It Happened to Me Tampa Bay

Back at Produce Wagon

Tap the photo to see it at full size.

Seminole Heights’ seal, which depicts a two-headed alligatorOn Friday, I stopped by Produce Wagon, the fruit and veg stand that operates in our neighbourhood, just a few blocks away from the house on Tuesdays and Fridays. It’s always nice to see Patti and Fabiola, and was even better to find out that they’ve added an extra hour to their schedule — they’re now open at 13th and Crawford on Tuesdays and Fridays, from 9 a.m. to noon!

The vegetables I bought ended up in this morning’s scramble (pictured above), and will play a part in tonight’s dinner, which will be ma po tofu.

Tampa Bay The Current Situation

Local villain: Co-owner of Tampa’s Nocturnal Hospitality Group gets violent and racist on Instagram, has to step down

Lanfranco Pescante’s Instagram post. He seems a little too eager to kill, and waaaay more concerned about the flag than the old man.

Crazy times like this often lead to rising tempers, and rising tempers sometimes lead to career-limiting moves on social media. Case in point: Lanfranco Pescante, co-owner of Tampa’s Nocturnal Hospitality Group (which owns Franklin Manor, Osteria, Mole y Abuela, Mision Lago Estate, and Shibui), went a little too far on Instagram. It’s one thing to defend the flag and old man who got hurt carrying it at a protest, and it’s another thing to go completely unhinged about it on social media and call for people to get shot:

Pescante wrote all this in an argument with the Instagram account @officialthebody, whose posts have been in support of protesters and pointing them to resources.

It didn’t work out well for him. Here’s what Carlos “Carlos Eats” Hernandez — one of my go-to guys for local news — posted soon after:

The Tampa Bay Times article is worth it, just for the new ironic twist that Pescante’s t-shirt in his file photo provides. It just begged for a caption:

Thanks to Roberto Torres for the find!

Slice of Life Tampa Bay

Produce Wagon: A new gem in Seminole Heights

Wide-angle photo of the Produce Wagon from its left side, with Fabiola in a lawn chair behind the wagon, a large oak tree and house in the background, and Joey’s light blue bicycle on the right.

Produce Wagon. Photo by Joey deVilla.
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

Seminole Heights’ seal, which depicts a two-headed alligator

“Is that new?” I wondered when I first biked past Produce Wagon at the corner of E. Crawford and N. 13th Avenue a couple of weeks ago. The red wooden wagon with the cheerful sign is only a few blocks from our house, and I’d been biking right by it for a few days. Yesterday, I went there when they were open (at that location, they’re open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m.).

Wide-angle photo of the Produce Wagon from its right side, with Joey’s light blue bicycle in the foreground, and their whiteboard price list to the right.

Produce Wagon. Photo by Joey deVilla.
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

I was greeted warmly by Patti Mars and Fabiola Garcia, the proprietors. I asked them if they’d just started because I hadn’t seem them before (we’ve been in our new house for a year now), and since their wagon and sign looked pretty new. Patti told me that they’d only been running Produce Wagon for a couple of weeks, but that Fabiola comes from a family with three generations’ experience in selling produce.

Closer-up photo of the Produce Wagon, showing its basket of apples, strawberries, eggs, mangoes, oranges, mushrooms, and bananas.

Produce Wagon. Photo by Joey deVilla.
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

According to this article, Patti and Fabiola had been thinking about opening a produce stand for months, but couldn’t find the right location at the right price. They shelved the idea until they heard an NPR report about how people aren’t eating as much fresh produce because they’ve been going to the grocery less often due to the pandemic. That’s when they decided to resurrect the produce stand idea and provide a way for people in the neighborhood to get fresh fruits and vegetables. Their produce comes from the wholesale markets east of here, which they pick up twice a week, very early in the morning.

I picked up some dinner fixings from them: zucchini, mushrooms, a vidalia onion, and a can of coconut milk. They also have cans of red, green, and Massaman curry paste, which I’ll keep in mind, as the nearest Asian grocery store is a couple of miles away. They’re understandably a little pricier than my usual produce market, Bearss Groves, but they can’t be beat for convenience and the opportunity to get to know another neighbor. I think I’m going to be a regular!

Produce Wagon’s whiteboard price list.

Produce Wagon’s price list. Photo by Joey deVilla.
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

Produce Wagon is currently open at these locations and times:

To find out where they’ll be and what they’re selling, check out their Facebook page.

Tampa Bay Uncategorized

The new local Jollibee

Last Friday, Tampa Bay’s own Jollibee opened to an enthusiastic crowd, some of whom camped out overnight. Reports say the place was packed and that there was a line around the block. I’m all about the Chickenjoy, but it’s a bit out of the way from my neck of the woods:

It is, however on the way to where a lot of tech meetups are held in St. Pete:

I may have to make a detour on the way to the next gathering I attend at Suncoast Developers Guild.




