Hey, Gov. Rick Scott. Down here. It's us, Tampa Bay.
C'mon, you know us. Tampa Bay. The Tampa Bay area, the Tampa Bay region. Head south from Tallahassee. St. Petersburg, Tampa, Clearwater, lots of water. The Tampa Bay Rays, Bucs and Lightning. Hello?
Apparently, it didn't ring a bell.
This week, the newspaper where I've worked for more than two decades made news itself: The St. Petersburg Times is soon to become the Tampa Bay Times, a change reflecting its regional reach. (Having worked for years in Tampa at a paper named for St. Pete, I can tell you we've come a long way since the days the person you were interviewing would inevitably ask: So, you had to drive all the way across the bridge?)
Some people see the name change as a logical move forward. Others don't want to lose something familiar and iconic. Then there was the governor.
"That's interesting," Scott said. "Does the region call itself the Tampa Bay region? Is that what it calls itself? The region does?"
Hoo, boy. Sure is different from the days when the white-haired guy in line in front of you at a St. Pete Starbucks could turn out to be then-Gov. Charlie Crist, who grew up here.
A Scott spokesperson e-mailed me that reports about his comments "missed the boat." Of course the governor is familiar with Tampa Bay, fond of it even, having been here. (Well, he did get booed throwing out that first pitch at a Rays' game.) Scott just wasn't used to it being referred to as a "region."
Seriously? Sorry, but Scott sure came off as ignorant of the nuance and personality of the second-largest metro area of the state he governs — or at the very least, of the name used frequently by national announcers in town for the Grand Prix, Super Bowl or a Bucs game. It reminded me of the scene in Deliverance where these citified guys on a big canoe trip in the remote wilderness can't seem to find the actual river. A local scoffs at them darkly: "It ain't nothin' but the biggest (bleepin') river in the state."
Purists will tell you Tampa Bay is actually a body of water, not a thriving region of cities and counties. They would be right. But it's also what we've long called ourselves as we've grown and morphed, even if our towns maintain separate identities. And we can always tack on "region" or "area" for the purists.
Tampa Bay's population is not much smaller than that of the whole state the governor came here from, Connecticut. We're bigger than the metropolitan Kansas City area, where he grew up. We're also pretty important to Florida's economy and its future.
Maybe I shouldn't blame him. As my Old Florida relatives would say in gentle explanation of someone's social misstep: He ain't from here. He did just get here in 2003, with only weeks to spare to make the seven-year residency requirement for gubernatorial candidates.
But we'd be pleased to show him Tampa Bay, and not the body of water, either.
We could talk about him bringing some of those 700,000 promised jobs to our not-so-little corner of the state, given our local unemployment rate. We could show off the pristine beaches we hope will never see a lick of oil or view of a rig, and not just because of how those beaches contribute to our tourist economy.
Wouldn't mind at all. In Tampa Bay, that's just our way.