Between our big book events and savvy bookstores, quite a few famous authors have appeared around the bay. In 2018, we have two major book events: the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Tampa in March, with keynote speaker George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo) and many more authors, and Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, in St. Petersburg in September, with a first-time-here appearance by Scottish author Ian Rankin, creator of the Rebus series.
But there's one major holdout.
J.K. Rowling: The creator of the Harry Potter books and all that followed makes vanishingly few public appearances, and the closest she's come to the Tampa Bay area was the gala opening of Wizarding World in Orlando (which was not exactly a book signing). I know it's not supposed to work on people, but maybe if we all say it together: Accio Jo!
A few more authors I would love to see here (maybe at a future Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading): Lee Child, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Louise Erdrich, Barbara Kingsolver and George R.R. Martin.
Colette Bancroft, Times book editor
With six of the top 10 most-attended theme parks in the world, Florida has little to complain about when it comes to amusement. But still, there are attractions that elude us.
Cars Land at Disney World: Cars Land opened in summer of 2012 at Disney's California Adventure, and it was an instant hit. There has been talk ever since of duplicating the success in Orlando. But with Toy Story Land opening next summer at Hollywood Studios and a huge Star Wars land in 2019, hopes of a Cars Land carbon copy appear to be parked.
Super Nintendo World: Universal announced two years ago it would bring the video game world to its theme parks but the first new land is going to Japan. Could Orlando be next to get a Mario Kart ride or Peach's Castle? Or will California cut in line? With Japan's Super Nintendo World opening in 2020, the best video game fans can hope for in Orlando is a 2021 opening.
A giga coaster at Busch Gardens: The Tampa park has the most thrill rides of any Florida theme park, so why not up the ante and get a 300-foot tall coaster to top them all? Its sister park SeaWorld just opened Florida's first hypercoaster (200 feet) with Mako and the hot trend for air-time junkies has spawned the term giga coaster for a drop of at least 300 feet. The skyscraper-like hills of giga coasters help them generate intense speeds as they dive back to the ground. It's the best way to distinguish Busch Gardens from the big spenders at Universal and Disney.
Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Times staff writer
In-N-Out: There are only four things on the menu: hamburger, cheeseburger, a double-double and french fries. Plus Coke products and a lineup of three shakes. Yet In-N-Out Burger's cult status is undeniable. Live in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Texas, and you're gloating. Live elsewhere? You're gnashing your teeth in frustration, harkening back to that beautiful trip to Irvine when you ordered the double-double "animal style" (that means extra pickles, cheese, grilled onions and dressing mixed together and spooned over your burger). There are whole websites devoted to In-N-Out's many charms, rock songs written in its honor and celebrities who have famously swooned over its burgers (Sammy Hagar, PGAer Phil Mickelson, even chef Gordon Ramsay). In 2011, there was cruel hoax involving an "In-N-Out, Coming Soon" sign, but no dice.
Shake Shack: In a similar vein. Waaaa, how come Orlando gets three outposts and we have none? This American fast-casual restaurant chain based in New York City and started by Danny Meyer started out as a food cart inside Madison Square Park in 2004. Why is it so culty? First, it's about quality of ingredients (100 percent antibiotic-free Angus beef, buttered buns, applewood-smoked bacon, cherry peppers). But it's probably also about ShackSauce (folks could drink it) and peanut butter milkshakes (could drink them more).
Chevy's Fresh Mex: This is a more personal pick, a casual California chain where I used to be able to consume a dinner made entirely of still-warm, just-from-the-fancy-tortilla-machine chips and finely pureed house-made salsa that always had delicious smoky-charry tomato bits in it. Oh, washed down with several happy hour margaritas, heavy salt rim. There was a Chevy's some years back in Kissimmee, but it appears that all traces of this chain have been removed from the state of Florida.
Laura Reiley, Times food critic
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema: What's the big deal? Practically all multiplexes these days sell beer and grub. Yes, but only Alamo Drafthouse Cinema places as much importance on proper movie etiquette as selling food.
Alamo currently operates 28 locations, 17 in Texas where the franchise began. The nearest to Tampa Bay is Charlottesville, Va., but may be worth the road trip for some courtesy. Talking and cellphone usage is strictly prohibited during screenings, a 20-year, seriously enforced policy made clear with amusing public service announcements. One customer ejected for texting in 2011 called back, leaving an obscene voicemail that became part of a PSA that went viral.
Children under 2 aren't allowed except on specific days with relaxed rules. Minors must be accompanied by adults, with the exception of teenagers 15 to 17 passing a course in movie etiquette that includes getting to the show on time. I'd suggest making adults take the test, too.
Alamo Drafthouses also host novelty film nights, offbeat festivals and live performances that local audiences surely would support. The menu ranges from concession stand staples to gourmet sandwiches and alcoholic milkshakes. Toss in bottomless popcorn and wonder: Why not here?
Steve Persall, Times movie critic
Sarah Chang: The top bucket-list spot goes to the violinist, who has been blowing away classical music lovers everywhere but here. The Korean-American superstar entered the Juilliard School at age 5; by age 9 she had soloed with the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Chang not only survived prodigy status, she deepened and matured with age, becoming celebrated for her virtuosity and expressiveness. At 23, she ran with the Olympic Torch for the 2004 Olympics and became the youngest person to win the Hollywood Bowl's Hall of Fame award. Still one of music's most sought-after talents, she has not appeared closer to the Tampa Bay area than Daytona Beach.
Passion: Locals might also warm to Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's counterintuitive love story centered on a manipulative and sickly woman in 19th century Italy. The one-act earned a 1994 Tony for best musical but disappointed at the box office — a result, Sondheim opined, of cutting too close to the bone, reminding audiences of their own foibles. (Hat tip to alert reader Becca McCoy for this suggestion.)
Andrew Meacham, Times performing arts critic