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Anniversary marks miles and miles of roadside memories

The Lane Ranger looks back at some of the encounters that helped push the odometer past 100,000 miles.

It is fitting, poetic even, that during the week of Brandon Times' one-year anniversary, the Lane Ranger's car passed the 100,000-mile mark.

The final click of the odometer arrived with little discernable fanfare on Interstate 275 near Westshore Plaza in Tampa.

There was, much to the Ranger's consternation, no spontaneous ticker-tape parade to mark the occasion, nor did his fellow drivers pull onto the shoulder in awe of the 100,000 miles' worth of hubcap dust and windshield bug parts they saw passing before them.

Perhaps that wouldn't have been the case had the milestone been reached in eastern Hillsborough County, across which so many of those 100,000 miles have been spread, from Mango to Wimauma to Thonotosassa to Lithia to Progress Village to Balm.

People here seem to appreciate driving milestones. When Warren Van Gelder became the 306th and final cart in last month's Sun City Center Golf Cart Parade _ making his cart the official record-setter _ he couldn't help but pay tribute to his community for making it all possible.

"I've been here for five years, and it's been the best five years of my life," the 67-year-old Sun City Center resident said as he crossed the finish line.

It is hard to argue with Van Gelder. The Lane Ranger has seen a great many things during the past 12 months on the road.

Where else but Hillsborough County could you investigate a live 5-foot python found under the hood of a Camaro Z28?

"What if we'd been going down the interstate and that thing would have gotten wrapped up in the fan and cut into chunks?" wondered the Camaro's owner, Susan Perry. "I would have never gotten the smell out."

Where else could you learn that Valrico resident Ken Hartmann, secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation's seventh district, is as sick of holiday mall traffic in Brandon as the rest of us?

"The mall at Christmastime is the last direction I want to take," Hartmann confided to the Ranger in December. "It seems like everybody is on the road."

During the past year, the Ranger has experienced highlights, such as the time he was offered a Bud Ice from the back of a pickup by the family of a recovering lightning strike victim.

And there have been lowlights, such as the time he vanpooled from Valrico to MacDill Air Force Base at 6 a.m., only to be dropped off outside the base's gates, a $50 cab ride his only ticket home.

A charity bed race, a driving seminar for seniors, a woman who drove her car through a hair salon _ the Lane Ranger has seen it all in Hillsborough County.

Perhaps over the next 100,000 miles, the Ranger will follow the lead of moped-drivin' Peter Ventiere, whom the Ranger and Times photographer Skip O'Rourke chased for months before finally tracking him down one drizzly August afternoon.

Ventiere, who swerves from lane to lane with enough abandon to chill even the steeliest Valrico driver, pulled off Lithia-Pinecrest Road to share his thoughts on getting around in Hillsborough.

"If I see a big traffic jam," said the grinning Ventiere, "I just hug the white line and keep on truckin.' "

Sounds like a plan. So, watch out for the Ranger in 2004.

And don't be surprised if he's still going strong at 200,000.

A QUICK AXIE to cap off year one of the Ranger's Rangerhood.

A few weeks ago, a Florida Highway Patrol officer was driving on Grand Regency Boulevard in Brandon when he received word of a serious crash nearby.

As the officer approached the intersection of Grand Regency and State Road 60, he flicked on his emergency lights. Cars pulled over to allow him to pass.

That is, most cars pulled over. One driver, a Dover woman, began to pull over but suddenly stopped.

The police officer clipped the woman's bumper, causing about $150 in damage to each car.

No word on whether the trooper left the scene of an accident in order to drive to the scene of another accident.

But we do know that he was kind enough not to write himself a citation for careless driving.

_ The Lane Ranger is currently stuck in traffic. But he can be reached at cridlinsptimes.com.

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