Bay to Bay

After 16 months of exploring the Bay area, he's headed for a new orbit.

click to enlarge PORCH SITTIN': The author in his natural habitat. - Joe Bardi
Joe Bardi
PORCH SITTIN': The author in his natural habitat.

I'm no good with goodbyes.

I've spent the past two weeks trying to figure out what I should do for this last column. I could go with the "By the time you read this, I'll be halfway across the country" angle, but that doesn't feel right. I'm writing this from my porch, where I've written every other column for the last year and a half. Not a sock has been packed. I've got dirty dishes in the sink, a dozen eggs in the fridge, a trunk filled not with all of my worldly possessions but with all of my worthless crap. There is not one tangible piece of evidence that I'm actually leaving this place, and I have no idea how I'll feel once I do. I'm still here.

I also considered tracking down and interviewing Fran Stowe, who in May wrote me a letter. I had used the word "motherfucker" somewhere in the paper, and Fran, along with the 28 other folks who signed the note, felt the term was "disrespectful to all mothers." I wanted to assure Fran that I too had a mother, that I'd probably heard the word from her first, and that my mom wasn't offended in the least.

But there was a problem with that angle, too. Fran could turn out to be sweet, and then I'd actually feel like I should apologize, because who wants to be the guy who upset some sweet old lady from Dunedin named Fran? And then I'd be apologizing for using the word "motherfucker," which I am in no way sorry for. So I chucked that idea too.

I wrote dozens of leads for this thing — random, stupid leads about life and love and a girl 3,000 miles away in San Francisco who deserves a shot. But my favorite one was mush-free: "Eric Snider got me drunk before I even took this job." It's true; our infamous Senior Editor took me to the New World at 3:45 p.m. on the day I interviewed. It felt like a good jumping-off point for a final column — this is the real Planet, look how far I've come, yada yada yada. But there was no narrative hook. Snider's gotten me drunk countless times since then, he's gonna get me drunker on my last day of work than he did on my first. Where's the lesson learned in that? Where's the conflict? The emotion? Nope — good start, no finish.

As you can tell, I also considered writing this last column about all the cruddy ideas I had for it. But I'm cutting myself off now, that plan's already tired. Let me just get to the point.

I feel lucky. Dumb-luck lucky. I moved here a year-and-a-half ago not knowing a damn thing about Tampa Bay. I had no idea what my job would consist of, no idea where I would live, no idea if my editor, David Warner, would wake up in the middle of the night and realize he had hired a writer with no experience and a third-grader's knack for spelling, and fire me the next morning.

Luckily, the guy sleeps heavy.

click to enlarge SHOULD I SPRAY OR SHOULD I GO? If 'Frisco doesn't work out, there's always bathroom attending. - Eric Snider
Eric Snider
SHOULD I SPRAY OR SHOULD I GO? If 'Frisco doesn't work out, there's always bathroom attending.

The Planet let me be a journalist. I know that sounds sanctimonious, and it probably is a little bit, but hear me out. For the last 18 months, I've gotten to know Tampa Bay. I've met the junkman from Tarpon who doesn't have a jaw. Watched The Dukes of Hazzard on a Friday night at Fun-Lan. I've lived in Pass-a-Grille for a month, hung out with artists as they struggled to fight that self-righteous she-devil and her yes-men on the Hillsborough County Commission, followed a USF med student through the most trying day of his life.

And I've written about it. All of it. Everything I've done here — even drinking with Snider, now — has made it into these pages. Dave and the Planet let me keep a very public journal, a weekly entry from a newcomer looking for stories that could help explain the place — to me, and hopefully to you.

There isn't a better job to have. These folks took a chance on me, and they let me take chances.

I wrote about living in my car for a week and scamming hotel breakfasts. I guerrilla bathroom-attended at dive bars. I took a tour of Tampa Bay's Guilty Pleasure Hall of Fame — could there be a better assignment? — and was congratulated for tacking a trip to the Mons onto the end of it.

There isn't a 24-year-old journalist in the country who's gotten more opportunities to write a wider range of stories than I have in this last year and a half. Dumb luck. And I couldn't be more thankful.

Some other Planet thank-you's that are in order:

Party Joe, your sweaters are atrocious, but you're still a good man.

Hot Barrel, you are not. But I love you anyway.

King Tut, thank you for visibly enjoying what you do. And for the $20 you chipped in to get me to swim across that hideous pond.

Kelli K, thank you for your shoulder. Sweetest shoulder in the world.

Leilani, thanks for taking all that jam-band shit. One day, a jam-band is gonna come along and rock those music snobs' world.

WayneGar, thanks for the breakfasts. And for getting hit by that truck in Atlanta.

Anne, thank you for never ever being sarcastic, not one time in your whole entire life. Ever.

Gravy, thank you for mourning the loss of innocence. (I dumped out that virgin mimosa you made me last week — those things are disgusting. Stop them.)

Dave, thanks for everything.

Snider, let's ball.

And to anyone who's been reading this journal of mine, thank you. I hope you found something new.

That's as good a goodbye as I got.

Editor's Note to Max: Of all the reasons that you could have given for moving, you chose the only one that was inarguable — love. (It helped that everyone who met Meredith fell immediately in love with her, too.) Anyway, we were the lucky ones — and if our luck holds out, you'll return from San Francisco for at least one more visit to the New World. Snider's buying.


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