Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ybor City Wall Art: Cigar Rollers and a Mercedes CLS Coupe

What does the hand painted mural on this nightclub wall in Ybor City have to do with the Mercedes-Benz? Nothing really. A great juxtaposition. But if you want to know what the mural represents, the story is more valuable than the cost of all the luxury cars rolled into one. At its pinnacle as a bustling city of industry, Ybor City was an eclectic mix of immigrants who spoke many languages, proudly celebrated their ethnic foods, music and cultures, and through their hard work made their city into the cigar manufacturing capital of the world. So, what about the Benz? Owners of the cigar factories could easily have driven any automobile made in any country. At any price. But a Cadillac or Duesenberg, with a very-y-y long hood, convertible top, 12-cylinder engine and lots of leather was probably their odds-on favorites during the cigar industry's heyday.They proudly drove American back then, the epitome of their hard-earned fortunes and sophistication. A Mercedes? Just some truly oddball import from Germany - a nice car indeed - that would probably break down on one of Florida's dusty, rutted cracker roads. Get it repaired at the local garage? Good luck. Ship it back for repairs? Oh sure. Although the owners of the major cigar companies could afford such luxury, I doubt many were so extravagant. (One of the most breathtaking automobiles made in the 1920s and 30s, the Hispano-Suiza from Spain, was being driven over the brick streets of Tampa and Ybor City by a man of considerable class and means. Now he had real taste in cars!) Parking your new Mercedes CLS Coupe today at the cigar-rollers' table isn't the same statement that would have made back in the years between the two world wars. The mural draws more attention today than does the car. The entire wall represents different scenes from Ybor City's rich history. If you look closely, cigar workers are shown handrolling cigars which were then bundled and shipped to every corner of the globe. The Cigar Capital of the World produced millions of cigars, handrolled and later machine made. The Mercedes? Hand fashioned but mostly machine-made. In this economy, both the cigar and the import luxury automobile may represent extravagances and spending of another era, the booming turn of the 21st century. Looking ahead, the car will certainly last a good many years. The mural? Sadly, it's fading fast.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hot Dogs in Paradise: A Florida Sunshine Treat

I am so attracted - photographically - to small, often movable food trailers. (I feature another one today at Tampa Florida Photo. TWO in one day. What great luck.) They are really too big to be called "carts" but they aren't permanent fixtures either. They serve the exact same purpose as sidewalk cart vendors in many of the world's cities and feed us everything from hot pretzels to shish kebab to plain, all American hot dogs, Sabretts please. This semi-permanent (because it hasn't moved recently) food trailer sits facing the Marion Transit Center for HART, our county's Hillsborough Area Regional Transit. It is the main hub of the system and is our nicest and most modern bus facility. It serves passengers going to and from all parts of the county of nearly 1 million. (HART also manages the TECO Line Streetcar System .) The facility, which I know you really can't see, was built in 2001 on the north side of Tampa's downtown, just at the interstate. It must be a very busy place at different times of the day and includes a customer service center, offices, driver lounge and passenger shelters. Notice that I did not say restaurant.

Well, there you have it. Entrepreneur to the rescue of all those starving passengers and drivers. I admit to you that I deliberately chose to shoot the back of the trailer. I just liked the way it's framed by the Mediterranean-style of the center, luscious plantings and tall palm trees. Oh, and Florida's gorgeous blue sky and clouds. From this vantage point the faux roof is very exposed, the employees' lounge is visible and the itsy-bitsy air conditioner, cut smack into the wall of the trailer, is a highlight of the whole thing. Do note the red and white striped awning is directly in front and the left side has a lovely and colorful curved awning. (You do know that with the AC running 24/7 the hot dogs would not need any artificial heat or steam to cook for the hungry diners. It'd be 120 degrees inside on most any day, especially as the trailer is sitting on an unused asphalt parking lot. My apologies for not showing the fine architecture and planning that went into the Marion Transit Center. It is nice.

This trailer is just too inviting. Catch the menu. (Oh, go ahead, click on the pic and get in close. HOT DOGS. COLD DRINKS. CORN DOGS. FRENCH FRIES. And the menu probably offers tons of ice with gallons of cold drinks. Step right up. Come one. Come all. Get your steaming Hot Dogs here. In paradise.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Skywatch Friday

Before the billowing clouds turn black and heavy afternoon rains begin to fall , the immense white clouds seem to rise up to the heavens. Please visit Skywatch Friday to see other incredible skies from around the world. Have a glorious day filled with Florida sunshine.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Little Lighthouse that wishes it could

Can you make out the sweet little lighthouse on the right? It stands oh so proudly but wishes this view didn't shout industrial park. It would seem that it is engulfed by equipment and is smack in the middle of a less than ideal location. Well, the camera can certainly deceive, even lie to us at times. Right? Let me tell you a bit about what seems to be the lighthouse's unfortunate and less than desirable location. First, it is not sitting smack in the midst of ship repair cranes, boat lifts, fuel tanks and mechanical equipment of every size and description. It's actually on its own narrow point of land at the tip of one of Tampa's most desirable pieces of real estate - Harbour Island. (Yes, I've shown small parts of the island in previous posts and written about its excellent views of the city and superb location. The island can boast of two really good restaurants that I recommend Cafe Dufrains and That's Amore Italian.) The lighthouse - and I would guess its owners have given it a name - is a special architectural folly, if you will, at the home of one of Tampa's most generous families, the Baileys, widely known for their philanthropy through the Bailey Foundation. The 13,000 square foot home they designed and had built sits on the tip of the island in a gated section called The Pointe. It's an exclusive section of home owners who enjoy the proximity to Tampa's downtown, its exclusive address, and walled and gated security. Not only does their exquisite home feature the lighthouse but its own 100,000-gallon swimming pool. The entire home was said to cost between $4-million and $6-million. Harbour Island, which used to be a very totally forgettable eyesore so close to downtown, a dusty, dirty island of railroad tracks and loading docks for phosphate, was transformed (not overnight) into a wealth of homes, condos, apartments, shops and amenities such as restaurants, bars and office buildings. All of this within walking distance of downtown. Two bridges connect the city to the island but it remains a world unto itself. Jogging trails, playground, boat docks and lush landscaping announce you've arrived in a bit of paradise. From its earliest start as a planned development in 1971, it has gone through many lives and grand ideas to arrive at the totally transformed and highly desirable address it is today. When you look at the lighthouse, all of the other things you see are across Sparkman Channel, a very wide, 40 foot+ deep channel which is directly accessible from the Gulf of Mexico. Once a ship slides under the 175 foot height of the Skyway Bridge, they enter Tampa Bay. Many ships are headed for the lighthouse's neighbor, Tampa Ship, LLC, just across the channel. It has got to be fun to watch the traffic right in your backyard. A company which has a long history in Tampa, Tampa Ship employs over 500 men and women in building, inspecting and repairing ships of almost any size. The really huge lifts to the left of the lighthouse and building are for accommodating ships of up to 907 feet...three times the length of an American football field. The building is 600 feet long and 145 feet wide and 115 feet high - that can contain a mighty big ship. The lifts can handle over 800 tons. So, is the dear lighthouse surrounded by ruffians and tough characters. Yes and no. Just a leap across the channel is a giant ship repair facility. To the other side across Seddon Channel is Davis Islands, a beautiful place to live. The lighthouse celebrates two worlds. A special companion, a folly of sorts, to a multi-million dollar home. Its other world? What every lighthouse has always been asked to do. Shine its beacon for ships and sailors looking for land, comfort and safe passage. It excels in every respect. Now, what is its name?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tampa Fire Rescue keeps its fireboat at the ready

