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Breaking Tampa Bay, Florida and national news and weather from Tampa Bay Online and The Tampa Tribune | TBO.com
Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014
Bucs will open season against Carolina
The new-look Bucs only have one prime-time game scheduled.
FILE, CLIFF MCBRIDE/STAFF
The first thing Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith usually looks for when the NFL schedule comes out each year are the matchups his team has against its division opponents.
Dancers with Academy of Odissi Dance in Tampa perform a Bollywood  Fusion dance Wednesday evening at Curtis Hixon Park.
JASON BEHNKEN / STAFF
Bollywood party draws thousands to downtown Tampa
Craft beer brewers say the proposed rules would put them out of business.
County staying on sidelines in beer battle
Polk teacher faces charges of sex with 2nd student

Opinion

Otto: As rail goes, Florida seems to be on a train to nowhere

Steve Otto There was a story this week that Amtrak was considering cutting a 600-mile stretch from its Southwest Chief that runs from Chicago to Los Angeles. The move would eliminate service to a dozen or more towns in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. Amtrak might reconsider if those four states cough up $4 million a year for the next 10 years to upgrade track and services.

Editorials:
Editorial: Rotary’s century of service
Editorial: Protecting micro-breweries is good for business
Editorial: Lawmakers should pass immigrant tuition bill
Letters:
Letters to the editor: ‘Legislatum Creatum’
Everyone should help pay for this Republican mandate
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Breaking Tampa Bay, Florida and national news and weather from Tampa Bay Online and The Tampa Tribune | TBO.com
Breaking Tampa Bay, Florida and national news and weather from Tampa Bay Online and The Tampa Tribune | TBO.com
Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014
Bucs will open season against Carolina
The new-look Bucs only have one prime-time game scheduled.
FILE, CLIFF MCBRIDE/STAFF
The first thing Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith usually looks for when the NFL schedule comes out each year are the matchups his team has against its division opponents.
Dancers with Academy of Odissi Dance in Tampa perform a Bollywood  Fusion dance Wednesday evening at Curtis Hixon Park.
JASON BEHNKEN / STAFF
Bollywood party draws thousands to downtown Tampa
Craft beer brewers say the proposed rules would put them out of business.
County staying on sidelines in beer battle
Polk teacher faces charges of sex with 2nd student

Opinion

Otto: As rail goes, Florida seems to be on a train to nowhere

Steve Otto There was a story this week that Amtrak was considering cutting a 600-mile stretch from its Southwest Chief that runs from Chicago to Los Angeles. The move would eliminate service to a dozen or more towns in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. Amtrak might reconsider if those four states cough up $4 million a year for the next 10 years to upgrade track and services.

Editorials:
Editorial: Rotary’s century of service
Editorial: Protecting micro-breweries is good for business
Editorial: Lawmakers should pass immigrant tuition bill
Letters:
Letters to the editor: ‘Legislatum Creatum’
Everyone should help pay for this Republican mandate

Terry Speegle Answers Internal Call

Posted Jul 2, 2010 by Geoff Fox

Updated Jul 2, 2010 at 04:59 PM

Despite his anger, Terry Speegle found inspiration in news reports about the two Tampa police officers shot to death during a traffic stop early Tuesday.

Speegle wasn’t friends with Tampa officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab, but he has known Michael Braswell for years. Braswell was one of two Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputies shot and injured last week after stopping a gun-wielding bicyclist.

Currently an employee at Family Gun & Retail Store on Gall Boulevard, Speegle, 28, is a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He now wants to join the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s something I thought about when I got out of the Marine Corps, but I put it off, and put it off, and put it off,” Speegle said. “But now, you’ve got four officers shot in the last week. Maybe the law enforcement agencies should be looking at military guys who have experience in recognizing a bad situation before it starts.”

Speegle said he was in the Marines from 1999 to 2006, and had one tour each in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was part of an aerial squadron on which he served as an aerial crew chief and door gunner, and was part of a casualty evacuation team.

“If somebody gets shot, you fly in there, pick them up and get them out of there,” he said. “I never got shot or anything, but I did mess my back up a little. I had a lot of friends get shot, though.”

