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-

Chapter Three: The Edge of the Abyss, Revisited

Hello, abyss, old friend. It’s me again, at your edge. I’m ready to jump in again.

I probably should have seen this coming, but I didn’t. I have a tendency to get too inside the mirror. Which is funny, in the way people say funny when something isn’t funny at all: I was so introspective I didn’t see what was happening in my own life, and it was clearly going to happen whether I wanted it to or not.

I’m a big believer – huge, actually – in “we do what we want” so I can’t change philosophies midstream now and say I didn’t want this. I am certain I could have avoided this, of course, but I just didn’t want to avoid it enough. Apparently.

And so, for the first time in almost 12 years, as the Gabber staff plugs away at a deadline for Thursday’s paper, I am not a part of it. Oh, I’ve submitted a final Hard Candy, which you can all read tomorrow, and they have a few nondescript things of mine to run over the next month (not the sort of thing one includes in their portfolio, but the sort of thing that keeps the machine part of the newspaper going) , but for all intents and purposes, I no longer write for the Gabber.

The wherefores and whys really, really don’t matter. It became clear to me my time there was at a stopping point. I would never have been able to separate on my own; I needed a push. I didn’t see it coming, I really and truly didn’t, but when I started talking to El Cap about “what next” this past weekend I of course went through the whole postmortem, I realized yes, this has been coming for a while and of course I didn’t see it because I couldn’t.

It doesn’t matter. I will be forever grateful for how the Gabber changed my life. Over the years, too, the Reichart family was exceptionally good to me. I am the writer I am, in part, because they allowed me to be that writer.

Endings, however, often suck. (Yes, that’s the best word right there, unless I want to describe it as “eating a suck burrito” which is a phrase I’m stealing borrowing from these guys.)

This is one of those times.

I’ve spent the past days surrounded by friends who have buoyed my spirits and told me only good things. I needed that and am lucky to have those sorts of friends, the ones who support you without question and encourage you and tell you, yes, buttercup, you’re going to be OK.

At El Cap’s encouragement, I will take the rest of this year and finish three books I’ve started and mostly finished. He suggested the parting was perhaps a gift and the thing that was breaking my heart so hard was also the thing that would propel me to a new chapter of my life. He told me to freelance, yes, because, well, bills, but please focus on publishing something larger (I’m paraphrasing) than a city council report (Although, as much as I bitch about those meetings, I enjoy government reporting. It’s an illness.) He wants to see me write what I love, not what I need to write, to see me find something to stretch against the walls of my talents in new ways.

And I want that, too, actually. The idea of taking a year (OK, 11 months and 17 days, give or take) to work within my own little fictional world, pitch my second print book to a conventional press, and maybe even start trying to get feature work with magazines? That sounds incredibly, awfully, amazingly appealing. Most people don’t get that chance, and, without El Cap’s support, I wouldn’t either.

The last time I left a job, I did not have a plan except “write” – and I learned wishes work best with a touch of specificity mixed in to them. Last time wasn’t bad, not by a long shot. I found more than I ever imagined by simply following the direction “write.” This time, I have that specificity, but not too much, I hope, that I’ll miss something good. And, the same as last time, the grand plan includes sucking breath in and pushing it out again, and, if all else fails, I’ll just keep swimming.

To be continued…

Detours & Diversions – Winter Sunsets and Solstice Celebrations

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but perhaps not for all the reasons you might think. While the rest of the world dreams of tropical vacations as they shovel snow, Floridians know a winter Florida seascape has staggering beauty unparalleled by (although breathtaking in its own right) northern snow-covered vale. 

Fort DeSoto Sunset
Sunset along Fort DeSoto’s North Beach.

  One of the finest venues for watching our winter skies slowly turn from a bright white-and-blue watercolor into a streaked pink and orange and purple symphony is Fort DeSoto, the county park at the southwestern edge of Pinellas county. 

WHO:Pinellas County runs Fort DeSoto, with a spot of help from the Friends of Fort DeSoto.



Visit the park anytime between sunrise and sunset, although the sky grows gradually more beautiful as sunset gets closer. From about 3:30 p.m. on is optimal sky viewing time in the winter months. Remember, too, most of the park closes shortly after sundown, so you’ll want to park by one of the two fishing piers if you plan to stay much past sunset.

