Thursday, April 30, 2009

Don't Dare Touch My Red chair Again

There aren't many better views of Hillsborough Bay, Davis Islands and the entire downtown skyline in all of Tampa. And, for the cost of a blue (or red) camp chair, and a giant Slurpee, it's free. Relax and enjoy the vista, the cool breeze off the bay, sea gulls swooping in on dinner and long conversation. Now how could life be better? The quiet conversation as you come closer to overhear is Chrysler's bankruptcy, its merger with Fiat, whether the kids' trip to Cancun will be cancelled because of the Swine Flu pandemic (that's it, no more pork chops for you Helen), when WILL they capture Bin Laden (Just send me in after him Ruthie), after we lost all our life's savings we can't even afford another Slurpee and on and on and on. And to think that in our grandparent's day all they worried about was the flu pandemic of 1918, a silly dust bowl, handsome Mr. Coolidge ruining our country and the Great Depression. Isn't life a hoot, Helen. What will this generation think up next? Silly kids.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How long will it last: The chalk just keeps on keeping on.

The front page of the Wednesday, November 5, 2008 issue of TBT*Tampa Bay Times, the daily that has gained a wide readership on both sides of the bay, is reproduced on the sidewalk at Hyde Park Village. The chalk art reproduction is still visible after several weeks of foot prints, weather and lots of dog paws that have crisscrossed its surface a thousand times. The artwork was created during the inaugural Chalk Walk, a public festival of drawings created in late March by about 25 individuals, families and groups. The Tampa Bay Business Committee for the Arts played host and several other companies joined together to sponsor the events for the hundreds of artists and Chalk Walkers. Some of the finished works were huge and others not so big but they all showed great imagination, design and color. Tampa's future was their theme and it was interpreted in a wide number of ways by adults and children. Tampa's skyline, mass transit systems and beautiful people were favorite elements of many of the designs. Sidewalks in front of village restaurants, shops and around the fountain of Hyde Park Village were used liberally as canvases. As the days have gone by most of the works have disappeared, but this one remains. Public chalk art by it very nature smears, smudges and literally blows away. (Think of the Florentine artists working on the touristy streets by the Ponte Vecchio.) What we need are more chalk artists, more frequently.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A short drive west through the nice neighborhood of Beach Park, around Swann Circle and across Westshore, the road ends at Tampa Bay. These boats are sitting at docks in front of homes on a canal that's just a few yards from beautiful open water. Although three bridges connect Tampa to the Gulf beaches, these quiet residential streets on the Tampa side are highly desirable because of their view and frontage on deep, open canals that make getting out in the boat a simple matter of untying it and setting one's course. It's a lazy existence for these pleasure boats, rocking all day, all week, tied to a piling. Dodging sea gulls, barnacles and jets dropping lower and lower overhead making their approach into Tampa International Airport. But it could all change. The craft could come to life, throw off its lines and head out into the bay. It just got tired of the wait. It couldn't take another day of anxious anticipation. The day is too perfect. It was built for speed, fishing, cruising. Not a life of privilege and coddling at the dock. Never mind the talk of selling her. No. Never. What recession? High gas prices? Ok. OK. It'll sit at the dock, look spectacular and dream. (And look really good.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

A talented and determined artist decided to help this convenience market by adding a funky mural of Americana to the entire side wall of the building. Working over and through the chimney and drain spout, the painting is imaginative and well executed. It's just plain fun to look at. A Sunny Florida Dairy truck and its driver are delivering crates of milk (while actual crates stand stacked against the wall at left.) The mural, stretching across roughly 10 x 25 feet of concrete block, has a 1930s, log-cabin and mountains theme, yet graces a hot cement block building. If you're not actively looking, you would never even spot this creation as you speed south on Westshore Boulevard. And, once found, it fights for your attention along with the steaming asphalt parking lot, big, blue dumpster and cars parked up against it. It's fun and worth seeing. If you take a few shots of it, expect strange, quizzical looks from locals and shoppers - "Why would anyone take a photograph of that!?? No matter. It was a terrific find and proves how resilient and upbeat our creative community can be in the face of all sorts of obstacles...including a less than ideal location.The artist showed true skill and inspiration to imagine and paint this fantastic tableau in this particular location. I tip my hat and hope these colorful murals sprout up everywhere.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

