Friday, July 31, 2009

SkyWatch Friday #55

Directly on the Hillsborough River, just south of the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel, Kennedy Boulevard and the Lafayette Bridge, is a recently completed segment of the Riverwalk. The Riverwalk is a City of Tampa initiative designed to provide an accessible, public walkway that links the entire downtown waterfront, from north of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, around past the Tampa Convention Center, to the Tampa Bay History Center. Much of this ambitious project is completed. This sunset was shot from MacDill Park which faces Media General, the University of Tampa and the bridge over the river. MacDill Park, named for Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base, is dedicated to the contributions of the military to our community. To learn more about RIVERWALK, click HERE.

Visit Skywatch Friday to see the beauty and wonders of the world's most magnificent skies. It's always an amazing show.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

News from the riverfront: WFLA News Channel 8, The Tampa Tribune &

One company in the Tampa Bay area offers our 3.5 million residents news and entertainment across all three media platforms: print, broadcast and Internet. The Media General Company, based in Richmond, Virginia, owns one of the Bay area's two morning daily newspapers, The Tampa Tribune, the NBC affiliate station, WFLA News Channel 8, and Web site, (Tampa Bay Online). Their headquarters, combining operations for all three media properties, newspaper, television and Internet, are located directly on the Hillsborough River, across from Tampa's business district. Production studios, printing presses, and offices for all their departments are spread out between two large buildings. It's a very picturesque site fronting the river, with views of the bay and port, but the downside is the chance of severe flooding during a hurricane. One computer model (Floridians do spend a good bit of time studying storm and flooding scenarios) shows a twenty-foot wall of water inundating this location and our downtown. The news operation has hurricane/storm contingency plans set and ready to activate so they can move essential services north to the University of South Florida, which is roughly 14-16 miles away from the bay. The University of Tampa campus, which includes the original 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel (where I have featured the building's Moorish architecture and minarets) is immediately north of here along the river. At 8:00PM, when I shot this photo, the river was calm, the sky growing darker as night fell, and the chance of a storm striking the Tampa Bay area was ZERO. I like this building, and have been inside many times. I've even enjoyed social occasions on the rooftop balcony overlooking the river and the city. Let's hope they always print, broadcast and work the Internet from this spot on the Hillsborough River. (Especially the newspaper; I don't want newspapers to stop printing. Ever!)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Caution: Mermaids Ahead

Manatees are part of a group of animals called Sirenia. Although they do live in water, they are not fish. They are mammals. The name comes from siren, a word known from Greek mythology. Ancient seafarers told stories of beautiful girls , sirens, that lived in the sea and sang hypnotic songs that would put sailors in a trance. They actually believed that these stories were true. In ancient times, and even today, the oceans can be strange, dark and mysterious places. Even after years of exploration, there is a lot that we don’t know about the deep blue sea. The depth, the darkness and the real unknown is a bit scary to some people. Thousands, even hundreds of years ago, they couldn’t understand or explain the sea or the sky. Great stories were invented and told of mermaids, beautiful half-fish, half-female creatures who lived in the sea. They believed in these beautiful and enchanting mermaids.

On January 9, 1493, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, sailing near the Dominican Republic, saw three mermaids and described them as "not half as beautiful as they are painted." He was commanding his fleet of ships, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, hoping to find a trade route to the Far East. Instead, he found the Americas. Looking down at a manatee, he saw the front half had a head and arms and back half had a tail like a fish. The only thing Columbus and his crew knew that was shaped like this was a mermaid. Today, we know that what they spotted were manatees. And there is very little about one that reminds me of a cute girl. Nothing in fact. But, hey, they’d been sailing for a long-g-g time. These huge, slow-moving mammals are friendly and quite lovable. You can swim with them and get close in some places nearby. They live in our warm shallow coastal waters, estuaries and rivers. They grow to roughly 10 to 12 feet long and weigh 800 to 1,200 pounds. When you spot one, like a mother with a little one, they are a real sight. You have to smile. They can stay underwater for up to 24 minutes, and although they seem to move extremely slow, they can swim up to 15 mph. Manatees spend 6 to 8 hours each day feeding, but in the wild they only eat sea grass. They are vegans!! At Tampa’s award-winning Lowry Park Zoo, they have a manatee hospital. (Visit HERE) You can get very close and watch them through the glass in utter fascination. It’s like seeing a rhino or giant cow in the water swimming, gliding and spinning around in front of you. Kids can’t get enough of them and they even have a sleep-over where the boys and girls can so overnight and sleep beside their tank. There the manatees are fed tons of vegatables such as lettuce and cabbage. They can really eat. On average they live to be 50 to 60 years old and although they have no natural predators, they are a seriously endangered species. Many die from collisions with boats. They estimate that 40% of all manatee deaths are attributed to our boats, fishing equipment and other things manmade. (Visit Save the Manatee Club HERE.)

