Introducing Kevin and Nicole’s Bike Tour

Right now, two friends of mine — Kevin and Nicole — are furiously pedaling down the backroads of the East Coast on two bicycles.

Their goal: To bike from Maine to Key West. With about three rest days.

Seems a little crazy? Well, Kevin Miner is known for his bold behavior. He’s penned editorials that put him in the cross-hairs of the rabid Free Republic website. And in 2006, he ran for governor of Connecticut, quite possibly the youngest gubernatorial candidate in that state’s modern history.

His newest venture is equally audacious. After taking a leave from their jobs, Kevin and Nicole set out on a 2,600-mile journey to see the country, visit some organic farms and, well, basically say they did it.

The couple has already spent a few weeks out on the road and I’d encourage you to visit their blog. I know many bicycle fans read this site, so it would be great if you could show some support. Good luck Kevin and Nicole!

Smiley of Des Moines, Iowa

My ’80s hair metal friend Mike and I used to drive up and down the streets of Des Moines, just passing the time in a city known for its fertile women and large insurance companies.

We had a system: Mike looked out for the women and I looked between the insurance buildings for a job I might be able to keep for more than two weeks.

We passed by our friends’ houses, our rivals’ houses and the old folks’ houses.

We honked at the old folks. With a blind kindness particular to the Midwest, they just turned around and waved, never really knowing who it was.

We passed the Glendale Cemetery a lot. We both have friends buried there — one the victim of a tragic high school car accident, the other a recent war hero. Across the street is another reminder of death — the house where a friend shot himself to escape his life.

One spring day, we drove north up Hickman Road until we reached Merle Hay Road, when I saw, standing in the grassy median to our left, a glimpse of some shabby clothes with a black man inside. He was dressed in black jeans and a tattered red flannel, stooping at the waist, waving his long dark arms. It could only be . . . Smiley!

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The story behind the Christmas Card

Every year, I send out a Christmas card. But I try and send something a little less like the traditional, boring here’s-my-baby/dog/family-for-your-enjoyment. Last year, I sent out a picture greeting card featuring an ex-marine waterboarding me. A few years before that, I sent out a photo and story about my night inside an inflatable newspaper costume. The year before that, well, let’s just say I have a lifetime ban from that coffeeshop. So, in keeping with my Gonzo tradition, here is the story behind the Christmas card:

So there I was – standing in front of a dozen Pennsylvania police officers in full riot gear, clubs and tear gas ready, with only a press pass to protect me. And even if that press pass was real, reporter credentials didn’t mean anything on the fortified streets of Pittsburgh.

Just minutes earlier, another phalanx of riot cops charged a group of protesters and bystanders a few blocks over. And that was just minutes after police rolled out L-RAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) — a crowd-control device strapped to a military truck that emits a piercing, debilitating tone. This was the first time such a device had been used in the United States.

Yep, the G20 Conference was underway and for the last six weeks, Pittsburgh city officials and the media had scared residents into allowing a small version of a police state right on the banks of the Allegheny River.

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Feral cats invading Pinellas County (and my backyard)

I first met Frisky about three weeks ago. It was a short interaction. I came crashing through my back gate with a load of groceries; she ran as fast as her little legs could carry her.

Oh, a new cat, I thought. Maybe it’ll make friends with the other stray cat that haunted this side of Crescent Lake – a large, tenacious stray tabby with absolutely no fear. His torn ear and smashed in face gave the impression the cat had been hit by a car – or several.

But this new cat seemed less street-savvy. She was dark grey, striped with darker grey, with a large head plopped on a much smaller frame. Her ribs stuck out. She had obviously not eaten as well as the other strays.

So, I began leaving cans of cat food outside. Last year, in one of my more unusual interactions at Crescent Lake, I inherited about a dozen cans of Nine Lives cat food from an odd couple staying at the motel across the street.  These very distraught folks had lost their cat, Tiger, who turned up in my backyard. I know this because I came home one day to find an older, shabbily-dressed man climbing out from under my deck.

“Uh, who are you and what are you doing?”

“Oh, Tiger, Tiger, my cat, she’s escaped and under-”

Hi reply was broken by sobbing from his girlfriend standing behind me.

