Monday, November 23, 2020

Five More Quotes

Previously, I shared seven quotes that came to the surface as I sifted through my memories and personal experiences. I have since continued to explore and recall phrases and sayings that somewhere or another became lodged in my mind and, for one reason or another, impacted me. I've decided to present there here in reverse chronological order, from newest to oldest in terms of when I first remember encountering them.

"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
This is a more recent discovery, from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. It is only the first couple lines of the full stanza, which is, for me, deeply connected to my current literary endeavors, as truly all of my writing and exploration seems to be leading me to finally know for the first time all of the places I've been before. Even though it's only been within the past few years that I recall ever stumbling across this, it resonates with me and seems like it has been, somehow, a part of my consciousness for much longer. Like a tune you hum to yourself without realizing it's something you first heard decades ago and barely registered at the time, but has remained with you all the same.

“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity."
As with the T.S. Eliot Quote, it seems that this phrase has been rattling around in my head for much longer than it really has. The first time I'm sure I became aware of it was when I left my job in the corporate world for good, to launch my art rental business, Chicago Art Leasing. At the time, I remember a fellow entrepreneur sharing the phrase with me, as it applied to both of our endeavors at the time. Without realizing it, we had been building up the skill set to solve our own specific problems with a niche offering. Ultimately I left Chicago and let the business slip into stasis, but the phrase could apply equally to my more recent experience writing "Secret Tampa Bay: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure." It was something that I had been doing, visiting and writing about strange, unusual and unique places, before I realized that it was the making of a potential books. It's also possible that my father, who was an entrepreneur and pioneer in the clinical research industry, shared this quote with me when I was a child or teenager. It certainly sounds like the type of thing he would have imparted to me, but I can't be sure.

“In darkness dwells the people which knows its annals not."
This one clearly is from my Sophomore year as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. It is one of two quotes cared into the front of the William L. Clements Library, which I don't think I ever once entered, ironically. I did, however, have to memorize this and other quotes around the campus during my semester pledging Sigma Phi. As a seeker of knowledge, even back then, it was a reminder of the illumination and insight provided by libraries, archives and other places I've spent a good bit of time in since.

“Tradition fades but the written record remains ever fresh.”
This is the other inscription outside of the Clements Library and one that I've pondered from time to time. Traditions do fade, and change both in practice and meaning, but does the written record remain ever fresh? Or does it too fade into obscurity over time and lose its meaning?

"No matter where you go, there you are."
This one takes me back to my early teen and even pre-teen years. It was just a line in the movie, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, which I watched at least a dozen times with my friend Steven. I think I spent an entire summer making that my response to just about everything. And while it was intended to be just a silly bit of dialog in a weird movie, I have found it to be surprising profound. When I moved to Seattle after college, which was just about as far as I could get from my point of origin, perhaps it was some part of myself I was looking to escape from. But I found then, as I have other times since, that you take you with you, wherever you go. Thankfully, being my own baggage seems today not so much like the burden it once did - I'm no longer running from myself and have, I think, made peace with my many flaws. But I also carry with me now not only myself, but those I've lost along the way - both metaphorically and literally. It was for this reason that I chose to use a variation of the quote in the dedication for my book.

I am sure that there are other phrases waiting to be uncovered as I continue the autoarchaeological dig that this blog has become for me. Perhaps there's some personal Rosetta Stone yet waiting to be found, that will translate and unify all such phrases as part of one single text. Maybe, once I've deciphered the cuneiform of my own experience, I'll find that I had the words out of sequence and old phrases will reveal some hidden meaning. A new tradition of refreshing the written record, perhaps.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Atlanta Adventure List

 The last time I had been to Atlanta was when I was writing business proposals for a family of consulting firms that included Proudfoot Consulting, more than a decade ago. When I visited the firm there, all I really saw was the inside of a conference room, a no frills hotel room and a strip club. Suffice it to say, this trip was of a very different nature. From the urban farm bed and breakfast that Jen found for us to the Midtown Music Festival that I procured tickets for, to the museums, art and offbeat sites, Atlanta vastly outperformed our expectations. It may not have ranked quite as high as Savannah, but still we loved it and we left more than enough on the table for future trips. 

