The battle has been won. The liberation is complete. The fragrant, floral bouquets of heroism have been draped across all the appropriate necks. And so I'm doing the only thing I can do — something that sounded positively irresistible when I heard it mentioned in a speech by my hero, Rick Santorum.

I'm turning tail and leaving some poor sucker to wipe up my mess.

Yes, it's true: As soon as this week's issue hits the stands, your humble author is vacating these hallowed pages and relocating to tony Staten Island, N.Y. — or, as it's more colloquially known, "the Narcoossee of the Northeast." Scurrilous rumors being floated around town would hold that this untimely exit has something to do with graduate school. But you're too smart to fall for that. You know that I'd never abandon this coveted soapbox to do something trivial, like pursuing actual knowledge or trying to increase my earning potential. You deserve the truth, and here it is: I just want to be out of here before Widespread Panic shows up in October and makes a mockery of everything I hold dear. Ohhh, how I hate them!

But I don't intend to waste this space nursing old grudges. Instead, I want to spend some time ticking off the changes we've all seen in the decade your loyal Dog has been doing his business on this newspaper. It's time to reflect on the honest-to-goodness miracles we've managed to work together in that time, you and I — because, let's face it, this column has always depended on a healthy, ongoing dialogue between writer and reader. It's been a real group effort, no matter what I might choose to state on my 1040 forms.

The difference in eras couldn't be more striking. Ten years ago, Orlando barely knew what a world-class performing arts center, state-of-the-art arena or commercially competitive football stadium even looked like. Now, we have detailed scale models of many of those things. Once upon a time, our night-life scene was crippled by a nonsensical mandate that no alcohol could be served past 2 a.m. While we didn't technically win that fight, we were able to make up our losses on the front end: Thanks to some intense lobbying, all downtown drinking establishments are now allowed to start pouring beers a full hour before they even open! Take a look at what that's done for our date-rape statistics, and tell me we're not a city on the move. And, painful though it is to recall, the entire downtown area was once a ghost town of boarded-up businesses, hopeless transients and seedy tattoo parlors. Thanks to our tireless efforts, several of those tattoo shops are gone.

Even better, we've ended the antiquated small-town mind-set that once ruled City Hall and replaced it with the principles of open government. A few short years ago, decisions affecting all our lives were made by corrupt fat cats in smoky backroom bargaining sessions. But now, with Orlando Weekly as their proxy, the people have a direct say in their governance — and all because of a few simple columns I once wrote ridiculing the mayor's pork-laden diet and ethnic heritage. Blows your mind, huh? Me, too. If I couldn't see the words coming out of my keyboard, I might not believe it myself. But the proof is right there every time I pick up the red phone on my desk and hear Hizzoner's wheezy voice on the other end, desperate to learn how "the kids" really feel about yet another proposed public initiative.

"This ‘midnight basketball,' Steve …" he'll throw out. "Won't that just get the coloreds riled up?" Then I commission a costly feasibility study, and we have ourselves an answer.

It's been something for us to be proud of, this grand experiment in Jeffersonian democracy. It's been the driving force behind every other element of our shared legacy — like ending workplace discrimination and eradicating hate crimes. And completing the tough but necessary transition from a tourist-based economy to one based on marijuana sales. And let's not forget the radical advances we've effected in the field of laser vaginal rejuvenation.

Hey, remember "leukemia"?

What's most important to me, though, is that we've brought about this cultural sea change without resorting to the ugly, nasty, cynical name-calling that lesser columnists and their followers seem to thrive on. I can sleep soundly at night knowing that everybody who ever turned to this page was treated with dignity, decency, courtesy and respect. Especially the broads.

So don't cry for me, South Apopka. Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this Earth. With you as my muse, I've learned firsthand that a people needn't waste their time in outmoded pursuits — like, say, voting — to effect change, right wrongs and secure the bounty of liberty for their grandchildren's grandchildren. Because, truly, skimming a free entertainment guide can accomplish all these things.

The middle finger writes; and, having writ, moves on.

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