“Oh, please, PLEASE, HELP ME FIND TIGER!”

They left after I assured them I would capture the cat. Tiger must’ve thought they were as crazy as I did because he came out about five minutes later. I scooped him up and dropped him off at the couple’s hotel room. They were so happy I found Tiger that they gave me a dozen cans of cat food, for what use I don’t know. Perhaps to offer to Tiger when he showed up again.

I never saw Tiger, or the couple, again. But I did begin to see this new grey cat,  usually for just a few seconds at a time. Every other day, I left a can of food for her. I never saw her approach, but the can was always empty the next day. That cat was so skittish; in fact, I almost stopped leaving cans out, fearing I was giving the possums or raccoons a free meal.

Which is why it was so surprising when, one day, the cat suddenly came right up to me, purring, meowing loudly and trying to force its furry little body inside my house.

Immediately, I began to see a lot of her. She brushed up against my leg every time I stepped outside. She purred and tried to jump in my lap when I sat down. And she meowed. Constantly. For hours on end. When I went out to my car, she followed me meowing. When I stepped out on the porch, she followed my voice around the house and began another round of meowing. One night, when my friend Sal stopped by to chat on the porch, she meowed for over three hours straight.

It took me two days to figure out why. This cat was, well, feeling frisky (hence her name). She was in heat. Sure enough, over the next, Frisky presided over her own harem under my deck. I saw a lot more of the tough tabby, a fatter grey cat who only appeared on the weekends and a few other felines I’d never seen before, no doubt attracted from blocks around by Frisky’s incessant meowing.

“Great,” I groaned. Little baby Friskies all meowing on my back porch. I shuddered at the thought. Unfortunately, I was (and am) working constantly and there’s just no time to take her to the free spay clinic.

Coincidentally, feral and stray cats are in the news again.

According to a report by the St. Petersburg Times, there are an estimated 100,000 stray cats roaming Pinellas County. County officials have known about the problem for years, but this year they decided to create a focus group to study the issue.

From the article:

Tuesday, the group presented the results of the yearlong study at a special commission work session at the Pinellas County Courthouse. Commissioners agreed to take the group’s suggestions to promote spay and neuter education, support and expand the spay and neuter programs for low-income citizens at Pinellas County Animal Services, and share resources like the county’s Animobile with nonprofit animal groups.

Doesn’t it seem like this should have been done years ago? After a year-long study, you’d think they’d have some more, uh, innovative ideas. Well, at least they aren’t going to go around killing them all as the Clearwater Audubon Society suggested.

I’m happy to say Frisky is no longer in heat. But she is still hanging around, meowing and generally trying to adopt me as her owner. Unfortunately, I can’t have a cat. Too many reasons to list here. So, if anyone can help, please e-mail me.

She’s very loving, I can assure you.

Introducing Routes Music!

For all the bad rap unemployment gets, there are a few advantages.

One, you get to join an exclusive club of 15 million. Two, when panhandlers ask for money, you have the best (honest) excuse ever: “Sorry man, I’m out of a job, too.” And third, you have the ability to take on risky projects for little or no pay that add something important to the cultural fabric.

The latter is Routes Music.

For the next month, I’ll be working on a music documentary with my friends Philip Bardi and Terrence Duncan. Routes Music is a documentary film acting as a roving music census, taking in the true musical passions (and disgusts) of folks like you and me, and folks like him and her, all across a place we like to call America.

Beginning in Florida, we’re traveling across the country — and generations — to find out the music Americans are listening to right now. Our journey began in Orlando on Oct. 19 and we’re making our way west across the states to California, stopping along the way to interview local bands, take footage of live performances and chat with anyone and everyone –- punk kids, grumpy grandmas, teenage hippies, soccer moms, seasoned scenesters, rednecks and roughnecks, straight-edgers, middle-aged conservatives, middle-aged liberals, carpetbaggers, scallywags, music lovers, music haters and telepathic animals.

The halfway mark is Phish 8, a three-day festival in Southern California where thousands of music fans will unite to enjoy the live sounds of a single, seminal jam rock band. After the festival, the documentary meanders through the Midwest and South to further explore the influences that keep America rocking.