  • Item #1: Some Were Quite Blind - we stopped on the way to inspect an unusual set of sculptures placed appropriately outside of the University of Florida's Animal Sciences Building.
  • Item #2: University of Florida Bat Houses: While we were there, we also paid a visit to the home of some 30,000 winged rodents.
  • Item #3: The Social Goat - Upon reaching our destination we checked into an urban farm B&B that was adorable, affordable and super comfortable.
  • Item #4: Adalanta Desert - One of many plaques placed throughout the country (of Kymaerica) detailing important sites and events in an alternate reality.
  • Item #5: Sparkles the Diva - Since Tinker Bell the Shih Tzu was traveling with us, it only seemed right to introduce her to another Instagram-famous canine.
  • Item #6: Ponce Market - Very much like Chelsea Market in New York, which comes as no surprise since it was developed by the same group.
  • Item #7: The Belt Line - As above, the Atlanta version of New York's High Line.
  • Item #8: Grant Park
  • Item #9: Tiny Doors Atlanta - Jen has a thing for faerie houses and gardens. Consequently we sought out some 20+ tiny doors planted throughout the city.
  • Item #10: Trader Vic's - I have a think for Tiki Bars, and Trader Vic's is one of the last of the originals. The food was great and we had to sample the drink they claim to have invented: the Mai Tai
  • Item #11: The Gravity Research Monument - On Emory's campus. It's one of a dozen or so along the East Coast, planted by Roger Babson, who truly loathed gravity. Long story for another time.
  • Item #12: Junkman's Daughter - All your vintage shopping dreams (or nightmares) come true. Actually a lot like Love Saves the Day in New Hope or Retro on Roscoe in Chicago.
  • Item #13: Vortex Bar - Entered through the mouth of a weird giant skull. (*Not on my list)
  • Item #14: The Martin Luther King National Historic Site: In a word, powerful.
  • Item #15: 54 Columns - A sculpture installation that locals seem to either love or hate.
  • Item #16: Oakland Cemetery - home to a number of memorable tombstones and final resting place of author Margaret Mitchell among others.
  • Item #17: Soaps & Antiques - While Jen shopped for soaps, I found my way down into a sprawling underground cavern of antiques and treasures. Unexpected and better than imagined.
  • Item #18: Music Midtown - We attended both nights and caught performances by Seven Seconds to Mars, Portugal the Man, Foster the People, Billie Eilish, Fallout Boy, Sylvan Esso, Imagine Dragons and others. Probably the best two-day line up Jen and I have attended together.
  • Item #19: Doll's Head Trail - Sort of like taking a hike through the set of a Blair Witch film. Equal parts fascinating and disturbing. 
  • Item #20: Grant Park Farmer's Market (*Not on my list)
  • Item #21: The sideways grave of Sideways the Dog. 
  • Item #22: Noguchi Playscapes - Geometric and vaguely brutalist artwork, made fun for kids.
  • Item #23: Krog Street Tunnel - Where Atlanta's street art lives.
  • Item #24: The Crowley Mausoleum - In the middle of a big box retail store parking lot.
  • Item #25: Cator Woolford Gardens - A little known garden just minutes from downtown Atlanta. We didn't venture too deep into it, as we were being eaten alive by insects, but it was well worth the visit.
  • Item #26: Margaret Mitchell House - Gone With the Wind is one of Jen's favorites of southern literature. The book has become somewhat more problematic of late, but it remains a defining and important work, even if the lost paradise it portrays was only ever paradise to some.
  • Item #27: Autoeater - As the name implies, a marbleized sculpture eating a car. (*Not on my list)
  • Item #28: Coca-Cola World - Just like Disney. Without the rides. And a carbonated soft-drink instead of an animated mouse.
  • Item #29: Westview Cemetery - Largest in the Southeast and full of fascinating history.
  • Item #30: Barbie Beach - On the way home we had to stop off in Senoia to see a few things.
  • Item #31: Senoia Main Street - This tiny town is a mecca for television and movie magic. It is perhaps most recognizable as Woodbury and a few other towns in The Walking Dead.
  • Item #32: The Titan I Missile - Another brief stop on the way home.
  • Item #33: Giant Peanut Monument - Our last stop on the return trip.


