I’m buying the Gabber!

Happy May, Florida fans! 

How’s your Florida pandemic going? I’m spending a good amount of time in my garden (current crops-in-progress include beans, datil peppers, Everglades tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, loofa, and strawberries) and wondering why the weather’s so mild. 

Oh, and I’m buying a newspaper. 

Some of you may have read that I’m under contract to buy the Gabber Newspaper. The Gabber is a longstanding Gulfport tradition, published every Thursday.

That’s big news, and while both the Tampa Bay Times and Creative Loafinghave covered it, I’d like to tell you about how I made this decision and what it means for my life as a writer and speaker. So let’s go back to March, when the Gabber announced that, because of COVID-19-related advertising losses, they had no choice but to cease publication. This bothered me more than I expected; I worked for the Gabber Newspaper from 2003-2015, and I couldn’t quite picture Gulfport and the surrounding communities — South Pasadena, the beaches, and St. Petersburg — without the Gabber. 

wrote a piece for the Tampa Bay Times about the Gabber closing, and soon began receiving emails from people, asking what they could do. Among the emails were a few from people who knew the Reicharts, so I forwarded those along. Those exchanges led to a discussion of whether or not they’d sell the paper, and, after much discussion in our home, with my CPA, and with the current owners, my husband and I decided yes, buying the Gabber made sense.

Until the sale closes, I’ve assumed responsibility for the day-to-day running of the paper, and I’ve brought back the former editor, one of the former reporters, and hired a designer recently laid off from another newspaper. We’re publishing online daily, but on a limited basis until advertising picks up again. 

Everyone on the new team believes in Gulfport and the Gabber as much as I do. Over the next few months we’ll hire a salesperson and counter help, hopefully move into a new space, and resume publishing the print version of the weekly paper. 

But back to the Florida aspects of my life. What happens with my next book? My fiction? My lectures at Eckerd and elsewhere?

That’s all staying put. Writing and talking about Florida is as much a part of me as breathing, and I would be quite sad if that ended. No doubt, as the paper weathers the pandemic and I adjust to owning it, it’s going to take a good chunk of my time, but that’s OK, because I’ve found I need non-writing work to write well.

Some writers, like Stephen King, can sit down at the start of a business day and write. I have tried to do that, but it doesn’t work for me. I sit there and nitpick at words or — worse — don’t type anything at all. 

What does work for me is engaging the less-creative part of my brain early in the day. Only then, after the sun’s gone down and my left brain is wiped out, can I focus on writing. This is how I’ve become a spreadsheet junkie. I love to make spreadsheets and work out formulas during the day. Perhaps my regimented left brain needs to get a workout before the right brain side of me activates? 

Regardless of why that system works for me, it does. As long as I don’t have to write during the day, I can write at night, and that’s when my writing is at its strongest, too. I’m still working through the editing process on the next book, and when that isn’t occupying my time, I’m working on my fiction. (Beta readers, please reach out if you don’t receive chapters six and seven by Tuesday night!)

I’m looking forward to this new chapter of my life just as much as I’m anticipating seeing you all at a book signing or Florida lecture soon. 

One last thing — some people have asked if they can help. If  you feel so moved to support the Gabber as we move forward, there are three ways you can do so:

1. Buy prepaid advertising gift cards that people can redeem at the 2016 advertising rates. Businesses are buying these, but so are people who want to help their favorite restaurant/salon/shop — they’re giving them to local businesses. When they do that, they help two businesses: the Gabber, and whoever receives the gift card. Buy prepaid advertising gift cards of any amount here.

2. Donate to keep the paper running again now. People who simply want to donate to the paper now can do so at our Indiegogo fundraiser. None of this money goes towards the purchase of the paper; rather, it goes instead to pay the paper’s current expenses, including payroll. If the sale somehow falls through, it will go to the current owners to pay their bills. 

3. Make a low- or no-interest loan. While we’re using some of our own money to buy the paper, we’re also financing part of the sale. We’ve benefitted from a few private loans, with interest rates between 0-5% and a one-year grace period. Please email me if you want to help in this way, because I’d rather pay any of you interest than a bank. 

Stay safe, and we’ll see each other soon-

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

That’s just Thursday: The Capital Gazette massacre

Yesterday’s shooting, as they all do, left me numb and horrified.

