Over downtown breakfasts, in office break rooms, just before government meetings got started, you sometimes heard a question that was something of a Tampa ritual.
Did you see what Dan Ruth wrote today?
Because Ruth, longtime metro columnist at the Tampa Tribune and one of the paper's best-known voices, could fire one off, could reach into a desk drawer full of similes, assorted sarcasms and not-so-nice nicknames, and lock, load and shoot.
Beleaguered Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson? He was "that walking FEMA trailer," a guy with the management skills of Floyd the Barber and about as accessible as the state executioner.
The man formerly in charge of the state?
"Gov. Jeb Bush, R-The Royal Me."
When Hillsborough Commissioner Brian Blair waxed on in a discussion on pay and perks about how he awakens every day "to try to make a difference in this community," Ruth suggested he might consider sleeping in.
Bada bing, bada boom.
Love him or hate him, this was Ruth's shtick, his trick. Ronda Storms, Jim Norman — "You think of them as your children almost, because they kept you in such clover," says Ruth, pictured in the paper chin in hand, either daring you or just not believing what goes on around here.
Some politicians did not take it well. Others? "I thought he was funny," says former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco. "He's got more adjectives than are in the dictionary."
Between stints in Tampa, Ruth worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a reporter and TV critic. Tampa was different, though: "Mayberry with a skyline," a small city with big-city pretensions and thin-skinned politicians and, thus, oodles to write about.
He homed in on gazillionaire Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer after taxpayers were on the hook to buy the team's new digs. So forever after in Ruth's space it was not Raymond James but Helloooooo Sucker Stadium, or Wanna Buy A Duck? Stadium.
Glazer's (for the record, grown) sons Joel and Bryan were a running theme: "Glazer and his kiddos, Spanky and Alfalfa," they might be, or "Ne'er and Do Well," "Turner and Hooch" or "P and Diddy."
He came up with 400 variations. And he knew he was onto something when a stranger in the car next to him recognized his mug and called out, "Hey! How are Maalox and Kaopectate today?"
"I've been told they were not amused," Ruth says.
The newsroom in which he worked for 17 years this last stint was a place where you heard a lot of laughter, he says. But times are tough, in newspapers in particular.
Desks emptied, and he wondered every day if he would get the tap on the shoulder.
The call came Monday. He went in, cleaned out his desk. As he left, his colleagues stood and clapped, a full out standing O for a man and his pointed pen.
He is saddened, he says, and disappointed, but not bitter. It is a gift to count on one hand with fingers left over the number of days he woke up and did not want to go to work.
"I owe this business more than it owes me," he says.
He is 59, in graduate school. Who knows what the future holds in the world we're in?
But Dan Ruth's jabs from the front of the Trib's metro section are no more, and mornings in Tampa, not quite the same.