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Fish tale passes smell test

patty ryan
GRAND CENTRAL
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By PATTY RYAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 12, 2002


SO THIS is Ellie Montague. She stands with a cardboard sign along Westshore Boulevard, south of Sunset Boulevard, a folding chair for support. Behind her is little Lake Kipling, her front yard for 30 years.

I had known her name. Ellie, 70, called City Times the day of our debut 12 weeks ago, wanting more news of Sunset Park.

It's Sunday. She lets up on fish wrappers long enough to rail about dead fish.

She waves her sign at me. On one side it says:

GARAGE SALE.

MORE IN CARPORT

But on the other it says:

DICK GRECO

CLEAN

LAKE KIPLING

STORMWATER

PREVENT FISH KILLS

AND SMELL

TIS THE LAW

* * *

MULLET SAIL through the air behind her. Ellie, who wears a frog pin and starfish earrings, delivers the latest chapter in her 30-year fish story. Plug in any mayor's name. The city does little to protect her lake from the junk that pours into storm sewers, she says. Every time there's a hard rain, fish die. And when fish die, it stinks.

"It's the smell that's the worst thing," she says.

She wears a surgical mask to illustrate the point. Some days, she keeps bags of dead fish around to show people, which is better than keeping bags of dead people to show fish.

CARS SLOW and necks twist as drivers strain to read her sign without winding up in the lake. A pickup truck inches to the corner on its way out of Sunset Park. The driver sees the Greco line on Ellie's sign. "Vote him out," he hollers. Ellie tosses back, "But who would we put in there?" The mayor's already term-limited tenure seems beside the point. "Bubba the Love Sponge," the guy says, smiling as he punches the gas.

NOT TO DWELL ON SMELL, but did you notice how daylight savings time struck, baiting us for twilight strolls on Bayshore Boulevard -- at the exact, precise moment that Bayshore achieved its highest level of stinkiness all year?

ELLIE'S NEXT CAREER: Selling surgical masks on Bayshore. Just a suggestion. Proceeds could pay for a cleanup of Lake Kipling.

DO DEAD FISH explain why the makers of Tide have to double-team us with giant billboards? Two are directly across from each other on south Manhattan Avenue. They both face northbound traffic. Are we so malodorous?

LEADING ECONOMIC indicators, South Tampa style: Help-wanted signs are popping up faster than City Council candidates. Look at Gandy Boulevard. To the west, the EZ Pawn needs an assistant manager. To the east, ABC Liquors hangs a sign for help. Stein Mart advertises on its doors. Farther north, on Henderson Boulevard, even the Church of Scientology joins the search, its help-wanted sign promising, "Will train."

Look no further for a sign of prosperity than the one outside Gandy's Fine Wine & Spirits Warehouse.

Brightly, it rhymes: "You bought more wine and we fixed our sign."

Happy days are here again.

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

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