Down in Miami, the famous tan-don't-burn Coppertone Girl on the side of a building lost her head — part of it, at least, the top of her blond hair lopped off in the fierce winds of Hurricane Irma. ("At least her tan line and doggie weathered the storm," the Miami Herald noted optimistically.)
In Key West, Irma hit so hard that she blasted the paint right off the Southernmost marker where surely a billion tourists have posed for pictures....
The morning after one of the most beautiful buildings in Tampa went up in flames, people gathered around it in disbelief — teachers, parents and neighbors who unabashedly love Lee Elementary School.
Some of them cried at the sight of it: This historic and stately red brick building with its white pillars, gleaming wood floors and the kind of windows they don't even make anymore, sprawled along a hardscrabble stretch of Columbus Drive in one of the city's oldest neighborhoods....
As volunteers dished up corn flakes and egg-ham-and-cheese sandwiches for breakfast at Trinity Cafe the morning before the hurricane hit, the question broke their hearts a little.
People asked if the cafe might spare a few trash bags. If I can't get into a shelter, they said — and they were filling up fast — at least I can try to stay dry out there tonight.
Slowly, those of us firmly on the grid inch toward post-Irma normal — neat bags of branches stacked at our curbsides, chain saws buzzing, power restored. At Trinity, a nondescript building at the edge of downtown Tampa where they serve hot meals to the homeless and hungry, life is getting there, too....
Dewey's Liquors, promising Stupit Prices on its sign on Tampa's Busch Boulevard, had disappointed dozens the day before who pulled into the parking lot thinking it was open as Hurricane Irma loomed. It wasn't. But Dewey's was open early Monday morning after the storm had departed — with spraypainted signs that said CASH ONLY and WE R ARMED, in case anyone planned lawlessness.
"We just bunkered down and listened to the wind howl," said Roshad Griffin, who was picking up cocktail supplies for later that day. "I was hoping for the better and it pretty much seems like we dodged a big bullet." His plans for the day after the storm: to "just chill."...
We live in Florida, and we are lucky. These are facts, even given what Irma just put us through.
Think about it: For every late-night TV snark with a Florida punch line, there are platoons of people who flock here from all over for what we have. Joke about Florida and talk to me in January when you're slipping in the snow.
Still, it is also true that when you live in Florida, you will inevitably experience things beyond what the tourist ads promise, beyond sun-soaked sugar-sand days, magical Disney trips and Margaritaville nights....
The waiting is the hardest part.
— Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Okay, technically, for us the hardest part is still to come — the torrential rains and brutal winds and whatever happens wherever it decides to happen. But right about now around here, we get Mr. Petty's point.
These are strange days, waiting for Irma.
We've already seen the destruction this monster is capable of. And we've spent all week willing those hateful tracking maps to show it pushing east into the Atlantic — away from Florida, away from us. No such luck....
The soup shelves at Publix — those usually reassuring rows of chicken noodle and beef barley — are decimated, picked over, plowed through. Dregs are left — the low-sodium, the weird creamy vegetable.
And something as ever-present as bottled water? Ha.
It is the Wednesday morning before Irma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history, churning below our state and knocking at our door. I pull into a Hillsborough Avenue Publix before sunrise, before the store opens even, only to find a 10-deep line of anxious people already stationed behind shopping carts outside....
So what do you do with more than 30 grand in goodwill from your friends and neighbors, the happy result of citizens doing the job of their elected officials?
In our own messy contribution to a conversation going on across America, Hillsborough County commissioners last month tied themselves in knots over moving a divisive Confederate soldier monument from outside a public courthouse to a private family cemetery where it would be welcomed....
All's fair in love and war, the saying goes.
But how about in politics, and some incendiary accusations of mishandled rape cases?
In arguably the most interesting local race last year, Republican incumbent Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober was challenged by first-time candidate Andrew Warren, a Democrat. Word was the well-known Ober could not be beaten. Word was wrong.
Warren called the current administration as outdated as a rotary phone. Ober pointed to a largely unknown former federal prosecutor's utter lack of state court experience. It was fair game, standard campaign stuff....
If you were looking for some small sign of sanity in the world, here's one courtesy of the people of Tampa and Hillsborough County.
This week, citizens stepped up in ways large and small — with a few bucks, with some seriously big money — to say that continuing to honor a monument to the Civil War at a public courthouse is not okay.
Move it, please, like you said you would....
Today the Hillsborough County Commission considers a small but symbolic action steeped in commission tradition. And not in such a good way.
As a national firestorm rages on the state of race and hate in America, commissioners take up the idea of a ban on moving any more war memorials in the county. Such memorials honor battles and troops from the Spanish-American War to Afghanistan in cemeteries, parks and public spaces across the county....
Allow me a comparison between two very different issues that have come before our elected officials.
Recently, certain Hillsborough County commissioners — faced with the decision to move a Confederate statue from a public courthouse to a more appropriate private family cemetery — actually brought up putting the question to voters in a referendum.
Instead of, you know, doing the job they were elected to do and dealing straightforwardly with the honest-it's-all-about-history-and-not-slavery faction....
The official bully of my elementary school was Curt. Curt's trademark torture was to grab another boy's forearm and twist it viciously until the skin burned red. He also enjoyed administering a swift smack to the back of an unsuspecting head.
But one day Curt hit a kid who hit him back, hard, in front of all of us. Curt immediately turned and punched another boy in the face. Why? At that moment I think Curt wanted us looking at anything but Curt....
"But the South detests and despises all, it matters not from whence they came, who, in any manner, encourages social equality with an ignorant and inferior race."
— the words used more than a century ago in Tampa to dedicate a Confederate monument.
Today, the Hillsborough County Commission gets a second chance to decide if this particularly ugly sentiment lingers on outside a bustling public building in downtown Tampa....
Yes, I know the race to replace Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is a long 20 months away. In politics, practically forever.
But around here, it's never too early to speculate when a particularly juicy tidbit happens our way. So here goes.
Along with a former police chief, at least two City Council members, assorted former politicians, possibly an architect and at least one unnamed mystery member of the business community, how about a candidate named Dick Greco on the 2019 ballot?...