Best Of 2011

BEST EMMY, OPRAH AND CL-APPROVED HISTORIAN

The John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History at USF St. Pete and founder of the school’s esteemed Florida Studies Program, Ray Arsenault has earned ample acclaim for his books on St. Petersburg, Jefferson Davis, Marian Anderson and the Freedom Riders (which won him CL’s Best Local Author in 2006). But this year, in the wake of a PBS documentary on the Rides for which he was a consultant, he’s been achieving new levels of celebrity — re-creating the Riders’ bus trips, appearing on Oprah, co-curating a nationally touring exhibit and sharing in the glory of multiple Emmy wins. Even more important, the film has allowed him to shine an even brighter spotlight on the courage and resilience of the Freedom Riders, for whom Sept. 22 is a significant milestone: it’s the 50th anniversary of the Interstate Commerce Commission’s decision to desegregate buses and terminals, validating the Riders’ crusade. (Look for Arsenault to make another big splash with his next book, the first biography of tennis player Arthur Ashe.)

People & Politics

An amalgamation of activist groups and organized labor, the movement — inspired by the reality that Florida had actually lost its collective mind and elected Rick Scott as governor — was a powerful display of protests that showed that Democrats maybe, just maybe, aren’t dead yet in Florida.

SWFBUD is the country’s only localized alliance of bike store dealers, comprising 10 shop owners and two lawyers. Group spokesman Alan Snel, a bicycle advocate and former metro newspaper reporter, has lobbied local governments to provide more bicycle resources and helped put on the touted Bicycle Bash festival each year. With the staggering statistics placing Tampa at the bottom of bike-safety lists, it’s encouraging to know that Snel and SWFBUD are fighting the good fight for two-wheelers. Snel also organizes the popular Hub Grub Bike Ride, and the next Bicycle Bash takes place at Flatwoods Park on Nov. 6. bicyclebash.com/swfbud.html, hubgrubride.blogspot.com.

During an intense Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Agency (HART) board meeting to decide the fate of CEO David Armijo, an attorney mentioned that perhaps the agency should meet behind closed doors. Channel 10 investigative reporter Mike Deeson was having none of that: in a move that recalled Al Pacino’s classic “No, you’re out of order!” bit from the 1979 film And Justice For All, Deeson stood up and dramatically declared he would call an attorney before that happened. Visibly shaken, the board opted not to go into closed session.

If you get around on a bike or ride one for sport, you most likely already know that the South Tampa biz has awesome doodads and accessories, great closeout deals, how-to classes and just about everything you need to ride safely and swiftly. Customer comments on Yelp! and other sites have praised the staff for being knowledgeable, professional and helpful. South Tampa, 2409 S MacDill Ave., Tampa, 813-839-0410; Westchase, 13038 Race Track Road, Countryway and Race Track Road, Tampa, 813- 854-1738, flyingfishbikes.com.

Golfing is great if you don’t like wearing gym shorts in public. If you do, try disc golf instead. (Take a plastic disc, stand a couple hundred feet from the “hole” and throw the disc at it.) Tampa Bay has a few parks in the area with 18-hole courses — Youth Park in Pinellas Park, Cliff Stephens in Clearwater, Taylor Lake in Largo, Maximo in St. Petersburg. Get really crazy and pick up expensive neon discs from special disc golf stores. But most of the courses have water around the holes — try not to lose too many discs (and watch out for gators).

“The shower curtain flung open behind her. She gasped as Tony, naked, stretched his muscular right leg into the tub. Carol jerked the curtain shut, leaving only the leg protruding into her space.

“‘But you’re lovely, with your smile so warm and your cheeks so soft,’ Tony crooned through the plastic barrier. ‘All of your cheeks so soft. And getting softer by the minute, I presume.’

“With the showerhead pouring water on her head and shoulders, Carol pulled back the curtain. ‘You presume correctly.’”

There may be a plethora of baseball blogs throwing out stats and name-dropping connections, but when we want to get our daily Rays update we turn to RaysIndex to give us the latest without any of the pretension. If you miss a game, the Professor, aka Cork Gaines, the independent blog’s lead writer and editor, will give you the good, the bad and the in-between in his “Hangover” every morning. The blog reports on everything from what crazy move JoeMa pulled last night to what the heck Longo did to his hair, all things inquiring fans want to know. raysindex.com.

Clearwater isn’t known for much in the way of hip retail (exceptions include back-in-the-day shops Sagittarius and Crash and Burn, of course), but Chainwheel Drive is a survivor, thank God, a stellar standout amid the city’s strip-mall mediocrity. The mainstay in North Pinellas for the past three decades supports local bike clubs and state and national cycling organizations, providing support for rides and races all over the region. They are also involved with many different aspects of cycling, including racing, triathlon, mountain biking, cross country touring, and BMX. 1770 Drew St., Clearwater, 727-441-2444, chainwheeldrive.com.

Taken a ride on the Selmon Expressway lately? Gone are the old tollbooths staffed by actual people working for a living and pumping their paychecks back into the local economy. In their place, a new “Pay by Plate” system that has the city sending bills to drivers who lack a Sunpass. Only problem: The bills never seem to arrive on time (if at all), and stories of people receiving invoices stuffed with late charges are becoming as commonplace as the constant roadwork that dots the highway.