This is quite the boat. Although she has seen her younger days slip by, just like every other piece of expensive firefighting equipment, from firehouses, trucks, cars to, yes, fireboats, she looks absolutely brand new. (She's a real honey at 20 yards.) Soon to be joined by a spanking new boat by the same company that built her, right now she's at the ready and does see her share of fires. The boat is moored in front of the dock master's building at the Marjorie Park Yacht Basin on Davis Islands. The basin opens into Seddon Channel that leads up to the Hillsborough River or down to the Hillsborough Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Built by MetalCraft Marine of Kingston, Ontario, Canada and Clayton, NY, the current boat will be joined in June by her planned replacement. (I won't let on in case she's jealous.)Along with greatly increased water pumping capacity, the new boat, the Firestorm 69, will be fast. Measuring 70 feet, the boat will reach 35 knots and be powered by 825-hp diesel engines. (This one has huge outboards.) Cost? Close to $2,000,000. (The replacement is long overdue and if it saves one life it's worth every penny.)

MetalCraft Marine builds a variety of specialized craft including high speed patrol boats, fire boats, rescue boats, and work boats. The new FireStorm 69 will be the fastest fireboat in the world and will pump 10,000 GPM (gallons per minute.) Its increased capabilities in our many different kinds of water, including the river, bays, channels and port, should make everyone - commercial ships, cruise ships and locals alike - feel much better protected. Tampa's new vessel will be delivered next month. I will keep my eye out for her arrival and compare the two vessels, realizing that aside from being able to find our fireboat at dock, I'm totally unqualified and uninitiated in fireboat technology. I'll simply leave it to my camera to do the detail work and comparison.

I don't know what will eventually happen with this sweet boat. In the condition she appears to be in, and knowing that Tampa Fire Rescue maintains her, I imagine she'll live a very long, long life - perhaps retired to do some sleepy fishing in Costa Rica or in the Florida keys. (Only kidding.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Here's a lady of the law to be obeyed - she's watching you.

She stands tall and triumphant in front of the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse. The courthouse, which was built in 2000, contains the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit which comprises Hillsborough County (of which Tampa is the county seat.) No one can pass this lady without noticing. I think she speaks to everyone who passes her way - in and out of courtrooms – lawyers, judges, bailiffs, judges and yes, the accused for sure. She speaks loudly and with force. How to describe the sculpture in a word? Magnificent. If I’m allowed a second word, she’s gorgeous. Veritas et Justitia is the formal name given the statue by the internationally-known artist, Audrey Flack. Calling her Lady Justice just does not do her justice. Plus she’s so wonderfully different than so many others who grace courthouse entrances and the tops of buildings, giving a sense of justice and fairness to our legal system. She perfectly represents balance and her own classy way. A contemporary interpretation of classical sculpture in the ancient Greek and Roman traditions, the artist created a classical figure but her presence is modern, forceful and incredibly alive. Very powerful. If the artist wanted to add a strong yet beautiful presence to the courthouse entrance she succeeded beyond question. The statue, ten foot tall and weighing 2,000 lbs., is cast in bronze, patinated and gilded. But no matter the amount of bronze and gilding, every piece of public art commissioned and installed in Tampa and Hillsborough County generates controversy and opinion. Veritas et Justitia elicited comment both positive and negative when it was unveiled in 2007. In my opinion, the artist succeeded immeasurably well. Audrey Flack is a pioneer of Photorealism and a nationally recognized painter and sculptor. She holds a graduate degree and an honorary doctorate from Cooper Union in New York City and a BFA from Yale University. She has taught and lectured extensively. Her work is in major museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American. Notice as you click and enlarge the photo (and you must to appreciate this fine work) that the lady does not hold the scales of justice, as do most other statues of this kind, and is wearing a most interesting blindfold, not solid so her justice is truly blind, but has tiny slits for her eyes. The greenish cast to the bronze is intentional and is set off handsomely by the gold leaf and crown of stars. I hope you agree that Veritas et Justitia is a magnificent sculpture.

Monday, May 25, 2009

LIVE: Our Nation Shows Its Pride And Respect on Memorial Day

Many times the most immediate moments or events in our lives are viewed on our television screens. Either when we can't be there in person or when something occurs that only the immediacy of live television (or streaming live on our computer) can take us there, it is though we are witnessing the action in person, participants in a way. Sometimes it's the best we can do to be apart and join millions of others as it's happening. Today, our nation pauses to remember all of our military, those who are currently serving our country in uniform and the millions of veterans who served in wars and in peacetime. But just moments ago many of us stopped wherever we were to watch a ceremony that has been repeated for decades. Each year, on this day, our president makes the short trip across the bridge from Washington to Arlington National Cemetery. There, he is joined by veterans, families of veterans and the leaders of our armed forces. In a solemn and very moving ceremony, he places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. With the city of Washington, DC spread out in front of him, and the honor guard of the 3rd U.S. Infantry, The Old Guard, serving at his side, the president pays the highest honor to those entombed, known only to God, and to all men and women who serve and have served in defense of our freedoms and liberty. The stirring music, prayer and the playing of taps remind us all of our history and of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who stepped forward when our country called.

