Freelining with Mike Freeman: Subways and things

The great escape fantasy: avoid high gas prices by riding on the subway?

In the past few weeks, I’ve been dreaming about subways.
Not dreaming in the sense of being asleep at night and finding myself riding a subway while catching zzz’s …. Rather, I mean at times when I’m on the local freeway, stuck behind a slow-poking line of cars. I sit there holding the barely-moving steering wheel and fantasize that I live a few blocks away from the local metro station, and I sold my car ages ago.
In a strange way, it sounds like freedom.
I say strange, because if you really think about it, it wouldn’t represent freedom at all. It would actually represent servitude.
We long to escape from that which we don’t think we can change. These days, that means congested traffic on our highways — always a problem in auto-dependent Central Florida — and soaring gas prices. Stopping at a local gas station near my home the other day, I couldn’t even bring myself to read the prices — that felt like it would be the equivalent of throwing myself in front of a speeding truck. I put $20 into my car and it didn’t even come close to filling the tank.
And if the experts are right, these could be the glory days, as prices soar even higher over the summer months, meaning by Labor Day Weekend we could be sitting around the barbeque saying, “Boy, remember when we could get away with paying $3.84 a gallon? Those were the days!”
Americans don’t like things we feel like we can’t alter or improve. So as I sit in that pokey-pokey traffic jam knowing my super-expensive gas is evaporating as my perfectly still car nevertheless keeps the engine running, it’s hard not to imagine a taste of freedom — post-automobile.
I’ve lived in New York City and Boston, with no car, and done well traveling entirely on their subway system. From the blue-collar Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, I could ride the Red Line into fashionable Harvard Square, or jump off to catch the Blue Line up to Revere Beach. New York City’s subway system is even more extensive, not to mention the commuter trains that take you onto Long Island.
For that matter, I could move to Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington or San Francisco, all cities with subway systems … or ditch the United States altogether and move to Paris or Berlin and ride the subways there, too.
It all sounds so liberating — no car, no gas prices, no pain at the pump, no traffic jams. I imagine myself happily signing over the deed to my car to some poor sucker headed out to pay a zillion dollars at the nearest gas station, who then gets caught in rush hour traffic heading home … while I stroll back to my home, knowing if I need anything, the metro beckons me just a few blocks away.
It’s the ultimate revenge; if you can’t bring the gas prices down, you eliminate them from your life altogether. Who needs Central Florida when I can head back to Boston and take the Green Line to Beacon Hill?
What I conveniently forget in this fantasy — and I say conveniently because when you’ve got a revenge fantasy against big bad gas stations, it helps not to recall the unpleasant stuff — is that subways have their down sides.
Boston doesn’t feel like Orlando in January; neither does New York. The Red Line station in Dorchester was outdoors and above ground, and I can remember many a charmless morning waiting in the frigid, sub-zero temperatures, wondering Will this train ever arrive? I lost count of how many colds I got waiting to ride the subway.
There were other adventures …. the crowds who cram into the subway car, making you feel like a sardine in a thimble … the gang of punks on the Red Line who told me they didn’t like the way I looked so they were going to beat the crap out of me when we reached our stop (they didn’t, but I did believed them at the time) … the oddball standing next to you, talking loudly and angrily to himself, while you hope and pray he took his meds this morning … the empty subway train, save for one lone person inside, so you walk in wondering why no one else is in this car — until the aroma hits you and you understand why no one else is in there ….
…. or the many times the subway would stop, and you’d wait … and wait …
Subways are not liberating. Yes, you don’t pay high gas prices to ride them. But they only take you to a very limited number of places. And the truth is, we all have cars for a reason: they truly do represent freedom.
The car takes you anywhere and everywhere, assuming it’s running properly and has gas in the tank. There’s no problem going from Orlando to Miami, or Orlando to Denver. The subway only gets you from one neighborhood to a handful of others.
With freedom comes convenience. You can pack tons of groceries into your car, but try carrying all those bags home on the subway.
For that matter, try taking your sick cat to the veterinarian on a subway. On days like those, you miss your car.
I hate high gas prices and don’t derive much pleasure from knowing they’re likely to keep going up. But with my car totally subservient to me — it has to take me wherever I want to go, and on my schedule — I don’t gripe about it much. In Orlando, it seems preferable to a bicycle or skateboard.
I’m always surprised that when we discuss gas prices, we always talk about it in a political sense. Will it hurt Obama’s re-election? Will it be the top issue in 2012? Those are the kinds of issued we asked back in 2000, when then Texas-Gov. George W. Bush said it was an outrage that gas prices had gone over $1 a gallon under President Clinton, and it’s what we heard in 2006, when Democrats were attacking President Bush and the Republican Congress for allowing gas prices to peak at $4.11. I don’t quite understand the obsession with the political ramifications of this issue, since neither party appears to have a blessed clue about how to solve the problem.
I’m happier when the press coverage shows something else entirely: stubbornly independent Americans fighting back in the only way they can — a little conservation. I love seeing people in Seattle meeting at particular spots so they can park their car and hitch a ride with a total stranger, cramming four or five into one vehicle, just so they can travel in the high occupancy lane. That’s how we Americans fight back: one trip to the grocery store during the week, rather than multiple trips. Joining friends for a movie, and riding together in one car. Arranging with co-workers to car pool.
It’s not the perfect solution, but it’s better than waiting for the politicos to think of something to do about it.
And in the meantime, I still dream every once in a while that I’m riding the subway home, and I haven’t been to a gas station in ages. Sure, it’s not a realistic fantasy, but it’s a pleasant form of escapism, like a really first class episode of “The Jetsons” that merrily takes you to a distant place you’ve never been to before.