So, are mermaids real? Christopher Columbus certainly thought so even if the ones he saw weren’t the delightful females with fish tails in the paintings and in the stories he’d been told. Sailors do spend a long time out at sea and a sweet 1,000 lb manatee might start to look mighty attractive after so long a journey from home. Just don’t get too close sailor unless you’re ready for the wettest kiss ever from the winner of the ugliest girl contest. That’s a whopper of a tall tale to take home from your sea voyage. Just try to describe her to your buddies back home!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Little Blue Heron nibbling on fresh Florida seafood

The waterline of the Hilllsborough Bay was alive this afternoon with some of Florida's most beautiful waterbirds. This Little Blue Heron tiptoed ever so slowly until he found the perfect fresh treat on the menu. In a moment or so, it was gone. Smart bird. Nothing can beat dining on fresh Florida seafood right on the water.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Skulling as the day comes to a close

Several skulls and a chase boat were moving rapidly up and down Seddon Channel this evening as the sun began to drop pretty low and the temperature dropped into high 80s. The air actually began to feel cool. Our heavy afternoon rainfall took much of the humidity with it so the evening is delightful. When I spotted the skulls I thought they were students from the university or visiting crew teams but as they passed they looked like older adults. (The colleges and universities send their rowing teams in the winter months...makes sense.) If this is their idea of exercise after dinner they deserve our hearty applause. The nice, pleasant gentleman in the chase boat, with the giant handheld megaphone, was gently correcting, exhorting and encouraging the rowers. I would imagine he could be heard in Ocala or even a farm in upstate New York. He was serious about his charge and the amount of effort they were exerting was exhausting to watch. But what a beautiful sight on the water as our day came to a close. Some cooling refreshment must be awaiting these men and women after an extremely hard workout. I need to put my feet up and let my heart rate recover from watching them row by. Again and again and again. I lost court. (I do wonder what the nice fellow was suggesting to the rowers? At at least 110 decibels.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

NY Times Now Appears in 3D

I read The New York Times, and local newspapers, every day. If you're a newspaper reader, and haven't moved entirely to the web for your news, it happens on occasion that a page just doesn't make it off the presses as the printers intended and two pages are stuck together or a portion of a page or two doesn't get enough ink. It happens. If it's in the middle of an article I was particularly interested in, and was in the middle of, I might have cursed the giant printing press and try to find another copy of the paper and finish the article. (Of course this is before we had the Internet, Google, etc.) Or forget about it and try to move on with my life never knowing how the story ended. Right, that's going happen. I got around to reading this section of the NY Times and found that a very interesting history-related article about an amateur historian, an old map and a Gold Rush in Georgia in 1826. It was one of those stories that peeked my interest. The photograph, from what was left it leaping jaggedly out of my paper, was exciting: it was of a gold miner in modern day Georgia looking for his gold strike. (The article: On a Map of Georgia, Old Words Start a New Rush for Tourists.) Although the columns of copy were unharmed, the paper took the photograph of the man who discovered the map and made it come alive in a way the newspaper never intended. It jumped off my page in near 3D. After my initial surprise, and "unhappiness" at my paper being destroyed, I came to kind of like it. Especially with this photo. Pretty cool after all. (I keep waiting for it to happen again but so far no luck.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Rooster rules the roost

This rooster and his two fine looking hens are handpainted within an arched roofline on the top of one of Ybor City's old brick buildings. There must be a story about how they got there and what they represent but it's not obvious from the storefronts below. If for no other reason they add to Ybor's rich cultural charm. And that's enough.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Your chariot awaits you, Sire.

This isn't your grandma's Mercury Grand Marquis that's been gathering dust in the garage. This Mercury has seen a lot more life then it can begin to tell and is dolled up and ready for the second act. It doesn't get more ready than this. The wheels are what caught my attention and of course the way it's been significantly raised up. You would certainly see over all the little Toyotas and Hondas on the highway. "Dubs" are what I thought this type of wheel was called but, nooo, I was wrong. These particular wheels are more like twankie dueces, dub dueces, or duece dueces. Much bigger. I don't know their size but dubs can only be twenty inch wheels. This chariot is ready to take on the coliseum in Rome. This car and a companion, similar in transformation, were both sitting quietly under a oak tree awaiting their new owners. Is their a Caesar out there that can handle this powerful a ride? (Disclaimer: Step ladder not included in sale.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lasagne's on the menu in the old cigar factory

