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Gwazi Roller Coaster at Busch Gardens About to Close | Fond Memories of a Classic Wooden Roller Coaster

The blue and yellow trains of the Gwazi roller coaster at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida, are about to roll out of the distinctive thatch-roofed loading station one last time.

The iconic theme park recently announced that Gwazi will be closing on February 1, 2015. Let me tell you, I’m going to miss this ride.

Gwazi Closing

When I asked Busch Gardens spokesman Travis Claytor why Gwazi is closing, he told me that the decision to close the roller coaster “was based on several factors, including guest feedback, ride penetration, and operational costs, among others.”


Gwazi Brewed Many Memories at Busch Gardens Tampa

Gwazi Closing

Gwazi opened on June 18, 1999 in an area of the park that was once known for producing beer rather than screams. It was in 1995 that the Anheuser-Busch brewery, which had operated at Busch Gardens since the park opened in 1959, closed. The demolition of the brewery was a long process that would last into 1996, and the land would lay barren for two years after that.

I remember in 1998, news began swirling about the arrival of a wooden roller coaster at Busch Gardens. As I understand, a wooden roller coaster had long been on the Busch family’s wish list, and Tampa had never seen such a ride before. It was on the former brewery grounds that the new wooden roller coaster would rise to life.

Gwazi ClosingBy the end of the 1990s, Busch Gardens had long been known as a roller coaster haven. The park’s first roller coaster came on the scene in 1976 with the opening of the double-corkscrew attraction called the Python. Four years later, the 360°-looping Scorpion debuted. The much larger Kumba and Montu roller coasters would roar into the Tampa park in 1993 and 1996, respectively. All four of those rides, as well as the roller coasters that so far have come after Gwazi at Busch Gardens, were made from steel.

As Gwazi’s wooden bents were topped with track and the ride came together one piece of lumber at a time, the promotional campaign started rolling out in earnest. A huge, pexiglass-covered architectural model of the coming wooden roller coaster was proudly displayed inside the nearby Zagora Café. A Gwazi ride car sat nearby for guests to admire. My sister and I were even tapped to ride with dozens of others in the filming of a Gwazi TV commercial.

My sister and I, who were only in our teenage years at the time, were very excited about the Gwazi — a $10 million ride that, upon its opening, featured two hair-raising tracks intertwined into one unique attraction. The opening night event for the employees at Busch Gardens included an appearance by the aptly named R&B group The Coasters, who sang several hits, including “Yakety-Yak” and “Love Potion #9.” My sister and I even won a toothpick roller coaster design contest. The top prize? A trip to Sandusky, Ohio’s Cedar Point amusement park, the widely proclaimed “Roller Coaster Capital of the World.”

Much to the surprise of many who ride Gwazi today, the wooden roller coaster was originally quite tame, in terms of how “roughly” the ride rode. In fact, the cars shuffled very little over their tracks, and only the fastest areas of the ride — namely the bottoms of the larger drops and the tighter carousel turns — rattled the bones. For the most part, Gwazi remained smooth for at least its first year of operation.

Each of the two tracks is 3,508 feet long, ascending to a height of 105 feet, and featuring 91-foot main drops. With a top speed of 51 miles per hour, the trains on Gwazi’s two distinct tracks would leave the station simultaneously and fly by each other six times at a combined speed of more than 100 miles per hour.

Lines were long during that busy first season of operation, often winding nearly all the way back to the queue’s entry area. And, back in those days, there were two distinctive queue lines — one for the “Tiger” side (which ran blue trains), and the other for the “Lion” track, which fielded yellow toboggans. As the story behind the ride goes by the way, the namesake Gwazi is a mythical beast that’s half lion, half tiger. This tormented soul was at war with itself, thus inspiring the wild nature of the wooden roller coaster.