Friday, November 13, 2020

Losing the Thread

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain" - Roy Batty (played by Rutger Hauer) in Bladerunner

It's a problem with trying to capture one's personal history that it continues to happen, sometimes far faster than the pen can keep pace with. It reminds me of that unsettling movie effect where a hallway seems to elongate before you. Our world keeps changing; my personal world along with it (and sometimes against it). I started out wanting to tell the story of two awkward kids who became friends and spent their days creating their own world together rather than trying to fit into the one that didn't seem all that interested in having them. I wanted to tell the story of my friend Steven, and I feel that thread slipping through my fingers.

Those moments are getting lost in time. Riding together to Blue Bell Day Camp in the back of a packed car, listening as "That's All" by Genesis or "Always Something There to Remind Me" by Naked Eyes came on the radio while we laughed at our driver's dirty jokes. Sitting on log benches and listening to Burt the science counselor tell spooky stories and somehow transcended his nerdiness to become "cool" for just as long as his tales lasted. Watching Blade Runner, The Thing, Eddie and the Cruisers, and Buckaroo Banzai again and again and again.

I can feel those things slipping by and past me, like photos being plucked form an album by the wind from the deck of a boat and coming to land for a moment on the surface of the water before drifting down into the depths.

Procuring matching key chain switchblades (the blades being all of an inch long) from the back of a voodoo shop together on South Street after browsing through the assortment of punk rock tee shirts at Zipperheads and grabbing a cheese steak from Inky's. Playing computer and first generation Nintendo games until our eyes were dried out and bloodshot. Reading Tolkein riddles and comic books. 

There's more. I'm almost there, but I need to keep hold of the loose thread, before it unravels entirely, taking that part of me along with it. I know I can't quite reach that point in my past anymore than an asymptote can ever connect with the line it leans infinitely towards, but I can keep getting closer to it. That thread, that story of who I was, is also the story of how I got to be who I am now. As it is for all of us. 

Stick with me, and I'll pull it all together soon, I promise. A picture is even now emerging from the scattered puzzle pieces, and I'll get us to that mystery at the heart of things, before it's all washed away.

Like tears in rain.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Secret Tampa Bay Bonus Content: Star Power

I debated including this chapter in the book but ultimately decided against it for two reasons: 1) Scientology is always very actively recruiting down here so I was reluctant to send folks into its headquarters, and 2) I didn't want the church itself to take any offense (even though I've tried to keep my own opinions out of the writing). That said, I present it here for you.


Star Power

What’s that huge building in the middle of Clearwater with the unusual bronze cross on top?

Inevitably, any discussion about the nature and composition of Clearwater must touch upon its long, complicated and often contentious relationship with the Church of Scientology. The Flag Building (sometimes referred to as the Super Powers Building) represents the spiritual headquarters of the church, the largest building in the city and ground zero in the ongoing power struggle between the two.

Science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard incorporated the first church of Scientology in Camden New Jersey in the 1950's, with the mission of reawakening human beings to their forgotten immortal natures as “thetan.” The organization quickly spread to other locations, and as early as the 1970’s began acquiring land in Clearwater.

Construction on the Flag Building began in 1998 and was completed fifteen years later. The building’s primary purpose is to deliver a training course called the Super Power Rundown, designed to enable Scientologists to fully utilize all 57 of their sense (what they refer to as “perceptics”).

The 127,000 square foot building (which includes a 15 story tower) has an assessed valued of $80M. It features 889 rooms as well as theaters for training, a bookstore, library and separate museums honoring the church’s elite Sea Org and its founder L. Ron Hubbard. A bridge connects it to the Scientology-owned Fort Harrison Hotel. 

When the building opened its doors on November 17th, 2013, it did so in a ceremony attended by thousands of members including some high profile celebrities such as John Travolta and Tom Cruise.

Whatever your opinion is on the legitimacy of Scientology as a religion, it seems to have become a permanent feature of Clearwater, reminding the local sun worshipers that the star at the center of our own solar system is just one such celestial body available for their devotion. 

