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Community Voices: Exorcising (or exercising) our demons at Demens Landing

Roy Peter Clark

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Our new routine includes mid-morning exercise – walking and stretching – usually at or near a park on the south end of St. Petersburg. While we spend most of our time in the house – and no one else comes in – we take advantage of an escape clause that allows us to step into the sunshine for exercise. 

On Saturday morning we drove four miles downtown – if this is considered unnecessary travel, we apologize – and parked on the street near the entrance of Demens Landing.

When I first got to town and heard a mention of Demens Landing, I thought the word was Demons. Maybe that’s the place witches and ghosts gather at Halloween, I wondered. The landing is named after a man named Peter Demens, one of the founding parents of our fair city.

He was born in Russia, his real name Pyotr Dementyev, and arrived in America in 1881. He moved to Florida, helped build a railroad across the state, came to own the company, and settled where the trains made their final stop. There in 1888 he and other leaders created a new city. A city needs a name, and the story goes that Peter Demens drew the long straw. He chose the name St. Petersburg, the city in Russia where he was born. 

Fortunately, when Russia became the Soviet Union, our Florida city did not have rename itself Leningrad. 

So thank you, Peter Demens, for the cool name St. Pete and for lending your own name to what felt, on Saturday morning, as a bit of heaven on this tremulous earth.

Karen and I were among the walkers – mostly couples – keeping our distance while being washed by a sweet breeze and looking out at a vivid blue sky and into bay that was as clear as I have ever seen it. Countless bait fish zigzagged near the seawall, and as we looked down the water was clear enough to count the rocks. 

It was a vantage point from which we could see the development of the new Pier.  It looks so promising, so full of potential, and should be a great destination for all of us when the pandemic has passed. Something to look forward to. 

From there, we watched as one fancy boat glided from the marina into the bay, with the passengers sitting in the bow, a little too close I thought. Or am I being too stern?

Small planes soared over the seascape for a landing at that hip pocket of a municipal airport, Albert Whitted. For some reason, the scene reminded me that St. Pete played a significant role in the history of aviation. We were standing not far from where that pioneering aviator Tony Jannus winged his way across the bay. (Tony, we are so glad it was you and not Lindbergh!)

We strolled back toward our car across the walking bridge toward Beach Drive. As we stepped on the sidewalk, a shadow passed over us and a commotion splashed behind us. We turned just in time to see a cheeky brown pelican surface. “Does he have a fish?” asked Karen. Mr. Pelican tilted his head back to swallow what appeared to be a tasty morsel in that great satchel of a beak.  I swear he winked at me, and I nodded my head in tribute.

“There’s a manatee,” a lady shouted down the sidewalk a bit. Karen caught sight of its head, but I could only see bubbles and concentric circles of ripples in the shallows.

Down along the seawall floated two objects. One was a plastic water bottle. I could not quite make out the other, but it was white and curved. “Oh my God,” I said to Karen, “it’s a medical mask.” It was an optical illusion of the moment. During a pandemic, you can see a mask, even when it is only a folded paper plate.   

That was a pretty damn good hour spent, without violating the rules, in the city that Peter Demens named.

As for rules, I end by giving credit to the men and women of St. Pete’s Police Department. Two male officers rode their bicycles through the park, waving at us as I saluted them, and greeting the walkers. Last night at another park we saw two female officers line dancing – at a safe distance – with a small group of other ladies. It was pretty cool to see the sturdy women in blue doing the Cha Cha Slide.

We agree this pandemic is something we have not seen before. In a democracy, we don’t want to be told we have to stay in our houses. Words like quarantine and curfew and boundaries and checkpoints go against the grain. In short, we don’t want to be told what to do. In some countries, rules to preserve public health are enforced by a police state. It feels so comforting to be served by vigilant law enforcement officers who know how and when to chill. 

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1 Comment

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    Greg Kahn

    March 31, 2020at1:18 pm

    There are numerous liveaboards in the marina at Demens Landing Park. We pay an extra fee to do this. This is our home. We don’t have anywhere elese to go. Many of us are elderly. Boats are close together. Please keep us in mind and enjoy albert whitted park instead.

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