Knives in sand aim to trim shortcut
The owner of a pizza place tangles with a mom at a bus stop over cutting across his parking lot.
By THOMAS LAKE
Published October 11, 2006
LAND O'LAKES - Pizzaman comes from New York. His other name is Bill Najmark. His thin-crust pie delivers a gratifying burst of butterfat.
Pizzaman looks and talks tough, as a guy from the streets of Queens should, and his arms are thick with muscle from decades of kneading dough. But he says his pizza contains more than red sauce and Grande cheese. He says it is made with love.
Now would be a good time to ask why, on Monday, he walked outside his pizzeria on U.S. 41 and sank three knives in the sand, blade side up, feet from the place a school bus stops every weekday to let out an 8-year-old boy.
The story is about colliding cultures and property rights, and it hinges on a tricky left-hand turn. It starts nearly 20 years ago, when a native Floridian named April Perez was still in elementary school.
She lived on Lake Shore Drive, then as now, a dead-end road that empties onto U.S. 41, just south of State Road 52, just south of one of the county's most dangerous intersections.
It is unusually hard to make a left from Lake Shore onto U.S. 41 because of the traffic that backs up from SR 52. Somewhere along the line, the locals solved the problem.
They wore a 100-yard path into the highway's eastern shoulder, a shortcut from Lake Shore to a more navigable part of U.S. 41. It leads to a bus stop for students from three county schools. It ends in the parking lot of what is now Ally's Hideaway, Pizzaman's pizzeria.
He is 54, and he has owned the place about two years. He has never liked the shortcut. He has tried to block it off, with little success. His frustration swelled Friday, when he returned from a long trip to find the parking lot covered in garbage and dirt. He said he spent three hours cleaning it up, and the dust turned his white hair brown.
On Monday, when Perez, now 25, arrived via the shortcut to pick up her 8-year-old son, Trevor, there was a clash.
According to Pizzaman, he told her she was trespassing and she responded with profanity. She told a Pasco sheriff's deputy he swore at her and punched her car. No one was arrested, but the deputy referred a possible charge of disorderly conduct against Pizzaman to the State Attorney's Office.
The Pasco County School District has decided to move the bus stop to Lake Shore Drive, starting Tuesday.
In the meantime, Pizzaman fortified his borders. He blocked the shortcut with wooden stakes and old kitchen knives.
"Nobody in their right mind is going to drive over these now," he said.
Maybe not, but experts say Pizzaman is open to civil and even criminal liability in the event that someone trips and falls on a blade. In fact, said Paul Boudreaux, who teaches property law at the Stetson University College of Law, the shortcutters may have a right to keep crossing the property under a legal doctrine not unlike squatters' rights.
"I certainly think a court might not look too kindly," he said, "if we're talking about kids who are just trying to walk to a bus stop."
On Tuesday, Pizzaman appeared unconcerned with legal technicalities. He just wanted his parking lot clear.
About 4:05 p.m., Perez came down the dirt path in a gray-green Scion xB to pick up her son.
She stopped short.
There, beneath the sign that said "Real New York Pizza By The Slice," a serrated blade glinted in the sun.
Perez parked on the edge of Pizzaman's property, on the far side of the barrier, and smoked a cigarette. Ten minutes later, just as Trevor's bus arrived, Pizzaman came out. He strolled to the Scion.
"This is not a legal road for you," he said.
Red-haired Trevor walked between a knife and wooden stake, apparently not noticing them.
Perez looked at Pizzaman.
"You need to go back to New York," she said, "where you belong."
"Yes, dear," he said, but he did not move. The Scion kicked up dust and went around the curve.
The line had held.
Thomas Lake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.
[Last modified October 10, 2006, 23:07:21]
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