Everglades Breakfast Pizza

Gotta frittata? You betcha!

Ever heard of Everglades tomatoes? They’re a teeny-tiny tomato perfectly suited to Florida’s growing season (read: all year) and taste like candy. They also make a perfectly delicious breakfast pizza, but because it sounds unhealthy to call it “breakfast pizza” I’m going with “Everglades breakfast frittata.” Recipe first, then we’ll chat about the tomatoes (your scroll finger can thank me later).

Everglades tomatoes ripe on a vine with a whisky barrel in the background.
I can’t get enough of these Everglades tomatoes – so much so that there’s rarely enough on the vine for a frittata, because I eat them as they turn red.


8 eggs, beaten

16 pcs. canned and quartered artichoke hearts, rinsed

3 oz. low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella, shredded

1 c. Everglades tomatoes or, absent those, grape or cherry tomatoes


  1. Coat a cast iron skillet with cooking spray and pre-heat oven to 400º.
  2. Whisk eggs in a bowl, then pour into skillet. Turn flame on low.
  3. For Everglades tomatoes: smush them over the skillet (so juices run onto the eggs) and drop them in the eggs at equal distances (you want a tomato in every bite). For grape or cherry tomatoes: Pierce each tomato with a knife over the eggs, then pull into pieces and scatter across the eggs in the same manner as above.
  4. Sprinkle the artichokes over the eggs. If you don’t like ‘chokes, don’t use ’em. Think pizza toppings here: If you like it on a pizza, throw it in.
  5. Sprinkle cheese over the eggs. The aesthetic is a pizza with an egg-type crust.
  6. Cook over low flame until edges set, then transfer to oven for 15 minutes. When you remove it from the oven, it will be slightly puffier than you’d expect, but if you’re not eating the whole thing, it’ll settle down by the time it cools and is ready to store.
  7. Cut like a pizza. Sprinkle with garlic salt and red pepper flakes. Layer slices with wax paper to store. Reheat for one minute in microwave.
Requisite photo of eggs and whisk.

OK, so now that you have the recipe, WTF are Everglades tomatoes? Scientifically, they’re Solanum pimpinellifolium, but that doesn’t really tell you much, does it? Some people call them currant tomatoes, but none of those people are here, and also, they’re wrong. They’re not currants; they’re tomatoes. They’re just… teeny. And tasty.

Our friend and neighbor, Bob, gave us a great wedding gift a few years ago; he called it a “salad a day” barrel. It was a half-whiskey barrel planted with lettuce, radishes, carrots, and other salad makings growing in it, and extra seeds. The idea was that as we picked enough for a salad, we added more seeds, and we’d have salad forever. We live in Florida, so forget having greens year-round, but every winter a few lettuce varieties pop back up, which is nice.

Bob also included Everglades tomatoes in that barrel, and a few years later I added some more seeds, and every year they keep giving us more tomatoes. In South Florida, they grow pretty much all year, but here in Central Florida, there’s a few months weeks where the vine almost – almost – dies, but then they’re back.

As for their taste, they’re almost candy-like, but not too sweet. They have almost no acid, at least not that I can taste, and they’re gorgeous on the vine. They’re small enough they won’t make a mess when you bite them, and while you’ll never get enough to make a spaghetti dinner (well, OK, maybe those of you with the wherewithal to not eat them as you pick them will, but I am not that person), they’re perfect in frittatas and other dishes. I’d caution against using them in stews or soups, because it’s a shame to share the flavor with other veggies, but in simple dishes, they really shine.

Here’s more info on my favorite Florida tomato ever, and if you want to get some, here’s where I order my seeds (although, again, the tomatoes simply keep coming back, which is nice, but maybe also an argument for container gardening.) They’re heat-happy and drought-tolerant, which I know because since we installed drip irrigation, anything in a container has to live or die by its own merits, despite my best intentions.

Alligator Pie

No alligators were harmed in the making of this pie.

As have so many people, cooking and baking is part of my quarantine routine. Perhaps not so much like many people, I’ve been sifting through my grandma’s recipes. These are recipes I saved in my 20s, before she died but after she was able to talk to me about them. One by one I’ve made them and decided whether or not to keep them, alter them, or get rid of them.