What: The Flag Building

Where: 215 South Fort Harrison Avenue.

Cost: Free to view from outside, 10% of your income if you decide to become a regular

Pro Tip: Scientology in Clearwater is extremely active in recruitment, so unless you’re in the market for a new set of religious beliefs, you might want to view the building from the outside.


 #SecretTampaBay

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Stillman's Dog

 I've gotten into the habit each year around this time of trying to conjure up an appropriate story for Halloween. This particular one was written a year or two back. While the connection between felines and witchcraft has a long history, Tinker Bell thought it was a little insulting that canines (excepting, of course, wolves) have been largely excluded from tales of the supernatural. At which point it dawned on me that I'd never really read a story specifically about a Hell Hound. So, with the help and inspiration of my own miniature hell hound, who is this moment ferociously licking my toes under the desk, I give you Stillman's Dog. Enjoy and have a happy and safe Halloween.


Stillman’s Dog

When I’ve got time to wait here, sitting on the old log carved up with more initials, prayers, promises and foul language than could fill a volume, I think back to my grandpa. If I had the inclination I bet could find his initials somewhere on this log. Or maybe his first wife’s name, which I only ever heard him speak aloud but once.

Growing up my sisters and I thought he was a bit funny, quirky rather, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I added up all those pieces to see a very different picture. Like the bandage he always wore around the palm of his right hand. Over the summers when we would visit from out east, my sisters would spend more time with their grandmother, baking and doing whatever else it is that girls do when visiting grandmothers. Grandpa Stillman would take me fishing, or tell me stories about the Native Americans that lived in these parts centuries before. He claimed it was one of their old trails that led him to the very goldmine which would make our family a fortune, and later make him the first Mayor of Stillman, Montana.

I remember one time, I must have been about seven, and my sisters and I had just been to Disney World, so we brought all of our treasures and trinkets with us when we came to visit. I had one of those leashes for an invisible dog, and I must have walked the thing over every inch of every acre of the land around the estate. Grandpa pulled me aside one afternoon and confided to me that he had an invisible dog too. I can still taste the pipe tobacco from his mouth like a translucent wrapper around each word he spoke.

“Dogs can be a great friend to you or a vicious and terrifying beast, but all of em are loyal as hell, and I do mean that literally. But no matter what. You must always, always feed your dog. No. Matter. What.” That last part he highlighted with a swish of his long, bony and liver-spot speckled finger.

I’d never seen him with a dog, or with any animal for that matter, so I thought he was just being strange. I filed that information away in my head along some of the other peculiar things he did, like filling a watering can each night with earth from the large glass jars he kept in the shed, and pouring out a fine line under each windowsill and doorway. Always it was gone by the time I woke up, well after sunrise, but I saw him come creep into my room at night and pour out that dirt. I pretended to be asleep, but if, as I pretty well suspect, he knew I was awake, it didn’t bother him a lick. One time I could have sworn he looked back at me over his shoulder and gave me a funny little grin that parted his mustache like a white curtain and made his dark eyes twinkle under his bushy white brows.

Still got another twenty minutes, so sayeth the old silver pocket watch he left for me. Kronos, he called it. Doesn’t need any winding, any maintenance at all he said. Had some special jeweler in New York make it for him, and just to be extra sure he would keep his weekly appointment, he had it inscribed with a phrase in his inimitable script. “You must always feed your dog.”

Always on Thursday nights, around ten at night, while my sisters and I were supposed to be sleeping, I would see from my window as light from the house spilled out onto the back porch and path, and then vanished as the door shut. And grandpa would walk out a few steps, flip open his silver pocket watch, and then stride off into the darkness, moving quietly but with purpose. He was always back in the morning as if nothing had happened. The only difference was on Friday mornings, he always had a fresh bandage around his right hand. I asked him a dozen times where he went and each time he would respond with something vague – that he had been to a place that was betwixt and between, or that he had to go feed his dog, or sure up his investments for the future.

