Sunday, October 30, 2005

We Bite

West Epps 6.3mi

For the first time ever, my speed session didn’t wreck my legs, so I decide to run a little further than usual. We’re going to a Halloween/birthday party this afternoon, and I figure I’ll prepare myself for any excesses of food and drink by having a few extra miles in the bank.
I start out following the same West Bank route, thinking that the early assessment of my legs may have been premature. Everything is tight, but I move along slowly, confidant that things will loosen up eventually. When I make it back to Sligh Avenue, I’m still not feeling great, and I briefly consider bailing out for the 3.6-mile route before crossing to the north. If things don’t get any better I’ll turn around.
The Sunday picnic crowd is out, and there seems to be an inordinate number of cars driving on the running paths. Everyone has pulled their SUV up to their own pavilion, and they sit with the rear hatches open, listening to their radios. The park vibrates with a cacophonous mix of heavy metal and meringue.
As I round the bend onto River Shore Drive, I’m struck by the view across the river. The yellow Spanish-style speakeasy house and the water tower behind it are both illuminated by the afternoon sun at my back, and their glowing reflections bounce off the black water of the river.
I follow the loop around, across the Florida Avenue Bridge, and back into the neighborhood where I dodge the smeared-out remains of the paw paw fruit that has fallen into the road. At Highland and Hiawatha, the Wahl house has been stripped to its concrete block skeleton.
Halloween decorations are out in full force, and Denis Wood’s theory seems to be holding up. It’s always the nicest houses in the neighborhood that have the most elaborate decorations. The fake-tombstone-with-witty-epitaph is a common theme, and I think about ways to update this idea by using the names of recently deceased political figures and other celebrities along with pithy remarks about the circumstances surrounding their untimely deaths.
On our block we may not be the most upwardly mobile occupants around, but our Halloween decorations are top-notch. The paint is peeling. There are vines growing up the west wall, and stray black cats roam the property peeing on everything in their path.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Blowing Chunks

West Bank 3.6mi

When I was a teenager, my friend Eric’s stepfather, Hank, had a red and white 1968 Pontiac Bonneville convertible. He kept the car parked neatly between the solid yellow lines he had painted on the driveway of their family’s mobile home compound, midway between my house and the MGTP (Mighty Good Trailer Park). The large suburban lot was covered in a constantly mutating collection of mobile homes, hastily cobbled together to resemble a miniature Tampa Airport wrought in aluminum, vinyl, and indoor-outdoor carpet. In the main trailer’s living room, a wall-sized photographic mural depicted California cliffs dropping off into the Pacific. Hank brought the whole scene to life by mounting small plastic seagulls on metal rods embedded in the wall. The larger birds were mounted on longer rods, creating a foreshortening effect that turned the room into a huge diorama. Across the top of the scene, eight plastic reindeer pulled Santa in a tiny sleigh. The scale was all wrong. Even the smallest of the seagulls was bigger than the reindeer.
Hank was a man of many talents whose business cards referred to him as the “Doctor Reverend Bishop Henry”. If he actually held any of these distinctions they were certainly all of the mail-order variety, but he did have a knack for the theatrics of the church. One evening, at what was supposed to be a get-to-know-you meeting of neighborhood parents and their kids, Hank kicked things off by administering a Eucharist of Wonder Bread and Thunderbird wine, insisting that everyone prick their finger on a rose’s thorn to feel some of the pain that Jesus felt on the cross. There must have been a hurricane bearing down on us at the time, and I remember the black clouds swirling around over us as we sat in folding chairs under the aluminum awning of the carport, listening to Hank’s race baiting speech from the pulpit. Following the sermon was a short set from the metal band that I played in with Eric.
Eric’s house always had a sort of supernatural trailer park feel to it. In his bedroom there was a stereo with an automotive-style tape deck in which the cassettes were inserted through a slot in the face of the machine. During one particularly good Megadeth rock-out session, as we listened to Dave Mustaine growl “Christ burns me with his eyes, but I’m still alive, welcome to the lungs of Hell”, the tape suddenly ejected itself with such force that it flew across the room and flames shot out of face of the machine. This was the devil’s music for sure, and we loved every minute of it.
I remember Hank telling me that older cars needed to have the carbon deposits burned out of them periodically. I’m still not sure if there was any truth to this, but it provided a good excuse to get out on the interstate and drive at warp speed. He explained this theory to me one night as we roared down I-275. I was sitting in the backseat behind Eric, and Hank turned around to face me, steering lazily with his left thumb, to scream above the wind and the engine about carburetor shellac, ignition points, and compression ratios, as the speedometer buried itself on the right side of the gauge.
This week’s long run was considerably easier on me than the previous two, and by Friday I’m feeling well rested and ready to run. I decide to run the West Bank route at a nice brisk pace to clean some of the sludge out of my own system.
I don’t know if I’m moving fast enough to burn out any of the deposits left from my years of sloth and excess, but I can feel the momentum behind me, and the first mile comes in at just over eight minutes. I can tell that I’m stronger since the last time that I ran this route, and I’m able to maintain my pace until the third mile, when it starts to lag a bit. I finish feeling strong at 30:15, a two-minute gain over my previous best for this route.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Peace, Love, And Understanding

