Archive for ‘Observations’

Thief!

I’d like to report a theft. I met little Robin Hood last week and he certainly lives up to his name since he stole my heart and refuses to give it back.

I tweaked his name to Westley Robin (Princess Bride fans will understand). For his derring-do, he is also known as Westley the Brave.

His favorite toy is a ping pong ball but he does love snuggling with his mouse. He staked a claim to my Florida room where he takes frequent naps in the sun. A smart boy, he listens well, though he is not fond of the word “No” (who is?).

He certainly livens things up around here…

A Comedy of Errors

‘Tis the season for festive events and the Tampa Bay area celebrates in colorful style, with holiday light shows and decorated boat parades. There are so many options, that it actually isn’t possible to attend them all.

Many of the events are long-standing traditions because they are well-planned and attendees have a wonderful time. Unfortunately, not all events work out. I recently read about one that was an unmitigated disaster*.

The eight day extravaganza was held in downtown Tampa back in 1958 and it’s so infamous that it is still discussed to this day. Howard Hilton (of the Hilton & Gray Advertising Agency) pitched a winter wonderland to downtown business leaders and they eagerly hopped on board.

Snow Show would feature the nation’s tallest Christmas tree, a 5-story ski slope with toboggan rides, an ice rink with skate performances throughout the day, a world record ice cube, “reindeer”, and, of course, Santa.

What transpired reads like a script for a National Lampoon movie. The troubles began with the tree. The governor of Minnesota enlisted a logging company to scour the North Woods for a massive specimen. They bulldozed a road in order to haul it out and then strapped it on a train bound for Florida.

The tree was so immense that it snapped in Indiana when the train rounded a curve. The logging company attempted to get another tree but their equipment bogged down in the mud. Finally, a second company shipped a suitable tree.

Upon arrival, engineers took extra precautions and dug a hole in the middle of Franklin Street. The towering conifer was carefully lifted into place but its weight broke through the sewer line below and raw sewage gushed forth.

Florida’s typically warm weather also played a role, it was almost impossible to maintain the ski slope, even with 3 million pounds of shaved ice. The Norwegian ski jumper brought over to open the venue crashed on his first run down. As did the first few toboggans before the slope was closed due to unsafe conditions.

The ice rink didn’t fare much better, during the first performance a skate flew off and gashed a young attendee’s face. The show ended early and the girl was taken to the hospital. A few nights later, one of the performers was caught making extra money by putting on an “after hours” show for men in the dressing room.

But surely nothing could go wrong with watching an 8 ton ice cube melt? Well, in an effort to win the “guess when it will melt” contest somebody doused the base with salt which created a top heavy shape that fell over on a little girl.

The borrowed deer which were to serve as reindeer were so traumatized by their handling that one died trying to escape and another molted (huge chunks of fur fell off leaving behind raw, red skin). After protests by animal rights activists all the animal exhibits were closed.

One might think finding a suitable Santa would be the least of the problems. But just like in the original Miracle on 34th Street, the first Santa had to be fired for drinking on the job. One of the replacements, hid in the department store until it closed and cleaned out the jewelry department.

Needless to say, though memorable, Snow Show was never reprised. Personally, I think it would make a great movie!

*Kudos to the Tampa Bay Times for reprinting the article.

Part of the Plant System

The beginning of Florida’s resort industry can be traced to the vision of railroad magnate, Henry B. Plant. He brought his railway to Tampa in 1884, utilizing the town’s port to offer his customers steamship travel to Mobile (Alabama), Bermuda, Jamaica, and even Cuba.

His grand vision required an equally grand hotel so in 1888 he hired architect J.A. Woods to design a massive structure in the Moorish Revival style (mostly). Plant insisted on a few distinctive design elements – the finished building was certainly unique with minarets and gingerbread trim.

