobbying group for arms and ammunition manufacturers. His observation mirrors my own. As I recall the NRA of the late seventies, it did not wield the power it has today, and seemed to be primarily concerned with gun safety issues, like keeping hunters from accidentally shooting each other on hunting excursions. Or so it seemed.

This is all I have to say on this issue for now, and I will remain silent on gun issues henceforth. There are other BIG issues to address: more poetry in honor of National Poetry Month, giant snails are invading Broward County Florida, and Obama is hijacking an asteroid. Not to mention that I have found an issue upon which I completely agree with Republican Governor Rick Scott of Florida…need I drone on…

Mahalo,

-Ed

Thoughts on the Marathon

In November 1983 I ran in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. Back then, the Marine Corps Marathon was only in its eighth year of existence. In that year, a comparatively paltry field of 8,604 runners showed up to run a race that followed a serpentine 26.2 mile course through the streets of the U.S. Capital. Considering that last year, 23,518 runners completed the race, the streets back in 1983 must have been relatively deserted.

Less than halfway through the race, I thought that I was finished, as my blood, perhaps thinned by training runs in the warm Florida sunshine, seemed to be slowly coagulating in the frigid winds that swept in across Haines Point, in Washington, D.C.’s East Potomac Park. My muscles tightened, and my fingers became too numb to feel the cold. My ears burned and a stiff headwind seemed to freeze the tears that welled up in the corner of my eyes.

Race officials pulled me into a tent for observation, thinking I was borderline hypothermic, and it looked for awhile as though I would be crossing the finish line courtesy of the straggler pick-up bus. But the short respite from the cold, along with a few sips of hot tea, revitalized my body and restored my determination to continue, so I slipped out of the tent and back into the race. A fortuitous change in wind direction, and a course that led back toward the warmer streets of the city were undoubtedly responsible for my eventual crossing of the finish line under my own power.

It was a day in my life that I recall with amazing clarity, probably due to the large amount of oxygen surging through my blood stream, and into my brain. By the halfway point of the race, the so called, ‘runner’s-high’ had set in, and even the drab, grey skies over Washington seemed crisp and colorful.

I most recall the cheering crowds that lined the streets along the course. As we ran down Constitution Avenue, the halfway point of the race, someone called out that the winner had finished. In my quasi-hypothermic, runner’s-high state of mind, it is difficult to put into words, how devastating that knowledge was to me. It was not that I had any illusion of winning, or coming close to winning. But to think that the winner had already crossed the finish line, received his trophy, posed for a press photo-op, and was by now probably having a late brunch at the Crystal City Marriott was mentally crippling. For a few seconds I wanted to quit. But I didn’t…

Had I been on a course by myself, I think that I really would have quit, but I wasn’t alone. I was surrounded by dozens of other determined runners. And then there were the crowds – hundreds of people lined the Constitution Avenue shouting words of encouragement — two hours after the winners had passed. The energy that I picked up from the crowd that day was indescribable. I went on to finish the race, albeit half frozen and dead tired, but I did finish.

In reflecting upon the tragedy in Boston on Monday, I have to wonder if the Marathon will ever be quite the same. Of course, the Marathon as an event will survive. Marathon runners are a hardy lot, and today’s marathons are huge moneymaking events. But I hope that we will not be forced to view future Marathons with the same kind of trepidation that we do making an airline flight. I hope that marathon fans of the future will not be relegated to fortified viewing areas. I hope that we will not react with some of the same knee-jerk reactions like we did in the days following 911, when we enacted laws that did little to actually protect the public. I hope that we will be able to protect marathon participants and spectators while still preserving the spirit of the event. This I hope…

Mahalo

Ed

A farewell to Roger Ebert…Reflections on the Atomic Bar…

The other day, when I heard the news of Robert Ebert’s death, I had one of my ‘mortality moments’.  I have mentioned ‘mortality moments’ before in this blog, most notably regarding the passing of John Glenn and George McGovern. Mortality moments are when someone, usually a celebrity, and usually someone that you have not given a whole lot of thought to in awhile, but whose name is a household word — that kind of person, leaves this world behind. All of a sudden you realize that humans are not meant to stay here indefinitely. You think that if ______________ is gone (fill in the blank), then it is not inconceivable that my day will be here before I know it and I should, therefore, make good use of the time I am allotted.

