Waiting Room Hell

Had Dante foreseen it, he surely would have included the waiting rooms of car dealer service departments as a level of hell. Bad magazines, bad TV and bad news abounds. It’s the worst kind of downtime.

And that’s before you realize that “Family Feud” is on the waiting room’s big-screen TV. Why is this show still on? Why was it ever on? Does anyone watch TV at 9:30 a.m. who isn’t in a waiting room?

Anyway, it was the Epsteins against the Olsens, with the former, featuring two lawyers, a personal trainer, an artist and a financial planner, taking an early lead. That was due to uncannily intuitive answers to: “What I wouldn’t want to see when I returned to my car.” A flat, a ticket, a bird dropping, etc.

From what I saw of the Epsteins celebrating their early score, I perversely started to root for them. They were obviously high-five challenged, and the chance for bodily harm loomed likely.

As for that other storyline, the part would have to be ordered and, no, they had no loaner.

Historic McDecision Due for Hyde Park

Like a lot of Hyde Park residents, I dutifully filled out my “Design Guideline Revisions” comment sheet. I like where I live and care about its context. It’s not Cheval by the Bay.

I checked Option 1, which unabashedly mentions the word “historic.” It notes that “new construction would reflect traditional styles currently found in the district.”

That’s a sentence Bill Clinton could parse to death, but it’s serviceable and sensible.

Option 2 says “guidelines that allow for influences from the mid-20th century and early 21st century would permit contemporary structures to be built.”

Sounds like a loophole the size of a McMansion, which is where we came in, isn’t it?

Rep. Putnam: Maturely Playing the Age Card

U.S. Congressman Adam Putnam is, at 27, the youngest member of Congress. Were he an intern or a page, the Bartow redhead might still get some doubletakes. He’s that boyish looking.

His early Washington experience includes being ID-carded by political-reception bartenders as well as Capitol security. He’s heard all the age jokes — and retells his share. He’s obviously savvy enough to know that self-deprecating humor usually plays well. Why not use it and defuse it?

He cites, for example, the increasing number of politicians who have had to rationalize, if not lamely explain, embarrassing incidents of their past as “youthful indiscretions.” We the empathetic public tend to cut them some slack because we’ve all been that age and, well, done that.

“You can imagine what that does for a guy like me,” deadpans Putnam.

But the rookie Republican rep knows that the age card is a double-edged one. You can, of course, look too young for a big job, or you can appear surprisingly mature beyond your years — and appearance. It’s a variation on the expectations theme — a scenario that has benefited, among others, President George W. Bush, who also played, lest we forget, the “youthful indiscretion” card.

Putnam, whose 12th district will include a redistricted sliver of Temple Terrace, acquitted himself well in a recent talk to the Tiger Bay Club of Tampa. The fifth generation Floridian may look like Opie, but he communicates more like Ron Howard.

Cut clean and conservative, he’s more Up With People than MTV. He’s hardly a poster pol for the greens.

He doesn’t cringe, for example, at the prospect of drilling in 2,000 acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, nor does he think campaign finance reform is such an urgent issue.

To wit:

*”Florida is the only Gulf state that objects to drilling

Security in Common Sense

Finally. A mere seven and a half months after Sept. 11, there is an official acknowledgement from Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge of who we should REALLY be on the lookout for at our airports. And it’s not members of Congress, a former vice president or grandmothers from Peoria. It’s certain foreign nationals.

Thanks, HS Director Ridge. And no thanks to those who have never seen a profile they couldn’t get their skivvies in a civil libertarian knot over. The latter would, in effect, keep compromising security by refusing to distinguish levels of risk, while adding unnecessarily to the logistical costs of American air travel.

Iorions For Sanchez?

When Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Pam Iorio opted out of the mayoral race she was a formidable, de facto candidate in, speculation was rife as to where her support would go. Conventional wisdom said that the lion’s share was likely to be divvied up between City Councilman Bob Buckhorn and business consultant Frank Sanchez.

Word now has it that Sanchez is getting more than his share of Iorions. And that includes more than half the members of Iorio’s erstwhile finance committee as well as key members of an incipient Iorio real estate/development committee.

Toast Of The Town

They are not the Bucs, Rays or Lightning, but they do represent Tampa and surrounding counties — and they are perennial winners.

So, congratulations again to the acclaimed Toast of Tampa Show Chorus. The 93-woman, barbershop-style singing group finished first at the recent Atlantic Gulf Region of Sweet Adelines International competition in Orlando.

TOT topped 14 contenders from around the state to advance to the International Chorus Championship next year in Phoenix.

Heart & Hustle Have-Nots

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays won’t make the playoffs this season — nor should they be expected to. That much has already been decided by the skewed economics that now define Major League Baseball. The Rays are Third World baseball have-nots. At $34 million, their payroll is a quarter that of the New York Yankees.

But to be a baseball “have” also means having prudent judgment, as in whom you choose to overpay. Otherwise, the Dodgers and Orioles would have been in some recent World Series.

Part of the Rays’ “have-not” status is not having better ways to spend half that $34 million. The half that goes to Designated Out Greg Vaughn and perpetually rehabbing, current Disabled Listee Wilson Alvarez. And speaking of “Another Taco, Please” Alvarez, since when does he have muscles to pull?

Sheriff’s Chase Policy Not The Key Question

To some, this might sound, at some point, insensitive. It’s certainly not meant to be. To others, it may seem cruel. It’s assuredly not meant to be that either.

