Thursday, April 28, 2005

Warning: I'm not a tourist, I'm an armed native

While riding my bike this afternoon on my usual ice-cream break, I saw a great bumper sticker. It was on a car parked in front of the condos at the end of our alley, and it said: Warning: I'm not a tourist, I'm an armed native.

The bumper sticker's warning is not as far-fetched as it might sound. In Florida, we recently were freed up to use deadly force for self defense in public as of October 1 (as opposed to just when someone breaks into your home). As the Associated Press described it, "With a National Rifle Association lobbyist at his side, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed a law yesterday to make it clear people have a right to meet 'force with force' to defend themselves on the street."

Although the definitions are subject to interpretation, it basically means that you can use "deadly force" to defend yourself in any location without having to attempt to retreat first, which was required under the old law. You're only supposed to use it to prevent death or great bodily harm to yourself or someone else, but ascertaining someone else's intent in a pressure situation is not always an easy thing to do. It remains to be seen whether our state will come to "resemble the Wild West," as some critics have prophecized, or whether it will reduce crime because criminals will fear retaliation.

I don't have a strong opinion on the law, as I prefer to avoid life-and-death situations. I suppose that I would be willing to fatally hurt someone if they broke into my house and I truly belived they were a threat. In the state at large, I would still defend myself rather than be killed, but when tempers flare, there is probably a high potential for people misreading each other. It's a slippery slope; not too long ago, on one of the right-wing radio shows, they had a story about a man in Georgia who shot and killed another person when they approached his car. I missed the first part of the story, but it sounded like a road rage situation, and it was at some ungodly hour like 2 a.m. in a rough city neighborhood. Nobody will ever know the second motorist's true intent, since he is dead, but it's very possible that he intended to do some damage himself.

Speaking of road rage, that brings to mind another law, or at least a law-to-be. In the free-wheeling state of Florida, we've also got the oddly-named Road Rage Reduction Act, which, in the words of the Orlando Sentinel, would "make it illegal to drive at or below the speed limit in the left lane if doing so impeded the natural flow of traffic." In other words, if you're going to drive on the left, you'd better be speeding or you're going to get a ticket. The bill passed through the house and senate, but last I heard, it was still sitting on Governor Jeb's desk, at least as of April 15.

I'm not sure what I think about that bill. I'm more than familiar with the confused tourists putzing along at 40 on the left while reading roadmaps. I try to stay to the right, but the Sunpass lanes are all on the far left side of the toll plazas, do I do have to move over eventually. Even with the law in place, are the tourists really going to know about it? Even if we post signs, can we really expect them to be read? If a tourist doesn't notice the hundred signs pointing the way to Disney World, they surely won't read something non-Disney related.

Also, I read an editorial that pointed out an amusing irony: What if there is a driver in the left, going the legal speed limit but holding up a line of ragers who want to speed? Does a state trooper pull over the lead car and ticket him while the others rocket by at 80 mph?

Some people even predict that the law will result in more rage, not less. Speeders in the left might feel entitled to drive as fast as they please and feel justified to be even nastier than usual to anyone who impedes their progress.

I guess the two new laws could work pretty well in tandem. For example, let's say that a left lane putzer pisses off a fellow driver by breaking the Road Rage Reduction law. At least they are allowed to legally blow off the rager's head if he cuts them off and approaches their car in a threatening manner.

But aside from our amusing laws, I couldn't help but snicker at the bumper sticker for another reason. Ever since we moved to Florida, I find myself playing "Spot The Tourist." It's a local variation on "Where's Waldo?" in which you must scan the crowd in downtown Celebration, picking out those people who hail from out-of-state. But unlike Waldo, who appeared solo among the masses, the tourists are typically present in herds that swell to gargantuan proportions at peak vacation times. It would probably be a lot more challenging to spot the Florida natives.

Tourists can be spotted on foot by several tell-tale signs, including a set of keys with a car-rental tag hanging from their belt loops and a confused deer-in-the-headlights expression. They often have overstuffed fanny packs, but that can be misleading; I tend to carry one of those myself. They also can frequently be spotted in Disney World t-shirts, wearing socks with their sandals, but again, that can be a red herring. 99 percent of my husband's wardrobe is shirts purchased from the Mouse, and I actually caught him doing the socks-and-sandals thing the other day.

Cars make the spotting a bit easier. Just look for a Chevy Cavilier or a Sebring convertible with a license plate marked with "Sunshine State" instead of a particular county and you've found a visitor. But again, this can be misjudged. Canyonero is a maroon Aztek of the sort favored by Avis, so I'm not always easily identified as a local. Even if you notice my license plate, you could potentially be fooled. I have my old Illinois license on the back, since it doesn't expire for several more months. On the front, I have a gaudy yellow plate advertising Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas. Many Celebration residents have a green front plate with the Celebration logo as an easy way to recognize their cohorts. I've been tempted to get one myself, but I just can't part with the Castaway Cay plate. Thus, I'm probably frequently mistaken for a gutsy tourist who has driven 1200 miles just to meet Mickey.

If I want to be sure that I'm never the victim of mistaken identity, I can get a copy of that bumper sticker. I don't like to sully my Aztek with stickers, but I might make an exception for that one, or at least I could tape it in the window. I always wanted a Mickey antenna topper, but when a co-worker gave me one for Christmas, I made the shocking discovery that Canyonero doesn't have an antenna! Perhaps I have finally found a worthy vehicle decoration that I actually can put on my vehicle.

And if you ever visit Florida as a tourist, be very, very careful. Make sure you're speeding if you insist on riding the left lane, and don't piss us off. Remember, the natives are armed, and thanks to good old Governor Jeb, we're not afraid to use our weapons.

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