SoHo Scooters has just opened and is selling gas-sipping motor scooters to Tampa's car-obsessed drivers. While many parts of the world have long regarded the versatile scooter as the way to go, we Americans seem caught up in a Catch 22 transportation situation. We've allowed decades of sprawl and suburban growth to take us away from our town centers into faraway gated communities. The result is a longer commute traveling on busier and busier local streets, highways and interstates that are perpetually clogged with huge cars, pickups and semi's. Would you dare drive a scooter on most of our local roads? To work each day? To the neighborhood market? No? Well, bigger cities with narrower roads and much larger populations throughout Italy, France and Japan adore the scooter culture. Thousands can be seen parked together and seem to multiply by the hour. They make sense in so many ways. And the drivers in cities such as Florence and Paris don't jockey with American-sized iron monsters that jam our parking lots and fill our three-car garages. Their cars are the proper size for parking spaces, streets and comfort. Could we drop cars for scooters tomorrow? I wouldn't. But electric carts like the yellow one peeking out behind the red scooter under the umbrella, a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle to be precise (NEVs), are busy transporting tourists, business people and locals alike, thank you. And the world hasn't ended. Could SoHo Scooter be at the forefront of increasing awareness and sales of scooters? Could Tampa follow the way of some of the world's great cities? I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Hey. Why not adopt scooters AND mass transit, too? That's so 22nd century isn't it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A man and a woman. So much tension, yet cold and unmoving.

This sweet couple stand greeting passersby on Howard Avenue, our SoHo entertainment and restaurant/bar district. After your first realization that, no, sadly, they are not living, breathing locals trying to decide which of the hottest clubs to hit, you drive on by. But that first glance makes you look. He's sporting an Au currant goatee, skull t-shirt and bleached jeans. She is almost touching his hand, she's moving in on the clean-cut young professional dressed for bar-hopping on a Saturday night. She is declaring 'poison' on her t. The latest jeans and t-shirt ensembles probably set them back a few bucks. Just so they could look properly casual and unconcerned with their clothes. There must be forty or so popular nightspots to choose from as they make their way up and down Howard, South Tampa's place to eat and party. The famous Bern's Steakhouse is a couple of blocks down. That's it. He has their proper jackets stashed and they're heading to Bern's for steak and the dessert room after. What an elegant evening he has planned. (Now, will she take his hand in hers?)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Here you're out strolling and taking in all the natural beauty of Florida and you come upon this attractive window display. Picture-perfect children. The light streaming through their colorful striped and polka-dot umbrellas is ever playful and inviting. Adirondack chairs arranged just so at their feet and a fake palm, dark and all alone, is standing off to the side. Lights are rigged to its trunk but the plug hangs loosely by its side. That's it. The whole scene is awaiting balanced illumination. Add sun to the sand and games. Bring some rays of light through the palm fronds. Here you're surrounded by natural Florida and you're gazing into a scene created by talented window dressers. To compel us to buy. Fake palms, sand and a huge photomural of smiling kid models in a beach scene. And obviously the kids love their Adirondack chairs. Do consumers expect to see scenes of lobstering in shop windows in Maine or boys and girls running through fields of wheat in stores in Kansas? I just can't help but wonder.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

