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February 03, 2011

Florida Is Stranger Than Fiction

By Elaine Viets

South Florida is not for everyone. It’s more a state of confusion than a state of the union. If I had kids, I’d be scared to let them grow up here.

But I don’t. I’m a mystery writer and I kill people for a living. Florida is so weird, it makes my job as a novelist difficult. If I made this stuff up, my editor wouldn’t believe it.

Take the latest Fort Lauderdale corruption scandal.

A former vice mayor (don’t you love that title?) was charged with 11 counts of public corruption. That’s an old sad story.

But South Florida gave it a new twist. The vice mayor "traded her city commission votes for $14,000 in ‘thank you’ gifts from developers," the news report said.

And one of those gifts was – you’ll love the symbolism – "a new toilet for her home."Toilet

Only in Florida would we give such a commodious thank you.

It gets better. The developer who allegedly helped send the vice mayor’s career down the sewer built McMansions. His critics claim his homes were infinitely flushable.

There’s more. The vice mayor used to have an office cleaning business. Now the local wise crackers say if she loses in court, she’ll be cleaning toilets again – in jail. For free.

The vice mayor swears she’s innocent. Sadly, she is much liked here, though she did complain that the job didn’t pay . . . er, bupkes.

That same day, the feds arrested the head of the Black Tuna Gang. This drug kingpin had been on the lam for 31 years.

Where did the feds arrest him?

At his apartment in Century Village. That’s for seniors. The news report said the Black Tuna Gang had smuggled in 500 tons of marijuana into the US the 1970s. The money went up in smoke. The alleged racketeer was living on $687 in Social Security.

Florida is more than drugs and corruption. We love our pets, too. I saw this heartrending sign posted outside Walgreens.

"LOST IGUANA. Large, grey and blue. Very tame. Beloved Pet. $500 reward. No questions asked! Please help us find Riley!"


Sometimes, Floridians find love. In that case, we can get a marriage license at one of five locations in Broward County. My favorite is the One Stop Division at Rick Case Honda in Davie, Florida.

Yes, sir, get yourself a used car and a low-mileage spouse at the same time. May I suggest you get an Accord?

Floridians bail one another out when trouble strikes. In Key Largo, the Fish House Restaurant serves some of the best fresh fish in South Florida. It’s a family joint that I highly recommend. Like many restaurants in vacation areas, it keeps a rack with business cards for local dive shops, tourist attractions – and Chichi Bail Bonds. Chichi promises "anywhere – anytime, service 24 hrs/Day."Fishhouseinside

If you have to hold up a bank to afford that vacation, it’s good to know help is only a phone call away.

There is one thing none of us escape. But South Florida helps us deal with it. My neighborhoods got coupons in the mail for cut-rate cremations. Only $600.

Are cremation coupons a good idea? We Floridians love coupons. If the price was low enough, would anyone be tempted to off Uncle Milton to get that hot deal – before it expired?



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It is really crappy that the vice mayor took bribes . . .

I really appreciate it when other states take up some of the heavy screwiness lifting for California. I can't think of anything here recently that matches the story of the vice mayor and her career going down the shitter.

Florida: a state of mind. Or, just a state.
The contrasts of Florida have always struck me as somewhat amazing. Spring Break in the world of Retirees. Manatees and Millionaires. Mansions and refugees. Plaid shorts and Disney World. NASA and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Speaking as an Angeleno, the sun is supposed to set in the ocean, not rise over it . . . . There's something amiss in Florida.

I am wondering if there is an expiration date on the Cremation coupon. I know I would not want to stick around if my family could not take advantage of a discounted cremation..just saying...not wanting to be a burden or anything.

You helped me a lot indeed and reading this your article I have found many new and useful information about this subject

My mother-in-law lived in Century Village for years! I wonder if she knew him. I'll have to ask her. I probably shouldn't share the cremation coupon with her - she's 91. Of course, the way she's going, they may need it for me first.

It's sad about Riley - I hope they find him. But aren't there lots of iguanas in Florida? How would one know if one found Riley or someone else?

I think we could all find something screwy to share about our State. I mean, hello - ours has the whole country riveted to a groundhog every year.

My Florida memories are similar, Elaine..:) The characters down there are amazing!

The Vice Mayor? (shrug) I'll wait for her book. You know, the one she'll write about how she *would* have been corrupt... *if* she'd done it. Yeah, that'll be a big one, watch and see....

You know the guy let them find him so he would have a 'decent' place to live out his live. Roof over your head and three squares, can't beat that after living on less than $700/month. ;-)

But Missouri is unique...we voted a dead guy into office and gave the country a super US Attorney General.