(Read more about the basis for the documentary at routesmusic.com)

Routes Music will be filmed in two parts. What does this mean? Besides the standard film, we plan to keep a record of our daily experiences on the road via regularly updated posts and videos uploaded.

Since we need gas money, we’re looking for ways to make money with the content we produce while on the road. So, we’ve partnered with Creative Loafing and we’ll post regular updates/videos/articles about our trip to CL‘s Daily Loaf blog. If we get enough hits on the posts, they’ll send us a check! Although some of my readers are not hip on the Loaf, I’d urge everyone to click on what we write and help us get all the way across the country.

I hope you’ll be following me on the road!

Become our Facebook or MySpace friend! Follow updates as they happen on Twitter!

Best of G20: The People’s March

On September 25, the last day of the G20 conference, several groups organized a “People’s March” from the University of Pittsburgh campus through downtown. Weeks ago, the city granted a permit for the march and accompanying rally, but that didn’t stop scores of riot cops from escorting the estimated 5,000 protesters through the city. At one point, the crowd stretched eight blocks long, the hodgepodge collection of activists chanting, beating drums and holding every manner of protest signage. Here’s the people that stood out:

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Best of G20: The Resist G20 March and Rally

On September 24, the first day of the G20 summit, activists affiliated with Resist G20 gathered at Pittsburgh’s Arsenal Park for a rally and march to downtown. The organizers did not have a permit to march; in fact, they never even applied. They had this strange notion of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which allows people to assemble and petition the government for grievances. Nothing about a permit in that document.

But city would not be outdone. They sent a phalanx of bike cops, state troopers and riot cops to prevent protesters from leaving the neighborhood. To prove their point, they blocked several streets not allowing activists or residents out or in, and then rolled out the newest form of crowd control: the L-RAD or Long Range Acoustic Device. The device — popular with the Communist government of China and the repressive former Russian satellite country, Georgia — emits an ear-splitting siren. The L-RAD had never been used in the U.S. before the G20 summit.

Eventually, a stand-off ensued between protesters and police. After a few anarchists stoked the tension, police fired teargas, cordoned off the protest and waited until factions of anarchists took the police to another part of the city.

Best Pittsburgh Photo Op

Best Assassination Threat on a Bed Sheet

Best Undercover Cop

The woman in the middle

The woman in the middle.

Best Use for a Stuffed Bird

Most Annoying Riot Control Device

The Best of G20: Best Use of an Inflatable Creature at a Protest

On September 23, the day before the G20 conference began, several unions held a “Green Jobs Rally” at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Three Survivaballs showed up for a little satirical humor. Created by the Yes Men, Survivorballs are the newest answer to climate change. Instead of dealing with climate change now, goes the joke, Survivorballs are self-heating, self-cooling and self-powered pods designed to weather any climate catastrophe. Of course, only rich people can buy them.

Kelly, my G20 partner in crime, shot the above video. Below is my own interview with another Survivaball:

The Best of G20

The G20 is officially over.

All the delegates from various countries are gone. Last night, President Obama left for the airport via motorcade (and severely screwed up my exit of the city, I might add). And most protesters have left the couches and squat houses of Pittsburgh. Well, at least those that are not still in jail.

Everybody is calling the event a success:  President Obama, the other G20 members, the city of Pittsburgh, even the perpetually angry anarchists. I’m not so sure about “success,” but that’s for another blog post I’m working on.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of electricity where I was staying for the week, regular updates of the events surrounding the G20 were not possible. But I did attend numerous protests and meetings, some more successful than others.

To let my readers digest the myriad of groups and causes, I’ll post a guide of the most important, interesting or humorous aspects of the protests surrounding the G20. All of the photos and videos were shot by me unless otherwise noted.

Enjoy!

Newest St. Pete Campaign Trick: Chalk Ads

IMG_2973Even if you don’t know who Jacob Christiano is, chances are you’ve seen his work: long poems carefully lettered in brightly colored chalk along St. Petersburg sidewalks. Or, more recently, Christiano’s work has appeared on the grounds of the Saturday Morning Market, directing visitors by chalk to food and craft vendors like some guerrilla copywriter. But over the last few weeks, Christiano’s eye-catching handprints have found another niche: political campaign ads.

