Hard Candy: Wasting Time

By Cathy Salustri

I like to think of myself as a patient soul who is slow to anger. I come from a long line of people who think the best way to make your point in an argument is to state your opinions with volume and anger. I do not subscribe to that school of thought.

Except when I’m faced with those Orwellian, automated, geared-for-discouragement, voice-response phone systems like the one at Bright House. I call to find out why I can’t get online and within moments I find myself screaming at the phone, “PERSON! I WANT TO SPEAK TO A DAMN PERSON! PERSON! PERSONPERSONPERSON!!”

“Did I understand you correctly? You want to speak to a person? If you want to speak to a person, say ‘representative’.”

I answer with a colorful adjective preceding the term “representative,” and the system gets me through to a person who soon reconnects me to the wonderful world of the Internet, including the latest draft of this column, the Gabber web site, and, of course, Facebook and Twitter.

The Internet is a horrible, wonderful, necessary place. I can get lost there for hours. I’ve wasted days of my life looking at funny or horrible videos I won’t remember in a week. When it comes to wasting time, I am the master.

Which is why I don’t need any help from local government. Two weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting through a St. Pete Beach city commission meeting while our beach reporter took a much-needed vacation. I say “much-needed” because I am spoiled by the entertaining yet brief Gulfport city hall meetings, while she regularly attends meetings that run so long that the CIA isn’t allowed to make suspected terrorists sit through them.

On the table last Tuesday night? Well, commissioners spent almost a half hour debating flower colors for Gulf Boulevard. Don’t get me wrong: Gulf Boulevard is dangerously close to looking like an inner-city throroughfare. The city would be well-served to make it look more like Blind Pass, with its majestic palms and subtle lighting. But is the color of the flowers something that needs discussion in a public meeting? Honest, I think you can discuss that with the contractor without residents suing you. Or, you know, maybe not. This is St. Pete Beach, after all, where one commissioner sneezes, another says “bless you”, and a local attorney slaps a lawsuit on the city for discussing the sneeze in private.

But I digress. The meeting also included – without a trace of irony – a protracted discussion on how to shorten the meetings. One commissioner sensibly suggested putting fewer items on the agenda. Crazy talk, apparently, because the commission ultimately decided instead to limit the meetings to five hours and, hey, whatever doesn’t get done moves to the next meeting. They ended the meeting four hours after it started and commissioners walked away feeling pretty good about themselves.

Which is utter nonsense. I’ve, sadly, attended city and county meetings on a quasi-regular basis for 12 years now, and I can tell you there is nothing going on in any small town that requires 300 minutes of discussion every other week. That’s enough time to watch the movie “Office Space” more than three times. Unless you’re discussing building a high rise on the beach, violent crime, or people murdering baby turtles and dolphins, nothing needs that much explaining and detail. To quote Senator Kevin Keeley in the Birdcage, “People in this country aren’t interested in details. They don’t even trust details.”

And yet details abounded in this meeting; what was missing was the real stuff, the meat. And I notice it’s missing a lot from these meetings. St. Pete Beach is great for talking about the color of the blossoms along the road but not so much for talking about height and density. At least, it doesn’t seem to get a lot of discussion in public, except for the citizens fighting about it. St. Pete Beach’s commission perplexes me. As a resident I generally read about the meetings after the fact or hear about them from my colleague. But on that night I watched commissioners snicker at each other while another commissioner read a prepared statement about red light cameras. I noticed glances exchanged that made me feel I was watching some sort of secret alliance. I heard elected officials start to bicker with residents.

As a reporter, I was fascinated. As a beach resident, I was sickened.

As a person? Give me Facebook and YouTube any day. At least it’s not costing taxpayer dollars for me to waste time there.

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com or comment on her Hard Candy Facebook page.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.