This week, I’ve been working with a group of teachers from across Florida. I left Twitter and the atrocities of the Capital Gazette shooting and went to lead them in a walking tour. While everyone assembled, we started to talk about the shooting and I realized: For journalists, this is the first such attack on American soil. But for teachers? That’s just Thursday.

That’s. Just. Thursday.

This is madness. Not because it was a newspaper, not because one of the victims was the brother of a Florida icon, and not because *this* shooting hits too close to home. But because it has to stop.

No one should be accustomed to shootings and murder.

No one. Not journalists. Not teachers. Not students.

But we are. Welcome to this brave new world. This is our America. This is what America looks like.

This can’t continue, we say… but it will. We’re not doing a thing to stop it. No one, from President Trump on down the line to your local city council, is doing a damn thing. Fortunately, the NRA has sprung into action. They have people running scared that we (read: liberals) are going to take your (read: good Americans) guns.

I’m not exactly certain what the NRA’s doing to make sure people who own guns can keep them, but if it’s “arming white men who have no business owning a firearm and may shoot up a newsroom/store it in a manner that their kid can get it and kill a bunch of their classmates” well, well done, guys. I mean, OK, so you’re kind of stepping on your point, but you’re doing it thoroughly. One must applaud that level of dedication.

I can say this, though: The NRA is right. Barring some sort of sensible gun reform — background checks, psych analysis, making it illegal to own high-powered assault rifles, allowing your doctor to ask, when you tell him you’re having violent thoughts, if you own a weapon (thanks to Governor Rick Scott, in Florida, that’s illegal) — I can tell you what solution I’m comfortable with.

No. Guns. Not unless you’re law enforcement or active duty military.

Yeah, I hear you yelling about needing to protect yourself. Tell the NRA to donate its money to local LEO so they can do it. You don’t need a gun. Not a single damn one of you used your guns to stop the shooting at Pinellas Park High School, Columbine, in Texas, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at the Capital Gazette… or at any of the other shootings that happen more regularly than I go to the gym.

You know who stops mass shootings? Not good guys with a guns.


Law enforcement officers.

It’s almost like the people who undergo the most training and evaluation before being allowed to carry weapons are the ones best suited to protect Americans.


But go ahead. Sleep with that gun under your pillow and do nothing the next time there’s an active shooter. It’s not your fault you’re doing nothing. After all, there are so many shootings, and you can’t possible be there with your gun to save the high school students/battered woman/journalist/random concert goers. But the next time it happens, sure, go ahead and send some more money to the NRA so liberals like me don’t take your gun.

After all, America’s a dangerous place. Gun violence is no longer an anomaly.

It’s just Thursday.


Tips for driving Florida Interstates

This morning I was heading across the Howard Frankland into the trusty ol’ CL Tampa offices when I found myself engaging in a fantasy sequence whereby I made a quick u-turn at the next exit and headed down to Big Pine Key, where I worked for the Citizen and wrote books and my husband ran the local Sea Tow franchise.

This all derailed when I realized the next exit was the Veterans, and not even the Florida Keys is worth braving that shit at 9 a.m.

Point is, driving 275 from St. Pete to Tampa is… mentally exhausting. On the days where I can’t time my drive to avoid the bulk of the traffic, my brain overflows with things I’d like to Tweet if I were stupid enough to pick up my phone while I was driving. Here’s a sampling:

I’m going 75, and a Porsche swerves out from behind me, passes on the right, swerves back in front of me and has to hit the brakes because the car in front of him is also only going 75: Nice car. Sorry about your penis.

Just past the 22nd Ave. N. exit heading south: The left two lanes are left exits every damn day, people. Every. Damn. Day. If you’re shocked by this you should not be operating a motor vehicle.

After a five-minute slowdown because there’s a disabled vehicle in the emergency lane — of oncoming traffic: It’s not in our lane. It’s not even on our side of the road. The accident is almost a whole count over. WTF is wrong with you people?

Why I will vote for Bruce Plesser today

A while back, after Bruce Plesser qualified to run for the Ward 1 seat in Gulfport, he called me. He asked what I thought of him.

I had the words on my tongue: “I think you’re a professional shit disturber” — and then it hit me: that’s exactly what people have said about me, most notably when I worked for The Gabber and was paid to write an opinion column. It was, in essence, my job to get people talking and thinking. That meant, in many people’s eyes, I was a “professional shit disturber” and often times that one facet of my whole self was all people chose to see. They didn’t see my passion, my kindness, my vulnerability — or my intentions.