Earlier this month, Christiano’s perfectly chalked prose invited voters to have a drink with mayoral candidate Jamie Bennett. For a small fee, of course, he’s colored downtown with other messages for Bennett’s campaign. Now, he’s doing work for city council candidate Karl Nurse.

This is the first time I’ve seen chalk ads used in any major political campaign. Sure, my activist friends in college used to scrawl messages on the sidewalk urging students to boycott some corporation or show up and protest the administration for one slight or another, but never a (wannabe) elected official actually paying money to look, well, hip.

And, despite the views of some political pundits, I like the concept. For one, Christiano is a good artist that adds character to sometimes sterile downtown St. Pete and deserves to make some dough off a service he’s done free for the last few years. Also, chalk campaigning is environmentally-friendly. Without it, Bennett could have printed up a few hundred paper fliers announcing his “bartender for a night” campaign schtick. But instead, he chose another medium that washed off with the next rain.

That’s kind of cool. Much more hip than these hokey bartender for a night gimmicks. But that’s another blog post …

Hermit Crab Holocaust

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As seen at Wings Beach Wear on St. Pete Beach.

Unfortunately, I did not have my good camera at the time — only my cellphone — but rest assured these crabs are dead. When handled, they fell out of their shell (dead). If you look closely, you can spot some shell-less crab corpses in the water and next to the bowls. I wish this blog had “smell-O-vision” to get the full effect.

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Environmental group wants to ban swimming with manatees. My solution: Create the Sea Cow Narc Force

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Two years ago, during a cool week in March, an out-of-town friend and I made an early morning trek to Crystal River, Florida. Our goal: Get our manatee on.

Crystal River lies in Citrus County, which is the only place in the world where humans are legally allowed to swim with the endangered manatee, that sweet tub of sea cow that is as synonymous with Florida as alligators and large mice. In fact, there is hardly any other reason to visit places like Crystal River, a town of 3,600 with a nuclear power plant and several trailer parks. The manatee tours have put this little hamlet on the map and led to one-of-a-kind human/animal interactions that have touched thousands of people’s hearts.

So, naturally, a few slack-jawed yokels had to ruin it for the rest of us.

In 2007, animal rights activists filmed some Crystal River visitors harassing the manatees — chasing them, riding them, separating moms from babies — and then released the videos to media outlets. Reporters followed the story and, for a while, it seemed the tours that made Crystal River famous might halt.

829665-R1-030-13ALuckily, cooler heads prevailed and federal wildlife officials did not immediately ban the practice. My friend and I went on to have awesome time viewing these gentle creatures in their natural habitat. I rank that day as one of the best ever in Florida, or anywhere else for that matter.

But earlier this month, an environmental group — Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility — filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking the federal agency to ban the practice of swimming with the manatees. PEER is the first group to formally petition the agency and they’re leaving open the possibility of litigation.

Honestly, I can’t blame the activists. Harassing manatees is akin to pushing down old ladies — maybe worse. Old ladies at least have purses to smack you with; the gentle manatee has no way to defend itself. The animal cannot even swim very fast and the shallow depth of the springs makes an escape from some belligerent fratboy impossible.

But, at the same time, banning such a Florida tradition over a few ignorant tourists seems a bit, well, overboard. The PEER group even decrys touching the manatees at all. If they’ve ever been in these waters they’d know: some manatees like people and enjoy being petted on the tummy or scratched under the flipper. The law says to allow the manatee to come to you first. I think that’s a good rule for any animal.

So what’s the solution?

Like many problems, we already have the solution. The rules just have to be enforced — vigorously. So I have a proposal: The Manatee Narc Force. [Enter patriotic horns]

bmanatee006The idea is simple: volunteers and/or state wildlife officials hang out undercover in Crystal River waters or secretly attend the many tour guides that take visitors out on springs for some manatee action. The Manatee Narc Force watches for violators of the official Manatee Code.

If someone is found harassing a manatee, the Manatee Narc Force immediately fines them $500 — about five-times the cost of the average manatee tour. Depending on the severity of offense, jail time of up to 60 days is possible.