In many ways, Gwazi also became a ride at war with itself, as years of Florida heat and humidity would cause natural changes to the track — so much so that new Millennium Flyer trains were installed in 2010 to create a smoother ride. These new trains replaced the original toboggan-style cars installed by Gwazi’s builder, Great Coasters International. The new trains did help in creating a smoother riding experience. A year later, my now fiancée and I had our first-ever photo together snapped on that ride.

Of course, all good things must come to an end. The Tiger side of Gwazi quietly closed  after the end of the 2012 season. And now, official news releases from Busch Gardens confirm that the end of Gwazi is near.

So, off I go for one last ride to say goodbye to yet another Busch Gardens roller coaster; the first being the Python in 2006 and now Gwazi nearly a decade later. It’s always sad to bid adieu to classic rides like Gwazi, but the memories shall roll on forever.

Visiting MOSI in Tampa, FL – A Guide to the Museum of Science and Industry

MOSI TampaOne of the foremost museum experiences in Tampa, Florida, area has long been the Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI). I’ve grown up visiting MOSI and continue to enjoy visiting this award-winning science center as an adult.

Offering dozens of hands-on opportunities to engage in the scientific wonders that make up the world around us, MOSI is the largest science museum in the Southeast United States. MOSI offers an IMAX dome movie theater, planetarium, nature trail, butterfly habitat, and hurricane wind simulator, among dozens of other highlights.

One of the most popular exhibits is Kids in Charge! — a wing of the museum dedicated to teaching children about the science principles of the world around us with fun, engaging props and games. Throughout the year, MOSI also hosts several events, including Einstein on Food and Wine, and the Festival of Chocolate.


The History of MOSI in Tampa

MOSI dates back to 1962, when Hillsborough County approved funds for a youth museum in Sulphur Springs on the banks of the Hillsborough River. The small museum was originally named the Museum of Science and Natural History, and in 1967 became the Hillsborough County Museum. By 1972, the museum had its first professional director.

In 1976, the museum acquired its current site and in the late 1970s hired core professional staff to guide the new museum. In 1980, the facility was completed in it was opened to the public in 1982. By the late 1980s, more land was acquired to accommodate a multi-phase growth plan that includes the iconic IMAX dome structure and the Kids in Charge! wing to the west of the main exhibit area.

MOSI is a fully established museum with many credentials, including accreditation from the American Association of Museums and the Association of Science-Technology Centers.


Spending a Day at MOSI in Tampa

A trip to MOSI means planning on at least a half day of non-stop seeing, doing, and exploring. If you go during a busy time of the year, such as the summer, I’d simply allocate an entire day at the museum. I suggest arriving early and check out what is showing at the IMAX theater, which usually plays documentaries geared toward science as well as some popular films.

Sometimes the event floor has a feature exhibit or expo. Right now, 3D Printing the Future is going on, and this free event takes visitors through the amazing world of printing three-dimensional objects ranging from fashion accessories to body parts. You can even play with 3D concepts in the workshop area.

It’s easy to spend an hour or two at the main exhibition hall, and if you’ve got children in tow you’ll probably spend the same amount of time — or more — at Kids in Charge! I personally enjoy presentations at the Saunders Planetarium and riding the high-wire bike that is carefully balanced with a counterweight. Oh — that bike takes you 30 feet over the main lobby floor, so don’t look down!

There’s also a zip line and ropes course, which I’ve not had the chance to partake in yet but have heard is something I must do when I get the opportunity. The multi-level ropes course takes brave souls almost four stories above the ground, and the zip line takes thrill seekers 65 feet up along a total of 700 feet of cable.

Be sure to stop by the BioWorks butterfly garden. You could make hundreds of fluttering friends! On the way out, you might want to take a little trek through the historic tree grove, which flourishes with more than a dozen trees grown from seedlings of trees associated with significant people or events. For example, there’s a sweet gum that’s the seedling of a tree that witnessed the flight of the first airplane. I’m not sure what is more relaxing — time in the BioWorks butterfly garden or a leisurely stroll through the tree grove.


Where is MOSI in Tampa?