I met a friend for lunch today at a place I have been going to for 15-20 years. Not that it's a Michelin 5-Star menu or experience, it isn't and doesn't claim to be, but it is solidly dependable and extremely friendly and relaxing; a nice place to spend some time, talk and have a good meal. The Spaghetti Warehouse, a well-known, family-style Italian restaurant, is located in the Ybor Square complex in Ybor City. What began life as several giant cigar factories in the 1880s and 90s became a collection of shops, restaurant and offices in the original, beautifully restored and maintained brick buildings. It's as though you're stepping back in time to walk through the courtyard and enter any of the buildings. Spaghetti Warehouse has a delicious lasagna, which is the only thing I ever order - very boring I know. The lasagna is NOT as good as the gourmet chef in my life, Mrs. Tampa DP, carefully and lovingly prepares with incredible fresh basil, tons of cheeses, etc., etc., etc., but it's OK. (Yummm) While sitting there with my camera on the table I glanced up and noticed how wild and colorful was the ceiling above. Again, not what you would expect in a century-old building. So often one of you will say, and you guys are such fantastic people, Did you go inside?, or I wish we could see what it looks like. So, while waiting for my scrumptious lasagna, warm fresh bread with herb butter, and garden salad with blue cheese dressing, I shot a quick offhand grab of the memorable ceiling and walls from my booth seat. Bon appétit .

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gator Meat at Gilligan's Hideaway Bar & Grill

It's "Stranded Downtown" but Gilligan's Hideaway on Morgan Street isn't without a food supply line to the outside world. Guests for lunch and dinner will find a tasty menu and full bar that would have kept Gilligan happy and Ginger ravishing. You'll feel welcome here. Big burgers, wings and delicious fried gator tail would please the Skipper and castaways. (Gator is tasty but not as good as fried shrimp.) Gilligan's Hideway is oozing with lots of friendly fun right in the heart of the city. It's convenient to the office towers for a quick business lunch plus it's a short walk to the St. Pete Times Forum for a bite before the game and then back after a win for cold brews. The outdoor patio is kick-back inviting and the entire place becomes a hockey fan's favorite hangout on Tampa Bay Lightning game nights. But you've got to admit, the real reason to go is because you can't resist a place that proudly and loudly screams GATOR MEAT. This isn't Vermont or Minnesota, folks, it's Florida. (Gator is better and much tastier than rattlesnake. I promise.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Drive-Thru No More

It almost makes a coffee drinker cry. This place is solidly shuddered and weeds are beginning to push up through the pavement. And it looks so new. I admit I love my coffee. Like a lot of you, wherever you are in this great big world, we begin our day by brewing a cup, or two. Then perhaps again at the noon hour we reach for another cup. Then there are some of us who love a cup in the afternoon, then after dinner. Whew. I'd be exhausted just thinking about it if I wasn't so wired on my fourth cup. Vente. Some folks stay away from coffee but don't think anything of drinking two or three cans of Coke. Caffeinated. That's fine with me but I'm not a huge fan of Coke and Pepsi - only drink it on occasion when the mood strikes me. (Maybe accompanying a giant cheeseburger and fries.) I will also admit I became mildly addicted (OK, seriously addicted) to Starbucks coffee beans, which we grind at home. I don't visit the stores close by any longer but I like finding Starbucks stores when we travel, like in Santa Fe, NM, Newport, RI, Paris, Prague and Washington, DC, where it's almost possible to step from one into another without going outdoors. (I think NYC has reached this point as well 300-400 locations. I hear there are several around Union Square when in the late 70s the "residents" then wouldn't have been your ideal customer. Of any legal stimulant. Scary before trendy. If it's true that the US of A is now wallpapered with coffee shops, one on each corner like drug stores and convenient marts, how in the world would a new chain survive? This drive-thru seemed to close almost as fast as it opened. The chain appears to be very successful in the Napa region of Northern California where it began, but was up against stiff competition here. (They roasted their coffee beans in the store itself. How's that for fresh.) I hate to see any coffee shop go under. This closed and abandoned coffee emporium is a sad example of how tough it is to run any business or franchise, even if your "product" is our way to a jolting morning high. We are still picky about our favorite, legal pick-me-up. (You don't think there is a ban on coffee buried in the President's health care plan do you??!! I hear it's hundreds of pages long and no one has even read it.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

