Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Need a lift? Call me at Lyft

If it’s Thursday or Friday and you’re heading somewhere in the Bradenton-Sarasota-Tampa Bay area, now you can call on me and I’ll give you a “Lyft.”

I recently became a driver for Lyft to make some extra money (not to write a book, though that might happen), and on March 30-31, did my first drives for Lyft.

I’ll share my experiences and the tips I learned the hard way here.

Stay tuned.


April 1, 2017 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , | Leave a comment

Cities manage to live on despite threats of destruction

I was driving past Manatee Memorial Hospital today on my way back from getting my car’s oil changed when I saw a familiar figure on the side of the road.

It was a guy I’d talked to a few years ago. The man, who was and probably still is homeless, at the time was camped out in front of an old building on Manatee Avenue West in Bradenton, and he was trying to stop the destruction of an old building that was slated to be torn down.

On June 2, 2015, he was standing with a large cross on the corner, waving at drivers and calling on them to repent and accept Jesus.

He’s been doing this for some time now, and after he was unsuccessful in warding off the knockdown of the decrepit old building that had once been a church, he apparently found a new gig. I did, too.

What brought his effort to mind was something I heard on the public radio program “Marketplace” on the way to get my car worked on. The news, which broke the previous night, was that the president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham had decided that the university needed to have its football team back. This is a sad day because the initial decision to end football because of its financial burden on the college was the right one, and one that needs to be made at many other universities.

Listening on the radio to the reporting, there were of course no dissenting voices. One woman insisted that the continuing state of “no football” at UAB would somehow “destroy” the city of Birmingham. The demonstrations in favor of football reminded of the infamous “Joe Paterno riots” at Penn State.

How absurd it is that people lose their minds over football at the college level. And how absurd it is to believe that if you don’t get your way, your city deserves to be destroyed.

But the reality is that people often make these outrageous claims to local governments to bolster their view that the commission or council should vote the way they want on a bill. I might add that this is their right, of course, but we should be aware that their arguments are often more rhetoric than reality.

For example, it is commonly stated at meetings that the approval of a housing development or business at a location will somehow “destroy” the county. Officials have to sit back and allow all sorts of high-flown rhetoric about how the entire history of the region depends on something not being allowed, and the warnings of destruction are repeated over and over.

What’s funny is that there are people living in subdivisions and developments whose construction, the same commissioners were told, would somehow “destroy” the county but didn’t.

Flights of fancy
The building on Manatee Avenue West, called the Bradenton Revival Temple, caused no small amount of wild rhetoric, to the point where police officers had to be posted at the Bradenton City Council meetings. Talking to the opponents of the destruction, their arguments mainly were along the lines that the owners of the building were scumbags and pieces of shit and the professional architectural firm they hired to evaluate the building was run by an asshole who didn’t know what he was doing.

Here is my story on the building getting a reprieve. Another story appeared a few months later.

Their presentation on the building was detailed and thorough. The building was built long before building codes existed in Florida, in the 1930s, and the building was used as a church for much of its existence. Eventually, the use as a church ended and the city ended up with the building until the current owners bought it. Unfortunately, its odd-looking façade hid a rather ordinary building that had multiple structural faults and the inability to withstand strong winds.

Homeless people had been breaking into the building and using it for shelter and as a toilet, the wooden rafters showed evidence of a terrible termite infestation and it was clear that the building had not been maintained in years. The owners had rather foolishly bought the building without an inspection and believed that they could fix it and use it for their legal business, with its proximity to the county courthouse, but now found that the only value left in the place was the lot itself.

Those in favor of its destruction included the owner of the building next door.

Many people of a religious bent talked with fervor of establishing a “24-hour prayer center” and other activities in the building, which in their view was not in such bad condition.

Camped out
I became aware of the building when I saw this man camped out in front of the building with signs declaring that America and Bradenton were doomed if the building came down. I sent a reporter to talk to him, and later talked to him myself, and it was clear that he had some, well, issues.

He insisted that if the building came down, the city of Bradenton would be destroyed by fire and possibly meteor strikes sent by a wrathful god.

He attracted a minute following, and pretty much went nuts when the building finally was approved for demolition. Here’s my story on it.

I was there as the demolition work began, and the man told me that America was doomed now, as was Bradenton.