Kevin Doll, Pasco sheriff’s spokesman, said he hasn’t heard of other people inspired to join law enforcement after the recent shootings, but he didn’t seem surprised to hear about Speegle.

“It’s just like after 9/11, a lot of people joined the military. People want to get into law enforcement for a number of reasons and that kind of thing can spur people into action,” Doll said, referring to the shootings.

Doll said there are a lot of former military personnel at the sheriff’s office, but even with a military background, potential deputies have to be state-certified. Speegle said he will seek certification through the law enforcement program at Pasco-Hernando Community College.

As Speegle contemplated his future, a manhunt continued for Dontae Rashawn Morris, the 24-year-old convicted felon who police say gunned down Officers Dave Curtis and Jeff Kocab on Tuesday. There is a $100,000 reward for Morris’ arrest and hundreds of law enforcement officers are combing the community for him.

Speegle’s friend and customer, Braswell, and fellow Polk Deputy Paul Fairbanks III, are recovering from wounds suffered in a gunfight with bicyclist Matthew Tutt, 21, who was killed.

Speegle said his family, including three daughters, is supportive of the potential career move, as is his current boss, Cory Swanstrom, owner of the gun shop.

“I know a lot of guys who say they want to step up, but I think a lot of them are all mouth,” Speegle said. “I’m putting my foot to the pavement. My wife, Jody, encouraged me and Cory (Swanstrom) said, ‘Don’t let anything hold you back. Just go.’ “

 

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Terry Speegle Answers Internal Call

Posted Jul 2, 2010 by Geoff Fox

Updated Jul 2, 2010 at 05:01 PM

Despite his anger, Terry Speegle found inspiration in news reports about the two Tampa police officers shot to death during a traffic stop early Tuesday.

Speegle wasn’t friends with Tampa officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab, but he has known Michael Braswell for years. Braswell was one of two Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputies shot and injured last week after stopping a gun-wielding bicyclist.

Currently an employee at Family Gun & Retail Store on Gall Boulevard, Speegle, 28, is a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He now wants to join the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s something I thought about when I got out of the Marine Corps, but I put it off, and put it off, and put it off,” Speegle said. “But now, you’ve got four officers shot in the last week. Maybe the law enforcement agencies should be looking at military guys who have experience in recognizing a bad situation before it starts.”

Speegle said he was in the Marines from 1999 to 2006, and had one tour each in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was part of an aerial squadron on which he served as an aerial crew chief and door gunner, and was part of a casualty evacuation team.

“If somebody gets shot, you fly in there, pick them up and get them out of there,” he said. “I never got shot or anything, but I did mess my back up a little. I had a lot of friends get shot, though.”

Kevin Doll, Pasco sheriff’s spokesman, said he hasn’t heard of other people inspired to join law enforcement after the recent shootings, but he didn’t seem surprised to hear about Speegle.

“It’s just like after 9/11, a lot of people joined the military. People want to get into law enforcement for a number of reasons and that kind of thing can spur people into action,” Doll said, referring to the shootings.

Doll said there are a lot of former military personnel at the sheriff’s office, but even with a military background, potential deputies have to be state-certified. Speegle said he will seek certification through the law enforcement program at Pasco-Hernando Community College.

As Speegle contemplated his future, a manhunt continued for Dontae Rashawn Morris, the 24-year-old convicted felon who police say gunned down Officers Dave Curtis and Jeff Kocab on Tuesday. There is a $100,000 reward for Morris’ arrest and hundreds of law enforcement officers are combing the community for him.

Speegle’s friend and customer, Braswell, and fellow Polk Deputy Paul Fairbanks III, are recovering from wounds suffered in a gunfight with bicyclist Matthew Tutt, 21, who was killed.

Speegle said his family, including three daughters, is supportive of the potential career move, as is his current boss, Cory Swanstrom, owner of the gun shop.

“I know a lot of guys who say they want to step up, but I think a lot of them are all mouth,” Speegle said. “I’m putting my foot to the pavement. My wife, Jody, encouraged me and Cory (Swanstrom) said, ‘Don’t let anything hold you back. Just go.’ “

 

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Flopping In The Streets Of Wesley Chapel; Or, Dude, You Don’t Have To Run Over The Corn Snake

Posted Apr 28, 2010 by Geoff Fox

Updated Apr 28, 2010 at 05:21 PM

I was walking the other night. It had been raining for hours and water was flowing down the side of the street toward a sewer.

