1999 Year in review 

Jan. 1

• Florida Department of Children and Families confirms it is investigating how more than 200 toys -- many still in their original wrappers and all of them donated to the Christmas-time Toys for Tots campaign -- wound up in a trash bin behind the agency's Sarasota office.

• World Wildlife Fund names Withlacoochee State Forest, centered about 10 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico and 60 miles north of Tampa, among its "Top Ten Coolest Places You've Never Seen" in North America.

• A winter wallop slams the Midwest with ice and snow, eventually stranding holiday travelers in airports as far away as Orlando. Conversely, the storm rescues editors trapped in the newsrooms of local TV stations and the Sentinel, who are grateful to have something to report -- and with pictures! -- on a long, slow holiday weekend when half of their staffs are still on vacation.

• Not one single New Year's Eve reveler dies in a fall from a Church Street balcony. But you don't hear or read about it, because the media never reports the good news.

Jan. 2

Jan. 2

• Police break up an early-morning fight outside an Orange Avenue nightclub that began when a 327-pound Wisconsin tourist, overhearing the call "WOOOO PIG SOOOIIEEEEEEE," turned and decked a University of Arkansas student, who was just trying to hail his fellow Razorbacks across the street.

• At Orlando International Airport, the Wilkersons of Springfield, Ohio -- dad Ted, mom Janice, 14-year-old Jason and 9-year-old Erika -- wait four hours at the Northwest ticket counter to rebook their canceled flight home through Chicago. Fearful of losing his place in line, Ted gives lunch money to Jason, who returns from the gift shop with a pound-and-a-half of gummi alligators. Total bill: $88.37.

• An Orlando resident sets a new personal best by bowling a 151.

• Two months after sluggish business forced the closing of Marineland, another venerable Florida attraction, St. Petersburg's Sunken Gardens, is reported for sale to an owner who envisions the gardens as a nudist camp. There is no reaction from another little-visited attraction, Kissimmee's Splendid China, which might benefit from a similar transition and where the display of architectural landmarks in miniature lends itself to the marketing slogan, "Our Great Wall is so small, we make everything else look big."

Jan. 3

• Jeb Bush kicks off three days of inaugural events with an all-day concert in Miami's Bayfront Park. Headliners include the band Funkette, calling into question the earnestness of his entreaties to social conservatives. Was it just a campaign strategy after all?

• At Orlando International, Janice Wilkerson is told there just might be a flight out through St. Louis, and so leaves Ted still in line at Northwest, where he is waiting to be rebooked a third time, and heads for the TWA counter. There she meets Gene and Gerri Thompson, of Dubuque, Iowa, who raced over from the Continental counter 22 hours earlier and haven't advanced more than a foot since. Jason and Erika Wilkerson discover the airport shuttle system.

• A hospital continues to hold Aleen McKewen, of Lakeland, who was cleaning her dog's ears and set herself on fire when she tossed a match into a bathtub containing alcohol-soaked cotton swabs.

Jan. 4

• Kick-starting the contest for the Trial of the Century, Court TV broadcasts the trial of a Daytona Beach dog groomer charged in the death of a client's terrier.

• Under pressure from the Altamonte Springs City Council, Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse erects a corral around the fiberglass cows that decorate its lawn, so that alarmed drivers won't think they're free-range and threatening to cross the road.

• At Orlando International, Northwest informs Ted Wilkerson that his fourth rebooked flight -- now through Memphis, on to Houston and connecting with a necessary rerouting through Tokyo before reaching Chicago -- is canceled. Searching for Janice, he encounters the airport microbrewery. Erika, left on her own, finds the Disney Store, where helpful sales clerks have relabeled the stuffed toys as "pillows" and doubled the price. Jason plops down at the security gate and amuses himself trying to pick out the "terrorists."

• Central Florida Theatre Alliance announces its first legislative forum to "discuss ways the state government can and should participate in creating world-class culture." The topic: "Theatre or theater? And will it fill more seats if we tell 'em it's gator wrasslin'?"

• NBA's labor-relations committee recommends canceling what is left of the pro basketball season.

• Jeb Bush's Inaugural Ball is held in Tampa. In Tallahassee, where the next day's inaugural festivities will unfold, people tune in to watch Florida State battle Tennessee for the college football championship. The Bush ball is forced to bring in big screens to show the broadcast. FSU loses, 16-23.

Jan. 5

Jan. 5

• At Borders Books & Music in Oviedo, the former Journal Writing Group widens its focus to become the Adventures in Writing Group, now to include poetry, short stories and more. The rival Barnes & Noble chain responds by demanding clarification of the group's plans for the next 12 months. The only reply is a cryptic message left on the answering machine at Barnes & Noble's corporate headquarters, in which a Borders group member identifying herself as "Tanya" promises to deliver such materials "in writing."

• Jeb Bush is sworn in as Florida's 28th governor. Tallahassee mourns.

• At Orlando International, 9-year-old Erika Wilkerson reconnects with her mother -- still in line at TWA -- and builds a fort using luggage from the Thompsons and three other families, from which she now begins to dispense Meals on Wheels. Still at the microbrewery, Ted Wilkerson meets Charles Barkley -- suddenly back in Orlando, and with time on his hands -- who is looking for ladies whose honor he can defend by tossing patrons through a plate-glass window.

Jan. 6

Jan. 6

• Baby New Year -- you know, the one who ushered in the New Year wearing nothing but diapers, a top hat and a sash emblazoned "1999" -- turns up in foster care. Abandoned by revelers in the wee hours of New Year's Day, Baby New Year had wandered the streets aimlessly for five days and initially tried to get into Covenant House, only to be told there was no room at the inn.

• Temperatures that dip near freezing discourage swimmers from using the outdoor pool at Orlando's downtown YMCA, which raised fees to heat the pool on a ridiculous assumption that people might swim outdoors in weather like this.

• A midnight sweep of Orlando International Airport by police rousts the Wilkersons, the Thompsons and thousands of other stranded tourists, now bartering amongst themselves for food items and the last unsoiled copy of Vanity Fair for some light reading in the air. All are charged with violations of the city's ordinance. Only 14-year-old Jason Wilkerson is left behind, having been offered and accepted a full-time position with airport security.

Jan. 7

Jan. 7

• Again proving itself a nexus point for intellectual controversy, Borders Books & Music in Oviedo hosts members of the Literary Discussion Group, who convene to select its next few titles for review. An argument erupts between the male representatives, who vote for the fiscal-planning guide "Seven Steps to Financial Serfdom," and the distaff contingent, who cast their lot behind the autobiography "You Only Love Me After Last Call: One Woman's Struggle With Intimacy."

• Magic owner Rich DeVos offers the airport homeless a place to stay at the Orlando Arena on vacant game nights, on a per-night rate of $70 for seats in the lower bowl ($90 courtside) and $45 for the upper.


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