Thursday, March 5, 2009

The St. Pete Pier's not an albatross for everyone

My first vision of Florida was of the St. Petersburg Pier.
I was three years old, flanked on either side by family, and stood amazed at this huge upside-down building that seemed to be floating right on the water! Pelicans came and ate out of my hand, and people milled around the beautiful atrium. I ate something I'd never had before - grouper - and our restaurant table looked right out onto the turquoise water. It was so close I could touch it.
And that was it, I was in love. But being bound by the confines of a family vacation, the whole lot of us meandering up and down the state, I never got to see the Pier that trip again. (I did get to see the Everglades, which scared me to death, and see my Aunt Minnie get left behind at a truck stop, which tickled me to death.)
But the Pier has always meant "Florida" to me, whether on a postcard or in person. The sign of its angular cut from the airplane window instantly tells me I'm home. And apparently, I'm not alone in that feeling, since the St. Petersburg Pier has become a landmark of sorts for Tampa Bay, iconic in its image the way the Skyway Bridge is.
They hold at least 300 events a year, house many local independent retailers, and boast a view that few places can match.
Now, with the recession looming, the Pier is standing on shaky ground financially. The same saltwater breeze that draws a crowd on hot days has weakened the Pier's approach making costly repairs and ongoing maintenance necessary.
St. Petersburg is facing the reality of a $20 million budget shortfall this year alone. Shoring up the Pier's infrastructure will cost $50 million.
Shutting it down, say city officials, will save taxpayers $1 million right off the bat. An attractive cut, considering that schools and emergency services also have to take a hit.
But the Pier?! Come on, can't we have something? I know visitors dropped off by half this year, and retailers are feeling the pinch. Subsequently, the city lowered rents for failing businesses in a goodwill gesture to keep them open. But still. It's the Pier, for God's sake. Picture the observation deck, and the open-air ballroom. The terrazzo floors.
What on earth would we put on the postcards? Foreclosure signs? Pictures of brush fires? How about the Cone of Uncertainty?
All of these things certainly say Florida, but not like my Pier. As the city banters back and forth about candidates for budget slashing, the Pier is looking better and better to them. Shame we can't just think of a way to draw more business in to bring it back to its once-lucrative stature. We are too quick to axe things.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Here he is, by popular demand: Stan the Man

He doesn't know the meaning of the word 'no.' He sets his own hours, decides when he's going to eat, and where he's going to sleep. He runs my whole house and everyone in it.
And he's only 15 pounds.

Meet Stan, or as his AKC papers read, 'Sir Stan Bumley.' He's a Shih Tzu according to the breeder, but my husband keeps insisting there is NO way this dog is pure bred. For one thing, he has a snaggle tooth, which he has used to eat portions of my house, including every baseboard, the center leaf for our diningroom table and a couple of priceless GI Joe accessories from the '60's (please don't tell my husband). When he was 6 months old, he ate a hole through the side of the couch big enough for him to crawl inside of. I needed new furniture anyway.
Stan has no discipline, no manners and no social skills. All of this is my fault, I'm quite sure, according to the Dog Whisperer. He has been blackballed by every groomer in Manatee County. The only people that dare try to cut his hair come to my door in a little van with dark-tinted windows. They spent 2 hours outside with him and then expect a big tip.

I can't get him in the car to get him to the vets. I know what you're saying to yourself right now: What do you mean, can't?! He 15 pounds! Show him who's boss!
He knows who's boss. He is. And he has been all of his little 6 years.
His latest episode was this week at the vet's. Bless their hearts, the girls that work there were trying to get us in and out as quickly as possible. For their benefit, not mine: Stan can walk into a silent waiting room full of well-behaved pets and in 90 seconds turn it into mayhem. So they were trying to hustle us out of there. I paid and took Stan to the car. When we got home, I realized that he had stolen a pig's ear from the vet's. Took it right out of a basket while I was handing over my debit card.

They were nice about it when I called. But they did suggest in a polite way that maybe I should teach him some obedience.

Pffft! Tell that to Stan. He gets mad when I'm on the phone, and barks at me until I'm off. He hates when I'm in my office working (like right now) and pesters me until I'm done. He's also a puker, and leaves me little presents where I least expect them to be. He whizzes on the landscaping. He stands inside the safety of my house and harasses the huge, angry police K9s in my yard out the window, retreating under the bed when they flip out.

But, he's my little guy, the love of my life. He follows me everywhere, even the bathroom. I can't imagine life without him. During the day, he sleeps next to me on the pillow and breathes his doggy puke stink breath into my face. His snore rivals my husband's. And, he agrees to dress up every Halloween and greet the trick or treaters with a snaggly smile. What could be better than that?