In the distance, on the ground to my left, I saw something flopping. Since I had passed a 4-foot long corn snake on someone’s driveway a block earlier, I gave the wiggling water creature a berth.

But, like a typically dense but curious human, I had see what it was.

It was one of those times when you see something, then have to pause, determine whether you’re awake or dreaming, then squint hard enough to split an eyelid.

I don’t know if it was male or female, but it was definitely a catfish; the long “whiskers” sticking out the side of its head were the giveaway. It splashed down the street in a herky-jerky “gait” that characterized neither walking nor swimming.

I’d heard stories of Florida’s “walking catfish” from several sources over the years, but I always figured these people were, to quote Karl Childers in “Sling Blade,” having “quite a bit of sport with me.”

But the thing is real. I say so, and so does Gary Morse, a spokesman with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. (The picture to the left is from The Tampa Tribune’s archives.)

“They are a non-native species; they’ve got the elongated spine that they use to walk,” he said. “Typically, you see them moving about on the land. They can go over grass, not for long distances, but when it’s wet they keep their gills wet and they can gulp air. They can’t live out of water indefinitely, but particularly after a rain is when you’ll see them.”

Back home, I saw something even stranger. The driveway where I saw the snake is about five houses down. Standing on the sidewalk, I watched someone in a sedan pull into the driveway and back out several times. Then, they backed into the driveway and drove out again.

Then, they came at the driveway sideways.

This went on for several minutes.

It was one of those times when you’re watching something happen, and you’re pretty sure you understand the situation, but you’re still left slack-jawed by the unbridled brilliance.

The car backed into the driveway a final time and paused, headlights shining, before tearing away. Apparently, the driver did not live at the house.

But he or she did manage to make mincemeat of the corn snake, the innards of which were strewn across the asphalt like Silly String.

Corn snakes, by the way, are generally docile and choke their prey to death. To humans, they are considered non-venomous.

But even if the snake had been a water moccasin, a rattlesnake or a copperhead, feared reptiles that could send you on a helicopter ride to the intensive care unit, such motorized mayhem would have been excessive.

Even in the Old West, they generally only hung an outlaw once.

 

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Clifton’s Aspirations Expand

Posted Apr 16, 2010 by Geoff Fox

Updated Apr 16, 2010 at 01:24 PM

Creating his own music has been Greg Clifton’s lifelong pursuit.

Now, he wants to help others produce theirs.

“It’s more lucrative that way,” said Clifton, a psychedelic Christian musician and longtime employee at Sounds Great CD store on Gall Boulevard.

A Dade City resident, Clifton, 29, recently formed JClif Productions with friend and musician Joey Palminteri of Zephyrhills, a student at the International Academy of Design & Technology in Tampa.

“It’s a music-production business,” Clifton said. “We’re just taking what we’ve learned over the years and putting our heads together.”

Clifton has performed with various Christian acts over the years and has recorded a solo album, “Turn To Dust.”

Palminteri, 23, a guitarist, said he has made lots of contacts through school, playing music and attending concerts around the region. He has a recording studio in his home and has helped produce a couple of Clifton’s solo songs.

“We don’t have any particular artists in mind that we want to work with,” Palminteri said. “We’re looking for acts in the Tampa Bay area; they could be rock, hip-hop, R&B, jazz, whatever. But it’s going to be quality. If we’re going to do hip-hop, it’s not going to have (foul language) every other word.”

Tom Ousley, 22, of Zephyrhills, who specializes in live sound production and advertising, works with Clifton and Palminteri; he also has attended the International Academy in Tampa.

Besides recording and distributing music, the fledgling label will be able to produce live shows, offer session musicians and equipment rental, even music lessons.
Their unofficial motto: “You play it, we tape it,” Clifton said.

For information about JClif Productions, visit http://www.jclifproductions.com.

Greg Clifton can be reached at (352) 807-2078 or Joey Palminteri at (813) 469-9250.

