07/30/14 Human Interest
When Ben Montgomery proposed writing a defense of Tampa's Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, I didn't expect that it would launch me on a meandering tour of the playgrounds of my youth. Turns out that the hilly and somewhat scruffy park across from downtown was designed by the same landscape architect who transformed the playgrounds in New York where I deposited a great many layers of skin.
As Ben explains in his piece ("Revive, Don't Raze", Page 7), Richard Dattner almost single-handedly revamped playgrounds in New York from spartan plots of asphalt adorned with a utilitarian array of equipment — swings, monkey bars, slide and seesaw — into true playscapes replete with tunnels and mountains, rope swings and fire poles. I had no idea in the early 1970s, as I clambered up the Ziggurat at the 72nd Street playground, that I was practicing an adventurous style of play intended to promote my psychological development. I just thought a frontal assault with lots of blood-curdling screaming was the only tactic likely to dislodge my enemies guarding the citadel....
07/02/14 Human Interest
In 1943, the Army tried to turn an American lit expert into a mechanic. It took Bill Sutton's superiors most of the next two years to figure out he was no mechanic. In early 1945, the Army got smart and sent the bespectacled 29-year-old Ph.D. to France to be a military historian.
He was dispatched to a corner of the Alsace region, where the Army's 3rd Division had just fought a bloody battle to dislodge the Germans from a pair of heavily fortified villages west of the Rhine. "Find a combat lesson," Sutton was told....
05/30/14 Human Interest
A word of advice to any cash-strapped editors out there. (Sorry, delete cash-strapped; redundant.) Don't waste money on reader surveys. If you want to know who your audience is, or if you have an audience at all, just run a piece about cats. Get a seemingly gentle soul like Jeff Klinkenberg to write something despicable, like "Cats kill birds." Or inhumane, like "Cats would live longer and happier lives cuddled on your lap rather than outdoors where they might get hit by a car and in the meantime eat a lot of birds." Commission a piece along these lines, fellow editors, and watch the letters roll in....
05/01/14 Human Interest
Merl Reagle called me on a Saturday some weeks back bursting with a story he said was too good to wait. So good he had to tell me in person. Right away.
You know Merl as the author of our monthly Hurricane puzzle (Page 15). I know Merl and his wife, Marie Haley, as devotees of good breakfast joints and a particular kind of story that relies heavily on serendipity. I love these stories (usually told over three or four cups of coffee) because they convince me, at least for a minute, that life is not a chaotic mess, that people can intersect in ways that are as tidy and amusing as, well, a crossword puzzle. Turns out this particular story was ur-Reagle, possessing all of the classic ingredients: breakfast, head-scratching coincidence, crosswords and — for a bonus — even some cross words....
On a recent Sunday morning in North Florida, I cleaned out the newspaper rack at the local gas station. My haul included the Gainesville Sun, the Suwannee Democrat, the Lake City Reporter and the Jacksonville Times-Union. As always when I'm out of town, I was looking for some ink-smudged intimacy with the locals. I wanted to know what was on the mind of residents of Levy, Gilchrist, Columbia, Alachua and Suwannee counties. ...
02/26/14 Human Interest
I was sitting in my kitchen last weekend, editing Michael Kruse's cover story on a precocious sixth-grade basketball player, when it occurred to me to do a little field research down the hall.
My own middle-school-aged son was in his room, hanging out with a good friend from his lacrosse team. They were doing what they usually do when they're not eating Taco Bell and talking about the technical arcana of lacrosse stick design. They were online looking at videos....
01/29/14 Human Interest
Next month, the third annual Gasparilla Music Festival will kick off in downtown Tampa. After two weather-blessed and successful years, organizers have added a second day of bands playing on stages spread out over Curtis Hixon Park and neighboring Kiley Gardens. The Times' Bill Duryea sat down with three of the festival's key players — executive director Ty Rodriguez, GMF president Phil Benito and board member John Wakefield — to discuss what makes something a Tampa event, downtown Tampa as a vacation destination and whether it's possible to redeem the corn dog....