So I closed my mouth, not wanting to dash off a judgment based on a person I’d never spoken a word to in real life, and, instead, I listened to Bruce — the person, not the online persona — and I found that I liked him. I mean, he seems like a nice guy to have political debate with. A little self-centered, maybe, but given that he’s running for office, he kind of has to be, and it’s not as though anyone’s ever accused his opponent of looking outward more than inward.

That all said, if the past two years had gone differently, I’d probably still vote for his opponent, the incumbent. But I’m not. And here’s why:

I’ve not spent any time in person with Bruce, but I have with his opponent. And I know the incumbent’s heart because he’s pretty ballsy about showing his true colors, especially when it comes to national and state politics, and even St. Pete’s mayoral race where he bought advertising to trash Kriseman (and, hey, isn’t Kriseman a liberal Jew? I’m sure there’s no connection there because we all know the current national leadership is all about love, amirite?).

As of the 2016 presidential election and the hate mongering it’s allowed to bubble forth, I’m no longer a moderate Dem — I’m way the hell out in left field and I’m not coming back anytime soon. And you know what? I’ll take anyone over a gun-toting Trump supporter who doesn’t believe all humans deserve basic healthcare. Bruce’s opponent has always been nice enough to me, and Gulfport elections are nonpartisan in name, but I cannot, in good conscience, vote for someone who supports Trump and the party that put him there.

Bruce isn’t perfect. I’ve talked to him on the phone and I have seen him on social media. But I’ve watched his opponent try and trash St. Pete’s mayor on social media, all to try get a man in office who supports Trump. I’ll take a human with imperfections and a liberal soul and conscience over a human with imperfections and a Trump-supporting agenda. I can’t vote for someone who supports a political party that looks the other way on machine guns killing kids, or pushes the idea that Planned Parenthood sold or sells baby parts. 

Bruce isn’t perfect. I’ve seen it online, sure. But I’ve also seen his opponent use his station on council to bash President Obama when we wanted to support LGBT rights on a national level. Tell me again how Gulfport city council elections are nonpartisan?

Bruce isn’t perfect. But we currently have two Trump supporters on city council and if we lose a liberal majority in next year’s election, I see a lot of things we all love about Gulfport — diversity embraced, programming for people who can’t otherwise afford it, and social programming — on the chopping block to cut taxes (which are minimal compared to county, school board and water management district taxes). Even if Bruce loses today, we still have the liberal majority (Yay, Paul Ray, Michael Fridovich and Mayor Sam), but what happens next year? What if someone beats Fridovich next year who’s like Bruce’s opponent, politically? What happens if Sam chooses not to run again and we get the equivalent of Rick Baker as mayor?

I can assure you the new Republican party is working long and hard to keep every republican in office, at every station. Democrats and all Regan Republicans need to get our shit together and keep every Dem, everywhere, in office — and get more of them in office whenever we can.

See, I’ve endorsed Mr. Plesser’s opponent in the past, but it’s a new world. I no longer can support someone who has done some good things for Gulfport when they’ve been clear and vocal that they do support 45 — a man aligned with Putin, who blames Jews for any interference in the 2016 elections, a man who says gun control isn’t the issue, “racial disparity” is, a man who feels that money is above all else. So, no disrespect to the incumbent, who will most likely win because, well, incumbents rarely lose in Gulfport, but my core values will no longer allow me to support any republican, anywhere.

Good luck, Bruce Plesser for Gulfport City Council. I’m voting for you today. If you can vote in Gulfport, I encourage you to do the same. Don’t do it for me, or even for Bruce. Do it for #theResistance.


On the nonexistence of a journalistic bat cave

Today’s Pet peeve: People bitching about “The Media” like we’re all some sort of foreign entity. These are the same jokers who bitch about “The Government” without realizing we’re (for now) all government as part of a participative democracy.

Coming from a household where both of us have worked in, at different times, broadcast and print journalism:

Memo to those of you thinking The Media is an entity “playing” you. The Media is not a singular unit. From the Washington Post, New York Times, CBS, ABC, NBC to local venues like the  Tampa Bay Times, Chicago Reader, Sun-Sentinel, City Paper, Creative Loafing and on to hyperlocal papers like The Gabber… if you think any two of these members of the Fourth Estate can agree on anything as simple as what toppings to get on a pizza, much less a grand agenda to control the masses, you’re crazier than Tea Party member who walks into a NOW meeting. Even within news organizations, we don’t agree. Ever. OK, rarely. Sometimes we get it right on the pizza.

