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He's the man of a thousand faces

John Grey, Realtor and mover/shaker in west Pasco, clasped me on the shoulder and offered up a confession. Just a while earlier we'd waved greetings as I walked past his vehicle in the parking lot of the West Pasco Government Center.

"When you walked in front of my car," he said, "I thought you were Mike Olson."

Oh. Maybe that's why he didn't run me over.

Olson is the definitive oxymoron. He is _ are you ready? _ a politically popular tax collector. Strange, but true in these no-new-tax times. He collected 70 percent of the vote in 1996, the first time he was challenged in 16 years. He also is the guy with whom Democrats seek counsel, the veteran behind-the-scenes campaign strategist in Pasco County.

I, on the other hand, haven't received a vote since fourth-grade class president, don't provide political counsel and offer campaign commentaries publicly for all to read.

Still, this case of mistaken identity is not an uncommon occurance. I've written about it in the past. People think I'm someone else. It recently happened five times in a four-day period.

Strangers have said I look like movie director Mike Nichols. At a political rally, a woman asked me if I was New Port Richey Mayor Peter Altman, who has his own trouble being differentiated from Elections Supervisor Kurt Browning.

Does that mean I look like Browning?

Two weeks ago, a referee approached me after a recreational league basketball game at the Meadow Pointe subdivision in Wesley Chapel.

Are you from Tampa? No.

Did you used to live in Atlanta? No, but the resemblance to my older brother in Richmond, Va., is so strong people think we're twins, I volunteered.

You just look like someone I know, he said.

I respectfully refrained from making wisecracks about his eyesight. The season isn't over just yet.

Three days later, I stood near the front counter of a Dade City garage waiting to have a problem with the car diagnosed. An auto parts salesman, hoping to begin his pitch, smiled, stuck out his hand and said, "Jim?"

Sorry. No sale.

And countless times, customers in grocery and retail stores ask me for assistance. They think I'm a clerk. The location doesn't matter. Publix, Winn-Dixie, U-Save, Kmart, Wal-Mart and Target. The clientele believes I am there to serve, not shop.

It is understandable. The daily journalism uniform of Dockers, dress shirt and necktie is the same attire I wore while bagging groceries in high school and college. It serves me right for not upgrading to a suit coat, I guess.

The mixup with Olson, the tax collector, is not new. We are both of above-average height and have similar haircuts though, I hasten to point out, I am taller and younger. He probably thinks he is better looking.

But, in this case, it was a little surprising, considering Grey and Olson have been acquaintances since childhood. Grey said they even tangled in a schoolyard fight as youngsters, a dispute settled after an adult stepped in and made them put on boxing gloves.

No wonder Grey was smiling and waving in the parking lot. He lost the fight. (The adult mediator happened to be several yards away, sitting on the county commission dais, as Grey shared this story. It was David "Hap" Clark Jr.)

Two days later, I was back in the county government center to peruse a file in the Development Services office.

"Mike Olson?" the receptionist asked as she prepared to announce me.

No, but I'm getting used to it. Two years ago, as I renewed the registration on my car, one of Olson's own employees did a double take.

"I thought you were the boss," she admitted. "I was just about to ask you why you were on that side of the counter."

Turns out, it happens to Olson, too. He told me he once stopped into the County Commission office and told a secretary he wanted to speak to Ann Hildebrand when she was free.

"Mr. Bowen, right?"

Wrong.

And he's got more than me to worry about. At the recent groundbreaking ceremonies for the new government center in Dade City, the master of ceremonies introduced Olson as Mike Wells, the county's property appraiser.

I guess I shouldn't be concerned so much. Olson's been walking the halls of Pasco's government buildings since the 1970s. If they don't know who he is by now, he's got bigger problems than I do.

Just one more exchange convinced me this topic needed to be addressed again publicly.

After my visit to the Development Services office, I stopped to get a sandwich for lunch. I was an easy target standing at the Publix deli counter.

"Sir," a woman beckoned, "Is your coleslaw on sale, too?"

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