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Defending the home front from a scribbler

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By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 21, 2003

If you don't live in Citrus County, you might have missed Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy's screed in which he refers to Citrus Hills, where the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame is situated, as "this empty space in Florida's ugly middle."

There is nothing like knocking an area to get that area's columnists' parochial underwear all in a bunch.

One way or another, it gives us all a chance to unlimber our own critical skills. So why should I be different?

First, just to alert the cliche police, some of my best friends are from Boston, and I even married a Bostonian. I can, however, attest to their inability to pronounce the letter "R" other than when speaking about their alleged baseball team.

(See how it works? I do Red Sox jokes; he gets a free shot at the Devil Rays).

Here is how he describes the area:

"The entire Citrus Hills region feels depressed. One hundred miles northwest of Orlando, 80 miles north of Tampa, it's a dreary landscape of orange groves, tattoo parlors, bail bond shops and Circle K's. A billboard off Route 486, just a couple of miles from Ted's museum, shouts, "Eternity in Hell is a long time!' Another billboard tells you that Pat Boone and the Oak Ridge Boys will be coming soon (no doubt the local social event of the year). Where else could the baseball legends be housed in a resort named "The Plantation'?"

You can't blame a guy for being a little testy when he is writing during circumstances where he either is, or very recently was, up to his fundament in snow, something we don't have in Citrus Hills.

At least if our billboards threaten eternity in hell, our church folks can afford billboards and haven't gone bankrupt from paying off lawsuits after having committed some of the more grievous sins that can send you there.

And if we are a little overloaded on convenience stores, we don't have an area like parts of Southie, where residents are too afraid of their neighbors to talk to authorities about murders, and there has never been a criminal known as the Citrus Hills Strangler.

We did once have a politician who got a little confused about the differences between a banana and a .357-caliber Magnum pistol, but he couldn't really hold a candle to James Michael Curley, the Boston mayor who went to prison for corruption.

The Withlacoochee River might sometimes have water level problems, but unlike the Neponset, Charles and Mystic rivers and Boston Harbor, it doesn't have pollution (although it is getting a little better) that is the stuff of legends.

Unlike Boston, Citrus Hills does not have a "Disaster Tour," like the one profiled in Shaughnessy's newspaper a while back. That tour includes places like the site of the horrendous Coconut Grove nightclub fire that took hundreds of lives; the Combat Zone, a place that makes Tampa's adult entertainment strip look like a Disney enterprise; and the Beach Street building where 45 people doing the Charleston died after a floor collapsed and they plunged several stories to their deaths.

Our buildings are mostly one-story but stable.

We might have a few abandoned strip mines, but we also have a guy who has persuaded people to spend $500,000 per house for the privilege of living in one of then.

And if it took us a while to get State Road 44 widened, we did, at least, get it done, unlike Boston's seemingly eternal "Big Dig" highway project, which has been going on for more than a decade.

And whether Shaughnessy likes it or not, Ted Williams chose Citrus Hills as the place to spend his final years and appeared for years on billboards urging others to do the same.

The major thrust of Shaughnessy's column seems to be that the Williams Museum should be in Fenway Park (so people, I guess, will have some reason for going there again).

I guess if memories are all you have, they are more important.

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