It's a pirate's life for thee aboard Jose Gasparilla

This scene does have a Pirates of the Caribbean, Disneyesque look to it. Actually, it's the aft section of the pirate ship Jose Gaspar. Owned by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, it is used each year in the Krewe's invasion of the city. Hundreds of pirates take the key to the city and crowd on board their ship that then leads a huge flotilla of invaders and funseekers across Hillsborough Bay and into the channel. After docking at the Tampa Convention Center, the pirates invade the streets in a huge parade. The ship sits tied to its dock on the Bayshore for the remainder of the year and draws tourists and the curious who gaze upon its quiet, empty decks listening for whispered tales of rum, guns, beads and treasure to be found in Tampa. Come February, it will again take to the high seas as its motley, brazen Krewe of pirates take over our fair city for a day.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Carnival Cruise Ship's horn is blowing: Passengers must be on board now

Some things about the places where we live we tend to overlook, take for granted or forget about altogether. We may not see this place we call home. Every time we pass over the beautiful river and bays that surround us and not glance left or right from the bridge. Or speed down the Bayshore and not even notice the gorgeous water and view. Passengers by the thousands come from all over the US to sail from our port. I bet a lot of them are amazed by what they see here and will take home special memories of being in Tampa. For me, it's hard to not pay attention as I see the cruise ships leaving their docks and making their way slowly out to the Gulf. It's a grand sight every time. And, it's fun to see the frantic activity at the terminals as late-arriving passengers practically jump from cabs to make the gate just as the horns are blaring and the ship announces final boarding. They are smiling though as they race through to the ship. It happens all the time but it's still an interesting part of our city that not every place can lay claim to. Living as close as we do in Florida to the islands of the Caribbean and Mexico, Tampa is the jumping off point for travelers who, for many, are embarking on a trip of a lifetime. We should recognize before visitors do that we live in a spectacular and beautiful city. We should be proud.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sailing or fishing? What's a boy to do?

I imagine this young fisherman is enjoying his time on the dock trying to snag a big one. His bait bucket is beside him - probably live shrimp - and he's being patient. From the direction of his gaze, he may be looking out at the boys and girls taking sailing lessons just aways off shore. The kids in the prams are getting their first formal lessons in sailing from the yacht club and may one day help crew an America's Cup winner. (Or that's their parent's big dream big for them.) The fellow with his line in the water, though hoping to land a record-size tarpon, is having a quieter, less stressful summer afternoon in the Florida sun. I sailed one of those prams many years ago at this spot and have not forgotten the sudden, sky-blackening storms coming up and the race back to the safety of the dock. Or the test we took before being allowed out alone in our pram for the first time. Name all the parts of the sailing craft? Got it memorized. Some things just stick with you for life, right?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Old Tampa Book Company is simply the best. It rocks!

Here is one of my all-time favorite stores anywhere. It never, ever disappoints. First, an admission. I absolutely love books. Not the Kindle e-reader thing but ones printed on paper, and hardbound. I hope it’s not old-fashioned to want to feel their heft, thumb through the pages and even – carefully - peek behind the dust jacket at the actual cover. I admit I’m not a fan of paperbacks but, if absolutely necessary, I have bought a few if the title is one I want real bad and if the publisher never produced it in hardbound. (It’s sick I know but someone out there is shaking their head in psycho-book-ward agreement.) I want to carry them around, put page markers inside each one I'm currently working through in my stacks, unload them everywhere until they are overflowing coffee tables and night stands. Even falling off shelves and taking the place of wooden tables beside comfy reading chairs. (Oh, sorry, I thought that was a table.)

The acquisition of books is an ancient and incurable illness practiced by early Egyptians I think who kept stacking papyrus pages until they had built entire pyramids. Bibliophilia started ions ago but I suffer more from the love of content then I do from just seeing how many I can stuff into our house. Mrs. Tampa DP has a slightly less serious case of the disease but on some subjects, she is a queen of book consumption. You go gourmet chef you! - snapping the whip - read. Read some more!

The worst part about the love of books is that I want to keep them all even though I know it is not healthy. I have gotten somewhat better recently but it’s an ongoing and incurable ailment. I especially love the Old Tampa Book Company because I just know that the owner, David Brown, suffers worse than I do. He had to open an entire book store just to clear out his house. Located at 507 North Tampa Street, in the heart of our downtown business district, Old Tampa Book is my kind of book store. NOTHING new. It seems like he has every title that I care anything about. An awesome selection. His website says he has over 40,000 books and I believe it. I know that whatever your addiction may be, when only a real, honest-to-god store can satisfy it, it takes a place where you know right where to go when you enter the front door. Well here at Old Tampa Book I have left bread crumbs leading me through the maze of rooms and shelves and corners. They carry used, collectibles, rare books, signed first editions and out-of-print fiction and, drum roll please, NON-FICTION. David Brown and his wife Ellen opened the store in 1995. They are two extremely nice people. (And, did I mention they are crazy book people?) I swiped a really good likeness of them off their website. (I hope they don’t mind.)

