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How I wrote myself into a real-life romcom – that became a survivalist thriller

how-i-wrote-myself-into-a-real-life-romcom-–-that-became-a-survivalist-thriller

He doesn’t love me. He never loved me. And he isn’t looking for me – so I damn well better survive the night on my own.

No food, no tent, no map. No one to blame but myself. Too bad burning hot shame isn’t a heat source.

Moonlight traces a craggy ridgeline up around me. The sparse lodgepole pines give way to barren rock, which means 12,000ft elevation. Thin air breeds spartan creatures – mountain lions, king snakes, bighorn sheep. Not soft-fingered writers.

My body curls into the fetal position inside the soggy sleeping bag. The hard earth refuses to yield an inch to the curve of my hip.

I lay my spine flat and look up – I haven’t seen a star in nine years. The Perseid meteor shower should peak tonight.

Hey, if I don’t make it, at least I’ll get a good show, right? But nothing falls.


“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” writes Joan Didion. “We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”

My compulsion started around the time my father surprised everyone by dying. I’d just been dumped by the first person I’d ever kissed. Then I’d blown out my knee in a basketball game and torpedoed my collegiate career. I craved control over an uncontrollable world.

So I began to write. When I’m overwhelmed, I imagine I’m inside a movie of my own design. Nothing can hurt the omniscient narrator.

Of course, it’s a trap.

This is a love story. More specifically, it’s a story about how I froze the phantasmagoria into a false map and got terribly lost. We tell ourselves stories in order to live, unless they end up killing us.


I met Mountain Man at a boarding school in Ojai, California – my first job out of college. The faculty led mandatory backpacking trips, often to a camp under Mount Langley in the Sierras.

illustration of woman climbing giant man like a mountain
Photograph: Genevieve Ashley/Narratively

He arrived my second year at the school – the hirsute love child of Ryan Gosling and Bear Grylls. His eyes were the blue of alpine lakes. He took jobs when he felt like it and lived off the grid when he didn’t. He caught trout with his bare hands and had once lived in the Sierras for 40 days and nights alone. How Biblical.

I saw him for the first time at an outdoor school assembly. I stepped out of the air-conditioned admission office wearing a Laura Ashley knockoff from the Tall Girl Shop. Mountain Man strode in from the horse department – sweat-stained in jeans and leather. Blades of grass leaned toward him, hoping for the crush of his boot.

He introduced himself to the student body and began a tutorial on how to light a fire by rubbing sticks together.

This guy is such a cliche, I thought.

But I was charmed, which made me a worse cliche – Girl Who Didn’t Stand a Chance. I was a 24-year-old Harvard-educated virgin with a signed copy of The Elements of Style. I hadn’t successfully dated anyone, let alone Field & Stream’s cover boy.

Yet still! My storytelling brain sensed an opportunity of Hughesian proportions. Sexiest guy in school falls for intriguing, overlooked assistant admission officer.

The secret to elevating my dating game lay in the heart of my favorite teen romcoms: Don’t be yourself. I pictured him with a SoCal Lara Croft – half assassin, half sun-bunny. You know, a cool girl.

Adorkable overachiever was my brand. Cool was not.

Nonetheless, I had minor superpowers. I understood narrative. I knew how to play a part.

How hard could it be to write myself into this story?


A month later, I was assigned to chaperone a holiday school dance. I’d seen Mountain Man’s name on the list too. However, it was midnight and all of the students had left, with no sign of him. He was probably out birthing a foal or eating a volcano.

I danced, sweated and didn’t care how I looked. A tap on my shoulder – I turned. It was him. His cerulean eyes locked with mine. “Trust me,” he said, and put his forearm against the small of my back.

“Jump!”

I leapt up and back as he flipped all 76 inches of me 360 degrees. Adrenaline surged through my veins as I stuck the landing. Cheering friends circled around.

The lights came up and the music stopped. I gave him an awkward high-five and bolted for home, like a Cinderella who knew tonight’s ration of magic was up.

I lay awake in bed. After the school year, I’d be moving to New York City to accept a fellowship in public affairs. Time was running out.

The following week, my basketball team won a big game on a heart-stopping buzzer beater. Mountain Man and I celebrated by playing pool in the back room of a local dive bar. It was the first time we’d been alone together. I matched him point for point until his final turn.