Tampa Bay

Scenes from the Northeast Seminole Heights progressive dinner

Part of the patio at the progressive dinner’s first house.
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

Seminole Heights’ seal, which depicts a two-headed alligator

Last Friday, our neighborhood — Northeast Seminole Heights, an area with trees, bungalows, and hip restaurants and bars galore — held its annual progressive dinner (or, as it’s called in the UK, a “safari supper”). It was a multiple-destination dinner party, where four different courses were served in four different houses within walking distance of each other. While we’ve gotten to know some of the people in our neighborhood thanks to the weekly happy hour at Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe, Anitra and I are still new to the area. We figured that this would be a chance to get to know more of people who live nearby.

Our house is a five minute walk from the Hillsborough River, on whose banks you’ll find the pricier houses. The progressive dinner’s first stop was at one of these houses, which had a large patio complete with a huge outdoor tiki bar.

One view of the bar at the progressive dinner’s first house.
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

We were among the first to arrive, but we weren’t lonely for long. There were easily eighty or more people on the patio in short order.

Another view of the bar at the progressive dinner’s first house.
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

This was the appetizer course, and people came hungry! Luckily, the place was prepared.

Tap the photo to see it at full size.

The patio was built right up to the edge of the river, which provided a great view. I had to get a photo:

A view of the Hillsborough River from the first house.
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

After about an hour, it was time to mosey on over to the next place. I took one last photo before leaving:

One last photo before leaving the first house!
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

I was so engaged in meeting new people at the next house that I didn’t take any pictures there. The soup and salad course was served there, and there were several to choose from. The stand-out dish was a cold spliced pear soup, which was fantastic. I got a couple of servings of that one.

The main course was served at the third house, which had a nice large kitchen island and buffet counter:

The third house’s nice large kitchen, as seen from the living room.
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

As the place where the mains would be served, they were expecting the biggest crowd. Luckily, they had a back yard big enough to accommodate everyone and had even set up rows of tables, a fire pit, live entertainment, and a couple of off-duty police officers:

The back yard at the third house.
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

There was a break in the entertainment so that the dinner’s organizer, Christie Hess, could address the crowd. She’s been putting the event together for the past 12 years, and it’s a key part of the neighborhood’s character. I’m glad that we’ve got people like her here.

Christie Hess addresses the crowd.
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

Here’s another look at the crowd. It was a cool night by Florida standards (52°F / 11° C), so Anitra wore her festive zebra-strip fun fur coat:

Another look at the crowd.
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

Finally, we made our way to the dessert house, which was also on the river. As with the other courses and houses, the food was a group effort. Our contribution to the dessert table was an assortment of brownies.

The dessert house.
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

Some folks stayed closer to the house (and desserts), while others chose to get a better look at the river:

The view near the river.
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

Another view near the river.
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

While we were done with the houses, we weren’t yet done with the party! The final stop of the evening was London Heights pub with a handful of drink tickets…

Some of the taps at London Heights that evening.
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

…and an invitation from Willie, one of the owners, to perform some numbers to close out the evening.

The accordion comes in handy once again!
Tap the photo to see it at full size.

It’s been a while since I’ve lived in a place with this much of a sense of community. I’ve talked more with my neighbors here in the past five months than with the neighbors in the old place in the last five years, and I’m a schmoozy guy. The progressive dinner was a great excuse to walk around the neighborhood and get a better look at a couple of places, as well as to catch up with the people we already knew, and get to know dozens of other folks in the area. I look forward to greeting more people on the streets here by name, and hope to be at more of these local get-togethers!

Recommended reading

It Happened to Me Tampa Bay The Current Situation

Tallahassee mayor and Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum at Café con Tampa

Photo by Tampa Bay Times. Click to see the source.

Someday, perhaps a decade from now, when we’re all looking back at how far the Tampa Bay area has come, we’ll look back and remark at the key role that Café con Tampa played. Every Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. in the Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club, Tampa’s most active, engaged, involved, and well-dressed citizens gather to hear important topics given by interesting speakers while enjoying a delicious breakfast in beautiful surroundings.

Friday’s speaker at Café con Tampa was Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum, who’s campaigning in the Democratic primary and aiming to become Florida’s next governor.

Photo by Yours Truly. Click to see at full size.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to attend Café con Tampa, as work and my speaking and conference schedule have kept me busy. This was the first one I’d been able to attend in weeks. It was good to be back.

Traffic and a shortage of parking spaces (there’s a lot of construction around Oxford Exchange) meant that I missed the first twenty minutes of Gillum’s appearance. As I entered and paid my admission — $12 well spent, in my opinion — I was told “You’re in time for Q&A…the best part!”

Photo by Yours Truly. Click to see at full size.