Books fill every square inch (and centimeter) of the store and cardboard boxes frequently fill what’s left of aisles with newly arrived treasures to be gone through. Ah, I just know that heaven is like that. David is a member of the Florida Antiquarian Booksellers Association (FABA) and the Florida Bibliophile Society. He's certifiably mad about books. Here are some of the subjects you can find in the store and online: Sports Cars and Auto Racing; Florida History and Florida Fiction; Aviation and Space; History; Biography; American History; Politics; Military History; Art; Architecture; and Photography. I think that exhausts my favorite sections. Oh, before I forget, I think he may have a few books on cooking but I’ve never climbed into that section.

They are open Monday through Saturday and always have rolling carts out front that you must pick through every time you visit just in case he’s hidden a gem inside. For a buck or two you must rescue a book and give it a good home. Do visit their website and browse the books in stock. You will not be disappointed. And, if you have any special need or have a book question, Old Tampa Book Company is the place and David Brown is the man. HERE is the website.

Oh, go visit. What could it hurt? You can always use another leather bound end table or two.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Who's afraid of a cowardly wet lion?

Not far from our home is a delightful public playground that's a favorite of kids of all ages. It is a fun place to stroll, sit, and enjoy the walkways meandering through lush Florida landscaping. The park is completely shaded by tall, old oak trees and is always pristine and inviting. Kids (and some adults) love the colorful and elaborate play equipment of slides, platforms, swings and outdoor basketball courts. It is just a fun place to get away without going far from home. It is much-needed, total relaxation. One of the big attractions is the fountain. The wide patio and seating areas surround the water jets as they shoot into the air. Lots of young families (and even some grandparents) brings babies and toddlers to sit, jump and run through the cool, pulsing spray. Aside from being a great fountain there are lifesize statues of four male African lions. The big cats with manes and paws almost as big as a new born child stand guard around the perimeter. Yes, every kid - big and small - wants to climb on a lion and does. This little girl was having the time of her life getting totally soaked as she zipped through the water while at the same time keeping an eye on the lion at the fountain's edge. Funny how we adults, who do know better (right?), never join the little ones playing in the cool, refreshing water. It is in the mid 90s!! They are smart little guys for sure. (Now why didn't I wear my bathing suit and sit on top of a fountain of water? Or sit on the lion's head and pull his ear? I do know that the lion is made of stone and won't roar or object. I do!) Isn't this scene what Florida's summertime is all about?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Let's go to the Kress Five & Dime

Remember how it smelled? Popcorn and ladies' makeup. Old wooden display cases piled with scarves and wallets. Unmistakable sales ladies who spoke just so. It was an indescribable mix of sights, sounds and activity that could only be a five and dime store. Everyone shopped there. The S. H. Kress and Co. building on North Franklin Street in Tampa's downtown opened in 1929. It was part of the S. H. Kress chain of five and dime stores. It's a great old building that has stood empty and almost forgotten for many years. The four story building is certainly ornate in all its crumbling decay. It's terribly sad to get up to close to the entrance and see the coat-of-arms hanging centered on the sidewalk overhang. The facade is said to be Renaissance Revival and its obvious to me that in its day, the architect's plan was intended to set this design apart from every other store on Franklin Street. The first Kress in Tampa opened in 1900 and at this location in 1908. The street was one of Tampa's premier shopping destinations then and by 1929 Kress tore the second building down. Business must have been really good...before the Crash of 1929. But Kress survived the Depression. And wars. This Kress has stood tall. Against every change. In shopping. In prodiucts. In "consumer behavior." And it still stands 80 years later. Franklin Street and Florida Avenue were Tampa shopper's heaven, and the sidewalks were filled with moms, families and shopkeepers. Kress would eventually own 400 stores in the country. S.H. Kress's business went away and the entire company was liquidated in 1980. But, that was long after Tampa's downtown was the place where people shopped. Replaced by shopping centers such as Britton Plaza and then Westshore Mall, these stores became irrelevant and empty. Maas Brothers and others were abandoned and torn down. The Kress building still stands. Begging to be discovered and recognized as the beauty it once and still is. This photo concentrates on the features still proudly intact up high. The handpainted KRESS sign is still visible on both sides. The building stands alone. But for how long. Its windows and entrances are boarded up and the sidewalks are vacant and quiet of life. It was added to the National Register of Historic places in 1983 but that has not caused it to awaken from its long restless sleep. It's time!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tampa Convention Center and downtown stand out against the bright blue Florida Sky