I am immensely and forever proud that three of my family members are buried in Section One of Arlington National Cemetery. My father, grandmother and my namesake, my grandfather, are buried beside one another and surrounded by thousands whose lives we remember and cherish. We celebrate their selfless service and sacrifice on this day.

(Click these links for more information about The Old Guard and Arlington National Cemetery .)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

It's Not High-Speed Rail but It's OUR Union Station

Yes, Tampa does have train service. It’s not high-speed rail, which has been talked about for many years and may one day happen, but we are served by a railroad and have been for well over a hundred years. Henry B. Plant brought his railway here to serve his wealthy guests vacationing at the grand, Moorish-style Tampa Bay Hotel in the 1890s. Not long after the U.S. Army encamped here and road the rails in 1898 before setting sail from Port Tampa for Cuba and the Spanish-American War. So, yes, although Tampa’s history of train travel isn’t long when compared to many U.S. cities and foreign capitals, we’re proud of Tampa Union Station. It was built in 1912 and was served by the Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard Air Line and the Tampa & Gulf Coast railroads. It was designed by J.F. Leitner in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. In 1974, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its architectural and historic significance. Through most of the 20th century, its beautiful lobby welcomed people from all over North America. It was the the place that saw soldiers and airmen off to two world wars. Through its doors they came to say goodbye, duffel bags slung over shoulders, to board trains for unknown and faraway lands. And families, wives and children welcomed home veterans of our wars. Onto its platforms thousands of passengers took their first steps as they began to discover the wilds and wonders (and heat) of Florida’s Gulf Coast and its natural beauty (and Weeki Wachee Springs, carved coconut heads and Shell Factory stores only to be followed decades later by Disney, Mickey, Space Mountain and EPCOT.) The sounds and hugs of grandparents visiting their grandchildren. Young pilots coming home to marry their sweethearts. Shipyard workers heading down to the docks to build and repair ocean-going vessels. Businessmen returning home after travels up and down the Eastern seaboard. But, as train ridership fell over the years, and the popularity, cost and and ease of automobile and airline travel grew, the station began to fall into disrepair. By 1984, the beautiful station was closed and the passengers who still road the rails used a temporary building. But, the public and dedicated preservationists recognized that a tremendous part of our history was represented in the station, a history worth restoring and reopening. Union Station was acquired in 1991 by the non-profit Tampa Union Station Preservation & Redevelopment. After many hours of work and millions of dollars in restoration funds, it re-opened in 1998 and was one of the first buildings to be designated a Tampa Landmark by the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. (Visit Tampa Florida Photo for additional photos.) The station reopened to Amtrak passengers and the public that same year. Today, the station serves as a stop for Amtrak’s New York-Miami overnight Silver Star, as well as providing connections to Orlando, Lakeland, Pinellas Park-St. Petersburg, Bradenton, Sarasota, Port Charlotte, and Ft. Myers. It’s still the only train station in the city. Never been another. Today, a permanent endowment ensures that the station and its proud history will endure for many generations. All aboard.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fishing in Paradise (If You're A Fish): A Sunshine State of Mind

Florida would have a tough time today coming up with the name Sunshine State as rain continues to fall pretty regularly. After yesterday's great fun visiting with and sharing with you the story of Mr. Stan Good and his not-to-be-believed clocks and fan museum, I find the quiet and solidarity of this fishing pier shrouded in gray and drizzling sky a welcome respite. Even though fish certainly do come up to the surface for the anglers as rain falls, and they are of course just as interested in the fresh bait shrimp as they are when it's clear and 90 degrees, the fishermen aren't quite as comfortable in the water as are the creatures with fins and gills. (Although it might be worth our while to check out those gills as a possibility for the near future if the blue sky doesn't return soon.) As for me, I've never posted a black and white photo before but this day seemed to call for it. The many shades of gray, the white whites and black blacks perfectly define our mood sometimes. Right? And, the pier takes on another personality altogether. (Black and white does have its creative purposes.) Plus, some subjects just beg to be captured and defined devoid of color. The only question I'm left with is, Are the fish we can't see still in their vast array of colors?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Antique Fans (and Clocks, too): A visit with Mr. Stan Good

Back on May 17th I featured an unusual clock and fan shop. Surely there can't be another one like it. What makes it unusual is that there are fewer and fewer clock and fan repair shops, but surely none just like this one. It's special. From the outside one could only guess what might be hiding inside and many of you were intrigued by the eclectic collection of clocks and fans arrayed outside of the shop. But, you wanted more. A peek inside. If by my description it was half as good inside, and if my description of the man who owns the shop, Mr. Stan Good, was close, we'd have a fascinating story that would be well worth sharing with more depth and photographs taken of the interior. Well, here's more on this unique man, his passion and all-consuming hobby and business, and his love of music. See, the shop's exterior could only begin to tell the story. (Visit my other blog, to see almost two dozen additional photos of the amazing shop and museum.)

Mr. Good welcomed me into his shop today and his manner and warm personality are quite infectious. Within moments it's clear he doesn't just repair clocks or fans, nor is that what's contained in his heart and soul. He's a man consumed with life, the music he enjoys creating, the lyrics that are his true love (plus his lovely wife Dominique who is his partner and fellow traveler on this journey.) At 63 years old, Mr. Good has the talent of a cartoonist, which he practiced for many years, and a musical lyricist (which may finally cause him to uproot and leave Tampa after almost four decades) and move it all to Branson, Missouri. But today, with this total stranger at his heels he took me on a whirlwind tour of his fan museum. The two story building beside the smaller shop is filled with fans from the simplest to the most complicated in design and mechanical operation. Remarkable. Mr. Good talks of Edison, Tesla and early invention. The fan evolved at the hands of brilliant engineers and brought cooling to homes, businesses and even funeral homes. One model that caught my eye featured a small shaded lamp sitting at each side of the shrouded blades covered by movable louvers. This particular fan was popular in funeral homes, its intricate design, illumination and ability to move the otherwise stale air about was just the accessory to stand beside the coffins. I was thoroughly intrigued. Another fan was driven by water and worked very well Mr. Good assured me. But it used far too many gallons of water for its own good and was replaced by that scary electricity.

The museum was overflowing with fans, neatly shelved, categorized and properly signed with each fan's age, manufacturer and features. Until one listens to their history, you would never imagine how important were the developments and sharing with other inventions we also take for granted in our lives.