Platt Loop 16.3mi

I don’t like hippies, and I don’t like cornbread, and I don’t like much.” -- Lyle Lovett

I don’t like hippies because they ruined my concept of the American Indian. In the children’s game of Cowboys and Indians, I always wanted to be an Indian like everybody else. Later, in high school, I grew my hair down my back, pierced my nose, and even wore turquoise earrings on occasion. My reverence for hippie subculture was a kind of hero worship that came from a mix of my parent’s nostalgia for their “hippie days”, and my early love for the music of that era. By the time I had met some practicing hippies in college, the mystique had worn off. I never could get into the body odor thing, and everyone seemed to have some unseen means of support that I could never figure out and didn’t have access to. And there were so many rules. I do love cornbread though.
The hippies’ identification with the American Indian sprang from their own idealized and stereotypical notion of what Indians represented, a characterization most likely formed from watching John Wayne movies as children. John Wayne was my grandfather’s hero, and what better way for my father to rebel than to cheer for his enemy, the noble savage, but the hippie concept of the American Indian was as twisted as John Wayne’s.
In college, as a new reporter for the school paper, I got my first byline for an interview with Russell Means, the former leader of the American Indian Movement. Means was in town to protest the arrival of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, replicas of the famous fleet made to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage. He towered over me, a giant of a man, thick black braids on each shoulder, as he railed against Columbus, the media, and Hollywood’s portrayal of Indians in recent movies like Dances With Wolves. Later on, Means apparently changed his mind when he appeared in The Last of the Mohicans and provided the voice of Chief Powhatan in Disney’s Pocahontas, a movie that he referred to as “the finest movie ever done about Indian people in Hollywood”.
Gloria Jahoda’s River of the Golden Ibis has renewed my interest in the figure of the Indian in American history. The Indians that Jahoda describes are not only at one with the land, they are intelligent, articulate, complex, deceitful, and vengeful. They are human.
Today I run south along the west bank of the Hillsborough, known to the Seminoles as the Lockcha-popka-chiska, and earlier to the Timucua as the Mocoso. The Timucua town of Mocoso sat on this side of the river near what is now the University of Tampa. My plan is to cross the river at the Platt Street Bridge before it empties into Hillsborough Bay. I’m trying to follow the river as closely as I can, but I keep getting pushed to the west by the security gates of apartment complexes, and the dead end streets of riverfront homes. I follow Rome Avenue to the south, past Tampa Catholic High School and its waterfront stadium, home of The Crusaders, a team destined to strike fear in the hearts of others like the Chamberlain Chiefs, but not immune to the terrors of King High School’s Lions.
Continuing today’s theme of empire and subjugation, I cross Columbus Avenue and pass the riverfront housing projects with their tall iron fence along the water. I guess these people aren’t paying enough rent to be allowed to enjoy their prime location. I had hoped to find a shortcut from Rick’s On The River through the baseball fields to the south, but all I can see is barbed wire and thick underbrush. I take advantage of the detour to use the facilities at Rick’s before skirting the ball fields to the west. On Spruce Street, I find a way through the elementary school to the track along the river, and I locate the path that connects the fields with Blake High School on the other side of North Boulevard. This is not the best of neighborhoods, and my aunt, a guidance counselor at Blake, has said that students have been mugged along this path on their way to Phys Ed. I’m about an hour and a half into this run, and I think if someone steals my Gatorade money I’m going to cry.
I follow the path under the North Boulevard Bridge and along the river until I have to squeeze through a hole in a fence to follow the path under I-275. My efforts are thwarted again at Tampa Prep, when a security guard in a golf cart refuses to let me run through the campus. I head west and take North Boulevard to the University of Tampa campus, past the former Tampa Bay Hotel , and south to the Publix at Platt Street, where I jog up to the register with my precious bottle of Gatorade.
From here I take the Platt Street Bridge across the river towards the convention center on the Hillsborough’s eastern bank. This is the site where Fort Brooke was established in 1824. It was here that I stood in 1992, microphone in hand, embarrassed by my long straight hair, as Russell Means spoke against Hollywood, political correctness, and “hang-around-the-fort” Indians. And it was here that Indian agent Wiley Thompson, under the presidency of Andrew Jackson, proposed the Seminoles be gathered for their forced emigration to Oklahoma.
