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Feeling good about the red, white and blue

Sparked by the Olympic torch bearers and flamed by the Games (especially the gusto of injured gymnast Kerri Strug), folks throughout Tampa Bay are feeling darn patriotic lately.

Though most of us don't have the opportunity to gather around a flag pole and sing America the Beautiful or God Bless America, Americans are proving their patriotism by watching the Olympic athletes on television and sitting in the nosebleed section at Dream Team basketball games.

Americans are also showing their spirit through their purchasing power. I've done my share of red-white-and-blue buying, too. I don't know how I'd make it through July in Florida without the Firecracker Popsicle or the oversize America the Beautiful Estee Lauder umbrella I got as a gift with purchase at Dillard's.

I also found (but didn't buy _ that must be noted) the perfect combination of patriotism and commercialism: a Statue of Liberty Barbie.

Nothing represents money-loving patriotism more than a $75 doll that's exclusive to just one store. This Barbie, of course, looks nothing like the real statue unless someone has recently dressed Lady Liberty in a sparkling off-the-shoulder evening gown. And I could be wrong, but I don't think the real statue wears gold star-shaped earrings.

But the overpriced toy has its charm, and it's only available at FAO Schwarz toy stores (there's one in Tampa's West Shore Plaza).

Even Shell gas stations are cashing in on the current patriotic wave. When customers purchase a minimum of 8 gallons of gas within four visits, they earn a free 3- by 5-foot U.S. flag.

The whole "I'm red, white and blue . . . how about you?" bit isn't just happening to me and the folks pumping Shell gasoline. To many people, being patriotic goes beyond the wallet.

Helen Weber, 85, of Seminole puts up a flag every morning. But her red, white and blue barbecue aprons have become her most popular contribution to patriotism. Weber made one for her son and soon orders for more rolled in. So far, she has made about 10 of the all-American aprons.

"I've always been patriotic. I just feel that way," Weber said.

And so does 17-year-old Jerry Medina, who was spotted in Tampa Bay Center recently wearing a red, white and blue basketball uniform. The Panama-born teen, who became a U.S. citizen when he was 6, said he wore his patriotic ensemble to celebrate the Olympics. "We're going to win it all," Medina cheered.

Margaret Duggar of Clearwater doesn't have to look far for a role model. Her husband, Bill, she said, is as patriotic as they come, and he has always been that way. He flies a cotton flag from the antenna of his Ford (made in the USA) truck and puts flag decals on the back of it.

Duggar called him a "truly all-American guy." In fact, trouble bubbled when Duggar recently came home with a new car _ a Toyota. "I buy American," was the comment from Duggar's disappointed husband.

And then there's Lali Furgueire. She hasn't purchased anything patriotic, but she has been keeping her eye on the Olympic games.

"During the opening ceremonies, my eyes were welling up. It just makes you so proud," Furgueire said. "It's a shame that it has to take an occasion to really stir up those feelings again because it should be in all of us all of the time."