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    The grapefruit of wrath

    By ROBERT FRIEDMAN, Times Deputy Editor of Editorials
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 28, 2002

    EDITORIAL NOTEBOOK: The rest of the country now gawks at Florida the way it used to gawk at California: with dread, fascination and there-but-for-the-grace-of-God gratitude for living at a safe remove from all the accumulating strangeness, sleaze and hazards to our health.

    Florida produces more lurid tales on an average day than Pennsylvania or Kansas can crank out in a decade. Do they worry about alligators in the swimming pools of Altoona? Killer sharks in Topeka? Flying attack sturgeon in the Monongahela?

    Where did Disney's ornate empire start buying up land when it outgrew California? Not the Poconos. Where do crooked multimillionaires come running to shelter their fortunes in garish mansions? It ain't Wichita.

    The wretched refuse of earlier generations had a collective urge to head west until they ran into the Pacific coastline, where the salt air and rumbling earth turned them flaky. A modern-day Steinbeck would be writing instead of the parsimonious pilgrims compelled to head south on Interstates 75 and 95 as far as the roads would take them, to a magic land where life is cheap, taxes are low and waitresses learn to accept 5 percent tips. He'd call it The Grapefruit of Wrath.

    Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter, once known as baseball's greatest living hitter, became just another eccentric retiree once he moved to Florida. He could have spent his golden years in Boston, where no families have been known to fight over whether their loved ones' bodies should be burned or frozen. Instead, he wound up in Citrus County, where John-Henry Williams harbors a dream that his father will one day regain his title as baseball's greatest living hitter.

    When you heard that a woman was suing Delta Airlines because its workers at a Dallas airport reportedly humiliated her after the bomb squad found a vibrating adult toy in her luggage, did you doubt for a moment she would turn out to be from Florida? And did the story cause you to question whether Delta really is ready when you are?

    When you learned that disbarred lawyer F. Lee Bailey had enrolled in a program to earn a master's degree in business, couldn't you have guessed that he would be matriculating at one of Florida's finest institutions of online higher education? And considering that the 69-year-old Bailey's latest troubles stemmed from mishandling $6-million of a client's stock, didn't you wonder why it took him so long so sign up?

    There are 15-million stories in the half-naked state. These were culled from just a one-day sample, and we didn't even bother to include the daily misadventures of our politicians and other truly malignant weirdness.

    Eat your heart out, California. And before you get any funny ideas about trying to compete with us, remember: We've got plenty more where these came from.

    -- Robert Friedman is the Times' deputy editor of editorials.

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