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Dispatches

  1. Dispatches from Next Door: Burn survivor's words are the balm that soothe

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — “Joe Versaggi," he said, lightly bumping fists with the young man in the hospital bed. "Burn survivor."

    Joe Versaggi, 71, has always loved to fly. He was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and flew on hundreds of death-defying missions that he survived. But eight years ago, the Cessna a friend was flying crashed and left Joe with burns covering 35 percent of his body. He now volunteers at Tampa General Hospital, where he splits his time between driving the courtesy shuttle and talking to the survivors in the burn unit.
  2. Dispatches From Next Door: The cabana boy grows up

    Human Interest

    CLEARWATER BEACH — His rusting Nissan puttered up the Memorial Causeway Bridge, its engine wheezing. Mike McIntosh peered at purple clouds swirling just south. "I don't like weather looking like this," he said, his voice a slow-grinding blender. That wind, Mike knew, would make a hard day harder. He coughed and …

    Mike McIntosh has worked at Clearwater Beach for nearly two decades. But time and tide stop for no man, and Mike can’t be the cabana boy forever.
  3. Dispatches from next door: A new stage in life

    Human Interest

    TEMPLE TERRACE — The young woman gripping the microphone glided onto the stage, her 4-inch black heels thumping the thin carpet. "Check, check, check," she said. "Mike one." That evening in Temple Terrace, she prepared to headline a concert for kids in a church hall no bigger than a double-wide mobile home. It had …

    Gospel rapper Terri Saffold, a.k.a. Terri Vee
  4. Dispatches From Next Door: The pale glow of a brighter day

    Human Interest

    PINE ISLAND — He squatted between a bleeding air mattress and a coffeemaker perched on a blue cooler. It was still dark in his new home, around 7 a.m. A lamp cast a web of shadows over the creases around his tired green eyes. Fred Bellet stood, and at 5 feet 6, his head nearly touched the ceiling. Behind him, two …

    Too proud to take offers of staying in friends' homes, Fred Bellet took a former neighbor up on pitching a tent in his backyard, right next to his old house in Spring Hill. Evenings are spent warmed by the glow of one of his favorite TV shows on Hulu lighting up his tent as Bellet sits outside under the stars with his dog Zeke and winds down before bed.
  5. Dispatches From Next Door: Cast off, she finds peace

    Human Interest

    MADEIRA BEACH — She cracks open the first can of Busch at 6:22 a.m. "Ching ching," she says, holding it up to her roommate. "To a good day, a good trip." She has endured five days on land and off the water. Too long. She needs to go. The sun has just risen as she climbs onto her purple Schwinn Ranger and rides …

    With a tumultuous life full of drinking, drugging and fighting, one of the last female crabbers and longline fishers left in Madeira Beach, the only peace “Hollywood” Kim Imhoff finds is at sea, where she knows no one can hurt her.
  6. Dispatches From Next Door: A woman and a horse, learning to trust again

    Human Interest

    PLANT CITY — The petite blond in the middle of the round pen lets a rope and riding whip roll from her fingers onto the dirt. A horse, charcoal and white, circles warily. There is much he doesn't know about her. Why she's here. Why — since he was rescued last summer, his teeth rotten and skin drooping …

    Marilyn Shamblin
  7. Dispatches From Next Door: Memphis blues contest heats up long-simmering dream

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — The little brown-haired girl crouched on her bedroom floor, twisting the box radio's knob through the static. Only at night did the waves from the New York stations reach her home in single-stoplight Pendleton, S.C. When the dial was turned just so, and the sounds of Gladys Knight and Otis Redding …

    MELISSA LYTTLE   |   Times
  8. Dispatches From Next Door: Lookin' for love … in Sun City Center

    Human Interest

    SUN CITY CENTER — He reached for a round brush next to a green box of Polident. The bristles glided through his fading, feathery blond hair. From his medicine cabinet, beneath a shelf of pill bottles for blood pressure and cholesterol, he plucked a glass jar of 212 Sexy Men cologne. Nine puffs draped him in a …

  9. Dispatches from next door: Keeping a lifelong promise

    Human Interest

    Lealman — She closed her eyes and bowed her head. She pressed her hands together beneath her chin. Words fluttered from her lips.

    Oanh Kim Tran and her husband Mang Van Nguyen pray at the white statue of the Buddhist deity Quan Am.