The intent, however, is to put something sad into perspective. The intent is also to lessen the chances of more such sadness.

Barely a fortnight ago, three Tampa teenagers, ages 15, 16 and 17, were killed when the stolen car they were in crashed. The wreck, a particularly horrific one, ended a brief chase by Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies. The 15-year-old driver survived, tried to flee and was arrested.

Predictably and understandably enough, media coverage focused on young lives lost and the pursuit policy of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department. Grieving mothers wanted to know why their sons — cruising in a stolen car after 10:00 p.m. on a school night — had to be chased.

Seems to me that asking more immediate and obvious questions — like Where? What for? With whom? Are you kidding? — might have obviated the need to ask one about the Sheriff’s chase policy.

And speaking of said policy, the department apparently followed its guidelines. That included verifying that a felony had been committed and getting the pursuit go-ahead from a supervisor weighing a checklist of criteria. A sheriff’s deputy even set stop-sticks, designed to deflate a car’s tires, but the fleeing vehicle went around them. It eventually careened into a median and struck a concrete overpass support.

The following day grief counselors were at Hillsborough High School, where one of the victims, 17-year-old James Lumpkins, was a student. The resultant talk, according to a school district spokesperson, was “all positive about the student.”

Lumpkins and two buddies, however, were not 9/11 victims, innocent bystanders or “life isn’t fair” poster boys. They were, although teenagers, fleeing felons.

Here’s another approach.

In lieu of grief counselors, send a deputy and crime scene photos to Hillsborough High. Call an assembly and say, in effect: “This is the result of a group of young men, one of them a Hillsborough High student, thumbing their noses at society and stealing someone’s car because — they wanted to. All they cared about was what they wanted. The law? Other people’s property? Anyone who got in their way? Not a concern of theirs. This is sad, and it’s a shame. But we’re not here for eulogies today.

“What they did ended this way because we would not let them get away with it — and they chose to run. Life is about choices.

“Any questions?”

America’s Cuban Policy: Nostalgia for Cold War

In the wake of Sept. 11, U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba finally made some sense. It’s nostalgia for the way the world was.

Back when Godless totalitarians roamed too far but played by the old ruthless rules of engagement. Some spying, some overthrowing, some proxy fighting, The occasional Korea and Vietnam. Back when being the enemy meant you were a hegemonous capitalist — not a satanic infidel.

Anyone want to trade Al Qaeda zealots pursuing paradise for the Warsaw Pact armies staking out geopolitical high ground? Fatwa fanatics and jihad junkies for fellow travelers? Those pushing payback for the Crusades or paving the way for a proletarian playground? Those rallying around “God is great” and “infidels die” or “workers of the world unite”?

How else to explain this atavistic approach to Cuba that more resembles an exhumed cold war time capsule than a relevant 21st century foreign policy?

Recall that détente was not incompatible with the old Soviet Union and we did business with the mass murderer who was Mao. We’ve normalized relations with Vietnam, with whom we went to war — and lost 58,000 G.I.’s. The Bush administration keeps reiterating that it is willing to meet with North Korea, an official “axis of evil” charter member, any time, any place.

Anyhow, Cuba is different. Too close, geographically and personally, and too politically sensitive. And no U.S. president, Democrat or Republican, wants to be remembered — even if it’s only by the sovereign state of Miami — as the one who “gave in” in to Fidel Castro, the personification of Cuban revolution and expropriation. Ironically, such a president would be yielding instead to humanitarianism, common sense, international credibility and enlightened self-interest — most demonstrably that of the American business community.

While visiting Cuba in 2000, I heard first hand — from a spokesperson at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana as well as befriended Cubans — what it would take to meaningfully change the U.S.-Cuba dynamic and end the four-decade-old embargo. It would take what everyone knows it would take: the 75-year-old Castro’s demise, referred to euphemistically as the “biological solution.” That would give pragmatism a chance, whether the U.S. President is George Bush or the Cuban leader is Raul Castro.

But until then don’t look for dramatic, even reasonable change. Just incremental erosion of the embargo while Castro defiantly lives on. So, don’t be fooled by Congressional rumblings that grow ever louder over the embargo and the un-American travel ban on U.S. citizens. And don’t be misled by the recently approved visit to Cuba this spring by former President Jimmy Carter, an outspoken critic of the embargo.

Look no further than how the Bush Administration overreacted last week to the issuance of visas to Cuban officials coming to the U.S. to oversee food purchases (allowed under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000). The White House trumped its own State Department and pulled the visas, thus endangering a $25-million deal for pork, turkey, beef, wheat and eggs.

The ham-handed act spoke volumes. It said Florida could also decide the 2004 presidential election, and no one in the Administration wants to send the wrong signal to hardline exiles in South Florida. Whatever it signals to the rest of the country, especially America’s farmers, obviously matters much less.

Final For Real Students

It’s the Final Four — but nothing like March Madness. And refreshingly so.

Instead of a collegiate sport that is all about television money and bad graduation rates, the Final Four of Chess, which this year featured the University of Texas at Dallas, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, Stanford and Harvard, is about skilled players who are great students. What an intercollegiate concept.

“Chess is a way of making a name for a strong university that doesn’t have a 300- or 400-year history like Harvard,” explains Tim Redman, the director of the chess program at UTD, this year’s national champion.

“Recruiting is good for schools because chess players are bright,” points out Frank Niro, executive director of the U.S. Chess Federation. “It automatically brings good students to the schools.”

It won’t, however, bring ESPN, Nike and NBA lottery picks. Which is the point.