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Former Inmate Offers Solution to Increasing Federal Prison Population – Reinstate Federal Parole for Nonviolent Offenders.

The federal prison population has more than doubled since 1995, 72 percent of which are nonviolent offenders with no history of violence. The Justice Department for the Bureau of Prisons recently requested an increase of $606 million for fiscal year 2012, adding new facilities and roughly 4,672 new beds.
Granted, something has to be done to release the burden on the overcrowding within the federal prison system. Although the Obama administration has to immediately address this issue — hence the budget increase — it may be a good idea to consider reinstating the system that was once in place prior to the drug overdose of former NBA superstar Len Bias.
Almost three decades ago Bias, the former NBA player, died from a cocaine overdose, prompting Congress to replace federal parole with Mandatory Minimum Sentencing. This method does not allow judges to depart from sentences that have been categorized by law, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the offense.
Many judges have objected to the loss of discretion they once had prior to implementation of this new law.
According to statistics, this has caused the federal prison population to grow immensely, in particular in the area of nonviolent offenses. No longer is the federal prison system designed for the elite that commit offenses; a great deal of substance abusers and low level drug dealers wind up in the federal prison system for very, very long periods of time — in essence causing the federal prison system to bulge at the seams.
I served almost 20 years for a nonviolent offense when a five or 10 year prison term would have sufficed and got the job done. Punishment would have been met and I definitely would not have committed another crime. Had federal parole still been in place, maybe I would have been out of prison and on to becoming a productive member of society within a fraction of the almost twenty years I spent inside the system.
According to the Justice Department, it seems the increase in the federal prison budget will definitely address areas that are much needed, such as:
* Managing the ever increasing federal inmate population.
* Providing for the care and safety of the inmates.
* Maintaining appropriately safe and secure prisons required to ensure the safety of BOP staff, inmates, and surrounding communities.
Personally, I don’t feel the president is supportive of the “lock them up and throw away the key” method for all nonviolent offenders, because if he felt that way, he never would have signed The Fair Sentencing Act into law.
The proposed increase in the federal prison budget, in my opinion, is an attempt to address the problems within the prison system faced by staff and inmates alike, such as ensuring that inmates are receiving proper medical care. In addition, a lot of the prison staff is working double if not triple time … which can’t be good for any human being.
If nothing more is clear from all this, I think we can all agree that something has to be done about the continued growth in the federal prison population. In addition to the proposed budget request from the FBOP, I suggest bringing back federal parole, making it retroactive and having a parole board determine whether each nonviolent offender that comes up for their parole review is ready to reenter society.
We would definitely see a decrease in the overcrowded prison population, the costly spending to maintain and accommodate the ever growing federal prison population would decrease, and maybe they can become productive taxpayers and promote safer communities — in particular if they are given the needed support of jobs and shelter.
Maybe I’m just too optimistic…

