Florida: Land of the weird

My mom pointed me to this article in the NY Times (by Abby Goodnough):
The packs of picketers and journalists left abruptly after Terri Schiavo died in her hospice Thursday, and within 24 hours, the nation's attention had turned away from Ms. Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman, and her wrenching family battle. But a familiar sense of surrealism lingered in Pinellas Park and across Florida, the state that seems to surpass any other in terms of strange but important, lurid but poignant events that say as much about America as they do about whatever sun-soaked Florida town they unfold in. After the tug of war over Elián González and the presidential recount of 2000, the anthrax scare after the 2001 terrorist attacks, four consecutive hurricanes in 2004 and now the Schiavo case, the rest of the world moves on. But for Florida there is a curious psychic toll, a sense of emerging from an alternate universe where gripping sagas blot out the beloved sun. "It's kind of exciting but it drives you crazy, too," said William McKeen, chairman of the journalism department at the University of Florida. "It's time for Wyoming to have its chance." It was not always this way. California used to be the capital of cultural, political and environmental crises, the place that baffled and mesmerized with its vivid goings-on. But while Florida still has a smaller population - not only than California but New York and Texas, too - its rapidly changing demographics and politics, combined with the fact that it is still so young, make for a potent mix...More than embarrassment or pride, though, there is a sense here of detachment from the dramas that envelop the state for weeks or months at a time. After all, most Floridians are not from Florida. If you moved from Boston, Cleveland or New York, Havana or Caracas or San Juan, watching high drama in your backyard feels not so different from watching from a relaxed distance, Mr. Kane said. "It's such a transient place that there's not much sense of ownership," he said. "The feeling might be, 'I've moved to a state that has all these crazies living here. But not me.'" Maybe, too, since so many people come here to start over in a warm, soothing place, the detachment is borne of a singularly Floridian yearning to empty the mind and life of complications...Paradise is hard to sustain, though, in a place with so many ethnic, age and class groups coexisting in ever more crowded communities. Nearly 1,000 people move to Florida each day, and the churning mix of blacks, Hispanics, retirees from other states, urban liberals, suburban moderates and conservative-leaning rural residents make for a volatile place with deep divisions and conflicting priorities. "We have more intense collisions between gray hairs and brown hairs, Midwest people and Northeast people, money and nonmoney," said James Twitchell, a professor of English and advertising at the University of Florida. "The barriers are not very high, so the collisions can occur as if you're on one of those little electric cars at the fair, banging into things."


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