Longtime Tampa Bay Times writer Jeff Klinkenberg shares stories, anecdotes and reporting from his nearly seven decades living in the Sunshine State.
Jeff Klinkenberg loves this state as much as an oysterman loves the Apalachicola River. The longtime culture writer at the former St. Petersburg Times wrote “Son of Real Florida: Stories from My Life” with the passion of an amorous alligator in mating season.
Fittingly, the book was released on April 3 — a date that is 505 years and one day after Juan Ponce de Leon landed somewhere on the peninsula and dubbed the place La Florida.
Since Europeans landed on shore, time has refused to stand still in this state.
Klinkenberg yearns for the Florida of his youth. That it does not exist lends a sense of nostalgia to “Son of Real Florida.”
In the nearly 70 years since he moved here as a toddler, the state of Florida has gone from home to 2 million residents to more than 20 million.
“As Florida got modern, the beach bums vanished,” Klinkenberg writes. “Like Florida panthers, they needed the same habitat coveted by developers.”
“Son of Real Florida” begins with a chapter about the author’s youth. In addition to an introduction to the narrator throughout this zany state, it serves as People’s Exhibit A of the author’s bona fides for dubbing himself a real Floridian.
Snakebite statistics, weddings in the swamp, a rodeo couple who settled in Manatee County at “a time when cattle still roamed fenceless ranges and panthers yowled from the swamps,” are all featured in Klinkenberg’s fourth book. He shares anecdotes about a patron named “Mister Brown” at the state’s most famous restaurant, indelicate 16th-century punishments and the untimely demise of one of Florida’s original highwaymen.
Any book on the culture of this state would be incomplete without at least something about St. Augustine. Klinkenberg obliges with a vignette titled “The Fountain of Youth.” He follows University of South Florida St. Petersburg professor J. Michael Francis here, as well as Seville, Spain, in search of information about America’s oldest city.
Or as, Klinkenberg writes: “Floridians had been snacking on oranges in St. Augustine for about six decades when the Pilgrims enjoyed their first Thanksgiving at Plymoth Rock.”
If additional context was needed for just how unique this city is, Klinkenberg reinforced the point when he noted St. Augustine was founded one year after Michelangelo’s death and one year before Shakespeare’s birth.
Readers will not have their hand held during the series of essays and anecdotes as there are some things Klinkenberg assumes his readers know without having to be told — such as the fact that Orlando was a sleepy town in Central Florida before a certain mouse made his home there.
Some of his stories were previously published, but that does not make them any less interesting. “Son of Real Florida” is an ideal read for the late spring nights when it’s better to retreat into the comfort of air conditioning, than be prey for mosquitoes.