Tampa Bay Instances reporter Gabrielle Calise walks readers down reminiscence lane

For the previous few years, most of Gabrielle Calise’s tales for the Tampa Bay Instances have been steeped in nostalgia or oddities. There was her 2019 story on the thong-clad ladies who as soon as made tons of cash promoting sizzling canines on the facet of busy roads in Tampa Bay. She’s written a few spaceship atop a Tampa strip membership, an annual custom of presidential candidate cookies and, most lately, wooden storks.

Calise first started culling via previous newspaper clippings and searching into landmarks as a Instances intern. Her curiosity led to a treasure trove of tales, which she now nurtures because the Tampa Bay Instances’ (which Poynter owns) tradition and nostalgia reporter.

How do you cowl sentimental eager for the previous? We chatted with Calise about her distinctive beat, how she finds tales, and much more.

This interview has been edited for readability and brevity.

What precisely is a nostalgia reporter?

I’m a reporter who focuses so much on native historical past, emotions that individuals have for the realm. However I also can form of (supply) a more recent tackle nostalgia. I did a narrative on St. Petersburg’s street-poet-for-hire who reached out to me as a result of he stated, “What’s extra nostalgic than a handwritten poem?” or a poem that, in his case, was typed up on a typewriter. I write so much about issues that I analysis utilizing our newspaper archives or Florida Reminiscence venture, which is the Florida State Library and Archives database that they’ve on-line with a lot of previous footage, articles and paperwork.

Final fall, Calise wrote a profile of poet-for-hire Giovanni Cerro of St. Petersburg, Florida. (Luis Santana, Tampa Bay Instances)

I speak to quite a lot of historians, however I additionally spend quite a lot of time in Fb teams and on Reddit, posts that individuals may have like, “Do you keep in mind this?” or “No matter occurred to that?” Numerous it, too, is combining extra fashionable ways in which we talk to sort of contact again on what the realm used to appear to be, the way it’s advanced, and the way that impacts the individuals who reside right here.

What’s actually cool about it’s it sort of helps with a number of buckets of individuals. Clearly, folks that basically love this embody: people who grew up within the space, or possibly their household moved down right here after they had been youthful they usually’ve been right here ever since; people who find themselves natives within the space, however then needed to transfer away. Nevertheless it’s additionally actually useful for people who find themselves shifting to the realm.

As we all know, St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay as an entire is blowing up proper now. You might have quite a lot of people who come to this space and there’s a lot that’s crammed into this area, and quite a lot of it’s completely different from one another. You’ll be able to go to 1 a part of city after which drive to a different in 20 minutes, and it simply has a unique feeling. There’s completely different landmarks, there’s completely different kinds of properties and completely different traditions.

It’s actually enjoyable to consider these people who find themselves coming in they usually would possibly suppose, “Why is that like that? Who put that there? What’s the cope with that factor?” and actually assist them demystify their new residence. And for the folks which have been right here all alongside, these tales assist them keep in mind one thing that was actually fascinating, or complicated, or enjoyable or simply brings up some enjoyable recollections.

What drew you to this beat? 

I’ve by no means fairly seen myself becoming into a number of the extra conventional beats. In faculty, I needed to strive all the things.

The matters that I stored coming again to had been actually enjoyable: quirky folks, fascinating locations, sort of a spirit-of-the-place that basically makes it distinctive. What’s one thing that this area is all the time going to have that units it aside from some other place? I suppose options reporter was the aspirational title and place. We all the time say we’re the enjoyable staff. We now have essentially the most broad vary of issues that we get to do.

I had utilized on the Tampa Bay Instances for (an internship) yearly of school as a result of I labored at a teen newspaper they used to publish referred to as tb-two*. I used to be writing quite a lot of these enjoyable culture-type tales there, so I figured I’d like to get again to the newspaper. Ultimately I used to be in a position to get an internship right here within the engagement facet of issues. Once I was engaged on Saturdays or Sundays and would have some additional time in between repairs for the web site and scheduling social media posts, I’d speak to the editors that I used to be working with. An enormous affect on me was John Martin, who was once a analysis librarian on the time and moved into an editor place. He would are available on Sundays, and we might simply speak concerning the area.