Why? Because news organizations consist of *people*. There is no journalistic bat cave, guys, only a professional and ethical sense of responsibilities to the publics we serve. We don’t all get together in a bat cave and plan how to manipulate non-media folks. I mean, the Tampa Bay Times had to sell their building earlier this year; who do you think’s funding a bat cave, anyway? Even if we could afford a bat cave, we’re not sharing information on any level. I know of no quality journalist would would share information or plans with another media outlet.

So, now that almost every legitimate news source of record has chosen to endorse Hillary Clinton, what does that mean? Because, trust me, they didn’t get together and talk about it. There’s no giant typewriter-and-scotch bat signal for journalists that goes up in the sky, letting us all know what we’re supposed to tell people.

So why do all the respected media outlets all endorse Clinton?

Honestly, I don’t know what any of them are thinking. I know what CL’s editorial staff wants and believes, because I’m part of it and sit in the meetings. That’s where my knowledge ends. But I do think it has something to do with this:

There’s a reason journalists have special protections and there’s a reason when a media outlet endorses, it has done so. I guarantee you, if it is a respected news outlet following FCC rules about what makes it a news outlet, it’s not doing so to play people or manipulate, it’s doing so because it’s editorial team has had to ferret through more news, interviews and documents than the average person would be able stand and, weighing all the evidence, they endorse out of a sense of professional and ethical duty to America. Endorsing is not something any outlet takes lightly. Endorsing is not at the whim of preserving the status quo for anyone on an editorial staff. Endorsing is not used for corporate gain.

I realize some of you don’t believe me, but that’s not how journalism — real journalism — works. Journalists have special privileges, yes, and with those privileges come responsibilities most people don’t want. It’s not a cake walk. It’s a constant state of admitting your bias and working to overcome it, of trying to decide what to leave in a news story and what isn’t germane to that particular story. A good journalist questions their motives and decisions; a great journalist always questions them. Yes, most outlets endorsed Hillary. Independently of one another, I’d wager.

Please don’t vote because of a single media endorsement.

Vote because of all of them.


The book has landed (almost!)

Backroads of Paradise
This is my book, Backroads of Paradise. Well, it’s the cover. OK, technically, it’s a photo of the cover. Stop harassing me!

You guys.

You can pre-order my book.

Part of me wants to play this cool and be all, “Yeah, it’s cool, you can pre-order my book” and the rest of me — the real me — has an almost-insurmountable compulsion to run around the house screaming “My book! MY BOOK!

So severely conflicted on this am I that it took me 19 full days to write this post, which has to be some sort of record for something, even if it’s a record for how batshit crazy things get inside my head.

Forget all that. The post has arrived, as has the book. It feels as though I’ve lived a lifetime since I first had the idea, which I suppose happens to many writers, unless, of course, you happen to be James Patterson, because that man is a machine. And if you are James Patterson, hi. Buy my book, OK?

Technically, the book has not arrived: You can pre-order it now on Amazon (or from the University Press of Florida) and they’ll ship it to you on October 4, the actual release date. Also, if you want it as an ebook, you have to wait — I mean, not much longer, but apparently the something about metadata or other things I don’t understand and don’t you dare pretend you do, either. The takeaway? You will have the chance to buy the ebook and no, I don’t know when but soon.

When UPF offered me a book contract, my editor told me in no uncertain terms to never promise people a publication date (well, until the Press itself released one) so I would make jokes when people asked me. My favorite one?

“Well, I’m not certain but I’m hoping sometime before we elect a new president.”

I made it with a whole month to spare.

Hold Your Judgment, America: Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos (Hard Candy, Redux)

As of Friday, the United States Coast Guard officially ended the search for 14-year-old fishermen Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, the two boys whose capsized boat was found far north of where the boys were last seen. I cannot imagine the immensity of the pain ripping through their families and their community in Tequesta, not just today, but for years to come.

I’ve followed this story closely. El Cap and I have a life geared around Florida, boats, and the water. Everyone seems to have disdain for the parents and what they did wrong in regards to the boys in the boat. I’ve read and heard a lifetime’s worth of disdain and scorn about those parents. Perhaps you are one of those people who feels the parents may be partly to blame, that allowing two 14-year-old boys alone a boat was begging for this type of tragedy.