I knew TLC would rise to the occasion punning about the vice mayor. You are the seat of wisdom.
Laura, I watch for the groundhog, too. I can't spell his first name, but I still want to know if he saw his shadow.
Can't tell you if the coupon had an expiration date, Marie. I threw it out like it was . . .on fire.

To iguana lovers, I'm sure Riley has endearing qualities that differentiate him from others. I myself would recognize anywhere the two sweet anoles that are wintering in our living room.

Oh come now, no state compares to my beloved home state of Louisiana for political shenanigans. For example--David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the KKK elected to the state house, and David Vitter, who hired hookers while in office but remains a US Senator.

I love south Florida so much. My favorite story was about the gang of transvestites who were stealing dresses from couture shops. When caught, they were wearing the evidence. Hey, it was in the newspaper, so it has to be true. I'm still laughing about that one.

Glad the vice mayor was caught in the end, Elaine. Did they wipe the toilet clean of evidence?

It really burns me that someone sent cremation coupons to drum up customers, too.

Hey, I live in Boston. Where the Mayor once ran the city from jail.

Nancy, no one from St. Louis would ever write "Hey, it was in the newspaper, so it has to be true." I do have a pizza guy buddy who was robbed by a transvestite. Word to street thugs, purple glitter nail polish is distinctive.

Sold her vote for a toilet. Hate cheap politicians.

I can always count on the Missouri House of Representatives to vote for something stupid. Yesterday was to pass an amendment to guarantee the right to raise livestock in Missouri. http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/M/MO_XGR_LIVESTOCK_AMENDMENT_MOOL-?SITE=MOCAP&SECTION=STATE&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

Didn't know there was a risk of us outlawing raising yummy meat, but it is better safe than sorry.

"But Missouri is unique...we voted a dead guy into office and gave the country a super US Attorney General." I have said it before and I will again. I only voted for the dead guy because he was the most qualified on the ballot. For that matter, I would trade him in his current state for his opponent or either of Missouri's sitting senators right now. But hey, Big John can sing better, isn't that more important than an 8th graders knowledge of the Constitution in an AG?

Hank - I remember him!!!!

Elaine, Florida might have its quirks and Carl Hiasson has made the most of them. But that photo is totally unfair to us Northerners. Borders on cruelty.

Alan, "guarantee the right to raise livestock"? As Sarah Palin likes to say so Presidentially, WTF? If they would pass an amendment guaranteeing the right of all of us to be bestsellers we'd all move to Missouri.

And, yes, Elaine, now that Sarah has brought it up. . .that photo is just mean. Our temp has DROPPED two degrees since the sun came up, from minus six to minus 8.

There must be a real market for cheap final expenses in Florida with so many retirees there. When we were doing the tourist thing a few years ago, I snapped a picture of the Casket Outlet Center. Too funny.

Only in Florida, you say! The place has real character/s. Heading to the west coast next week. I think it's not as eclectic.

Well come on down and join us, weather weary Northerners. Our economy needs you. Our mortgages are underwater.
Alan, the dead guy was more qualified. His election unleashed John Ashcroft on the nation. But, hey, those naked statues on Capitol Hill got $350,000 worth of fig leaves.
And yes, Doc, Florida may be outpacing California in weirdness. But is that a race you really want to win?

I live near and work in Detroit. Not only was the last mayor (Kwame Kilpatrick) the most corrupt mayor ever, but pretty much the whole city council. Running much like the mob. He never went anywhere without an entourage. When Kwame was mayor we were constantly making national new for his bullcrap. Jokes made on Leno and David Letterman. After a little time in jail, he's moved somewhere in Texas. Sorry Texas.

The sun does set in Florida...on the left side.
They caught the Drug Lord because he used his real social security name (idjit)and people in power abuse it all the time for a lot more than toilets all over the USA. She is also an idjit!
You can tell an iguana, just like a leopard, by it's spots and if you live in a beautiful city like Miami Springs your children can grow up playing on the tree lined streets like they were Beaver Cleaver. I left my front door open last night...okay not on purpose but it depends where you live in Florida that makes a difference.
And we do live on the edge on the east coast. You always know the sun will set. But will it rise tomorrow? Hmmmmm? No wonder people gamble here.
Nanure Nanure! Snuggle up to your oil heaters. Most people have on their air conditioners today!
As far as discount coupons for cremations, just keep the body in the freezer and put 'em out on the side walk in July.

I second Hank's opinion about my home state. And the cremation coupon is actually looking good right about now. I went to a funeral this week and was told they couldn't bury the body because the ground was frozen and there was too much snow to move. That coupon might have come in handy.

That happened with my Dad - he died in Syracuse in February. They had to hold on to him until April.

Alan, Missouri needs those livestock laws because when steers are outlawed, only outlaws will have steers.

I'm sure you'd agree that they can have your goat when they pry her from your cold dead fingers.