My household moved right here once I was 10 or 11, and so I’ve that cut up perspective of somebody who has grown up right here. At this level, I’ve been a Floridian longer than I’ve been somebody who’s from the North. However I can also keep in mind what it was prefer to first transfer right here and never perceive why there’s lizards working round … or perceive the good issues that each Floridian is aware of. John and I’d have these conversations, and I keep in mind we might discuss landmarks and previous theme parks that he used to go to that had very particular themes that had been sort of bizarre, like Six Gun Territory, the place that they had shootouts day by day, or Cypress Gardens, the place you might go and watch them water snowboarding and doing these nice performances.

We additionally would ask questions, like why are there so many strip golf equipment in Tampa? As we had been attending to speaking, he additionally advised me how I might discover this out … “Right here’s the way you go to newspapers.com. Right here’s the way you go to our information library behind the newsroom, right here’s how one can see the clips.”

I cherished this concept of reporting based mostly off of questions. My colleague Christopher Spata is actually good at this, of all the time having a central query that you just reply. I’d learn his tales that might say, like “Why does Publix have an enormous scale?” On the similar time, I used to be trying and seeing what different newspapers had been doing, and I used to be actually influenced by Hearken and the initiatives Hearken would do with newsrooms.

Sourcing both my very own curiosity or the curiosity of readers gave me a wealth of matters that I might discover. I stored discovering myself gravitating in the direction of native historical past, and I stored calling the identical historians and I stored going again to the identical sources. Then I found Fb teams, and simply what number of of them there are for our area. I’d begin to go and look and see what occurred this month 50 years in the past. What occurred 30 years in the past right here? I’d scroll and see an anniversary arising. What an ideal information peg for me to discover.

I believe the primary one that basically stood out to me was like this collection of strip membership historical past articles. My mother was like, “What are you doing?” Ultimately I defined it’s not likely about what you suppose it’s about. It’s not salacious to be salacious, however a lot of Tampa’s energy and cash goes into these strip golf equipment. And why do we have now so many? We now have this popularity as form of being just like the strip membership capital! Are we actually? Do we have now essentially the most? Do we have now the largest? Not essentially, however, let’s check out the place we bought this popularity. The extra that I appeared into it, the extra ridiculous tales that got here out of it. And I discovered myself simply leaning absolutely into it.

They moved me right into a hybrid social media and reporting place after which ultimately, they had been similar to, “OK, be a full-time reporter and do a majority of these bizarre tales on a regular basis.”

How do you discover your tales? What I’m getting is that you just depend on your pure curiosity, Fb teams, and archives.

There’s numerous ways in which I do it. I do love the native subreddits that we have now, so r/Tampa, r/St. Petersburg, r/Florida. I’ve an enormous Google Doc of many Florida and native municipality-themed teams.

Part of it, too, comes with simply speaking to folks. I like having pals who’re older and have lived within the space so long as I’ve been alive, or longer. They’re those who say, “Oh my gosh, you bought to write down about this place or that place.” However I additionally like speaking to people who find themselves newer to the realm. My boyfriend is definitely a very nice sounding board as a result of he got here right here from Ohio at first of the pandemic. It’s actually enjoyable seeing it via the eyes of somebody who’s studying about Florida as he goes and has these pure questions.

Once I went to the native bakery Alessi in Tampa, that they had just like the presidential cookies. You possibly can purchase a cookie for the candidate that you just needed to win and they might tally up. I texted him an image and I stated, “Oh my gosh, I’ve to purchase a cookie for my mother as a result of she is a fan of one in all these candidates.” And he stated, “It is best to write about that. Why did they do this? How lengthy have they been doing that for?” It seems it was this lengthy storied custom. So having quite a lot of views and folks to assist faucet into that pure curiosity is actually useful.

I do suppose that we take with no consideration the place the place we reside. Regardless of the place we reside, and regardless of how great it’s, you get used to it. Simply ensuring that you just’re continually seeing it via the eyes of different folks is actually useful. And I do ask readers so much. We like to do engagement-based tales. For some time earlier than the pandemic bought loopy, I used to be doing a collection that we referred to as Florida Wonders the place we invited folks to ship in questions on what they had been interested in. Numerous occasions it’s our actually great readers who’re calling or emailing in to say, “It is best to verify this out.”

