04/18/14 Human Interest
I miss Guavaween.
Not the scary, thuggy, hypercrowded version some people thought Tampa's Halloween street party had become years back, when pretty much everyone seemed to be dressed as Freddy Krueger or a French maid. (Yawn.) And not the milder, "family-friendly" fest it morphed into, either.
I mean Guavaween at its best.
When I came to Tampa 20-something years ago, the Ybor City party was pure fun — raucous, irreverent, a little bawdy, very Tampa. I know it's a perennial costume now, but Guavaween was the first time I saw a man dressed as a pregnant nun, $2 beer in hand, dancing with a couple costumed as a pair of fuzzy dice....
When something big happens in politics — like, say, the resignation of the Health and Human Services secretary who was in charge during the flawed rollout of Obamacare — it is fair game for both sides of the aisle to weigh in. To critique, to defend, to say I told you so. It's politics.
So in a statement last week, Gov. Rick Scott added his two cents on the departure of Kathleen Sebelius, including a not-unexpected excoriation of Obamacare. Fair enough....
04/15/14 Public Safety
Running straight through some of Tampa's poorest neighborhoods is one of its most dangerous streets.
Stretching east from Interstate 275, Hillsborough Avenue is a jumble of crumbling motels and fenced car lots, pawnshops and payday lenders, apartments and strip malls and, just south, a busy high school.
E Hillsborough Avenue may not be pretty, but it is thriving, humming, not just with cars and rumbling trucks but also pedestrians and bicyclists, people coming and going and living their lives....
To do what she did to her children three years ago, Julie Schenecker must have been insane. Out of her mind. Unable to know right from wrong.
Or, the evidence will show, she wasn't.
The case is stunning in how little sense it makes even now: 13-year-old Beau, shot in the family van, his 16-year-old sister, Calyx, killed with the same .38-caliber pistol as she did her homework in their upscale Tampa Palms home....
When a new reporter is about to get a first taste of Barry Cohen, Tampa's best-known lawyer and one of its most colorful, I like to tell this story:
I was a green courthouse reporter working a big story back when Hillsborough courts were a wilder frontier — judge after judge in trouble, a state attorney who played the parimutuels, and each trial weirder than the last. (Best. Job. Ever.)...
04/04/14 Human Interest
Without question, the Oxford Exchange rules supreme as Tampa's downtown lunch spot at which to see and be seen.
The restaurant took the reins from the beloved, now-defunct Valencia Garden to become the of-the-moment place for politicians, Important People, ladies who lunch and the occasional celebrity, schmoozing over salmon Nicoise and chicken burgers with jalapeno.
And now, a morning mimosa, Pinot Grigio or nice Merlot....
Hey, wasn't there supposed to be a big showdown Thursday at the Tampa City Council meeting?
Weren't council members going to square off with the mayor in a real cliffhanger over red-light cameras?
Would the city save this public safety program that officials praise? Or would the cameras end up as casualties in a political standoff?
Because, seriously, since the Hillsborough County Commission gave up its days of public preachings, dustups and the occasional lawsuit/indictment, it's like trying to find something on TV after the finale of Breaking Bad....
Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, an advocate for improving how we get around around here, recently flew in to Tampa International Airport with his family after a trip to Chicago.
Sharpe said they would take the bus home. No cab at the curb. No neighborly pickup. Public transportation or bust!
To which his wife said: We're what?
And his two teenagers promptly judged him insane....
03/28/14 Human Interest
They were four sisters who had already lost so much — the school they knew, their dog, their friends, the life they had. They were not about to lose each other.
They had come from a foster home — things were not working out there — to this sprawling shelter called A Kid's Place in the Brandon suburbs east of Tampa. And when it was time for bed in one of the five group homes — think bright murals, sprawling family kitchen, thick quilts — the girls would not be without each other....
On the subject of elections, a wise politician I once knew used to opine that the best way to run for office is:
Probably no one appreciates this more than circuit judges at the Hillsborough and Pinellas courthouses where, once ensconced, they do not often find themselves bothered with having to run for re-election (and even more rarely get the boot.) Generally, they keep the nice robe, good parking space and everyone calling them "your honor" pretty much as long as they like....
By all accounts, the look on the police chief's face was priceless.
There stood Jane Castor in her crisp police uniform and customary poker face at a Tampa City Council meeting. Council members had each just spoken of their support for those traffic cameras that catch red-light-running scofflaws.
And why not? The chief said during the city's 2-year-old red-light camera program, both crashes and tickets were down at Tampa's diciest intersections, indicating drivers were mending their pedal-to-the-metal ways. All good....
03/21/14 Public Safety
What could possibly be next for our "stand your ground" law that can make it legal to shoot first and ask questions later?
How about pending legislation that says if a shooting is justified under this troubling law, what happened can be erased from the public record?
If that's not enough to drop your jaw, it's only part of a bill sailing along in Tallahassee to extend "stand your ground" protection to someone who fires a warning shot. Because, hey, we can't have enough gunfire around here....
03/20/14 Local Government
In the shadow of tall downtown Tampa buildings, a rickety rooming house sags behind a chain-link fence. The red trim is faded, the roof draped in tarps in a losing battle against the rain. Even the empty porch looks tired.
Still, Jackson House has a whisper of ghosts from a time when it thrived.
Decades ago, celebrities came to what was once the city's bustling black business hub and they stayed here: Cab Calloway, Count Basie, the Ink Spots. Ella Fitzgerald is said to have plinked out A Tisket, A Tasket on the parlor piano, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stopped for a bite after a rally. Jackie Robinson came, too. Travelers filled the place, 75 cents a night, breakfast and dinner. What other walls could possibly hold all this?...
St. Petersburg is going through a messy breakup with those red light cameras the City Council voted in three years ago to make dangerous intersections safer.
Meanwhile in Tampa, sister city a bridge away, they're talking of renewing their commitment and keeping those cameras through 2016.
It is a tale of two cities, of traffic scofflaws, politics and, just so we don't forget, public safety, too....
It is a sign your town has arrived, or is at least hip enough to rate.
Our very first Trader Joe's opens in Tampa — six days and counting — with another in the works in St. Petersburg.
This is the grocery store, if you are the type to care about such things, whose aisles you had to traipse in other towns. You found the most interesting salsas and sauces, dried blueberries, ginger snaps and dark-chocolate almonds, a killer Camembert and those potato chips that put their greasy grocery counterparts to shame. You discovered Cookie Butter. Trader Joe's famously cheap wine may not be as cheap as it once was, but you can still call it Two Buck Chuck....