John D. McDonald, Wayne Daltry and a Different Flash of Green

The current discussion in Florida over the expansion of gambling has put me in mind of the 1994 drive to add more casinos here, a drive I covered in my previous life.

Specifically I remember the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council discussing the proposal and whether the members and the governments they represented should support it. They decided not to, based largely on a creative and to-the-point report by RPC executive director Wayne Daltry.

Now Daltry was – and is – an interesting character. He is one of those guys who is almost always the smartest guy in any room he walks into. Those at the RPC, a 6-county board of elected and appointed members that held great sway before Gov. Rick Scott gutted the agencies, knew that. They asked Daltry for a recommendation.

That recommendation came in the form of a ‘green sheet’, a sort-of report that accompanied all RPC agenda items in those days. It was, to say the least, memorable.

In it Daltry, who had known the Florida novelist personally, quoted John D. McDonald at some length. McDonald invented the ‘scruffy south Florida detective investigates weird crimes’ genre that so many others – Randy White, Carl Hiaasen, et al. – have ridden to success in more recent years.  This is from memory, so if it’s garbled it’s on me.

Daltry quoted a story that McDonald told in A Flash of Green, his 1962 novel. It was, like so many of McDonald’s works, a lament of the cost of unscrupulous development on the state he loved.

It seems there was this small mountain town that tourists loved to visit because it was quaint and picturesque and because it boasted beautiful views. People would visit to enjoy the small-town charm and the mountain vistas.

The town fathers, however, became addicted to the tourist revenue. It was decided that clearing a parcel of land would allow more people to enjoy the views, and a piece of land was cleared for that purpose. More people came and they spent more money and the local economy boomed.

The town fathers decided that clearing a larger parcel would mean still more visitors and with them more tourist revenue. In short order the job was done, and it did in fact bring more visitors.

Singing the ‘more is better’ refrain, the town fathers decided that flattening the top of the mountain would allow still larger crowds to visit and still more tourist spending, so that job was done, too.

But the town fathers had outsmarted themselves. The little mountain town was no longer quaint and picturesque, and there were no longer the view that drew crowds. The people stopped coming and the tourist revenue stopped.

But a developer came to the town fathers and explained that people really like amusement parks, and since the town now had a large empty clearing they allowed the developer to build one.

Once again tourists trooped to the town, spending their money at the amusement park. But it was different people, and the money didn’t flow to town residents, and it just wasn’t the same. And it was never the same again.

Daltry’s point, and McDonald’s, was that Florida can handle only so much and that its fragile nature should not be sacrificed at the altar of tourist spending. I relate this story because I have heard exactly zero of our elected officials discussing this aspect of expanded gambling in Florida.

‘And yes,’ Daltry says. ‘It came to pass just as JDMcD said it would.’

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