Off Key

| February 1, 2017

By Bob Frederickson

From Folding the Tents to Missing the Intent

The Day the Circus Died…

No, it wasn’t with the announcement from Feld Entertainment last week that The Greatest Show on Earth will stage its final show in May of this year. No, that inevitable end has been in the works for years. Back in April of 2015 in this space we ran an item under the headline Unemployed Elephants. It read as follows:

A Circus without elephants? John Ringling must be spinning in his grave. But that’s the word from Feld Entertainment, owners of The Greatest Show on Earth. Apparently bowing to pressure from animal rights groups like PETA, Feld announced (in March of 2015) that the magnificent creatures will be fazed out of the Ringling shows. Can the Lions, tigers and bears (and their trainers) be far behind?

Soon the gentrification of the traditional circus will be complete and we’ll be left with something entirely different… Call it “Circus Light,” or “The Formerly Greatest Show on Earth,” but for generations of circus families who have made this area their home, the news must be disheartening….”

Turns out even those dire predictions were far too optimistic. By caving in to their detractors, the Ringling Bros. Circus alienated the core group that has supported it over the past 140 years, gutting its business model in an ultimately futile attempt to please those bent on its demise.

Juliette Feld, chief operating officer of Feld Entertainment, admitted as much in an Associated Press story last week, saying that when the elephants left, there was a dramatic drop in ticket sales.

“We know now that one of the major reasons people came to Ringling Brothers was getting to see the elephants,” adding with what is either an apocryphal realization of the magnitude of the company’s blunder, or a case of false bravado in justifying it: “We stand by that decision…We know it was the right decision. This is what the audience wanted to see and it definitely played a major role.”

Which decision is she referring to? The one validated by 138 years of circus history with elephants or the decision two year ago to jettison them? The AP story as it ran in the Herald Tribune doesn’t make the context of her comments clear. But either way, the Ringling Bros. Circus will soon be gone, and with it 500 jobs, many of them held by folks with deep ties to this area.

Oh, and just as importantly, many kids will never get to experience the excitement of a real circus coming to town.

There’s a lesson in all of this when it comes to standing up to those who care little for you and in turn supporting those who do. It’s a lesson as old as time itself, with all the drama worthy of the center ring of a glorious three ring circus. We see it every day with players large and small, rising or falling, in sports, in our workplaces, in the arts, and most visibly today, in politics.

You have to believe though that John Ringling would have trusted his instincts and avoided the trap set for his beloved circus.

New Event Planned for Downtown Sarasota

After the forced exodus of the far too noisy and unrefined Thunder by the Bay motorcycle rally/charity fundraiser in downtown Sarasota (after an 18-year run), a new event to celebrate the city and all it represents is on the drawing board. The working name? 
Slumber By the Bay. It will likely start by 4:00 p.m. and be over by 4:45 p.m. so residents can catch an early bird dinner special and be home snug in their beds by 7:00 p.m.

Bumper Sticker of the Day…

“Zombies Eat Brains (Don’t Worry, You’re Safe)”

The Little Airport that Couldn’t

Once upon a time the excuse for flat or declining passenger counts at the grandiosely named Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) was its proximity to the much larger Tampa International just 42 miles as the crow flies to the north. Okay, but if that’s the case, then why are passenger counts soaring at just about every other small to medium sized airport in the region while SRQ’s numbers are stuck in a holding pattern?

Millions have been spent in recent years on runway and other infrastructure improvements, including work underway now on a new state-of-the-art air traffic control tower.

Still, the latest year-over-year numbers (through November of 2016) show little in the way of a reasonable return on investment. A total of 1,190,940 passengers passed through SRQ through the 12-month period ending December 1st, 2016, versus 1,213,804 for the same period last year. In 2011, the yearly count was 1,306,464 while the region was still dealing with the impact of the Great Recession.

Meantime, up the road in Pinellas County, St. Pete-Clearwater Airport celebrated its second consecutive record year with a tally of 1,837,035 passengers.

Even upstart Punta Gorda Airport to the south in Charlotte County is going gangbusters, surpassing the 1 million-passenger mark for the first time last year. The airport wasn’t even on the air traffic radar screen a decade ago, while SRQ’s roots extend back to 1939.

So clearly, these other airport management staffs are succeeding in ways SRQ and its management is not. Yet I don’t recall much in the way of media attention for this issue in the local press, while larger state and national stories take wing with an outsized proportion of reporting resources.

Which just might be part of the problem.

Do What We Say, Not What We Do…

The Hollywood Glitterati talk a big game when it comes to setting a positive example for young girls by not objectifying women and thereby promoting unreasonable body image anxiety. But then along comes an event like the Golden Globes and what do you get? More cleavage than you’re likely to find anywhere this side of the San Andreas fault.

Speaking of California…

Disappointment over the recent election results reportedly led to suggestions from some California activists that the state secede from the union and strike out on its own. But they might want to rethink that. Republicans would likely be among the biggest supporters of such a move. Without the state’s reliable 55 electoral votes in their column, Democrats would be hard-pressed to ever win a national election again.

Toll Scofflaw Nabbed by FHP

It looked like something straight out of a James Bond flick. An FHP officer was following a car driven by Joshua West, 27, of Apopka recently as it approached a toll plaza on the 408 Expressway near Orlando. Suddenly, the officer noticed a black screen descend over the plate, obscuring it from the tag reading cameras that tally the toll charge. Shortly after clearing the toll plaza, the screen went back up. West was pulled over and the FHP officer found a small hand held device West used to control the ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ license plate curtain.

So according to FHP Sgt. Kim Montes, for the price of a $1.25 toll, West now faces hefty fines and a felony charge for his efforts.

Just Following Instructions…

Caught on camera and now viral, a TV news reporter was finishing up an interview with a young jogger at an event in Australia and wanted to make sure he had his facts right, so he asked the woman for her name and then asked, “could you spell first and last for me?”

Her reply: “F-I-R-S-T, L-A-S-T."

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