Politics after Dark
It's always after dark when the real political junkies start to gather in a back room of Elections Supervisor Kathy Dent's office. A half-dozen computer monitors on a table along one wall stare blankly with blue screens of death as the candidates, their handlers, sitting elected officials, reporters and even a few interested citizens gather to watch the election results come in.
It's always a little tense, as you can imagine. Conversations, even among reporters who should be used to this kind of thing, are cordial but strained. Everybody knows the candidates' futures are going to be revealed in the next hour or two and everybody is optimistic, but absolutely nobody is happy, no matter how they're acting-at least not yet.
Suddenly television lights come on over in a corner and Linda Carson is talking fast and it always seems, a little too loud, telling Channel 40 watchers that "results haven't started coming in yet...but we're here to keep you up to date..."
And then finally, the screens along the wall flicker to life and the first numbers appear.
By the time it's over, everybody is looking relieved, even the losers. The Herald-Tribune reporters have continuously chatted into their cell phones, presumably giving numbers to their cable outlet, lovingly known as "Snooze News." Television lights go on and off so many times you loose count, and so you hit the government- supplied cooler one last time for yet another diet Coke.
In the old days there was always some whiskey around, but like smoking, that's out of style here now.
Election night is always a chance to say hello again to old friends, watch both newcomers and old-timers struggle with their futures and feel as though you've witness another critical cycle in the life of Sarasota-or anywhere in the country, actually.
It's election night, when the political junkies gather after dark, and stay until it's really over.
Walk, Don't Walk
Any traffic engineer will tell you his goal is moving people. The question in Sarasota is, how?
When planning guru Andres Duany came to town a couple of years ago, he advocated creating "a walking community" that put pedestrians and bicyclists on at least the same footing (you should pardon the expression) as automobiles. It sounded like a lovely idea and the local political leaders have been talking about "a walking community" ever since.
But the first tentative efforts to create "a walking community" have met heavy opposition, not so much from city residents, but from some residents of Longboat Key who say they're hugely concerned with getting to Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
That concern came to light when a downtown "mobility study" drew howls of protest from Longboaters as the city contemplated fulfilling one of Duany's primary goals, re-connecting the downtown to the bayfront. You see, that involves slowing down traffic along the bayfront to perhaps 25 miles an hour and even narrowing the road to make it easier for pedestrians to cross.
"With all due respect, that's absolutely insane," local attorney Dan Lobeck said at one downtown mobility meeting. But what the idea may or may not be isn't the issue, according to the chairman of the study. "That's a war that's already lost."
An island tale (OR TAIL?)
Locksmith Bob and Mr. Wizard are becoming a legendary duo on a nearby barrier island we won't name to protect the innocents there.
You see-and it really does take an island setting for characters like these to emerge-Mr. Wizard, the Cairn terrier at a certain island newspaper office, likes to inflict as many small puncture wounds as possible every month or so on Locksmith Bob. It goes back to his puppyhood.
Let me explain. Like so many people in today's society, Locksmith Bob really doesn't know much about handling animals and so, almost like a child, he used to "play with" (actually innocently tormenting) Mr. Wizard when "Wiz" was a pup. Now Locksmith Bob certainly didn't mean anything harmful playing with the pup, but like I said, he really doesn't know anything about animals, either.
Like the fact they remember things.
So now, a couple of years later, whenever Locksmith Bob has to renew his advertising at the newspaper office next door, he also has to encounter Mr. Wizard, who usually hangs way out back in a room where his food dish "requires" his protection.
But let Locksmith Bob, however quietly, sneak in the front door-he only has to speak, and at the sound of that voice, Mr. Wizard begins the long run to the main desk up front. Did I mention that one of a Cairn terrier's main talents is jumping?
Boy, can they jump. Just ask Locksmith Bob.
"Lemme sign that, here take my check," he yells, making for the front door as quickly as possible at the sound of all those dog toenails clacking on the tile floor. Because if he's too slow, Locksmith Bob has to endure a jumping fury that jumps and nips, jumps and nips again. If Bob isn't lucky, you might even notice a little of his blood on the floor later.
Here in town that kind of action could cause yet another boring lawsuit. But not on an island. No, islands are different kinds of places. Just ask Locksmith Bob.
It's summer and that means a visit to the granddaddy of Sarasota's outdoor luncheon spots--the Hob Nob. Sure, the menu has been gentrified a bit with items like potato-crusted grouper salads, but the old standby burgers, subs and shakes are all still there, as is the ice-cold draft beer.
And there's been one huge improvement.
Remember all the Hob Nob's spiffy black-and-white tiles on the walls and waitress uniforms to match? The waitresses that call everybody "Hon"?
Now there's a sparkling new matching black-and- white-tiled laundromat right next door. Think about that. A laundromat with a bar-or is it the other way around?
Regardless, everybody eats at the Hob Nob, and I mean everyone. Just some of us do our laundry, too. Look for it at the corner of North 301 and 17th Street.
No doubt the most common question being asked over and over again by a certain group of Sarasotans-those who've learned what it is to really eat well-is "Is Whole Foods really going to happen downtown?" For an answer and some details about what's been lauded as America's most upmarket supermarket, we turned to George Linder, project manager of the proposed Whole Foods project, which is planned to take an entire block in downtown Sarasota. He works for the project developer, Casto Southeast, and most recently completed a mixed-use project for them in Winter Park.
Q: So, George, is Whole Foods really going to happen in Sarasota?
A: Yes, it is. No question about it. We're moving forward with the site plan with the city now.
Q: When will it open?
A: We're looking at the third quarter of next year. The project is on a fast track process and the city is cooperating. A grocery store is part of the city's downtown plan and we're going to make it happen.
Q: Can you tell us about the rest of the project?
A: It will also contain about 600 parking spaces, 300 of them public. We'll have 25,000 square feet of retail space and we're proposing 96 condominiums. They'll be upscale condos, but we haven't established any prices yet.
Q: How easy or difficult are you, as a private developer, finding it to work with city government?
A: The city has very ambitious redevelopment goals and downtown master plan. This project helps achieve both goals, the plan and redevelopment. Honestly, the city has been a pleasure to work with.
Q: So what keeps you awake at night?
A: Only the very aggressive project schedule. Really, there are no other nightmares.