Some of the recipes weren’t hers, per se, but ones she’d trimmed from one of her many magazines. Alligator Pie is one such recipe, although that’s the name I gave it. No, Grandma Rae saved the not-as-creatively named Ricotta Spinach Pie recipe. After I made the crust, I had some pastry left over, so I improvised with an alligator cookie cutter (hey, spinach is green, so it kind of hangs together!)

Below, find the recipe with my modifications.

2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup chopped shallot
1 package (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 container (15 oz.) ricotta cheese
4 eggs
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 c. finely chopped prosciutto
Dash teaspoon salt
Dash pepper
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 c. sherry
Pastry for 9-inch double-crust pie (I made a gluten-free one but you shouldn’t if you don’t have to)

Preheat oven to 425º

In medium skillet melt butter. Add shallots and saute until translucent; cool slightly. Add spinach and sherry ; cook until all butter is absorbed and the sherry has cooked down. In separate bowl combine ricotta, spinach and prosciutto. Add eggs, Parmesan, prosciutto, salt, pepper and nutmeg; mix well.

Roll out half the pastry and line a 9-inch pie plate. Bake 12 minutes.

Remove from oven and add filling.

Roll out remaining pastry and place over filling; seal edges. Cut several slits in top. I used an alligator cookie cutter to fashion the remaining pastry into alligators. With oven rack on lowest position, bake 20 min-
utes. Reduce temperature to 350°F and bake 20 more minutes. Serve warm.

Treasure Island’s Sunset Beach featured in Mary Kay Andrews double murder mystery

This Tampa Bay cozy mystery lets us visit all our beloved St. Petersburg haunts.

Mary Kay Andrews has real Tampa Bay ties. She set one of her earliest books — Lickety Split — in St. Petersburg, and if you go to her beach house in Georgia, you’ll find Munch’s ketchup squeeze bottles on the table.

I loved her books even before I knew any of those things, and I love her more now for it. Whenever review copies of her books show up at work, I can’t wait to get home and read them.

Sunset Beach was no different. Except that, instead of being set in any of the other amazing Southern places, Andrews set it in Sunset Beach, in Treasure Island. Of course, she threw in a one night stand, murder, and another murder.

And Sunset Beach is a pretty cool little beach. It’s the new McMansions mixed with old beach cottages, and Andrews captures the vibe of the two worlds perfectly. 

Sunset Beach brings Andrews back to Tampa Bay, to the area of Treasure Island known as Sunset Beach. And while I’d love to give you all the plot, well, no. You’re gonna have to read it.

And read it you should, because Sunset Beach is Andrews in high form.

I will say this: You can revisit the Sandman Motel, the St. Petersburg Police Department, beach bars and a prominent St. Petersburg law firm if you read the book.

And, uh, it’s up to you to decide what’s real. But even if it’s totally fake — or even if it’s all real — it’s a fantastic read, and hey, who doesn’t love a beach read?

Even if there are dead bodies on the beach.

This article initially appeared in Creative Loafing

Meet the Plant City duck who survived a hurricane and has more than 5,000 Facebook fans

Irma Duck survived the hurricane. She isn’t a superhero. She’s simply… a local duck. But people love her.

Irma’s the best duck, and trust me, I know ducks.

I was part of a duck rescue four years ago, whereby I got to know George, a duckling who almost died when the chicks at Animal House pecked him until he bled. My friend — who shall remain nameless, because we live in Gulfport, where it’s illegal to own ducks — brought him home and raised him with her chickens. Big mistake. Huge. Not bringing him home — yay, rescue — but raising him with the hens. See, George imprinted on her chickens and, when he started to have certain, ahem, urges, he identified as a rooster, not a drake. This was, to put it mildly, awkward for everyone involved, most of all the hens (true story: ducks have ballistic penises, and that’s really something you can’t un-see. God knows I can’t…).

