12/11/13 Human Interest
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. ...
11/29/13 Human Interest
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....
11/27/13 Human Interest
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....
10/30/13 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....
10/30/13 Human Interest
By JEFF KLINKENBERG
Times Staff Writer
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....
10/02/13 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....
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....
08/28/13 Human Interest
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....
08/05/13 Human Interest
ST. PETERSBURG — Lorraine Margeson buys sensible, heavy-duty leather gloves perfect for weeding her yard. Weed weaponry also includes a pole for shooing away critters that are no stranger to her yard — rattlesnakes.
A ferocious environmentalist, Margeson loves her rattlers to the point of warning her north St. Petersburg neighbors to leave them alone. "There's so much going against them,'' she says, meaning her cold-blooded friends disappearing throughout Florida because of habitat destruction and persecution....
07/31/13 Human Interest
Gone. They all are. Tarzan, dead. Lloyd Bridges, the Sea Hunt guy, rest in peace. Esther Williams, the Hollywood mermaid, passed away in June. Bruce Mozert knew them all.
Mozert is not gone. He's 96, walks with a cane, loses his breath and, once in a while, his train of thought. "But I'm still standing,'' he says in a strong voice. He reports every day to his studio around the corner from what was once Florida's most famous tourist attraction, Silver Springs. For almost half a century his job was taking the photographs, usually black and whites, which publicized the great water park to the rest of the world....
07/17/13 Human Interest
It's the national narrative. Late-night comics say so. Bloggers say so, even my level-headed colleague Craig Pittman in Slate.
We have lonely monkeys terrorizing the suburbs and hooker-loving legislators terrorizing Tallahassee. There's the drunken stumblebum who shoots up an Orlando marina and then soils his pants when the lucky cop arrives. We have hanging chad and face-eating zombies. O.J. Simpson moved here. As Carl Hiaasen, whose latest novel is called Bad Monkey, likes to say, "I don't have to make anything up.''...
07/03/13 Human Interest
Lindsey Tercilla always follows her abuela's advice about black beans. With guests coming for dinner, she spent her money on the El Ebro brand. Into the pot with the beans went the olive oil, cumin, white rice vinegar, sliced green pepper and, Abuela's secret, sugar.
Lindsey, 22, is a first-generation American. Her grandmother, her abuela, Luisa Sabina, was born in Cuba in 1939. Lindsey was indifferent about cooking until four years ago. As a University of Florida freshman, she suffered from homesickness and hunger. Also, she had a new boyfriend. Abuela swooped in to help. "If you want to get married,'' she said, "you need to be able to cook for your husband.''...
06/21/13 Human Interest
TARPON SPRINGS — With summer rains come summer mosquitoes, lots of them, millions of them, maybe more. At least that's how it seems to city folks as dusk descends on manicured back yards everywhere in Florida. We feel the bite on our bare ankle and call in the big artillery from the local Mosquito Control Agency. Help us.
Ike House, 84, doesn't need help.
"I ain't no sissy boy,'' he says....
06/21/13 Human Interest
Editor's note: This story was first published in the Times in 2007. It's the inspiration for a new collection of stories by Real Florida writer Jeff Klinkenberg called Alligators in B Flat, published in spring 2013.
KISSIMMEE -- On the way to playing tuba for an audience of alligators, William Mickelsen felt cocky enough to talk about his musical chops.
His well-trained jaw muscles, his lips and his tongue felt up to the task. His majestic lungs felt strong and elastic. He and his tuba were ready for whatever reptilian drama lay ahead. The night before, he and his fellow artists in the Florida Orchestra had played at Ruth Eckerd Hall behind composer Marvin Hamlisch, the Oscar winner for The Way We Were. Everything had gone swimmingly....
06/05/13 Human Interest
The bride wore a long white dress and muddy boots. She yelled "HOOTEEHOO!''
Waiting for her in the distance, the groom hollered "HOOTEEHOO!'' back. She homed in on his shout and sloshed toward him through the cathedral of cypress trees and cypress knees, ferns and royal palms that grew in the black water.
Michael Scott Owen and Donna Ann Glann-Smyth were going to exchange vows in the holiest place they know, a primeval Florida swamp where alligators and cottonmouths go with the territory....