It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.
Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was.
Asshole Daytona International Speedway & Truck Meet 2021
“The last Dictate of the Judgement, concerning the Good or Bad, that may follow on any Action, is not properly the whole Cause, but the last Part of it, and yet may be said to produce the Effect necessarily, in such Manner as the last Feather may be said to break a Horses Back, when there were so many laid on before as there want but that one to do it.”
— Thomas Hobbs, 1684
In the aftermath of the DIS sponsored Truck Meet 2021, one former area law enforcement official made the astute observation on social media, “This event is the trashiest spectacle of shit-faced miscreants I have yet experienced. Whatever money we make off of it isn’t enough.”
Other beachside locals have described it as the “worst event ever seen,” (that is saying something, considering most long-time residents are hardened veterans of some truly noxious events).
It appears this may have been the straw that broke that swayback camels back. . .
Now, as the dust settles and the glaring echoes of train horns fade, there remains more questions than answers.
One thing is certain, those old fogeys at the helm of the Daytona Beach lodging, hospitality, and tourism industry seem incapable of experiential learning – the ability to gain understanding from past mistakes – then use that hard-earned knowledge to their strategic advantage.
If they had the capacity for heuristic reflection, perhaps someone in a position of influence would say “enough is enough,” finally realizing that this level of mass mayhem is irreparably damaging our product.
Perhaps its time to change that?
Earlier this week, in a piece entitled “Daytona’s Definition of Insanity,” I jotted down some thoughts on the pros and cons of a hospitality industry based on binge tourism, an event driven boom/bust market that prospers when the carnival comes to town and eats beans in between, rather than develop a sustainable year-round draw punctuated with the well-managed traditional events Daytona Beach is famous for.
Interestingly, others felt that this annual truck bacchanalia should continue – but only if it can be better organized and more effectively controlled.
History has proven that it cannot.
For years, the Halifax area has hosted various custom truck meets that began as little more than a social media flash mob – with thousands of lifted pickup trucks descending on Daytona Beach, burning rubber on Atlantic Avenue and racing down neighborhood streets, blasting obnoxious train horns, and “rolling coal,” spewing dense clouds of acrid black diesel smoke into the humid spring air, all while rowdy young boys and girls try desperately to see and be seen, drinking beer, cruising the strip, everyone doing their best to perpetuate the anything goes atmosphere our tourist officials spent lavishly to cultivate:
Wide. Open. Fun.
A carefully crafted image of an off-the-rails “party town” – a place where the rules are different and visitors are free to ‘do whatcha wanna’ without concern or consequence – a return to the bad old days when the term “came on vacation, left on probation” became the unofficial slogan of the Daytona Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Unfortunately, no one in the moribund Halifax area hospitality hierarchy seems interested in finding a reasonable balance – I mean, why consider the source, so long as they can disingenuously commiserate with traumatized residents – then crow about sold out room nights and bed-tax increases in the newspaper, eh?
It’s not like we weren’t warned.
Our exalted ‘powers that be’ hire experts to give educated advice, develop a unique “brand,” then sell it to the masses in select markets around the country.
So, why won’t anyone listen to them?
Early last year, as the specter of the Coronavirus pandemic loomed, the Halifax Area Advertising Authority held a workshop to discuss alternatives to the widely panned Wide. Open. Fun. campaign created by The Brandon Agency, the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (?) based marketing firm that brought the controversial slogan to life in November 2017.
According to a February 2020 article by reporter Jim Abbott writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, at that confab a Brandon executive made the painfully obvious observation that The Worlds Most Famous Beach suffers from a deteriorating image problem:
“Compared with 15 other regional markets that included St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Cocoa Beach and Panama City Beach, Daytona Beach ranked third in familiarity, but ranked 10th in favorability, said Andy Kovan, one of the Brandon executives at the workshop.”
“Survey comments focused on the area’s “a reputation of being more of a Spring Break/party destination more than a family destination.” Another characterized it as “full of trashy bars and people.”