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Maine-ly Good Food

Posted Apr 6, 2010 by Geoff Fox

Updated Apr 6, 2010 at 03:28 PM

I’ve passed the place literally hundreds of times, and every time the parking lot is full.

Based on the countless, unsolicited testimonials from snowbirds and natives alike, I had always meant to eat at Maine-ly New England, the seafood restaurant on First Street in Zephyrhills.

I finally had the opportunity Monday, when my wife’s cousin, husband and kids came to visit. Although they now live in North Carolina, the Castors are from Massachusetts and accustomed to uncommonly good grub at places like The Lobster Hut in Plymouth or Boston Sea Party.

Visiting Florida, they jonesed for fish.

At Maine-ly New England, they got it.

With four clamoring children, we sat outside, while everyone over 50 seemed to stay indoors. It was just as well, as the kids, who see each other once or twice a year, wanted to interact loudly and chase the chickens clucking nearby.

In short, the food was great, there was a lot of it, and it was reasonably priced – especially since I wasn’t paying.

The complimentary cheese biscuits were tasty, my grouper sandwich and fries were very good, and the clam strips were about the best I’ve had. Maine-ly New England even makes its own cocktail sauce, which got high marks from the out-of-towners, as did the fried seafood platter.

Two of the kids devoured large bacon cheeseburgers, and we all got ice cream for dessert, the price of which was included with the meal.

At the end of it all, I made a joke that even the kids didn’t laugh at, and everybody left – full, fulfilled and ready for a nap.

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Blurg

Posted Feb 18, 2010 by Geoff Fox

Updated Feb 18, 2010 at 05:17 PM

Somewhere around the third round of his legendary bout with Buster Douglas, Mike Tyson must have realized he was unprepared.

It’s an ugly feeling.

He was eating jabs, taking hooks to the body and being challenged in a way he didn’t expect.

I wasn’t eating punches at the Pasco County Fair this week, but I might have felt better afterward if I had. Turns out the psychology of boxing – the most important aspect of the brutal game, experts will tell you – isn’t much different than the mindset required to accomplish other physical tasks, such as eating your way through the county fair.

You can never stop endeavoring to persevere.

When it comes to devouring greasy fair food for entertainment purposes and bragging rights, this wasn’t my first rodeo. Six years ago, I inhaled pork butt on a stick, an elephant ear, smoked polish sausage, a fried green tomato sandwich, a London broil sandwich and marinated chicken shish kabob.

And I didn’t leave a crumb.

So, I may have been a little overconfident when I strolled up the midway this week, eyeballing all the seductively displayed food in vendors’ windows, the whiff of sizzling sausage, baking pizza and sugary cotton candy mingling in my snout.

But I didn’t want the regular stuff. A couple of years ago, I watched a colleague from the photo department attack a barbecue sundae and felt a pang of jealousy. It looked good, and he seemed to relish every bite.

So, I started with one of those. Served in what looked like a 16-ounce Styrofoam cup, the barbecue sundae has baked beans on the bottom, cole slaw in the middle and barbecue beef or pork on top; I went with beef, and poured barbecue sauce over everything. I finished the $6 item in about four minutes.

While I genuinely enjoyed the sundae, my undoing might have coincided with my next selection: crab rangoons from the Chinese & American Food vendor. I was probably lured by the two-for-$3 deal, although I wasn’t sure what a crab rangoon was. I’m still not sure what one is, but if you’re a fan of cream cheese and grease, you can’t go wrong.

My stomach started to grumble during the second rangoon, and it took me several minutes to finish them.

Next was the sausage and chips plate – sold at European Foods Sausage and Chips – for $6, and I’m as much a sucker for the smell of cooking pig as the next non-vegetarian. I opted for the Polish sausage, rather than Italian, and added onions and peppers. Served straight from the fryer, the chips glistened with grease.

I hit the wall halfway through.

While the barbecue sundae practically ate itself, the sausage, and, particularly, the bun, were caloric hurdles, and I was feeling too fat to jump.

I don’t remember feeling that way six years ago, and I still hadn’t had dessert.

That came in the form of a caramel apple sundae, which featured a sliced apple and soft-serve vanilla ice cream topped with caramel sauce and peanuts. I left only a few spoonfuls of caramel in the bottom of the cup.

