The world moves on

“The need to recreate the myth of coherence may be one of the reasons why history exists in the first place.”

Stephen King: The Dark Tower.

“The world moved on.”

Listen, I’ve been waiting for years to use that line.

It comes from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. About people who are abruptly thrown into a chaotic world that they neither understand or are prepared to cope with.

I’m beginning to understand, Roland.

In the last few days I’ve been in half a dozen counties and one hospital (twice). I’ve stopped for gasoline, for fast food, used some public restrooms and visited frail and/or sick relatives.

Normally this would be just a typical week in the life of a 72-year old retiree with an elderly mother and an ailing sister who happen to live halfway down the state. But these are not normal times. And now we are being obliged to evaluate every one of our actions and movements with an eye toward possibly dire ramifications.

I’ve been shuttling back and forth, avoiding the interstates when I can, taking backroads where possible (just because I prefer that kind of driving) and logging more than the usual hours away from home.

While the world moved on.

Before I left home this last time my wife insisted I take a big pump-bottle of hand sanitizer with me and use it liberally after….well, after virtually every time I get out of the car. Gas pump, hand pump (just don’t) door knob turn. Whatever.

And when I went to the medical center in Sebastian to, at first visit and then pick up, my sister, who had just had a knee operation, I was wary indeed. I shared an elevator ride with a woman who coughed. I tried not to flinch. I tried not to lean on anything. I told my sister she looked fine. From at least six feet away. Because.

And I stayed with my mom and her husband. Who has an upper respiratory thing going on. Which his doctor is fairly sure isn’t….

…Well, you know, “it.”

Long story short, I got home to discover that my Santa Fe College accounting professor wife will henceforth be teaching all of her classes on-line rather than face-to-face.

And that the University of Florida will go entirely on-line. And that it is advising students to leave town and go back to wherever they came from.

This is a college town. Once the students are gone I suppose we townies will all be safer for it – fewer bodies, fewer potential sources of contagions.

But it’s going to play hell with the local economy. Some businesses will go under.

Oh, and no more Gator basketball, baseball, nothing.

And what if it hasn’t blown over by football season? Talk about culture shock!

But the world moved on.

The good news: I already more or less work (as a freelance journalist) at home, although Starbucks is gonna miss me. And our dog will be ecstatic, since his humans will be hanging around much more than they used to.

So there’s that.

Our President says…..well, we really don’t know what the hell he’s saying. Our governor has declared a State Of Emergency, whatever that means.

We’re being told to keep our distances from each other. To self-quarantine if we think we need it. To wash, wash, wash, wash, wash our hands. And that we don’t really need to stockpile toilet paper or face masks.

And that some of us may get “it.”

And that if we do, some of us may suffer more from “it” than will others.

And that for those of us who do suffer more from “it,” there may or may not be enough hospital beds and ventilators available to pull us back from the brink.

Which, I suppose, is the bad news.

Because the world moved on.

I don’t have a p.s. for all of this.

Maybe in a week or two or three this will have all blown over. And we will all feel sort of silly.

Maybe the Prez is right (isn’t he always?). That this is just a liberal conspiracy to get rid of him.

Maybe we will learn that the military has been secretly stockpiling ventilators and hospital beds and secret vaccines and miracle cures with the obscene amounts of money we’ve been shoving at them to pay for super weapons.

Or, maybe the world isn’t nearly done moving on yet.

Maybe a month from now, six months from now, a year from now, the way we lead our daily lives will bear very little resemblance to the way we’ve all been getting by up until…

….oh, I dunno…

….let’s say, two weeks ago.

“This is ridiculous,” Eddie shouted.

“Life is ridiculous.”

Stephen King: The Dark Tower

The world moved on.

We hardly knew ‘em

We’re killing people in our streets

Gregory Branch, William Moore, Denise Griffiths, Dwight Jenkins, D.J. Washington.

And Rose M. McDonald, aka “Granny.”

If those names ring no bells, I’m not surprised. Had they been the victims of, say, Coronavirus, their deaths would be front page news.

But they are just people who have been killed while trying to bike, cross or walk a public street in our county since November.

For the most part their untimely deaths rated only a few paragraphs in print or scant mention on the air. They were a 16-year old boy walking in the bike lane on SW 20th Ave., a UF student killed while crossing University Avenue, a 45-year old man run over by a truck on U.S. 441 near Turkey Creek, a 60-year old Melrose man run down on SR 222, a 45-year old man killed while crossing NW 39th Ave.