“We have a perception issue and it’s a big one,” Kovan told the board members, “and we’ve chosen to ignore it in a lot of the advertising. In the new ad, “people who have a perception problem, we’re going after them in a way that we never have before.”
Was that not clear enough?
How about the highly touted 2018 Beachside Redevelopment Committee chaired by former Brown & Brown executive Tony Grippa – a Blue Ribbon think tank comprised of our best and brightest minds – the crème de la crème of our social, civic, business, and political elite – who, after months of deliberation, came up with the simple suggestion:
“Expand the opportunities to make the beach a year-round destination for all visitors.”
Among the panel’s other wholly ignored recommendations was improving “…the perception of the entire region, with a focus on a variety of residential, recreational, cultural and entertainment opportunities in the area.”
Yet, nobody who should seems to give two-shits.
Why is that?
Certainly not those elected and appointed officials who commissioned these expensive studies in the first place – especially after they have served their true purpose as a time-buying political insulation ploy, putting time and distance between them and a horrifying News-Journal exposé on “Daytona’s troubled beachside.”
Now, the Grippa report collects mold in a musty records morgue somewhere in DeLand – bookending the 2011 Tourism Study – the results of a $100,000 comprehensive analysis ordered by the Volusia County Council – which concluded our beachside “tourism product” was a serious impediment to attracting visitors and economic development, finding, more ominously, “…there is no “plan” for who is leading the effort and how these challenges can be improved.”
What’s changed a decade later?
(Stop asking questions, Barker. You are making some very important people uncomfortable. . .)
I’m just a little confused.
If we have repeatedly been warned by numerous high-priced marketing gurus – expensive out-of-town “experts” with a nice suit and briefcase – that the Daytona Beach Resort Area is widely perceived as a down-at-the-heels, anything goes, trash strewn honky tonk, then why are stalwarts like Daytona International Speedway and the Convention & Visitors Bureau (the event was listed on their website) still tacitly promoting these horribly corrosive three-day/two-night beer-soaked debauches that advance the very image everyone tells us must change if we want to survive as a tourist destination?
Perhaps the problem goes back to the Halifax area’s acute dissociative identity disorder – which manifests as our historic inability to decide who and what we are – let alone determine what we aspire to be.
Trust me – you will get a wide variety of answers to those questions depending upon who you ask. . .
Are we a “family-oriented destination” – or a kick-out-the-jams beer, boobs, and bikes party scene centered on the World Center of Racing?
Many believe we are a throwback to another time, where a few uber-wealthy insiders pass the same nickel around and the rest of us scramble and scrape for crumbs – where ingenuity and a level playing field has been replaced by a thriving “Good ‘Ol Boys” network that permeates politics to gain an unfair advantage and stifles entrepreneurial investment outside tightly controlled alliances.
A divided community of haves and have-nots struggling to find an elusive identity, while the blight and dilapidation of the beachside contrasts with the malignant growth and boomtown atmosphere to the west, as our elected and appointed officials prove, time-and-again, how reluctant they are to change the stagnant status quo.
A neglected diamond-in-the-rough that, to those of us with the right set of eyes, still possesses all the facets to shine brightly.
Regardless, everyone agrees we remain a cautionary tale to the tourist mecca of Central Florida’s I-4 corridor – an ominous warning of the fate that awaits those who fail to protect and promote that which makes them unique in a vast sea of vacation destinations.
In my view, the strong opinions held by those on both sides of the “special events” issue provides a unique opportunity for Daytona Beach’s bright new City Manager, Deric Feacher, to start a productive dialog with stakeholders, listen to constituents, conduct an independent cost/benefit analysis of both sanctioned and “pop-up” events, then create a means for residents and the business community to inform their elected officials – and our seemingly stuck-on-stupid hospitality industry – of those things we will, and will not, tolerate in the place we live, work, learn, and play.
I know, I know – don’t hold your breath, right?