Thompson did not live to see his plans realized. On December 28th, 1835, he was shot fourteen times by the Seminole chief Osceola, in an event that would lead to the Second Seminole War. The rifle that Osceola used had been a gift from Thompson.
Osceola was a hang-around-the-fort Indian, spending time at both Fort Brooke and Ocala’s Fort King, and he used his time there to study the tactics of the United States soldiers. His knowledge of their methods helped him to lead a struggle that lasted seven years and cost thousands of lives.
I head north along the river’s eastern bank, through the beleaguered Dan Kiley Riverfront Park, where the only people living off the land are the homeless men bundled up against the cool weather. At the Performing Arts Center I’m enveloped by a group of high school age runners, and I fall in with the pack, proud to be keeping up at eleven miles into my run. For the remainder of the route I stick to the river road, getting the occasional glimpse across the water to where I came from hours ago. It seems like years.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Westchase 3.5mi
I couldn’t decide whether to run or crosstrain to get back on schedule, but I had to work and the gym is closed on Sunday mornings, so I opted to run. I set out at a nice easy pace from the station onto Linebaugh and into Westchase. I never run in Westchase, and in some ways this area doesn’t even exist in my mental map of Tampa. During the years that I spent exploring the outskirts of this city after I got my first car, this entire community did not exist. This was one of my favorite places to go on a Sunday afternoon when I could go to Ella Hardy’s camera shop at the Oldsmar Flea Market, wander through abandoned dairies and ranches with my Rolleiflex medium-format camera, and drive my car along Racetrack Road in a manner befitting its name.
These days Westchase is a sprawling collection of subdivisions within subdivisions made up of randomly winding streets designed to break up the monotony of the three available home designs repeated ad infinitum. Imagine being able to look straight down a street of this kind of repetition. The curves help to break things into smaller pieces, and by the time you round the bend you’ve forgotten that this house looks exactly like that one.
I remember riding through here at Christmas time in the back of a rescue unit running emergency to a call. We were driving through one of the condo communities, and I was looking out the side window at the units illuminated by the rescue’s strobes. The light created a movie-like flicker effect as the same scene reappeared from the darkness time after time, projected on the screen of my small window. It was like watching a piece of stop-frame animation where the set remained exactly the same, right down to the Christmas tree sparkling by the sliding glass door. Only the actors changed as we passed. Here was a man laying on the couch, now a woman cooking dinner, an empty apartment, two children watching TV on the floor. Each scene strobed past so quickly it was almost subliminal. The only way to take it all in was just to watch without thinking.
I have witnessed this effect before while watching graffiti through the subway window in New York. On the Manhattan bound B train from Brooklyn, there was a place where an abandoned tunnel ran parallel to the B’s tracks, the two tunnels being separated by a series of archways. For some reason the empty tunnel was brightly lit, and some intrepid graffiti artist had taken advantage of the flicker created by the archways separating the tunnels when viewed from the passing train. Repeated on the far wall of the tunnel, framed by each archway, was an image of a rocket ship that shifted a little more to the left in each scene until it passed out of the frame, creating the effect that it took off each time the train passed. This snippet of animation lasted only one or two seconds, and I can remember it clearly many years later.
I drive through these streets nearly every working day, but the memory of that Christmas montage is one of the few that sticks out in my mind. My mental map of the area is rudimentary at best, and I just can’t seem to populate the woods and pastures of my youth with these lanes and cul-de-sacs.
Today I follow Linebaugh to Montague and run south through West Park Village and down its fake little Main Street (this development is too new to appear in the mapcard aerials, but it does show up on GoogleMaps). Starbucks is open already, and a few people stroll around in the predawn quiet, clutching their Sunday morning lattes, past the shuttered boutiques advertising “only the best for your baby”. There seems to have been some kind of carnival here this weekend, and the nearby park is full of partially dismantled rides, games, and concession stands. I feel like I’m on a stage set. Somehow even the other people on the street don’t seem real to me. Who gets up at 6:00 on a Sunday morning to walk around in the dark drinking $5.00 coffee? Maybe they’re extras hired by the neighborhood association.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Tastes Like Burning

