BEST EXPLANATION OF WHAT I´M UP TO HERE
You want to know what´s best.
It´s a normal thing. A natural thing.
You want it straight from the mouth of him with his finger on the vital pulse, her with her ear bumping up and down on the telegraphically shaking ground, them with a finely tuned feel for that which you absolutely must do.
The Planet has ´em. People whose Best Of lists draw on impressively decadent backlogs of experiential data. Persons who not only eat out constantly but are cultural in more than a strictly anthropological way.
The thing is: Mine doesn´t. I don´t. I´m not. As a guide to such matters, I am the roadside sign a vandal has spray-painted squiggles on, the billboard that perpetually pleads: ¨Rent this space.¨
Let it be said, however, that I do like to proselytize. Ask me what´s best, and I won´t do the honest thing and simply shrug my shoulders. I´ll advocate. I´ll moralize, aestheticize. I will beat a drum for persons, places and things whose qualities are so undeniably praiseworthy as to demand the added racket. I´ll give you, in other words, a list like that which I have affixed below.
BEST ECONOMIC RIGHTS ORGANIZATION
ACORN (a.k.a. Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) helps low and low-to-moderate income communities, by fighting for things like affordable housing and a living wage. Yes, their voter registration drive had some, ah, hitches in it, but given the right´s increasingly infantile free market fundamentalism, we need ´em.
Tampa ACORN, 1704 Avenida Republica de Cuba, 813-241-6333; St. Petersburg ACORN, 1830 49th St. S., 727-327-6869.
BEST RESTAURANT TO AVOID THE VAIN AND SELF-INVOLVED
The Proud Lion
Why is that when me and mine pile into the car to go eat, we so often pile out in the bleary strip mall parking lot that fronts The Proud Lion? It isn´t the décor, which looks like the backdrop for a 20-year-old cigar ad, or the jukebox, which hasn´t been restocked since Wham called it quits. I like it, I think, because I´m comfortable there. The waitresses are prone to confuse customers with real people. I´m guessing nobody´s ever made them memorize scripts or browbeaten them about check average (their faces don´t fall when you pass on dessert). And the food´s not just ¨homemade,¨ it´s sweated over. Someone here is fighting a death match against chains, a space that´s not especially amenable to no-smoking laws, and the fickleness of culinary fashion. The good guys are winning.
The Proud Lion, 124 W. Fletcher Ave., Tampa, 813-915-1101.
BEST SAFEGUARD AGAINST DISABLING NAMBY-PAMBYISM
I´m a hand-wringing liberal of the most grotesque sort, and uncertainty and self-incrimination have a certain, let´s say, allure for me. Despicable? In a sense, yes, but not completely. At any rate, I do try to rein myself in. One thing that helps is intelligent conviction of the sort found on WMNF. Hell, Amy Goodman alone can keep a man honest (to a degree.)
BEST ASSAULT ON BATTERY
I´ve done the Diogenes trip, roaming the earth, lantern in hand, hoping against hope to stumble across a single honest human specimen. Just one. Somewhere.
OK, that´s a lie, but I know the feeling.
My air conditioner started leaking like an old baby diaper not long ago and the first service man we called hated to break the bad news, but damned if the whole stinkin´ unit didn´t have to be scrapped. The guy we called in for a second opinion agreed — although for different reasons — and tried to sell us a new couch too (OK, that´s another lie). Both men worked for companies that also sell air conditioners. Hmmm. We finally simply got the unit cleaned and it works just fine. Better than fine, in fact.
Honesty isn´t extinct, though. Take the soft-spoken gent at Batteries Plus who solved the mystery of the battery-devouring remote control for my automatic garage door opener. Used to be I fed that thing a new battery every five or six weeks. This guy took one look and saw the problem was the prongs that hold the battery in place. He squeezed ´em with some tweezers, popped the battery back in and told me ¨No charge.¨
Months have passed and I haven´t bought another battery. Damn remote control must be about starved.
Batteries Plus, 1703 W. Fletcher Ave., Tampa, 813-960-5667.
BEST TABLESIDE CHOPS FROM A WAITER
Frank Provost at Romano´s Macaroni Grill on Dale Mabry
The man is fun. Maybe it´s the conspiratorial tone he took when filling our wine glasses to the brim (¨I pour ´em like I drink ´em¨), or his devil-may-care candor (¨Our commercials are horrible. Don´t do the food justice¨). Yeah, it´s all a little unorthodox, but there´s a reason he´s the training coordinator — he makes you want to come back. After all, the guy IS a professional entertainer. He plays bass for Hankshaw. But don´t run into Romano´s tomorrow and demand he ¨Do something amusing!¨ The man´s got a job to do.
Romano´s Macaroni Grill, 14904 N. Dale Mabry, Tampa, 813-264-6676
BONUS BEST — MOST UNFATHOMABLE BUSINESS NAME
Sham Auto Repair
Every time I drive by this place I wonder: Are the owners supremely self-confident or is the word ¨sham¨ just becoming that obscure?
Sham Auto, 3701 N. 15th St., Tampa, 813-241-2152.