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  1. Florida

Listening to Jeff Klinkenberg

This week is the last week of Jeff Klinkenberg's 37-year career here at the Times. He started working at this paper in February of 1977. Eight months before I was born. We sat and talked yesterday. Here are some of the things he said:

1. My parents moved to Miami in 1951. I was two. My dad was a musician, a piano player, and he was really good. People come to Florida to start over. I think he thought that there were going to be more gigs down here. He gave it a shot for about four or five years until I had to be in school. But he loved the outdoors. So that was his gift to me. I have early memories of fishing when we lived in Key West. He had been on the high school swim team and we'd go to Haulover Beach in Miami and he'd do these one- and two-mile open-water swims and I'd hold onto the back of his trunks and I had a mask and a snorkel. It was like being in an aquarium. I can shut my eyes and see all those fish even now.

2. My mother was a big city woman who never liked Florida. But she could walk down the block, come back an hour later, her hair would be up in bobby pins, because she wanted to look good for my dad, smoking her Pall Malls, and she'd come home, and she'd have that -- people would use grapefruits, they would eat the grapefruit and then they would use it for an ashtray for the rest of the day. That ashtray would be on the table, and she'd say, 'Let me tell you what I found out.' And then she'd weave these stories about different neighbors. I'd just sit there and listen. She had that Irish gift of storytelling.

3. I don't remember any books in the house. But they were newspaper people. They were always talking about what they had read.

4. I wasn't dumb. I just didn't get good grades. I wanted to look out the window. I wanted to be somewhere else.

5. My first professional byline was when I was 16 in the Miami News. That was 1966.

6. Florida, what I call "Real Florida," was just right there, in your face. You didn't have to look hard for it like you do sometimes now.

7. Florida has these very clear characteristics related to heat, climate, other aspects of weather. Critters. Ways of life too. Deep down that stuff has been Florida probably forever, and on top of that is the 20th century and the 21st century, and some of those things are somewhat generic -- you could find those things anywhere, really everywhere you can go and find the crime and the politics -- but underneath that is this kind of primitive state. And it's always been interesting to write about the place of collision between those things. That intersection between old and new is very interesting to me.

8. I can look out the window because I've lived here all my life and I can see Real Florida. It might be some plants. A bird flying by. Walking along a seawall and seeing this fish, this fish, this fish.

9. When I was a kid, it just knocked you over -- you stepped out of the house, and Florida was there, just with the heat, and the bugs, and the fishing down at the end of the block, and manatees swimming by, and kids jumping in the canal next to the manatees, stuff like that. You know, Florida isn't gone, but it helps if you're ... literate. If you're literate about Florida. If you know something about natural history. I'm not an expert, I'm a jack of all trades, but sometimes I'm out there with people and it makes me feel like my first day of school. Because they're hearing birds -- they don't even have to see them to know what's there -- and from that they can extrapolate this whole world, what plants there must be, what time of year it is.

10. Air, water quality -- you know, I don't see anything coming out of Tallahassee that makes me think that's much of an issue for those people.

11. Writing is hard. It's fun but it's hard. And it can wear you out. I mean, during my career, there were a couple times where I just felt burnt out and would have to take a long breath and start over.

12. I was the sole support of my family and I had three kids. There was a lot of pressure.

13. I have an addictive personality. I went through years where I was a workaholic. And you hear that expression but I mean I really was a workaholic. When I came here, I was doing three stories a week, and then I was doing two, but that included -- I was traveling -- I mean, six days a week, 50, 60 sometimes even more hours, and I'd be physically and mentally tired, not to mention not the greatest husband or dad. And I'd have to step back. I actually went through therapy at one point.

14. I've tried to balance my life. It's hard to do that.

15. I love the St. Pete Times. I loved the St. Pete Times even when I was pissed off. I believe in the mission.

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