Images of Florida show beautiful people in beautiful surroundings, effortlessly enjoying the best that life has to offer. Looks great on TV and in print, but the real life for far too many Floridians is a lot grimmer and grimier than what the chamber of commerce is trying to push.
There are times, when I'm rushing to get to work on the east side near U.C.F., that I stop off at a Burger King on the corner of Alafaya and Colonial to pick up a cheap egg-and-biscuit breakfast. It costs a buck and change, and I can walk in and out with it in about two minutes. This particular Burger King seems to attract its share of homeless. I don't know why, but it does.
Today I ran across two gentlemen (right) who were standing outside enjoying cigarettes and coffee. I went in and got my biscuit, then came out and asked if I could take their picture. I stopped to talk to the taller of the two for about five minutes, then headed on in to work.
The taller, more talkative guy didn't give out his name, but he did give out some interesting details of his life. He'd been unemployed going on nine months. Before that he'd been doing general work where-ever he could find it. Before then he'd been working heavy construction for nearly 40 years in Florida, after he'd lost his job at at steel mill up in Pennsylvania.
His wife had died four years before, a suicide. She'd been a two-tour-of-duty nurse in the Vietnam war, but had been discharged early in her career due to psychological problems. She gotten just enough from the government when he was working so that their combined income allowed the two of them to live in a house. As they got older the medications his wife needed had gotten more expensive. That, combined with his difficulty in finding work as he got older forced her to stop buying and taking her meds. That's when depression really set in and she eventually took her life. I'm no great judge of character but you could tell the loss still hurt him; the emotion was pretty plain in his voice and his eyes.
The whole time I talked to him he didn't once ask for money or try to panhandle in any way, shape, or form. He wanted someone to talk to, someone to take the time and listen. The one thing that struck me most about him was his faith. He repeated, more than once, his belief that what was happening was part of "God's plan". In an age when too many think that being a Christian means you will be rich with money and possessions, his faith stood out as far more real and powerful than my own would be under similar circumstances.
And their possessions seemed to be (literally) tied to their bikes, which is their primary form of transportation. In a world full of carbon-belching cars, they've gone green because they have no other choice.
On the way out of the parking lot and on to work I passed to of Orange County's finest arresting another homeless man. If I'd had the time (and backbone) I'd have circled back around and taken a few photos of that encounter as well. That explains, in part, why I don't see too many homeless in the area. They're probably being legally shaken down and run off. All that in addition to OCSD's running revenue-enhancing speed traps, handing out expensive speeding tickets to well-paid white men driving expensive foreign convertibles in the better sections of town.
Welcome to Florida.
Florida's unemployment rate is now 8.1%.