Are you reading this from the comfort of your air-conditioned home? Your temperate office? Do you need a light sweater?
It’s August in Florida, which means it’s time to be thankful for modern cooling devices and tip our hats to those who work under the blazing sun, in front of fires and over bubbling asphalt. Our writers and photographers rounded up some folks with Tampa Bay’s hottest jobs and spent a day working beside them.
They say in Florida you never meet anyone born in Florida.
They’ve never met the guys “out here,” patching potholes for the City of Tampa.
Leon Perez, James Tomas, James Garcia and Wayne Cann. Four out of four, Tampa born, Tampa raised.
Makes perfect sense to them. People from other states? They don’t always last long out here, where it’s so swampy your eyelids perspire before the rest of your body. Out here they can wring the sweat from their sodden hats by lunchtime.
Perez eats a sandwich in the truck with the air conditioner blasting. Watches a 30-minute break tick down as the digital thermometer on the dash ticks up. 107? 113? They’ve seen it out here.
On this particular day, out here is a blazing residential street in Ybor Heights. A utility crew did some repairs underground. Left a big square of asphalt missing right in the middle. Not a smudge of shade near it.
The replacement asphalt drops from the truck at around 300 degrees. They wear gloves. Reflective vests over their shirts. Long pants. Thick boots.
They dip shovels in diesel so the asphalt won’t stick. They spread and level and use a machine like a gas-powered floor waxer to flatten it. Water drips from that machine, and the asphalt steams. Sweat drips down Garcia’s forehead, and he wipes it with a grimy glove.
Then it’s done. Fresh street you can drive over without wrecking a tire.
It’s draining work. Garcia tells rookies to start upping their water intake in January to be ready for summer. He’s not kidding. Out here, they’ve seen a new guy cramp up and go to the hospital.
But it’s also the kind of work that makes you feel like you did something to make the city better. You might even be out with your family later, Perez says, and smile when you drive over it.
Christopher Spata, Times staff writer
Like a carefully choreographed waltz, the two men dodge and swivel.
A misstep here has grave consequences, like getting burned by the stainless steel pizza peel Rick Siegel had imported especially for this job. But accidents happen; burns happen. They’ve all fallen victim to the wood-burning furnace once or twice.
Siegel pivots and shoves the peel into the oven. He pulls out a tomato and mozzarella-flecked pie that’s blistered and bubbling. At 900 degrees, 90 seconds is all it takes.
“Margherita, coming out hot!”
Today’s Engine 53 Pizza service, in the parking lot of Bardmoor Palms in Largo, is a four-person show: Rachel, Siegel’s 8-year-old daughter, is layering slices of pepperoni. His wife, Sarah, is taking orders at the truck’s window. Another employee, Philip Wood, is singing along to a Ricky Martin song while playing Tetris with the pies vying for space in the oven. Siegel, his wedding ring caked in flour, is doing the assembly line tango — reading orders, tossing dough and topping pizzas. Everyone is sweating.
Outside, it starts to rain, and steam fogs up the windows. Riegel wears glasses but they come off the moment he gets to work.
Too hot, he says. Too much sweat.
In his previous job, Siegel worked as an emergency room nurse. At 46, he’s had enough of the trauma but not enough of the adrenaline.
In here, it’s just pizza. No one is going to die.
Throughout the lunch rush, Wood and Siegel swap spots when it gets too hot.
Back on the line, Siegel is sprinting to catch up. He grabs a ball of dough from behind and tosses it down on the flour-covered cutting board. Flour, stretch. Toss, stretch. Tomato sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, olive oil.
In the background, the truck’s generator hums, softly. Someone outside orders a calzone.
Helen Freund, Times food critic
Beach bar band
Cutty Jones lifts a shot of Patron XO and Baileys.
“Here’s to Jay not dying,” he says, slamming the shot.
Ah, Jay Slay. Jones’ musical partner called in sick this 94-degree Sunday, turning this into a solo gig at Shephard’s Beach Resort on Clearwater Beach.
All down the gulf, countless singers are in Jones’ sweltering shoes, covering Al Green and T-Pain for hours on end at waterfront bars and fried fisheries.
It’d be worse if Jay had showed. Their duo gigs are loaded with drumming and dancing. Since they started at Shephard’s last summer, Jones — a.k.a. James Pannofino, 31, of Safety Harbor — has lost 25 pounds.
“I’ve had days where I’ll come up off the drums and I’m disoriented,” he says. “I’ve been out here and drank 10 or 12 bottles of water and not pissed. It’s just all coming out of my pores.”