MOSI is in North Tampa at 4801 E. Fowler, so it’s right across from the USF Sun Dome and about 1.5 northeast of Busch Gardens, about halfway between I-75 and I-275.

MOSI is open Monday through Friday, 10 AM to 5 PM and Saturday and Sunday 10 AM through 6 PM.

General admission for adults is $22.95 and for kids 6-12 tickets are $18.95. MOSI also participates in CityPASS, the unique combo ticket that gets you into MOSI and other attractions in the area (including Busch Gardens) for a discounted price. Parking is $5.

Alessi Bakery Cuban Sandwiches, Scachatta & Pastries Rule

Alessi Bakery ScachattaTampa has several excellent restaurants that are considered iconic to the city — Alessi Bakery is one of those select places that are among the greats. Alessi Bakery dates back to 1912 and has been an institution in the city ever since.

Alessi Bakery is well known for its great Cuban sandwiches, delicious deviled crabs, sumptuous pastries, and elaborate wedding cakes. And I can’t write this piece without a shout out to the Alessi scachatta.

What is scachatta, you ask?

Scachatta is a type of flat, square pizza. Alessi’s scachatta is a Sicilian recipe involving a soft, evenly textured bread, lightly scattered cheese, a sweet — but not sugary — tomato sauce, and seasoned ground beef.

You could go to Alessi’s just for the scachatta… and many people do. But I have never left with scachatta alone. In fact, a meal at Alessi Bakery for me is never complete without a Cuban sandwich and something from the pastry counter.

And, at the place “where quality rules,” you will never be disappointed when you sink your teeth into an eclair, brownie, or one of their countless specialty sugar cookies. They always have something colorful for the season or nearest holiday, cookies celebrating the local professional sports teams, and they even sell political cookies. They even let you “vote” for your favorite candidate based on which cookies you buy.

Back to those Alessi Cuban sandwiches for a moment. Now, if you’re privy to the Tampa Cuban sandwich wars, you know that everybody has their own idea as to what bakery has the “best” Cuban sandwich, most “authentic” Cuban sandwich, or what have you.

Alessi Cuban sandwiches come on crunchy Cuban bread and are filled with ham, salami, Spanish pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and mayonnaise. As diehard Cuban sandwich aficionados know, a “real” Cuban sandwich doesn’t come with lettuce and tomato. If you want either of those on your Alessi Cuban sandwich, you better stop by the sandwich counter for a special order.

And while you’re at that special order counter, which is off to your left when you enter Alessi Bakery, be sure to buy a deviled crab or papa rellena (“stuffed potato”). If you’re like me, you’ll top them off with lots of Texas Pete hot sauce (packets are provided for free at Alessi Bakery) and have lots of napkins on hand (also complimentary!).

Last but not least, the service at Alessi Bakery is top notch. I’ve always been greeted with friendly smiles and helpful, courteous staff. The lines can get a little long during lunch, but isn’t that supposed to be a good thing? When it comes to the restaurant industry, I’ve always heard that long lines equal excellent food. Among the third generation of Alessi Bakery patrons in my family, I can see why this restaurant is as much a tradition in my household as it is in the Greater Tampa community.

If you want to stop on by and see for yourself how great Alessi Bakery is, they’re located at 2909 W. Cypress Street in West Tampa, about two miles west of downtown Tampa and around two miles southeast of Raymond James Stadium.

If the weather is nice, be sure you take some time to enjoy your meal on the covered deck attached to the west side of the bakery, or sit under the shade of the store’s covered front walkway — you will find plenty of tables and chairs in both locations. If you’re heading to the Florida State Fair in February, you can find Alessi Bakery selling their treats to fairgoers inside in the Expo Hall.

10 Ideas For Winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers Gifts

buccaneers-giftsThe Tampa Bay Buccaneers pulled off an incredible 27-24 last-moment win last Sunday against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Until September 28, 2014, we’ve never pulled off such a feat against the Steel Curtain in Blitzburgh.