What makes one thing nostalgic for readers? 

I believe it’s one thing that brings up an emotion for you. It might be, “Gosh, I cherished going to the airport once I was a child and watching the planes take off” and, “I cherished after we used to go to this bizarre roadside attraction that was truthfully sort of hokey and undoubtedly goofy, however man, keep in mind after we used to do this?” It might be that, but it surely is also you’re irritated at one thing otherwise you keep in mind being like, “Oh, that’s such an eyesore. Why did they put that there?” Something that basically brings up recollections — matters you’d discuss for those who’re out at dinner, or (having) drinks with your pals and also you begin to enter the reminiscence that you just had, I believe qualifies as like a superb nostalgia story.

There are completely different dangers you can tackle this beat. I like to seek out people who find themselves occurring a mission. I actually needed to do one thing on the recent canine ladies of Florida. They had been these ladies who would put on thong bikinis and stand out on the facet of main roads in Tampa Bay and different elements of Florida. They’d promote sizzling canines from carts. Vehicles would decelerate and say hello, or pull over and get a sizzling canine. It was sort of an inexpensive gimmick, but it surely labored. It was this phenomenon that existed via the ’90s, however all of the sudden the recent canine ladies disappeared. I keep in mind having a dialog with our newsroom clerk who stated, “It is best to write concerning the sizzling canine ladies.”

Valerie Workman, a former sizzling canine lady who was featured in a narrative by Calise for the Tampa Bay Instances. (Photograph courtesy of Valerie Workman for the Instances)

I went on this campaign to seek out out what occurred to them. The very best factor occurred. As I used to be on-line Fb teams, I discovered a girl who was once a sizzling canine lady, and he or she was on a mission herself to seek out what occurred to her long-lost sizzling canine sisters. So the story grew to become each concerning the phenomenon of those ladies who would exit and get their cash and do it in a very inventive only-in-Florida manner, but in addition who’s the girl who’s on a hunt for the opposite sizzling canine ladies? How can I take this expertise of diving into her recollections and her private campaign and share them with readers?

That sort of is just like the core of what I’m making an attempt to do. Not each story goes to have an incredible central determine who’s in pursuit of one thing like that, however for those who can faucet into that, then that’s actually useful as a result of it’s not solely the nostalgia of the group, however you’ll be able to reside it via the eyes of 1 individual.

What has been the best group response to one in all your tales?

I believe there’s a few matters which have actually resonated with folks, so it sort of overlaps. Individuals love landmarks and I like landmarks, too. Each time we write concerning the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, somebody has one thing to say about it. Individuals actually care about it and have quite a lot of emotions about it.

I wrote a narrative about these two males who had been divers that might examine bridges. On the day that the unique Sunshine Skyway Bridge collapsed, they went to go assist they usually pulled our bodies out of the water. It actually caught with them and nobody had ever advised their story earlier than. So on the fortieth anniversary of the Skyway, I advised their story and sort of shared what life has been like for them ever since then. That was one the place folks actually cared about it.

I keep in mind one of many early tales that I did was asking folks to inform me the landmarks that they felt had been eyesores. Individuals would write in and say, “I can not stand the Beer Can Constructing in Tampa.” These kinds of tales work very well.

In 2019, Calise wrote concerning the iconic spaceship atop the 2001 Odyssey, a strip membership in Tampa. (Luis Santana, Tampa Bay Instances)

Actually, something about Tampa strip membership tradition, folks can’t get sufficient of. So combining that with the landmarks, I did a narrative concerning the spaceship on high of 2001 Odyssey as a result of I simply needed to know, why would you do this? Why would you place a spaceship on high of a strip membership?

Have you ever ever acquired a response that stunned you? 

On a regular basis. Once I first began doing this, generally I’d get responses from folks being like, “Effectively, this isn’t my expertise” or, “I don’t consider it this manner.” Generally you simply name up the reader and you’ve got a dialog and also you say, “Effectively, what do you keep in mind about it?” I believe simply everybody experiences these locations in another way.

