I walked by Centennial Park en route to the senior center on Lake Monroe this morning. The old Gazebo, now a memory only but at least the seven-foot-high chain-link fence sections which made the old structure look good by comparison – are gone as well. I’m told there will be a replacement gazebo. The only folks I ever see using the structure when it was alive were bums and skateboarders. I’m sure they must have had a wedding or seven up there for people who by preference preferred out-doors to the old library now the Bettye Smith Cultural Arts Center. I mourn not the gone Gazebo but I do mourn the loss of the azaleas.
When we had but a year or three in town, my older brother Glenn and I joined our dad and a buncha other cub and boy scouts and their attendant adults and cleaned up the park – then just an empty patch of lots hiding inside several square blocks of just-off Downtown Sanford. We garnered fallen palm fronds, windblown oak limbs, Spanish moss icicles and the like. Since most beer in cans was steel-encased and not the now modern tinfoil-thin aluminum, and more beer came from bottles (and soda bottles) fetched the princely sum of two or three cents, there was little so-called recycle trash to be gleaned. Besides, most folks tempted to toss trash ran the risk of unofficial reprimand if not more strong forms of opprobrium. Officials were then known to write summons for such behavior: any excuse to run riff-raff, I believe was the term.
We didn’t have McDonalds or even Burger King and most places that served hamburgers had plates of some kind of china-type substance and the utensils were metal and large and who would steal that? Of course 1957 – the 80-th year of Sanford’s incorporation – was a different era. Some say different universe. Not all of it was good, but what was good was treasured. And I know exactly how we lost that. Used to be a Black man or woman seeing a young White kid cutting the fool would yell, “Stop that!” And then they’d call your momma. And likely she’d tell your dad. You know the rest of that story and what since has transpired. Moms and Dads all in jail now for child abuse and neglect and a dozen other means to keep social workers and lawyers and judges and counselors and deans and vice principals all employed.
Used to be a time when littering was rare and picked up by whomever passed by if the rare instance happened. The seven or nine people in and around town who were beyond the pale didn’t litter much if at all. They already had enough grief coming. In those days it still was illegal – and in many if not most – in Southern towns, counties and states to be vagrant or without visible means of support. And, yes, the Poor Houses were gone, but not the County Work Farms – and they often were places of shame and disgust for honest folk. But by what goes on today, even the abuse of renting out Work Farmers to abusive elements seems more easily policed now than the scofflawry that passes for civil behavior.
One reason I was given when I asked why those gorgeous, decades old and taller-than-Wilt Chamberlain azalea plantings at Centennial Park was the bathroom behavior of the homeless, the helpless and the just-plain-lazy no longer under anyone’s thumb. Some pissed, some shat and often whispered in stage voice some practiced procreative acts under the verdant once-yearly blooming azaleas. So by executive fiat they were dug out and removed. Why? Because it was far easier to visit punishment on a poor plant than to appear to be heartless to a drunk stumblebum who could not make it two or three blocks to a place willing to let him or her pee or poop.
Now, even the formerly public restrooms on Lake Monroe – at the Marine Isle’s entrance just outside the Pizza place – is off limits to all but the paying public, those who patronize RiverWalk Pizza. And I don’t blame them a bit. The pampered many have no hear to insist on the really pampered few expending a modicum of effort to keep Sanford clean.
When it no longer was legal to pop a beer top on county roads while driving – that is to say having evidence of such behavior (but only over the .08 percent blood alcohol since even until the 1980s in some Florida counties that was not illegal outside municipal boundaries) in your vehicle was evidence of illegality. So what was a poor Outlaws Motorcycle Clubber to do but toss his empty roadside rather than risk the citation of carrying an empty can or bottle in his “cage?” That’s call The Law of Unintended Consequences.
I wonder who didn’t expect that? I wonder if Stop Suggestion signs are an outgrowth of our civic slipshoddishness? I wonder if the flotsam and jetsam along our streets and alleys, roads and highways serve duty for the local jurisprudence practicioners to provide proper punishment for Community Service sentences? Adopt a road? How about thump a litterer (with a large and sure fine, to be sure)? Community Service sometimes if not often takes form of sweeping and moping and doing dishes at local service clubs and other civic outfits, happy to take such free labor from miscreants possibly in the hope of reforming by example – those old pharts drinking well past legal limit in the club lounges, perhaps? – their betters going about the business of good citizenship. But I suspect it’s a softer form of renting out WorkFarm convicts as in the Bad Old Days.
The system isn’t broken. That is The System. I’d take a swat across the back of the head from an old man – and the pretty sure-to-come swat across the bottom at home – that to see such a no-longer slow disintegration of social mores any day.