01/29/14 Human Interest
‘Are you packing now?"
The question made perfect sense, and it floored me anyway. My old friend wanted to know if I had a gun on me.
We were sitting in the bar at the new Epicurean Hotel, drinking some fancy whisky and celebrating our chance encounter that morning on the sidewalk in downtown Tampa. He was on vacation from New York. I had been dawdling over coffee before heading to St. Pete. We hadn't seen each other in more than 25 years, so now we were catching up in that broad-stroke way that must account for a lifetime of small decisions....
01/02/14 Human Interest
I don't want to be here this time next year.
I'm not quitting. I'm setting a challenge.
Come January 2015 I don't want Floridian to look like this. I want it to look bigger, better. I want it to have muscles in new places, extra luster in its hair, more sex appeal.
These are not the passing fancies that drive gym memberships — bold in January and forgotten by March. These are the goals by which you measure institutional success....
11/27/13 Human Interest
One of the problems of growing older is that each year increases the number of know-it-all iterations of myself that I'm obligated to reassess. In January, in this space, I tried to make sense of the shocking suicide of Gretchen Molannen, the subject of the cover story in the first issue of Floridian last December.
Gretchen, you'll recall, had suffered from a rare and debilitating disorder that left her in a state of near-constant sexual arousal. For 16 years she had lived a mostly hermetic life in Spring Hill, unable to work and dependent on a boyfriend to pay her bills....
YOU ARE 'WYNNERS,' ONE AND ALL
Hail, ye Conquistadors of the Crossword! Two hundred and seventy-four of you crossed swords with Merl Reagle, a puzzle constructor known for his ingenious and devilish word play, and 274 planted the flag of victory in the sandy heart of our contest. You mailed in from every corner of Timesland and beyond. Here's to you, Patrick Hinely of Lexington, Va., whose stamp traveled the farthest. And a special thank you to the dozen or so entrants from Sun City Center. May I assume that all is forgiven over the Diamond Jim story?...
10/30/13 Human Interest
Merl Reagle has always been disappointed that my wife and I didn't keep trying for a daughter.
You could name her Audrey, he has told me more than once. Audrey, he says, is the only anagram of Duryea.
For some reason this wasn't sufficient to persuade my wife Alliston to erase the line we drew at three boys. For Merl, an orphan anagram just makes him sad. It's a missed opportunity to enjoy a little wordplay, to impose some sense and symmetry on modern life....
10/02/13 Human Interest
When I decided I wanted to pluck some gems from the trove of 3,500 columns that Jan Glidewell wrote for the Times, I expected they'd be irreverent, iconoclastic or borderline lewd.
Jan wrote like he lived his life. There was nothing really out of bounds for a man who fought with the Marines in Vietnam and fought society's norms on clothing, religion, race, sex, and drugs the rest of the way....
Tuesday's resounding defeat of the Lens pier project has left many wondering what a future without an inverted pyramid might look like. If St. Petersburg voters don't want the Lens, what do they want? Conveniently, we have the answer.
Answers, in fact.
In May 2011, Floridian gathered dozens of readers' best ideas for the new pier and had our peerless illustrator Don Morris render them in one drawing. So what do St. Petersburg residents think is worthy of their waterfront? It starts with a 400-foot-tall manatee-shaped ferris wheel....
08/28/13 Human Interest
Buying a local paper is often the best entertainment value I get on the road.
I hit pay dirt recently in the Aug. 8 edition of the Southampton (N.Y.) Press. The police blotter was a veritable cultural anthropology thesis. I learned that residents had reported thefts of two paddleboards ($3,000), one Tiffany bracelet ($5,000) and a Rolex watch ($40,000), one black 2012 Mercedes ML350 (no value given), and two sets of Ping golf clubs (combined value $2,500). What wasn't stolen was ingested: Three people got popped for possession of klonopin, heroin, marijuana and ecstasy. If a drunk driver had plowed through a 20-foot privacy hedge, the police report would have been dissertation quality....