Plant’s 511 room hotel took three years to build and cost $2 million (which does not include the $500,000 in fine furnishings that he and his wife sourced from Europe). When it opened on February 5, 1891 the six-acre hotel offered top of the line accommodations: every room boasted a telephone and electricity while most even had a private bath. The hotel also offered a billiard room, barbershop, shoeshine service, beauty shop, flower shop, telegraph office, formal dining room, Grand Salon, Reading Room, and a Music Room with orchestra.

At 150 acres, the grounds of the hotel were no less grand, encompassing a 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, bowling alley, racetrack, baseball field (where Babe Ruth is said to have hit a home run of record length), casino, card rooms, exposition hall, flower conservatory, a croquet greensward, shuffleboard courts, boathouse, hunting and fishing grounds, stables, kennels, and an indoor heated swimming pool.

Sadly, only a small portion of the grounds remain but surprisingly, the massive building still stands, though the majority of it has been repurposed into the University of Tampa. The south wing now serves as a museum to the hotel’s founder, which I had the pleasure of touring a couple months ago. Tampa is fortunate to have this remnant of the Gilded Age.

Last Chance to Sea

Even though it was windy and chilly (53 degrees) I headed out to my beach this evening. It was my last chance to get sand in my toes for awhile since the weather down here is about to get frightful (by Florida standards). As you might imagine, I was one of the only ones out there.

We’re dropping into the 40s tonight and will stay there for a few days. I know most of the country is dealing with even colder weather but I’m not at all sure I’m ready for this nonsense. I’ll probably go into torpor until the middle of next week when it warms up…stay warm and cozy, my friends!

Field Trip

I started yesterday afternoon’s explorations at Whimzeyland, an artist’s yard in Safety Harbor. In the past couple years, the colorful influence has even spread to nearby yards, making for a bright and fun neighborhood.

My next stop was downtown. I wandered along Main Street popping into galleries and shops, while enjoying the tempting scents from the many eateries. The waterfront village features a tiny harbor, a fishing pier, and a lengthy boardwalk.

I was most impressed by the massive live oak in the center of town. At well over 300 years old it is recognized as the oldest one in Pinellas County.

Before heading home I stopped off at the Folly Farms Nature Preserve. The park contains a large community garden, nature trails, and a small wetland area. It was a lovely afternoon outing!

Sunday Funday

Yesterday, I drove down to Manasota Key with a couple friends. Since they’d never been before, I showed Katie and Alyssa how to hunt for fossil shark teeth. Quick learners, they wandered along the shore doing the shark tooth shuffle. It wasn’t long before they both had a couple handfuls of shiny, black teeth.

I’ve played down there a few times before and though I am an avid hunter of all kinds of treasure, yesterday I was mostly mesmerized by the water. I love the beach in the area where I live but the color of the water south of Venice is just stunning.

We stayed for sunset (good thing we did, it was amazing) but by then we were starving so we stopped by an old Florida oddity, the Linger Lodge. The original log cabin lodge was built on the banks of the Braden River back in 1945.

Sadly, a fire destroyed the lodge in the late 1950s. The current version was built in 1968 and the decor hasn’t changed much through the ensuing decades. While we weren’t adventurous enough to order off the Road Kill Menu, we did try their alligator chowder and gator bites, which we all agreed were quite tasty.

What a wonderful day!

Gardener’s Delight

A few weeks ago I started a little kitchen garden in my backyard. In west central Florida, our mostly sunny days and mild temperatures are perfect for growing lettuce and herbs this time of year.

I’m delighted with the progress of the seeds I planted, my lettuce, dill, and carrots are coming along nicely. While the basil that I transplanted seems to be thriving.

Today, I had a happy surprise when I turned over some soil (in order to add some cilantro and catnip seeds. One for me, the other for my neighborhood boys, I’ll let you decide which is which). For the first time in two years of digging, I uncovered an earthworm in my yard!

I was so excited that I dashed for my phone so that I could take a photo. Either my wriggler didn’t share my enthusiasm or I’m terrible at reading worm body language. Regardless, I shall now add vermiculturalist to my resume!