Channeling Cool Girl, I perched against the table, blocked his approach and said, “Take your best shot.” He stepped between my legs, took my face in his hands and kissed me hard.

All the fireworks fired.

We drove to my little house. The sex was great, but what really blew my mind was the story. To be desired by the Most Desirable, I must be exceptional.

Illustration of woman at pool table
Photograph: Genevieve Ashley/Narratively

As our romance progressed, he confided that he was drawn to a solitary life in nature. “I’m bad at relationships,” he said.

I’ve never been in one.

“Me too,” I answered.

I doubled down on Cool Girl. I drank whiskey without flinching, hustled darts with my opposite hand, and wore low-cut tops with black bras when we played pool. He suggested we try dating long-distance. I was elated. Coup of the century!


My sister Sarah, a design student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, moved in with me in the Big Apple. We caught five mice in our decrepit apartment in the first week. Yet as long as Sarah was there, I was home.

Mountain Man sent me handwritten missives and pencil sketches of my face. In between pages, he pressed columbine and Indian paintbrush. New York City was kicking my ass, but my belief in our epic love story buoyed me.

He even came to visit me in Babylon, as he called it, for New Year’s. He strained to put on a good face despite obvious irritation with the concrete canyons, $14 gin and tonics, and affected hipsters. I joked about the local wildlife (pigeons, rats in the subway, my asshole mice roommates), but it was plain that he was lost without his true love. I could never compete.

“So great to see you killing it out here,” he said.

This city is crushing my soul.

“You know me,” I said.

He called once a week from a landline. He didn’t believe in cellphones. I held my cell all February 14th, certain he’d call any minute. He didn’t. Later he remarked, “Hallmark holidays are such bullshit, right?”

But you’re my first Valentine.

“Total bullshit,” Cool Girl agreed.

Sarah saw through my story. “You’re not happy with him,” she said. “Stop being an idiot.”

A year into dating, I visited him in Ojai. We returned to the dive bar where we’d had our first kiss. He loaded up Sweet Melissa on the jukebox but was out back having a cigarette with strangers when it came on. I felt like a hollowed-out piñata.

A woman at the bar advertised palm readings for five dollars. I didn’t hesitate.

“You’ve got the Jupiter Mate Selector,” she whispered, like it was a tumor.

“What’s that?”

“You fall for powerful men. You put them up on a pedestal and keep yourself down low.”

Oh boy.

“If you don’t believe that you’re just as powerful as the man you’re with, then you’ll be alone for ever.”

My Cool Girl act proved that I didn’t feel like his equal. So I could either get real quick or break up with him. I chose the latter.

We went on one last backpacking trip in the Sierras. Distance was a perfect excuse. Nobody’s fault. “A good run.” I exited the union the way I’d entered, by suppressing my emotions and calling it strength. I didn’t cry until I was alone.

He started dating someone a nanosecond later. I wasn’t exceptional any more.

View of the Sierras from the Sequoia national park, adjacent to Inyo national forest.
View of the Sierras from the Sequoia national park, adjacent to Inyo national forest. Photograph: Courtesy Melissa Johnson/Narratively

Nine years passed in New York. I wrote stories for money. Got rejected. Wrote more. My mom’s health worsened. I dated a police officer, a tech entrepreneur, a newspaper man.

I spent my life’s savings to create a film that sold to Showtime. For once I hadn’t sought anyone else’s permission. I’d leaned back, jumped into a flip, and stuck the landing on my own. I decided to move to Los Angeles, though leaving Sarah was like leaving behind a limb.

I hadn’t spoken to Mountain Man in almost a decade. Missing him and missing the mountains felt the same – a tug to abandon acceptable society and get dirty. I considered reaching out to him. I’d done hard things. I was stronger now – his equal, right?

I’ll be my 100% true self this time.

I believed it, too.


Mountain Man answered my email with a warmth that made my entire body blush. He welcomed me for a weekend at the school’s camp in the Sierras. We’d rendezvous at the parking lot trailhead in three weeks with a group of alumni.

I drove alone from New York to Los Angeles in a daze of possibility. I was about to start telling stories for a living in the City of Angels. Who knew what might spark between Mountain Man and me under the stars?