And then, at our neighborhood pond, we had Big Red (RIP). Big Red was a Muscovy duck who was sort of the mob boss of the pond, terrorizing all the other ducks. When he died, we were all sad, but truth be told, every other duck in the pond breathed a little easier.

So Irma is, by comparison, the very best duck. Plus, she has a pretty nifty story — and a larger Facebook fanbase than Localtopia, St. Petersburg’s annual beloved celebration of local everything. So, you know, she’s kind of a big deal.

She really is all she’s quacked up to be.

Joy Trent has a small home in Plant City, close to her job at the Hard Rock and also near her horses. The house, between two retention ponds, has its fair share of feathered and waddling wildlife, and Trent’s house is sort of on the wildlife highway between the ponds (think of it this way: If you’re flying from Tampa to Rome, you’re probs gonna have a stopover in Atlanta. Trent’s house is Atlanta, only better). One duck in particular stood out for her: a Muscovy.

Muscovy ducks don’t get the respect of a mallard, or a wood duck, or even a Pekin duck. They’re black and white with red, turkey-like business around their necks. But they’re also super cute.

“If you know Muscovy ducks then you know they are just big lawn puppies, but this one female, Irma, had the coolest personality. She would always stop to chat while she was passing through, or just sit in the shade on our porch or under the cars and hang out with us while we were doing yard work,” Trent says. “My boyfriend used to call her mama duck (even though she was not a mama, yet) and if we had some popcorn when we got back from the movies and he called mama duck she would waddle right over for a treat. She felt so comfortable in our yard she laid a nest of 13 eggs at the base of this huge live oak tree in our front yard.” 

And then hurricane season came. And Mama Duck became Irma Duck.

“Every day we saw mama duck sitting on her nest and finally said, ‘What are you going to do, Irma Duck? This hurricane is coming!'” Trent says. She debated collecting the eggs and trying to catch Irma so she could keep her safe in the house throughout Hurricane Irma, even asking her co-workers at the Seminole Hard Rock & Casino Tampa for advice — after all, she’d never had a duck BFF before and had no idea what to do — and ultimately decided to let nature take its course. 

Trent and her boyfriend spent most of the night awake, watching Mama-now-Irma Duck through their bathroom window. She never, Trent says, left her nest.

Irma Duck Plant City Tampa Hurricane Irma
Right after Hurricane Irma passed over Plant City, Mama Duck — soon to be renamed Irma Duck — had wind-battered feathers, but throughout the storm, she never left her nest. Photo by Joy Trent.

“We finally fell asleep and when we got up in the morning branches and Spanish moss was piled on Irma. We uncovered her, she was a little windblown, but still sitting tight on that nest,” Trent says. “What a brave girl she was.”

When Trent went back to work, her co-workers wanted to know if the duck — they’d started calling her “Irma” — had weathered the storm. She put Irma’s picture on Facebook, and also an explanation of the photo for her northern friends who don’t quite get how we do down here.

“I thought, ‘that will be the end of it’,” she says, “Well, the next thing you know this post has 500,000 views, I got 1,000 friend requests and 500 private messages. Radio stations and newspapers found out my cell number, and everyone wanted to know about Irma,” Trent says.

That’s when a Seminole Hard Rock & Casino Tampa co-worker encouraged her to create a Facebook page for Irma. 

“She helped me set up Irma’s page and I followed up with some posts, [to] satisfy everyone’s curiosity and then be done with it. Well, here I am, a year and a half later and Irma has over 6,000 followers from all over the world. Every time I try to ease out of this I get messages from really sweet, nice, positive people wanting to know how Irma is doing,” Trent says. 

So, it’s not all happy news: None of the original 13 eggs hatched — but it’s also possible they may not have been fertilized, either (chickens and ducks lay eggs whether or not they’ll grow into chickens, thus answering the age-old question yes, the eggs came first). It’s also possible, according to one of Trent’s newfound duck friends, that the dropping barometric pressure could have adversely impacted the eggs.

A few months later, Irma Duck laid 13 more eggs by Trent’s front porch, only to have those disappear one night. Trent’s security cameras show a fox making 13 trips to the nest and running away with 13 eggs.

