Discovered something very interesting Thursday.
I can drive and take notes at the same time. Not with one of those fancy recorder things, actual note taking on a reporter pad.
It’s not something I plan to make a habit out of, but here’s the deal. I come up with a lot of blog ideas while out driving around, then promptly forget them two hours later when I’m in front of the computer.
I took a drive Thursday to Ocala to find out why Dave Schlenker likes it there so much, and I didn’t want to forget the details of my drive. So I took little one- and two-word scribble notes.
So, the Dave Schlenker part. Dave started his newspaper career as a young pup at the Chronicle and I was there to show him the ropes.
Despite that scary advice, he left the Chronicle for a successful career as reporter, columnist and editor at the Ocala Star-Banner and other publications, and has recently released a compilation of columns entitled, “Little Man Big Mouth 30 Years.”
Dave is an incredibly talented writer and I’d recommend the book to anyone. Check out his Facebook page for more info.
And that’s how I got interested in Ocala, though it’s always been on Citrus County’s radar. For years it was mentioned in the same breath as New Port Richey and Wildwood as Cities We Do Not Want to Become due to growth and traffic.
Is that a fair assessment of the Brick City? Or are we unfairly painting the entire town with one traffic-jam brush? I ventured out Thursday to find out. Let’s go to the notes:
—Took County Road 475 past the horse farms and saw the “Big Daddy” Don Garlits’ drag racing museum. Never been there but want to. Garlits once ran for Congress and lost to Karen Thurman. Glad I’m here to provide those little details.
— Ocala has an impressive town square. Nice looking restaurants and shops (including a candy store where, thankfully, I left my wallet in the car). There’s also a gazebo where 30 years ago I attended my friend Ted’s wedding. We spent the night before his wedding at a Tampa strip club on assignment from the Chronicle. Those were the days.
—State Road 200. There are roads, and we all know them, that their mere mention conjures up visions of traffic nightmares. I don’t even need to describe it. You know what I’m talking about.
— Does ANYONE enjoy driving on S.R. 200? ‘Nuff said.
—My Ocala story: It was October 1990 and Vice President Dan Quayle was in Ocala. He’d be speaking at a luncheon at the Hilton, then go across the street to the College of Central Florida for another speech and a round-table with reporters.
This was way before the internet, kids, so I called the vice president’s office and got press credentials. No problem.
I get to the hotel and notice there’s no press waiting for Quayle to show up, like I’ve been told to do. Suddenly the door opens and all the reporters walk in, including two I recognized from the St. Petersburg Times and Tampa Tribune. Turns out there’s a reporter pool and I wasn’t in it.
No biggie except that when it was time for Quayle to leave for CF, the hotel would not be allowing anyone else to leave for 20 minutes. Meaning I’d miss the other speech and reporter roundtable.
Well, when the Secret Service opened the side door to let the reporters out, I just got in line and walked out with them, stepped right onto the reporter van without saying a word to anyone. We drove to the campus, I got out and walked with the group to where Quayle was speaking.
“Smooth move, Mike,” one of the reporters said under his breath as we walked away.
I still have that press credential. The one that got me nowhere.
— I enjoyed my Ocala visit. The town has a lot more going for it than what we see sitting in traffic. Take a drive yourself and if you see a guy along S.R. 200 hawking books, tell Dave I said hi.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.