And then there was “Granny,” left to die on Waldo Road, on Jan. 30, by a hit-and-run driver.

That their deaths attracted little note is no rap on local news. The sad truth is that we kill so many pedestrians and bicyclists in autoAmerica that any single death by vehicle typically rates brief notice.

“Pedestrian deaths rise more than 50 percent in the U.S.,” a recent story in The Sun was headlined. Just a reminder that, even as traffic related deaths in general have gone down, the number of walkers or cyclists being killed is at a 30-year high.

If you happened to read that story, you may have thought: I’m glad I don’t live in Miami, or Orlando, or Tampa…or any big city where cyclists and pedestrians are at risk.

To which I would respond: Gregory Branch, William Moore, Denise Griffiths, Dwight Jenkins, D.J. Washington.

And Rose M. McDonald.

Rose was the only one of those victims I knew by sight, if not by name.

She was a prominent figure among Gainesville’s downtown homeless community. Small and frail, suffering from multiple emotional and physical maladies, she was nonetheless a relentlessly cheerful woman.

“She was one of the first people I met in Gainesville, as she bummed smokes and change from folks downtown,” says Assistant City Manager Dan Hoffman. “Her story is sad and her fate too common these days. Dangerous roads. A life lived on the margins. She was dealt a really bad hand in life.”

Local playwright Michael Presley Bobbitt also appreciated his exchanges with Granny. She “was as Gainesville as it gets…a relentless source of positivity and encouragement. A bright light in this community has been extinguished by a careless, murderous hit-and-run motorist, and we are all poorer for it.”

Sadly, justice for Granny is unlikely.

Gainesville Police Department just issued a press release asking “witnesses or persons with information about the traffic homicide to please come forward.” That’s a cold trail indeed, the release coming more than a month after she was left for dead.

As a community, we don’t have to accept such deaths with an “Oh well, accidents happen” shrug. We know how to change the autoAmerican status quo. We know how to repurpose our public streets and roads, especially in urban areas, to reduce fatalities.

Call it Vision Zero. Call it traffic calming. Call it Complete Streets. Call it what you will.

The only thing you can honestly call the status quo is unacceptable. That or obscene.

It’s not the spirit that’s lacking, but the communal will.

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipde.com.)

Rose M. McDonald, aka “Granny.”

The cruelest intersection

You can’t be in journalism for 50 years without having life’s ironies reach out of nowhere and slap you across the face on a regular basis. It just happened again.

My last blog was about six people – five pedestrians and one cyclist – who had been run down on the streets of my city and county in just the last few months.

For the record they are Gregory Branch, William Moore, Denise Griffiths, Dwight Jenkins, D.J. Washington and Rose M. McDonald.

The whole point of the blog wasn’t just that we kill too many people in our streets, but that because we do, their deaths almost invariably come and go with scant notice – a few paragraphs or brief mention on the air – in the news media.

As though they never really existed at all.

The lone cyclist especially seem to make my point, because she was killed by a hit-and-run driver on Jan. 30 on Waldo Road. And talk about anonymous – days passed, and then weeks, without police releasing her name to the media.

On March 2, more than a month later, I finally contacted GPD and requested her name and an update on her murder. I was told that her name hadn’t been released because they were having trouble locating next of kin.

I got that reply in the morning. That same afternoon, GPD issued a press release identifying the woman as Rose M. McDonald.

Oh, and it asked anyone who might have witnessed her death to please come forward.

That belated bid for cooperation isn’t likely to bear much fruit.

As for “next of kin,” police really didn’t have to search very far. While GPD remained mute, people right here in Gainesville were already getting worried because they hadn’t seen or heard from Rose in a while.

Most of them likely didn’t even know her as Rose M. McDonald, but rather “Granny.”

I even knew her, but didn’t know it. She was that emaciated woman who often approached me as I walked into the downtown Starbucks. She didn’t always ask for money, in fact, I can’t recall now if she ever did. But she almost always smiled at me and wished me well.

When word of her death got around – weeks after the fact – there was widespread sorrow and shock among the city’s homeless advocates. Not to mention among the artists, musicians, government officials, downtown workers and others who had regularly interacted with Granny. It seems that everybody knew Granny and admired her unrelenting cheerfulness in the face of a life of utter deprivation.