“It even shows it running away as I came home from work at 4 a.m., and then coming back for the remaining eggs after I entered the house,” Trent says.

Irma Duck Plant City Tampa Bay Hurricane Irma
Irma’s first three ducklings, which Trent has named Faith, Oliver and Grace. The Plant City duck family has grown, but these three still stick pretty close to their mama. Photo by Joy Trent.

Irma Duck remained determined to become a mother, though, and a few months after that, she laid 15 eggs on Trent’s porch. When eight of those eggs disappeared, Trent and her boyfriend got serious.

“On advice from Muscovy people, I had my boyfriend pee around the nest every day,” she says, “and at night we kept a radio playing on talk news all night to scare any other predators away.”

Three of the eggs hatched and, more recently, she laid 13 eggs and 13 hatched, although some of the ducklings disappeared. Five ducklings, now almost as big as Irma Duck, hang out with their three older brothers and sisters, and they also stick pretty close to Irma Duck. All nine of them waddle up to Trent when they see her, knowing she’ll have a snack for them (corn and feed, not bread, which can actually inhibit duck wing growth, and now we feel bad for every duck we ever fed as a kid.)

Irma Duck Plant City Tampa Bay baby ducks
Irma’s second successful clutch resulted in five ducklings — and, while they’re almost full-grown, they stick pretty close to their mama. Photo by Joy Trent.

She and her boyfriend travel, and she’ll post pictures of their travels, but mostly people are there for Irma Duck. 

Trent has made friends with some of Irma’s fans, realizing they share many things.

“We have so much in common: horses, travel, and a love for ducks and all animals, [they’re] just really cool people,” she says. “[It] restores your faith in humanity because a lot of times I just hate people.” Work, she says, can be tough sometimes — unfortunately, not everyone who comes to a casino is in the best place, just like not everyone who goes anywhere is in the best place and, well, we can all understand how that can get to a person, right? But Irma’s fans help her feel better about the world.

“Hearing about animal abuse just kills my spirit,” she says, “but Irma’s fans are just such nice, positive people just looking to read some wholesome news about a duck.”

This post originally appeared at Creative Loafing.

Tampa filmmaker pays homage to B-movies with short about single-use plastics

‘Creature From the Bag Lagoon’ may be the best thing we’ve seen all year. It heads to Tampa in December.

Even if I didn’t already love Creature from the Black Lagoon, I’d be in love with local filmmaker Kevin Short’s short film, Creature from the Bag Lagoon.

Watch the trailer. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Creature from the BAG Lagoon… I see what they did there!

I’ve seen the full thing (hey, as a journalist, you take what perks you can get) and can tell you it’s well worth heading to either the Tampa Bay Underground Film Fest or the Silver Screen for Short Films to check it out. It’s an environmentally aware B-movie riff made locally, which is to say that we had a filmgasm watching it. 

Seriously, it’s a lot of fun to watch. In a world where every environmental choice seems to have planet-ending consequences, this one approaches the same topic with levity and — dare we say it? — schlock.

This article originally appeared at Creative Loafing.

Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival | Britton Theater  and Villagio Cinemas, Tampa | Dec. 6-9 (Creature shows ec. 8) | tbuff.org

Does Florida’s governor deserve the label “Red Tide Rick”?

A fact-based look at whether or not we should blame Rick Scott for this extended red tide season.

Red tide. Whose fault is it, anyway? Is it Big Sugar? Rick Scott? Bill Nelson?

There are so many choices — and so many political ads — that it can be hard to find the villain in it all.

Right now, let’s focus on that unfortunate moniker “Red Tide Rick” and take a look at what Florida Governor Rick Scott has actually done that could have contributed to red tide.