One fan was a total mystery until I was told it sat on a dining table and its wide, light fabric-covered arms would spin quietly to keep flies away from the table and meal. It seemed as I followed my host around that the fan itself (in all its many styles and varieties of engineering over a hundred-plus years) was far more important than most anyone today could imagine. Stan Good's collection of nearly 1,500 fans is one of the largest in the world and his museum provides the opportunity to follow our history of need met by genius that led to manufacturer and relief from the heat. It's a story you do not expect and I can't imagine anyone telling it better. Yes, he repairs clocks and sells them too. And obviously his world is one big fan. But his musical talent pulls him, sustains him and may even move him away. If the right buyers come along, the money comes together and the real estate market begins to show life, this entire place may vanish like Brigadoon, only to come alive again in another time and place. Simply magical. But it can't ever be better than this, right here and now, with Mr. Good leading you through the details of each motor, blade and stand. For a low annual fee one can enjoy the collection for an entire year. Even if you accepted the challenge, no one will match Stan Good and his near lifetime knowledge and obsession with fans.

A clock repair man he's called, but given any amount of your time Stan Good will prove to you to be much, much more. If you find a man one day, sitting in Missouri, sketching a cartoon while humming a catchy song lyric, look for the most elaborate fan you can imagine. That'll be Stan Good. Say hi. Ask him how fans came about. Sit and give him a long while to begin to tell the story. Visit for more photos of Mr. Good, his shop and collection.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Our own Venetian canals, flooding and gray skies

What is one to do when it rains every day? I know many of our friends in other countries, and in a beautiful city such as Seattle, Washington, can go on and on with long lists of dozens of rainy day activities. They deal with it nearly year-round. Me? It's Tampa. Florida. The Sunshine State. Where bright blue skies and oppressive heat are the daily norm. But the rain? I can well remember a morning in Venice, trying to cross the bridge and visit Peggy Guggenheim's house, and enjoy her incredible collection of modern art. The rain soaked walkways and passageways from St. Mark's were so under water that ankle deep puddles, torn umbrellas and pants soaked to the knee were the result. But, here's the kicker, my photos as we crossed the Ponte dell' Accademia over the canal to the buildings, boats and people were outstanding. The clarity. The colors. So unbelievable and memorable. Some of my best ever. Now, the equipment (and I) were soaked but the results that day from the bridge work because of the weather. Rainy gray skies are often the perfect measurable neutral gray which result in excellent color fidelity. The brilliance of the colors isn't affected by the color of the sky. Now please understand, I am not complaining about our rain. We need it so bad. But the lack of sunshine, constant drizzling and thunderstorms do get to your mood. Is it blue, melancholy, depressing? Or contemplative and good for the mind and soul to not be ravished to a crisp by the heat and sun every minute of the day. The constant downpours over the past several days mean a light jacket and umbrella are at hand, and in use. This evening I met a friend for drinks at a terrific restaurant on the water. I darted in and out parking the car and was clearly reminded of making my way to Peggy's house in Venice and the fun of not quite dodging or escaping the deluge that frequently consumes that magnificent city. Tampa is not Venice. But from time to time it's nice to be reminded of the colors that surround us and the comforting nature of a good, hard rain.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Every hair in place and ready to party down

The word wig first appeared in the English language around 1675. History tells us that Egyptians wore wigs as did the early Greeks and Romans. And, as I learned from a little research, it’s mainly Western cultures and societies where wigs are fashionable and acceptable today. In other parts of the world wigs might be used as part of traditional theatrical costumes as are worn in China, Korea and Japan. In Great Britain and most of the Commonwealth countries, special wigs are worn by barristers, judges and some civic officials, but that practice is changing and slowly falling out of favor.

As to who and why? Some people wear wigs because they are bald, men and women, and they want to look better. Of course actors often wear a wig on stage, screen or television to enhance a role they are playing. So, who’s buying these wigs in the window? For an occasion or every day wear? Well, a wide variety of men and women, even some children, for different reasons.Vanity. Medical conditions. Lots of good reasons why I’m sure. But in staring into this window, at this scene, I looked right past the wigs and stared into the lovely eyes of the wearers. The disembodied heads sporting life-like strands. Blond. Black. Even a touch of gray. Long. Short. Curled. Straight. Cute gals, attractive, made up to party and impress. Notice the eyes. The makeup. Killer looks. Beads and necklaces thrown about the neck and earrings to die for. Gorgeous women bedecked with a powerful head of hair. As the light fades, and the music cranks up, better stand back, ladies and gentlemen, because this gang, with ever proud hair on their head in place, is ready to party down. Will they ever return to their window?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Huge Hungry BLUE NOTES Escape Tampa Building

Has a fresh coat of paint on an office building ever stopped you cold in your tracks? Or made you skid to a stop in your car? I was in our downtown, on brick-covered Franklin Street, when I approached Tyler. (Many of our earliest streets are named for U.S. presidents such as Madison, Polk, Jackson, Harrison, etc. Kennedy didn’t come until much later.) I was noticing several attractive additions to our restaurant and bar scene. Just then I glanced to my left and literally did a double-take. One of the fine, solid old brick office buildings, probably built in the 1930s or so, was sporting an incredible new coat of paint. But ripping away from the roof and splitting the entire brick wall at the building’s corner was a horrible, almost ghoulish gash. A lava-like flow seemed to be coming from the opening and was drooling toward the sidewalk below. Huge, giant Blue Notes were escaping from the hole and rushing out in every direction. It was just too cool. Not only had I never seen this painting but had to really work to learn who was responsible for this creepy and chaotic scene in our business district.

Terry Klaaren, the artist ( is extremely talented and has paintings and murals in several locations in the Tampa Bay area (including 80 Hillsborough and Pasco county schools) as well as in Texas and Utah. He has a studio in Tampa but has completed several "plein air" paintings while traveling throughout the United States and Europe. Currently he is exhibiting at Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) Arc Gallery. His outdoor murals are simply fascinating and so well conceived and executed. Klaaren’s murals are in private collections and numerous companies and public institutions… including an unsuspecting three-story building in Tampa’s downtown, just blocks from the new Tampa Museum of Art, which is under construction. Like ants that march through any opening, the ravenous Blue Notes might be making their way right now to the new museum’s riverfront site and burrowing into the foundation. Can’t anyone stop them?

What is the world of visual and performing arts coming to? Sweet, dear, harmonious notes of music gone mad. And very blue.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ask for RAIN and the skies open up.

