Fear and loathing in Florida

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor



I am sitting on an island off the west coast of Florida near Boca Grande, listening to the waves, writing this column, trying to figure out what life is about.

The sun and warm weather had finally made an appearance in what likely will be an all-too-short summer for those of us who live in the Great Northwest. Man, how I love our summers. But lately, they seem to be here one week and gone the next.

Still, I decided to take a huge risk. It was 80 and sunny, and I decided to hop a plane, knowing that when I returned in a few days, it might already have turned to fall. Life’s a crapshoot, and I was hoping snake eyes wasn’t around the corner.

I guess I just needed a break. Bridges and baseball. Baseball and bridges. Throw in a little T.M. musings from the pulpit — someone with the ability to string several words together that mean nothing — and I decided to search for a big story elsewhere.

Make no mistake. There are big stories everywhere. Mainly, that’s because “big” is relative. It’s sort of like when a buddy described the definition of a depression to me: “A recession is when your neighbor is out of work. A depression is when you’re out of work.”

But I was looking for the really big story. I was looking for the one everyone everywhere would recognize. Enter Casey Anthony.

I headed to the Sunshine State.

For those of you stuck in a bridge lift for the last few years, Casey Anthony is the young, attractive Florida mom accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter and dumping her in a garbage bag in the woods. Her motive? Well, she was quite the party girl, and her daughter was just getting in the way.

The prosecutors had a bunch of evidence. All circumstantial, to be sure. But it was overwhelming to anyone tracking this case. The case was about to come to a close in Orlando. You know, the happiest place on Earth. And that’s where every reporter on Earth had gathered.

Me? Why go where everyone else is? I headed to 100 miles south to a ’burb of a ’burb of a ’burb called Port Charlotte. Not long ago, this place was a cow pasture. Today, it has endless roads that go nowhere — and the ones that do usually end up at a fast food joint. What better place to catch the pulse of America?

I grabbed a table and began in on endless bread sticks and salad. Depending on how long the jury would be out would decide just how much of this stuff I would eat. I was still on my first bread stick when the young man hauling my food came over.

“She was found not guilty.” No need for names here. “She” was plenty. Word spread quickly in the place. Dazed looks — I don’t think from a carb high — were everywhere.

Of course, most everyone knows she wasn’t innocent. But we also have to remember there’s a significant difference between “innocent” and “not guilty.” “Innocent“ means you didn’t do it. “Not guilty” means you couldn’t prove she did it. We also should remember that defense attorneys aren’t in the business of seeking the truth. They’re in the business of representing their client and getting them off.

As for the jury? Well, welcome to our justice system. In some countries, if a guilty person ran into a crowd of innocent people, they’d “kill ‘em all and let God sort them out.” In our country, if an innocent person ran into a crowd of guilty people and we couldn’t figure it out, we’d let them all go free.

Justice sometimes is ugly and difficult to figure out. But figure it out we must.

So, I headed to the beach, wondering if people watching the sunset there had figured this crazy thing out. I think they had, and it’s really pretty simple.

Life is beautiful. Just go with it.

Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505 or lou.brancaccio@columbian.com.

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