I awoke on a bright August morning in Silver Lake and hit the road late because I had to rough up my new shorts in the garden and apply no-makeup makeup. My car bombed through the scorching Mojave Desert, past Joshua trees, Death Valley. My ears popped as I dodged fallen rocks with one hand and called Mountain Man with the other.

It went to voicemail. “It’s me,” I said, buzzing with adrenaline, “I’m a little late. No need to wait – I’ll walk myself into camp!” Cool Girl knew the way.

I arrived at the sprawling parking area, dotted with dozens of trailheads. Mountain Man and the alumni had departed. Fresh burro tracks crowded the trail.

The midafternoon sky was hard and bright as a marble. I reapplied no-makeup mascara and started down the trail, recognizing trees and streams as I passed. Cocky about my sense of direction, I stopped to meditate on a felled trunk, freebasing sunshine and alpine air.

I’ll catch up to them in 30 minutes, tops.


Hours later, I climbed a grueling series of switchbacks as sunlight narrowed to a thin ribbon.

I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. No problem, I’d see Mount Langley from the top of the pass and the camp beneath it. There’d be a full spread waiting.

Sweat-drenched and huffing, I made it to the saddle and looked out upon the long-shadowed wilderness. No Langley.

Huh?

The trusty burro tracks were still there. I scurried down the opposite slope into the gloaming. Raindrops pinged my bare arms but there was a lake up ahead that I recognized. Just a little farther.

Illustration of frightened woman in sleeping bag
Photograph: Genevieve Ashley/Narratively

Night ambushed me. Total blackness. I balanced my pack on a rock, hands trembling as I fumbled with an ancient headlamp mummified by duct tape.

Tharump-tharump-tharump! A mountain lion pounded down the ridgeline behind me, jumped with jaws wide, ready to rip into my flesh – I whipped around. Nothing. It was only the sound of my own heart, trying to beat its way out of my ears.

Nausea washed over me. I knew the hypothermia risk of sleeping out in precipitation. I was at the tree line, which meant near freezing temperatures.

Is this a joke? Donner, party of one?

Weary, I hunkered down with my wet sleeping bag. Dankness soaked into my bones. I couldn’t stop shaking.

I closed my eyes for short, drowsy intervals, and opened them mechanically, as if triggered by the slow, audible click of a lever behind my ear. The view changed a little bit each time. Hazy, no stars. Then a low, drippy moon. Then faint white pinpricks everywhere.


Click. I opened my eyes again to find a clear-eyed moon bearing down on me like an interrogation lamp. I threw myself upon its mercy.

I confess. I’m here because I took too long putting on my Cool Girl bullshit costume. I was trying to impress an asshole who couldn’t wait 20 fucking minutes after 10 YEARS. I understand the story now. It’s a cautionary tale. Let me survive this and I’ll drop Cool Girl for ever. Please.

View of the Sierras from Sequoia national park with the moon high in the sky.
View of the Sierras from Sequoia national park with the moon high in the sky. Photograph: Courtesy Melissa Johnson/Narratively

It was a long sleepless wait before I dared to open my eyes again. The moon was gone now, and I watched the sky change from black to indigo to pink, like a bruise healing. I rose, quaking as a colt. Everything hurt. The muscles around my knee spasmed. My lungs worked for every breath in the oxygen-depleted air.

On the far side of the lake I spied campers packing for departure. I shuffle-ran toward them, legs screaming.

“Beg your pardon!” It came out in a British accent. That’s weird. My survival instincts had turned thespian.

They were a group of fathers and sons from San Diego and were horrified to hear that I’d spent the night exposed to the hail and rain. They were hiking out today and encouraged me to join them.

Their map showed that I was nine miles and 2,000ft up in the wrong direction. I’d been wrong from the first step.


The day was late back at the trailhead parking lot. I slumped in my hatchback, sorting through wet clothes. Hair ratty, makeup frightful, I was downwind from the public toilets and too spent to move. Portrait of the Uncool.

A school van rolled towards me.

“Melissa Johnson,” a serious voice said, “everyone is looking for you.”

Bearded, older, but those unmistakable eyes. Mountain Man.

