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Ill wind blows us all down

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By PATTY RYAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 15, 2002

COUGH, COUGH: Ray Williams, 48, has the look. He stares numbly into our wall of hope, searching its packages for a cure. We stand together in the drug aisle of the Neptune Avenue Publix, strangers united in germ warfare. Solemnly, he pulls out the bottle of Nyquil Cough. "It's new. I saw it on television last night," he says, before marching off to the front, already littered with two weeks worth of Extra-Strength Robitussin bottles. I choose the 24-hour Sudafed. It will round out my three-day-old war chest of NyQuil, DayQuil, Zicam, prescription Levaquin and prescription Histussin. It's flu season in South Tampa and elsewhere. Feeling healthy? We hate you. Okay, we don't hate you. Just come a little closer.

GASPARILLA FLU? Pharmacists say this is barely a blip on the influenza radar screen, but don't we all know someone who's sick? Even South Tampa barfly Warren Weathers has been down for the count. He dubs this latest affliction "the Gasparilla flu." Four hundred thousand people get together and pass around a virus. It happens every year, post-invasion, he observes. The symptoms: Big chills. Big fever. "You can't take antibiotics for it," says Publix pharmacist Steffie Hoff. I try, to no avail. Then, inspired by National Geographic's The Incredible Machine, I visualize white blood cells zapping an invader with a glob of deadly slime, before creeping along in pursuit of the next invader, lodged somewhere in the back of my throat. "Is it a productive cough?" people want to know. I point to 11 loads of laundry done while others frolicked at Fiesta Day.

MIKE PISSOURIOS may be the Pied Piper of pharmacists. The wisecracking ex-New Yorker had quite the following at the Eckerd Drugs in SoHo until he quit a few months ago. Now, he's filling prescriptions at the Swann Avenue Kash 'n Karry. "The scrip counts have gone up and he's drawn a lot of people," said co-worker Rich DePalma. "I can't tell you how many calls I get asking for Mike."

DAVIS ISLANDS: How tight of a community is it? Even a ferret can't get out. People's exhibit: Pepe, named for Pepe Le Pieu. He gnawed his way through a screen and escaped a Davis Boulevard apartment over the weekend. His owner, 26-year-old importer Frank Dietze, plastered Pepe's photo everywhere -- risking public outcry, for indeed that was a Budweiser bottle beneath young Pepe's fuzzy chin. "He wasn't really drinking," Dietze covers. Mere coincidence, then, that Pepe had made a mad dash for the 7-Eleven up the street? Calls were made. Within hours Pepe was back home.

NEW FAVORITE DESSERT: Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia, served with a splash of cherry cough syrup.

LET'S NOT DWELL on this, but Sunday, Tampa awakened to a gerbil shortage. A frantic customer stopped at Pet Supermarket near Columbus and Dale Mabry. She had looked everywhere. She wanted the clerk to call around, as if hunting for a dress size. Days later, we learn it had to do with enmity between gerbils and hamsters. A shortage of cages. "There's definitely no shortage of gerbils," the store manager says.

EASY ON, EASY OFF: Dueling pre-Valentine's signs at the Gandy Boulevard Walgreen's: "STAR DIET NOW ONLY $12.99!" and "STOVER 1 LB CHOC $4.99!"

- Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard was once called Grand Central. Now Grand Central is a weekly City Times column. Patty Ryan can be reached at 226-3382 or

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