Sulophur Springs of Darkness 8mi
This week’s long run came a little late because of last Saturday’s race. The distance for the week is eight miles, and I’ve decided to repeat the Sulphur Springs of Darkness route because it is one of my favorites, and I am too lazy to map out a new run for this distance. I still haven’t been able to shake the soreness out of my legs from the trail run though, and I’m not sure how I’m going to feel after eight miles of mostly pavement.
I start out following the river to the north along its eastern bank, and the tightness in my calves begins to ease a little more with each mile.
On the path down to the troll bridge I catch a brief flash of color in my peripheral vision, and I look to see a familiar red-blossomed vine entwined in the chain-link fence to my left. I know next to nothing about Florida’s wildflowers, but I have a distinct memory of these particular flowers being introduced to me as a child. On what must have been a school field trip, someone pointed out the vine growing along a similar stretch of fence. The bud-like blossoms pulled easily away from their sepals, and they were full of a sweet nectar that attracted both children and ants. I remember standing there sucking on flowers, amazed that something so beautiful and sweet could be found growing along a stretch of rusty old fence.
About forty-five minutes in, I start to get my legs under me. This seems to be my standard pattern. Whatever the length of the day’s run, I start to feel good about halfway through. I’ve heard over and over about how much of running is a mental exercise, but I’m just starting to realize this for myself. My perception of each run is shaped largely by the approach that I’ve taken before I’ve even laced up my shoes.
As I turn back to the south, my stride has become more compact, efficient. I’m several minutes ahead of my pace from previous runs on this route. I round the corner from Mulberry onto River Cove, keeping pace with a Rasta on a bicycle pedaling along lazily and talking on a cell phone. Ahead I can see the flowering vine again, and I remember now where I was on that field trip twenty-five years ago. It was right here at what is now a small park along the river. My memory is partially obscured by the vines, but I can see a zoo with a bear in a cage and river otters playing in a concrete pond. I pull a blossom off of the vine, suck out the nectar, and run off towards home.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Cardiopulmonary Espionage

Photo Run 4mi
I set out with my digital camera to document some of the areas mentioned in previous posts. I always feel a little strange taking pictures when I’m out running, like people will think I’m some kind of federal agent disguised as a friendly neighborhood jogger. My obvious lack of running prowess only serves to support this suspicion.
I stop along the way to shoot the hidden spring on North Street, the dismantled Wahl house, and the River Shore spring, along with some other neighborhood design gems. My legs are still stiff from my 15 mile run, and I don’t know why this run has taken so much out of me, but I don’t think that over training is the issue. I vow to be more diligent about my crosstraining sessions.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Would You Rather Rage Against The Machine Or The Dying Of The Light?

