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Let us all lift a toast to our blissful forgetfulness

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By MARY JO MELONE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001


The smoke is long gone from Tampa Bay. I-4 has reopened. In a few days, our collective amnesia about the drought will settle back into place.

If it ever lifted, that is.

Late last month, as the fires in the muck of the Green Swamp burned, and smoke and fog shrouded the highway, they were still refusing in one nearby county to impose fines on people who defy the water restrictions.

Maybe Hernando County has a secret plan to secede from the rest of the state.

Their heads are so deep in the sand there that a county commissioner, Nancy Robinson, complained about the need for water restrictions because Swiftmud says Hernando has enough water for the next 20 years.

"We need to have some better rationale than we're doing it for the counties to the south of us," Robinson said on Feb. 24.

The woman deserves a ribbon for her overwhelming sense of civic-mindedness.

But like all good elected officials, Robinson is only following the pack that constitutes public opinion.

Few of us want to follow the rules -- so few that Tampa has fined more people for violating the water rules so far this year than it did all of last year. This was true even though the fines recently doubled.

The drought reveals much about the Tampa Bay area.

We are as fractured as ever. We continue to think the bridges spanning the bay separate two continents and that Interstate 75 is the only connection among planets that do nothing but circle each other in limitless space.

I claim no specialness in this regard.

When I'm in the back yard, behind the wooden fence that shields me from my neighbors, I am in my own little universe.

Multiply one person's desire to remain isolated and cut off from her neighbors a couple of million times and you'll understand why the water cops are busy. Your drought is not my problem. So we think.

The drought also represents a direct challenge to the way we think we're supposed to live.

We live above water, the Floridan Aquifer.

A water view, even if it is just a pleasantly landscaped drainage ditch around which your apartment complex is built, is one of our necessities, like a parking place close in at the mall.

The drought, then, becomes an insult to the way we see this piece of paradise we've bought and paid for. We moved here in the expectation that we would never once be inconvenienced by the elements or other of life's vicissitudes.

While it snowed and sleeted last weekend in my native Pennsylvania, I was in the back yard, filling a small (no, tiny, very tiny) pool for my daughter with a hand-held hose (with an automatic shut-off, I defensively add) because she so wanted to splash around.

"You might be violating the water restrictions," my ever-conscientious husband said in his best gently nagging voice.

"So what? It's only a little water," I replied, sounding a lot like a Hernando County commissioner.

Yep, call the columnist the case in point.

When the smoke filled the skies in Tampa the other week, all I did was complain that the air was lousy and bad for my asthma. Never did I think much about what the smoke signaled -- not just about the dry swamps in Polk County but about our responsibility as a community.

I am as afflicted as anybody by blue-sky thinking. Sure, it isn't raining, but the rainy season isn't here yet. It's a gorgeous day, and you're entitled to whatever comes with a gorgeous day, are you not? And you and I are certainly not capable of controlling the weather, are we?

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