He sounded pissed – his voice, low and even. I’d never seen him like this. Then I realized – I’d scared him. The unflappable guy, flapped.

“I got lost,” I said in a soft voice. He got out of the van. We embraced.

He had waited for me at the correct trailhead, five minutes away, until nightfall. Then he’d sent out the call. State troopers were looking for me on the highways; park rangers were searching in the mountains; student workers from the camp were scouring the trails – a full-scale search-and-rescue operation.

He’d used his satellite phone to track down our math teacher friend who had, in turn, called the headmaster on vacation in Wyoming, my friend Adam in Silver Lake, my former boss in Oakland – and Sarah.

We drove to a nearby vista so I could call Sarah. She screamed to the point of squeaking.

“You are an ASSHOLE! I thought you were DEAD!”

My tongue was thick with shame. This was the worst thing I’d ever done, to the person who loved me the most.

To this day when this story comes up, Sarah leaves the room.

Me at Cottonwood Lakes in Inyo national forest, with the Sierras and Mount Langley peeking out in the back.
Me at Cottonwood Lakes in Inyo national forest, with the Sierras and Mount Langley peeking out in the back. Photograph: Courtesy Melissa Johnson/Narratively

Mountain Man and I walked to the camp from the correct trailhead. We sipped tequila that night in his cabin.

“After we broke up, I missed you so bad. Thought we’d be friends. All this hard stuff was happening. I couldn’t understand why you just … dropped me.”

My body trembled. I’d never been so forthright.

His face fell. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”

Why didn’t I tell him?

Turns out, I’m the hero of this story and also the villain. In my search for a romantic lead, I’d replaced him with a totem. Mountain Man neither possessed nor could tolerate weakness. But his real name was Gabe. He was born in Reno with a clubfoot to parents who got divorced. He was self-conscious about his hairy back. Clean arcs resist messy details.

“The way you live your life apart, I realized you don’t need people,” I insisted.

“That’s not true. I absolutely need people.”

No, he didn’t need people! It was a pillar of my story. But then he opened up about his own bone-crushing loneliness after his last breakup. It had been drawn out, ugly, emotional – an altogether human affair. I couldn’t hide from the deeper, more painful truth –

You didn’t need me.

The words sat heavy in my mouth. I ached to say them, to drop the Cool Girl mask for good. Vulnerability is death. Yet lack of vulnerability is also death. What a rotten trap! I wanted to be messy and real and loved for it all.

But I choked. I filled my mouth with tequila instead.

“I would have gone up every trail,” he said, “followed the road all the way back to Los Angeles to find you.” My heart split in two and fell to the ground.

All my stories had been wrong.

I’d picked the wrong map, gone down the wrong trail and reassured myself with misinterpreted data points that I was going the right way. I’d been wrong from the first step.

At a grassy alpine meadow in the Sierras, two days after reuniting with Mountain Man.
At a grassy alpine meadow in the Sierras, two days after reuniting with Mountain Man. Photograph: Courtesy Melissa Johnson/Narratively

The rest of the weekend was full of hikes, hammocks, and music around the campfire. I reminded Gabe of that first fire he’d made at the school assembly.

“God, that was so embarrassing,” he confessed, “when I couldn’t get it to light.”

What? I stared at him. Exactly how different had our stories been over the years?

What if neither of us was right? What if both of us were right? What if all the stories were true and untrue? What if we could experience the multitude of competing narratives at once?


When the time came for me to return to LA, Gabe invited me to join a river rafting trip deeper into the wild.

“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” he said.

Indeed, it was. Manbrosia flooded my senses.

“So?” he shrugged with a devilish smile. All creatures in his gravitational orbit bent toward him. I felt the pull and leaned away.

He is the guy. He’s not the guy. He’ll always be the guy. He never was the guy.

I could hold all of the stories at once, devour them in a mouthful. They swirled together in my magnificent round belly. There was no past and no future here. Nowhere else to be. I felt my life force expanding in a primordial storm. I was the descendant of supernovas.

“What’s it gonna be?” he asked.

I had thought that becoming his equal would mean that we’d be together. I was wrong.

I have a life to go build.

“I have a life to go build.”