It was the summer I was eleven that I finally mustered the courage to follow him. While he’d never strictly forbidden me or my sisters from doing so, the look that came across his face when he asked if we could go with him always made us think twice about asking again. It wasn’t that he was angry about it, which would have probably been less odd. It was an expression we only ever saw on those few occasions when we asked. I can’t speak for my sisters, but for me, it was like suddenly a mask had slid off of his face and beneath was someone I’d never seen before.

I know now, of course, that it was fear.

Ten minutes left, so it’s time to prepare for my weekly rendezvous. Give me just a moment, while I unwrap the bandage around my right hand and remove the wickedly curved blade from the sheath hanging from my belt. Moon’s out tonight and I catch a near perfect reflection of it on the cool metal, pocked with little tick marks that a professor once told me was a long dead language called cuneiform. I could tell he was impressed because he’d whispered the words like he was nervous that the blade might hear him talking about it.

But I want to finish up before my friend arrives. Where was I… Eleven. It was the summer I was eleven that I decided to sneak out after my grandpa and see what he was up to. It was the last night that my sisters and I were staying there before returning home to our folks to start the school year. I gave him a good ten minute head start on me and wore all black, with bootblack smeared all over my face. Thought I was all smart and stealthy like a ninja. I trailed him up about three quarters of a mile to the intersection where, for reasons I have never understood, Road Street becomes Street Road (although both are no more than glorified dirt paths). I ducked into the woods and the shadows the few times grandpa Stillman stopped and made as if to turn around. But he didn’t.

So I hid there. And I waited. And I watched. Grandpa Stillman, he just sat there on this same log I’m sitting on now, staring out into the dark. It felt like I waited there for an eternity with every manner of insect buzzing in my ears and biting me, and my legs starting to cramp up from being in an awkward crouch, but just as I was about to leave, everything got quiet. The crickets and birds and who all knows what else all went dead silent. Grandpa noticed it too – he stood up, dusted off his pants and went out to the center of the intersection. With his hands out in an “I mean you no harm” sort of position.

I heard a sound like the rumble of a low engine and what sounded like two sets of footfalls, one right behind the other, crunching on the dirt and gravel road. But no one was there. I peered closer, and watched Grandpa unwind the bandage from his hand, and then raise the blade, the one I hold now, up over his head. The crunching sound got closer, right up next to me, and I smelled something foul, but I stayed put. Then the crunching stopped – I could feel every nerve in my body screaming, the hair on my neck stood up and I watched as two puffs of steam hit me square in the face from the nostrils of an animal that wasn’t there. I was looking right at, right through it, and I knew it was there. I could feel its menace. The smell of its breath, like the very worst kind of rot, made me gag, but still I remained frozen. And then the foot falls resumed.

“Well, let’s get on with it then,” Grandpa said as he drew the blade across his palm, reopening the gash that his bandages concealed. He held out his hand and it seemed to disappear into the creature’s invisible maw, accompanied by a sickening slurping sound.

This went on for some minutes, grandpa going white as a sheet, until finally the sounds died out and he withdrew his hand. He wrapped back up his hand and things would have been fine, except that a twig snapped under me and I shifted my weight, rattling a branch. Grandpa turned towards me and so did the beast, which let out a terrifying growl.

“Stay, boy. Let it go.” Grandpa commanded.

It turned it’s eyes on me, two hot coals, glowing red in the center, emanating heat, and darkening towards the edges. Like looking into two twin pits to the burning core of the earth.

Another minute passed and it slunk off in the other direction, it’s invisible paws crunching the dirt and gravel, and Grandpa turned and made his way home, walking right past my hiding place. I sat there for a good long while, until the critters all started back up with their night time noises. And then I waited a bit longer for my pants to dry. It was well after midnight when I got back to find the door unlocked. I beat it up to my bed and hid under the covers, shaking the whole rest of the night.

When I came down to breakfast the next morning, there was Grandpa, all smiles as he wolfed down his pancake and sausage links. He looked over at me and smiled, “you look like you seen a ghost, boy.”

I shrugged it off and told him I’d had a bad dream.

“Did you now?” he inquired. “Why, I used to have one myself. I’d wake up thinkin I’d been face to face with some terrible beast that wanted my blood.”

“What, what did it look like?” I stammered.