Booze dehydrates you more. But it’s hard to avoid. People send shots to the stage, Jones knocks them back. He wants to be part of the party. If he’s lit, they’re lit.
During breaks, he sneaks into the walk-in beer cooler, where it’s 50 degrees colder. His Shephard’s residency pays “a cut above” the couple hundred offered by most bars. But lately, he feels he’s hit a plateau. This was his eighth gig in five days. He wants to spend more time on his own music instead of sweating through cover gigs like this.
Dude, he thinks, I would love to be at the resort in shorts, no shirt, just sipping champagne.
Another day. For now, there are tourists with mojitos and a bachelorette party lounging sidestage. No one’s dancing. They’re barely clapping. Jones, up there all alone, takes a shot, and another, and he plays.
“It’s a nasty, wet, hot, American summer,” he says. “It’s Florida, baby.”
Jay Cridlin, Times entertainment critic
Hot yoga instructor
It’s 94 degrees when Alexis Holland walks into the small brick room at St. Petersburg’s Body Electric Yoga Company. She’s the last one in, the dozen or so students awaiting her instructions splayed on mats on the hardwood floor.
Holland settles onto her own mat, the bright morning light from the square window behind her casting her frame in a shadow.
In this room, heat is not only a byproduct of the next hour and 15 minutes. It is the point.
Hot yoga classes were made popular in the 1970s by the Bikram method, a 90-minute routine performed in 105-degree rooms. Heat intensifies yoga, tenfold for some people, Holland says. It warms up your muscles quicker, allows for a deeper stretch. It’s mental, too: How do you handle the discomfort?
Heat lamps line the ceiling in Holland’s hot yoga classes, bringing the temperature up to 95, 100 degrees. If you sit directly under one, you feel like a plate of fried chicken waiting to be served.
Hot yoga increases flexibility, helps release toxins from the body. Holland leads a series of vinyasa yoga poses, scaling the difficulty up or down depending on who is in the class. Everyone sweats.
“Feel your internal environment begin to change,” Holland says.
The relentless flow picks up. Downward dog, forward fold, plank, chaturanga, upward dog, repeat.
Shirts begin to soak through. A distinct smell develops.
Holland walks softly around the room, her voice barely above a whisper, her high ponytail now wilted.
“If you need to leave the room at any point, go ahead and do so.”
About 45 minutes in, Holland turns off some of the lamps. Ten minutes later, a couple more.
By the final savasana pose, the only heat in the room is coming from the dozen or so students, their palms up to the sky, their bodies beaded with sweat.
Michelle Stark, Times food and lifestyle editor
Edelweis Walker begins her day as a glassblower at the Morean Arts Center’s hot shop by firing up the re-heater furnace. It needs to reach 2,000 degrees before she can start working.
Puff, the shop’s main furnace filled with molten glass, is always roaring at 2,000 degrees.
Hot air wafts through the space, which has a roof but is mostly open to the outside, mixing with the summer’s muggy stillness.
But Walker doesn’t mind the heat. She stays hydrated and cools off with a wet towel.
Actually, she says, this is the best job she’s ever had.
She started out here in the St. Petersburg center as a student in 2011. After a few six-week sessions, her instructor noticed her talent and invited her to be his apprentice. Three years later, she was put on the payroll and quit her 18-year career as an X-ray technician.
Now the re-heater is red-hot; time to make an ornament. She gathers glass from Puff’s fiery belly on the end of a heated metal pipe. She only has 20 to 60 seconds to shape the orange glowing orb of glass before it freezes at 900 degrees. She flits around the space with the pipe, back and forth from the re-heater, to a table to pick up frit for color, to a bench for shaping.
As she blows into the pipe, twirling it as she goes, sweat glistens on her arms and shoulders, well-toned from eight years of practice.
Explaining each step, she raises her voice over the hum of the exhaust fans. She jokes about how “cold” the glass is at 1000 degrees. She touches the glass with a wet finger, playfully feigning a burn.
It’s just a trick she likes to play on the audience who watch her demos. Here in the heat, she’s just fine.
Maggie Duffy, Times arts writer
Three days a week, Cooper has the house to himself. He sits on the edge of the sofa and waits patiently for his brown-eyed girl to show up.
She lets herself in. Cooper sits in bristling anticipation. She slowly approaches and, with one word, he’s all hers.
“Walk?” says Sasha Kelly. He leaps into her arms, always excited to see the 33-year-old owner of Luxury Walks in Tampa. Kelly’s company works with 350 pet owners. She and her staff of three have plans to walk 28 dogs today, starting at 4:50 a.m.