Roger Ebert, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1974 was not someone who I had thought a lot about recently, although I did hear that he had battled cancer for some years. Though I was not a huge Roger Ebert fan, if someone walked up to me on the street and asked me to name a movie critic, I would say Roger Ebert. If they asked me to name a second I would say Gene Siskel and if pressed for a third I probably couldn’t come up with another name. This is possibly because I am not a huge movie buff, but I am a huge fan of good criticism and when it is professionally delivered by someone of Mr. Ebert’s caliber, it can be quite entertaining and useful. This leads me to question the future of movie critics in general. With journalists abandoning the profession in droves, is it possible that ‘movie critic’ will one day be added to the ever growing list of obsolete professions, alongside Boomsquires, Lamplighters and Town Criers. I think it is possible.

Reviews abound today on everything from books, to movies, to computers, and toasters, just name it, everyone is becoming a reviewer. Before I purchase a book, I usually read the reviews on Amazon, reviews that were made by people who have simply read the book, and now thanks to the internet, have a platform upon which to cast their proverbial thumbs up, or thumbs down. A gentleman I know, who has published a number of novels, insists that a spate of negative reviews on his recently released book is due to his recent divorce, his ex-wife and her friends being the culprits in the negative comment flurry.

In any case, Mr. Ebert published a very moving essay, regarding his thoughts on his impending death. This essay has been all over the internet of late, but I will provide a link here  for those who may not have read it. It is required reading for those who feel that they themselves will one day die.  Although I do not subscribe to Mr. Ebert’s conviction that nothing exists beyond death, I can offer no evidence to the contrary.

*

My friend Tulip called the other night. Tulip used to live in Plantation, Florida, but she lives out in Los Angeles now and is applying to enter a Film Studies, PhD program. She asked if I still had a poem that I wrote some years ago, back in the late 90’s. The poem was written in the far hours of the morning, on the back of a cocktail napkin, just outside of the bowling alley at the now defunct and demolished Showboat Casino on the Boulder Strip in Las Vegas. I haven’t touched the poem since I wrote it, and I reprint it now in its original gin-stained condition — for Tulip:

The Atomic Bar

Past the Boulder Highway,

Over on Santa Fe,

Light years off the Strip,

Lydia stands on the Atomic Bar.

Yells: “don’t mess with Texas”,

She sings a cowboy song.

It’s a sad state for her native state.

It’s a sad state for her current state.

No harm is ever done in the desert.

No harm done to the present,

She’s bad news says Glenn,

The California Biker turned,

Full time Atomic Bomb.

Said he wanted to move to Saba,

But came here to do it right.

Sold his bike in Fresno.

When he gave into it.

No time like the present.

He lives in it, and drinks it in all day.

But he respects it always. Takes it for what it is.

He picks up a six pack of Coors silos,

Next door at the liquor store, then,

He walks off into the night.

He knows, long nights are often,

Just around forever. Bike’s gone.

Sugar’s gone. Atomic Bar is open,

All night long, every day.

New faces. Some come in painted.

Like figures on the wall,

Night refugees down from the Nugget.

Lydia says Greg Allman makes,

Her life worth living.

She’s sinking fast,

At the Atomic Bar.

*

Or at least that’s how I remember that night…

Mahalo,

Ed

Thoughts on: Mayor Bloomberg and the goings on up in New York town…

How often have we have heard a politician described as a guy you’d like to have a beer with. This means that the politician in question is a working-mans’ kind of guy – you know, humble, down-to-earth, honest, and concerned with the welfare of the humble, down-to-earth, honest , voters. It ignores the fact that there are just as many obnoxious, lying, cheating, wife beating, dog-kicking, dirt-bags out there drinking beer as there are wine drinkers, martini drinkers, or Mountain Dew drinkers (maybe not Mountain Dew drinkers – they are in a category by themselves).

