Tarpon Springs Adventures

Tarpon Springs is North of Clearwater with a population less than 25,000. It is notable for having the highest percentage of Greek-Americans of any city in the US. In size, the community is less than 20 square miles with about half under water. The first Greek immigrants arrived to this city during the 1880s, when they were hired to work as divers in the growing sponge harvesting industry. Like most fishing communities, there are good years and bad based on the whim of mother nature.

When a red tide algae bloom occurred in 1947, wiping out the sponge fields in that region of the Gulf of Mexico, most of the sponge boats and divers switched to fishing and shrimping for a livelihood. The city then converted most of its sponge-related activities, especially the warehouses where the sponges were sold, into tourist attractions. And somebody was bright enough to put a silly plastic Turtle in the middle of the town square. While logic would dictate that it should have been a tarpon, a ninja turtle is definitely more huggable than a Tarpon which is best described as a pugnacious, smelly, inedible, cold-blooded fish.

The first time Dolores and I saw the Turtle was probably 1999. I had always kept in touch with Carol since the day I first met her. When we both married and had kids we kept in touch and our families visited each other in New Jersey, Santo Domingo, St. Croix, Florida and watched each other raise families and pass through life’s transitions. We had comforted each other from afar on the passing of our respective spouses.

Lunch at Hellas with Tracey and Carol

Carol is a gracious hostess and when I was here in May to get probed by aliens. Tracy and I went to visit and have lunch at Hellas a Greek restaurant.

John, Tracey & Turtle

Naturally everybody laughed, had fun and told jokes with an awful lot at my expense. And as we were leaving, I insisted on pictures of us with the turtle. First it was Tracey and I and then it was Carol and I.

John, Carol & Turtle

On Fathers Day, Carol had me join her family for a fantastic feast. I have know her father for over 50 years and he is still earning spending money by betting on his skeet shooting skills and constantly winning. He travels as far as Ohio where he finds people who bet against him because they see an old man on the line. They soon find out he has the eyes of a hawk, reflexes of a bat and nerves of steel as he wins most bets. George is pushing 90 and his family gave him books on sports memorabilia to read for his birthday and Fathers Day. My mom gave up on reading in her late 80’s because it was too tiring so it’s nice to see George keep going.

I told George, I wanted to be just like him when I grow up as we caught up on old times. Carol’s daughter Tara was there with her husband as was Carol’s boy friend. I have know Tara all her life and everybody just adsorbed me into the family. Carol asked to see my daughter when she came to care for me and even though Saturday was my most painful day, we kept our date.

I am glad we did as the walking and company took my mind off pain and I instantly felt better. At lunch, I toasted the special 50th anniversary of our first kiss and Carol asked how I could possibly remember such trivia. Then her eyes lit up as she told me I made up the anniversary story because the first kiss was more than 50 years ago. It made me laugh and smile because she also remembered. Unfortunately, she also remembers all the pranks and tricks that she played on me based on my teenage insecurity and raging hormones which is why we never made it past that kiss..

Dagny and Poppa John

When we were leaving Tarpon Springs, I reminded Carol of my need to capture the Day with pictures of the Turtle. She pointed out that there is far more complexity to the culture of Tarpon Springs than the Turtle. I reminded her that when Dolores and I first came to Tarpon Springs with her, we all did the Turtle thing and if I searched for them, I would find those pictures. I also pointed out that I am not running from her memory because after 43 years of marriage, there is no way to even dream of erasing Dolores from my life. Besides, I believe that she was there both days enjoying the outing as she knew everybody including Carol’s family and Tracey and never missed a pleasant social event.

Dagny, Carol & the Tarpon Springs Turtle

The worst part of the day was thinking about what BP and a hurricane could do to the town. This is not about money, because the cost to relocate 25,000 people is nothing compared to the cost of disrupting all of the population of the Gulf Coast. But once a town like Tarpon Springs is gone, not even Disney could resurrect the authentic version.

As they say in the islands;

“God spare life”, I will live to see Tarpon Springs in a decade, just the way it is.

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