Dateline, January 11, 2017: aboard AMARA ZEE docked adjacent to the University of South Florida’s marina in St. Petersburg. The ship is surrounded by Florida Fish and Wildlife research and enforcement vessels. Across from us are two large US Coast Guard cutters and not very far away, one of Paul Watson’s Sea Shepherd vessels; an Interesting juxtaposition of the three ships.
Weather has been chilly and damp for several days, just today warming up with lots of sunshine. Not to complain, mind you after seeing photos and video of the snow/slush deluge in Southern Ontario and the subsequent traffic chaos. Traffic here is pretty light as there doesn’t seem to be any of what we would call “rush hour.”
So, being back in St. Petersburg almost 60 years after finishing grade 12 at St. Pete High School has been a bit surreal. The downtown core has been transformed from the “city of newly weds and nearly deads” into a vibrant, culturally blessed, modern city with a huge range of great pubs, restaurants, performance venues, parks and bicycle paths criss crossing the city. Many of the grand old hotels in the core have been converted into seniors’ residences... yeah, I know, you’re saying I should book a suite! Once out of the downtown core, much hasn’t changed: low rise apartment buildings, small cinder block bungalows with “Florida rooms,” little strip malls, almost open air garages and small variety stores.
To understand the next part of this tale, you have to realize that when I left this city and headed up to Toronto in the summer of ‘59, the south was still segregated. In St. Pete that meant almost everything south of Central Avenue was for the black community; with few exceptions like small industries and some civic buildings. As teenagers here, venturing into the black neighborhoods would only been done in cars, not walking or cycling. Fast forward to 2017, and much has changed obviously. The three major “white” high schools are all completely integrated. Gibb’s High School which was the only black high school has become the Pinellas County Center for the Arts, Business, Economics, and Technology Academy and their television production in Communication Arts.
Yesterday, I took a load of ship’s laundry to the nearby laundromat located in what is still a black area. Next door in the little strip mall was “Kre8tive Style,” a barber/hairdressers, obviously catering to the black community given all the signage and hairstyle posters inside. I had intended to seek out a barber shop on the “other side” of the city to get a trim while the laundry was being processed. Nope, says I, and walked into the barber shop. A couple of startled looks from the two female clients and hairdressers as I took a seat on the guy’s side. This was followed by a bit of silence broken by one of the women asking if I wanted a haircut. “Yeah,” says I and settled into one of two chairs. It took a while before young Markuis came out to size me up. He introduced himself and proceeded to “look me over!” “Just a trim and tidy up my beard, please.” It didn’t take long to realize he had never cut “white” hair before! After a few tentative snips and twirling me around in the chair, in came “Jayman” with whom he consulted. He offered a few brief tips and disappeared into the back of the shop. My guy proceeded with a few more snips and I encouraged him by saying, “just trim me up, OK?” He seemed a bit more comfortable with those directions.
It has been and continues to be interesting to be back here after so many years.
For an update on the Caravan Stage Company's 2017 tour and return to Canada, please check out the Caravan's FB page. I am now the chronicler of the tale...