I walked in just in time to catch a rather aggrieved older gentleman asking where Gillum got the notion that the law preventing former felons from voting even though they have served their time in prison is a relic from the days of Jim Crow. Gillum, who’s probably no stranger to this sort of question, explained the true intent of this kind of voter disenfranchisement with great aplomb and considerable charm.

Photo by Yours Truly. Click to see at full size.

Among the other topics discussed were:

Photo by Yours Truly. Click to see at full size.

Near the end of his session, Gillum talked about the traditional greeting of the Masai people of southern Kenya and northern TanzaniaKasserian engeri?, which translates as “And how are the children?” He pointed out how that greeting underscores the high value that the Masai assigned to the well-being of children, and how much better we all could be if we adopted the same attitude.

Note: There’s a little more to the greeting “And how are the children?”. According to this 2012 Guardian article, the typical Masai greeting is sopa, which translates as “Hello”, and it’s the start of a long greeting process which can include “How is the homestead?”, “How is the weather?”, “How are the cows?”, and “How are the children?”. This isn’t all too different from conversations that any one of us may have had here in North America, where the question “And how’s your family” is likely to come up. Still, the fact that the use of “How are the children?” as a greeting is surprising enough to be a memorable rhetorical device while “How’s business?” isn’t illustrates where our priorities lie.

Photo by Yours Truly. Click to see at full size.

As with most Café con Tampa gatherings, there were more questions than time for them. The questions continued in the atrium, with Gillum surrounded by all manner of recording devices:

Photo by Yours Truly. Click to see at full size.

I went down to the atrium to hear the questions they were asking Gillum, and in the process met with two gentlemen from St. Petersburg’s ACT (Arts Conservatory for Teens): Herbert Murphy and Alex Harris, who spoke at Café con Tampa a couple of weeks ago. They saw the accordion — which I bring to events like this because it starts conversations — and we got into a great conversation about music, technology, and where the two intersect. Herbert and I even talked about having me do a presentation with their students, and I’d be more than happy to take them up on that offer. If you want to meet interesting people in Tampa Bay, and possibly collaborate with them and start something potentially great, you should check out Café con Tampa.

Café con Tampa is a weekly gathering where people interested in the issues that affect Tampa Bay and the world beyond meet to learn and share ideas with interesting, entertaining (and sometimes infuriating) guest speakers. It takes place every Friday between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. in the wonderful setting of Oxford Exchange, a combination of restaurant, book store, gift shop, co-working space, design studio, event venue, and one of the best “third places” I’ve ever set foot in. It’s attended by an interesting audience that’s often a mix of movers and shakers from the worlds of arts, business, academia, and government, and put together by local heroes Del Acosta and Bill Carlson, President of the communciations agency Tucker/Hall. Admission is $12.00, and it not only lets you into the event, but also gets you Oxford Exchange’s delicious breakfast spread. If you want to see interesting presentations and have great conversations with some of the area’s movers, shakers, and idea-makers — myself included — you should attend Café con Tampa!

Here are Café con Tampa presentations that I’ve written about:


Tampa Bay

Yann Weymouth at Café con Tampa

I should’ve known that Yann Weymouth, head of design for I.M. Pei’s projects at the Louvre and the National Gallery of Art in Washington and designer of the Salvador Dali Museum and the upcoming James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art in St. Petersburg, Florida, lives in the Tampa Bay area.

Oxford Exchange. Photo by Yours Truly.

I found out only because he was the speaker at this morning’s edition of Café con Tampa, a weekly gathering where people interested in the issues that affect Tampa Bay meet to learn and share ideas in the wonderful setting of Oxford Exchange,  a combination of restaurant, book store, gift shop, co-working space, design studio, event venue, and one of the best “third places” I’ve ever set foot in. Every Friday between 8 and 9 a.m., Café con Tampa features not only interesting guest speakers, but an interesting audience that’s often a mix of movers and shakers from the worlds of arts, business, academia, and government. If you want to have interesting conversations with some of the area’s movers, shakers, and idea-makers (and enjoy Oxford Exchange’s delicious breakfast spread), you should come to Café con Tampa.

20th century work

Weymouth opened his presentation with a Churchill quote: “We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.”

He then talked about his first collaboration with legendary architect I.M. Pei: the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.. He talked about the goals they had to achieve: being able to house a lot of art, handle large volumes of visitors, fit in the triangular zone defined by Pennsylvania Avenue, respect the existing architecture, and of course, be beautiful.

The East Wing of the National Gallery of Art.
Creative Commons photo — click here to see the source.

“Notice the glass pyramids in the design,” Weymouth said. “Do you see an evolving theme?”

After the National Gallery project, he left Pei — still remaining friends with him — to found his own architecture firm where he designed galleries and pioneering high-tech lofts.

The Louvre Pyramid.
Creative Commons photo — click here to see the source.

