tampabay.com

A tinge of relief in Florida's subtle fall

By HOWARD TROXLER
Published October 8, 2006


There has been a slight easing of the weather lately. The mornings are not truly cool, but they have stopped being thick and sweaty. Though the temperatures have still neared 90 at midday, the heat has been drier and less taxing; neither has sopping moisture or electric tension built up to explode in afternoon storms.

In my memory things were a certain way until they changed abruptly - the spelling of particular words, the names of nations, the number of planets. In my memory the subtle Florida autumn traditionally arrived in mid October, a sudden break, so that one might mow the yard and suffer summer heat one evening, then wake up the next morning to a world requiring sweaters.

But somewhere along the way the advent of this weather break was rescheduled for early November. Probably something related to the FCAT. Youngsters sweated beneath their Halloween costumes. Candy melted. Child witches and parents smelled of mosquito spray. I am not one to whine about how much better fall is up north - look, just take a trip to Asheville and be done with it - but a sweltering Halloween clearly is contrary to the divine plan.

Since the time off I took last year to cut plywood, which now is carefully stacked and labeled in the garage, no major storm has forced an evacuation, for which I take credit. One dreads to tempt fate, but this change in the weather also has eased the always-lurking fear of hurricanes, psychologically if not yet meteorologically. We have cracked open the extra flat of bottled water in the pantry that was sacrosanct all summer.

It is a good thing, anyway, to have had a year off from hurricanes, so that our governor, Legislature and state leaders had time to fix the whole insurance thing. As you know, they sprang to action this year and, well, they formed a blue-ribbon committee, which is still meeting somewhere, and which I expect to show up at my house any day with extra shutters and lower insurance rates, thus proving its actual usefulness.

But about the weather. Frankly we could all use a break before turning to the elections and the holidays, the major two events remaining on this year's calendar. Unfortunately neither seems willing to wait. Santa and Mrs. Claus greeted me in a drugstore this week. The shameless onset of holiday commercialism recedes ever backward, like a glacier in an Al Gore movie, from Thanksgiving to All Saints' Day and now, apparently, to Oct. 1. Maybe it's the FCAT again.

As for the election, matters do not seem to have changed. Sunny Charlie Crist promises tax cuts and free candy while the Democrat Jim Davis grimaces earnestly. Maybe Davis will catch up, but it does not bode well for him that I keep hearing people call him "Smith," the name of the man he beat in the September primary. In the national races, the Democrats seemed grateful to have had a Republican sex scandal, since when they talk about anything else they are Helping the Terrorists, as the president says. I am not saying that this is a cynical and manipulative world, but I wonder whether we will still have $2-a-gallon gas after the election.

In Pasco County, a candidate for the Legislature was committed under the state's Baker Act, which in an odd way is reassuring, since when they let him out he will be the only candidate in Florida certified by experts not to be a danger to himself or others.

In Polk County, a man who shot a sheriff's deputy was surrounded by a SWAT team and shot at 110 times (with 68 successes). Setting aside debate over the result itself, I would rather the county sheriff not strut around issuing Dirty Harry quotes afterward. This is not Tombstone and he is not Wyatt Earp, even if the crowd cheers for him.

Life bounces between the serious and the trivial, and in the evenings there is early October baseball and - a pleasant surprise - a couple of interesting television shows. My theory is that the success of cable finally got the networks to be more edgy. We rented the first two seasons of Lost to prep for the third season (really, you have to do it that way). We like Jack less and less, but that will probably come full circle too.

Supposedly a cold front is coming through and it will be in the 60s in the mornings. It is high time, and should make everything else even more tolerable. We have planted a fall vegetable garden, tomatoes and peppers and squash, which are starting to grow against a backdrop of bananas and papayas. I love a good Florida autumn.