When I saw it...sorry, saw her on a street in front of a nondescript cell phone store, I couldn't pull over fast enough to grab a formal portrait. It's bad enough we've had to tolerate the visual blight on our cities for years by every buy-here, pay-here car dealership trying so hard to convince you that you should slow, stop and turn into their place because their brand and reputation is personified out-front by a huge, ridiculous - wiggling - cold air inflatable gator, gorilla and Santas. It never worked. Now that the near demise of the American auto industry has put all these giant, colorful, yet lovable 40-foot creatures out of work (sigh!), cell phone companies are obviously snapping up bargains to plop down in front of you on our roadways to bring attention to their brand. Ye, sure. It's working. Right? This particular gal, I'll call her pink gorilla bikini babe, is doing her very best. (She even applied a fresh coat of red toenail polish.) Just keep her cold air pumping. And guard your friends and family.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Garrison Channel runs between Tampa's Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park and Harbour Island. If you look ( the channel is at the bottom of the map, across from Tampa's main downtown business district and the beautiful island of shops, restaurants, homes and condominiums. Spectacular place to live and play. And right on the water leading out to Hillsborough Bay and Gulf of Mexico. This interesting sculptural device is one of two that guard an entrance gate that leads down to the docks and boats on the water. They stand directly in front of the Parkcrest at Harbour Island, condominiums that are over the top and include a waterfront pool and spa, private boat slips and are just across the bridge from Tampa's office towers, Tampa Convention Center, Lightning hockey and the new Tampa Bay History Center.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

As the sun begins to set, Tampa's downtown comes alive as the light jumps from surface to glass to reflect off one facade and creeps onto another. The Franklin Exchange Building, just visible on the left as the darker, shorter skyscraper, was once Tampa's tallest. Now dwarfed by all the newer office towers, it peeks out at a city that has grown up and outward over the decades. In the foreground, moored at its dock on Bayshore Boulevard, is the proud ship Jose Gaspar. The Gaspar, slowly disappearing into the evening shadows, reappears in all its glory just once a year as it carries the Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla to its invasion of our fair city. The flotilla of ships and raucous parade annually attract close to 400,000 revelers who celebrate the city's takeover by the marauding pirates. For now, the Gaspar rocks quietly, tugging at its ropes, its sails furled, while the darkness of the night envelopes her and the cityscape behind.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tampa's Indigo Coffee is the an inviting spot for a cup of fresh-brewed while people-watching at the Hyde Park Village fountain, shops and nearby restaurants. Great in the mornings but perfect at the lunch hour where you can just sit under the oak trees and enjoy your cup of java. Indigo Coffee is only in Tampa and attracts a steady crowd of folks from the neighborhood, tourists, business people and dogs (dragging their owners around). Obviously it is a bright spot in the evenings as you take in the evening air. Indigo was voted Tampa's Best. And my NY Times is available, too.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A day to relax and take in the calming waters of Tampa Bay by savoring a cold, frothy Guinness Extra and chilled Pinot Grigio. The jumbo fried Gulf shrimp and just caught Mahi Mahi are being prepared and we're unwinding and enjoying each other's company. Soul mates sharing a long life and a delightful day together. Whether we're celebrating a special day or just taking it easy on a perfect Florida afternoon, we are lovin' the view and breeze off the open water.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Which is more extraordinary, the EXTRA 300 aircraft or the classic silver automobile in the foreground? Both are special and rarefied in their own world. Today was another blue-sky day of light winds and tolerable Florida sunshine…the best time to visit. The annual Islands Fest is held in Tampa in April and features fun activities for families including food and children’s rides and games. And the spectacular setting of the sparkling waters of Hillsborough Bay. But “big kids” could enjoy toys of a different sort. The MG Club brought out 100 British cars of every make and vintage including Triumphs, Aston Martin, Sunbeam Tigers, Spitfires, Jaguars, Jensens and MINIs (including a British mail wagon that saw service in London). Mixed in with the cars were planes including a US Navy biplane trainer and several older aircraft. The day’s winner for speed and maneuverability was this new Extra 300 manufactured by Flugzeugproduktions-und Vertriebs GmbH in Hünxe, Germany. Regarded as one of the world’s premiere aerobatic, sport and professional planes, it won the 2007 UK Advanced and Unlimited Nationals. After seeing it perform and climb straight up at the end of the Peter O. Knight runway, I found that it is the only unlimited-category aerobatic aircraft approved to plus/minus 10G’s. Not with me in it though!! It must really excite the pilots who want high performance, speed and maneuverability. Me? I’ll stick with the beauty in the near foreground. Now here’s a means of transportation I can drive and enjoy. It’s a 1948 Healy Westland. Like new. It’s the first of the cars Donald Healey produced under his name and has Scottish leather, an aluminum body, a 104hp in-line four and a glistening finish. With a top speed of 93mph, I’ll take the Healey for a spin, thank you.