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Politics

Bill seeks to make Louisiana ‘fossil fuel sanctuary’ in bid against Biden’s climate plans

bill-seeks-to-make-louisiana-‘fossil-fuel-sanctuary’-in-bid-against-biden’s-climate-plans

Just south of Oil City, where Louisiana representative Danny McCormick is from, is the predominantly Black city of Shreveport. Residents there breathe some of the most toxic air in the country. Oil refineries owned by UOP and Calumet contribute to the town’s toxic emissions, according to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory.

But McCormick, a Republican, introduced a bill at the Louisiana capitol last week that would protect oil companies and not residents in his district who have to breathe in that air. The bill would establish Louisiana as a “fossil fuel sanctuary state” and ban local and state employees from enforcing federal laws and regulations that negatively impact petrochemical companies.

The idea for the bill, McCormick said, came about after President Joe Biden began putting new restrictions on oil and gas companies, including a pause on new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters. “Look at what they did to the coal industry,” he said at a Louisiana house committee hearing. “We already know what the game plan is. They already picked off coal. Now they’re going after oil and gas.”

The bill – which is unlikely to move forward in its current state because of legality concerns – is among several bills introduced at the Louisiana legislature this session that would likely reduce regulation of oil and gas companies in the state. Lawmakers say that deregulation is necessary to preserve tax revenues generated by oil and gas companies and to stop further job losses. A separate bill introduced by McCormick would redefine gas pipelines from modes of transportation to facilities, in order to prevent Louisiana state police from fining pipeline companies for failing to immediately report gas leaks.

Louisiana’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, has also pushed back on the Biden administration’s energy agenda, penning a letter to the president that included petrochemical lobbyists’ talking points, according to HuffPost. Documents showed an oil and gas trade group coordinated between top officials in Louisiana and their counterparts in New Mexico – another oil state with a Democratic governor. Although the states are headed by Democrats, they remain obstacles to Biden’s climate plans. Texas, which has a Republican governor and legislature is also advancing bills to protect the oil and gas industry from climate efforts.

Nixing environmental requirements would disproportionately hit communities of color. Shreveport, which is 57% Black, is in the 90th to 95th percentile for cancer risk from breathing in air toxics, according to the EPA’s National Air Toxics Assessment. In 2013, the EPA fined the Calumet refinery $326,000 for nine air violations, prompting a new fenceline monitoring system.

Shreveport is in north-west Louisiana, almost on the border with Texas. But south-east Louisiana, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, is also known for its heavy industrial presence and pollution. It has been dubbed “Cancer Alley”. Louisiana’s US senator Bill Cassidy has bristled at Biden using the term and opposed campaigns from Democrats to revoke permits from a major plastics plant proposed for the corridor.


McCormick runs M&M Oil. Before he was a legislator, he was a member of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, an industry lobbying group. Last week, when asked by other lawmakers about the constitutionality of the bill, McCormick said he wasn’t aware anyone was opposed to the legislation. “I don’t know who would have a problem with it, honestly,” he said.

But Velma White, 71, who lives in McCormick’s district said she’s concerned about the proposed legislation. “It’s going to hurt the people,” she said of McCormick’s bill. “I don’t think it’s right to the people.”

White lives a block away from Calumet Shreveport Refining and believes her family’s health problems were brought on by air emissions from the facility. White’s daughter was diagnosed with renal failure at a young age. White’s husband and sisters have also had health issues. “They have literally put me and my family through hell,” she said of the refinery. “I know there ought to be somebody who cares about the people’s lives.”

White and other residents filed a lawsuit against the previous owners of the Calumet refinery, Pennzoil-Quaker State, in 2001. White said she hoped the lawsuit would open a dialogue with the company about buyouts to help residents relocate away from the pollution. “These people can’t get out of that community,” White said. “They’re going to continue to be exposed by what’s going on at that refinery. You can’t just pull up and run.”

In January, White received an offer to settle her 20-year-old claim against the oil companies for $2,500. She’s experienced nausea, breathing difficulties and a miscarriage in 1987, according to E&E News.

“That’s what they offered me,” she said. “I’m just dumbfounded.”

White believes that federal regulators should take steps that would force companies to lower emissions. But if McCormick’s bill became law the state would not be able to enforce those regulations.

