Untold stories

Ten Urban Explorations I never got around to writing about

click to enlarge GARBAGE GUIDE: If you hear some rustling in your trash, it could be Tampa "freegan" Liat Silverman. - Alex Pickett
Alex Pickett
GARBAGE GUIDE: If you hear some rustling in your trash, it could be Tampa "freegan" Liat Silverman.

For every one of my columns you've read, there is another story that never made it to print. There are many reasons for this — print space (paper is at a premium these days), more pressing news, and, well, some secrets are best left hidden (at least that's what our lawyer says). The following stories don't necessarily fall into those rubrics, but as the year ends, I thought I'd share some of more interesting aspects of Tampa Bay that never made it out of the box.

Speaking of boxes ...

1. May Homeless Sleepout

My first assignment for CL was to sleep out with the homeless at St. Petersburg's City Hall. Homeless advocates called the protest after the City Council "clarified" the parks ordinance, extending parks' boundaries to the curb. But during the protest, a few street people decided to heckle the activists making speeches.

"Fuck you," cackled one wheelchair-bound woman. "How long have you been homeless? Ten seconds?"

The curly-haired young man tried to continue speaking, but the woman was too much.

"You don't give a shit about me," she screamed, eyes and nose flaring. "What I see here is a lot of people who are not homeless."

Before the student stepped down, a homeless man made his own speech about privileged kids and the reality of living on the streets. Then he said something about the liquor store closing and wandered off.

Speaking of drunks ...

2. Jack Kerouac's St. Pete Home

The infamous Beat author's residence in north St. Petersburg has long been a part of the city's lore; my UrbEx predecessor, Max Linsky, made it one of his first stops. But this Pinellas native only discovered it in September. Since then, it's been a habit of mine to drive by the nondescript 1960s stucco home when I'm feeling nostalgic. I'm not the only one — several natives have confided that they too like to idle their cars in front of the house. I'm starting to think we may be bothering the neighbors.

Speaking of unwelcome visitors ...

3. The Minutemen Project

The day before I made my 3,000-mile drive from Arizona to Florida, I had finagled my way into a special invitation to chill with those huggable, lovable gun-totin' Minutemen at the U.S.-Mexico border. I expected shootouts, Mexican jokes and Glenn Beck talking points. What I got was three guys sitting in the bed of a pickup adorned with Metallica stickers, eating a family-sized bag of M&Ms and chatting about their drunken adventures in Hawaii. Pretty much the only thing missing at this post of Arizona Minutemen volunteers was a case of Natty Ice.

But before leaving, I met Michelle Dellacroce, founder of Mothers Against Illegal Immigration. Dellacroce was a bit of a celebrity within the Minutemen ranks. Perhaps it's because she says the things the other more mild-mannered Minutemen dare not say:

"Right now our country is at war!" she screamed, startling a student film crew nearby. "Losing your rights is a gradual process. Do you think the Holocaust just happened one day? No, it happened slowly. They lost things slowly, and then [the Jews] ended up in trains."

As I left her post, I heard the film crew talking.

"She was kind of hot," one of them said.

"Yeah, MILFs against illegal aliens," the other one joked.

Speaking of toothy sentinels ...

4. Sawgrass Elementary's alligator

This summer, when the panicked headlines declaring an alligator epidemic hit every Tampa Bay media outlet, I got lost around St. Pete's Meadowlawn neighborhood. I ended up behind Sawgrass Elementary School, where I found a disturbing sign: "Alligator — Please Do Not Feed." I couldn't believe it: The whole state was in a panic over alligators eating their little dogs during walks through the park, and here, right under our noses, was a dangerous alligator near an elementary school. I guess the school administrators figure the publicity wouldn't be welcome; they won't return my calls.

Speaking of Florida wildlife ...

5. Vinoy Park

It's not just for dolphin-watching anymore! There's the gaggle of condo residents with their poodles, snubbing the dog park down the road; the old man who practices his golf stroke by sending a pile full of balls right into the bay; and Squirrel Guy, the unofficial name given to a colorful character with a pocket full of bread who calls out: "Here doggy, doggy, doggy, doggy."

Speaking of wayward charity ...

6. Gary Glazner

This slam poet from New Mexico visited two area nursing homes this fall to read poetry to residents suffering with some stage of Alzheimer's. It was part of the Alzheimer's Poetry Project, an undertaking he launched nine years ago to spark memories in Alzheimer's sufferers through poems they might have learned as children.

"Someone once asked me, 'Why bother?'" he said after a spirited reading. "My answer to that is, why not bother? Why not try as hard as possible to make the end of people's lives have beauty, humor and meaning?"

Speaking of life affirmation ...

7. The Crisis Center

For a place that regularly takes suicide calls, the 2-1-1 hotline call center is a remarkably upbeat place. One wall is covered with a mural of a tropical island, and cheery posters adorn the room's cubicles. Of course, this is tempered by a TV monitor showing the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, a kind of video-cam suicide watch.

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, six full-time employees and volunteers take thousands of calls from people in all walks of life, from the single mother trying to get food stamps to the young man considering suicide. And every month they break call-volume records.

"We laugh a lot here," said "Barbara" (volunteers cannot use their real names for security reasons). "You have to."

Speaking of breaking records ...

8. The Bro Bowl

It had long been rumored that this graffiti-splashed concrete bowl in Perry Harvey Sr. Park would be razed, but city officials did not confirm it until last month.

"I've been skating there since I was 12," reminisced Ryan Clements, general manager of Skate Park of Tampa, when I talked to him in June about the Bro Bowl's impending destruction. "The Bowl has a place in my heart."

When I made a call to Tampa's Parks Department that month, asking about the city's plan, I was assured the oldest concrete skating bowl in the United States was safe (and reported that assertion in our Best of the Bay issue in September). Turns out, the Bro Bowl will be demolished to widen Orange Avenue when the city revamps Perry Harvey Sr. Park.

When that will occur is still up in the air.

Speaking of trashed relics ...

9. Liat Silverman

I interviewed this self-described "freegan" earlier this fall after she created a zine for her University of South Florida graduate thesis on how to live for free on college campuses (shades of the aforementioned Linsky).

One of the main tenants of the freegan lifestyle is dumpster diving; she said most of her furniture, clothes and even food comes from trash bins that line the roads. Her favorite spot? Behind Sweetbay supermarkets.

Speaking of soiled gifts ...

10. Suzanne Moore

All she wanted were some Christmas cards.

Last month, Moore left her South Tampa home and drove to Laura's Hallmark Store off Gandy Boulevard to purchase a box of cards. After 15 minutes of browsing the aisles, she felt the rumbling inside her.

Moore, 47, has MNGIE — Mitochondrial Neurogastroinstestinal Encephalopathy Syndrome. Moore says MNGIE is like an extreme version of irritable bowel syndrome, and one of its major complications is sudden, and chronic, diarrhea. And Moore was starting to feel an attack coming on at Hallmark. But when she asked the owner if she could use the store's bathroom, she says he refused and directed her to Publix.

Moore said she pleaded and pleaded with the man to no avail.

"Sure enough, when I got outside the door, I shit right in my pants," she said. "He made no effort. And at this time of year, in a Hallmark store, where they sell Christmas cards!"

When contacted, the store's owner gave no comment.

There's always next year, right?

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