Oh, the indignity — even for a piece of public art already called the Exploding Chicken.
For more than two decades, the sculpture stood proud amid the high-rises of downtown Tampa, a massive metal burst of yellow, black and white on a street corner. It was our local landmark, as in "Meet me by the Exploding Chicken," and say no more.
But the Chicken's days facing busy Kennedy Boulevard were numbered, and I wanted a last look.
Poor Chicken. After all those years of dignified service to the city, it was a mere half Chicken, the rest already removed by a crane. Worse, the Chicken had been tagged with a black scrawl of urban graffiti across its white, uh, Chicken underparts. A last act of downtown disrespect.
As of this week, the Chicken is gone from its corner, and no, you will not hear me say "flew the coop" or "found a new roost." Not that the Chicken isn't used to it — the derisive comments that it is not arty enough, the dead-on nickname, the fowl puns. Consider this recent headline announcing its departure: It's poultry in motion.
And the Chicken has its bona fides! The officially untitled '80s-era sculpture was created by renowned artist George Sugarman, but got its waggish nickname from Tampa Tribune columnist Steve Otto. People love or hate it, sitting, appropriately enough, outside one of downtown's uglier structures called the Beer Can Building, for obvious reasons. What a town.
Truth be told, the Chicken was always more hard metal than sleek finesse, more gritty than pretty. It had to fight for every scrap of respect it got, a lot like the town around it.
Once, after I wrote about the possibility of Chicken eviction, an out-of-town morning radio show called to ask if I could come on air the next day to talk about it. Seemed an odd subject for them, but they called back to say never mind, they looked up some pictures and realized Tampa did not after all feature a statue of a giant exploding bird.
This is a weird town, but not that weird.
Even Mayor Pam Iorio could be circumspect on the subject of the Chicken. Once when I asked about it, she told me she thought it was "fine" — and not in a "That is one fine chicken" kind of way. Given its imminent departure, I recently pressed her on the question via e-mail:
Me: You never really liked the exploding chicken, did you?
Mayor: Why knock a chicken when it's down? In a new home it will be able to spread its wings.
Oh, mayor. You too?
America's Capital Partners, which bought the building and the art a couple of years back, asked the city if it might like the Chicken for its collection. "Never look a gift chicken in the mouth," says Bob McDonaugh, the urban development manager for downtown and the Channel District. Ultimately they decided on that Channel District, with its shops and restaurants and reputation for being a bit artsy.
Local companies stepped up to donate moving and engineering services, dismantled it piece by piece and hauled it to a city facility where it will get a major spiff-up, also donated. And soon, the Chicken will grace the traffic roundabout near the Florida Aquarium.
I will miss the downtown Chicken.
But maybe over there, amid the tourists and cruise ship passengers and partiers, even a whimsical Chicken can get a little respect.