In spite of being an extremely sexist remark (I have never heard a female politician referred to as a gal you’d like to have a beer with), almost every politician on the market today wants you to believe that he is the kind of guy you’d like to drink Miller Lite with.

Me, I am not anxious to drink anything with any politician – even the ones I have voted for, and especially not those who are currently serving in office. And that goes for you too Obama. I saw those shots of you and Biden guzzling suds in the Rose Garden back before the election, so there you go, right on message – they’re guys you want to have a beer with.

Well, there is one politician I wouldn’t mind having a 10 ounce decaffeinated iced tea with, and that’s Mayor Bloomberg of New York. This is because I believe that he is probably one of the very few billionaires who really cares about us (not just New Yorkers who he represents, but humankind). With an estimated wealth of 22 billion dollars, Mayor Bloomberg could be cooling his heels in the Hamptons, Palm Springs, or the Swiss Alps, but he’s not. He is right there in New York City, concerned about the citizenry’s exposure to second hand smoke, trans-fat in their French fries, and oversized Big Gulps.

By now, news of the Mayor’s failed attempt to limit beverage sizes within the environs of New York City has undoubtedly reached, and raised the hackles of every nanny-state fearing American in even the furthest flung burg’ in the U.S. From some of the blog posts and other news sources I have read, you’d think the good mayor had broken out a dog-eared copy of the Communist Manifesto at a City Council meeting and tried to collectivize the city restaurant industry. “Freedom rings in New York City,” cried one online source. Right I say, don’t mess with my God given right to knock back a three gallon pail of diet Pepsi if I want.

So if you weren’t following along, the ban was scheduled to go into effect on March 4th. The day before, it was struck down by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling, who went on to take Mayor Bloomberg to the woodshed for having the audacity to suggest such a ban. From what I hear, the mayoral beat-down was warranted, as it unfairly targeted some businesses while allowing others to slide. From everything I have read, it seems like a good thing that the ban was overturned. I mean, what business is it of Mayor Bloomberg’s if I pop out of my size 46 jeans. They sell some great looking roomy sweats at Target, Let Freedom Ring.

Not to be deterred, the Mayor is back in the news today with a proposed display ban on cigarettes and other tobacco products. Under this proposed ban, NYC business owners would not be able to display tobacco products in their store. Prominent advertising and display of countless brands of cigarettes on the wall behind cash registers is, of course, a staple of every convenience store in the U.S. (and in most other countries). Under the Mayor’s proposed ban, in New York City, such products would have to be hidden under a counter, or behind a curtain, or somewhere else out of sight of the purchasing public. The intent is to prevent impulse buying.

This ban reminds me of the way in which hard liquor was sold in the mid-western state where I grew up. In that state, way, way, way back when, liquor was sold in ‘State Stores’ (now there’s a commie term if I ever heard one). There were no aisles of liquor in the State Store. Instead, there was a large board on the wall of a sparse ante room that listed every type of liquor in the store, along with its price. Patrons wrote their order on a pad and handed it to a State Worker’ behind a window, who disappeared into a back room where the order was filled. The order was returned to the customer in a plain paper bag. Whether or not exposure to display cases of hard liquor prevented so called impulse buying, it is hard to say. Perhaps one is more likely to pick up another half gallon of Captain Morgan if one is wheeling a shopping cart down a supermarket sized aisle at ‘Liquor City’, than you would in the fairly antiseptic State Store, but there is unlikely to be much impact on over-consumption, or abuse.

The same goes for the proposed ban on tobacco displays. I suspect most tobacco purchases are addiction driven rather than impulse driven, but who knows. Smokers are in more disfavor these days than are soda drinkers. So the tobacco display ban falls into the dust bin of somewhere between ‘who really cares’, and ‘what harm can it do’, and I sort of agree. No one is saying how many packs of cigarettes you can buy…you just have to remember to buy them.

