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....
07/31/13 Human Interest
A couple of weeks ago, Leonora LaPeter Anton went to Orlando to receive the Paul Hansell Award for Distinguished Achievement from the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Her prize was among a very large haul for Tampa Bay Times staffers, but I think it deserves some special attention because of what it says about this paper and this magazine.
Whether she was reporting from the front lines of protests at the Republican National Convention or from the bedroom of a biracial teenager struggling to find her place in the world, Leonora gave her readers the benefit of scrupulously detailed reporting and graceful writing to match. Her Floridian cover story from December ("The Agony of Gretchen M.") was one of the 10 pieces included in her entry....
05/30/13 Human Interest
I've always envied boys with rotten dads. I was reminded of this strange yearning as I reread The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert.
By the time in 1993 that Gilbert met her subject, Eustace Conway, he had hiked the 2,000-mile Appalachian trail (in winter, without provisions) and floated the Mississippi in a handmade canoe. Not long after their first encounter, he rode a horse across the United States in 103 days, a record....
05/03/13 Human Interest
Some years ago, when my wife and I were still a cat family, we had three of the critters living with us. And then, after a particularly awful weekend, we didn't.
Emmett was my wife's cat, and he just got old and blind. Late one night, he had a seizure, which entailed a trip to the emergency vet and a very tearful decision to put him to sleep.
Two nights later we were back at the vet, in the same "goodbye" room, this time holding Bess, a stray that I had found two years before, bleeding from a bite wound on my doorstep. Bess had never been a particularly robust cat, but by the time her kidneys quit she was spending most of her days motionless under a reading lamp, more or less like a furry order of fries....
04/03/13 Human Interest
Divorce bores me. I'll cop immediately to a deep personal bias here brought on by too many family splits with too many decades of low-level emotional radioactivity. But even when the stories involve bold-faced names and gobs of money, they have never managed to overcome my sense that divorces generally are pretty pedestrian affairs.
I suspect that I'm not alone in my impatience. Once divorce was a taboo society politely avoided. Now, we seem to talk about it constantly. Who among us hasn't nodded sympathetically at their friends' independent recitations of wrong and woe? She cheated; he's cheap. At the end all you know is that someone — her or him, and with them a branch of mutual friends — is about to disappear and the holiday card list will need trimming....