This view is of Franklin Street looking north. Tampa's convention center, which is on the waterfront, is on the left. A sky bridge connects it to Tampa's newest downtown hotel, the Embassy Suites Tampa Downtown. If you go in closer you can see one of our bright yellow TECO trolleys is parked awaiting its return trip to Ybor City. When conventioneers are on the move this spot is jammed with cars, taxis and people making their way to Harbour Island, the hotels, Starbucks and other nearby venues. The St. Pete Times Forum (where the Tampa Bay Lightning Hockey team play), the Tampa Bay History Center and the Florida Aquarium are all within walking distance. It might be quiet right now but not for long.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Monochrome Maniacs: Clouds and palms merge with construction on Tampa's Bayshore

A beautiful, million-dollar residence is under construction on Bayshore Boulevard in South Tampa. The sky, clouds and palms have been there for some time and require no construction or renovation to look their best...always. Isn't this why you'd build your home on the Bayshore?
Go see more of the world in black, white and grays at Monochrome Maniacs!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Surf's Up Dude: Check out the down-under, Australian-style surfer gear man.

Surf Down Under is located in Tampa’s Shops at Channelside. Florida’s Gulf Coast isn’t known for big surf or wild wave action but that doesn’t keep locals from adopting the surfer lifestyle to the max. A shop like this might just have the latest look as it prides itself on Australian-themed surfing apparel, shoes and accessories. They even carry hand made, one-of-a-kind jewelry. They stock brands such as: Billabong, Rip Curl, Roxy, Quiksilver, Rusty, Reef, Von Zipper, Oakley, Rainbow Sandals, Havaianas, and Paul Frank The shop is a few steps from the cruise ships and probably attracts a good share of passengers stocking up before hitting the beaches of Belize, Mexico and the Caribbean islands. That way the natives will definitely know who the American tourists are. Knarley surf dudes. Unless we have a good size storm off the Gulf (or a hurricane - which I did not just write) the east coast and the Atlantic attract most of Florida’s surfers. And there are many special spots they go to that are well known for decent waves. But not having real surf doesn’t keep the surfer culture down around here or dampen their spirits. No way man. You’d think it was the cove at Malibu the way they dress and act. Even boards on their roof. Hang ten dudes. Wax that board. Here's a great shop to check out. For sure.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

RED ONIONS grilled or eaten raw are sweet and delicious. Screen printing in Ybor City is just a sideline to their life as a rocking red veggie.

RED ONIONS was one of those signs that caught my eye as I cruised through the quieter side streets in Ybor City. I slowed to look and of course wondered what the business was that the big sign was advertising. Located on 3rd Avenue in Ybor City, I figured the company must be a wholesaler of red onions. Logical, right? Or, was it a bar? A restaurant? Regardless, their sign was pretty cool and the wall color and sky made for a decent composition. But, when I got home I did my typical Internet search for the business. Although the information I found online was scant, RED ONIONS is a screen printing business. Who would have ever guessed.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Tampa International Airport helps you find your way OUT. Then you can make your way to the sandy Gulf beach.

This wonderful combination of word, colors and shapes screamed for my attention as I slowly and safely exited the top level of the parking garage of the Tampa International Airport. I specifically went there this afternoon to try and find a Tampa sky worthy of my SkyWatch FRIDAY post on Tampa Daily Photo. I found much more than a sky and came away wondering if anyone else has ever seen all of these fun and colorful elements that were screaming at me, Take my picture!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sailboats framed against Tampa's skyline before night fall and the rains begins to fall

It wasn't raining yet but the wind and sky were preparing for an evening downpour. It's now falling steadily and softly and may continue into the night. The tide is high, the water's surface glassy and the boats are rocking ever so gently awaiting the cooling of the darkness ahead.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tampa's office towers become fully alive against the rainy, glittery night sky

As the sun set and the lights of Tampa's downtown came up the fading sunlight danced across the tall office towers and mixed with the street lights, colors of the rain and the long shadows. The Verizon and SunTrust towers seem to rise up into the mist and wisp of night. After a day of dark clouds and downpours, the sky cleared a bit at dusk and the emptying offices and streets of the downtown beckoned: Grab you camera. Everyone has left me but I'm alive and vibrant and your city has never looked better then it does right now. Hurry. Don't miss this shot.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The fountain at Palma Ceia Spring continues its wet, watery dance with history and Mother Nature

