This is somewhat of a homecoming for me. With this column for Siesta Sand, I am returning to my roots.
Since I was a child, I always loved small town community newspapers. I grew up on Siesta Key, and started working at the Pelican Press just a year out of “J-school,” the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. For those who weren’t here or don’t remember, The Pelican Press was Siesta Key’s premiere weekly community newspaper for 40 years. I was there for 10 of them.
Starting as a cub reporter, I worked my way up to columnist and associate editor. Among many other things, I took care of the “B” section, the arts and entertainment stuff, working with writers and columnists, editing content and laying out the pages. I also wrote two columns of my own: “Island Beat,” which is exactly what it sounds like – happenings and business coverage on Siesta Key; and “In the Groove,” a music column usually featuring local acts.
I got to work with some true luminaries in the field. Editor Anne Johnson, who taught me the art of the light red pen, allowing the writer to maintain his or her own voice; former Sarasota mayor and ace county reporter Jack Gurney, who showed me how to follow the money; and my friend, the late wordsmith and fearless city reporter Bob Ardren. I tried for years – unsuccessfully – to convince Bob he should write his memoirs.
I didn’t realize how good of a group it was until I left the Pelican Press in 2007 for what I thought would be bigger and better things. It was neither. Just different.
I’m happy to be back on the key working with Siesta Sand, which is admirably filling the small-town community newspaper void the Pelican left behind when it was purchased by the Observer Group a few years after I left.
You really can’t go home again
With the exception of college, I have lived in Sarasota since 1980, when I moved here as a young boy with my folks.
Already a creature of the night, Florida’s impressive and often oppressive heat and humidity served to exacerbate my nocturnal condition. I used to walk to the beach in the evenings, enjoying the post-dusk relative coolness; on a good night, I’d have friends and a guitar with me. From middle school until leaving for college, I grew up in a small duplex on Midnight Pass Road, just a couple blocks away from Point of Rocks Beach.
Both of my parents were teachers. But back then, you could live on Siesta Key on a teacher’s salary.
Indeed, Siesta Key was much different 40 years ago.
A paradigm shift
Back then, the island would turn into a ghost town the day after Easter, when, like clockwork, the bulk of tourists would leave. Delineations between the season and off-season are much softer today. It’s pretty much always crowded. But back then … I have fond memories of riding my bike to Turtle Beach with my childhood friend Bill Short, and lying down in the middle of Midnight Pass Road. Why? Because we could. It felt like the island was all ours.
Now, we’re dealing with more people with more money moving here every year. Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with money (aside from the biblical stance that it’s the “root of all evil”), there is something very wrong with the growing level of disparity between the haves and the have-nots. With the influx, the number of people earning six-figure incomes in Sarasota nearly doubled from 2015-2020 and, as prices rise, the chasm between rich and poor continues to widen, along with a serious lack of affordable housing.
Often, money seems like our only measurement of worth. It strikes me that it doesn’t have to be this way. Although it may take a sea change in perspective.
The longer I’m around, the more I realize that, although money makes many things in life much easier, the only true currency we share as human beings is time. So, I try to take mine; I take a step back, a deep breath. I try not to take things too seriously. I try to make people laugh. And I think how much better the world would be if we could all just discard this tribal mentality that seems to now hold us firmly in its grasp. If we could replace the “you’re dead to me” if you are different, if you don’t grok my way of thinking with something a little easier on our souls.
Something more like kindness.