In the mean time, I applaud Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to make us all a little healthier. It makes me feel better about billionaires in general, just knowing that they aren’t all arrogant, bombastic, self-promoters whose idea of  fun is to host a reality show in which they get to fire people. As my grandmother might have said, were she here today, “that Mayor Bloomberg, bless his heart, he means well.”

Thoughts on: The TSA’s decision to allow small knives on airplanes

When I first heard of the Transportation Safety Administration’s decision last week to allow passengers to carry small knives on airplanes, my knee jerked and I had a reaction — “what the hell are these guys thinking,” I said out loud. Then I recalled something that happened to me a few months back.

My wife and I had just returned to Florida from a trip to New Jersey. Our flight had taken us through both Ft. Lauderdale Hollywood International airport, and Newark Liberty International airport. We’d just gotten home and I was in the process of unpacking my carry-on bag, when for some reason, I opened one of those zippered exterior pockets, even though I hadn’t recalled packing anything in it. You know those pockets, they’re too small to stash a magazine, and too big for a cell phone, so they are rarely used.

“Hey, look what I found,” I said to my wife. “Right here in this seldom used exterior pocket in my recently landed, carry-on bag.” Well, I said something like that.

“Isn’t that your ‘road corkscrew’,” she said, recognizing the dangerous instrument immediately. She looked at me like I’d just pulled a loaded Glock 9 out of the bag.

Now just a bit of background – my ‘road corkscrew’ had been missing for quite some time. I had purchased it in an outdoor store in Springdale, Utah, just outside of Zion National Park, years before. It had a really nice wooden handle with a corkscrew that snapped securely into place when extended, not like those cheapo $1.99 throwaways you can pick up by the beer cooler at 7-11. No, this one was nice, and it had served me well. I had taken it on camping trips, business trips and road trips. Anyone who has ever found themselves staring down an unopened bottle of chardonnay in a remote Econo-Lodge in central Nebraska, on a rainy night, after a long day on the road, will appreciate the value of a ‘road corkscrew’.

Anyway, the other end of my road corkscrew’s handle contains a folding knife. Not a locking blade knife, but a very sharp knife. It can make fast work of even the toughest lime – its blade is just a bit under 2.5 inches.

“How long has that been there?” asked my wife. I could only shake my head, because I had to think about that one.

For the record, neither my wife or I are frequent fliers. We are far from it, but we do make, on average 4 – 6 trips per year by air. But, as nearly as I could determine, this instrument had criss-crossed the United States multiple times in my bag, passing through not only Ft. Lauderdale Hollywood International and Newark Liberty, but McCarran International in Las Vegas.

This isn’t a knock on the TSA. These guys have a huge job on their hands, and in spite of the bad rap they get for strip searching us, rummaging through our bags and confiscating our shampoo, they’re all just trying to make sure we all get to our destinations in one piece. So for that I applaud the TSA.

I also am well aware of the fact that the biggest weapon in the 911 hijacker’s arsenal was one of surprise. It think it is highly unlikely, if not downright impossible, that an airliner will be taken by anyone with ‘road corkscrew’, or a pair of nail clippers. What I do see, however, increasingly, are unruly passengers. Justifiably, the folks most upset about this new ruling are the flight attendants. They have to deal with the surly, obnoxious and most often inebriated passengers. I’m talking about the arrogant jackass who just polished off six rum and cokes at the airport bar and is enraged when the flight attendant refuses to serve a seventh to him at 35,000 feet.

It seems to me that keeping this ban in place just makes sense. I mean, we are already scanning and confiscating an assortment of other items. Until someone ensures me that an air marshal is riding on every flight, then the sky is a rather lawless place to be–and just for the record, my ‘road corkscrew’ will be traveling in my checked bag from now on, or it will be staying home.