Remember: Pigs don't kill, people do.

The Widow Carnahan did a wonderful job -- too bad she didn't stay in office longer.
The livestock bill is in response to the "puppy mill" bill that passed but is now being "revisited" by the legislature because apparently they don't like voters' opinions (they did the same thing when votes went against casinos). I guess they are afraid someone will mistake cattle for dogs?
A friend's iguana apparently scared away some burglars (story on my "Frog and Friends" CD), so I'm thinking maybe Riley is on a mission . . .

One advantage to iguanas is they don't shed. Also, they eat insects.

A large Iguana was discovered wandering around a Los Angeles swimming pool area last week.
Not saying that it was Riley but rumors have it that there might be a casting call for the movie remake of "The Night Of the Iguana"...Good luck Riley!!

At least it's warm for Riley. The last cold snap, iguanas were dropping out of the trees, frozen. One guy tossed a bunch of iguanas into his van to take them to the dump. On the way, the iguanas came out of their state of suspected animation and started crawling around the truck. He ran it off the road.
No, I'm not making that up. Carl Hiaasen writes documentaries.

My In-Laws lived in Century Village. I was amazing to be there in December when it was cold and grey and white up north. I'm laughing at all the puns, but I'm beginning to wonder about small governments (and big governments). Did you all hear about Bell, CA where the city manager paid himself 800,000 dollars/ year? He is no longer in office, but who knows who will replace him? The stories may be weird, but Florida produces some good writers ;-)

All right, I'll take the plunge, if no one else will, and admit: I want that toilet.

There. I've come clean. And next time I'm feeling flush, I may just buy one.

Just to prove that quirkiness is alive and well in L.A.
last night my DH and I cracked open a bottle of Champagne to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
It was left over from the earlier New Year's eve.
No, we are not Chinese. Although my husband revealed that bratty girls did not appeal to him when we met and the deciding factor to marry me that I was a nice quiet Canadian girl.
He has adjusted to the discovery that I am more bratty than not. However, I reminded him that I usually Kowtow to him and he choked on his champagne..Happy New Year to all.

Oh, sh*t, I really wanted that toilet, too. But it would be a waste in my house. I'd have to dump everything else in it and decorate around the fancy stool!

Look, this is a state that just elected a guy as governor who when he was a health care exec pled guilty to Medicare billing fraud and had to repay the federal government over $600 million.

But the weather's kinda nice here...

Give me Missouri's dead man any day,PJ. We may be in deep do-do here, but the weather is sunny.

No-no... that potty tank is shaped like someone's pretty bummy. I'm not gonna sit there.

Hank, you mean Curley? Did you know that since Curley, every Boston Mayor has been driven in a car with the license registration 576 - which stood for his first, middle, and last names: James (5) Michael (7) Curley (6). The Curley family still holds Massachusetts auto registration number 5... so they say.

Yes, the Missouri state legislature didn't like the vote on conceal/carry either and changed it. When you have vets, licensed dog breeders, and ranchers lining up to change a bill, you know something is wrong. There are a few things about the puppy mill law that should have been tweeked before it was put up for a vote.

I voted for the dead guy, too, and his wife did a very good job. And as much as I dislike former Gov, former Sen, former AG Ashcroft, he did, on his hospital bed, try to tell his then assistant Alberto Gonzales that certain NSA eavesdropping would be illegal. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alberto_Gonzales#Dismissal_of_U.S._attorneys Scroll down to the NSA domestic eavesdropping section. Gotta give the man props for knowing the law (and exactly how to twist it legally).

Dang it. Now you've made me homesick.

Suzanne Adair

Elaine... hysterically funny post! :))

Not that long ago CT had a governor who had to leave office to serve time in prison. Mayors of various CT cities have been/are in prison, and at least a couple more are under investigation for corruption or fraud. And we're a tiny state!

I always wondered where elderly criminals went! Thanks for letting us know, Elaine! (BTW: I agree with everyone who accused you of cruelty regarding that photo. I live near a beach here in CT but the only sand I can see these days is the sand out on the roads.)

If you want elderly criminals, Deb, Florida is where New York Mob bosses retire. I used to have breakfast at a restaurant where they hung out. "Their table" was untouchable, but I liked to listen to their conversations. Mostly, they talked about their cholesterol.

I feel as if I ave told you all this one before, but here goes again...my 7 year old's (Mason) comments on a visit to Miami, "I really like this place; I just wish I spoke the language."

"when did we leave the United States?" "What do you mean, Mason?" "I don't remember driving out of the United States and into this country."

Florida is its own country!

"A former vice mayor (don’t you love that title?) was charged with 11 counts of public corruption. That’s an old sad story." - It's very alarming to learn that there are some people that will capitalize on people's money for their own motives.

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