“Funny thing, that” he said. “It didn’t look like anything at all. Completely invisible to the human eye.” He winked at me, and if I didn’t before, at that moment I knew he knew that I’d been out there watching.

I didn’t come back the next summer – joined a friend at an overnight camp. And the summer after that I played possum, prolonging my flu for months. Grandpa never traveled far, so I didn’t have to face up to him. But the summer I was fourteen, my parents were dead set on sending me. And it was fine – Grandpa and I didn’t talk about the beast. We took back up our fishing and hiking and I didn’t dare follow him out to the crossroads on Thursday nights. At the end of that Summer though, he took me for a long hike to a part of the property I’d never been to, where alongside a stream was a stone bench and a statue of a young woman. Over the years, the elements had worn down and chipped her long hair and dark pools under her eyes made it look like she was forever crying. 

“Know why I’ve taken you here?” he asked me.

I shook my head no, even though I did.

“This is where I laid to rest my first wife, Lizbeth.”

And there in the shadow of the monument to his lost love, he told it to me straight, that what I’d seen him do that one night was real and that one day, hopefully not for a long time yet, but one day I’d have to do as he did. That it was a deal he made that we needed to keep and so long as we fed the dog once a week our family would prosper.

“And if I don’t?” I asked.

He just pointed to the statue, his eyes shining and wet, and he shook his head. “Once we thought as you do, that maybe we could outrun it or escape it. But that thing, I suspect, is a lot older and a lot smarter than any of us. It’s bound to us by our own blood now, and there’s no getting away from that. When I didn’t show up that once, I could feel it watching me every night, just waiting to get at me. And when my darling stepped out for a minute, just one minute, after sunset, she never came back. Snatched right off the porch. Took me more the better part of a week to gather up enough of her to bury.” He didn’t have to say anything else. It was the only time I ever saw him cry.

On the way back to the house he told me to go and enjoy my life. Go to college somewhere nice. Travel the world, as far and wide as I could, for one day I’d be bound to this land as he was.

And I did. I worked at all manner of jobs and lived in more places than I can almost recall. I got a degree in business, but also studied plenty of literature and history, always looking to understand the terms and nature of the bargain my grandpa had struck, looking for some way to escape what I knew was inescapable. My research into the occult just left me with more questions than answers. Churchill’s black dog, for instance. That one always intrigued me. Maybe he was talking about something more literal than depression. I wonder about that, I wonder what you’d have to offer up to win a world war.

I still came to see Grandpa for the summers. My sisters were older – two were in college and one was already married, so it was just me the summer I turned eighteen. That summer took me back with him to feed the dog again. He showed me how to sharpen the blade till its edge is so keen you don’t even feel it slice your hand. He taught me to tell when the beast was done feeding, and to keep your hand steady before it for just a moment afterward so that its fiery hot breath would cauterize the wound.

You hear that? Nothing, right? All of a sudden, all the buzzing and humming and rustling in the woods has ceased, which means it will be here in just a few moments. I can just about hear it now.

That’s fine, my story’s mostly come to an end. There isn’t much more to tell – my Grandpa passed, ten years ago this month, and left me the house, the business, the blade and the beast. And the past ten years have seen my family and our business prosper. The same land that yielded veins of pure gold for my grandpa offered up to me a pool of rich, dark oil. So much good luck as to be nearly impossible. And we’ve expanded our operations, preparing for a public offering some time next year if the market’s right for it.

Of course, I run things mostly from right here these days. Skype, zoom, twitter, email, they bring the world to me. I drive the two hours to Bozeman once or twice a week, but mostly I prefer to stay close by. Call it risk management if you like.

For my part I just try to stay focused on making smart deals. 

And paying off the old ones.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Signed by the Author

It's such a small, trifling thing - that reflective circular gold sticker on the front of the book you got signed. But to bibliophiles, collectors and aspiring writers, it means something much more. It means that your copy has been marked (in a good way), and set apart from all the other copies ever printed in that it contains a message written specifically for you. Words of gratitude, a reference to some snippet of conversation that took place between you and the writer, a message of encouragement, perhaps. It means that this particular book is every bit as unique to you as your own fingerprints. 