WHAT: Sunsets in winter seem to take longer. Although technically a sunset takes roughly seven minutes, winter twilight lasts longer than summer twilight. But don’t go for the sunset alone: the seaside has a beauty unparalleled in winter. December 21 marks the Solstice, the shortest day of the year, and since ancient times cultures have celebrated the signs of rebirth that come with longer days following the Solstice. To find signs of new life, head for the trails along the East Beach or Arrowhead Picnic Area. The beach daisies popping up, the new shoots of growth on the trees, the blossoms you do not see in summertime beachscapes – these are all signs of a new growth cycle.


WHERE: Anywhere you have a clear view of the water makes for excellent sunset viewing of course, but Fort DeSoto remains the crown jewel of Pinellas beaches. People flock to the north beach and the fort itself for sunset, but the overlooked East Beach showcases a brilliant display of twilight colors this time of year. The Arrowhead Picnic Area makes for a great place to explore the winter foliage, although its water views face east. Finally, the Paw Playground, fishing piers, and surrounding beaches remain open after rangers close the gates to the east and north beaches.

WHY: Christmas coincides with winter solstice because celebrations already existed and it was easier to convert pagans if they could switch one holiday for another. Those pagan celebrations happened for a reason, and if you step outside and look around, you will understand on a primitive level why, even before we grasped the formal concepts of cell division and germination, we celebrate new beginnings in the world around us this time of year.


Question: Five dollars for Fort DeSoto; parking fees vary elsewhere along Pinellas beaches.

Contact Cathy Salustri.

Hard Candy – The Appearance of Clean

Last week I alluded to my mom perhaps making me a touch OCD in regards to the holidays and cleaning, namely in telling me Santa’s elves checked inside my dresser drawers to make sure I hadn’t simply stuffed things inside to give the appearance of clean. This is how I ended up taking a stroll down Gabber-memory lane this past week.

See, my mom’s lecture about elves has stayed with me in two ways: One, every holiday I have a 1972 Elf on the Shelf (I call him EOTS, pronounced E-Otis) who comes out in December to wreak havoc on things (some say it’s projecting; I prefer to call it “creating non-compulsive elf-related experiences”); and two, I have a list of things I must do before the new year. These things are cleaning-related, but not in the “clean the toilets and wash the floors” sense of the word. No, my holiday cleaning goes a little deeper, and this year it includes reorganizing my office (a/k/a the “Bat Cave”) closet.

So starting the day after Christmas, I dug into that closet, pulling out old papers, organizing a yarn stash, trying to make sense of a plenitude of cords and cables, and marveling at the crap I’d chosen to save instead of toss. Then I found a clear blue box that I assumed had warranties in it (because I’d stacked new ones on top of it throughout the year with the intention of filing them “when I had the chance”). When I opened it, though, I found old reporter notebooks and notes from different articles over the years.

I sighed when I read a folder of notes about 49th Street, one page of which contained a great quote about 49th Street being the “mother-in-law at a bachelor party.” I also found a bunch of promises St. Petersburg’s former police chief and a bunch of “great day in St. Petersburg” propaganda from former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker. Then I found the Uniform Crime Reports for St. Petersburg, broken down by census district, which made me thankful that both men are long gone.

The next folder in the blue bin had notes about Gulfport’s mooring field. These notes are so old the paper had yellowed – that’s how long we’ve been talking about sinking moorings in Gulfport. I didn’t bother even keeping those, because I have more faith that St. Petersburg’s current mayor will do something positive for the poorest (and historically black) sections of town than I do that Gulfport City Council will ever create a mooring field.

I found, too, my notes on the one instance in time where a Gulfport police officer acted inappropriately and helped ruin one young man’s life in a desperate attempt to win some stupid custody battle. This happened before my tenure at the paper, and the man is long gone from our force (and hopefully any force), as is the police chief who opted not to launch an internal affairs investigation on the officer. I kept those notes, anyway – not because I plan to write about that incident any more for the Gabber, but because I believe the young man in question may have a bigger story to tell and one day I’d like to help him tell it.

Not everything stays, though. I tossed the Pasadena Yacht and Country Club lawsuit information from 2004, as well as the mayoral election paperwork for Mike Yakes, Clark Scherer and Marlene Shaw. I hesitated only slightly before doing the same thing with the Ward Two race between Christine Brown, Michele King and Courtland Yarborough.

By the time I looked into an empty blue box, I had a blueprint for 2015 in somewhat tidy piles on the floor before me. The sagas of Midtown, Childs Park and 49th Street continue, as does Gulfport’s waterfront and our (thankfully) weakening belief that we don’t really need the waterfront to make us a vibrant town. Everything I kept – and I didn’t mention everything here – I kept because they are unfinished stories.