  1. Rick Scott has adopted an anti-tax, anti-regulation stance on government.
  2. When he took office, he cut budgets at state environmental agencies like the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the water management districts ($700 million), including the South Florida Water Management District.
  3. According to Politifact, DEP cuts included eliminating the agency that reviewed plans for development in Florida cities and counties, the Department of Community Affairs (2011)
  4. In 2012, the DEP laid off 58 employees.
  5. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the DEP no longer handles environmental enforcement cases at the same level as it did under Governor Charlie Crist. In 2010, DEP handled 2,289 cases by 2012, that number had dropped to 799.  
  6. Those budget cuts at the water management district meant that Florida’s water monitoring network lost more than 200 of its 350 sites. Currently, the state has only 115 sites for monitoring water. (Source: Florida International University’s Southeast Environmental Research Center). 
  7. DEP pollution regulation enforcement has also dropped. In 2010, DEP handled almost 1,600 enforcement cases; last year, it handled 220. (Source: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)
  8. Governor Scott also made it easier to have a septic tank, repealing the law requiring they get inspected. Florida has 2.6 million septic tanks; after Scott repealed the law, only 1 percent get inspected
  9. He has also disallowed the use of the phrase climate change, although scientists say research indicates rising ocean temperatures contribute to extended red tide blooms.

While we know that red tide is a naturally occurring bacteria and it originates offshore, significant evidence suggests nutrient runoff acts as a fertilizer for the bloom, so it’s safe to assume Scott’s policies haven’t done much to prevent — or remedy — the situation.

This article originally appeared at Creative Loafing.

The cow who hoofed it away from police during Hurricane Irma

In Gulfport. Because of course it is.

“Anyone missing a cow? Found in the area of 19th Avenue and 55th Street. So far we can’t catch it,” they posted. You can read the responses here, none of which were from someone ‘fessing up to owning the cow.

(Note: Officers did manage to catch an escaped pig in October of 2014, so their livestock retrieval record boasts at least one victory.)

Gulfport police chief Rob Vincent told CL he had “no idea” what happened to the cow.

“Never saw it again after that,” he said via text. “Heard a rumor it was a contraband Gulfport resident.”

It is indeed illegal to own cows in Gulfport, but Coby — whom the Goff family does not own — found his way home before getting captured. 

This article initially appeared in Creative Loafing.

Jimmy Buffett in Tampa: five reasons it could’ve sucked, and five ways we were totally wrong

I dreaded this trip to Margaritaville. I was totally wrong.

After my last Jimmy Buffett concert a few years ago, I swore never again. 

Yes, I’ll go see him play when he campaigns — from the media stands — but an honest-to-god parrothead concert? Um, no, thank you. But reviewing his show? For free? Not in the goddamn lawn section? I can handle that. As much as I love his music and his message, I still sort of dreaded Saturday night’s show at the Mid-Florida whatever we call it these days. Here’s why, and why I was wrong.

5. I don’t love the fans.It’s not that I don’t love his songwriting and his message (the real message, not the “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?” one, but because I had reached my lifetime limit of dealing with ex-frat boys with paunches, pasty white chests and depressing day jobs trying to pretend they “got it” while wearing coconut shell bras and getting way too chummy after a few too many trips to Margaritaville. Now, before every chapter of Parrotheads everywhere burns my effigy, you’re totally entitled to worship at the altar of the salt shaker however you want and yes, I know a lot of the chapters do a lot of good, but the way you party at the concerts is not how I choose to enjoy Jimmy Buffett. When you all get together, I honest to god cannot stand you.

4. Especially the goddamn lawn.Because I hate the lawn section. Aside from the fact that you don’t have a seat (I mean, you can bring one but you’re not going to see a thing because everyone’s standing) and it sells out first so it’s always crowded, the last time I saw JB from the lawn I spent more time trying to keep my spot than appreciating the show. 

I mean, I spent a good 45 minutes of a two-hour show with elbows out and a fight stance so I could breathe. At another show, I couldn’t see JB because the super-tall dude in front of me made himself even taller with a huge straw hat, to which he strapped two naked barbies going at it. And flashing lights. And yes, he was in a grass skirt and had that red shiny drunk glow. Which is totally the message Jimmy wanted to get out there when he wrote “Color of the Sun.”

3. I also don’t need to see your tits, bro.Here’s a pro-tip for all the dudes who, at age 70, still think it’s a swell idea to get trashed and wear coconut shell bras: Yes, I know he wrote a song about you. But go to about :33 in and multiply by about 200-500 people, then remember that was you 11 years ago and while you might think margaritas are magic, they haven’t helped you sweat less. 