This is still one of Tampa's prettiest and oldest neighborhoods and because of its lack of sidewalks, curbs and fancy street-striping, it still, thankfully, has the look and feel of old Florida. That's why these folks love to live here. It's a not a well-known place to many newcomers who call Tampa home, especially if they never ever travel south of Gandy and follow Interbay as it meanders along its brick pavers to this intersection. Low-hanging, moss-draped oak trees and sleepy lanes are close by the horse stables, Ballast Point Park and the Tampa Yacht & Country Club founded on the Hillsborough Bay in 1904. It is one of the sleepiest, quietest and least-traveled roads. Its low traffic count and out-of-the-way nature are why most everyone would agree it's near perfect. Don't change a thing. Certainly don't improve it. As so many of us in Tampa endure the current drought, we've been anxiously awaiting the Summer rains that begin in June. But as we watch helplessly as our yards and plants die, we find ourselves begging for the skies to open up and dump buckets of rain on us. Well, yesterday and today we got the deluge. Hours of rain. It thundered, and stormed and rained down 1, 2, even 3-inches of rain. Flooded streets overflowing curbs into yards. A most welcome sight. As I slowly made my way out in this afternoon's heavy downpour, I came to a near stop to slowly navigate the flooding in Ballast Point. It's a beautiful place to live and play, just yards off the open bay, but street drainage is not its big selling point. Caution. Stop sign ahead. Underwater. It'll drain off pretty fast and the old brick and asphalt will sizzle and stream as the sun slowly breaks through. Maybe. But who's complaining about a little shower. Ah, old Florida. Just keep those rain clouds coming.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Old Clocks and Electric Fans fight the good fight

This wonderful shop has been around since the 1970s and is one of Tampa’s most unusual. As we move more and more into the digital age, traditional clocks are seen less often in homes, businesses and on wrists. Fans? Well, when was the last time you even saw one of these beauties in a home or shop? Most kids, those under 30 or so, wouldn't recognize one but could tell you what they do. They've seen them in museums. This mechanical genius and determined entrepreneur, store owner Stan Good, takes great pride in selling and repairing clocks of every age and kind and is a recognized expert in the repair of fans…electric fans from decades ago - the metal blade kind that pushed the air around from the late 19th century until roughly the 1950s. And the ones that could do serious damage to a finger if one wasn't careful. Their designs are superb and they did their job well, especially in Florida’s oppressive heat and humidity. As homes and businesses installed central air conditioning, so people could exist in this semi-tropical climate, fans lost out first to whole house attic-mounted units which drew air into the house through windows and exhausted it out roof gables, then to whole house A/C. In this day and age, very few folks even open their windows in many parts of our state. The air runs year-round. Of course “new-fangled” fans can be found at many stores today, plastic, efficient and of great design, but the ones Mr. Good repairs are closer to 50+years old. His shop is filled with clocks of every size and description and a search of nooks and crannies might bring to light other incredible collections. He’s a proud member of the American Fan Collectors Association and probably can’t count the number he owns. The shop’s outside is just wonderful and says immediately what he sell and repairs. A throw-back to another time and a most welcome link to another era when everyone dreamed of owning a Grandfather or fine mantel clock and electric table-top fans showcased our wealth and the latest marvels of electricity, engineering and technology.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"Kaleidoscope: A Heritage of Color" and hard charging basketball

I was flipping through one of the Bay area's glossy, slick lifestyle magazines, the best one actually, and was enjoying the fashion spread, the gorgeous women in fine couture, the food and fine art when I came to the last page and was stopped by the photo and story of Jason Busto, a fifth generation West Tampa native. Terrific guy, but what caught my eye was something I had never seen before, the incredibly colorful mural behind him. Why hadn't had seen it before? Kaleidoscope: A Heritage of Color, a mural by local artists Edgar Sanchez Cumbas and Guillermo Portieles, working as a team, created the monumental artwork. The photographer's credit in the magazine led me to West Tampa and the mural which was commissioned by the City of Tampa Public Art Program in 2007. It is big and covers an entire wall and stands majestically alongside a basketball court in Macfarlane Park. According to the city's press release when it was unveiled, the artists' concept was to represent the hard working individuals in West Tampa “who embraced a thriving social and cultural community through its broad mix of nationalities and religions.” (Clich HERE to see the entire mural and get more information.) José Martí (on the left with the mustache), the leader of Cuban Independence from Spain who came to Tampa to rally support for his cause, is so well represented. So, when I set out to find the mural in the park I was hoping to find people interacting with it in some way. I didn't know it faced the basketball court or that several powerful players from Tampa's Howard Blake High School would be working the court. Blake is one of our super creative performing and visual arts high schools which teaches and nurtures music, chorus, theater, dance, drama and the visual arts, including photography. Plus, obviously, some great weekend basketball. These guys can really play, hard. They made an incredible foreground to the mural behind. And an outstanding contrast and a compliment to the artists' work. The mural is exactly where it should be. What pure excitement and the moves on the court are pretty creative, too.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dolphin takes flight guided by slumbering water nymph.

Although I haven't seen it in person, there is a powerful bronze statue of a girl swimming with a dolphin by the Tower Bridge in London. From the number of images one can find of it online I imagine it's very special and quite popular. Photographers take great pains to capture it in every time of day and night. This statue, which in person is very large and impressive, is NOT in London. Although it could be by the same artist I suppose. And, you wouldn't find it in front of many Colonial-style homes in Sharon, Connecticut or on a farm house in Western New York State. (It might very well scare the cows, horses, passersby and certainly the small folks...cover their eyes, please.) It's on a residential street in South Tampa. Much of the house and statue are obscured by tons of native tropical plants that are awakening after two days of good, heavy rains. Without paying attention as you drive by, I guess it's possible to miss the little nymph but I'm sure the neighbors have an opinion and are aware of her taking up residence on the block. It's BIG and it's installed in a round fountain-like pool. It may be a fountain but with our tight water restrictions it wouldn't be operating anyway. I was surprised to find a bronze artwork of this size and quality in someone's front yard. To exaggerate a little, it's almost as as big as the house itself. To my mind it would never be a statue you'd say, "Gee, honey, that would fit just perfect in our little front yard." Plus, one wouldn't expect this particular creation to be plopped down at the front door taking up so much space. Unless your home is in the 5-10,000 square foot size range. But, here it is. And it IS beautiful and dramatic. Especially framed against the very tall Banana plant behind it. I'll keep an eye on it for when the water restrictions are lifted. If it is a fountain, it might just begin to draw a larger crowd than London's. Right. The line forms at the corner. Any day now.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Trompe l'œil it isn't but the eye still loves to be fooled