And now with Walmart decking the halls with Christmas cheer, I’m getting in the mood to start buying gifts soon. So what shall I put in my gift “sack” (I warned you about my puns) for my fellow Buccaneers fans?

Here are 10 Buccaneers gifts sure to score some cheer:

#1 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tickets

What better gift can you get for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan in your life than tickets to a game? While Buccaneers tickets are among the most expensive gift on this list, they are the perfect gift to help make some cherished memories for that special diehard Bucs fan. Just hope and pray that the Bucs win that game!


#2 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl XXXVII Memorabilia

Whether it’s a good season or a rough one, we Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans will always have fond memories of a magical season when all the stars seemed to align and our team was on the path of glory. Not only did we go 12-4 in the 2002 regular season and walk onto the field against the Oakland Raiders at Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego, but we won, and did so decisively: 48-21.

Are your eyes misting as you recall the splendor of seeing our Buccaneers hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy? You could see tears of joy (hopefully joy) if you give a beloved Buccaneers fan near and dear to you some memorabilia of our Super Bowl win.

What about a glass Coca-Cola bottle emblazoned with Super Bowl logos and those familiar red and pewter hues? Or a souvenir book from the game? How about used ticket stubs from Super Bowl XXXVII? Local sporting goods stores may have some great Buccaneers Super Bowl XXXVII swag on hand.

If you can’t find what you want locally, then hit up eBay.


#3 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers Bobble Heads

I can never really get enough of those bobble heads. They are probably the most exciting thing to hit the knick knack collector’s shelves since the advent of those dashboard Hawaiian hula dancers that swept the kitsch market in the 1960s — back when mainland America was in love with tiki culture.

Many Buccaneers players both current and are immortalized by bobble head figures. There are tons of Buccaneers bobble heads out there. And they are a true keepsake. I still have my Jon Gruden bobble head from the days of Buccaneer glory.


#4 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jerseys

Any favorite players who that Bucs fan near and dear to you loves? Whether for an old-school Bucko who would savor wearing a retro creamsicle Lee Roy Selmon “63” jersey, a fan who thinks Mike “A Train” Alstott was THE pewter and red poster boy, or somebody who believes Quarterback Mike Glennon should stay as a starter (and will proudly wear #8) jerseys are super gifts for fans in your personal ring of honor.

Buccaneers jerseys are available in sizes from child on through adult, and there are now specially fitted jerseys designed for female fans.


#5 – A Piece of Buccaneers History

Tampa Stadium was the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from the team’s first game in 1976 all the way through the end of the 1997 season. During those years at the “Big Sombrero,” the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a lot of history — both good and bad.

But, in winning seasons and during those we’d rather forget, Tampa Stadium was the cradle for the team during the early days of the Buccaneers franchise. Any seasoned Buccaneers fan would love to own a piece of the stadium, or anything memorializing it.

Buccaneers Gifts

Be sure to check for Tampa Stadium concrete and field dirt on places like eBay or in Tampa-area novelty shops.

If you fail to find what you’re looking for in the way of concrete chunks or other physical relics, don’t forget there are many posters and postcards of Tampa Stadium that can be bought for less than $20.


#6 – Creamsicle & Bucco Bruce

Many fans may not want to admit it, but they do love that orange and creamsicle of yesteryear. The orange hues and Bucco Bruce, the face of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1976 right on through to the mid 1990s, will always have an important place in Buccaneers history.

It seems like I’m spotting more and more throwback Buccaneers items every year in sporting memorabilia stores and even big box retail outlets. But if you can’t find what you want locally, there’s plenty of creamsicle online.


#7 – Buccaneers Autographs

Why not buy some memorabilia signed by one of the players or coaches? Pieces like these vary in price, based whose autograph you’re buying and what item was signed. However, autographs from the more notable figures from yesteryear, including Lee Roy Selmon, Doug Williams, John Lynch, Mike Alstott, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and Ronde Barber, are tops on most any diehard Bucs fan’s wish list.

