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Jackson: Celebrating 15 years on ‘temporary’ assignment

The managing editor had a plan. Of course he did. Every managing editor always has a plan, or they don’t remain managing editors. At that moment, however, sometime around the Ides of March 1998, the plan this particular managing editor (long since retired to Virginia) was massaging involved me. Which was not — is not — routinely the case, for better or worse (although I strongly suspect the former). The previous occupant of this space had taken a new job, creating an opening that had to be filled quickly. The newspaper war and all. Interested? When I failed to leap, the boss interjected, “Just temporarily. Eighteen months, maybe two years. Then we’ll bring you home.” We shook hands. My first column under that arrangement appeared in The Pasco Tribune on April 5, 1998. Precisely 15 years ago.
Now, I’ll readily concede journalists and numbers make a dangerous mix. Nonetheless, and I think most of Pasco’s high school math teachers will back me up: 15 is something more than two. This merely is an observation, not a complaint. As the greeting card says, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” Also, historians tell us the Eiffel Tower was approved only as a temporary structure. Baseball lore holds that Lou Gehrig broke into the Yankees’ lineup as a substitute for an ailing Wally Pipp. And federal spending today rolls on near the heights enacted four and five years ago to address passing emergencies. The temporary becomes not so temporary. It happens. Besides, roughly 2,700 columns later, my definition of what constitutes home has morphed (the opinion of homeowners near Mansfield Boulevard notwithstanding), which only seems fitting. After all, the idea that people have their bedrooms in one county and their workplaces in the other is one of Pasco’s enduring narratives. Also true then and now is this from Column No. 1: “Pasco, a slender slash of cultural, social, developmental and geopolitical collisionsis Florida writ compact, and then some, from Gulf shores to pine flats to rolling hills. Pasco is not enough water, and then way too much. It is life-long residents who like things the way they were, and newcomers longing for community, their way.” Six years and some months later, Florida’s governor galvanized that assessment in a well-reported telephone call to his brother in the White House. First in the state to deliver its election returns, Pasco had gone lopsidedly for George W. Bush. “As Pasco goes,” Jeb Bush told the president, “so goes Florida.” It’s no secret Pasco’s bellwether status has slipped. Nowadays, it’s more like, “As Pasco goes, so goes Hernando.” That doesn’t mean we’re any less like Greater Florida, only that we’re a bit less like Miami-Dade. There are blessings in that. Otherwise, the tumult that was Pasco then continues unabated. Consider these haunting tales from the spring of 1998: The trial of a double-murder suspect unfolded in Dade City; Port Richey parents grieved their son, killed in a motorcycle crash; a mom pleaded with Georgia prison authorities to parole her son to her home in Zephyrhills, promising he’d stay clean (he didn’t); and a west Pasco congressional candidate admitted to an embarrassing personal episode (he’d performed as a male stripper to pay law school bills). Also in Zephyrhills, a declared pothead championed medical marijuana saying, “To me, all use of marijuana is medicinal”; in New Port Richey, the 40-year-old survivor of a high-risk pregnancy was warring with her HMO; and as Pasco’s top high school seniors gathered for an honors banquet at Saint Leo University, the antithesis of achievement, trapped in a Ridge Manor convenience store, squeezed the trigger one last time, ending a daylong murder spree while reigniting arguments over firearms, background checks and domestic partners who withhold information critical to law enforcement. The more things change, right? We also wrote this at the launch, and it bears repeating, if only for the sake of the author’s focus: “A column is most like a hatchet. Turned one way, it can be used to tap down nails, loosen over-tight jar lids, or pound tent pegs. Turned the other, it can drop small trees, split logs for kindling or, in a pinch, open a can of beans. But it should be applied to all tasks with care, and rarely in anger, lest the user cause unwarranted, possibly irreparable, damage.” Words to navigate by for, say, another 15 years?

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Twitter: @tjacksonTBO

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