Trompe l'œil is a way to fool the eye. When done well by experienced and talented artisans, you could easily walk into a flat wall instead of the inviting lane that is tempting you to move ahead and stroll. You could almost smell the flowers and feel the crumbling stone of the doorway. It can be so realistic that, literally, your eye is fooled by the use of perspective and the artist's incredible skills and materials. It works and it's truly amazing when you encounter the technique in a chapel, home or office. Trompe is gaining in favor for wealthy homeowners who want something very special, different and transforming. A dark corner can easily become a meandering lane in Paris or any scene one can dream. The artists will execute it to extreme realism, near perfection. What does the incredibly skill of a Trompe artist have to do with a block wall painted to appear to be a beach scene complete with swaying palms and surf crashing onto the sand? Not much at all. Nothing really, except at first glance your eye was confused, fooled and your brain had to make the correction. What is real and what is not? What are you looking at? At this small, out-of-the-way deli, surrounded by tall condos and asphalt streets and parking lots, there are a few real palm trees in pots and a lot of fake painted concrete blocks. The optical illusion this deli owner was striving for worked in Rome, Greece and succeeds in these modern times in corporate office towers and in some magnificent homes of the wealthy. Does it work here? Does it add to your dining experience? Would ordering a bottle of house vino or another beer help as you formulate your answer?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Just another average Florida sky, but no rain. Again.

Another gorgeous day. And another. If it would rain for one hour (or even 15 minutes), just every so often, our world would be so much greener. This outstanding sky could be seen from everywhere but as I saw the mass of clouds shooting up so high over this very common Florida scene, I was struck by the colors and simple beauty that we enjoy in Florida. If you were to GPS this exact location you would find that a major eight lane bridge, part of the U.S. Interstate Highway System, I-275, lies not even 100-yards beyond this solitary palm tree. The roughly 3-mile long bridge crosses Tampa Bay and connects Tampa with Pinellas County and St. Petersburg. This quiet, relatively unknown park is called Cypress Point. It is covered with native plants, sand dunes, umbrellas, bikinis and folks cooking on charcoal grills under the shelters up near the sand. The beach is very inviting. It’s an ideal place to watch sunsets and on this day to stop and gaze up at the sky and clouds and see the palms outlined against the rich blue of the sky and puffy white cloud formations. Just staring back at you and daring you to take notice.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Wash House with a decided Italian flavor

Where is this little building. What country is it in? When I found it I drove right by at first, circled back and stopped right in front and just studied it for a while. I was heading to the neighborhood of Palmetto Beach, which is in the southeast corner of Tampa. Palmetto Beach, a community of about 2,000 people, is wedged between Adamo Drive, the Port of Tampa and McKay Bay. Unless someone knows where it is, or your directions are very good, a person will probably miss it entirely. And end up going over the 22nd Street Causeway and still wonder where it is. Just driving 3-4 minutes south of Ybor will get you there, but as I did, you must turn off the widened and modern 20th Street and get onto once heavily traveled 22nd and slow way down. There is no traffic today at all. This little building was very likely a gasoline station in the 1930s, a design that was recognizable and popular then when cars traveled this route from Ybor City, and its tobacco and cigar industry to south Hillsborough County and U.S. Highway 41. It probably had pumps out front and a sign up a tall pole for Shell or Texaco. Now, almost no one passes by. Today, in its adapted reuse, it’s a public laundromat, WASH HOUSE,…with the washers and dryers lined up off to the side. The building is virtually unchanged. And the sign of the Italian chef on the door is so, so out of place I cannot imagine how it got there. Was it a small spaghetti restaurant? What I like about finding this place is that as I’ve traveled the country, this once busy gasoline station could have been anywhere from Route 66 to U.S. 1. And very likely torn down years ago to make way for “progress." But not in Palmetto Beach. It might escape development that robs us of our unique history, even a small insignificant 80-year old gasoline station. At least not yet. I hope it’s reclaimed and its history becomes known. It’s an architectural jewel waiting to be rediscovered.

Monday, May 11, 2009

This ship's captain demands your attention

This diminutive ship’s captain stands sentinel on the corner sidewalk outside Joffrey’s Coffee near the main cruise terminal for the Port of Tampa. He’s at a very busy spot when 2-3,000 passengers are boarding a cruise ship or two. He’s the silent, non-complaining street-hawker for Yacht StarShip, billed as America’s first 3-diamond rated dining yacht by AAA. The ship sails daily out of the Channel District. The food really is delicious, the staff and crew are first-rate and it features live entertainment. It is a fun sailing experience. It’s obvious, though, who has the toughest job on their crew and it’s our little friend, silently manning his post, in crisp white naval uniform, hat just so. And not letting his sign tip or sag. It’s not hazardous sea-duty but the dust and noise, not to mention the sweet kids who knock into him all day, make his a job one would not envy…it’s amazing he hasn’t been swiped and made his way to Cancun or a Caribbean island by now as a cute souvenir. At 131 feet in length, the Yacht StarShip offers 150 passengers a unique dining experience as they set sail and leisurely cruise the beautiful waters of the port and bay – lunch or dinner. Gorgeous sunsets are the rule. They host corporate gatherings, even weddings. The yacht shares the water with some mighty big ships. The Port of Tampa is the largest in Florida and 11th largest cargo port in the United States and 16th in total trade volume; those are not low rankings. Over 40 million tons of cargo goes out of Tampa each year and almost 800,000 cruise passengers come and go through the terminals on Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Holland America lines. It is a big deal, especially when you’re standing next to the ships at dock as passengers board. And, it’s a great sight to see the huge ships blow their horn, leave the docks and make their way out and through the Skyway Bridge. Quite a stirring sight every time. Too bad the mighty little captain must maintain his vigil and miss out on the cuisine, music, dancing and crazy nightlife. It’s a sailor’s life for sure. (Go, make a break for it captain. No one’s looking. Run, captain, run.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mom shines extra bright in stainless steel

I thought this stainless steel sculpture was most appropriate for Mother’s Day. (Can’t you just see your mom in it?) Entitled Family of Man, the 13-foot high artwork was created by artist Geoffrey Naylor (1928-1997). Born in Heysham, England, Naylor studied at Leeds College and then at Hornsey College of Art in England. He came to the United States and obtained his Masters of Fine Arts degree from the University of Illinois. His work is in a number of private collections, plus the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (my hometown), the University of Florida and the Columbus Museum of Art. A painter as well as creator of large indoor and outdoor metal sculptures, Naylor taught at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida and was a professor of art at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Although my mom isn’t easily identifiable in Naylor’s work, I know she’d appreciate that I was thinking of her and every mother throughout the world. I'm sure she's the one holding us all together...and smiling at her beloved water, seagulls and Tampa cityscape. Moms all shine extra bright on this day as we honor them. Family of Man is part of the City of Tampa's Public Art Program and stands on Bayshore Boulevard just north of Gandy Boulevard. You must spend time with it. Stop on the median and enjoy the play of light off it surfaces at different times of day. Notice the closeness and interplay of mom, dad and their two children joined in stainless steel. It’s very cool (after the sun goes down, otherwise in our searing sun it is anything but cool.)

