“Nobody claim 2022 as ‘your year’. We’re all going to walk in real slow. Be good. Be quiet. Be cautious and respectful. Don’t touch anything.”
Last year, our designer created a humorous illustration for the final issue of 2020, featuring rolls of toilet paper and masks. We used a simple headline: “Goodbye 2020” which sort of said it all.
2021 would certainly be better.
And 2021 certainly had its bright spots: Vaccines! No more lockdown! Doing things that required wearing pants! Champa Bay! Booster shots! St. Petersburg’s first Black mayor! Gulfport Rebound! Ted Lasso!
For my part, I cried when I could finally hug my parents when we, fully vaccinated, ate Easter dinner together. People started to believe in the economy enough that more advertisers returned to The Gabber. Most of our staff found remnant or high-risk doses in March, and could stress a little less.
2020 set the bar pretty low, and while 2021 definitely cleared it, the year didn’t exactly set any records for “best year ever”: January 6. Delta. Omicron. Possibly more variants by the time this issue goes to press. Inflation. Supply chain woes. The opioid crisis.
Locally, we lost two Gulfport icons this year: Larry Enlow and Keith Stillwagon, and I know more families have felt the sting of loss. Small businesses struggled to find – or bring back – employees. Restaurants dealt with rising food costs and staff shortages.
In the following pages, we review 12 covers that show the year through our eyes, good and bad.
We don’t know what 2022 will bring, but we know this: We’ll report on whatever comes.
Here’s our year in review:
Friends in wet places. With more people outside than ever before, Tampa Bay’s aquatic preserves got a boost from “friends” groups. This cover – with a stunning self portrait of park ranger Larry Busby – celebrates the people in and around Tampa Bay working to protect it.
Rescue me! Gulfport’s Get Rescued, one of Gulfport’s favorite festivals (aren’t they all our favorites, though?), supports rescue organizations throughout Tampa Bay – including skunk rescues. Florida Skunk Rescue shared this cover art from Robert Phelps with us.
Batter UP! Gulfport Little League swung – once again – into our hearts, masks and all, on opening day. One of the hallmarks of a great community is how it treats its youngest and oldest residents, and Gulfport’s treatment of its youngest ball players (T-ball, anyone?) speaks volumes about what our community values.
Bee serious. With news about colony collapse and the varroa mite, plus the added threat of increased pesticide use and decreased pollinator plants in landscapes, beekeepers like Sarah Karakoudas – on this April cover – are literally saving the planet when they rescue imperiled bees.
Help! I need somebody! In 2020, furloughed, fired, and laid-off workers had a lot of time to reconsider their life options, and many of them decided that maybe working for tips wasn’t how they wanted to follow their bliss. Local restaurants faced an epic hiring crisis.
Waking up. Gulfport saw its first Juneteenth celebration, thanks to the Gulfport Kiwanis and cultural rock star Marissa Dix. After a long 2020 of racially motivated protests, Gulfport came together to commemorate the end of slavery. Considering the first Gulfportians were blockade runners for the South in the Civil War, this felt like a huge step.
Gabber time. Being able to re-open – and stay publishing, for a year – The Gabber made everyone on Team Gabber feel a little emotional about being able to give our corner of the globe the news they want – and need. This was one of many COVID-19-related belated ribbon cuttings.
Mask up. Or not. After a summer of the world taking a victory lap over vaccines and not having to wear masks in Winn-Dixie, a sobering reality hit: Kids couldn’t get vaccinated, and Florida schools couldn’t require them to wear masks. More than one parent called our office in frustration.
Goodbye, friend. Larry Enlow’s death hit people hard. Not only did much of the community treasure Larry, it seemed unfair. After all, he’d done everything right – masking up, social distancing, and getting vaccinated. His death sent ripples through our community, and a tacit admission: This is not over.
Jam on it. Hot Tonic’s music makes people feel good. This local band went from living in a van in Gulfport parking lots to one of the most sought-after bands in Gulfport. The band is a Wednesday staple on stage at the North End Taphouse, and continues to bring upbeat swing music to downtown Gulfport.
Proud service. This cover story about two veterans who hid who they were to serve a country that wouldn’t acknowledge them resonated with some… and upset others. The article and the resulting letters showed us we have a long way to go before our community can move past “don’t ask don’t tell” to “love is love”.
Beautiful Dancer. If 2021 has taught us anything, it’s that we are strongest when strength demands it. Young ballerina and head dancer Brianna Melton stepped in as artistic director for the St. Petersburg Ballet Conservatory and choreographed and directed their production of “The Nutcracker.”