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Food & Dining

For at least one driver, the RNC isn't on her radar

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 01:53 AM

Editor's note: During the week of the RNC, columnist Jeff Houck has been visiting restaurants, shops and other places to hear what people are saying about the convention, and to share what they care about (or whether they care at all).

Tameki Sanders sits silently in the waiting room at the Bureau of Administrative Reviews. Sitting cross-legged, she uses the large brown purse in her lap to prop up her cellphone as she checks text messages to kill time.

Sanders is at the small, bleach-paneled office on Hillsborough Avenue to request that a hearing officer restore her driving privileges. Six months ago, a judge suspended her license for six months after she was convicted of driving while intoxicated. She has stopped drinking, she says, and she needs a hardship exemption so she can drive from home to the factory where she assembles air filters.

A trail of bureaucratic bread crumbs must be followed within the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles if you wish to restart life as a mobile, productive citizen. If you get caught driving while intoxicated, refuse to submit to a chemical test or get too many points on your license, you'll eventually wind up here.

There are 17 such offices around the state. This one reviews all of the cases in Hillsborough, Hernando, Citrus and Polk counties. That means one office representing about 2.14 million Florida residents.

With no other bureau office near her home, Sanders had to get a ride for the roughly 45-mile trip from Bartow. She has all of her paperwork, including the document that shows she completed a DUI education class. She tried to take care of this last week, but her name didn't appear in the state's computer system. She never got a reason.

Sitting alone in the waiting room, the 39-year-old mother of three is a coil of barely contained energy. Wearing large silver earrings and a camel-colored dress with a gold full-length zipper down the front, she came dressed to impress.

Her toes are visible through the opening of a pair of gladiator sandals. Eight of them are painted green. Her two big toenails are yellow. Insert traffic light metaphor here.

Across the room on a large table covered with dark, wood-grain Formica, there are several collections of voter guides and voter registration applications. They have a thin coat of dust on them.

Sanders voted in the last election but won't say for whom. She does say she will be voting for him again.

She hasn't watched the Republican National Convention this week because, "I'm not a Republican." And she works nights, which is when the convention is on TV. It also means she should be sleeping now. Instead, she's making this 90-mile round trip. She isn't complaining.

"You make a mistake, you pay for it," she says. "It is what it is."

A hearing officer opens a door into the waiting room and says her name. She disappears into a conference room. Ten minutes later, she walks out. "Good luck," the officer says. He hands her the papers she needs. She will now go wait in another line, this time at the DMV for a license. Assuming she is in the computer system there, of course.

A few minutes later the front door opens. In walks Riverview defense attorney Donald Harrison. Not long after, in comes attorney Ed Schmoll, whose business card says he defends clients in criminal law, DUI and traffic ticket cases.

Harrison, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, is not in his attorney costume. Neither is Ed Schmoll, who is wearing pre-stressed jeans. The casual wear is a hint that the Republican National Convention has thrown a kink into their operations. With every major building in downtown Tampa surrounded by protective fences, the county's judicial system is in hibernation until after Labor Day.

Harrison is called back to talk with a hearing officer. Schmoll stays in the waiting room and talks about the empty restaurants he has seen and the empty rhetoric he has heard.

"My belief is that actions speak louder than words," Schmoll says. "But that's what I'm hearing; a lot of words again. And no, you're not talking to a Democrat."

Schmoll is summoned for a meeting. Harrison emerges with a resolved case. It went as well as could be expected. "It is what it is," he says.

He leaves the building and climbs into his Ford Ranger pickup. On the tailgate is a quote from Thomas Jefferson. In white letters, it reads: "When the people fear government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is freedom."

He backs the truck out of his parking spot and heads west on Hillsborough Avenue. He has a volleyball game later in the day.


jhouck@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7324
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