It's the reason that drives many of us stand in lines at ComiCons for hours on end to have an actor or icon like Stan Lee, lock eyes with us and affix their signature to our personal item. It documents our encounter with them, it's proof of an experience, an interaction, we had with someone we admire.

Having had the good fortune and privilege of knowing more than a few other published authors, you might think that when I receive a copy of their newest work with a personal message or a note in the acknowledgements, my giddiness would diminish over time. But it never does. It hasn't yet, anyhow, and seeing as I'm now smack in the middle of middle age, I'm not expecting it to change much in the second half of my journey.

I was already becoming an Atlas Obscura superfan, but this made it inevitable. 

Now I find myself on the other side of the table, and I get to be the one placing that magical seal on the cover of a signed book for someone else. I get to come up with some potentially meaningful or clever personalized message. As I do so, I think about that stack of autographed books on my own shelf, and it reminds me to take care with my words as the message I scribble in my marginally legible handwriting may very well mean more to the reader than any carefully planned, edited and properly typeset line in the book. Maybe I'm writing for a kindred spirit looking to uncover the secret face of their own hometown. Maybe it's a future creator, for whom just a little bit of support can be enough to change their trajectory towards the pursuit of their own visions.

Look, I'm not trying to overstate my own importance or impact. I'm just the latest guppy in a vast and unfathomable ocean. Every day before me and every day that comes after there have been and will continue to be others, trying to provide readers with the unique fulfillment that comes from gifting them with the right words at the right time. Peeling off those stickers and placing them on the glossy covers of their own books. 

A small selection of books written and signed by authors I've known or met.

I know, I know, it's maybe the silliest, tiniest little thing that comes with being a published author. But as long as waiting in line or at the mailbox to receive a book with that little sticker on the cover matters to others, putting it there will matter to me.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Secret Tampa Bay Bonus Content: Gardens, Ghosts and Gator Guardians


This is another chapter from Secret Tampa Bay that didn't make it into the final draft. It was right on the far southern edge of what I could legitimately consider the Tampa Bay Area. But it's well worth visiting for the amazing gardens, the native american burial mounds, and, for me at least, its unexpected connection to Chicago.

Gardens, Ghosts and Gator Guardians

Where in Florida can you enjoy a cup of tea among ancient earthworks and formal gardens?

There is truly an abundance to discover at the thirty-acre nature complex and museum situated at the southern end of Sarasota. Its history stretches back nearly six thousand years in the form of the Hill Cottage Midden, which is exceptionally well preserved and possibly one of the oldest in Florida. There are two more burial mounds created between 3,200 – 1,000 years ago. Atop each of these burial mounds, gator skeletons were discovered. Presumably they were placed there as guardians, but whether their function was to protect the dead from the living, or the living from the dead, remains a subject of speculation.


The prehistoric inhabitants were long gone by 1867, when John Greene Webb and his family settled on what he named Spanish Point. They set up a home; cultivated citrus, sugar cane, and vegetables; and built a packing house along with a ten-ton schooner called Vision. They invited friends and family to visit, thus establishing the area’s first tourist resort. In the early 1900's the family began selling off some of the land, which by this time also included a small pioneer cemetery and Mary’s Chapel.

One of those new landowners was none other than wealthy Chicago hotel heiress Bertha Palmer. In 1910 she purchased thousands of acres in Sarasota, including the Webb homestead, as part of her estate, Osprey Point. She preserved and connected the pioneer buildings with lavish formal gardens. The classical columns sprouting from the bougainvillea and the aqueduct, which winds through the tropical foliage, remain there today.


While the site is popular for private events and weddings, it also hosts a variety of other interesting activities, including a regular Tea with Bertha series, a moonlight ghost tour, a Victorian funeral reenactment, and the annual Fairy and Gnome House Festival.

In 1976 Historic Spanish Point became the first site in Sarasota County listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Deep Roots
What: Historic Spanish Point
Where: 337 N. Tamiami Tr., Osprey
Cost: Adults, $15; seniors, $12; children ages 5–12, $7; children ages 4 and under, free
Pro Tip: If you enjoy ghost tours and want a change of pace from the typical urban settings, give this one a try.

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