2. People don’t get him.In reality, though, the reason I don’t love the drunks and the guys in coconut shell bras is because they really don’t get what his music means. And I know you love Margaritaville — believe me, you’ve made it crystal clear — but that’s not who he is. Heartbreaking, I know, but he is Jimmy motherfucking Buffett, and while I would die happy if I never, ever heard “Margaritaville” even again, the man is a master. Stay with me. I know lots of you wish we’d reserve our corner of the web for bands like Gwar, the Ramones and the Weeknd. You’re suffering from hearing “Fins” one too many times (so, uh, twice, then). He’s actually a brilliant, gifted songwriter — but at his concert, fans don’t want to hear “Death of an Unpopular Poet” or “The Christian.”

1. Jimmy Buffett feeds the machine I hate.Look, this Parrothead culture isn’t an accident; Buffett’s fed the machine. Brands he’s created that feed it include Landshark beer, Margaritaville footwear, Caribbean Soul shirts, Margaritaville shrimp, Margaritaville hotels, Margaritaville bars, Margaritaville blenders… you get the idea. But I’m pretty sure that’s a mean to an end; every account I’ve ever read of his private life indicates the drunk party life is all show. Remember MySpace? ‘Round ’bout 2005, I downloaded a bootleg of Buffett playing “The Wino and I Know” in some bar somewhere, and he makes a remark about how great it is to play in a venue like that without “a bunch of drunks” clamoring for “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw” — and it’s pretty clear from his tone he’s making fun of those people. I downloaded it, and when I sent a friend to the link to download it a few weeks later, it was gone. Probably because it’s not great press if his fan base ever realized how much they can annoy him.

Maybe I’ve stayed away too long, but if Saturday night’s concert at the Shed is any indication, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Jimmy Buffett is running out of fucks to give about whether or not the depressed CPA wearing a grass skirt and drinking way too much Landshark wants him to play “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw.” And here are five reasons why I believe that, based on his most recent show in Tampa Bay. 

5. He’s moving away from the songs the drunk white collar fans come to hear him play.Granted, most of what he played was the popular stuff, but there were some treasures in there we wouldn’t have heard 10 years ago. If you look at the set list, aside from the covers (and no, I don’t count the ones Mac McAnally wrote as covers), he evenly divided the “songs you know by heart” with the infinitely-better B-sides. There was also a change from past videos playing in the background — while Buffett still showed video of the crowd and past examples of Parrothead debauchery, he also incorporated spectacular photography and videography in the background, making the concert a pleasure to watch as well as hear.

4. The bluegrass version of “Gypsies in the Palace.” On the 1985 Last Mango in Paris, the late Glenn Frey makes an appearance on “Gypsies in the Palace.” Last night Buffett played a bluegrass rendition of the song, transitioning into “Take It Easy.” When the crowd went wild, I had to wonder how many of them know Buffett called opening for The Eagles on their Hotel California tour “the rocket ship we rode” to fame.

3. More Mac.Over the years, songwriter Mac McAnally has had increasingly more front-and-center time, and with good reason: He’s written (or co-written with Buffett) some of the Coral Reefer Band’s best B-sides, the stuff people like me go to the concerts to hear. To wit, “It’s My Job,” “Coast of Carolina,” “She’s Going Out of My Mind,” “The City” and “Semi-True Story.” This Muscle Shoals musician has also written songs for the Lyle Lovett, Kenny Chesney and Zac Brown. Songs he did not write include “Margaritaville,” “Fins” and “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw.”

2. “Little Martha”. An acoustic song, played not by Buffett but the wildly gifted Mac McAnally. Despite the cheers for the Allman Brothers, a goodly number of the concertgoers headed for the beer stands when it became apparent Buffett wasn’t about to launch into a song about la vida playa. Which is a shame; those of us who stayed were rewarded with a tender acoustic tribute to, as McAnnally said, the band who “made it cool to be Southern in music.”

