As sure as armadillos tear up gardens and raw kumquats pucker lips, this much is verifiable about Pasco County: Despite what its borders suggest, the massive slab of real estate that squats atop Hillsborough and Pinellas is not one county, but instead is at least two, if not three, each neatly defined by a north-south thoroughfare.
You know how it works. East-siders cluster around U.S. 301. West-siders rarely venture past Little Road. And, that leaves those in the center to squabble over where Land O’ Lakes — which, as you very well know, was here first — ends and upstart Wesley Chapel begins.
All this (generally good-natured) geographic division accounts for much of why there’s a county fair in Dade City and a remarkably similar festival in New Port Richey, and, more pragmatically, why there are essentially duplicated east and west county government offices.
Nothing, outside the occasional election, seems capable of bringing Pasco together.
Except, perhaps, this: The Angelus, a group home for severely handicapped people, has demonstrated uniquely how to bridge Pasco’s recalcitrant divide. Relocated from St. Petersburg to Hudson in 1986, The Angelus has episodically united not just Pasco, but the entire region on its behalf.
That season of unity is approaching once more, and once more, we are caught up in the magic of what individuals, pulling together on behalf of the less fortunate among us, can achieve.
In that spirit, three devoted west-siders — proving there is life east of Little Road, and even the Suncoast Parkway — gathered recently in the shade of the breeze-swept pavilion at Tampa Bay Shooting Clays and Archery, a remote destination that, nonetheless, occasionally becomes Pasco’s throbbing heart.
Assembled around a newly assembled picnic table on a gentle October afternoon hinting at autumn, the place smelled of fresh-cut wood and anticipation.
These three — raconteur and events director Tammy Williams, Port Richey businessman Steve Farrell and county Commissioner Mike Wells Jr. — had come far at the behest of Land O’ Lakes developer Skip Schaer to tout the virtues of Charliepalooza 2016 (for the headliner, country music star Charlie Daniels), No. 26 if you’re keeping score at home.
Instead, they kept drifting back to the extraordinary things that happen every day at The Angelus, where perfectly bright people, locked by sheer happenstance into substandard bodies, see their dreams nurtured, hopes encouraged, efforts rewarded, delights shared and disappointments comforted.
Dazzling. Remarkable. Bracing. Enchanting.
Much of what is achieved there, as the foundation’s literature likes to point out, comes from unalloyed love. The rest of the operation, however, takes money — large piles of the stuff — and the board’s efforts are both tireless and unending.
This is where even those who rarely, perhaps never, set foot on the far side of Starkey Park come in. This year’s three-day affair (Dec. 1 to Dec. 3) has the right stuff to conjure up a generous holiday mood. For golfers, there’s a pairing party (plus a mini-concert) that Thursday night at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, followed the next day by a golf tournament at Hunter’s Green in New Tampa, plus an awards dinner (and a mini-concert) that night.
Charliepalooza moves that Saturday (Dec. 3) to Tampa Bay Shooting Clays, in the Ehren Cutoff bend, and wraps that night with a full-blown concert at the Dallas Bull, about a mile south of the Florida State Fairgrounds on U.S. 301. Headlined by Daniels himself, the event features Montgomery Gentry, Confederate Railroad and, from Hudson, the Embry Brothers Band.
Here’s why we came to the range: As extraordinary as each phase has been over the years, the Saturday of blasting away at clay targets — entering its fourth year — has begun to emerge as the linchpin.
“It’s a big challenge, like golf,” Wells says. “But, it’s quicker than golf.” And, not to put too fine a point on it, “I’m better at it than I am at golf.”
Better still, there’s no telling who you’re likely to bump into. A NASCAR driver, maybe a NASCAR crew chief. Buccaneer Super Bowl hero Mike Alstott is a regular. Cartoonist Guy Gilchrist. You might even catch Daniels himself going incognito, swapping his Stetson for an identity-disguising ball cap.
Reiterates Williams, “You never know who’s going to show up.”
Well. Remember that part how The Angelus, for its remote locale, brings Pascoans together? He’s not what you’d call a celebrity, exactly, but well-known rancher-developer J.D. Porter, of Wiregrass notoriety, has vowed to field at least one team of Saturday shooters.
And, as he has in the past, Paul Harvey — of Harvey’s Hardware on Land O’ Lakes Boulevard — is conspiring with Case on an assortment of unique collector’s knives for auction. Imagine that: the knives that bind.
The bridge to a tighter, better Pasco is there. All we have to do is cross it. Begin by investigating your Charliepalooza options at TheAngelus.com, or by calling Tammy Williams at (727) 243-8293.