If history repeats (and it always does for those who refuse to learn from it) once this latest hangover passes, I suspect the Halifax area’s addiction to a quick buck regardless of the destructive cost will continue.
For now, gird your loins, folks – Trucktoberfest 2021 is just around the corner. . .
Angel Rev. Larry Edwards & First Lady Gwen Azama-Edwards
If we are lucky, true angels will be placed in our path that positively impact the trajectory of our lives in ways large and small – generous souls who seek to guide and encourage us, asking nothing in return – providing that strong shoulder to lean on, or a swift kick in the backside just when we need it most.
The Rev. Larry Edwards has been a blessing in my life.
During my professional life as Chief of Police for a diverse community, Rev. Edwards served as a spiritual, social, and civic mentor, always encouraging me to do the right thing, for the right reason, regardless of political pressure.
Given his vast experience serving as chaplain for the Daytona Beach Police Department and good work with the State Attorney’s Office – standing at the nexus of law enforcement and the needs of the community – Rev. Edwards developed a strong reputation for resolving conflicts using street-level diplomacy, and the ability to disentangle seemingly intractable problems in hotspots from Daytona Beach to Virginia Beach, Dallas, Miami Beach, Columbus, and Myrtle Beach.
Given the universal respect Rev. Edwards commands, before my retirement in 2014, he graciously helped me form a multidenominational executive advisory committee comprised of area clergy to provide advice and support to the members of my agency as we worked to improve police-community relations.
That special relationship is what first brought a wayward sinner like me into the openhearted sanctuary of St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Holly Hill, a place where a white police officer was welcomed with a warm embrace, made to feel at home, and could worship shoulder-to-shoulder with a predominantly African American congregation while building the kind of trust that only comes from a true sense of friendship.
I value those experiences to this day.
For over 20-years, Rev. Larry Edwards and his beautiful wife, First Lady Gwen Azama-Edwards, tended to the spiritual needs of their devoted flock with pastoral care and a message of God’s love for his children.
Earlier this month, Rev. Edwards gave his last sermon from the pulpit at St. John’s as he said goodbye to the church he served so well, for so long.
But his “retirement” would not last long.
On Monday, Rev. Edwards accepted an appointed by Pastor Victor Gooden of New Life Church Ministries to serve in the important role of Pastor of Evangelism effective immediately.
In addition, Minister Gwen Azama-Edwards will complete her ordination under Pastor Gooden’s tutelage.
Kudos and hearty congratulations to my dear friends on this exciting new chapter in their spiritual lives in service to a grateful community!
Quote of the Week
“Mayor Henry, Members of the Commission, and Manager Feacher:
As a resident of the Woodland Avenue Daytona Beach, I cannot express strongly enough my outrage at what occurred in our city last weekend. The reckless behavior and total lawlessness and disrespect for our city shown by these vandals was both frightening and sickening.
These were not tourist, they were vandals.
The maddening thing is that it was totally predictable, and the entire administration left the citizens you all were either elected to, or hired to, protect exposed to danger. You had to know, or should have known, what was going to happen…we had last year to predict what this year would bring. Yet you did nothing other than handout the pink Ps… truly a pitiful response to an invasion of lawbreaking not seen since the days of BCR and possibly worse.
The Commission found time to outlaw kids flying kites and skateboarding in Riverfront Park but took a nap on this obvious danger to your residents
Social media is full of videos depicting all types of lawlessness including a shooting for all to see around the world on what you allowed to occur in Daytona Beach….are you proud?…harsh? I don’t think so. If all of you resigned in mass it would not be too drastic a reaction to what you are doing to the town you are all supposed to be serving.
Why was the Speedway not forced to apply for a special event permit? Did anyone really think the “event” was going to be contained to the track? Does the possibility of bringing money into the city a justification to allow any behavior in your view? Do you not see yet the long-term damages these types of events cause the city? Now we want to revisit the process of actually considering a return of this destructive invasion of vandals?
Insanity to even consider it!
