Naples is a funny kind of place

by Jeff Lytle

Naples is a beautiful city and we have to be careful about the way houses look.

We need to guard against ugly, garish designs.

Let’s start at the top and outlaw shiny roofs. You know, the ones made of metal that reflect too much sunlight.

That was the gist of an actual, albeit brief, policy discussion at Naples City Hall a few decades ago. Not long after, City Council was asked by citizens to ban Frisbees at the beach. The perceived threat to beachgoers was so great that one petitioner referred to “killer Frisbees.”

City Hall also entertained discussion on what to do about Muscovy ducks and the mess they make on sidewalks, roofs and driveways. How much shooing and harassment should be legal? Or so the conversation went.

Yes, some funny things have happened around here since I arrived to work at the Naples Daily News in 1979, retiring 35 years later.

I think it was in the 1980s that a graduating class at Naples High School decided it would look neat to gather up plastic utensils called sporks – half spoon, half forks – and plant them on the campus lawn. The result looked like a garden of white plastic tulips.

The principal at the time was not amused – at the stunt or with the newspaper when a photographer showed up. The paper was told we would be barred from campus forever if we printed the picture. We did. And yes, we got back on campus.

Then there was the mysterious body many years ago at Naples Airport. It was discovered inside one of the many derelict planes that littered the property. Police roped off the crime scene and called the medical examiner, who was out of town and could not come take a look until the next day. When he did, he carefully inspected the old plane – discovering the ketchup-smeared carcass of a cooked chicken, dressed up in a shirt and pants. Somebody went to great lengths to pull a prank.

In the late 1960s or early 1970s, not one but two submarines visited the Naples Pier. The goodwill public relations visits included opportunities for tours of the tiny, cramped vessels.

One memorable photo of the occasions shows a car parked at the end of the pier. It was used by the pioneering AM radio station, WNOG – for Wonderful Naples on the Gulf – to ferry reporters around town.

On January 21, 1977, Florida newspapers’ front pages carried two big headline stories. One was about the inauguration of President Carter the day before, when it actually snowed in the Sunshine State.

The two occurrences prompted one Republican stalwart, who had a front page framed in his bank office, to remark: “I always said it would be a cold day when that peanut farmer ever got to the White House.”

Several years later, a would-be developer raised the bar for chutzpah by describing the Naples area as blighted to help secure government aid to refurbish the Edgewater Beach Hotel. The pitch man, whose name was Never Fail, did not succeed and faded from the scene.

A similarly short stint in the public eye was recorded by the local political candidate – for sheriff or county commission, as I recall – sought publicity by riding an elephant on Airport-Pulling Road.

It was funny – yet not funny for beachgoers and taxpayers –when a renourishment project unloaded rocks along with dredged sand on Naples’ shore.

The community had some fun offering solutions such as enlisting Boy Scouts to win merit badges by picking them up and encouraging gardeners to take some rocks home.

I get a chuckle today thinking back on the days when the community watched in interest as proposals for multiple shopping centers would come forward. Which one, we wondered, would manage to beat the competition and get built? The answer, of course, would be all of them.

Finally, talking about funny, the late Rich King was the master of smiles and good will on talk radio for 12 years before passing away in 2003. He arrived in Naples on WNOG after honing his craft in Midwest markets including Cincinnati and Milwaukee. David Letterman named King, alongside Jonathan Winters, as his main comedy influencers.

While twisting tails and needling everyone who deserved it, he also used his pulpit for charity fundraising. The Ricky King Children’s Fund, named for a son who died at age 5, carries on. Seriously.

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