McCormick’s bill was tabled because of concerns that the current language could cause the US Environmental Protection Agency to revoke the state’s authority to enforce federal rules. But his colleagues still offered their support. The chairman of the Louisiana House Natural Resources and the Environment Committee, Jean-Paul P Coussan (R-Lafayette), said he would work with McCormick to resolve issues with the bill that could give the federal government more power over oil and gas companies in Louisiana.

“You’re not going to find a bigger support of oil and gas in his legislature than maybe you and I,” Coussan said to McCormick at the committee hearing. “We can tighten this up so all our oil and gas constituents can be proud of the bill. The intent is to help industry not to end up in court just for a headline.”

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Politics

‘Big bark but no bite’: Obamas mourn former first dog Bo

‘big-bark-but-no-bite’:-obamas-mourn-former-first-dog-bo

Former President Barack Obama’s dog Bo died on Saturday from cancer, the Obamas said on social media.

News of Bo’s passing was shared by Obama and his wife, Michelle, on Instagram, where both expressed sorrow at the passing of a dog the former president described as a “true friend and loyal companion.”

“He tolerated all the fuss that came with being in the White House, had a big bark but no bite, loved to jump in the pool in the summer, was unflappable with children, lived for scraps around the dinner table, and had great hair,” Barack Obama wrote.

Bo, a Portuguese water dog, was a gift to the Obamas from the late Sen Edward Kennedy, a key supporter of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign who became close to the family. Bo helped Obama keep a promise to daughters Malia and Sasha that they could get a dog after the election.

A companion dog, Sunny, joined the family in August 2013.

Bo at the White House.
Bo at the White House. Photograph: instagram

Both were constant presences around the White House and popular among visitors, often joining the Obamas for public events. The dogs entertained crowds at the annual Easter Egg Roll and Bo occasionally joined Michelle Obama to welcome tourists. The dogs also cheered wounded service members, as well as children in hospital the first lady would visit each year at Christmas.

In a post featuring a slideshow of images of Bo – including one of him sitting behind the president’s Resolute Desk in the Oval Office – Mrs Obama recounted his years bringing some levity to the White House.

“He was there when Barack and I needed a break, sauntering into one of our offices like he owned the place, a ball clamped firmly in his teeth. He was there when we flew on Air Force One, when tens of thousands flocked to the South Lawn for the Easter Egg Roll, and when the Pope came to visit,” she wrote.

Mrs. Obama wrote that she was grateful for the time the family got to spend with him due to the pandemic, and said that over the past year, “no one was happier than Bo.”

“All his people were under one roof again,” she wrote.

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Politics

Even in Super Bowl-winning Tampa, the Glazers are far from loved

even-in-super-bowl-winning-tampa,-the-glazers-are-far-from-loved

Not that this will make Manchester United fans feel any better, but the Glazers are barely visible in the Tampa Bay too, even though the family has owned the local NFL team since 1995 and won the Super Bowl three months ago (thanks mostly to Tom Brady and a turbocharged defense).

The family front man, if he can be called that, is Joel Glazer, one of six children of the late Malcolm Glazer. Joel Glazer typically makes himself available to Tampa media just once a year, and although he has a pleasant demeanor, he is hardly expansive on his family’s dealings with the club.

Because of the pandemic, Glazer’s availability to Tampa reporters this year consisted of a 20-minute Zoom call in March. But even in a typical year, four or five news outlets get 10 minutes each with Glazer, and questions about the family’s ownership of Manchester United are out of bounds.

This year, keeping in character, he was bland and vague when lobbed softballs about his favorite moment of the Super Bowl season (“It was just more the whole environment,” he said) and about how the roles of the family on the team had changed in recent years. “We all have different areas that we focus on,” he replied, “but it’s a collective effort, a collective organizational effort. No big changes there.” Imagine how ebullient he would have been had the Bucs lost the Super Bowl.

Tampa Bay became an American sports centerpiece in the span of four and a half months, with the Lightning winning the NHL’s Stanley Cup last September and the Rays advancing to the World Series in October (and losing to the Dodgers) before the Tom Brady-led Bucs beat Kansas City in Super Bowl LV, the first time a team had won an NFL title in their own stadium.

