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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Bean's boast of 100-foot sandwich rings true

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For maybe 20 seconds, I hesitated. Did I really want to stir up controversy in Ybor City where a good argument over a couple of cups of cafe con leche is a way of life?

The issue is the Cuban sandwich.

Last week there was a lot of hoopla when a group of chefs created a 49-foot Cuban sandwich on the Hillsborough Community College campus in Ybor. The sandwich shattered the record of 36 feet set the year before in the same room. We ran a picture of the sandwich in Mother Trib and it was on TV and probably everywhere around the world. Organizers of the event promised to create an even bigger one next year.

A couple of nights ago I got a call at home. It was Tommy Stephens. "I think it was all those Guavaween parades you led that burned your brain,'' he said. "All that stuff about the world's biggest Cuban. Don't tell me you've forgotten. We built one twice that big!''

It helps to know that Stephens enjoys life to the fullest. At our first Guavaween parade, where I was the grand marshal of one of the stranger collections of parade marchers, he showed up as a giant, gas-emitting black bean, going down the street in a cloud of white smoke.

He is also the guy who began the annual funeral celebration for James Rooster, one of Ybor's louder resident fowls, who sadly was run over one night. For years J. Rooster was remembered by a procession of characters dressed in New Orleans-style get-ups through the streets of Ybor to the memorial set up in Stephens' backyard.

Sandwiches of the past

I sat down, trying to think back slowly through the mustard-shrouded mist and stacks of salami and pork until it came back to me. It was the Ybor City centennial back in 1986 and sure enough Stephens, a welder by profession, had put together a long, long rack for his 50-foot Cuban out in front of the former Ferlita bakery, which is now the Ybor State Museum.

"I knew we could do better, so I just built another 50-foot rack and we attached it to the old one. It was exactly 100 feet long. And the day you had the first Guavaween, we made it. Mayor (Sandy) Freedman came out and measured it at 100 feet and four inches. We were going to submit it to the Guinness people, but I think too many of us had too much to drink and we forgot.''

He says he has some pictures stuck away and will send them if he can find one. He doesn't have to. I was there and remember the sandwich.

It's going to be interesting to see what this year's organizers come up with next year because if they really want to claim victory they are going to have to top 100 feet.

Crow vocabulary

Finally, and I'm going to apologize in advance for regular contributor Richard Broye, but I can't help myself. "Researchers for the Florida Turnpike Authority,'' he reports, "recently found over 200 dead crows near Tampa International and there was concern they may have died from Avian Flu.

"To their relief, pathology reports said it was not the flu.''

The cause of death appeared to be vehicular impact. By analyzing paint residues it was determined 98 percent of the crows had been killed by trucks and 2 percent by cars.

FTA hired an ornithological behaviorist who concluded that when crows eat road kill they always have a lookout crow for impending danger.

Their conclusion was that while all lookout crows could say ''Cah!,'' none could say ''Truck!''

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