Happytown 

Cover boy Rick Scott rolls into town in a Walmart shopping cart (we roll our eyes), the Republican machine rolls in the dirt of activist profiling and a bunch of trucker mustaches roll through the convention center. We're on a roll, here

click to enlarge DAVE PLOTKIN
  • Dave Plotkin

It was the worst of times andit was the worst of times: School in Central Florida was about to start, the stock market was coughing up blood and nobody had enough money for looseleaf paper or reasonable class sizes, much less iPads or new school shoes.

Daddy Warbucks to the rescue! Gov. Rick Scott strode into the Walmart on Princeton Street in Orlando last week, pausing to clutch every calloused, blue-collar hand in sight for the TV cameras, before embarking on a very important mission: He was going to go shopping for school supplies to kick off Florida’s weekend-long back-to-school tax holiday. He was going to buy the whole damn store!

After a rousing “Welcome to Walmart!” greeting from the staff, Slim Shady (or Powder, by appearances) grabbed a cart and started filling it with packages of paper, pens and notebooks, which he’d later donate to Hope International, a nonprofit that partners with Walmart, Pepsi, the Orlando Magic and other corporate donors to hold the biggest annual back-to-school health fair/school supplies clinic in Central Florida.

As he was carefully shepherded through the displays of tax-free goodies, so as to avoid the Pink Slip Rick protesters who’ve become ubiquitous at the governor’s public dog-and-pony shows, he was heckled by an unexpected source: An actual public school teacher, named Janna Johnston, called out to the governor from the back of the crowd of onlookers, demanding to know why he’d cut education funding and put the futures of Florida’s young people on the line. “I teach in Pine Hills,” she later told us, where a lot of teachers buy school supplies themselves and struggle to keep up with slowly increasing class sizes. “I teach kindergarten, and we used to have 18 kids in a class. Now we have 21 kids in a class. … It’s like that experimentwhere they put all the rats in a cage and they keep putting one more in and one more in and see how long it takes for them to turn on each other. Buying a couple of packages of paper for a school is nice and all, but it’s not enough.”

Despite all her rat-cage rage, she failed to sway Scott’s signature bewilderment with her queries – none of which were acknowledged, much less answered – and she was advised by Walmart staff that heckling doesn’t solve anything (money does!). It might get you thrown out of the store, though, as two other Scott critics learned when they tried to confront the governor. Johnston was advised to find a more appropriate venue to vent her inconvenient truths. In other words, we want this to be a nice event for our poor, unloved governor; don’t ruin it for everybody with your annoying actuality.

Johnston promised to behave, so security at the Walmart let her stay, but the Pink Slip Rick folks weren’t going to miss an opportunity to face down the governor themselves, this time without doughnuts. Two members of the organization, wearing bright pink T-shirts with “Pink Slip Rick” emblazoned across the front, managed to shove actual pink slips in front of Scott. He politely declined both of them and managed to work his way through the checkout and the exit wearing an icy smile and without addressing the anyone’s concerns. Well, except for those of one trio of onlookers who probably caught him by surprise. When Scott’s handlers spotted a disabled woman in a wheelchair tubed into her oxygen tank, they recognized a sweet photo op and asked the threesome if they’d like to meet the governor. They were ushered up to Scott, and after shaking his hand, one of them mentioned having some problems with Medicare. Scott tried to tell them at first that their issue was a federal problem, not a state one. They quickly corrected him, letting him know it was the state they were dealing with, so Scott took their information. (So that he might spit his gum out in it later?). With that, it was time for the shopping spree to end.

“Oh, I hope I look OK,” fretted the adorable twenty-something cashier who checked him out, gently touching her perfectly coiffed hair. “I didn’t know this was happening until the very last minute. Now everybody’s going to see me on TV!”

We asked her what the governor’s total school-supply bill rang up to, and she told us it was $197.23 – there you go, public education, don’t say Rick Scott never gave you anything! You are officially rich.

But you ain’t smart yet! At leastnot according to the sneaky Republicans wary of them damn liberals that so frequently upset the decorum of their town-hall belly-scratching meetings in the local schoolhouse. Last week, a memo leaked from the Congressional offices of U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., that was cleverly referred to as “homework” for Republican attendeesto learn them on the finer points of dealing with complicated liberal word problems. All of which is a fine bit of inside baseball for nervous wonks until you consider that each of the “types” of liberal activists highlighted as troublesome was an actual liberal activist from Central Florida – or, more specifically, U.S. Rep. Dan Webster’s 8th district. Among those targeted were Walmart-Scott-shopping beardoTimothy Murray of Organize Now, Organize Now President Tamecka Pierce and go-to TV media liberal Michael Cantone, who is also political director of Organize Now – none of whom even look like they’re from Arkansas.

Of course, none of this is funny, especially if you’re a liberal making next to nothing financially as a community organizer, and there are hints that the national Republican Party is in fact profiling you in a way that isn’t dissimilar to the way pro-life groups target abortion doctors or how former Alaskan governors fond of crosshair graphics profile other politicians. Also, who the hell is paying for this covert classification of types?

“Citizens everywhere should be concerned as to whether or not taxpayer dollars and resources were used to profile fellow Americans in an attempt to silence their voices and what role Congressional offices or campaigns played in disseminating state-sponsored intimidation of private citizens,” Cantone rattled off a mouthful in a press release. They should also be concerned that Republicans are this stupid.

But can they drive trucks? On Aug. 11, wary of the political stick shift, we headed down to the Orange County Convention Center and encountered an army of mustaches, beer bellies and astoundingly clean semi trucks. The occasion was the 70th National Truck Driving Championships, landing in Orlando for the first time in three-quarters of a century. It was there that exactly 483 of the finest semi-truck drivers from around the country (culled from about 5,000 who competed at the state level in previous months) were vying for the vaunted Golden Belt Buckle(no joke) through a series of grueling “skills tests,” as well as a white-knuckle written exam.

Regrettably, the ability to command a blowjob solely through body language was not tested, nor was the capacity to ignore repeated adolescent honking requests, but we nonetheless hopped in a golf cart with the legendary trucker Jim Daulerio (three million perfect miles, mind you) and followed one of the contestants. Our chosen competitor was towing a set of “twins” around a “problem,” that is to say, pulling two linked cargo trailers around a rubber duckling stationed on the floor. Really.

If you think we’re wasting our breath by exhuming some loserly event from the grave of obscurity just to bury it again, think again! This stuff is important, at least assuming that the draw of cult glory and cold cash ($1,000 for each division winner) may ultimately be preventing pile-ups across our nation’s interstate highways. Also consider the battery of additional contests on the other side of the hall, which tested state troopers from all over North America on how effectively, and how quickly, they could inspect a stationary truck rigged with a panoply of mechanical problems. David White, a contest supervisor sporting an ’88 mustache, recalled the drama of 2009, Pittsburgh, when one trooper bested the other by only 0.7 seconds. “They both had the same violations – it all came down to their time,” he said.

Keep on truckin’!

 

Griffin Town Hall Handout

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