Seminole Heights 4.5mi
I’m out for a quick run around the neighborhood before it gets too dark, and my legs feel like they belong to a lazy old man. My joints are creaky and my muscles are sore. I keep feeling like one leg is shorter than the other, but I can’t decide which one. It keeps switching. My shoes are too tight and my clothes feel like I have them on backwards. Eventually I loosen up a little and I meander through the streets of Old Seminole Heights enjoying the quiet and the old houses lit by the setting sun.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Wendy O. Williams, Where Are You Now?

John Holmes 15mi
I rescheduled my normal Tuesday long run for Saturday so that I could run a 15-mile race on the Croom trails. The race was organized by the West Central Florida Adventure Racing Club (WeCeFAR) and was the “fun run” companion to the John Holmes 50K. The Croom Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest is located to the east of Brooksville and is home to many miles of trails which wind through a landscape of pine forests, cypress hammocks, scrublands, and HILLS. After some initial difficulty locating the race, I’m standing at the start with about 60 other runners of various ages, builds, and ability levels. The atmosphere is much less hectic than most of the races I’ve run, and the general vibe seems less like a competition and more like a bluegrass festival. A few people jog up and down the dirt road to warm up before the start, but most people are talking with friends and just standing around. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone stretching. The race director gathers us at the starting line, which he has drawn in the sand with his heel. He briefly explains the course to us, and counts down to the start: “five, four, three, two, one” and yells “BANG!” I’m off like a startled turtle.
The first half-mile of the course follows Croom Road to the east before heading north on a fire road and linking up with the trail. The amoeba of runners slowly spreads out and begins to divide into four smaller groups: the winners, the optimists, the realists, and the simply happy to be there. I find my place somewhere at the pessimistic end of the realists, struggling to stay ahead of the gap that the happy to be there are pushing up behind me. As the faster runners break away from us, someone behind me yells, “It’s only a fifteen mile race. Get it out of your system now.” I think I’ve found my pace group.
When I stop for my first walk break I’m passed by a couple of runners, but I catch up to them slowly on each run, getting a little closer each time before stopping to walk again. This looks like a good comparison of running vs. run/walking. At the second aid station, around mile four, I overtake them and then, gradually, I overtake a few other runners who started out ahead of me. I’m being passed occasionally, but these runners are obviously doing the 50K and are already on their third or fourth lap of the seven-mile loop course.
The hills and loose sand are working my calves in new and interesting ways, but my pace feels consistent and my heart rate hasn’t gone through the roof yet. I wish that the aid stations were a little closer together (at my pace I’m reaching them about every thirty minutes), but they are well stocked with drinks and snacks, and I laugh to myself that I’ll just eat my way through this race like it’s the world’s longest buffet line.
Around the end of my first seven-mile lap, I experience my first fleeting moment of what might be called “runner’s high”. I’m running through a cypress hammock by a marshy pond full of wild daisies and butterflies on the first truly cool morning of the year. I’ve just filled myself with M&Ms and electrolyte drink at the last aid station, my pace still feels good, and I’m not tired. I think to myself, all I have to do is run. The route is laid out for me, the blazes are easy to follow, there is food and drink at each stop, and the weather is beautiful. Just run. I’m glad I’m alone because I have this stupid grin on my face. The kind of grin I used to get as a kid when someone played the banjo or said something that no one else thought was funny. The kind of grin that you try to suppress and you just can’t. A laugh in church.
Throughout the morning I’ve been hearing the typical race-day platitudes of “looking good” and “keep it up” from the volunteers at the aid stations, but a few other runners have said things that actually seemed sincere. Looking back at me approaching them on the trail, they said, “Wow, you’re looking really strong, I’d better step aside.” Quite a few of these runners were doing the 50K and they had every right to look the worse for it. Their race started two hours before mine, and they were still out there. Still, the encouragement is nice and as far as I know I haven’t been passed by anyone who started behind me after the initial half-mile shakedown.
Somewhere around the thirteenth mile, “all I have to do is run” has become “the one thing I know that I can no longer run.” I try to push through it and I increase the frequency of my walk breaks, but still each three or four minutes of running seems to go on forever. I’ve fallen off my goal of a three-hour finish. Somehow I think my body has a way of preparing itself for the task ahead whether it’s three miles or fifteen miles. If I’ve decided that I’m going to run for three hours, when that time comes I just don’t have another fifteen minutes in me. This is definitely something to keep in mind when deciding on a marathon pace.
At the second to last aid station my disposition has taken a turn for the worse, and the volunteer handing out water looks at my shirt and says “Oh my God!” Earlier in the week I had done a little manscaping to my chest hair, thinking that a high-and-tight would be more comfortable in the heat than my old Tom Selleck sweater-vest. What I hadn’t realized was the level of nipple protection afforded by the deep loft of my chest hair. I look down for the first to time and realize that the front of my shirt is covered in blood from my chafed, sweaty nipples. The woman offers me some Vaseline, which I smear on by the fingerful as I limp off down the trail. Struggling through the last couple miles, I’m haunted by the image of that tub of Vaseline, wondering whose fingers have been in it today. Everyone who has touched it has slathered it onto a bloody, seeping rash. I’m just glad I’ve had my hepatitis vaccinations. At 3:14:10 I finally cross the finish line, amused and buoyed along by today's Deep Thought: when it comes to community Vaseline, I think there needs to be a strict prohibition on double dipping.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


