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, JeffKlinkenberg.com.

Phone: (727) 893-8727

Email: klink@tampabay.com

Twitter: @JeffKlinkenberg

  1. The last Martin of Gilchrist County (w/video)

    Human Interest

    BELL

    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....

    “My wife always says if I get into a wreck it’s going to take them days to find me because I’ll be buried alive in my truck,” says Nathan, who carries all of his valuables with him in his 1985 Ford Ranger pickup, which he bought 14 years ago for $600. Cash, of course.
  2. 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....

    Former New Port Richey resident O.J. Brisky often held court at the counter of O. Brisky Books, his beloved North Florida bookstore.
  3. 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.
  4. Living in Florida can be a real pain

    Features

    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....

  5. 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)
  6. 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
  7. Rattler's deadly bite sank into psyche of famous snake handler

    Human Interest

    HOMESTEAD

    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....

    Joe Wasilewski, right, and former Miami Herald photographer Tim Chapman brought an Eastern diamondback rattlesnake to the lower Florida Keys for a film shoot for National Geographic in early November. Later that month, the snake sank its fangs into Wasilewski’s arm as he tried to return it to its cage after cleaning. South Florida’s longtime reptile wrangler has no hard feelings. “It was my own fault,” said Wasilewski, 61. “I got careless. It’s not the snake’s fault.”
Courtesy of Tim Chapman
  8. Joe's Stone Crab closes in on a century of serving Florida's famed seafood delicacy

    Human Interest

    MIAMI BEACH

    What would Joe Weiss think? Would he even recognize it now? When he fried his first fish at his sandwich joint about a century ago customers had to take a boat from Miami to reach the sandspur-covered barrier island. Inside the rickety eatery, sweating profusely, hungry patrons swatted away ferocious sand flies.

    Joe and his wife, Jennie, didn't get rich. That happened later, after the day in 1921 when a marine biologist showed up with something interesting in a bucket. "You ever eat these?'' the biologist asked....

    General manager Brian Johnson started as a waiter in 1980, intending to give the job a year. At the morning meeting he urges waiters not to leave excellence to others: “It’s your store.”
  9. Fight Doctor's last round

    Human Interest

    MIAMI

    In his studio, Ferdie Pacheco stares at the canvas and picks up his brush. Another friend from his youth has passed away. Time to summon a memory.

    Ferdie dips the brush, applies a dab of paint to old No. 35. It seems impossible to him that Rick Casares is gone. Casares, the pride of Ferdie's old neighborhood in Ybor City and the legendary Chicago Bears running back, was young and powerful and immortal. And then suddenly — it seems like it happened suddenly to Ferdie — his boyhood pal was an old man, chronically ill, with no chance of getting better....

    Detail of Ferdie Pacheco’s painting Ali’s Roadwork shows boxer Muhammad Ali running after Angelo Dundee, on the bicycle, while training in the Everglades.
  10. Meet Miss Martha, the oyster-shucking survivor of Apalachicola

    Human Interest

    APALACHICOLA

    Miss Martha wills her hands to do the work, which is shucking one oyster after another, a hundred oysters, five hundred oysters, a thousand oysters, day after day and year after year.

    She grips one in her left, slips the knife into the corner with her right, twists. Shell pops open. Another twist and the meat falls into a gallon container.

    Miss Martha is the oyster-shucking lady of Apalachicola, the oyster capital of Florida. She started shucking when she was 12 years old. She is 64 now. A half-century of shucking has sometimes left her bloody and usually unbowed. She has scars, but even more pride....

  11. Sound advice: 'Drop on Down in Florida,' 'The Bouzouki of George Soffos'

    Human Interest

    I've always thought no state boasts such diverse music as our own. On my iPod you'll find songs from Greenville's Ray Charles and Gainesville's Tom Petty. I've got Orange Blossom Special, a famous bluegrass stomper from Gladesman Ervin Rouse, and Zora Neale Hurston's a cappella rendition of an old Bahamian tune that migrated to Florida, Crow Dance. In the guilty pleasure department, I listen to Miami Beach Rhumba by Xavier Cugat without a blush. Now come a couple of new treats....

  12. Florida girl's environmental advocacy is sharp, perhaps more so as an autistic child

    Human Interest

    By JEFF KLINKENBERG

    Times Staff Writer

    TAMPA

    Oink. Oink. OINK!

    The frog girl, Avalon Theisen, is all ears. A pig frog is a pretty good frog. Nice and big. Some people hear them and think they're hearing alligators. No way. Alligators have a deeper voice.

    The frog girl can tell you about pig frogs. Coloration and pattern? Variable, but often olive green. Dorsum? Brownish to gray. Ventral mottling? Moderate in the throat but heavy in the area of the hind legs. Genus and species? Rana grylio....

    Avalon climbs the tallest tree in her Tampa yard. Her passion for the environment led to her nonprofit group, Conserve It Forward, whose motto is “making the world a better place.” Avalon has earned the national Temple Grandin Award.
  13. Maps tell the stories your GPS never could

    Human Interest

    I'm a map guy. They're on my wall, in the glove compartment. I like spreading them out and remembering where I have been and dreaming about where I would like to go. Memories come flooding back, even a few bad ones, like the time the airboat broke down in the Everglades after dark. You're reading this. I survived.

    I study my map of the Big Cypress, the best place on Earth except during mosquito season. Tracing the Loop Road with my finger, I pause at Gator Hook Strand and remember the thunder of joyous frogs at sunset. An Ocala National Forest map reveals the campground where my dad first pitched our tent and where I first swam in a gin-clear Florida spring....

    It was slow going for travelers in 1917, judging by this AAA map, part of the exhibit.
Tampa Bay History Center
  14. For panthers, doorway to the future is a stretch of South Florida river

    Wildlife

    LABELLE

    In the Darwinian world of the Florida panther, the strong kill the weak to win the right to mate. In Southwest Florida, there is no surplus of wild land for young males. It's taken. If they stick around, they may get their tawny brown butts whipped or worse.

    So they wander north looking for new territory and romance. They pad through the Big Cypress, the Fakahatchee Strand and the Florida Panther Refuge. They skulk through farmlands, orange groves and ranches. If they don't lose heart and turn back, they encounter the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest, which buys them a few more days of safe passage. Finally — and this is no sure thing — the young male sprints over busy State Road 80, bounds a fence and slinks onto a cattle rancher's latest acquisition....

    It’s been decades since a scientist documented a female panther north of the Caloosahatchee River, which borders the newly created Lone Ranger Track, a 1,278-acre tract of land saved from future development.
  15. Shuffleboard king is modest, but global business is anything but

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Sex. Murder. Scandal.

    As much as I would like to stir a little tabloid juice into my story about shuffleboard, I won't, at least not right now, because this is a family newspaper and because I am going to talk about Sam Allen, the nicest guy on earth.

    A grandfatherly gentleman of 84, he is quick to smile and enjoys a jolly laugh. He loves kids and fishing. When asked to talk about himself he says, "I'm not very important,'' but in a way that doesn't make you feel like a yellow journalist for putting him in that embarrassing position....