Daily I’m stunned. Principally, I’m simply stunned that I get to do that job. Generally I fear, am I ever going to expire of stuff? I’ll have a time the place I’m on the lookout for tales and I find yourself doing like a shorter piece or engaged on one thing for my different beat, after which one thing will come up and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, let’s do it. Why didn’t I consider this earlier?”

What’s essentially the most fascinating nostalgia story you’ve advised? 

Effectively, clearly I like each single strip membership story that I’ve written, beginning with the one concerning the ’90s push to finish the lap dance in Tampa.

Oh, I do not forget that story!

The humorous factor about that is I used to be born in 1995, so quite a lot of these things was occurring earlier than I used to be born or once I was like a really small youngster. However that’s OK. I get to reside vicariously via the clips and thru the folks that I’m speaking to. And historical past is for everybody, proper?

That story was one in all my favourite issues that I bought to do. I bought to study Joe Redner, who’s the strip membership king of Tampa, who went to battle towards town. There was this tremendous lengthy metropolis council assembly that lasted, I believe, 12 hours, and he actually went to bat for his dancers and for his membership in order that they couldn’t implement this ordinance that might basically make a lap dance one thing that was banned. They ended up passing this ordinance. The loopy factor is, it’s nonetheless on the books, however as a result of Redner and so many different membership house owners and so many dancers made such a stink about it, imposing it simply grew to become manner an excessive amount of of a problem.

I additionally actually love telling a narrative about somebody who’s nearer to my age, of their 20s or early 30s, and who has that love for nostalgia and is doing one thing within the modern-day to dig up as many items of the previous as doable.

In 2020, Calise wrote a few Florida native who purchased Cerro Gordo, a ghost city nestled within the Inyo Mountains of California. It is a picture of the previous American Resort within the city. (Photograph courtesy of Brent Underwood for the Instances)

There’s this man who’s from Florida and bought a ghost city in California referred to as Cerro Gordo, and he’s been residing on the ghost city, making an attempt to repair it up and study all of the completely different artifacts that he finds throughout the entire pandemic — simply him and a few the animals which can be on the market and a few volunteers that come to go to him. That caught with me. I take into consideration him on a regular basis.

I did a narrative about city explorers who break into deserted locations and attempt to piece collectively the historical past of them. I take into consideration that each time I go by the YMCA constructing in downtown St. Petersburg. I’m like, “I do know somebody who went in there” and I take into consideration the photographs they took and the tales that they inform.

I’ve one final one. There’s this man who isn’t even a Floridian, however he’s fascinated with the nonstandard McDonald’s of Florida — the McDonald’s eating places which have themes to them. And I take into consideration how, each time I’m going to McDonald’s, I take into consideration this man on a quest to doc the previous McDonald’s of Florida.

So I take it you can’t pinpoint only one most fascinating story. 

No. No, there’s not. I’m sorry.

No, it’s high quality. I like that. And I truly need that to be a part of the Q&A.

I simply love all of them a lot.

If there’s a reporter who reads this and decides to strive discovering nostalgia tales in their very own group, what could be your recommendation to them? 

It is best to completely search for nostalgia tales, regardless of who you’re, what beat you’ve got, or the place you’re working. That is one thing the place, regardless of how folks really feel concerning the publication that you just work for, they’re going to be grateful that you just explored this. I completely encourage it.

I believe the very best place to begin is trying into what’s on the market. Like I stated, Fb teams are my bread and butter. I’d advocate stepping into, looking out and seeing if there are any “Bear in mind” plus the identify of your metropolis. Then I’d advocate folks check out vital anniversaries. This might imply calling up an area historian or somebody on the college by you and simply speaking about, “OK, what are a number of the huge dates that individuals would possibly wish to know?” After which possibly take into consideration matters: What’s one thing about your space that individuals have tremendous robust emotions about?

I believe the very best factor that you are able to do is simply ask readers what they wish to learn about. Ask them, what have they all the time been interested in? Maintain a working record.

It’s OK if you wish to sit on some concepts, however the extra you get on the market and the extra that you just let your self get carried away together with your pure curiosity, the higher that you just’re going to do with this. I believe, to have success in this sort of beat, you actually should indulge that inside curiosity and contain folks in your life on this.

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