If you live anywhere near Florida’s toxic waterways, chock full of cyanobacteria and thick, mucous-like algae, that’s what you want to do. Get out. Take a break.
Let the water get better.
The reason it is so awful is too much fertilizer in the water. At least that's what you've heard. Who knows what to believe anymore.
So you pack up the SUV, take some vacation days. The car is filled with kids, or clothes in suitcases or plastic bags, and leave.
The words come to your mind. “Death Panel”. That's what Republicans said President Obama was going to do with health care, but so far as you can tell, whoever let Florida’s waterways turn into sewers, acres of rotting fish; those people sat on Death Panels.
There is nothing majestic in the SUV, filled to the gills with stuff you will need at the motel or your sister's house. It was hard enough to herd them into the car. You can't talk to them like maids. You don't have maids. The kids wanted to stay. The fishing rods in neat racks in the garage. They haven’t been used for months. How can I fish in water that is too toxic to touch?
They want to tell you, the problem is your septic tank. They being Governor Scott. They being the agriculture secretary, Adam Putnam whose family got $25 million from the state in a buyout that only a year before was valued at $5 million. What you could do with $5 million.
You pack the children and the dog and cat. Just go. The property where you pay taxes isn’t good to you today. In St. Lucie or Lee County or Brevard. There is nothing glamorous where you are going. Not like Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, the resort owned by the Big Sugar Fanjuls, filled in winter with Congressmen with or without wives. Or the King Ranch, where US Sugar Corporation flew state elected officials by private jet.
And if there is a problem with my septic tank for God’s sakes: the big, multi-billionaire sugar farmers are dumping millions of pounds of phosphorous and nitrogen into Lake Okeechobee. What’s my shit compared to theirs?
You are leaving because you can’t take it any more. At least for a while. You love your home. You love the waters, the rivers and bays.
You are leaving the place you mow the lawn once a week and cook-out with neighbors and friends. Your boat on a trailer in the driveway: that’s where you taught your teenagers responsibility. They cleaned the boat everytime you came home from the county boat ramp. Washed it down and turned hoses on each other.
This algae gives you headaches when you breathe the fumes. They say it is linked to Parkinsons and Lou Gehrig’s Disease. You are angry, because this is where you live. All your life savings are here and you are going.
A few houses down, the people left for North Carolina. Be back when school starts, they say. You have nowhere to go in North Carolina. You go to your sister’s in Tampa or to the timeshare in Orlando, even though summertime is too hot for Disney and it’s not in the budget. Anything to get away. Away from the TV cameras at Central Marina and all the businesses closed for the summer because the algae stinks like puke on a hot sidewalk.
You have watched the news. Excess fertilizer is mainly from Big Sugar and dairy operations, but cattle are grown whether it floods or not. Sugarcane production needs water like “Goldilocks”. Never too much. Never too little. Never too hot, never too cold. In other words, South Florida’s water control infrastructure is geared to the needs of some of the wealthiest farmers in the United States, protected by welfare in the Farm Bill. Grover Norquist calls it, “cronyism in its undiluted, inexcusable majesty.”
At night you’ve been dreaming of all the fish dying at the bottom.
You put the car in reverse, with the teenagers in the backseat clicking on video games, and then forward. Away to 95 or the Turnpike. Away from this mess. Away from the kids and their questions. Why can’t we go swimming? Can we touch the water here? My eyes are burning. Mommy, do something. The best Mommy can do is get in the car and go.
You are taking sleeping pills. You voted Republican all these years because the Republicans say they are going to protect your property.
They will keep your taxes low. What good are low taxes if your property value stinks like the algae? They will keep your street safe from idle people who won’t work and don’t have anything to do and look different and don’t speak your language. What good is it, if you can’t touch the water?
Somewhere in the middle of the state, an eight year old girl went swimming in a lake and four days later she was dead from an infection. Two houses down, the neighbor works for the power company. He never missed a day of work in twenty years. Went fishing in the lagoon and got fevers and chills for a whole week.
You are in for a long ride. The news might have moved on from this street, but you will return home to this.