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Poinciana business owner laments the direction Osceola County’s school district appears to be heading in.

Wendy Farrell runs Signature Promotions in Poinciana, where she lives.

Editor’s Note: Wendy Farrell lives in Poinciana and runs her own business, Signature Promotions, with her husband, Chris. She’s also active in the local schools and has chaired the education subcommittee for the Poinciana Area Council, a group of business owners in Poinciana who meet once at month. Farrell wrote this column after the recent decision by Osceola School Superintendent Michael Grego to retire.

Can the Osceola School District heal and move on?
The past few months have been tumultuous in the school district. We were riding on the high of all our high schools being As or Bs, of improved graduation rates and lower drop out rates … and then things came crashing down.
The real reason for Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Grego leaving is probably only known by a few; the rest of us can only speculate. I believe it’s a great loss to our school district, but he has made his decision and it was time to move on.
Then came the bombshell of Mrs. Barbara Horn’s motion to have him leave early. This motion (not on any agenda) was made toward the end of a special workshop (on
March 29), primarily about Gateway High School’s IB Program. Watching that video, it seemed to me and others that two out of five board members (Julius Melendez and Jay Wheeler) were out of the ‘loop’ as they reeled in shock. School Board member Tom Long second the motion, almost without discussion, and School Board Chair Cindy Hartig seemed to explain exactly what the motion was. It was a surreal thing to watch. I am not surprised that Mr. Melendez wanted discussion on it and what he said made total sense, but he and Mr. Wheeler lost the vote 2-3.
The word ‘distraction’ is being banded about, a lot of finger pointing is going on, there’s back door politicking, and each passing day the focus moves more away from the students and education. Things need to be addressed through proper channels. I’m all for transparency in procedures and accounting, and School Board members have the right to question staff. But there are ways of doing it without being disrespectful or questioning somebody’s integrity. There are rules and regulations that our school
district works to address, and issues can easily be resolved through proper channels. Ms. Hartig questioned the authenticity of class size amendment statistics, and the Florida Department of Education confirmed within days that no wrongdoing had been done by district staff. Nipped in the bud, done — move on. Maybe Gov. Rick Scott needs to investigate possible violations of Sunshine State Law with regard to accusations of collusion by board members before board meetings, if to do no more than prove nothing went on. You put it to bed and move on.
The hiring of a new superintendent is going to be hard unless we draw a line under all this ‘distraction.’ I look at what’s gone on with the hiring of an interim superintendent and all the confrontations and accusations at the most recent board meeting. I’m with Mr. Melendez on this, the decision on how to appoint should have been next in
‘command’, simple decision, straight forward. That person (Ms. Pace, the current assistant superintendent) holds the reigns until the permanent superintendent is recruited. It’s simple, back and white, that’s what happens in the Military and in Corporate America. It’s the best way to ensure continuity and stability in a transitional period. Yet the School Board (or three of them, anyway) chose another person, whom many may deem as an ‘odd’ choice — especially the general public at large.
Having been in this school district for 11 years, its evolution has been interesting to watch. Where we go from here will depend on how the leadership acts. School Board members need to remember that they are elected by the people, and the people need to remember that you get what you’re given if you don’t bother to vote. Our school board ‘leader’ needs to remember that if you look over your shoulder and there’s no one behind you, you are leading nothing. You need your ‘whole’ team’s support as much as
possible. But most importantly, the focus needs to get back to our kids and their education!
Can we please turn the page?

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