Please, Internet, hold your judgment. I know we’re Florida and the popular dog to kick right now, but odds are, you have no clue what you’re talking about. El Cap works for a tow boat company; I’ve worked for several different boat companies. Couple that with the time we spend on our own boat or kayaks, and rest assured, we’ve both seen more than our share of stupid boating tricks. I can tell you that I’ve seen teenagers on boats and I’ve seen adults on boats, and every stupid human trick I’ve seen on a boat involved grown-ass men.

Did Perry and Austin have good parents? I have no idea; I don’t know them. I do know this: Allowing two boys with local waterway knowledge and experience to take a boat they’d run many times into the Loxahatchee River and along the ICW doesn’t make their parents bad parents.

See, people in boats on rivers and in the ICW is what we’re about down here. People move here to offer their kids the kind of life Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos had from an early age. Unless you live in south Florida and know the water as they did, I’d bet money these boys would put you to shame in the water. Did they misbehave and venture out of the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway)? Perhaps. Clearly, they left the ICW but why or under what circumstances remain unknown. No one knows what happened. But even if they did leave intentionally, it was misbehavior on par with a teenager from Oklahoma sneaking out after curfew to have some beers with a friend.

To those of you who don’t understand this, sending teenage boys like these two out in a boat on a Florida river or the ICW is absolutely no different than kids in Montana being able to go sledding or snowmobiling, or kids in Ohio being able to ride their bikes around town. Florida – south Florida especially – is a glorious tangle of rivers, lakes, bayous, and bays, a patchwork of dredged land held together with salty sinew. We have more water than land down there. To those boys, the water wasn’t a scary place. It wasn’t a dangerous place. It was as familiar to them as their own street. They knew the local waters; likely, they could read a chart better than most of you.

If they did intentionally leave the ICW – if they hadn’t lost steerage or had an incident that brought them there inadvertently – they were simply being teenagers, pushing the limit, testing boundaries. I’ve talked to a grown man who used to head over to the Loop Road, close to Miami off US 41, until his dad found out and put a stop to it, lest the young kid be killed. Odds are, every one of you reading this did something foolish, too, as a teenager. Drinking and driving? Jumping off the roof of your house? Showing your ass in your new car? Riding your bike in between traffic? Every one of those things could have killed you. Boys will be boys. Teenagers will be teenagers. Just because Florida boys play in boats and not on land doesn’t make their parents any worse than yours, or any worse than you are.

If you are a parent, I guarantee your kid will do something stupid that maybe could kill them one day, too. And I hope it ends better for you than it looks like it will for these two families. If it doesn’t, I hope you are shown compassion many of you are not showing these families today.

So how about you hold that judgment, eh, Internet?

Duckopalypse: The Lit Crawl

Ducks. Because Gulfport, that’s why.

Last night I read at a Lit Crawl in St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District Association. With so many of the writers hailing from local media like the Tampa Bay Times and Creative Loafing, there was no small amount of Florida-related stories. For longtime followers of this blog, this may not be new information, as I drew heavily from both my blog and my reporting at the Gabber Newspaper. Here’s what I read, and yes, it is about ducks. #BecauseGulfport, right?


This weekend marks the one year anniversary of perhaps the best headline I ever had the privilege of writing.

The Gabber Newspaper, for those of you who don’t exist within the realm of the small-town nirvana that is Gulfport, is the weekly paper that serves the roughly 12,527 people who live in town. That paper was my home for almost 13 years, and even though I don’t write for them anymore, I still live in Gulfport. I love my town; nevertheless, Gulfportians – and that’s what they call themselves, Gulfportians – Gulfportians seem to have this “live every day like it’s a full moon” mentality.

Now don’t worry, I’m not going to hit you with “Weird Florida” stories. I’m not going to tell you how weird or wacky or oddball we are in the Sunshine State. I’m going to tell you about news stories I had the, uh, opportunity to cover in Gulfport. And we aren’t so much weird as we are – well, we’re a small town. I believe these sorts of things happen in larger towns, too, but there’s more room to ignore them. Here, we all just sort of bump into each other over and over again, and so it seems like we have more unusual things than, say, Baltimore.

Because the Gabber is a small paper, I had the wonderful task (and ethical dilemma) of covering news and penning an opinion column called Hard Candy. What Gulfportians now call either “Duckopalypse” or “WaterFowlGate” started with a Hard Candy column I wrote called “The Duck Snatcher”. In it, I wrote about the Pekin ducks and a cute duckling that had taken up residence at the pond by my house. The ducks had disappeared and locals were murmuring that someone had stolen them.