Someone else besides a Glazer, though, will have to serve as the city’s pitchman. Even in Florida, the Glazers’ way is to get out of the way, which often does not help them.

“I wouldn’t say the Glazers are beloved or hated around there,” John Romano, a sports columnist for the Tampa Bay Times, told the Guardian this week. “I think most people are indifferent toward them because, even 25 years later, the Glazers are still a mystery. And that’s a shame because they took a franchise that was a complete joke and brought two Super Bowl titles to Tampa Bay.”

Supporters of Manchester United, who the Glazers bought in 2005 and immediately saddled with huge debts, don’t appear to feel indifferent about the Glazers, judging by the protests over the weekend that led to the postponement of their game against Liverpool. But United fans have never been thrilled about the Glazers’ ownership for several reasons: the Glazers are Americans (or, perhaps more accurate, not British) who loaded the club with debt and, just as important, have overseen United’s relatively barren Premier League run in recent years from an ocean away.

Manchester United fans protest against their owners before the Liverpool match last Sunday.
Manchester United fans protest against their owners before the Liverpool match last Sunday. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

The Tampa Bay and Manchester situations are different. While United have been one of the biggest clubs in the world for decades, prior to the Glazers taking over, the Bucs had 12 straight losing seasons, and Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl in the eighth season of the family’s ownership. The Bucs later failed to make the playoffs for 12 straight years, but won it all again last season after adding Brady. Then there is the difference between European sports and leagues in the US, where owners doing something like uprooting a franchise and moving it to a different city is seen as distasteful rather than inconceivable. US fans often dislike owners – witness New York Mets diehards’ long running dispute with the now departed Wilpon family – but they rarely erupt into mass protest as they do in Europe.

The European Super League mess, of course, just drove it over the top in Manchester. Public reaction was negative, because the six English clubs involved in the ESL, three of which are owned by Americans and another which has NFL ties, looked greedy. Even worse: they appeared indifferent about how British fans feel a sense of ownership of their local teams (if not literally) and apathetic about the cherished English football pyramid, with promotion and relegation.

The idea was abandoned after two tempestuous days. Joel Glazer tried to appear contrite, opening a letter to United fans on 21 April on the club’s website with, “You made very clear your opposition to the European Super League, and we have listened. We got it wrong, and we want to show that we can put things right.

“Although the wounds are raw and I understand that it will take time for the scars to heal, I am personally committed to rebuilding trust with our fans and learning from the message you delivered with such conviction.”

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The message probably would have been better delivered in person, or even in a video. But supporters’ groups were in no mood to forgive Glazer in any case, leading to the chaos at Old Trafford. The fans don’t really know the Glazers because they say they have never met, but that is also a perfect reason why they want the Glazers to sell the club.

As Tyrone Marshall wrote this week in the Manchester Evening News: “So much of it comes back not just to the way the Glazers have run the club, but the ignorance they’ve shown to supporters and the way they’ve treated them, with contempt.”

The same feeling was present in Tampa. Romano wrote a column in the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday about the Glazers and Manchester United that included the passage: “British fans are not accustomed to owners calling the shots without engaging fans or at least pretending to listen to their suggestions and complaints. Honestly, it’s remarkable that the Glazers have spent 15 years there without figuring this out. It speaks to a remarkable level of either cluelessness or arrogance.”

The Glazers are still mostly invisible in Tampa Bay, although veteran journalist Ira Kaufman of joebucsfan.com told the Guardian they are active in community projects. As for the running of the team, they are low-key in that area too.

“While the family doesn’t interfere with football operations on a daily basis, the Glazers traditionally lead the search for a new head coach,” said Kaufman. “They also weigh in on significant decisions like the signing of Tom Brady or improvements to Raymond James Stadium. Joel and Bryan Glazer attend every Bucs game, home and away.

But then Kaufman cut to the bottom line: “Some Bucs fans believe the acquisition of Manchester United diverted some of the family’s focus and financial resources from the [Bucs] franchise. That view was reinforced during the club’s 12-year playoff drought, but the Super Bowl triumph has silenced Glazer skeptics here, at least for the moment.”

If last weekend’s scenes are anything to go by, keeping United fans quiet will be a much steeper task.

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