I wasn’t prepared for the gymnastics my stomach was about to perform. I watched Robinson’s Racing Pigs beside a trio of snowbirds from Indiana. They graciously laughed at my jokes, but chuckled harder at the gurgling chorus coming from my gut; the grumbles and falsetto screams from which foretold a painful, grueling exit from the fair.

As I fled, I could hear the Queen classic “Bohemian Rhapsody” blaring from powerful speakers; a faux Humphrey Bogart was repeating, “Play it again, Sam”; and the white noise generated by hundreds of people milling about.

I was practically too full to breathe.

My stomach swirled.

I passed a vendor selling fried Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and wished, for a moment, that I’d never been born at all.

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News Cycle Comes Full Circle

Posted Feb 2, 2010 by Geoff Fox

Updated Feb 2, 2010 at 05:18 PM

From the beginning, witnesses talked about the stolen PlayStation.

Eddie Stoddard was so furious that his had been stolen, they said, that he shot Doug Abrams Jr. to death on April 23, 2008, because he was convinced his 26-year-old neighbor had taken the video-game system, as well as a TV and other items.

I remember the day well: the unrelenting sun; the crime-scene tape; neighbors milling outside their Angus Valley homes, heads turned toward 6617 Mangrove Drive, where Abrams took his last breath.

Stoddard fled the scene in Wesley Chapel that day and wasn’t captured for two weeks.

On Jan. 13, Stoddard (that’s him to the left) was found guilty of second-degree murder in Abrams’ death. At trial, Tampa Tribune reporter Todd Leskanic wrote of Stoddard’s “expletive-laden” testimony, how he often punctuated his thoughts with the words “dog” and “man.”

Now 30, Stoddard said at trial that he would not “step to” someone who stole his stuff, because he had “gonads.”

Through a quirk of daily-journalism fate, I found myself at Stoddard’s sentencing hearing last week, when Circuit Court Judge Pat Siracusa leveled his sentence.

I’m not sure why I was surprised by what transpired.

The courtroom was half-full of friends and family of Abrams, each of whom wore a white T-shirt with his image on the front and nickname, “Dougie Fresh,” on the back. There were two people on Stoddard’s side.

So, when the shackled convict entered the courtroom, he likely saw “a good many enemies around, and mighty few friends,” as Wild West outlaw Bill Longley famously said in the moments before he was hanged in 1878.

Stoddard might have felt he had nothing to lose.

And maybe he was itching to lash out after hearing from a stream of Abrams’ friends and relations, who told him he was garbage, who told him he shot the wrong man, who told him that, regardless of who took the PlayStation, they would have bought him a new one had they known he was so angry. (At left is a Tampa Tribune photo by Fred Bellet taken at the crime scene.)

They questioned his manhood.

Still, the back-and-forth in which Stoddard engaged the judge was jarring.

“You shot a man who you admitted was half your size,” Siracusa said, as he gave Stoddard a life sentence without possibility for parole. “You shot him while he was on the ground.”

“I did not shoot him while he was on the ground,” Stoddard shouted from the defense table.

“That does not mean you have gonads,” Siracusa said. “You’re a coward.”

“I am not a coward!” Stoddard yelled, his face red with anger. “I got a good fight game, your honor.”

Siracusa told Stoddard he would have the rest of his life to polish those skills in prison.

The judge raised his eyebrows and shook his head, clearly exasperated.

I drove back to the office with the radio off.

Two grown men.

Two lives lost.

One PlayStation.

Are you kidding me?

 

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MLK Day Resonates In Lacoochee

Posted Jan 18, 2010 by Geoff Fox

Updated Jan 18, 2010 at 06:01 PM

I was at the Boys & Girls Club of Lacoochee earlier today, where a group of Saint Leo University students helped many of the club’s young members clean up the blighted community’s landmark.

While I was there with photographer Andy Jones, club leader McNair Charles directed the children, as they cleaned closets, organized shelves and swept floors. With dozens of people to look after, Charles stayed busy the entire time. He said he had talked to the children, many of them black, about King before the day’s work began.

After about an hour, Andy and I were done. For all Charles knew, we had already left. He seated the children indoors and began a roundtable discussion.

