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Why so sad?

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image Not everyone in Florida is sad or angry. I have a feeling this guy is pretty darn happy. It certainly made me happy to see them. Mitch Traphagen Photo

I’m wondering if all the supposed sadness isn’t truly masking a good bit of anger.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

According to Men’s Health Magazine, St. Petersburg  is America’s saddest city, edging out even Detroit for the dubious honor. That had to take some effort — have you seen Detroit lately?  Tampa didn’t fare much better, coming in at fourth. In fact, according to Men’s Health, the Sunshine State apparently doesn’t have the sunniest disposition in general. Nearly all of Florida’s major metropolitan areas landed in the top 20.

When that news first came out about six months ago, I laughed it off. But now, I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t something to it. The magazine used statistics on suicide rates, antidepressant usage, unemployment rates and the number of people who said they were “feeling blue” all or most of the time. Seriously?  We live in what much of the world would consider to be paradise; how can so many people be feeling blue?

Well, I guess it could be a generally dysfunctional government which somehow manages to reward sketchy people at that top leaving the rest of us…well, blued (you thought I was going to say something else, didn’t you? Well, you’d be right, too). It could be the feeling that more and more entities want to take, but it seems fewer than ever want to give. It could be the job market, the economy, the Rays, the Bucs, guys who shoot other people, people who scam old people, and the seemingly never-ending pressure to take more and more pennies from increasingly empty pockets. It could be the downsizing of both jobs and boxes of cereal, and that everyone else in the country is pretty much in the same shape.

Well, maybe not so much on the last one.

I’ve noticed something interesting going on this summer. The tourists haven’t stopped coming. Pinellas County hotels and restaurants are reporting record business; and at our own Little Harbor, the tourists are still happily checking in and out and the beach is almost always a busy place filled with generally happy people. What that tells me is that people in other places aren’t all that unhappy at all. In fact, they’re pretty darn happy because they are coming to Florida on vacation. Who wouldn’t be happy about that? Even if it is June and hot enough outside to melt plastic and the humidity level is high enough to allow fish to jump out of the water for a breath of fresh air. As Floridians, we live in vacationland — why on earth wouldn’t we be happy?

Last week, I was crossing a street in downtown Tampa on a crosswalk with the walk signal still in my favor. A pickup truck came barreling down the road with the green light and made a hard left turn straight at me. I had to run to get out of the way, and he laid down on the horn and shouted out obscenities. Well, being hearing impaired, I don’t know for sure they were obscenities but generally nice words don’t accompany the tone he used. That was one angry guy.

I’m wondering if all the supposed sadness isn’t truly masking a good bit of anger. I’ve spent the past few weeks crawling all over the Tampa Bay area and I didn’t see a lot of sadness, but I saw some pretty rude and mean behavior from a small handful of people. This area is a mishmash of people from all over the nation and the world, and sometimes things just don’t work like they used to back home. I think instead of getting over it and going with the flow, some people just get angry.

I’ve lived in Florida for most of my adult life and I’ve felt that anger, too. I read news reports of politicians doing something blatantly horrible and then getting re-elected. I see the bad guys in the newspapers and on the evening news. There is some truly weird stuff going on in this state sometimes. I try to be careful with each and every word so as not to offend an increasingly sensitive small populace without pandering to them and patronizing everyone else. I’ve decided it’s a failing effort; some people are just looking for a reason to be irritated. I can’t blame them. Sometimes I’m right there with them.

And that’s when I know it’s time to remind myself of just how magical this place is. It’s really hard to be angry while watching a sunset from the beach at Little Harbor. When I’m feeling sorry for myself, I just think of all the incredible people I’ve met here — people like Sandy and Diego Duran (you can’t not feel good in Sandy’s presence), Mariella Smith, Rev. Dave Looney, John Bowker, Dolores Coe, Bruce Marsh, and the dozens of people who save cats, dogs, kids, canals and mangroves, and the many who have dedicated themselves to making things better here. I think of the people raising their children and being happy about it. I think of weddings on the beach and palm trees and old people walking hand in hand. It’s out there, just turn off talk radio and go see it for yourself.

Cheer up, Florida!  Get out of the hermetically sealed, air-conditioned house and head out to the Cockroach Bay Nature Preserve for an early morning stroll or sit with the tourists on the beach to toast the end of another beautiful day in paradise. Pick up some fresh mullet from Ruskin’s own Mullet Shack (often found on U.S. 41 near Big Bend Road on Saturdays) or take a short trip back in time eastbound down State Road 64 with roadside places serving BBQ and strawberry shortcake, and then visit the Rosa Fiorelli Winery (the wine tasting is great and Antonio has an old world charm that will take you back to the good old days). Visit a museum or take in a farmer’s market; there’s one every weekend somewhere under the clear blue sky. In other words, take a cue from the happy tourists and enjoy yourself. The truth is, we’ve got a good thing going here — and I hope I didn’t just tick you off in saying so.

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