A Long Time Ago on Clearwater Beach
By Anne McKay Garris
About ten years ago, the "Powers That Be" of Clearwater decided that we needed to replace our civic center/library with a dramatic statement for the entrance to Clearwater Beach. Thus, after useless debate and much fanfare, the roundabout at the entrance of Clearwater Beach, with all its attendant landscaping, was created. To add to the drama, a fountain was built in the center and, it was, especially when lighted at night, a spectacular sight. There was one problem. The circle in which the roundabout resided was designed without taking into account the Gulf breezes that swept across it on a regular basis. Thus, the unsuspecting driver could be happily making his way around the roundabout, eagerly searching for directions on how to exit, and carefully watching for adjacent vehicles, only to find himself, suddenly unable to see anything as the water from the fountain generously covered his windshield.
Additionally, the two-lane roundabout had four places where cars could potentially cross, and both lanes had the right-of-way. The number of resultant fender benders was not surprising.
For the next two years, the City government sought solutions to the problems caused by the roundabout because it was the only method of accessing Clearwater Beach, unless one drove all the way down to the Belleair Causeway, and back. There was much discussion and debate about how to "tweak" the roundabout, including a public meeting with an expert from England who suggested that Americans needed to be better educated on how to drive on roundabouts. He suggested instructions booklets be distributed. One irate citizen suggested that they build another roundabout in Coachman Park so drivers could practice before the drove the real thing on Clearwater Beach.
After a while the local humorists joined the fray. Someone suggested that the roundabout could be negotiated if you had a copy of a small red booklet, entitled The Thoughts of Chairman Mike (in memory of Chairman Mau of China and in honor of Clearwater City Manager Mike Roberto.) The subtitle would be "One City, Going Around in Circles."
Contents of the little red book, they said, might include such words of wisdom as:
"Ask not who has the right of way, ask, rather, who has the loudest horn."
"Love they neighbor! Use thy turn signal."
"Fear not the water from the fountain. It is drinking water, out of the mouths of babes."
"Count not the fender benders. The Police don't, so why should you."
Another contribution to the humor was the rumor that the City of Clearwater was being sued for violation of separation of church and state, as drivers, facing the challenge of driving the roundabout, felt forced to pray.
In less than three years, the lovely fountain was removed and replaced by a grassy field. So much for the dramatic entrance to Clearwater Beach!
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