Tuesday, July 17, 2018
News Roundup

Carlton: This guy's behind the tiki buzz all over Tampa (w/video)

The first act of urban guerrilla art occurred in broad daylight, with a chain saw.

Drivers headed across the N Boulevard bridge toward downtown Tampa saw him: a tall guy studying a dead pine by the sidewalk. He carried a smallish chain saw I would later learn he calls "Little Precious."

As he worked, a bold face and body emerged in the bark, a deep-carved, detailed wooden tiki. Then Jeff Chouinard, the guy with the chain saw, was gone. To the store for a Popsicle, it turns out, random roadside art being thirsty work.

Mystery tikis started appearing from the trunks of dead-but-still-standing trees around town — near the interstate, on Davis Islands, beside the rusty barbed wire around the old armory, near a vacant lot. In a city in the process of transforming itself into something more interesting, these tikis were that.

"I knew it!" Tom Snelling, the city's director of planning and development, said when I told him about Chouinard. "I knew he was a ninja artist, that was my gut feeling. Everybody I've talked to loves it."

From Robin Nigh, manager of the city's art programs: "I think it's fun."

Chouinard is a 46-year-old former repo man who tried tiki carving after he lost a salesman's job. He was utterly hooked. He's a surfer dude who got his first chain saw as payback from a buddy who lost a cast net Chouinard lent him. He wore that first one out in six months.

He lives in a shady 1928 bungalow near the Hillsborough River with a big white American bulldog named Dinky, who is not. She is white with a black and brown patch over one eye and a tail that thumps the porch. The CEO, he calls her.

His yard is like some mad botanical Santa's workshop: Tikis of every size, and logs that will one day become them, surround his house like wild sprouting mushrooms. A series of short, fierce tiki sentries carved from his mother's mango tree — "Mango carves really nice," he says — are in progress. Everything but the dog is blanketed in sawdust, especially his shoes.

Oak, he says, is like carving stone, but he likes cypress and cedar. Surf Soul Tiki says the logo on his pickup.

He gets two kinds of customers: The regular joe who wants a kitschy tiki by the pool, and hard-core tiki lifestylers who wear tropical shirts and mix mai tais to sip in their tiki mugs. Hey, there's room for everyone.

Chouinard says he doesn't make much money, but he also doesn't have to lie to a boss about being sick when the waves are up over in Cocoa Beach.

And "Little Precious"? His chain saw (and Dinky) are his companions, so, "probably for the same reason Tom Hanks named his volleyball Wilson," he says.

So how did he become Tampa's random urban tiki artist?

When you are always looking for wood, he explains, you get good at bird-dogging dead-but-useful trees. He kept passing the one at the base of the bridge and thinking how bad it looked. (His word was more colorful.) "I'm going to make it a tiki," he thought, so a couple of weeks ago, he got Little Precious out there and did.

He liked it so much he thought: "I'm going to have to make a bunch more of these now." He's at 11 so far.

People notice. Police stop to inquire. Motorists honk and wave and give him thumbs-up. And a city is a little more interesting for what's in it.

Comments
Editorial: Sacrificing two kayaks and a Toyota for free speech

Editorial: Sacrificing two kayaks and a Toyota for free speech

Maggy Hurchalla joked this spring that all she could offer a billionaire who won a $4.4 million judgment against her after she exercised her free speech rights were "two kayaks and an aging Toyota.’’ The billionaire didn’t laugh. This week, Martin Co...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
Louisiana shipbuilder hopes to bring 1,000 jobs to Tampa shipyard through Coast Guard icebreaker program

Louisiana shipbuilder hopes to bring 1,000 jobs to Tampa shipyard through Coast Guard icebreaker program

TAMPA — Tampa Ship could see the arrival of more than 1,000 new shipbuilding jobs if Louisiana-based Bollinger Shipyards wins a major contract to build up to six Coast Guard polar icebreakers.Bollinger could start staffing up at Tampa Ship, which has...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
Florida teen with peanut allergy dies after eating Chips Ahoy! cookie

Florida teen with peanut allergy dies after eating Chips Ahoy! cookie

A 15-year-old Florida girl with a peanut allergy died last month after she ate what she believed to be regular Chips Ahoy! Chewy cookies.Alexi Ryann Stafford, of Weston, was at a friend’s house when she grabbed the cookie while the re-sealable top of...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Updated: 1 hour ago
Video: Woman snatches purse out of motorized scooter in Largo

Video: Woman snatches purse out of motorized scooter in Largo

LARGO — Police detectives are searching for two women accused of snatching a purse from a 53-year-old woman on a motorized shopping cart.They pair were identified as Tanesha Gary, 36, and Shanan Diaz, 38. Largo police said there is probable cause to ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Updated: 1 hour ago
He walked 20 miles to work after his car broke down. His boss bought him a new one.

He walked 20 miles to work after his car broke down. His boss bought him a new one.

PELHAM, Ala. — An Alabama college student whose car broke down just before his first day of work made the 20-mile (32-kilometer) journey on foot, a feat that earned him fame — and a new car. News outlets report that hours before his first day working...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Updated: 1 hour ago
Watch this bicyclist ignore barriers, fall into gap on Wisconsin draw bridge

Watch this bicyclist ignore barriers, fall into gap on Wisconsin draw bridge

MENASHA, Wis. — Police say a bicyclist who weaved past the gates blocking access to a bridge over a river in eastern Wisconsin escaped serious injury after falling into the gap that was created when the bridge started to rise. Wisconsin Department of...
Updated: 1 hour ago
MLB commissioner confident Rays owner is ‘going to get’ stadium deal done

MLB commissioner confident Rays owner is ‘going to get’ stadium deal done

WASHINGTON – Acknowledging both the challenges and urgency to work out a public-private financing plan, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred on Tuesday expressed extreme confidence in Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg to make a de...
Updated: 1 hour ago