Granny’s “next of kin,” held not one but two memorial services for her on the downtown plaza.

Turns out Rose had friends in both high and low places.

I should let this go, because, as I mentioned, we use our vehicles to slaughter so many of our fellow Americans that we can hardly pause to linger over the memory of any one of them – especially, some might argue, a street person.

Some of my fellow Americas no doubt shrugged off Granny’s death with a “it was probably her fault,” or “she shouldn’t have been in the road anyway.”

Or even, as one Facebook contributor commented last year when a panhandler was run down in the streets of Gainesville, “one less beggar.”

These are literally throwaway humans in our coarsened society. We see them huddled in doorways and sprawled on the sidewalks, and we try to look through them, past them, around them….anything to avoid the uncomfortable notion that the only difference between them and us may be a one or two lost paychecks or an emotional breakdown.

Certainly to the driver who left her to bleed out on Waldo Road Granny was little more than human garbage. I’d like to assume that whoever killed her has lost more than a little sleep, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Neither is it hard to imagine that the police investigating her death put less than 100 percent effort into the pursuit of justice for Granny. A homeless woman dead on the street isn’t exactly considered a crime wave.

Forgive my cynicism, but the lonely death of Granny Rose McDonald occurred at the intersection of two of the cruelest paths in American culture: Our hostility to the invisible people who sleep in our streets and make us uncomfortable, and our indifference to the toxic autoAmerican culture that sacrifices 40,000 lives a year in pursuit of our need for speed.

Sympathy for the Donald

With apologies to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
Been around for a long, long time
Stole many a man’s soul to waste
I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Has his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name.
Cause what’s confusing you is just the

Nature of my game.



I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was time for a change
I killed the Tsar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain
I rode a tank, held a general’s rank
When the blitzkreig raged and the bodies stank
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name.
Cause what’s puzzling you is just the
Nature of my game
I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the Gods they made
I shouted out
“Who killed the Kennedys?”
When after all
It was you and me
And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reached Bombay
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah, get down, baby
Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
Cause I’m in need of some restraint
So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste, um yeah
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, um yeah
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, um mean it, get down
Woo, who
Oh yeah, get on down
Oh yeah
Oh yeah!
Tell me baby, what’s my name
Tell me honey, can ya guess my name
Tell me baby, what’s my name
I tell you one time, you’re to blame
Ooo, who
Ooo, who
Tell me, sweetie, what’s my name
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who

Oh, yeah

Just give us 800 feet

San Francisco’s Market Street and New York City’s 4th Street are now off limits to most cars. This, according to CityLab.com, being indicative of a “wave of cities around the globe pedestrianizing their downtown cores and corridors…”

To which it is worth nothing that college towns have been way ahead of the curve in reclaiming their downtowns for people – not just to save lives but to promote economic vitality.

I’m thinking of Pearl Street, in Boulder, Col.; State Street, in Madison, Wis.; and Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, hard up against “Mr. Jefferson’s’ University of Virginia.

I’ve visited all three of those cities and walked all three streets. My observation was that the downtown street life in those communities is more diverse, prosperous and enjoyable than anything we have here in Hogtown. And unlike Gainesville’s, which is primarily a nighttime downtown, those three university downtowns generate considerably more daytime activity.

Boulder and Charlottesville are mainly pedestrian malls, while State Street – linking the University of Wisconsin and the state capitol building – is still a people magnet despite making allowances for buses, taxis and select other vehicles.

Here in Gainesville we’re willing to close portions of University Avenue for the Homecoming Parade, and the rare Open Streets event. But that’s about it when it comes to making life a little less convenient for motorists as a trade-off for an enhanced street life.

But, say, here’s an idea. What if we started out small and liberated just three downtown blocks from autoAmerican tyranny? Heck, we could even ease into it and start with weekends only.

The City of Gainesville is going to collaborate with the University of Florida on a downtown master plan. If I were looking at ways to enhance downtown’s “street cred,” while making it a friendlier and more inviting place for dining, retail, relaxation and collaboration, I’d take a serious look at turning SE 1st Street, from University Ave to The Hippodrome, into pedestrian haven. This following either the Boulder and Charlottesville (people only) model or Madison’s (vehicles restricted) example.

