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Tuesday, Nov 20, 2018
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Big Guava and The Frau: A Steve Otto lexicon

Tribune columnist Steve Otto is known for coming up with nicknames for people, places and things that helped give Tampa its identity. A sampling:

The Big Guava: Tampa, in a nod to New York’s “Big Apple” nickname, from a column in the 1970s. “We all have slow days,” Otto recalled. “I thought, what do we have around here?” In fact, we don’t have indigenous guava trees. But a search for the trees in 1884 by a friend of Key West cigar magnate Vicente Martinez-Ybor led Ybor to move his cigar operations here, and Ybor City was born.

Boliche Boulevard: A stretch of Columbus Drive, roughly between Dale Mabry Highway and the Hillsborough River, with lots of inexpensive, authentic Cuban restaurants. An Otto haunt.

The Exploding Chicken. A 19-ton, 36-foot-tall George Sugarman metal sculpture, first placed in front of the cylindrical skyscraper at Kennedy Boulevard and Ashley Drive and now relocated to the Channel District roundabout. To some it vaguely resembles a stegosaurus. Otto had a different idea.

The Frau: Otto’s wife, Diane Field Otto. She’s actually Irish, but she became the Frau because of that bane of all newspaper columnists, the one-column headline. “ ‘Colleen’ wouldn’t fit,” Otto said.

Guavaween: A raffish Halloween-style festival in Ybor City with a parade called the Mama Guava Stumble, traditionally led by Mama Guava with Otto as Papa Guava. Otto backed off when it got too raunchy.

Lake Bob/Pam/Dick/Sandy/Billy: Otto’s way of calling attention to South Tampa’s flooding problems and the failure of successive city administrations to solve them. He gave the name Lake Billy, for the late Mayor Bill Poe, to a large water body that formed on his street in every heavy rain, so deep it trapped residents in their homes. It was renamed for each new mayor — Lake Sandy (Freedman), Lake Dick (Greco) and Lake Pam (Iorio). In 2012, a new pumping station finally dried up Lake Bob (Buckhorn).

Mama Guava: A tacky person of questionable morals who co-led the annual Guavaween parade. The character was played by local teacher Kathi Grau.

Ottographs: Miscellaneous short vignettes or observations in an Otto column, often on Monday, the day columnists tend to have trouble filling their space.

The Screamer: There were actually two in the 1980s: Otto’s oldest son, Matthew, now a project manager in Tampa for a communications firm, and his second son, Nicholas, a writer for an online news agency in Washington. “They both earned the title,” Otto said.

Tennessee: A dog Otto found near death from parvo and parasites on the side of a country road near Lynchburg, Tennessee, on a trip to judge the Jack Daniels barbecue contest. He took her to a vet, then home. The following year, at the same contest, he found and adopted a kitten. “They told us if we came back again they’d put a cow out there,” he said.

William March

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