The Sunshine City – St. Petersburg

Welcome to Doc Ford’s and the architectural marvel that is the new St. Pete Pier.  If I believed in parallel universes, I might also believe that, through bumbling good luck, I was destined to become a member of this, one of Florida’s most vibrant and beautiful waterfront cities.

Spiritual gibberish, you say? Well, maybe.  Keep reading.

During tarpon season, 1980, when I was a fishing guide on Sanibel Island, I received a potentially life-changing phone call.  It was from the executive editor of The St. Petersburg Times.  (We’ll call him Robert H.)  He’d been impressed by an article I’d written for Rolling Stone’s new Outside Magazine.

“We’re looking for a columnist,” Robert H. said.  “Interested?”

Darn right I was interested.  The St. Pete Times had won umpteen Pulitzer Prizes.  It was one of the finest newspapers in the nation.  I’d been guiding since the mid-1970s, but my secret goal was to become a fulltime writer.

The interview was on a Sunday.  Robert H., a nice man, was dressed for tennis.  “Do you play?” he asked.

“Twice,” I said. “I spent the whole time apologizing.”

We were off to a shaky start.

It got better.  An hour later, Robert H. offered me the job.  I was thrilled –but this was tarpon season.  My trip to St. Pete had cost me a charter.  It seemed reasonable to discuss salary.

On a slip of paper, Robert H., a perceptive man, wrote an offer, then read my reaction accurately.  He crossed out some numbers, and added $10 a week.

“This is the St. Pete Times,” he reminded me.

Arrogance played no role.  For me, an unknown writer with zero formal training, this was an incredible opportunity.

“I’ll give it some serious thought,” I said.

I did, and darn near accepted the offer.  If I had, every small twist and turn in my life would have been forever changed. 

In the decade that followed, there were times that I regretted the decision.  In 1988, my marina closed.  I was out of a job.  Aside from a license to drive big boats, I wasn’t qualified to do anything useful.  But I still owned a typewriter.

After a year of hard work, my first novel, Sanibel Flats, was published.  It introduced a few (very few) readers to marine biologist Doc (Marion D.) Ford, and his unrepentant hipster pal, Tomlinson.  These were hard core tropic travelers; decent men with senses of humor.  Each, in his way, was devoted to the obligations of friendship, family and their respective moral compass.

Both men attracted trouble.  Both men lived secret lives.

Sanibel Flats did nothing to threaten their anonymity.  Sales were minuscule.  National reviews, however, were enthusiastic, so I continued to chronicle the adventures of Doc, Tomlinson, and my marina pals, all of whom orbited freely around a semi-fictional “Dinkin’s Bay.”

Now, many novels later, I have yet to cross the Sunshine Skyway without contemplating a parallel universe, and the cheery destiny of being part of St. Pete.

Still sound like spiritual gibberish?

Nope.  Look around, and welcome to the Doc Ford’s family.  By virtue of being here, you are a member of the same quirky, excellence-driven characters who staff this restaurant, and populate my novels.

My brilliant partners, Marty and Brenda Harrity, Mark and Julie Marinello, would agree.

— Randy Wayne White

Terra Ceia, Florida

So check out our new St. Pete location and tell us your experience at Tripadvisor.

Day time view of our outdoor patio
Nighttime view of our outdoor patio

Click the links below to read others.