“When you go to school, take advantage of your education,” he said. “When you meet someone of a different race, don’t treat them differently. We can all come together as one.”

“Like a family?” asked a girl.

“Yes, like a family,” he said. “We’re all going to disagree sometimes, but violence and physical abuse – we don’t need that. We don’t have to fight. We can come to common ground. Each day, think about it.”

He spoke the words not knowing a reporter was writing them down. They were genuine.

And the children were silent as he spoke. They listened.

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Happy New Year

Posted Dec 31, 2009 by Geoff Fox

Updated Dec 31, 2009 at 02:15 PM

It’s been a while since we’ve updated ye ol’ Everyday People blog.

And it’s not like nothing has happened in the last six weeks.

For starters, “Tiger” Edmonds caught a docile raccoon in his trap, possibly one I helped load. Alas, the video camera got fouled in attempting to film said raccoon, so no hard-hitting footage was available.

The popularity of an outdoor “ice skating rink” at The Shops at Wiregrass, the 800,000-square-foot outdoor mall at Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and State Road 56, rose like – sigh – fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

I went out to the mall recently to check out the fun. Adults and kids, many of whom had never been ice skating, traversed the 28-by-96-foot rink with seeming ease. Many wore rainbow-bright smiles.

I admit it; it was heart-warming.

On Christmas eve, Frances Bellamy, the matriarch of Pasco’s most renowned musical family – The Bellamy Brothers – died after having endured several small strokes over the last several years. Fortunately for the family, she died at home, surrounded by her famous sons, and the rest of the family.

Howard Bellamy, one-half of the famed duo, said everyone got to say their goodbyes and they are trying to continue on, as Frances would have wanted.

In many ways, personally and professionally, 2009 was much better than 2008.

But there’s no reason to believe 2010 can’t be even better.

Here’s to it.

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Thug Robs The Book Shack A Week After Store’s Anniversary

Posted Oct 16, 2009 by Geoff Fox

Updated Oct 16, 2009 at 06:01 PM

It requires no bravery or mental agility to walk into a book store with a gun, level it at the proprietor and make off with practically nothing.

Such an act could get you a pretty stiff prison sentence if you get caught, though, especially if you’re a convicted felon.

Anyone who knows Jo Kassabaum, longtime owner of The Book Shack in Dade City, probably hopes the genius who robbed her Monday – with the barrel of a semi-automatic gun pointed at her head – is caught by police and eventually sent where most of us would like to see gun-wielding criminals.

The robbery occurred a week after Jo celebrated her 30th anniversary of owning the well-stocked book-lover’s paradise on Seventh Street. The Dade City Police Department has been trying to find the young man who robbed Jo, but nothing solid has turned up yet.

Jo said she was eating lunch when the man walked in. She asked him if he needed help with anything.

That’s when he demanded money from the register.

He had a bandana over his face.

He pointed the gun at her skull sideways, gangsta-style.

“He wasn’t belligerent. Just wanted what he wanted and left,” she said.

He made off with about $5 from her purse and “not much” from the register, she added.

“I mean, it was pretty early on Monday,” she said. “It was dead in here.”

It is that kind of idiot that inspired the Florida Legislature in 1999 to pass legislation providing for enhanced minimum mandatory prison terms for offenders who commit crimes with guns.

For example, there is a mandatory minimum 10-year prison term for some felonies in which the offender “possesses a firearm or destructive device,” according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

Happily, the incident has not persuaded Jo to seek an early retirement or significantly alter her business – aside from possibly installing mirrors so she can keep a better eye on the store.

She did, however, say that for the first time in 30 years, she is somewhat nervous about being at work.

“That gun was pointed at my head the entire time,” she said. “That was something else.”

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Ring Pops Go Platinum

Posted Oct 14, 2009 by Geoff Fox

Updated Oct 14, 2009 at 05:03 PM

Michelle and Gordon Schwarz will probably never throw their Ring Pops away.

But you’ll have to forgive them for not continuing to wear the lollipops on a ring as a symbol of wedded bliss.

The Land O’ Lakes couple made headlines last month when they arrived for a wedding ceremony at the East Pasco Government Center with smiles on their faces and Ring Pops on their fingers.