1. “Defying Gravity.”The final song of the evening came from 1976’s Havaña Daydreaming, but Buffett never released it as a single. He preceded “Defying Gravity” with a not-so-veiled barb at Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord (he’d already ad-libbed “don’t wanna land in Mar-a-Lago” when he sang “Volcano”): After calling Earth a beautiful planet, he said some people cared more than others, than closed by saying “I want to live on islands; I don’t want to be treading water.”Listen to a playlist featuring every song Buffett played at MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre by clicking here.


Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

The Tiki Bar Is Open (John Hiatt)

The Great Filling Station Holdup

(mentioned Gregg Allman in the “Midnight Rider” snippet)

Knees of My Heart

Grapefruit—Juicy Fruit

Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season

Son of a Son of a Sailor

Come Monday

Weather With You (Crowded House)

Jamaica Mistaica

It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere (Alan Jackson)

Knee Deep (Zac Brown Band)



Little Martha (The Allman Brothers Band — Mac McAnally solo acoustic)

That’s What Living Is to Me

Gypsies in the Palace

Take It Easy (Eagles)

Cheeseburger in Paradise

Last Mango in Paris

A Pirate Looks at Forty

Back Where I Come From (Mac McAnally)

Southern Cross (Crosby, Stills & Nash)


Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison)

One Particular Harbour

Love and Luck

Defying Gravity (Jesse Winchester)

This article appeared originally in Creative Loafing Tampa.

Over there.

Loose Lips Sink Ships
Posters like this adorned the classroom when Mr. Byers covered World War II.

Dave Byers died this week.

I found this out today, when a friend from middle school posted his obituary. The first thing I thought of? War songs. And then I thought, man, I wish I had sought him out and told him how much he’d set my life on this particular course.

You see, without Mr. Byers, I wouldn’t have a book. At least, I wouldn’t have written the book I wrote. I wouldn’t be interested in history. And I sure as shit wouldn’t give a rat’s red ass about the WPA, which kind of figured prominently in the book.

In eighth grade I didn’t know who I was yet. I didn’t know what I cared about, aside from Duran Duran and cute boys. I loved to write, but mostly poems that, honestly, weren’t exactly Pablo Neruda. And then I ended up in Mr. Byers’ history class, which was decidedly so much more than names and dates.

“Late is wrong,” he said the first day “and wrong will be punished.” Not a grand statement, of course, but if you’ve ever met a 12 year old, you know the importance of simple things. Even as he said it, though, he smiled. And you couldn’t be in his class and not smile, too.

We quickly moved from that to other things. History — a subject often relegated to phys ed teachers — often gets left behind the more practical (some would say) subjects of language arts and math. Mr. Byers would not allow this to happen; he forced us to care. With every new epoch of history, he had songs and posters. We’d walk into his class one day, and it would be covered, say, in election memorabilia from Herbert Hoover’s presidency, or war posters. When he taught us the Great Depression, he played us this song — of course, it wasn’t the Annie version. That’s how he drove home the horrors of the Depression, with this song. And then he moved us into FDR and why his New Deal was so balls-out awesome. He took an alphabet soup of agencies — FERA, WPA, CCC —and led us through them, explaining how these agencies pieced a battered economy back together and forever changed the landscape of America.

Years later, I rediscovered the WPA when I found the Guide to the Southernmost State, I remembered those long-ago classes. And while the narrative in Backroads doesn’t explicitly talk much of the WPA, the original book was a WPA project and my writing was informed by what I learned long ago in Mr. Byers’ class.

Only as an adult did I realize not everyone loved the WPA; not everyone loved President Roosevelt and his New Deal. This came as a shock to me; how could someone not love the man who saved America by using Americans? Clearly, these people had never taken Mr. Byers’ history class. I wonder, too, if I’d had a teacher less enthusiastic about the WPA, what my attitude upon discovering the writing the WPA would have been. Would I have pursued it? I want to think I would have, but honestly, when I realized the book was part of the WPA, my mind raced back to that classroom, those lessons, that man. Without his teaching, I do not know that I would have written the same book, if my writing style would have been informed the way it was.