That stretch of 1st. is just about 800-feet long, and that’s a good thing. “Car-free shopping streets have a better chance to succeed when smaller and their limited scale makes them easy to implement. Most car-free shopping streets are between one and three blocks long. Their more intimate settings offer retail on a human scale, with sufficient points of interest, and places to linger, encouraging customers to browse at their own pace and make connections with shop proprietors.” This from Build A Better Burb.

Creating a “people” corridor on First Street wouldn’t affect downtown traffic flow one wit. Yes, it would sacrifice dozens of on-street parking slots along 1st. But with two downtown parking garages and lots of on-street parking remaining on the perimeters, that’s a small sacrifice to make in return for a prosperous, people-centric downtown.

And there is a powerful case to be made for rethinking downtown parking.

Imagine the former parking spaces of SE 1st sprouting outdoor cafes, street vendors, sculptures and fountains. Imagine travel lanes being given over to buskers, flower sellers and street bands. If we’re not careful we might create all manner of inviting places for folks to converge and collaborate and see and be seen.

No question there would be initial resistance from business owners who fear the loss of free parking just outside their doors. But if planners do their jobs correctly they can make a case that restricting vehicles will reap greater rewards.

In a recent piece in CityLab.com, Brooks Rainwater, senior executive with the National League of Cities, points to initial resistance to Rotterdam’s decision to limit cars in the city’s center. “At first, area shopkeepers were concerned that customers wouldn’t be able to reach their shops without the ability to drive up to their storefronts,” he wrote. “But as evidence continues to show, retail actually improves in pedestrian zones.”

All I’m saying is give people a chance, Gainesville. A chance for them to claim a space of their own without the hassle of having to dodge heavy moving objects. Who knows, it might even lead to the downtown revival that has so far been elusive.

Since I wrote this for the Gainesville Sun I came across a recently issued “pedestrian zone” report from the National League of Cities. “The idea of pedestrian zones existed far before the introduction of automobiles. But old ideas can be made new again, serving as solutions to our most modern problems. With this guide, local leaders can consider strategies to build people- centered communities, both now and in the future,” writes Clarence E. Anthony, Executive Director National League of Cities.

“Rethinking urban mobility is not a new trend, but it is a timely one,” the report continues. “As cities continue to feel the effects of climate change, high levels of air pollution and increasing traffic, local leaders are tackling one of the biggest culprits: private vehicles. With the growth of micromobility and increased use of public transit, residents are increasingly utilizing non-car options. And cities are rethinking and redesigning city spaces to accommodate these changes in mobility, while simultaneously addressing the environmental and health concerns plaguing urban dwellers.”

It’s time for Gainesville to rethink its urban mobility options for all of the above reasons.

Wither downtown?

I’m not sure when the south end of downtown’s First Street began to turn into skid row. But the signs were there.

Like when the outside seating disappeared from Starbucks.

And when they tore down Jon Wershow’s old law firm building, and the adjacent pocket sculpture garden, to be replaced by a dirt parking lot with a shabby wooden slat fence.

Each morning street people congregate along the fence – joking, smoking, panhandling. Still more gather in the Sun Center courtyard.

Some even bring their own chairs because, well, you can’t sit outside Starbucks anymore.

The parking lot is supposed to be temporary. Presumably when it’s a hotel the “pop up” skid row will pop up somewhere else.

Still, these days you can practically follow the trail of shopping carts, sleeping bags, blankets, cans and bottles down South Main.

Listen, our homeless issues pale in comparison to those of many other American cities. And we are an intelligent, and compassionate, enough people to manage those issues without panicking.

But here’s the thing about our downtown street scene.

When students descend en masse, from sunset into the wee hours, the street people tend to be lost in the crowd. It is in the cold light of day that the area’s growing air of seediness is revealed in stark relief.

Downtown doesn’t have a homeless problem so much as a people problem.

Ours is basically a two dimensional downtown: Party central at night, a parking lot for government workers during the day.

It doesn’t have to be that way. And thanks to a still-blossoming town/gown strategic partnership we may soon have the opportunity to decide what downtown Gainesville ought to be when it grows up.

City Manager Lee Feldman is negotiating with the University of Florida to create a master plan for downtown Gainesville. “We’re just in beginning stage of talking about how we will approach a new planning process,” he says. “Downtown is critical, not only to city but also to the university. And we both recognize the need for it to be successful.”