Don’t forget Buccaneers coaches Lovie Smith, Jon Gruden, Tony Dungy! Buccaneers autographs from our teams leaders, both past and present, make awesome gifts.


#8 – Buccaneers Car Swag

Maybe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan you’re thinking of already has his or her home decked out in pewter and red (or creamsicle), but maybe their car needs some Buccaneers-colored touch, too.

From magnets to flags to bumper stickers, there are plenty of great Buccaneers car accessories that’ll make any fan beam with Buccaneers pride on the road.


#9 – Buccaneers Yard Pennant

Could you tell that favorite Buccaneers fan of yours loved the team just by looking at their front yard? If not, maybe it’s time to buy something that will help them show all the neighbors that they’re living in the red zone of a true Buccaneers fan.

One of the boldest ways to do that is buying a Buccaneers yard pennant. These can be hung from flagpoles and are excellent for showing off some Buccaneers team spirit!

One caveat… If you can, find out whether or not deed restrictions in the Buccaneer fan’s neighborhood would prevent the display of flags, banners, and other similar items. You don’t want to get that favorite Buccaneers fan in trouble with the homeowners’ association!


#10 – Super Bowl XXXVII Video

Back to Super Bowl XXXVII again here…

And nothing brings back memories of one of the greatest moments in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ history than watching a video of Super Bowl XXXVII, when the Bucs beat the Oakland Raiders on an international stage.

VHS cassettes (remember those?) and DVDs of Super Bowl XXXVII range in price from around $10 up to $30.

History of the Sulphur Springs Water Tower

sulphur-springs-water-towerThe Sulphur Springs water tower is something that Tampa natives, recent arrivals to the area, and tourists alike can’t miss when they’re driving through parts of North Tampa.

As it turns out, that 214-foot-tall, white concrete tower has a pretty colorful history to it, and I wanted to dedicate this post to telling the great story about the unique Sulphur Springs water tower.

The tower has been watching over Sulphur Spring since the 1920s and is a reminder of the glory days gone by of a resort area that once catered to Tampa’s rich and well-to-do residents. While it served as a water tower for the community back in the day, and has long since become a widely recognized landmark.


The History of the Sulphur Springs Water Tower

The Sulphur Springs water tower was constructed in 1927 by Grover Poole. The tower served local residences and businesses, with the primary use going to the resort development Josiah Richardson had constructed on the site during the 1920s.

This resort included the Sulphur Springs Hotel and Apartments. Also nearby was Mave’s Arcade, which had become Florida’s first mall.

The Sulphur Springs water tower, built atop an artesian well, supplied the area with delicious drinking water and was a landmark in Richardson’s development.

The entire development unfolded on 13 acres right on the banks of the Hillsborough River.

A terrible flood that occurred after a local dam collapsed on the Hillsborough River damaged Mave’s Arcade and ruining Richardson’s business.


Changes To The Sulphur Springs Water Tower Over The Decades

While the Sulphur Springs neighborhood experienced changing economies and population shifts, the Sulphur Springs water tower continued operating. The aptly named Tower drive-in movie theater was built in 1951 on the site and was a popular destination for many locals into the late 1960s and into the 1970s.

In 1971, the Sulphur Springs water tower was decommissioned as a functioning water tower, with the City of Tampa becoming the main water supplier to homes and businesses in the area.

As the 1970s turned into the 1980s, the Sulphur Springs water tower stood blighted with graffiti and superficial deterioration. However, it remained an important and historic monument in the eyes of Tampa residents.

A few plans for residential and commercial development of the site have come and gone over the last few decades, each plan incorporating the Sulphur Springs water tower as a standing centerpiece.

sulphur-springs-water-towerIt was designated an historic landmark in 1989, and the graffiti was removed and the tower repainted. In the early 2000s, a local movement called Save Our Tower gained ground and managed to gain numerous supporters and a significant voice in preventing the commercial redevelopment of the site.

Finally, in 2005, the City of Tampa bought the property, sparing the tower from any threat of commercial and residential development. Lights were installed in 2005 so that the tower can be illuminated at night.

