Jeff Klinkenberg, Times Staff Writer

Jeff Klinkenberg

Jeff Klinkenberg writes about Florida culture and the people who make the state unique. He joined the Times in 1977, and his work takes him from Pensacola to Key West.

Klinkenberg's interest in Florida began when he was a small boy growing up in Miami on the edge of the Everglades. He jokes he was a charter member of "the boys without dates'' club because of hobbies that included catching snakes. He started working at the Miami News when he was 16 and later graduated from the University of Florida's journalism college, where he is in the hall of fame. His latest book, which collects favorite columns, is Alligators in B-Flat, published by University Press of Florida. Other anthologies, Pilgrim in the Land of Alligators, Seasons of Real Florida and Dispatches from the Land of Flowers, are also in print.

For additional information about Jeff Klinkenberg, his latest book, and speaking engagements, please go to his website,

Phone: (727) 893-8727


Twitter: @JeffKlinkenberg

  1. In southwest Florida, man and panther vie over goats and state's true nature


    NAPLES — Arturo Freyre lives among the lions.

    It's not the Florida he or hundreds of other nervous Collier County residents ever imagined. Florida is supposed to be about shopping centers, golf courses, theme parks and watching pelicans at the beach. Cardinals are pretty and welcome, but tree frogs are noisy unless you turn up the air conditioning.

    Five years ago, Freyre and his wife retired to a spacious patch of southwest Florida that borders wilderness teeming with animals that make the couple think twice about nighttime walks — bears, coyotes, snakes....

    Freyre, left, and Lotz look at photos taken by Lotz’s motion-sensitive camera of panther activity on Freyre’s property. Livestock in the area near the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge have become prey for the rebounding panther population.
  2. For sailboat designer Charley Morgan, life's still a breeze

    Human Interest

    Charley Morgan, who calls himself "the ancient mariner," felt like a kid again. Eighty-five candles will grace his next birthday cake, but when he noticed the palm trees swaying beyond the window, he marched outside to look at Boca Ciega Bay. Standing on his dock, he saw Blue Cloud prancing at the end of a rope like a rambunctious colt wanting to leap the corral fence.

    "Let's go sailing," Morgan said. ...

    A self-portrait of Charley Morgan, who took up painting after his first wife died of cancer in 2001.
  3. The second coming of Billy the Kid (w/ video)

    Human Interest


    Guy on the phone says to "Google 'Billy the Kid' Emerson. He's old now, but he was really famous once. He lives here." // So I Google. An African-American piano player born in Tarpon Springs, Emerson ended up at Sun Records in Memphis. Elvis recorded one of his songs. // Talk to Billy the Kid, implores the anonymous caller. What a story he must have to tell. // In the summer of 2012 I call him. Billy the Kid Emerson says: "I NEVER EVER TALK ABOUT THOSE DAYS" — those days when he played the devil's music and knew Elvis. Now he listens only to spirituals. In fact, he's been writing a suite of religious hymns he calls his masterpiece. // I suggest we do an interview at his house. // "I'm not looking for...

    Billy Emerson holds a picture of himself he said was made on the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, when he was 15.
  4. My dad had an artist's soul, but a temper that left many scars

    Human Interest

    I grabbed my dad by the swim trunks. He plunged into the Atlantic Ocean and began breaststroking along the beach with me in tow. When the bubbles cleared, I saw all kinds of fish through my mask.

    I was about 6, too young to identify exactly what I was seeing, but I can still remember, all these years later, feeling overwhelmed by the number of fish, small and large, hundreds of them, that surged around us....

  5. Florida summer is here: months of soaking, smothering, sizzling

    Human Interest

    Air conditioner groaning: "Humma-humma." Repairman says "I've got bad news." Write check and listen to thunder in the distance. One thousand one. One thousand two. Unplug the television, unplug the computer. Lightning. Frog-strangling rain.

    Mosquitoes whine on the patio. Banana slugs slide down the dripping fence. Ice cubes melt in the Coke Zero. Late afternoon clouds climb above the beach like bruised cotton candy. Sand too hot for bare feet — gulf only a little better. Listen closely: Shuffle while wading in. Stingrays, mating, wait mischievously on the bottom....

    Roscoe, a 1-year-old American Staffordshire terrier, splashes through the water in Tampa Bay while playing with his owners, Kadence Sweeney, 7, and sister Alexis Sweeney, 13, in Tierra Verde on Wednesday.
  6. Light but lethal, stray fishing line takes toll on seabirds


    CLEARWATER — On a sunny spring morning the mangroves bustled with life. Nesting birds flapped wings, hopped and preened amongst a cacophony of clucks, grunts and peeps. It was one of those days when Ann Paul and Mark Rachal were confident their jobs were the best in Florida.

    They work for Audubon. Paul is the regional director of West Central Florida's Coastal Island Sanctuaries. Rachal guards those seabird-important islands from Crystal River to Charlotte Harbor like the most territorial mother hen....

    Immature and adult roseate spoonbills on Island I-25 in Clearwater Harbor.
  7. Outdoor cats no more than serial killers in fur coats

    Human Interest


    Times Staff Writer

    The Artful Dodger is gray, skeletal and flea-bitten. In the morning, he sometimes shows up on my six-foot fence, glances carefully in all directions and leaps to the windowsill. From there he slinks into the wild coffee bush with the idea of ambushing birds at my feeder.

    Like an English bobby in a Dickens novel, I take action. Because it is not my ambition to operate a bird restaurant for stray cats, I explode onto the patio, waving my arms and shouting. For a moment, Dodger runs in place. Then he bounds from ground to windowsill to fence to the hibiscus on the opposite side. Gone....