I have been working on adding some new features to the site and they are finally ready to debut.
I have been playing around for awhile with different GoogleMaps mashups and I've finally found something that I'm relatively happy with. The mashup developed by Jared at CommunityWalk allows users to post markers, text, and multiple photos on their own GoogleMap, and it allows for various levels of depth through internal links and filters. The two maps that I have developed are in this site's sidebar under "Photomaps". The "Running Through Tampa" map is a companion site to this blog with photos and text excerpts tagged to their locations on the map. "Tampa Folksonomap" currently looks identical to the "Running Through Tampa" map because it only has my markers on it, but this map is open for other users to post their own text, photos, etc. This could be a powerful tool for us to develop a grassroots view of our community's history, culture, geography, etc. Follow the tutorials at CommunityWalk for directions on how to post to the map, and be sure to look at the other map communities for ideas and interesting information.
I have grown tired of deleting the comment spam from each new post, so I have turned on the word verification feature. Now you will have to prove that you are not a robot before you can comment.
Finally, in response to a conversation I had with Stefanie, I have added a "Reading List" to the sidebar for anyone who wishes to follow along.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The House Where Nobody Lives

Epps/Lowry 4mi


On Sunday I missed my run because I went straight from work to New Port Richey so that Mike and I could look over some video of the Furniture Challenge show at Chris’ house. Chris has been doing some marathon training of his own since we talked about this project on the night of the Furniture Challenge opening. We have been trying to get together to run without any luck until now.
On Monday morning, Chris meets me with his daughter Maya in tow. We head east along the Epps/Lowry route with Chris pushing Maya in her running stroller, and the three of us looking very much like an ad for the benefits of gay adoption. Chris is a former resident of the storied North Street Compound, and we talk about the history of these houses and their residents as well as the house across the street at the entrance to Epps Park. I had been told before that there is a spring beneath this house, and it is apparent from the constant flow of water from the yard into the storm drain along North Street.
Chris tells me that, allegedly, the spring had been a favorite swimming hole for neighborhood children, but after a child drowned there the city capped off the spring and filled in the hole. At some point later, a house was built on this spot and the owners only learned of the former spring when their foundation started to settle and the water began percolating up from beneath their house. The current owner of this property is almost universally reviled by everyone I have spoken to in this area, and he now seems to be engaged in some sort of squatter’s rights claim to Epps Park itself, as the fence around his house gradually expands to include more and more of the riverfront land.
As we run north along the river, Chris and I swap stories about the neighborhood and I get to point out some sights that I’ve mentioned in previous posts. In Lowry Park I spot The Squirrel Whistler coming towards us, and I dance in and out of the vermin lingering on the path as Chris steers the stroller from side to side.