A hair stylist at Euro Concepts Salon in Land O’ Lakes, Michelle is known for giving Ring Pops to younger clients. The confection was introduced by the Topps Co. in 1977.

She had heard stories of money-strapped couples during the Great Depression exchanging wedding vows with cigar bands instead of traditional rings. Hit hard by the recession, the couple put a 21st century spin on that scenario.

Happily for the Schwarzes, Winnie Magnon-Marvel, owner of Alvin Magnon Jewelers, a longtime Tampa establishment, saw their story in The Tampa Tribune and decided to help out.

Today, the couple was presented with a pair of platinum wedding bands valued at about $2,500. They also received champagne and a cake.

Husband and wife teared up when given the rings.

“Just because you didn’t have a ring, doesn’t mean you didn’t want one,” Marvel-Magnon said to Michelle.

As for the Ring Pops they were married in – hers was red, his was blue – Michelle said they are being kept in a freezer.

We couldn’t help but ask her what would happen if the power goes out.

She and Gordon exchanged a glance.

“We might need to get a generator,” she said.

(Tampa Tribune photo by MICHAEL EGGER)

 

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Dads’ Day Lunch Was A Life-Affirming Good Time

Posted Oct 9, 2009 by Geoff Fox

Updated Oct 9, 2009 at 06:30 PM

Kids can get cream-filled Popsicles with their school lunch these days.

Meatballs are now on the menu, as well.

Things have changed since the ‘80s, when the choices were rectangular pieces of pizza that might have been good if they were tasteless, fried burritos and limp french fries.

At my kids’ Pasco County school this week was a semi-regular event called Dads’ Day Lunch, where dads are encouraged to observe and interact with their offspring during part of their daily routine. (That also did not happen in the lunchrooms of my youth.)

Although my kids take their lunch to school (their mother is so thrifty, I sometimes think she can shape-shift into her dream man, financial guru Clark Howard), but I was able to see what the other kids ate.

The Popsicles, and small-but-realistic-looking meatballs, weren’t the only things that looked good. I saw sliced-turkey sandwiches, lots of fresh-looking produce, tuna and whole-grain pizza, among other items that could be washed down with 100 percent fruit juice.

Observing all that was just part of the fun.

Today, I got to sit with my third-grader, The Adman, who elected to eat at the “parents’ table” rather than with his buddies. I’d like to think it was more because he wanted to talk to me, not hide me. Unlike his dad, The Adman is a gregarious little fellow who delivered at least one high five to a passing kid and pointed out his friends I hadn’t met yet.

Since his class doesn’t eat until after 1 p.m., the cleaning crew was folding up tables and mopping around everyone throughout the 30-minute period, but all their racket was a whisper compared to the nightclub-level decibels I experienced the day before, when I joined Two Rocks, The Adman’s older brother, for his 11:40 a.m. feeding.

A fifth-grader, Two Rocks is one to absorb his environment silently. He’s not exactly anti-social, but he doesn’t seem to like crowds any more than his old man.

On a bench outside, we talked about raccoons and movies (he wants to see “Public Enemy” with James Cagney) and other stuff.

At the end of his lunch period we walked back inside, where his class was lined up to go to the playground. In front of his friends, Two Rocks pointed to a minute bug on the “Hello, My Name Is Geoff Fox” sticker on my shirt.

I looked down just as he squashed it with the tip of his index finger, smearing a brown diagonal line across the name tag.

Beside Two Rocks, his friends laughed. I could hear them even as they walked outside.

The boy wore a smile as he waved good-bye.

Dads’ Day Lunch provided the best 60 minutes I’d spent all week.

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Happy 30th Birthday To The Book Shack

Posted Oct 2, 2009 by Geoff Fox

Updated Oct 2, 2009 at 02:00 PM

You wouldn’t have known it just by driving by.

There were no miniature hot air balloons with commemorative messages, no light-up billboards, no windows painted in celebratory colors.

That isn’t Jo Kassabaum’s style.

The owner of The Book Shack celebrated her 30th anniversary as a Dade City landmark and book lover’s paradise on Thursday. In lieu of public self-congratulations, Jo spent the day moving the inspirational and inspirational-fiction books to a more prominent spot.

