Nearly 20 years ago, after being away from Florida for a while, I returned to Tampa and the scribbling racket. At the time, there was a Hillsborough County commissioner by the name of Lydia Miller. She kept a dead cat in her freezer.
Ah, it was good to be home again.
To be sure, all of the state's 67 counties have had their fair share of, shall we say, eccentric people. This is Florida, after all, the single largest domestic exporter of material for the National Enquirer, TMZ and Jay Leno. (See: Gang, Dougherty.)
Yet, because of its long, rich history of indulgent pols, sexual escapades and its annual Gasparilla homage to debauchery and the charms of public urination, Hillsborough County has managed to loom as the crazy uncle locked up in the attic.
It's part of our twisted charm.
For those of us in the ink-stained-wretch trade, Hillsborough County has remained a rich mother lode of material, from the sultry teacher Debra Lafave, who was too pretty to go to prison for sexually abusing one of her students, to randy Circuit Court judges treating their chambers as if they were a Mons Venus subsidiary, to political figures such as the late, loopy social scion Jim Fair, who ran the supervisor of elections office as Woodstock II meets One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest."
Next month, the public corruption trial of former County Commissioner Kevin White is set to begin essentially on charges of being a complete dope. You have every right to be offended at the egregious breach of public trust. I'm offended the commissioner was so inept at breaching the public trust.
Although it might seem that Hillsborough County is the Miranda Rule capital of the country, there is certainly much more to this place than wire taps, plea bargains and perp walks, although as Jerry Seinfeld might say, not that there is anything wrong with that.
The noted standup comedian, former county official, ex-sheriff's office spokesman, raconteur, historian, chef, big-game hunter and Plato of the Big Guava, Jack Espinosa, has the whimsical attitude toward life of a 20-year-old trapped in a 81-year-old body.
Espinosa has lived his entire life in Tampa and is often called upon to deliver shtick at celebrity roasts around town. But the humor, the best of which probably cannot be printed in a family newspaper, often belies a razor sharp mind.
For Espinosa, Hillsborough is unique among Florida's counties, a place with a rich, growing urban center that still retains a deeply embedded, multigenerational international flair.
"It's like a sauce," he said of the long roots of Spanish, Italian, Cuban, Sicilian and Cracker cultures. "It has a nice taste to it.
"And that personality is the thing people notice," Espinosa added, laughing. "Because we have a group of natives here WHO-WILL-NOT-LEAVE!"
Espinosa, who has never left either, argues that, with the exception of the historic Greek dominance in Tarpon Springs, there are no deeply rooted multigenerational populations in Florida's other major metropolitan areas, other than Hillsborough County, which means quite naturally people here have been arguing with each other longer than just about any other part of the state.
Well, where would these folks go anyway?
The restaurants are too varied and too good. And the personalities such as Espinosa, who leaven the region's character, are too vital, to be missed.
And so we all stay. This is Hillsborough County. We all want to know what's going to happen next.