Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Human Interest

Opening Lines: A Floridian, by definition

‘Are you packing now?"

The question made perfect sense, and it floored me anyway. My old friend wanted to know if I had a gun on me.

We were sitting in the bar at the new Epicurean Hotel, drinking some fancy whisky and celebrating our chance encounter that morning on the sidewalk in downtown Tampa. He was on vacation from New York. I had been dawdling over coffee before heading to St. Pete. We hadn't seen each other in more than 25 years, so now we were catching up in that broad-stroke way that must account for a lifetime of small decisions.

I had made the case that Florida was the greatest news state in the country. That morning's front page proved it: retired cop shoots man in movie theater over texting. I gave him my take on "stand your ground" and road rage and the number of concealed carry permits and gun show loopholes and a state full of strangers, and that's when he asked me: "Are you packing now?"

How could you ask me that, I wanted to say. I'm not talking about me. I'm talking about them — the rest of the state. Then I realized he was looking at a near stranger who had spent the last 23 years in Florida and figured rightly that I'm a Floridian.

"Yes," I said. "I'm packing two Bic pens and a notebook."

That's what I carry. That's the kind of Floridian I am.

You'll find ideas about identity running through this issue.

Terri Vee, the young gospel rapper you'll encounter in Dispatches From Next Door, pronounced her true self in a moment of peril, and it may have saved her life.

Sometimes we don't know what we want to be, as Michael Kruse makes clear in his essay on the increasingly problematic encounters between bears and people in Central Florida. We love nature — until it gets too close.

And on Page 12, several of the people behind the hugely successful Gasparilla Music Festival talk proudly about their role in defining and promoting Tampa. By the way, I'll be going to both days of this year's festival. Because that's the kind of Floridian I am.

Editor Bill Duryea can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8770.

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