Of late we haven’t had many downtown champions. GDOT (Gainesville Downtown Owners and Tenants) has gone dormant and is about to reorganize under another name. The Chamber of Commerce is located downtown, but its heart has long been in the suburbs. And while the city has invested millions of dollars to reengineer Main Street, redesign the Bo Diddley Plaza and build Depot Park, its day-to-day downtown stewardship might best be described as one of benign neglect.

“We’re looking at this to see how we can engage all the stakeholders in a process to come up with a common idea of what to do about downtown,” says Andrew Telles, UF’s collaborative initiatives director. “We have interesting resources at the university, cultural (institutes), arts in medicine, programs that are of the university but can’t exist without the people of the community.

“What can we bring downtown that will draw more people to the area during the day, late afternoon and evening? What can other stakeholders look to own? People will avoid that area unless there is something to draw them in.”

Downtown has been through cycles of prosperity and neglect, often driven by economic and social forces beyond our control. But if we are half as smart as we think we are in this university community, we ought to be capable of creating the downtown we want and deserve: A thriving, three-dimensional, 24/7, live work and play Heart of Gainesville.

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com.

I wonder

Five minutes of fame

Pop quiz. What did Margaret Mitchell have in common with Olson Bean?

No, the veteran actor was not in the celebrated author’s hit movie “Gone With The Wind.” Although, being 11 when it was filmed, in 1939, Bean could well have qualified for a child extra role if he had been hanging around Hollywood.

No, being in the entertainment industry is not the most intimate thing that connects Mitchell, who died in 1949 at the age of 48 and Bean, who died on Friday, at the age of 91.

Mitchell was an early causality in the autoAmerican war on pedestrians. Bean was one of the latest. They belonged to fraternity whose members risk life and limb for the singular privilege of presuming to cross American streets on foot.

Mitchell was crossing Atlanta’s Peachtree Street when she was run over by an off-duty taxi driver. She was on her way to see a movie. She died five days later. The cab driver had been drinking and was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Bean, a veteran actor whose credits stretch back into the 1950s, was crossing a street in Venice, Ca., when he was clipped by one car and then fatally struck by another. Too early for any talk about charges, but we live in an age when drivers are seldom punished overly much for taking another human being’s life. These days we mostly talk about “distracted walking” and shrug it off with an “oh well, accidents happen,” and then move on.

The thing that really connects Mitchell and Bean is that they were run over while being famous, which means their deaths got the requisite five minutes of fame before we all moved on.

We know virtually nothing about most of the 6,227 pedestrians who were killed in 2018 alone. If my local newspaper is any indication, the average dead pedestrian gets about three paragraphs in the next day’s “briefs” column before being consigned to old news.

What we do know is that while traffic fatalities on the whole have been decreasing for years, pedestrian deaths jumped by 41 percent in the last decade alone and now account for 16 percent of all traffic fatalities.

“There was a 30-year decline starting in 1979 in the number of pedestrian fatalities,” Richard Retting, of the National Governor’s Highway Safety Association, told citylab.com. “Now, the U.S. is reaching the peak of a decade-long surge. Something’s gone terribly wrong in the last ten years.”

What’s gone terribly wrong? Cell phones. Texting. Distracted drivers. Distracted walkers. The surge in SUV and heavy pickup sales. The average driver’s need for speed. The prioritizing of fast and efficient traffic flow over public safety. The refusal of cities to design their streets for all users. Pick your favorite villain.

But let’s at least be honest about who we are and what we do.

We are a callous society, and our indifference to the wellbeing of our fellow man is never more on display than when we seat ourselves behind the wheel of our climate-controlled, gadget festooned, power packed vehicle of choice, shut the door to the outside world and press the ignition.

Yesterday on my short cycle home from downtown I had two occasions to signal for left hand turns, both times on relatively quite Gainesville residential streets. On both occasions vehicles coming up behind opted to speed up and pass me – on the left! – rather than slow down and wait for me to safely make my turn.

Either one of those cars could well have ended my life. And I have no doubt that if that had happened, the social media comments at the end of the news article reporting my death would have been of the “well, he shouldn’t have been there anyway” variety.

I ride every day. And seldom a day passes that some friend doesn’t ask “but isn’t that dangerous?” And the truth is that the world will little note nor long remember my passing if it comes at the lead foot of some entitled driver.

But every now and then somebody of note gets run down in autoAmerica. A Margaret Mitchell or an Orson Bean. And then the world sits up and takes notice.

At least for five minutes.