My watch has died and we are just running by feel, taking walk breaks here and there, passing the small spring on River Shore Drive, and turning back to the south at the foot of the water tower. Crossing Sligh again at Highland, we run past Bert Wahl’s house at the corner of Highland and Hiawatha. I tell Chris about my memories of Wahl in the 80’s, showing up for parties at the Baldwin house on Hiawatha with spider monkeys and raccoons that he had rescued. If there was anyone in the neighborhood that was a nuisance in those days, surely it was us, not him. We always thought that his Wildlife Rescue operation was a selfless labor of love, but as time passed there were more and more allegations made about Wahl’s treatment of the animals, and about his right to keep them in the city limits. Wahl’s story, as I have come to know it, has all the intrigue and plot twists of either a great documentary or a terrible soap opera.
The first reference that I can find to Wahl’s long list of troubles comes from 1983 when he pled no contest to battery charges for locking an assistant in a panther cage. Normally the sole occupant of its enclosure, Wahl’s “Florida panther” was actually the descendant of generations of captive-born cats who had been interbred with other non-Floridian sub-species. This didn’t stop Wahl from presenting the cat as “full-bred” when he spoke to schools and civic groups about the need to protect the last of Florida’s panthers, a presentation that he gave regularly for a $200 fee. Wahl and his cat were frequently in the press as they shared the stage with political figures from Lawton Chiles to Prince Charles, and he was even credited as “animal wrangler” on the “wildlife unit” of the 1995 movie “Just Cause” starring Sean Connery, a division that also included the somewhat-less-prestigious classification of “fly wrangler”.
I remember thinking, along with many others, that Wahl’s mounting problems were largely political in nature and that the city, county, and state governments were on a mission to destroy a well-meaning individual who simply refused to bow to their authority. This is what Wahl said at the time, and it may have been the case for a while, until he started believing his own press. As time passed, Wahl was cited and arrested repeatedly for violations of city codes, improper handling of endangered species, animal cruelty, and neglect. Wahl was eventually sentenced to nine months in jail for the abuse of his 16 year old cougar “Old Man” when he “choked the cougar; dragged the cougar; dragged the cougar by a choker chain; punched the cougar; kicked the cougar; hit the cougar with a shoe; and jammed a mop and broom handle down the cougar's throat” in an episode that ultimately led to the animal’s death.
At some point, Wahl abandoned his house on Hiawatha where it sat and slowly caved in on itself. His last arrest on record was made on September 13, 2004, on charges of “maintaining a public nuisance”. I can only imagine that this refers to the condition of the Hiawatha house, which had deteriorated substantially after that summer’s string of hurricanes. And still the house sat, a monument to Wahl’s righteous indignation.
Today something has changed. There is a dumpster in the front yard and two men appear to be slowly dismantling what is left of the house. Looking at the overgrown cages in the backyard, I think back fifteen years and I can remember seeing the large cats lounging in the sun next to the rescued emus and river otters. Most of all, though, I remember the sounds. The strange, haunting cries of female panthers in heat that would echo through the neighborhood. A sound so loud that it would stop us in our tracks as we rolled metal garbage cans down the street in the middle of the night.


On Wednesday I run the same route again. This time I’m concentrating on my pace, my stride, and my breathing. There’s no need for me to stay conversational today. My watch is still broken, so I glance at the clock next to the television and run out the door. I know I’ve got a good pace going and I’m guessing the first mile comes in right around eight minutes. I close down the aperture of my senses and run. A little bit slower with each mile, but I’m still moving along nicely. Rounding the corner at Thomas and Highland I dig in for the last quarter-mile and sprint up the steps to the house. I have to get a look at that clock.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Beer Run