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Biglow stands proudly on the Boulevard of Dreams

The Boulevard of Dreams, Bayshore Boulevard, stretches from Tampa’s downtown to South Tampa and Gandy Boulevard. It curves along the outline of Hillsborough Bay and is said to include the world's longest continuous sidewalk - about four and a half miles. Facing the water are magnificent homes and towering condominiums, all with an expensive and coveted view of the water, seawall and 10-foot wide ribbon of sidewalk. The Bayshore Greenway Trail, a linear park in the city’s system, is used day and night by joggers, walkers, bicyclists, skaters, plain old tourists enjoying the sunshine and view and dogs of every imaginable breed, trying to keep pace with their fitness-crazed masters. Many historic homes grace the boulevard but only one stands proudly at its start. The Biglow-Helms House. (Also spelled Bigelow, as found in the Bigelow Society website) is one and one-half stories, solidly built and sitting on a two-acre lot. Although originally set back a little further from the street, it was actually moved forward to accommodate additional structures built behind it. Used for offices and meeting spaces, its 10,000 sq. ft. was constructed in 1908 by Silas Leland Biglow, a distinguished early developer and public official in Tampa government. He served as the president of the Tampa City Council and was very active in the development of the Ybor City Building and Loan Association. In 1919, the home was purchased by Dr. John Sullivan Helms and than later by noted Tampa artist Jack Wilson, a nephew of Dr. Helms. The house is constructed of "artificial stone" made from precast concrete blocks. Very substantial and even beautiful today. Dr. Helms added a wing in 1920 and opened the Bayside Hospital, a small, private and well-respected medical clinic at a time before the opening of Tampa General Hospital on Davis Islands. For eight years the Bayside Hospital served prominent residents of the Hyde Park and Bayshore area. The hospital closed in 1927 and the house became the Helms' residence again. The family owned the home until 1974. The Biglows were influential and important contributors to the growth of early Tampa. As a side note, and of great importance to me personally, is that during the time when most children were often born at home, my mother was one of the lucky few dozen Tampa boys and girls brought into this world by Dr. Helms at the Bayside Hospital. And she was always an extremely proud “Bigelow Baby” and shared this fun distinction with many life-long friends. I hope this peek into Tampa's past (a request actually by LOIS) and look at one of its grand old homes just whets your appetite for more.

Friday, May 08, 2009

It sure beats ordering off the menu. Everytime.

The sun is really beating down and our humidity is climbing. This gentleman knows how to spend his afternoon. He's properly outfitted in his long-billed cap, Guayabera -style shirt, rubber flip flops and dark sunglasses. He's a serious bait hunter and knows what he's after in these shallow waters alongside the sea wall. To be successful at catching some small bait for his fishing on the nearby Ballast Point Pier, this fisherman throws his cast net out onto the water and then pulls it back in with 15-20 feet of line. Small weights help pull the net under the surface and then he ensnares the little guys and hauls them in. It takes several throws to catch enough bait so he can resume his real afternoon's activity of catching dinner-size fish from Tampa's Hillsborough Bay. The city just spent almost $1 million on a major upgrade to the pier's pilings, railings, decking, benches, fish cleaning stations and renovating the shelter area at the end. This concrete dock is at the boat ramp and it too will get a major overall this year allowing for boats to tie-up on a floating dock. A variety of underwater critters can be found in these waters such as crabs, oysters, snook, sheepshead and even the occasional Tarpon. I'll bet that at this moment his catch is sizzling in a hot pan, lemon, butter and fresh tartar sauce - plus a bottle of chilled white wine - set to cook and garnish. Delicious.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Healthy dose of Java at Starbucks on Howard Avenue

What is it with Starbucks? (After my second cup tonight I'm prepared to tell you.) I admit it, I love Starbucks. But the initial luster, the huge love affair with the entire concept -lifestyle even- has dropped from a loud roar to a audible hum, but it's still very much alive. Some of my favorites shops: Newport, Rhode Island; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Prague, Czech Republic; Vienna, Austria; Paris, France; and even Savannah, Georgia ('cause I really like Savannah). Some of you are rolling your eyes and figuring I've gone off the deep end over an expensive, over-popularized, overly romanticized coffee. But, for those of you who have never experienced the world of Starbucks, the friendly coffee shops, convivial conversation, then you can't know what it is to enjoy Starbucks. Even the familiarity in faraway cities Comforting. For some, the price alone is grossly prohibitive. And the bitter taste is how I've heard some describe the coffee. But I've known more than a few regular Maxwell House-types who got hooked, literally and figuratively. When this Starbucks opened a few years ago, a couple blocks from my home, I practically lived there. (I'm sure there's a brass plaque on a chair out under that oak tree.) Every noon hour I'd grab a Vente-size Verona or Sumatra and settle in with my newspaper. I don't go as often, but I do drink my Starbucks morning, noon and night ... at home. Got to get my fix. Hooked. Their mission statement reads: To inspire and nurture the human spirit— one person, one cup, and one neighbourhood at a time. Sounds benign enough but tread carefully. It's addictive. From a coffee shop in Seattle in the 1970s, they sure have grown. 15,000 locations and still growing. I wouldn't mind discovering a few more in fascinating and even unexpected places on our globe. It's a sweet thing to enjoy a bit of home so far from home. Gotta go. The coffeemaker just beeped. Ah-h-h-h.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Come aboard for our sunset cruise of Tampa's harbor