Heads up to you who are still sleeping. There has been an escalation in lawlessness in recent events each one more volatile than the last. Your lack of leadership has left your police department in a position of having a policy of appeasement rather than enforcement. Sending a message now to the entire world that anything goes in Daytona Beach…. Show some courage and leadership or step down.”
–Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach and longtime area resident, in an open letter to Daytona Beach city officials, Tuesday, June 15, 2021
And Another Thing!
On Wednesday evening during the regular meeting of the Daytona Beach City Commission, the elected and appointed officials did something truly admirable.
The City Commission voted unanimously to restore the time-honored democratic tradition of providing citizens a voice in the governance of their community when they rightfully returned public participation as a regular part of the business meeting.
The vote included extending a speaker’s time to a full three-minutes and featuring citizen remarks on the city’s public access broadcast.
It is my long-held belief that all substantive civic progress stems from a robust debate and the open competition of ideas – a thoughtful consideration of innovative concepts – a meaningful civic outlet for dissent and discussion.
Rarely are good public policy decisions made in a vacuum – especially true when elected officials emotionally distance themselves from their constituents by building a hubristic wall of arrogance and infallibility – a strategy that invariably results in festering animosity on both sides of the dais.
This was truly an important moment as City Manager Feacher begins the process of slowly draining the mote, opening the fortified portcullis, and letting sunlight shine brightly in the dank inner sanctum at City Hall after nearly 20-years of effective darkness.
Then, Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young gave a comprehensive overview of the unmitigated havoc that descended on the community last weekend in the form of Truck Meet 2021 – an anarchic shit show that taxed officers and staff to their operational, physical, and emotional limits.
And he rightfully wants it to go away.
It was a story of organizational courage that highlighted Chief Young’s extraordinary leadership skills – and exemplified his pride and affection for the community he serves.
His efforts and professionalism during the latest Siege of Daytona spoke for themselves – but his impassioned words and complete transparency earned him the respect and admiration of grateful citizens and elected officials.
Then, with Mayor Derrick Henry moderating, the elected officials engaged in a sober and thoughtful discussion of an event that is, by any metric, a growing threat to public safety – and rapidly destroying the city’s international reputation – something we have been forewarned is crippling our ability to draw visitors in support of our most important industry.
In my view, it was a positive meeting – one the elected officials, and the good citizens of Daytona Beach, can be proud of.
To paraphrase the immortal words of Neil Armstrong:
It was one small step for the Daytona Beach City Commission – one giant leap for the long-suffering citizens of the Halifax area.
For the first time in memory, in a David and Goliath moment, the City of Daytona Beach boldly stood firm and let the leadership of Daytona International Speedway (who, for decades, have wielded unconditional influence over civic affairs) know that there is some shit we won’t eat.
While Mayor Henry called DIS “partners” with the city – not “enemies” – it was clear Daytona Beach officials put them on notice.
The residents of east Volusia will no longer tolerate being set upon by thousands of out-of-control renegades, literally and figuratively pissing on our streets, front lawns, and community standards, terrorizing our neighborhoods, viciously brawling in front of our children, driving destructively on our beach, and leaving (accurately) tons of trash behind – as some out-of-town promoter sidesteps any financial responsibility – then rides away with a fat wad of cash.
All while the next storm builds. . .
With community emotions running high, during Wednesday night’s meeting, Mayor Henry made it clear that those tone-deaf corporate money-grubbers at DIS have not yet made a formal decision on whether they will sponsor this, and similar, bleed-over events in the future.
With residents, government, and business owners looking for assurance, why the suspense?
Perhaps that tells us all we need to know about the Speedway’s ultimate commitment to the health and safety of our community?
In my view, the Daytona Beach City Commission, Chief Young, and City Manager Deric Feacher deserve our respect for standing up to those untouchables in the Daytona International Speedway’s executive suite, holding them to account for their irresponsible sponsorship of an event that they knew, or should have known, would inflict such an indelible wound on The Worlds Most Famous Beach and beyond.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!