Mayor Sam Henderson recently suggested the lack of an election in Gulfport meant people were pleased with the job council was doing. While the lack of an election does indicate people aren’t unhappy – or, at a minimum, aren’t displeased enough to take action – that doesn’t mean we don’t have issues we aren’t addressing. We’ve stopped talking about the tough issues, like 49th Street or the water quality in Boca Ciega Bay, because the answers aren’t apparent and they aren’t problems we can easily solve – if we can solve them at all. So we shove them into that big blue box in the back of the closet, along with the old cameras and our grandmother’s clock, and we close the door. So when people come into the room, they think, “Hey, this place looks great.” And it does, as long as we don’t open the closet door.

But maybe it’s time we played elf.

Hard Candy is an opinion column written by veteran reporter Cathy Salustri. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Gabber publishers, staff or advertisers. Contact Cathy here.

Homeless for the Holiday


Cathy Salustri homeless article

Reprinted with the permission of The Gabber Newspaper.
By Cathy Salustri

“Do you need blankets?” The black woman in the late-model SUV held out a dollar bill and, as I approached her to take it and stuff it in my McDonald’s cup, tried to make eye contact with me.

“No, I’m OK,” I mumbled, unable to meet her kind gaze. Yet she persisted.

“Are you sure? How about clothes?” Again, I told her I was OK. She gave up, adding, “Well, I go down to Williams Park sometimes, and if you ever see my truck there, please take what you need.”

She smiled goodbye at me as I thanked her; the light turned green and she drove away. My eyes followed her tan Ford, then turned to the bench by St. Mary’s where a real homeless man curled up and tried to sleep.

I have a home and a job, but nonetheless I stood on the corner of 4th Street and 5th Avenue South, hand-lettered cardboard sign in hand, trying to find out what it was like to beg on a street corner.

When my editor first suggested the idea to me, I agreed, but put it off as long as possible, avoiding the assignment because I assumed real homeless people would harass me, the police might arrest me, and I would get taunted by drivers. His perseverance finally won out, so two weeks before Christmas I donned my scummiest clothes, ripped a piece from a cardboard box, scrawled “Homeless- Please help”, and drove my scooter to downtown St. Pete.

St. Petersburg doesn’t have laws against panhandling, and you can see evidence of that on many street corners. This corner, however, appeared empty when I parked by the church and walked around the back to make it appear as though I had come from anywhere other than my vehicle.

By the time I got to the corner, a man stood there, his hands gripping a thin cardboard sign that simply said “HOMELESS”. I hesitated; I didn’t want a confrontation. As I tried to decide if I could stand on the opposite corner without causing a confrontation, he interrupted me.

“You want to work this corner?” He had to say it twice; anticipating hostility, his benevolence caught me off guard.

“Yeah, but you were here first.” He had a new Florida Blood Services Cap on and clean-ish jeans, and I automatically assumed he had a home. The notion of working street corners as a scam has occurred to me before; the idea of getting conned keeps my windows rolled up when I pass someone holding a sign proclaiming themselves homeless.

“Give me 10 minutes, just 10 minutes, OK?” I nodded and walked over to the cement pillar that welcomed people to St. Petersburg, leaned against it, and considered my options.

“Don’t go away!” he called out, so, more out of curiosity than any real expectation that he would give up his corner, I hung around. True to his word, a few minutes later, he walked over to me, battered knapsack in hand, and I got my first good look at him.

His jeans weren’t clean as I first thought; rather, they were meticulously cared for, as though someone had folded them carefully and taken great care to try and keep them clean. His shirt gave no appearance of having seen a washing machine in recent memory. Around his neck he wore dog tags and a large silver and black cross. His dark eyes looked resigned but not vacant or crazy, as I expected, and his skin had a gray, mottled undertone. He spoke softly.

“OK, let’s see how you do.” And with that, he went across the street, curled up on a bench, and left me to my street corner. I held my sign over my chest and stood as cars whooshed by me.