Here is my story on the demolition.

The building is gone, but Bradenton lives on despite the threats. So, apparently, does the man.

Addicted to old buildings
Let’s face it. Buildings sometimes have to go. People who do not own or pay taxes or try to maintain an old building might feel a sentimental attachment to it, but those who do have to pay the bills have to be able to do what they think is best.

We live in an era of property rights, and that might be disturbing, but there are limitations in place that prevent egregious destruction, and a process to make sure it’s done according to the rules, but I can see an owner’s position on a building as well as the opponents.

In Sarasota County, one of the biggest fights ever was wages over a school that was not a very pleasant place but had been designed by a famous architect, Paul Rudolph.

While there was much emotion by people who didn’t attend the school and who claimed a coming tsunami of crime and misbehavior from students when they realized it had been knocked down, the school was knocked down and rebuilt.

Students and staff had complained that the building had a mold problem, its classrooms were outdated, it leaked like a sieve in heavy rain and students had to dodge puddles in the hallways.

The main argument in favor of the building seemed to be that Paul Rudolph was gay. Also, he was gay. Also, he was gay. Also, he was gay. Also, he was gay.

The community around the school would be destroyed, and wasn’t it worth it to go to school in an architectural marvel designed by a man who was gay?

The school district wanted to be done with the building because of its code violations and hazards, and finally managed to get the approval to knock it down amid threats that never came to pass.

Apparently, if you own a Paul Rudolph house, it’s not really yours.

June 2, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elected officials frustrated when the public won’t obey

Back when I was a reporter for The Bradenton Times, I’d cover the usual array of government bodies – the county commission, the city commissions and the school board – but there were other bodies that were also comprised of elected officials from those bodies.

One of them was the Metropolitan Planning Organization, known as the MPO. The one I covered was the Sarasota-Manatee MPO, and its main area of concern was the two-county area of Sarasota and Manatee counties in Southwest Florida.

The MPO held meetings every couple of months, and its membership was drawn from the Sarasota and Manatee County Commissions; the Sarasota, Venice, Bradenton and North Port City Commissions; and other government bodies with elected representatives. They would generate a lot of paperwork, including agendas and background material, but while they had an impressive-looking website back then, almost none of the agenda information was available online. This, by the way, was pretty common back in 2009-10. Port Manatee, for example, had a nice website but almost no information about its meetings (agendas, background material, etc.) They liked to keep the media and people in the dark.

One of my least-loved memories was a Port Authority meeting where the new website was debuted. For a half-hour, attendees were shown how to use a website. After nearly 15 years of having the Internet around, I doubt if anyone there needed to be shown how to move a mouse and click a button.

The MPO meetings were not very exciting, though advocates of the BANANA theory of development would show up if there was the threat of a road being built anywhere or expanded. BANANA means “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone,” and these folks, who lived in houses and drove on roads, were convinced that everything worthwhile had already been built, and one more project might destroy the area. Their extreme rhetoric meant they were usually dismissed as cranks.

Along with endless discussion of the wonders of roundabouts (which brought out the critics in droves) there was the endless discussion of U.S. 41.

U.S. 41 through Sarasota and Manatee counties reminded me of U.S. 1 on the east coast through Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Once upon a time, before I-95, U.S. 1 had been the main access road through that area but had become home to some of the worst areas of many communities. The usually uncoordinated traffic lights meant getting anywhere could take a long, long time on “Useless 1,” as it was derisively dubbed.

Economic redevelopment projects in various areas would seek to restore U.S. 1 to its former glory – if it ever had any – but most of them just spent money on high-priced reports and overpriced consultants.

U.S. 41 had a similar fate. The connector of the city of Sarasota to the city of Bradenton, at some places, was a six-lane superhighway with a 55 mph speed limit and old-growth housing developments on either side. Some parts were quite nice; others were dangerous even during the day.

But the big thing for the MPO was that there was a bus line that connected Bradenton and Manatee, route 99. The counties periodically talked about merging their bus systems, but route 99 was where it had actually happened.

The trouble was that many people insisted on driving their cars instead of taking the bus, and this was the goal of seemingly every local government: to get people out of their cars and onto public transportation. The fact that if you were going shopping, a car offered a trunk and the chance to visit several stores and buy from them was lost on the elected officials. Convenience was another factor, and if you were traveling at night, you definitely didn’t want to be on the buses in some areas.