I never told him. I never told him that, but not for him, there would be no book, not the book I wrote. Oh, yes, there certainly would have been a Backroads of Paradise, but it wouldn’t have been the same. No connection to the Great Depression so great that when I took an oral history of a woman who lived through it — just this afternoon — I asked her how she felt about FDR, and she told me she thought he was great and went on to talk about how awful Hoover was. At that instant, I remembered Mr. Byers and his “We’d Like To Thank You Herbert Hoover” song. I didn’t know he had died this afternoon, but all these years later, he was the reason I asked, he’s the reason I felt a spurt of excitement when she elaborated on why Hoover sucked and she liked FDR.

A few months after Mr. Byers covered the Great Depression, a few friends of mine and I organized the Lip Sync show at JFK. And then we got to the intermission, and nothing was planned. Dave Byers to the rescue: He stood in front of the crowd and, as was his custom, did what he knew: He led them in a political song, one that came slightly after my hero, FDR, led our great country into WWII. And every voice in that gymnasium — even the ones who hadn’t taken his class yet — every voice lifted to join him in a rousing chorus of song. Everyone loved this man and the way he taught history.

And so, tonight, with the world a little less rounded, a little less aware of itself and its history, I hear it again. Bear with me, as I play it again, in his honor, and I say, one last time…

Thank you, Mr. Byers.

Hound country and health food: Tales from coastal Georgia

This morning we’re in St. Simon’s, because I’m writing about the War of Jenkin’s Ear for my monthly “Road Trip” in Creative Loafing Tampa and apparently there’s a world outside Florida (who knew?) and, well, something to do with protecting Florida from the Brits. Or protecting the rest of the country from Florida. I’m a little foggy on the details and also, I’ve recently switched to decaf. I’ll have it all worked out by the time the article runs.

I do love the South. Florida, as many Floridians know, is not the South. Oh, it’s south — with a lower case “s” — but not South, as in Deep South. There’s a story there, but it’s not for here, at least not right now. Point is, the South does things different than Florida. Every time we come up here I notice something new. I’ve started compiling a list; feel free to add your own.

Calypso at King and Prince
The lighting could be better but you can still tell that’s a dog outraged at how much people love her sister up here.

  1. Coon hounds. Or any hounds, really. While we tend to have every sort of dog down in Florida — with an emphasis, oddly, on boxy-headed dogs and dachshunds, go figure — the preferred dog of the South has “hound” in its name. Now, I know what you’re going to say, dachshund is a hound and yes, you’re correct, but people in Florida own dachshunds for their affable cuteness, while up here, it’s because they hunt rabbits or other small prey. This is the one place we can go where Banyan gets more attention than Calypso.
  2. Dog beaches. The coastal south — at least, the parts I’ve seen, meaning the Golden Isles of Georgia and Hilton Head — allow dogs on the beach. The rules vary (for example, in St. Simon’s, you can’t let your dog on the beach between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day) but result remains the same: people with dogs come here. Also, despite what I’ve heard as an argument against this in Florida, no, the dogs aren’t littered with poop bags and dog waste.
  3. Harris Teeter. I’m supposed to be a Publix fan; I grew up in Florida and I worked at Publix twice, once in high school and again in college (true story: Florida teenagers by law must work at a Publix). Doesn’t matter. Harris Teeter beats them, hands-down for customer service, value and Starbucks inside the store.
  4. Low country. I’ve yet to figure out the difference between most of Florida and the low country, but I suspect it’s marketing. Low country sounds better than swamp. It is, also, what it sounds like: the low part of the country. But it’s more than geography; it’s food and a state of mind.

King and Prince dog bowls
This is close as we get to health food. The dog treats had carob in them. Not pictured: coffee toffee left for me in the room.

The food was my focus this morning; I had to decide between a low country omelet (andouille, shrimp, potatoes, corn and cheddar, with a side of potatoes) and low country eggs (the same, sans corn and cheddar).

I went with the omelet. The only reason to go with the eggs was to avoid the cheese, and really, when you’re in the South, health food isn’t really a thing. I mean, it is. I could have gotten an egg white frittata, but really, why bother?

It’s not like I’m in Florida anymore.