Worrying about people taunting me faded as I grasped the reality of the situation: the moment I held up my sign, I became invisible, a non-person. People looked through me and avoided my eyes. On the off chance they had to stop for a red light, drivers became inexplicably engrossed in setting the clock in their car, digging in their glove box, or making a cell phone call.
After five minutes, I stopped wanting to make eye contact with people. Despite my internal reminders that I had a home and didn’t beg money for a living, I devolved into a sub-person, on the fringe of a society determined to exclude me. I felt the total and complete exclusion from people who drove by me, on their way to warm homes or holiday parties. On another day, I might see these people, exchange pleasantries with them in line at the bank or smile at them at the grocery store, but at that moment, I ceased to exist for them.

Reminding myself that they were no better than me stopped working as I started to get irritated at the flagrant displays of consumerism coupled with the blatant disregard for my written plea for help. BMW’s, Nokia cell phones, and diamond rings all whizzed by me. No one stopped. Awkwardly aware that the day before I was one of these people, someone who looked anywhere but at the people holding up a sign, I got angry at the people driving past.

Then a pickup truck stopped; the driver rolled down his window. I didn’t understand at first until the driver held out his hand. As I approached, he said, “All I have is change,” almost apologetically.

Next the lady in the SUV pulled up and offered me blankets; a few other cars stopped and gave me a dollar here and there.
Somewhere in this time, the man who had given me his corner woke up and crossed the street again. As he approached me, I noticed he carried a t-shirt and a loaf of bread.

“You seem like a nice lady,” he said. I smiled at him, not sure what to say in return. He told me his name: Patrick. He served in Viet Nam.

“I want you to have this t-shirt,” he continued, holding out a blue t-shirt that proclaimed me a volunteer donor for Florida Blood Services. “It’s new and it’s never been worn. I gave blood today and they gave it to me, but I want you to have it.”

“I can’t take your shirt. I mean, thank you, really, but I can’t… don’t you need it?”

“You take it” and he shoved the shirt towards me, and I, torn between taking clothing I do not need from a homeless man and insulting his kindness, finally take the shirt and mumble “thank you”.

“I have some bread,” he says, showing me the loaf of Publix bread “would you like to break bread with me?”

I thank him, sincerely grateful, but draw the line at taking a homeless man’s food. I lie and say I’ve been ill and don’t feel like eating. He nods and says “I’m gonna go eat this over here so you can still make money.” And he walks away.
After he finishes eating, he comes back over to me.

“I live behind there,” he says, gesturing toward the welcome pillar “and I have three blankets. If you need a place to sleep, I won’t bother you or molest you or nothing. The medicine they give me… well, it makes me impotent, so you don’t have to worry about that. I won’t bother you.”

As I start to thank him, I see another man walking towards us. He has a bedroll, glasses, and seems upset by my presence. He starts walking towards me and yelling, but Patrick physically intercedes, getting between us and putting his hand on the guy’s shoulder.

“No, no, it’s OK, she’s a nice lady, really. Let’s go behind there and talk for a few minutes.” He steers the newcomer to his “house”, where they disappear.

My amazement stuns me into absolute silence and guilt; I barely mutter a thank you to the next few cars who stop and give me a dollar.

The last car that stops for me has seen better days. It has rust creeping around its corners, and the white paint dates back to Clinton’s presidency. A baby sleeps in a car seat. The lady inside rolls down her window and reaches into her wallet and hands me a wad of cash that I am too embarrassed to count.

As she pulls away, Patrick calls out to me a final time.

“Ma’am? It’s my turn. I’ve been good about this, but you’ve made your money.”

“Yeah, it’s my turn, I just got out of the hospital,” the other man chimes in. I had planned on staying until the sun set, but I will not argue with him. I feel sick at the idea of moving on to another corner, so instead I gather up my cup and my sign and walk across the street, making a roundabout return to my scooter.

As I do, I see a discarded heel of bread, leftover from Patrick’s supper. I nudge it with my toe. It has the consistency of limestone.

I return home and count my earnings. $17.50 for an hour’s time, all of which will go to St. Vincent De Paul’s soup kitchen. The woman in the beat up car with the baby gave me nine dollars, which I suspect was all she had.

I want to rush back to the corner and give it all to Patrick. I want to find these kind people and give their money back and apologize for misleading them.

But I do none of these things. Instead, I wash my face, change clothes, and head down to Gulfport Elementary to take photos of the Winter Celebration.

A little boy ringing jingle bells sings earnestly to a room full of warm, laughing people. His antics interrupt my reverie, and I laugh along with them.

And then my mind flashes back to Patrick, cars whizzing past him as he huddles on a bench, waiting his turn.

The Gabber gave the money collected to St. Vincent de Paul.