But the big thing, for me, was that none of the officials who attended the MPO meetings ever used the bus themselves. The meetings were held on the campus of a college just off U.S. 41 and near a bus stop, and parking was always a problem. You’d see each elected official show up in his or her car – or SUV – in their designated parking spaces. Of course, the media showed up that way, as well as the other folks.f

I, of course, would drive my car to the meeting and then go to the office in Bradenton, up U.S. 41 to the news site’s offices, where I’d write up my story.

And at every meeting thereafter, there’d be the discussion of why people wouldn’t use the public transportation and instead insisted on driving themselves in their cars.

Too bad the elected officials couldn’t look at their own behavior and get an insight into the way the rest of us behave.

August 12, 2011 Posted by | Living in the modern age, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sports will save us – and other myths

In the unincorporated municipality of Lakewood Ranch, which straddles State Road 70 east of Bradenton, Fla., there used to be a street with an absurdly ironic name.

Center Ice Parkway.

But if you drove near Center Ice Parkway, you might be confused. There was no skating rink or sports arena nearby. If you had come by a few months earlier, you would have seen four large concrete “somethings” deteriorating in the sunshine. Eventually, they were knocked down, and now there’s nothing there.

The plan had been to build an ice rink, hence the name Center Ice Parkway. There would have been a minor league hockey team playing there, and the economic boom that was sure to follow – as it has always followed pro sports – would create literally thousands of good-paying with benefits jobs, and the benefits would ripple out into the community, the region, the state, etc. In the Stadium Game, you’ve heard it a million times before, right?

It’s a perennial in the Stadium Game that sports will turn around the morale of a dying town. Factories moving to China or Mexico? Look, the team is winning, so let’s forget about our destroyed lives and feel good about ourselves. (Would you believe, that was the premise of the 1977 movie “Slap Shot”? Seriously, 34 years ago.)

Politicians still fall for the “Slap Shot” maneuver, and a recent article in Salon titled “Beware of vampire squids and their stadium schemes” describes how great promises were made about an arena in Louisville, Ky. By the way, be careful about going to Salon. Its website is full of nasty tricks and pop-up ads.

In the Jan. 22, 2005, issue of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, columnist Doug Fernandes asked: “Holy cow, where’s the arena?

On Nov. 7, 2009, reporter Halle Stockton wrote the epitaph, “Failed Lakewood Ranch hockey arena demolished”.

In tough times, it’s easy to be conned by sports promoters who invariably pitch “can’t-miss” schemes, virtually all of which involve taking taxpayers’ money and directing it to them. For what? A sports team.

I have always said that a sports team progression is the gift that keeps on taking. First, you need the team. Then you need the arena. Then you need a winning team. Then you need a new arena with skyboxes. And finally, you need new players to keep winning.

But as the song goes (almost): “Many a tear has to fall, but it’s all in the Stadium Game.”

April 22, 2011 Posted by | Living in the modern age, Politics, The business of sports | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seeing house again made the trip worthwhile

On Wednesday, I drove down to Bradenton to vote early in the primaries, but the real reason was to see Safuto Castle again.

My house in Ellenton is doing fine, I am happy to report. I’ve made no secret to anyone that I really miss the place, and have had dreams about being back there. The tenant is taking outstanding care of the place, and doing a spectacular job on the outside landscaping.

In fact, he told me some people thought he bought the place, but he just takes pride in the house he’s living in. Best of all, he said, the water and electric bills are down considerably from the last place he rented. His wife did the interior decorating, and the place really looked like a home.

I’m realistic about the fact that I’m not really into decorating and furniture. I had what I needed to live nicely. Seeing what the house could look like was really an eye-opener. I’ll never have a wife since I’m not capable of connecting with women, but at least I know that if or when I move back there, it will have looked like a home.

I saw some old compadres from the Herald-Tribune on Wednesday, and that was nice.

At about 2:15 p.m., I pointed the nose of the Mustang northward on I-75 and began the 2.5-hour drive to Gainesville. The cats were glad to see me. This is my home, at least for the foreseeable future.

August 12, 2010 Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , | Leave a comment