Cute, right? I mean, the alleged duck snatching aside, ducklings make for a warm and fuzzy topic.

That’s what I thought, until I found myself writing a headline Hefty Bill For Duck Theft not soon after.

Seriously. Bigger papers – papers with budgets for things like more than one editor and newsrooms with doors and things like that – bigger papers make the copy editors write the headlines. I wrote my own headlines, and I’ll be honest with you, it was fun. Sometimes I’d come up with them on my own; other times, I’d post a one-sentence synopsis of the story on Facebook and let my Facebook friends decide. I wish I could claim this one as mine, but it was someone on Facebook who suggested it.

So, OK, I had written the column and thought to myself, well, that’s a damn shame about the ducks but we’ll never know what happened. But then my phone rang and it was our chief of police, Rob Vincent.

“Hey, uh, I just want to let you know, we caught a duck-napper last night” he says.

I remember this so clearly: It was a Friday afternoon and I was looking forward to the end of the workday. I was standing in the kitchen and I just stopped and said, “Are you fucking with me?”

He was not fucking with me. One of the other cops told me later, “I read your Hard Candy and thought, ‘these people are high.’ And then Parks” – that’s another officer – “catches somebody stealing ducks the next night.”

So I write the Hefty Bill for Duck Theft story and the Chief Vincent contacts me again, but not because they’ve caught more duck-nappers but because he wants to let me know technically, it wasn’t duck theft because – and I quote – “that would imply the ducks belong to somebody.”

I realize that sounds all “born free” and very drum circle-esque for a police officer, but remember that in Gulfport, we’re now into week three of Duckapolypse and the duck nappers – excuse me, at this point they’re alleged duck nappers – are threatening to sue, and everyone’s a little uptight.

Oh, yeah, didn’t I mention that? 13 years with that local paper and the only time I ever wrote anything that made someone get a lawyer and threaten to sue was the Hefty Bill for Duck Theft article. They ultimately dropped the case, but for a while there I was pretty sure I was going to have to testify in court about ducks. And duck thefts.

WaterfowlGate – and trust me, this is one of many stories I loved writing – only got weirder from there. One time and one time only in my career have I promised to protect the identity of a source from the police. A source who feared legal prosecution because he – or she – previously harbored ducks and knows the locations of other ducks currently in what I can only call “protective custody.”

See, in Gulfport, it’s illegal to keep ducks in captivity, and this person was part of an underground duck network.

Ah, but first? The headline: Gulfport’s Duck Underground Fears Prosecution

Here’s my lede:

“Apparently in response to recent press about duck activity at Gulfport’s Tomlinson Park, local duck sympathizers, fearing legal repercussions, have returned a raft of Pekin ducks to the pond.”

That’s what you call a group of ducks, by the way – a raft.

This duck sympathizer was one of three “safe houses” – you know what? I’m just going to quote the article:

“This duck sympathizer is one of at least three home who provide assistance, nourishment and shelter to orphaned, injured or malnourished Pekin ducks.

“The duck sympathizer tells The Gabber that the unorganized underground network of duck rescuers takes in orphaned ducks … This unofficial group of duck guardians keeps the ducks safe and well fed until such time as the ducks can survive on their own at the pond.”

“One duck rescuer says that the two ducks that disappeared the first week of June are still missing from the raft, and the Gabber could not match photos of the missing ducks with any current ducks in Tomlinson Park. The fate of these two ducks remains unknown. The Gabber’s duck source says they do not believe the people accused of duck snatching (who could not be reached for comment) have a history of duck rescuing. 

“The rescuers have released the majority of the ducks back into the pond, the duck sympathizer says, because in light of recent coverage in The Gabber, they feared the city would charge them with illegally keeping ducks.

“Whereas Gulfport changed its laws a few years ago to allow for chicken ownership, it does not allow for duck husbandry.”

In about 15 years, there’s going to be a young lady in therapy because her mom had to release the ducks because of me.

That was, I thought, pretty much the end of WaterFowlGate, but some time later, I was in the Horse & Jockey, which is actually not a Gulfport bar – and I’m talking to a friend, and I make an offhanded joke about Gulfport’s sewers being on the brink of collapse but as long as there weren’t ducks trapped in them, no one cared. Half-joking, she responds that Gulfportians don’t notice city issues that aren’t duck-related.

I start to laugh, but mid-chortle, a woman I’d never met before approached our table and interrupted with, “You’re talking about ducks. You must be with The Gabber.”

