© St. Petersburg Times, published January 25, 2002
Barfly: Here I sit at Ceviche's, stood up by my erstwhile friend Lynn Cole, ex-Maryland beauty queen now lawyer to deposed police chiefs. She'll call me later, between yoga positions. "Oh, God Patty, this is Lynn. I screwed up." I could be yet another middle-aged woman alone with her tapas except for Jimbo and Elvin, traveling real estate tycoons from St. Louis. A quick check of ring fingers. No surprises. Tampa is so lacking in eligible men that I personally know two women who have dated priests. Better to be single these days, especially with the plummeting value of attempted spousal homicide. Jimbo and Elvin hear about the South Tampa woman accused of offering $600 to have her husband killed. "Six hundred dollars?" Jimbo is dumbfounded. "I could have my wife done 20 times a week at that rate," he says. I think I see the future: Will kill spouses for food. "It's an interesting concept," Jimbo concedes, right as the eggplant arrives.
This much I know: The out-of-gas man at Westshore and Kennedy is never really out of gas.
Surplus spending: I'm in Jacobson's Saturday, in search of 91/2 narrow flats when I stumble into a clearance table of ex-county commissioners. Phyllis Busansky and Dottie Berger, bipartisan shoppers, have discovered a 60 percent off sale. They buy matching Maxx handbags with cell phone pockets, reduced to $72 from $180. Fiscal responsibility in action. Hillsborough Community College president Gwendolyn Stephenson pauses at a rack of silky sleepwear. Widespread dismay over the impending closure. "I came to say goodbye," Busansky says, after snagging another purse. All in all, they save nearly enough money to knock off a spouse. Berger, at least, has an alibi. She's headed home to a party for her husband, Sandy MacKinnon, chairman-elect of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, whose truck dealership has turned 20.
Back to out-of-gas man: Randy Shearer trolls for cash in downtown Tampa and the West Shore area. If he hasn't hit you up, you must look broke. He's an ex-con with a string of cocaine convictions. Tall and lean, almost 50, he walks around with an empty anti-freeze jug as a prop. His shtick: He left his wallet at home and needs gas money. Here's what's sad: Shearer's father was a POW and respected West Shore businessman. His mother, who helps him out, still lives in Sunset Park.
Barnes & Noble is now a favorite reading room for homeless people. The latte, perhaps? One man is known for daytime naps in cushy chairs. Sunday night, I follow him outside to get his story. He looks sweet until he speaks. "You're gonna die because you talked to me," he says. Too much time in the Mystery section, not enough in Self Help. I excuse myself. Up the road at Borders, the chess regulars -- Jeryll Cook, Brian Williams, Paul Garofallou, Lloyd Paree, Samuel Del Gado -- have gathered for a game. Impromptu visitor: a national chess master, 58-year-old Tom Mabee. "I like the coffeehouse atmosphere," Mabee says. "A lot of places are a little sterile."
Why not a giant Ed Turanchik? Gotta love the fertile soil of South Tampa. Elsewhere, ugly metal cell phone towers dwarf neighborhoods. South Tampa's most notable tower is camouflaged as a tree. "It's supposed to be an imitation of a redwood to make it less offensive," says John Gorman, manager of The Jungle, a bar down below. (The Jungle recently adopted the slogan, "We're the place to be, under the tree.") But after months of rubber-necking, I now wonder: Was redwood the best camouflage in subtropical Tampa, where redwoods never grow? I'm just asking.
Bin Laden fever can't be broken. Near Old Hyde Park Village two people unleash a dog on a squirrel. "Get him!" one is overheard to say. "It's Osama!"
One more thing about out-of-gas man. He hasn't had a driver's license since 1986.
- Grand Central will appear weekly in City Times. Patty Ryan can be reached at (813) 226-3382.