Those genres have become more popular with customers in recent months, and with Jo, it’s all about the customers.

Always has been.

“My customers are the best,” said Kassabaum, a Wisconsin native now living in Weeki Wachee. “Some of them have become very good friends. You can work a retail shop and get burned out and bored, but my customers are like family. I know about their kids and husbands and wives, whichever the case may be.

“I know who’s doing bad and who’s doing good. That’s what makes it fun to come to work.”

The Book Shack has been at 14407 Seventh St. for about 10 years; the location is seven blocks north of its original Seventh Street site.

For historical perspective, Kassabaum opened the business when Jimmy Carter was still president, the Pittsburgh Pirates were World Series champions and The Knack’s “My Sharona” hit the top of Billboard’s Hot 100.

Inside the nearly 1,000-square-foot store, Kassabaum stocks about 90,000 titles in just about every genre. The store also features works by local authors such as William Dennis, Mark “Tiger” Edmonds, R.W. Lowrie, Caroline D. Marlette and Carol Overstreet.

Edmonds, for one, has labeled Jo and her store as one of the best things about living in Pasco County.

I can disagree with Edmonds on a lot of matters, but this isn’t one of them.

 

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Who Needs Diamonds When Topps Has Ring Pops?

Posted Sep 28, 2009 by Geoff Fox

Updated Sep 28, 2009 at 03:41 PM

I have now been the ring bearer at two wedding ceremonies.

The first time was when I was 3, and my parents were getting hitched. As adorable as any kid ever, I sprinted down the aisle, whacked the best man with the pillow and flopped down in a front pew, laughing.

That’s the legend, anyway.

This morning, I was the de facto ring bearer during a ceremony at the East Pasco Government Center.

Exchanging vows were two people I’d never met: Michelle Kumler, 47, a hair stylist at Euro Concepts Salon in Land O’ Lakes, and her fiancé, Gordon Schwarz, 49.

Gordon delivered stucco for a local construction company until getting laid off recently; he now works at Ukelele’s restaurant in Land O’ Lakes.

When Debbie Robinette, a deputy clerk at the government center, asked if they had rings, Kumler laughed.

“You’re gonna love this,” she said.

On cue, I produced their diamond-shaped rings: one red, one blue.

That’s right, they were Ring Pops, the confection introduced by Topps in 1977.

Kumler said she has elderly clients who have told stories of Great Depression-era ceremonies done with cigar bands instead of actual rings.

Known for giving away Ring Pops to younger clients, Kumler said the decision to use them in the ceremony was a no-brainer, especially since the couple – like so many others – are currently on slippery financial footing.

This morning, though, they seemed more happy to be together than worried about money.

“I was talking to the girls at work and told them I couldn’t wash dishes anymore – because my ‘diamond’ might melt,” Kumler said with a laugh.

Gordon laughed, too.

And nobody got hit with a pillow.

(Tampa Tribune photo by JAY NOLAN.)

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“Technoglyphic”

Posted Sep 25, 2009 by Geoff Fox

Updated Sep 25, 2009 at 06:04 PM

Strains from the CD “Poet: A Tribute To Townes Van Zandt” eased through Mark “Tiger” Edmonds’ front door. As usual, the retired English professor was halfway through a rant about technology.

Somewhere in the flurry of sour syllables came these four: “tech-no-glyph-ic.”

If that’s not a word, it should be. And if you’ve listened to any of the preceding Pithy Pasco Reflections, you know exactly what it means. Faster than Johnny Cash can list cities in his well-known cover of “I’ve Been Everywhere,” Edmonds was talking about a man he once knew called “Special Ed.”

That’s about all we can say about Ed, unfortunately.

In fact, lots of what Edmonds says is unprintable.

And refreshing, to some.

The author of several books, including “Longrider,” “The Ghost of Scootertrash Past” and “Hard Scrabble,” Edmonds also pens and reads “The Curmudgeon Chronicles” on an Orlando radio station every weekend. He probably knows the call letters by now, but I forgot to ask him this week.

If you wanna know more about Edmonds, check out http://www.drmarktigeredmonds.com.

 

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