We spent the next seven minutes discussing duck-related issues. I finally asked her about the sewers and how she felt about their current state of disrepair, and she developed a pressing need to be elsewhere.

It’s not all bad, though. I love my town, even if I don’t write for the small-town paper anymore. A local restaurant put duck breast on the specials menu in my honor, and when a goat was kidnapped – you see what I did there – a year later, there was no question who was covering the story.

That headline, by the way, was So This Goat Walks Into a Bar, but that’s another story for another lit crawl.

Gulfport Police Chief Speaks on Crime Watch (Bonus Track: Hard Candy, Redux)

Believe it or not, my voice is not the loudest and my post about some horrible things a (now former) member of a Gulfport Crime Watch page posted – and a (now former) admin refused to delete is not what spurred the city to act. My voice is but one of many in this instance, because Gulfport city management and police heard from several residents and business owners who were shocked and scared by the statement and – more importantly – the (now former) admin’s assertion that he “saw nothing” that warranted action.

Responding to complaints from members of a local crime watch Facebook page – I can’t share the link because the page has gone “underground” and more on that in a bit – the chief took some steps to fix the problem. I encourage you to read his latest blog post. If you really, truly can’t be bothered to read it, just know this: He reiterated that while GPD tries to help any crime watch type of group as resources allow, this group is not a city group. He also added that, in light of recent events, the city required the group sign a standard agreement (well, it’s standard in Gulfport) that includes agreeing they won’t violate the city’s human rights ordinance. Effectively, the next time this happens, this group can’t use city facilities anymore.

I also found the last paragraph quite interesting:

“While I cannot speak to the status of the ‘Gulfport Community Crime Watch’, it is important to note that this is not the only such group in town. Crime watch is, at its very heart, a simple and informal arrangement between neighbors. If anyone is interested in forming a crime watch organization anywhere in Gulfport, please feel welcome to contact us for information on how to get started.”

If I had to guess, I would guess our chief perhaps wants to start a real crime watch, possibly one with trained volunteers and ongoing education. If I’m correct, it’s about damn time. Gulfport does have one other Facebook group that has less bickering, casting aspersions and placing blame and more “be on the lookout” type of neighborhood watch bulletins, and while it’s not run the police department or partnered with them in any way, you may want to hop over and like the page. I mean, it isn’t nearly as entertaining a read as the other crime watch page, but it does seem to post more actual information about crime and safety (and lost dog) related occurrences, so that’s kind of useful.

I suggest this because Gulfport Crime Watch may not let you join their group if you can’t prove yourself. Before I continue, let me be clear: Many of my neighbors and friends and acquaintances belong to that group, and when I refer to Gulfport Crime Watch, I refer to the people managing the page, not the entire group. Which is now a “closed” Facebook group that has apparently decided to conduct interviews before allowing people to join the group. Now, I’m no longer in the group – apparently I’m part of the problem, which I’ve heard before from better – but from screen shots I’ve seen of the discussion taking place over there, the entire group gets to vote on every new member. That’s 218 people as of this afternoon, and before the admin will approve your request to join, you have to state why you want to join, whether you live in Gulfport, and so forth. If they determine your interest is, in essence, pure, then they will allow you to join.

They are currently debating whether or not to allow the editor of the local paper and the local reporter “in” to the group. I would suggest to them that they probably go ahead and give those two a pass, even though neither lives in Gulfport and even though one of them is a good friend. One of the former group administrators wrote “I remember a reporter. Kinda iffy”  and I’m pretty sure he meant me, which is funny, because some of the posts in this group tell me the leadership fails to realize that had the admin deleted the first comment, there would have been no blog post, no city action, no cadre of angry and fearful citizens calling the city… in short, their lack of accountability hurt them, not my pulling back the sheet.

Making a crime watch group a “members-only” scenario smacks a little bit of a good ol’ boys club, and I’m not sure they aren’t making a whole lot more trouble for themselves. The new admin – who really does seem to want to get things refocused and under control but some of the inmates aren’t having any of that nonsense now that he’s giving them a voice in how they run the asylum – is so busy making rules and voting people on or off the island, it doesn’t seem there’s much crime watch going on over there anymore.

I hope fervently someone takes Chief Vincent up on his offer to start a legitimate crime watch program, one he feels confident supporting.

Some days I can’t believe humans actually managed to put a man on the moon, I really can’t.