  8. For Harold P. Curtis Honey Co., the family business is the bees' knees

    Human Interest


    Sure, things look bad for the bee man. But we are talking about Harold P. Curtis. Bees sting him and he hardly flinches. Bees die by the thousands and he raises another brood. Just let a bear approach his hives. He will not surrender a hive without a fight.

    Morning. Clearing skies. Citrus trees blossom through clouds of excited bees. His famous orange blossom honey is waiting to be gathered. ...

    A family photo hangs in the store, showing Harold P. Curtis, left, and his brother Elliot with their bees when they were about 3 and 5. Harold is 77 now, and Elliot 79.
  9. The last Martin of Gilchrist County (w/video)

    Human Interest


    A traveling day. Nathan Martin is going to town. He is going to have a meal with the woman he loves. He usually hates wearing a shirt, but Vida will tsk tsk if he shows up with chest bare. He also needs to decide what to do about footwear. He hates shoes even more than he hates wearing a shirt.

    For as long as anyone can remember he has tramped through his North Florida woods in naked feet less human than possum. They're yellow, padded and bristling with nails more like talons. Those feet fear no stone, stick or snake. But maybe, just a little bit, they fear Vida....

    Nathan lovingly refers to Vida as his “weekend wife,” since during the week he prefers to live out in the woods — and she has no desire to join him there. The couple have been married for 14 years, together 22. And in love, perhaps a lot longer than that.
  10. A beloved bookstore loses its owner, reason for being

    Human Interest

    MICANOPY — O.J. Brisky hated his first name, but he loved books, old dusty books, books with a little mildew or history hidden among the pages. For decades, he bought them by the thousands and sold them at his beloved North Florida store, O. Brisky Books.

    Brisky, who helped start the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, which celebrates its 33rd year this weekend in St. Petersburg, would perch behind the counter next to his rotary-dial phone and hold court about one antique book or another. If a customer was unable to locate a desired book, Brisky could almost always put his hand on it, which seemed impossible given that neatness and a dependable filing system was a low priority....

    The old rotary phone was 1970s vintage and sat behind the counter at O.J. Brisky’s beloved store, O. Brisky Books, in Micanopy.
  11. In Florida, the signs of spring abound

    Human Interest

    Oak pollen on your car. Zyrtec on your kitchen counter.

    Swallow-tailed kites from South America soaring above the cypress hoping to snatch dragonflies from midair. Bald eagle chicks screaming from nests near every lake, bay and bayou. At Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, ravenous wood stork chicks by the thousands waiting impatiently for parent birds to return with minnows.

    Azaleas. Orange blossoms. In Grapefruit League play, Joe Maddon searches for a fifth starting pitcher. Tourist traffic creeps west toward the beaches....

    Florida’s spring break visitors come in both native and exotic types.
  12. Living in Florida can be a real pain


    It can begin early if you grow up a little wild and more than a little barefoot in Florida: Something is going to bite you. Something is going to sting you. At the very least, you are going to touch something so horrible, and so repugnant, that you'll be scarred and scared for life. Decades later, while working in the yard, you might suffer a flashback and imagine you are once again seeing the whopper bark scorpion, stinger upraised, poised to inject your pinky with venom. You will remember the pain inflicted in your little boy hand by the hairy puss caterpillar. Don't touch that tree without looking first. Real Florida columnist Jeff Klinkenberg recalls some of his more memorable too-close-encounters and rates them on a pain scale. With scary-good illustrations by Times artist Don Morris....

  13. Oh yeah: Hanging with the Beatles in Miami in 1964

    Human Interest

    Sharon Alford receives the best Christmas present in the history of Christmas presents, a boss portable hi-fi with fold-out speakers. A sophomore at Hialeah High near Miami, she can now listen to her new Beatles records endlessly. Lying in bed in February 1964, she studies the photo of beautiful Paul on the back of her new album, Meet the Beatles.

    As the cutest Beatle, Paul can have his pick of any girl. Sharon is a pretty blond, but she has a practical streak. Can she really hope to win Paul's heart? Probably not. John is too brainy and unfortunately married. George isn't bad looking despite the caterpillar eyebrows but seems so darned earnest — he might prefer a serious, tea-drinking girl. Sharon gazes at Ringo's picture and thinks strategically. She might have a better chance with the goofy drummer, a short fellow with a prominent nose....

    John, Paul, Ringo and George frolic 
in the water behind the Deauville hotel.
CBS via Getty Images (1964)
  14. Remembering Patrick Smith, author of beloved Florida novel, 'A Land Remembered'

    Human Interest

    Born in Mississippi, a former Studebaker salesman, Patrick Smith sat down at his Merritt Island dining room table three decades ago and on his trusty manual typewriter banged out a novel that many Floridians regard with the affection usually reserved for the family Bible.

    Surrounded by family, the author of A Land Remembered died Sunday from complications of pneumonia at Vitas Hospice in Brevard County. A tough old cob who spoke in a magnolia-tinged accent, he was 86....

    Patrick D. Smith, a native of Mississippi, wrote of Florida’s history. Excerpt, 8A
  15. Rattler's deadly bite sank into psyche of famous snake handler

    Human Interest


    Joe Wasilewski has handled thousands of snakes during the last half century. He has suffered more than a dozen venomous bites, including a few that led to the emergency room. "If you're an electrician,'' he tells people, "you expect a shock every once in a while. If you handle enough reptiles, you're going to be bitten.''

    So he's careful. He's also — and he'll be the first to tell you this — sometimes an impatient guy. In late November, he'd been away from home for a while — Seattle and Jamaica. He had phone calls to make and people to meet. He had cages to clean. He was jet-lagged. He was in a hurry....