In 2006, this small body of water with its gentle spraying fountain, nearly hidden in Fred Ball Park, played host to its 100th anniversary celebration. According to historians, the Palma Ceia Spring used to flow from this site near the corner of Bayshore Boulevard and Rubideaux Street. (The sculpture, the Wave, is about 25 yards from here.) The view of Hillsborough Bay through the tall trees of is beautiful, quiet and contemplative. There really isn't another place like this sliver of a park along the entire 4 mile length of Bayshore. The spring is surrounded tall, mature trees and by a waist high wall that is entirely covered in plants and vines. The original Plama Ceia Springs plaque from 1906 is worn but still visible on the wall. Older Tampa natives and local historians tell us that the spring fed two man-made swimming pools and the water was said to have healing powers. Stories abound of families enjoying the spring but the pools are long gone. Today the park does have nice picnic areas, grills and a gazebo. The spring now feeds this fountain. It is wonderful, even after the last couple of weeks of record setting temperatures and rainfall, to see the cascading waters of a real working fountain. (It was so inviting I felt like jumping in.) Every other public and private fountain is shut down because we are still under water restrictions caused by our lack of rainfall. The park, named after former Hillsborough County Commissioner Fred Ball, was restored and is supported by the Rose Garden Circle. It is a real oasis, an actual working water fountain and a jewel of a park.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Vintage Lofts at West End are helping to transform a historic neighborhood

The Vintage Lofts at West End provide a good subject to shoot in black and white. Standing rather alone against the sky and incorporating a number of different architectural elements, materials and textures in its construction, I thought the varying shades of black, white and gray would work well in this portrait of the building. The Lofts are relatively new to this area north of Kennedy Boulevard. Located at North Rome and West Cypress street, they are a welcome addition to this West Tampa neighborhood that lies west of Boulevard and south of the interstate. It's been slumbering for several years after over a century of families living and working in businesses, warehouses, churches and homes. Now, there are so many new and attractive apartments and condominium developments it's hard to believe. Although the apartment residents might feel a bit like pioneers, they are in fact about a five minute walk to Tampa's newest Starbucks and a five minute drive to downtown. But, right now, The Vintage Lofts, which is loaded with style and every conceivable luxury-lifestyle amentity, is playing a big part in the transformation of the neighborhood, raising its profile and making it one of the next best places to live.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sewing Machine as objets d'art: Creative Canvas Structures takes a classy approach to their business

Sometimes when you're out and about, even when your eye is peeled for something photo-worthy, you spot the unexpected that really surprises you. Creative Canvas Structures is west of downtown and a few blocks north of Kennedy Boulevard. It's kind of buried in with other companies in nondescript warehouses. What is amazing if you haven't wandered through this area recently is the large number of attractive apartments and condominiums that have been built. A lot of them are very nice architecturally and feature gobs of amenities. Creative Canvas is located smack in the middle of this area that's being reclaimed and gentrified if you will. (I guess it was bound to happen.) What made me stop was their front entryway. Along with classic looking awnings they had incorporated an actual working sewing machine. And if you go in close it even has their name on it. It used to be that a shopkeeper hung a symbol for his trade out front. But sadly those days are long gone. You'd be hard pressed to find a barber's pole now that stylists have taken over cutting our hair. (Where did all of those wonderful wooden, blood-striped poles go??) In trying to find out something about the company, their website shows the Palace of Florence as an example of their work. Although my photo of that building on Davis Islands didn't show awnings, I bet their work is simply first-class all the way. It's not everyday you can find a sewing machine on a building.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Oak trees shade a soggy Ballast Point park as picnikers celebrate the 4th of July

Heavy rains leading up to the 4th of July weekend didn't deter anyone from celebrating the holiday. All of the park's covered picnic areas and the gazebo were filled with lots of bright red, white and blue, laughter, music and food as families and friends gathered to celebrate our nation's birthday and independence. The old gnarled oaks in the park love the soaking rainstorms we've had and will continue to shade gathering of Americans who have a lot to be grateful for.
Happy 4th of July America.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Geisha and Koi Carp are calling you to the billiards table: THE RACK is one classy and unique bar (and the sushi is darn good, too)

This is certainly one of the most fun and inventive food and drink spots in all of South Tampa or for that matter, the entire city. The colorful outside does give a hint as to what awaits within. It’s gathered quite a fan club since its opening and is now a welcome fixture on a changing and busy thoroughfare. It’s not on trendy (and at times crazy, jam-packed, can’t find a parking space) South Howard Avenue but rather on still busy, one-way-only Platt Street, just north of SoHo by a few blocks. It is close enough to be on the route to any number of favorites on a night out. And it is popular and has a good following. So what makes this place so unique? Did you really look at the photo? The Rack is a sushi bar and billiards lounge. Isn’t that a fantastic combination? They claim the best sushi in Tampa plus the place has billiards tables, three bars, and you can even eat outdoors if you wish to take a break. It is not a pool hall by any definition and you’d have to visit and see the inside to know that it’s comfortable and inviting. And it’s not filled with a bunch of pool-shooting beer drinkers. The food is too great an attraction and the crowds who know The Rack and love it bring their friends and talk it up. Word of mouth has put this place on the map from the day they opened their doors. All in all it’s a winning combination. One of the unusual and brilliant marketing moves they’ve made recently is their “Foreclosure Friday!” Intriguing isn’t it. And you have to wonder what is going on with a theme night like that. They invite Tampa’s real estate professionals, mortgage bankers and anyone else in the real estate field to save 25% on their entire tab. In these times, and with the South Tampa they cater to, that’s a very smart move. What attracts me and makes me slow every time I’m at their corner is the artwork. The Japanese Geishas, Koi carp and logo with the martini glass. Very well done and super classy.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Pekingese for all seasons? His Royal Highness prefers his rain slicker of silk