When I.M. Pei became the architect for the Louvre Project in the early 1980s, he invited Weymouth to be the chief designer. This was a project filled with challenges:

  • The building was a major traffic problem, what with its being a kilometer (three-fifths of a mile) long
  • It blocked a passage between Paris’ left and right banks
  • There was no easily-visible main entrance, and its signage and wayfinding were poor
  • Its courtyard was a parking lot of the Ministry of Finance and Louvre staff

Also, in a conversation I had with Weymouth after his talk, there was also the issue of its being championed by then-president François Mitterand, the Fifth Republic’s first socialist leader. “A number of people left France during that time because they were concerned he’d turn the whole country communist,” he said.

The design solution he came up with was to create in the courtyard — the only space for new construction — an underground city. One-third of it is open to the public in the form of parking, a shopping mall and restaurants, with other space for art storage, operations, and roadways.

If you’re even the slightest bit worldly, you know what’s above it — the now-iconic glass pyramid. Weymouth explained the rationale behind the pyramid: “If you’re at water level by the Seine and looking at the Louvre, there’s no clear entrance. You also need some way to bring light into the underground complex.” So he designed a pyramid-shaped skylight, a classic platonic solid that would clearly mark a place to enter, and provide natural light to the subterranean expansion.

“It was controversial,” Weymoth remarked, “but so was the Eiffel Tower.”

21st century works

Click the photo to see it at full size.

Why did Weymouth move to Tampa Bay? “Because of the airport,” he said, along with the brain trust of creatives that he saw accumulating in the area. It’s becoming a hub for culture, business, and technology.

In the competition to redesign the Dali Museum, the original request for proposals was for an addition to the existing building, which was a converted warehouse by the water’s edge. “I did not hew to that requirement,” Weymouth said, stating that the original building was never meant to be a museum, but a storage facility that was vulnerable to storm surges. His design, which we now know as the Dali Museum (pictured above) was a whole new building that stayed within the budget of the original proposal for an addition.

The Dali’s glass “blob” was inspired by Buckminster Fuller, whom Weymouth met in the 1960s when he was a student. He couldn’t use Fuller’s method, which was meant for geodesic spheres, for his blob design. He found a company in Milan that specialized in making free-form geodesic designs, and the result is the Dali’s blob, in which no two panes of glass are identical, and where different sizes of glass are used to accommodate different amounts of structural stress. The design was facilitated by technology that had only been around for about a decade: a combination of computer-aided design, computer-aided manufacturing, and computer-aided stress analysis.

Weymouth is currently working on the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, located in downtown St. Pete at the junction of Central and Beach. It’ll be larger than the Dali. “I’m taking an old office building with a parking lot on top of it, and turning it into a space that will evoke the southwest.”


During the Q&A, a member of the audience identified himself as the nephew of British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid (pictured to the right), creator of some of the world’s most beautiful super-futuristic buildings — go to her Wikipedia page and look at her designs. Weymouth’s wife Susana complimented her work and pointed out to the audience that Hadid was the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004. Dame Hadid is yet another superstar architect whom I didn’t know was based in Florida (she died in Miami in 2016).

Someone asked him what his plans were when he retired. “I not going to retire,” he replied. He pointed out that I.M. Pei designed the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar in his 90s, and that he himself was planning to continue with his work. “We become freer and more creative with experience, and at the same time, more practical.”

In response to a question about the degree to which he exceeded the budget for the Dali Museum by designing a whole new building instead of an addition, Weymouth replied that he didn’t spend more than the money allotted. “You respect the budget. You do it by prioritizing. It’s like cuisine: you boil away what’s not crucial, and you use listening and logic, covering both practical and aesthetic issues.”

When asked what he thought the two greatest innovations in construction were, Weymouth’s answers were:

  • Computers. When he started at MIT, architects drew on tracing paper with pencils in two dimensions. With computers, they now design in three dimensions, and when they make changes to a single drawing, it gets reflected in all relevant drawings. He said that there was some concern that computer-aided design would result in all buildings “looking like grid paper”, but instead, coupled with “robots that can custom-cut”, has allowed architects to be even more creative.
  • Materials. “There’s fiber-reinforced concrete now,” Weymouth said, along with new forms of plastic and steel. “The glass industry has been revolutionized” — back when they were building the Louvre pyramid was being built, it required making changes to a French glass factory (with strong encouragement from then-French president Mitterand) to make low-iron glass, which is a standard today.

In closing…

I’ll close with an observation about Tampa Bay that Weymouth made (I’m paraphrasing here):

If you wanted to be at the heart of culture and interesting things happening in art around 1910, you wanted to be in Paris. Around 1920 or ’21, Berlin was the place. In the 1950s, it would be New York. And today, it’s Tampa Bay.

Bonus rock star fact

Yann’s not the only rock star Weymouth! His younger sister Tina was the bassist for the Talking Heads.