The site of the Sulphur Springs water tower is now known as River Tower Park, which has open, grassy areas, treed walkways, and views of the Hillsborough River and the Sulphur Springs water tower. There are plans to eventually build a walkway around the tower.


Where Is The Sulphur Springs Water Tower?

Though you can easily see the Sulphur Springs water tower from numerous points in the Sulphur Springs area, the best views can come from a drive along Florida Avenue (between Busch Boulevard to the north and Hanna Street to the south) and I-275 from Busch Boulevard to approximately Sligh Avenue to the south.

The Sulphur Springs water tower is just south of Bird Street between Florida Avenue and I-275.

Taking The Plunge on Falcon’s Fury at Busch Gardens in Tampa, FL

Falcons Fury Busch Gardens Tampa FLI finally had the chance to take the plunge on Falcon’s Fury, the newest ride at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida. My first foray on the 335-foot-tall drop tower was during an employee night event a couple weeks ago. While I’m not currently an employee at the famous theme park, my fiancee is, as was my sister at the time, so my lady and I rode along with sis and her boyfriend.

You may have seen Falcon’s Fury rising above the North Tampa tree line over the past year. The ride currently ranks as the tallest free-standing drop tower in North America, and the only one that turns its riders facedown before forcing them down to the ground.

Sound like fun yet?

Taking The Plunge on Falcon’s Fury

Let me tell you, that drop to the ground is swift – 60 miles per hour. For the record, that’s just about as fast as the top speed on Kumba and Montu, two of the other headlining rides at Busch Gardens Tampa.

Oh, and what about comparisons to SheiKra? Well, we were looking down at that red-colored behemoth from the top of Falcon’s Fury. From the southern side of the tower, our peripheral vision lent us views of downtown Tampa’s skyscrapers, buildings in downtown St. Petersburg and Tropicana Field, and the high-rises in downtown Clearwater.

A second ride on the north side of the tower let us easily see the rolling terrain of Zephyrhills. I’m sure on a clear day I could see Atlanta — perhaps if I squint with a pair of binoculars? And could see 500 miles?

Loose items are not allowed on Falcon’s Fury, and that includes cellphones. Don’t even try to bring your phone along for a ride — ride attendants wisely check riders’ pockets. Besides, you wouldn’t want your brand new iPhone 6 falling 335 feet, would you? I don’t think Apple’s drop test include spills from 33 stories high. Then again, I may be more willing to spend hundreds of bucks on a new iPhone 6 if it could survive a 335-foot fall. For now, I’m happy with my iPhone 5, but I digress.

If you happen to have any loose luggage in your pockets, you can simply place them within one of the stowaway bins located in the loading area or leave them with a terra firma-hugging friend.

Falcons-Fury-Construction-Busch-Gardens-TampaBut the outstanding views aside, what’s a ride on Falcon’s Fury like? If you can handle the drop on SheiKra, then you should do just fine on Falcon’s Fury. The free-fall portion of the drop on the new ride is about 5 seconds long, which is roughly a second or two longer than the thrilling, main descent on SheiKra.

As I’m pretty accustomed to riding thrill machines, the drop on Falcon’s Fury didn’t leave me running for the restroom or require the immediate purchase of new apparel, but being tipped forward in my seat at the top of the tower was particularly unnerving.

All those other Busch Gardens rides look pretty tiny from the top of Falcon’s Fury, and even SheiKra looks small from the top of the new drop tower.

An Historical Footnote About Falcon’s Fury

sandstormAs many longtime Tampa residents know, Falcon’s Fury replaced the Sandstorm orbiter ride, which opened in 1979 in the former Timbuktu area.

The Sandstorm was closed after the summer of 2013 drew to a close and has since been relocated to Sesame Place — another SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment Park in Langhorne, Pennsylvania.

The ride received a colorful makeover and now operates as Honker’s Dinger Derby.

