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How I survived an attack of the St. Petersburg Tiki gods

Everything was calm before the storm.
An empty space marks the absence of a fallen god at Tiki Docks Skyway in St. Petersburg.
An empty space marks the absence of a fallen god at Tiki Docks Skyway in St. Petersburg. [ Courtesy of Roy Peter Clark ]
Published Jul. 27

I thought I had been struck by lightning. It turned out I was attacked by a drunken Tiki god.

It was Saturday evening, July 16, about 6:30. Four of us were seated at one of our favorite local restaurants, Tiki Docks Skyway. It is on the water, next to the Maximo Moorings marina. It was going to be a night of crab cakes, fish tacos, margaritas and wacky-tacky Polynesian decor.

We enjoy sitting on the wide patio, under a large awning, big fans blowing, protected, for the most part, from the searing summer heat and the constant threats of rain. The sky to the north was dark with storm clouds. But you know how eccentric Florida weather can be. It can rain in your backyard, be sunny in your front yard, with a rainbow in between.

But the sky got blacker, the wind stronger, and the sounds of storm began to roar. My back was to the water and suddenly I felt drops and then a full rainstorm blowing horizontally in a stiffening breeze. Thunder belched behind us.

“Let’s move!” We grabbed our drinks and scooted toward the main building. Under that solid roof there is the kitchen, the main office, the restrooms, two bars and a few tables. A large mural portrays a frowning hula girl wrapped in the tentacle of a giant squid. Two other tentacles grasp tropical drinks decorated with little umbrellas.

Under cover we found two unoccupied tables, one directly under a large fan with metal blades. “I don’t want to sit under the fan,” said Karen clairvoyantly. We moved to table number two.

More people squeezed in for cover, so the helpful staff, which trains for storms, was not yet able to close the long rows of sliding glass doors. The place was suddenly dark and cold and loud and gusty, with flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder closing in. It felt like we were facing more than an ordinary summer outburst. It almost had the feel and sound of a tornado.

And then CRACK!!!

I stood up. Everyone stood up. “Have we been hit by lightning?” I asked. My skin was tingling. “Have I been hit by lightning?”

I could not see what happened because, with my back to the wall, the drama exploded behind me. Over my head about 15 feet up stood a line of colorful statues, Tiki gods in the classic Polynesian style.

I now know that the wind reached into our dining room and ripped one of the Tiki gods off the wall. The statue banged against a large-screen TV and then into the metal ceiling fan. It bent a fan blade and crashed down with full force on top of a table. The one where we almost sat.

An empty space marks the absence of a fallen god at Tiki Docks Skyway in St. Petersburg.
An empty space marks the absence of a fallen god at Tiki Docks Skyway in St. Petersburg. [ Courtesy of Roy Peter Clark ]

No one was sitting there. I put my hand on the Tiki god so it would not fall off and do more damage. I could tell it was not nearly as heavy as it looked on the wall, probably made of a sturdy foam.

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The staff rushed into action, carrying in a ladder, securing the TV and turning off the fan. And before you could say Don Ho, the Tiki god was being lugged unceremoniously into the kitchen.

Our server made sure we were all right, but we could not enjoy our dinner. Like the fish and chips, our nerve endings were fried. At another loud sound, we jumped. It was only the bartender grinding ice in the mixer.

I went back for a visit the next afternoon and the staff was still chattering about the storm and its effects. It was not just a storm. It was a squall, strong enough to knock down street signs and blow down a neighbor’s aluminum porch.

The fan with the bent blade was still off. The Tiki god was back in the office awaiting a safety inspection. A wire dangled from the now blank space against the wall.

I did a little research and learned that in ancient Polynesian culture there were four Tiki gods, represented by carved statues. There was a god of war, a god of peace, a god of light and a god of the sea. I asked a server which of the gods had almost fallen on my head.

He showed me a booklet that contained pictures of seven deities, with satirical descriptions of their names and personalities. It turned out that my god is named Tipsy Tiki. The party god.

Here’s the formal description: “This Tiki is the Life of the Party! Tipsy Tiki can be described as a Lush Tiki and drinks are on him! Watch Tipsy Tiki as he slings rum drinks and lives the Island lifestyle. Sun, Fun & Rum is Tipsy Tiki’s Mantra.”

After breaking his nose in the fall, the Tiki god, party drink in hand, has been restored to his rightful place at Tiki Docks Skyway in St. Petersburg.
After breaking his nose in the fall, the Tiki god, party drink in hand, has been restored to his rightful place at Tiki Docks Skyway in St. Petersburg. [ Courtesy of Roy Peter Clark ]

There is a lesson or two to be learned from this tale. The first is to never underestimate a darkening Florida sky. A squall can be more destructive than a typical thunderstorm. Our restaurant, after all, is not that far from the Sunshine Skyway bridge. We were in St. Pete in 1980 when a sudden squall steered a freighter into the original bridge, destroying it and sending 35 to their deaths.

We have so many storms these days. Never take one for granted.

The second lesson is to sit wherever your wife wants you to sit. She swears that if the Tiki god had fallen in my direction she would have stood and punched it away with her right arm, the one wearing the Wonder Woman bracelet.

As for Tipsy Tiki, he suffered a broken nose in the fall, but after some “plastic surgery” — and the clever use of a strip of duct tape — he has been restored to his place in the pantheon of gods, party drink in hand.

Tiki gods line a wall at Tiki Docks Skyway in St. Petersburg.
Tiki gods line a wall at Tiki Docks Skyway in St. Petersburg. [ Courtesy of Roy Peter Clark ]
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