New World 4mi

Running to the bar has its advantages. For one, it’s a one-way route which is always more satisfying because it gets you twice as far from home. It is almost exactly four miles from my house to New World. This makes for some nice easy calculations. By most accounts, runners burn about 100 calories per mile regardless of their pace. Up to a point, the increased effort of a faster pace is offset by the decrease in time it takes to run the mile. This means that when you arrive at New World after having run today’s route in whatever time it takes you, mine today was a perfect 40 minutes for a 10 minute/mile pace, you will have earned yourself a happy hour discount of approximately 400 calories. Coincidentally, a pint of Guinness is almost exactly 200 calories, so you can have two pints before they even start to count. And after running four miles in the heat, you’re not going to want much more than two pints.
New World has a large outdoor patio so you don’t have to be all self-conscious about being the sweaty guy at the bar. People might ask why you’re looking so sporty, but when you tell them that you’ve run over hill and dale on your journey from the village in the north they’ll be so impressed they might even buy you another pint. Pints that you didn’t pay for don’t count either.
This leads to the last point. The fact that you are running to the bar means that there is going to be someone there to pick you up and drive you home. Of course technically you still haven’t had anything to drink, but, just to be safe, let them chauffer you home and watch your forty minutes of struggle glide by in ten minutes of air-conditioned comfort.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Toilet Humor For The Dinner Table

Rogers/34th Street 7.75mi

A weeklong battle with what turned out to be bronchitis forced me to take a few days off from my training schedule. I finally went to the “doctor” and got a prescription for a new single dose antibiotic. I think this stuff basically irradiates your insides and only leaves the buildings. Without being too specific, I’ll just say that when I dropped the kids off at the pool they were all Caucasians. Frightening!
I managed to make it back from my illness in time for my long run. Lately I’ve been thinking about the socioeconomic profiles of the neighborhoods that I normally run in and I’ve realized that most of my routes are through middle to upper middleclass white neighborhoods. I played around a little with a GoogleMaps mashup that imbeds maps with US Census data, and I started looking around the area for neighborhoods of different ethnicities and incomes. With a general idea of the areas that I wanted to cover, I decided not to preplan my route. This allowed me to explore more freely based on what I saw, and I simply ran for the amount of time that I thought it would take me to cover the requisite seven miles.
I start out headed east towards Old Seminole Heights where I take a lap around Lake Roberta with the other evening joggers and the ducks before continuing east on Henry Street. I had noticed on the aerials that Henry is one of the few streets that crosses the railroad tracks east of 22nd Street, and it goes through a more diverse, and generally poorer, part of town.
I figure that at my slowest pace I’ll run a twelve-minute mile, so if I want to run seven miles I should run for 1hour and 24 minutes. If I run any faster, the extra mileage will just be a bonus.
As I move east on Henry, gradually the wooden privacy fences turn to chain link, and kids on bikes making ramps out of plywood and cinderblocks supplant the joggers and strollers. I haven’t eaten much today, and I start to notice the smell of food being prepared as it floats out onto the street. For whatever reason, I think that poorer families tend to eat dinner earlier. Blue-collar workers usually start and finish their shifts earlier than white-collar workers, and roofing just builds more of an appetite than web design. At six in the evening, this neighborhood is filled with the smells of barbeque and cornbread.
At 34th Street I turn towards the river and follow River Grove until it meets Willie Black Drive on its way to the Rogers Park Golf Course. Named for the prominent black business leader G.D. Rogers, in Tampa's days of segregation Rogers Park was the only city park where blacks were allowed to picnic and later, to golf. I have been wondering if there is a way through the golf course that crosses Rowlett Park Drive, but I haven’t been able to find anything obvious on the aerials. I follow the cart paths west over the first two holes and find a shortcut along the railroad tracks into the Hobo Jungle.
Following Park Circle back to the west reverses the socioeconomic progression of the first half of the run, and I think about the median incomes rising slightly with each step. The sun has begun to set, and in the fading light I’m forced to rely on my other senses. I move forward, guided by the sound of my footsteps on the road, the taste of salt on my shirt as I touch it to my face, the aches in my feet from a new pair of shoes, and again the enticing aroma of food. It’s as if I’m riding the crest of this olfactory wave, where the forces of economics, leisure, culture, and cuisine come together to produce a dinnertime node that moves forward at about eleven minutes per mile. The smoke of the barbeque grills has softened to become a roast in the oven followed by the distinct fragrance of garlic and onions sautéing in olive oil. I run on in the dark past women in kitchen windows and men smoking cigars on porches.
At home I can smell my own dinner as I walk past the house for a brief cool down, and I open the door to a room filled with chicken parmesan and Jan setting the table. I drop my sweaty clothes, wrap myself in a towel, and sit down, shirtless, to eat.