I arrived in Florida just before Memorial Day in 1997. The then-St. Petersburg Times had hired me as a reporting intern to help in Pasco County. Minutes after I walked into the office, the bureau chief told me to remove my necktie and never put it back on. Later that day, my editor whom I had yet to meet paged me with the message, “Yur fired!”
The humidity felt like an invisible straight jacket, and every driver on U.S. 19 seemed to be auditioning for NASCAR. On one of my first reporting assignments, a lightning bolt flashed so close my eyes took a minute to re-calibrate. Later that summer, a man connected to a bizarre child custody battle in the Moon Lake neighborhood answered his door bare-chested with a shotgun in hand. He didn’t point the weapon at me, but I took him at his word when he said he didn’t want to talk.
Welcome to the Sunshine State!
The odds of my sticking around seemed low. I missed mountains and wasn’t that into theme parks or boiled peanuts. A rattlesnake took up residence near the front door of my rented house in Brooksville. The local police chief, an intimidating bear of a man, recommended a swift blow with a garden hoe. Instead, my neighbor who had small children “took care of it.” The optimist in me hopes the rattler lived out its days in the nearby Withlacoochee State Forest. The pragmatist knows better.
Florida grew on me. Endless sunshine was a welcome contrast to the gloom and rain of my native Pacific Northwest. The state was intriguing — electric with potential but still mired in the past — with an eccentric cast of characters. The Tampa Bay area was fertile ground for any young reporter looking to learn the craft.
The job took me from Pasco to Hernando to Hillsborough and, finally, Pinellas County. I bought a house and met my wife, the best thing that ever happened to me. She makes me laugh at inappropriate times. We have a son, a rising fifth-grader who likes American history and thinks wearing a shirt should be optional. He’s growing up too fast.
The latest challenge is taking the reins as editor of editorials for the Tampa Bay Times. My predecessor called it “one of the best jobs in journalism.” He had 12 years to make that assessment. I’ve only been at it a week. Still, I can already see why he was so enamored.
At their best, our daily opinion pages help cut through the noise. They provide a steady, sober and smart voice, a counterbalance to the rise of slipshod ideas and lazy thinking. They should help you reflect and occasionally make you laugh. They should help you better understand our community and give you something to talk about at your next virtual cocktail party.
You won’t agree with every viewpoint expressed on our pages. I don’t. We’ve already run columns, cartoons and letters to the editor that don’t adhere to my way of thinking. That’s a good thing. The idea is to be interesting and provocative, not an echo chamber of any one set of beliefs.
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To that end, I’d like your help. First, when you get ticked off, write us a letter. Opposing views welcome. Also, we want to hear from more people who aren’t being heard and have something compelling to say. Last year, a teacher wrote a column about why she was quitting. She provided a powerful and personal narrative on a topic of community interest. Readers gobbled it up.
We are looking for voices who may be off our radar — a small business owner buried by government-required paperwork, a stay-at-home mom tired of being treated like a second-class citizen, the college grad who chose to swing a hammer on a construction site instead of joining the white-collar world. Those are just three of a nearly infinite number of possibilities.
The opinion pages should feel like an ongoing conversation, one that evolves with the times. If you want to sit back and observe, that’s great. But please consider this an invitation to join in. What’s on your mind? What subjects would you like us to tackle? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More than 23 years have passed since I drove in on State Road 52 in Pasco County. The state has come a long way in that time, but there is much work to be done. The opinion pages of the Tampa Bay Times help provide a forum for ideas on how to move forward. I’m excited to get started and to get to know more of you.
For me, Florida wasn’t love at first sight, but now there is no place I’d rather be.