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It's just an easy story


The assassination of Jacksonville in newspapers across the country this week really isn't fair. Unfortunately, it's the price Jacksonville citizens will have to pay for the economic bonanza northeast Florida will realize for having hosted the Super Bowl.

Welcome to the big time. You say you wanna be a major league city? You wanna hobnob with the Bostons and the Philadelphias and all of their big-city buddies? Well, first you must understand this about all of them: They are as hard on each other and often themselves as they have been on Jacksonville this week.

You thought they were going to come here and write a bunch of nice travelogue stuff about Jacksonville? You wanted them to like you, didn't you? You wanted to give them a hug the day after the game and wave goodbye; maybe even exchange Christmas cards every year. I understand. I probably should've prepared you for the cretins that they are.

Well, screw 'em. Hey, pal, when the game's over do us all a favor and get your hat, your coat and get out. And by the way, thanks for leaving all that money behind. We'll be sure to put it to good use. We'll use it to build another golf course. How about an island clubhouse this time?

I don't like to be that way but that's the only language those guys understand. I know those guys. They know tough talk sells. They all live in rowhouses that are hermetically sealed in some kind of imitation siding, and they sit inside trying to figure out how they can crank out a column as quickly as possible so they might stroll down to the corner for a couple of belts with the boys before closing. Usually I made it.

Always take the easy way. The next column is always the toughest. One day you'll find yourself staring at your laptop with nothing coming out of your fingers. If you have something easy to say today, say it and save that Pulitzer for the next column. And better yet if what you have to say causes a firestorm of reader response. The editor loves that kind of stuff. It sells.

Consider the plight of the sportswriter covering the Super Bowl. Dedicatedly, he attends the press conferences and asks good questions, only to see TV steal his work and pass it on to its viewers before the poor reporter even gets back to his hotel room. Never mind being fresh with the news. TV steals his stuff and never pays him a dime; doesn't even say thanks.

So, he looks for fresher stories he might cover. TV is all over Tom Brady and Donovan McNabb. Hey, they're all over Hank Fraley and Hank Poteat. What's left for the poor sportswriter?

Jacksonville. Poor Jacksonville, that's what.

What the heck, it's just a place, right? Yeah, a lot of proud citizens will be emotionally hurt by what he's about to write, but look at Cleveland. It gets it in the neck all of the time but nobody there seems to mind. They get it. It's part of the act and, come on, guys, it's getting close to last call.

Do you really need the travelogue, Jacksonville? Do you really need to read nice things about yourself? Do you want those guys to know you're that fragile, or would you rather be considered the Cleveland of the south?

Truth be known, that's what these guys who are saying mean things about Jacksonville this week respect the most. They like a town that can take a punch.

You should be able to do that. None of what's been said about Jacksonville should be getting to you. Your sense of civic pride and self-security should make you invulnerable because you know you live in a place that offers a very comfortable lifestyle.

I moved here 10 years ago and I won't tell you that it didn't require a major adjustment, but it was a relocation that continues to intrigue me all these years later. Jacksonville offers a climate and a way of life that still causes me to feel guilty because I had never thought of myself in terms of beaches and fancy golf courses and gated communities.

All these years later, I still find myself resisting Jacksonville's high life because I'm afraid it'll make me too soft and I won't be able to go back. It's that way when you've grown up in a mill town in Pittsburgh. I didn't have a friend who didn't have a parent or grandparent who didn't speak a foreign language. We were all sons and daughters or grandsons and granddaughters of immigrants.

In the summer, every day began with a promise to your mother that you wouldn't go down to the river, and every day ended at the river. Winters were cold, as you'd expect, and the soot from the mill smokestacks gave the snow a freshly blackened look each morning. Kind of like the mahi-mahi you find in Jacksonville Beach.

Sports were all we knew for entertainment. There were no malls; no Tinseltown-type cinema complexes. We had a theater; a pool hall. Mostly we had a lot of jobs; 5,000 full-time workers at the mill, which gave off a low-pitched hum from its furnaces 24 hours a day.

Life was good. It was simple, plain and easily navigated. No gated communities, but no complaints. Even before they became our good, old days, they were good days. It was, however, a modest life. There were no frills.

So now I'm supposed to stand on the first tee at any one of Jacksonville's God-knows-how-many great golf courses, stare out over a landscape of luxurious living and think to myself "what a dump?"

I can't do that and neither can my sportswriter buddies. It's just that ripping Jacksonville is an easy story and, as ripping cities go, it's a scoop. After all, how many times can you rip Cleveland?

Sorry, Cleveland. You don't mind, do you?

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