This is already the law. But we need to go a step further.

Under this proposal, the Manatee Narc Force will hold tour operators to a higher standard. If the Manatee Narc Force fines three visitors from the tour boat’s party in a 12-month span, they will fine the tour operator $3,000. Hell, make it $10,000. That way, after a violation, some tour guides might even order everyone back on the boat for the rest of the trip, with no refunds. If that happened, you can be sure Mr. Manatee Molester will get his ass beat in the parking lot by some dad with two upset kids. Hell, I’d do it.

Also, if a tour company has more than 10 violations in a five year period, the Manatee Narc Force revokes the company’s right to be in the water. Problem solved.

“But how will we pay for such enforcement?” my conservative friends ask.

Simple: the fines.

If that’s not enough (and hopefully if they are doing the job it won’t be enough), the federal government and Crystal River will pony up the additional funds. After all, Crystal River is benefiting from the tourism and they stand to lose a lot more money if the ban goes into effect. Plus, considering the manatee is federally protected and the Manatee Narc Force would create jobs desperately needed in that area, the proposal should qualify for stimulus funds.

This isn’t some grand scheme. There are already laws, fines and punishments in place to deal with manatee harassment. The problem is enforcement. As one local TV station reported, state officials only cited one person last year — after nearly 1,600 hours of patrol in an area that hosts nearly 100,000 visitors a year. Folks, if we want to keep this unique Florida treasure, we must be more strict.

Let’s create the Manatee Narc Force before it’s too late.

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10 things to do in Tampa Bay after 3 a.m.

Sure, we don’t live in a 24-hour mecca like Las Vegas or New York City, but that doesn’t mean we have to end the night at 3 a.m. Whether you’re an insomniac or just a club-goer who doesn’t want the party to stop, here’s a guide to enjoying Tampa Bay ‘til the sun comes up.

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Out of Work Journalists: Ever thought of street performing?

IMG_6186I have a fascination with street performers. The more in a locale, the more I love the city. There is just something so Renaissance about musicians laying down the soundtrack to your town. So, obviously, I also love the musicians in the New York subway system.

Well, Simon Owens of Bloggasm sent me a link to one of his posts about a street musician in the New York subways. But what really piqued my interest was this particular performer is an unemployed journalist like myself.

From Owens’ blog:

McGookin took a severance package from his journalism job at Forbes.com about a year ago, and since then has proceeded to burn through his savings while looking for further employment. Like the thousands of other out-of-work journalists that are trying to find jobs in a shrinking industry, he hasn’t come up with any offers. So not long ago he decided that he wanted to try an experiment: for years he had been fascinated by the culture of performers that roam the underground of New York; he watched them play on his daily commute and sometimes even stopped to talk to them and give them money. What if he decided to join them?

The post is really good and offers a link to McGookin’s own blog that details his daily experiences underground in NYC. I highly recommend checking it out.

(BTW, That’s my photo from a recent trip to NYC)

St. Petersburg OKs community gardens; related: benefit at Shuffleboard courts

It’s another great day — for community gardens — in St. Petersburg: The St. Pete City Council approved zoning for community gardens in the city, provided a few conditions are met. A great step for the city, environmentalists and especially those intrepid gardeners in Bartlett Park. (Of course, I prefer my community gardens to be guerrilla affairs, but that’s another blog post.)

So, to celebrate, the group behind the veggie liberation front (Green Florida) is holding a fundraiser at the Shuffleboard courts tonight. Catch all the info here.

(In case you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, here’s a link to the first article ever on the Bartlett Park community garden. Let’s just say I know a good thing when I see it.)

Courtney Campbell Causeway (Davis Causeway) circa 1934

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This 1934 photo is courtesy of Gus Muench, who you might remember as the champion of Cockroach Bay. He’s still trying to get that little slice of Old Florida protected. Here’s a message he sent with the photo:

My whole family fished from this bridge in the 40’s and never got hit by cars. Today, you would be dead in 2 minutes after walking out on the original Davis Causeway Bridge now Courtney Campbell. If we can’t understand how future growth in boating will destroy Tampa Bay seagrasses; it’s because our heads are buried in the sand … and that’s sad!