Friday, April 17, 2009

With a high temperature in the mid-80s, and the humidity still relatively low and comfortable, life in Tampa just doesn't can't get any better than this. Marjorie Park Yacht Basin is on Davis Islands and right across from the neighborhood of Harbour Island. It's a public park and has slips for power as well as sailboats. It's a wonderful collection of pleasure craft representing the gamut from the fully-rigged sport fisherman to sweet day sailors. The collection is tied up at the dock, gently rocking and swaying under the bright blue sky, but ready to head out into the channel, Hillsborough Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. What a glorious life.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

This view is from Plant Park on the Hillsborough River. The giant lizard on the side of the Franklin Exchange building is a project of the Outdoor Arts Foundation, which is responsible for other artwork and creative installations throughout the Tampa Bay area. The most amazing and and relatively unknown structure in Tampa is in the foreground, the amphitheater built as part of Kiley Park. Completed in 1988 by architect Harry Wolf and landscape architect Dan Kiley, the park is located between Ashley Drive and the riverfront. The new Tampa Museum of Art is being built just north. Geometry tied the park to the cylindrical office tower building beside it. (An architect will tell you that the tower's fenestration pattern was based on the application of the proportional system of Fibonacci numbers.) Palm trees crossed the site and an intricate pattern of grass, paving stones and water features completed the site. A masterpiece according to its admirers. The amphitheater is currently under restoration along with Kiley Park, all part of the city's new arts district and Tampa Museum of Art. Rowing teams from all over the country come each year to compete against the University of Tampa. The walls and bridges along the riverfront are festooned with the colors and symbols of the visiting college teams.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

When my daughter was just a little girl, she loved horses. Even after she (and her mom) had one of their very own, she still loved to visit the beautiful, oak-canopied stables at Ballast Point and play on the swings in the Jules Verne Park located along the bay. The stables are still there, just south of Gandy Boulevard and off Bayshore on Interbay, and they are even more relaxing and filled with lazy southern charm as ever. This evening my daughter's little guy, just 2 years old, my grandson, visited the stables and was as enthralled by the horses as was his mom when she was his age. Some things never change. The stables and horses are still intriguing and watching a little one dreaming and imagining a special world all his own is what makes life so wonderful. One day he may be a champion Olympic equestrian.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tampa's colorful "TECO Line Streetcar System" connects historic Ybor City with the Channelside Bay Plaza (on the waterfront for shopping, bars and restaurants), Tampa Convention Center, the Florida Aquarium, the recently opened Tampa Bay History Center (on Old Water Street), the St. Pete Times Forum (where our Tampa Bay Lightning play championship hockey) and downtown hotels. It's a fun way to get around.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Hyde Park Village in South Tampa

Hyde Park Village, a shopping area in South Tampa, is part of a neighborhood of older homes within the Hyde Park Historic District. The district is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. I love the red British telephone box smack in the heart of the village along with the street sign for Snow Avenue framed by palm trees. I'm sure an early Tampa developer found great humor in naming this small, palm-lined lane, which runs down to the open bay, for the white-stuff.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tampa's Channel District is filled with unexpected surprises

The Channel District was once home to warehouses and businesses that supported the shipping industry and the busy port of Tampa. Over the last few years developers have transformed the area with condominiums, shops and restaurants. The Florida Aquarium, trolleys of the Tampa & Ybor City Street Railway and cruise ship terminals attract natives and tourists to the newly-bustling waterfront. But in the heart of the district are several artists who add character, energy and life with their galleries and creations.
What is this monster on the street?