Tampa's rainfall yesterday of 4.72 inches shattered our previous record for this date of 2.84 inches, set in 1955. It was the sixth wettest July day and the forecast calls for us to receive another 1 to 3 inches or more before this day is out. So what does a little record rainfall have to do with the strangely garbed animal staring at you with those soulful, pleading, almost desperate eyes. A lot. (He'd say it much more emphatically.) This little creature is a proud Pekingese, the Lion Dog. Named for the capital of China, the first one is traceable to the Tang Dynasty of the 8th century (A.D.618-906). It is said that thousands (?!!) roamed the royal palaces and no one outside of nobility was allowed to own one. (I hope no one is looking into my genealogy to see if I'm worthy.) During the second Opium War in 1860, the imperial family ordered that all of the dogs be destroyed so the foreign invaders could not obtain them. Many escaped and a British officer brought five of them home to England. Queen Victoria was given a Pekingese and the dogs became part of the royal household. (From one palace to another.) Pekingese were recognized by the Kennel Club of Great Britain in 1893 and the American Kennel Club in 1909. They are described as independent, assertive and stubborn. Very bold. Further, Pekes have a strong sense of territory and will protect it against all threats. Got that? All threats. Stubborn. Bull-headed. A mule if you will. This particular Pekingese is named 'Porter.' (He is named for the American photographer Eliot Porter (1901-1990). Educated at Harvard, and graduating with a degree in chemical engineering in 1923 and a medical degree in 1929, Porter is considered one of our finest nature photographers and an early master of the use of color. He published several books during his lifetime but is probably best known for the book "In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World," published by the Sierra Club in 1962.) Porter, the dog, is just as focused and tenacious a pet as Eliot Porter ever was as a photographic genius. If you look straight into those eyes it's clear that Porter is now beyond humiliation into anger. Just imagine. An imperial dog, raised in palaces from Peking to London, is clothed in a bright yellow, plastic rain slicker. Horrors! You can read it in his stare and set of his jaw (of teeth). He must use the facilities, right now, but Tampa's record rainfall mean his furry paws might be dampened by... moisture. He might get wet. (OK, I said it.) If like most dogs he jumps out of the door he would be swallowed up in flooded streets and even sidewalks. What to do? Oh, what to do? A human speaks up, How 'bout that rain slicker (that he hates?) Oh, he'll live. So the door opens, the mist and wind hit his delicate royal nose, and the small, cuddly-looking Pekingese assumes the unmovable stance of a 1,000 lb. mule. Or donkey. Did he go out? NO! Will he live to see another day of sunny, bright blue skies that Tampa is so well known for? Yes, I believe he will. I will check back later with his imperial handlers to gauge his mood and continuing need to visit his favorite trees, bushes and fire hydrant. (Pekes don't require exercise. Their curiosity is the reason they go outside their air conditioned world.) I'm slow to learn the ways of royalty. I should know by now that Pekingese and an embarrassingly bright yellow, plastic rain slicker do not go together. Now what if it was woven of the finest silk?? Porter? I'm talking to you. Ok, how long can you hold it?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Are you sure this is the way? You're sure? Look elsewhere for a clear and inviting tunnel entrance.

It's our second day of stormy skies and heavy rains. We've had a couple of brief and occasional breaks in the downpour but the story of the day around here is pretty much the rain and flooding. We've gone from blue skies, temps in the high 90s and 100% humidity to this. Gray. Wet. Cooler. Mid 80s. While waiting at this light at Channelside Drive, I kept staring ahead at the slick road surface, sudden drop into the tunnel ahead and the signs for parking. The area above the tunnel, with the signage, is the public plaza outside the St. Pete Times Forum where the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team plays. If you were to drive straight through the light without stopping, your car would go right into the Garrison Channel separating the park and Harbour Island. Of course, if your vehicle is taller than 7-feet, you don't have to worry about wearing your bathing suit because you'll run into the roof of the tunnel and it'll pretty much ruin your day. (Mind you, racing through is not something I'm recommending, but please do watch your brakes on a day like this with all of the high water and flooding.)