Along with the opening of Falcon’s Fury, Busch Gardens has re-imagined the 35-year-old Timbuktu area as Pantopia, which serves as a crossroads for the many different nations and peoples that have stepped foot in Africa. After a ride on Falcon’s Fury, be sure to reward yourself with a tasty pretzel treat at Twisted Tales, which borrows recipes from the European-themed Busch Gardens sister park in Williamsburg, Virginia. Don’t forget to check out Painted Camel Bazaar, a unique gift shop at Busch Gardens featuring mainly recycled and upcycled items that make great, eco-conscious souvenirs.

If you liked the long-running but now-closed Critter Castaway show at Busch Gardens Tampa, be sure to check out Opening Night Critters, a fun feature with both animal and human actors in Pantopia Theater — incidentally, that was once the home of another live-animal show, Dolphins of the Deep, which soaked plenty of guests in the first several rows of seating from 1979 through 2002.

Other longtime Timbuktu attractions still exist in Pantopia, including the Scorpion roller coaster, Sand Serpent, and Phoenix — a looping starship ride that easily rivals Falcon’s Fury in thrilling guests at Busch Gardens in Tampa, FL.

Sticks are Now Firing – That Tampa Guy is Here!

Hello, Tampans! I’m Josh McMorrow-Hernandez, A.K.A. “That Tampa   Guy,” and I’m here to share my perspective on the city I love, the “other” City by the Bay — Tampa, Florida. Oh, the title for this first blog post, “Sticks are Now Firing”? If you don’t catch the meaning, that’s OK. I’ll talk more about that historical Tampa pun in a minute. But first, let me tell you more about who I am and why I’m writing this blog.

I was born on May 2, 1981 at Women’s Humana Hospital on Buffalo Avenue, a street that was renamed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd eight years later.  My dad has been an employee at Busch Gardens since 1979; my maternal grandfather was an audio engineer at WTVT-13 from 1955 through 1980, and he and my grandmother ran Colonial Beach on Egypt Lake during the 1950s; my paternal great grandparents were in the  Ybor City cigar industry. Suffice it to say, Tampa courses through my blood.

I grew up with a love for my city and a penchant for putting pen to paper. So it was a surprise to nobody who knew me well when I was growing up that I’d eventually write a book about Carrollwood, the popular Tampa suburb on the fringe of which I had grown up. Writing Images of America: Tampa’s Carrollwood for Arcadia Publishing afforded me the great honor to meet Lois Abbott Yost, a longtime historian and several members of the Bearss family, a name that is familiar to most Tampa-area residents.

I’m now writing my second book, which will be a pictorial journey through the Tampa Bay area’s tourism industry from the second half of the 20th century. Images of Modern America: Tampa Bay Landmarks and Destinations should be on bookshelves in spring 2015 and will hopefully allow many people to relive some great memories of the Tampa of yesteryear.

As much as I study and enjoy Tampa history, I also love the Tampa of today, and you’ll see a lot of both in my posts to come. New restaurant in town? You’ll probably read about here. Big news story going down in Tampa? I may be talking about it. Like “Then-and-Now” photos? I’m sure to post them. My stance on the persistent Cuban Sandwich wars? I’m not going to assume the role of Sweden in that battle. And speaking of Sweden, I may even talk about the Tampa IKEA, the best Tampa restaurants for Swedish meatballs, and ABBA’s Tampa concert — should a reunion tour ever materialize, that is. In other words, this blog will be a “smorgasbord” of Tampa topics, and I hope you’ll keep coming back for seconds, thirds, fourths, and thousandths (P.S. – prepare thyself – I love puns; I hope you do, too).

So before I wrap up this inaugural post, what’s up with the title of my first That Tampa Guy blog post? OK, students, open up your history books to Page 2 of Tampa History 101 (not yet an actual book, but it should be). “Tampa” is a Calusa word that is believed to mean “sticks of fire,” which was either a reference to a major native camp site or pine trees that were set ablaze by lightning.

Apparently, we’ve always been the lightning capital of North America.