On a good day, the 2-year-old Cockapoo marks all the mailboxes on his Palma Ceia block. This 91-degree morning, he makes it past four houses before plopping down and refusing to budge. With a gentle prompt and some sweet talk, Kelly manages to get him moving again. He rounds the corner long enough to growl at Wrigley, another townie twice his size. Then, he is spent. Eight minutes into the scheduled 20-minute walk, Cooper decides it’s time to head home.
Kelly usually carries water for herself and her clients, but she knows Cooper wouldn’t last long enough to need a drink. Even though their route is almost completely in the shade, Kelly has a plan if Cooper or any of her dogs gets too hot. She puts wet paper towels in the freezer for a few minutes, then rubs them on the dogs to slowly lower their temperatures. She also knows CPR.
Cooper picks up his step when he sees his yard and grabs the leash himself. He takes the three porch stairs in one jump and he’s through the door in a flash. In a minute, he’s back on his perch on the sofa.
Kelly wipes the sweat off her arms and flips her thick brown hair off her neck to lap up a little air conditioning.
Before leaving Cooper, Kelly saunters over to the sofa and rubs his belly. She leans in for a snuggle and whispers in his ear, “I love you so much.” He’ll sleep the rest of the day.
Kathy Saunders, Times staff writer
You’d think a cloudy morning with temperatures in the mid-70s would be ideal for a roofer, but Reggie Reed Jr. doesn’t like the look of this.
He’s got a crew of four ready to tear the shingles off a roof in St. Petersburg’s Childs Park neighborhood. It takes about three hours of back-breaking work using shovels and pry bars and even bare hands to rip up shingles. But when the rain comes, there’s no way to protect the house if they don’t get a sticky water barrier laid down first
He calls it off.
Two days later, he’s at another house in Pinellas Park where a morning rain has stopped but patches of gray clouds twirl overhead. Reed gives the go-ahead, keeping an eye on his phone.
Reed, 29, was a Lakewood High basketball star who went to Southern Illinois University to get a business and a master’s degree before joining his father at Reggie Reed Roofing. While everyone else spent summer working at McDonald’s, he was on a roof.
“Ever since I was 13.”
Crew chief Bonifacio Rodriguez hasn’t stood up straight for at least 10 minutes. Moving in a crouch, he scoops up a streak of shingles row by row. He hasn’t wasted one movement.
The temperature climbs to 88. It’s only 10 a.m. The crew can drink a gallon of water a day and never need a bathroom break. They just sweat it out.
They earn about $20 an hour, but only if the rain stays away so they can actually work. Remember those nice cool, dry days in January? The phone was nearly silent. Now it’s rainy season and the phone won’t stop ringing. There’s a four-week backlog.
“These people see their roof leaks all winter and they put it off,” says Reggie Reed Sr., 59. “Then the rainy season comes and it’s an emergency.”
Up on the roof, the four beefy men grab spades and picks. The petroleum scent of old roof materials rises with each crumbly gray shingle. They have to work fast.
Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Times staff writer
It starts with a toilet flushing anywhere from Fort De Soto to Pinellas Park and ends when the stuff coming out on the other side is sold for $50 to $100 a ton.
Between poop and payment comes a hot, odorous, 35-acre, 22-day science project.
Billy Washington, chief plant operator of the South Cross Bayou Advanced Water Reclamation Facility, is confused why the communications woman at the county nominated him for this story.
He does not have a hot job, he says, not anymore. But sure, let’s take a tour of the plant. Maybe he can find someone sweaty enough to qualify.
Past whirring turbines. Long pools of water in varying shades of brown. A giant vat of spent restaurant grease that feeds “the bug” that aids the biological breakdown process.
Perspiration pours from Billy’s bald head. Up and down steel stairs, he points and spouts off percentages. Ammonia. Nitrites. Nitrates. Etc.
Billy knows his ... stuff.
There was time to learn. The Largo native left Florida once, briefly, for New York. Heard his mom was dying. Came home like a good boy to be by her side. She lived 13 more years.
He chuckles. There was no leaving again. He was a county man by then.
First it was digging ditches. Way too hot. He interviewed for a position at this very plant. It was horrendous — non of today’s deodorizing technology back then — but he took it, temporarily. That was 1981.
Billy mops his sweaty face with a disposable wipe. He takes a moment in the shade near a wheelbarrow full of “cake,” a euphemism for the dark, crumbly, human waste left behind after the plant removes the water.
The cake goes into a 1,300-degree furnace three times and comes out AA grade fertilizer pellets.
At the end, it still has a particular odor.
“It smells like money,” Billy says.
His shirt is wet by the end of the tour. He’s sorry he couldn’t find anyone doing a hot job. Maybe come back another day.
Christopher Spata, Times staff writer