Around this time a year ago, I was a Tampa Bay newbie, still enticed by the bright lights of Dale Mabry and the majesty of Howard Frankland sunsets. I'd only been in town for two months, so when our Top 10 issue rolled around, I had nothing to contribute but a completely unscientific, highly irrelevant list of the Top 10 people I'd met thus far. Well, I'm wrapping up my first full year as a Floridian — that means 12 months of whacked-out characters, horrible traffic and so many gorgeous sunsets I'm not even fazed anymore. And you know what else it means?
It's time for another list.
So here they are, the Top 10 folks I met in 2005 who never made it into something I wrote for the Planet.
1. The Publix Cashier
I should know her name — it's right there on her shirt after all, but names aren't part of our dance. For the purposes of this column, we'll call her Sue.
Anytime I head to the Publix in downtown St. Pete, I'll scan the checkout aisles looking for Sue, and invariably I'll find her. The woman must work 24 hours a day — she's always there.
I get in line and wait for her to notice my Red Sox hat. You see, I grew up in Boston and Sue, who's gotta be pushing 50, spent most of her life there. Once she sees that B, Sue starts up the dance. "You ain't from Bahsten, ah yah?"
We have the same conversation — word for word — every time. We lived about 15 minutes from each other. The run to the World Series in 2004 was magical (her dad cried). We both wish we'd been home for the celebration.
Then I pay the tab, and Sue hands me the bag. The good-bye is so familiar, it feels like I'm leaving Fenway.
Gratuitous ass-kissing to commence in 3...2...1...
Landlords just don't come any better than Sharon. She keeps the rent low (I won't even tell you what it is, it's so cheap), she keeps the pool clean (that's right, baby, there's a pool) and, best of all, she takes it easy when you screw up. Or, rather, when your jackass friends do.
For example, last week a certain Planet staffer (his name rhymes with Hot Barrel) was over at my place after a long night of drinking. I was in the bathroom relieving myself of said drinks when Mr. Barrel spied my fire extinguisher. Seconds later, he was relieving it of its contents, all over my fucking stairwell.
So what did Sharon do when she saw the white residue covering her perfectly stained wooden stairs? Nothing. She got a wet rag, showed me how to clean in the cracks, and put me to work. She didn't yell. She didn't charge me anything.
She just laughed.
Sharon, I think I love you.
As in Kid 'n. I met him at a holy-hip-hop Christian summit in Atlanta (I was there on a story, the only Jew in the house; he was there on a mission from God). He's not quite the playa he once was (I'm not sure he can still do that ankle-grab-jump move), but I bet he throws one hell of a house party.
4. Joe Redner
I met Joe long before he was making this latest round of headlines for claiming to be gay. For a September story about losing weight, I was working out in his gym, Xtreme, and I ran into him twice. He was always polite — he'd mention something he read in the Planet, crack a joke or two, and then hit the Stairmaster.
But Joe didn't make this list for his gym manners.
The real reasons: 1. He called Ronda Storms "bi" at a County Commission meeting. Awesome. 2. This latest stunt — which, if it's not a stunt, means Joe Redner has, for a gay guy, an uncanny understanding of the heterosexual male mind — is genius. Pure genius. Love him or hate him, Redner forces Tampa Bay to think.
5. The Kid Around The Corner Who Loves Headlights
He can't be more than 3 — he's still at that age where his head is about six sizes too big for his body. And he's got an addiction to headlights. As long as it's dark, our little friend up the street will dash out of his house and straight for the front of your car. I've almost killed him 14 times since daylight savings. Mom, if you're reading this, best to lock the door.
6. The Washington Mutual Folks
Good ol' WaMu sucked me in with a free Target gift card when I opened my checking account, and they haven't slowed down since. There's a dedication to customer service over there — they mean it when they say good morning, and they'll take the blame if the ATM eats your card and $200 vanishes from your account.
But a few months ago, they brought their game to the next level. I got a card in the mail, congratulating me for a cover story in the Planet. Borderline creepy? Sure. But you gotta hand it to those folks — you're just not going to get that kind of dedication from the suits at Bank of America.
7. Shannon Rose
Somehow, I got on this publicist's list and her e-mails have become a part of my routine. Every week, I look forward to whatever budget wrestling match she's pimping. Usually, they're in some VFW hall, with guys named "Cuban Assassin" and "Altar Boy Luke" going at it.
Wait a second — budget wresting with guys named "Cuban Assassin" and "Altar Boy Luke!" Why haven't I written about this yet? Shannon, keep the e-mails coming.
8. Hedo Turkoglu
A few months back, after watching an exhibition game between the New Orleans Hornets and the Orlando Magic, a friend and I snuck into the Magic locker room. It was everything you'd imagine — lots of food, lots of bling, lots of very, very big dudes. But as I sat in the corner, trying to pretend like I had any reason to be there, I heard someone singing in the shower. It sounded something like a cat giving birth.
"I ain't sayin' she's a gold digger. Uh. I ain't sayin she's a gold digger. UH." This went on for a while, the hook of Kanye West's tune being butchered from somewhere deep in the nether regions of the shower. Then I heard "HEDO — shut up!"
It was Hedo Turkoglu, the Magic's Turkish small forward, who, almost entirely because of his name (it's pronounced Turk-oh-lue), I've rooted for since he first came into the league with the Sacramento Kings. If you don't know him, then this means squat to you. But if you're like me, there's nothing better than hearing Hedo Turkoglu sing hip-hop tunes horribly in the shower. Nothing.
9. The Donald
I didn't actually meet him, but, at the opening of his Trump Tower, I edged close enough to smell his hairspray. Which is closer than I ever need to be again.
10. The Firehouse Subs Guys
Before some football game that at the time seemed incredibly important (and that, of course, I can't even remember who was playing now), a friend and I went to Firehouse for some sandwiches. We'd heard good things — Firehouse had some ingenious toasting method, their subs were incredible. And they were ... when we got them 45 minutes after we arrived. It shouldn't take so long to make a sandwich — even when you're toasting and steaming and whatever the hell else you guys do over there. We missed the first quarter, and for that, I spite thee.