The evening could not be more inviting. As the sun begins to set and drop fiery orange into the Gulf, shadows envelop the buildings on Harbour Island and grow long down on the dock. The Lucky Lady II is ready to take us all out into some of Florida's most delightful weather. No rainfall at all (which is not a good thing as we really are experiencing a severe drought and water for our lawns and shrubbery is restricted. Hard to imagine in a state almost surrounded by water everywhere.) This channel leads out past the Mediterranean- style homes on Davis Islands and then the open bay, Skyway Bridge and the Gulf. It would be a perfect evening for drinks and dinner of fresh Florida Grouper, jumbo shrimp and succulent scallops - blackened, fried or broiled to taste. Throw in hush puppies, fries and a salad of lettuce, sliced tangerines, pears and red onions sprinkled with ground pepper and pecans. As we place the napkin in our lap, and push off on our virtual departure from the dock, Bon Appetit and smooth sailing.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Lighting the way for my true love

A lawn jockey shares his small world with a lady, a naked lady I think, shouldering a blue vase. Now, looking at the years of war our jockey has endured, I would bet the vase is filled with wine, or at least a couple of pints of Guinness. Whatever it takes to slake his thirst. Standing guard on the hot, dusty road, cars whizzing past, spewing fumes's enough to make any lawn jockey toss the lamp and run for the beach or sailboat. But our little sentinel has a greater mission and purpose. See that stony, determined look on his face. Forget the homeowners, he's protecting his fair lady. His princess with the vase. As a couple they work pretty well together, except he's obviously the better dresser, or knows that standing on public roadways requires proper attire. She on the other hand only has her man in mind. Lawn jockeys go way back. Where the first appeared no one's quite sure. There are all kinds of fanciful stories...much like our beloved welcoming pineapples. Dressed in brightly colored jockey clothes, they are more popular in some parts of the USA then in others. Some of the jockey statues have a ring for holding the reins of a horse and others a spiffy lantern like our statuesque hero. Standing tall, an immovable sentinel at your driveway, he is solid as concrete. Dependable. I'd guess that as their owners drive away, they leap back onto the lawn chairs behind them for some shade and rest. But always vigilant, at attention, they still dream of spending time alone, away from the traffic, to explore one another's fading glories...and paint. And purpose. Ah, my beloved.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

It's a mailbox silly. What did you think it was?

Yes, it really is a mail box. Or at least it holds one. Securely. I can't help but think of the hilarious movie from the mid-80s, Little Shop of Horrors. With the potted house plant's incessant demand to be fed. FEED ME! it screams as it grows and grows and develops a rather odd and horrific personality. Now, when the U.S. Postal employee, the fine, upstanding mailman, stops at this quiet one-story, to drop off the direct mail pieces and bills, does the 6-foot tall mail box start in with demands? Feed me. More. More. Pull down my box lid. I love it when you have a delivery Mr. Postman. Do you wonder how long it's been standing in front of the house. Does anyone else notice? When did the idea first hit the homeowners. "Honey, you know what I'm going to build in the garage today? You're going to love it." Now, somewhere on earth, this minute, someone is saying, "What kind of plant is it?" OK, I'll take a shot at it. Hibiscus. That's so Tampa. So Florida. They are in everyone's yard. But I venture there is only one Hibiscus mail box. I dare you. Find another. (Here's an online description: "The flowers are large, conspicuous, trumpet-shaped, with five or more petals, ranging from white to pink, red, purple or yellow, and from 4-15 cm broad. [It definitely exceeds the normal size, believe me.] The color of the Hibiscus grows darker as it ages. The fruit is a dry five-lobed capsule, containing several seeds in each lobe, which are released when the capsule splits open at maturity.") Is there any chance that the mailbox itself is actually a fruit, or a lobe of the plant ripening to maturity? Nah........ It's just a mailbox looking very happy and making its owner smile. Feed ME!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

It's a tough life but someone has to live it.

The Arts Center Lofts in downtown Tampa provide the backdrop for another gorgeous day. With humidity below 30% and a good breeze, the 91-degree temperature seems almost comfortable. These condominiums are on Doyle Carlton Drive just north of the Tampa Performing Arts Center and right on the Hillsborough River. The boat that is fast making its way down the river towards the bay is a 37-foot Maxum Sport Yacht. Along with a sleek appearance and plenty of room to entertain up top, this boat actually has two queen sized berths below deck. Although not exactly a small investment new at close to $300,000, it sure ups the fun factor on a day like this. (Can you imagine filling the 300-gallon fuel tank.? Wow!) What more could you ask for than a clear blue sky, puffy white clouds, warm breezy weather (almost NO humidity) and a pleasure craft like this one to help you enjoy the day on the water. Just add giant Gulf shrimp and a pitcher of cooling refreshment. Done!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

King Kong at your evolutionary service.

Tampa's real estate market has taken a big hit with values dropping, availability of new and existing homes rising and most people unsure of how to react...or not. While traditional houses sport For Sale (or even short sale) signs in many neighborhoods, Tampa's downtown is chocked full of new condominium towers featuring every amenity a buyer could want. It's not surprising then that real estate agents and developers of residential and office properties have gone to some extremes to attract attention to their vacancies and services. This 30-40-foot banner on the side of an office building proudly shouts King Kondo, a Condo Evolution. He's huge and outrageous, but if he can't move a property then you're out of luck. His fine white, southern-climate suit and shopping bag only slightly soften his approach. Where is his Panama hat? Next he may be swotting you right off the street. Let's just hope we turn things around and he can get back to movie-stardom retirement.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Shadow of himself: Behind Dorothy or the Pirate

Just a shadow, considering its options. Pulled. Torn. Uncertain. BEADS SODA SNACKS CIGS hangs over its head. And beads are so Ybor City. It could pose for a photo behind one of the headless carnival cutouts on either side of the door. Dorothy on the left or the pirate with muscles and chains on the right.
Ybor City is an eclectic place with many sides to its personality. Designated a National Historic District, it is renowned for its architecture, heritage and rich cultural diversity. In the late 19th century the stores, restaurants, homes and factories were filled with immigrants including Cubans, Italians, Spaniards and Germans. They are justly proud today of their city and its history. They were the economic engine that drove the world's cigar manufacturing industry. The finest tobacco was handrolled and machine-made into cigars by the tens of millions. Today's Ybor City continues to celebrate its cigar heritage, its Latin traditions, delicious food, and colorful mix of retail, restaurants and residences.
This corner market attracts tourists, locals and students...even an occasional shadowy character, stopped in mid-stride, indecisive, undecided. Captured in a fleeting digital frame. But its shoes seem rooted. Does it pose with Dorothy and the rainbow? Or go for the pirate's treasure? I just love the options in Ybor.

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