From Florida InfoGuide to Informative Tourist Guide • St Pete Catalyst

Bob Marcus loves talking to people; he loves history, St. Petersburg and talking to people about the history of St. Petersburg.

He also enjoys driving, which makes launching a highly informative guided tour of the area a logical step in the evolution of an eclectic career. A Chicago native, Marcus has worked as a DJ for two local radio stations, cruise ship manager, comedian, and most recently editor of the ubiquitous Florida InfoGuide.

After handling most of the day-to-day operations of InfoGuide – which mixes local advertising, facts, trivia and maps – for nearly 30 years, Marcus started thinking about the next chapter in his life. He said he was considering volunteering at a hospital, maybe going back to being a part-time DJ, and then came his eureka moment.

“So I said, ‘well, why wouldn’t I do what I love to do?’ Marcus said. “So it all fell into place.”

Already passionate about local history, Marcus said he started browsing through books, videos and anything else that could increase his knowledge of the area. Mid-sentence, he broke off to add another detail of Fort De Soto’s history that he had forgotten to mention a few minutes earlier – German U-boats patrolled the area during World War II, just nine miles offshore.

One of Marcus’ favorite stops on the tour – Fort De Soto State Park. It relays a detailed history from the Civil War to World War II.

Marcus does this often throughout the four-hour tour of South Pinellas. There are always more facts, more snippets of information to relay, and more insights and personalized stories from his 40 years in the region.

“It’s a bit like being a teacher,” he said. “It’s a great part-time gig for me, but I think I should have done it years ago – that’s how much I love it.”

A few weeks earlier, Marcus bought a luxury van and started Bay Area Info Tours. The 2022 Toyota Sienna can carry seven people – Marcus will take at least two – and he’s paid for an upgraded audio system that offers an intercom feature, allowing passengers in the back row to hear his narration through the abundance of loudspeakers.

He also opted for a sparkling copper paint to stand out from the mundane black or white colors usually found on a passenger van.

Marcus begins his tour by asking passengers to guess how many miles they will be driving that day. Whoever guesses is closest wins a prize. He then travels to the Don CeSar, focusing on the love story between Thomas Rowe, who opened the hotel in 1928, and his star-crossed love, Lucinda.

Much like Romeo and Juliet, the story is a romantic tragedy.

“He (Rowe) dies of a heart attack right there in the lobby, and they claim there’s a ghost of Thomas Rowe – all around the square,” Marcus said. “And people swear to god they’ll see him in his white suit, and she’s in her black dress right by the fountain.”

It’s not the only story on the tour with a hint of the supernatural, all told with the kind of voice that seems made for storytelling.

Marcus then heads down the palm-lined streets to the historic seaside towns of Pass-a-Grille and Tierra Verde, telling a story about part-time resident August Busch III of Anheuser-Busch fame, or Gussie, as Marcus said the locals call him. . Marcus said Busch would host celebrities and buy everyone rounds of beer at the local watering hole, calling him “the first Norm of Cheers.”

Next stop is Fort De Soto, where he leads a state park walking tour that offers panoramic views of the pristine beach, Egmont Key Lighthouse, and an up-close look at the old barracks and artillery.

“The most shark-infested waters in all of Florida are here,” Marcus said. “In fact, there was an old shark there called ‘Old Hitler’.”

Before returning to St. Petersburg, Marcus stops and parks on a stretch of shore where passengers take in an uninterrupted view of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the distance. Marcus relays the tragic disaster of 1980, when a freighter struck the original bridge, causing a partial collapse that killed 35 people.

Marcus then pulls out a binder – usually filled with copies of old historic photos of the places he describes – to show passengers what the new deck looks like lit by LED lights at night. The photo is recent, with the Skyway awash in yellow and blue as a sign of solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

Egmont Key and its lighthouse, seen from Fort De Soto. Marcus said the waters are infested with sharks, including one that old local fishermen call “Old Hitler”.

Marcus hits every part of St. Pete that makes the town unique. Charming neighborhoods like Roser Park – with its steep hills, creek and 19and-Cemetery Cemetery – The Murals, Micro-Brews, The Pier and Beach Drive. There’s the historic Vinoy Hotel – and other ghost stories.

Although he’s clearly a history buff, Marcus said he enjoys the city’s metamorphosis in recent years. However, he said some of his friends lament the recent growth and steep drop in the average age of St. Pete residents.

“You know what I tell them? Marcus asked. “It’s progress, and it’s going to happen.

“You can’t stay the same.”

Shortly after this statement, Marcus walks past a small downtown baseball diamond. There, he says, a softball league of players 75 and older dress in 1920s uniforms and win the diamond. “Some of the guys are actually quite good – one guy said he was 90 and still playing,” he added.

The in-depth and detailed tour ends in Gulfport, a quaint and eclectic town that he says still epitomizes “old Florida.” Markus explains that the wide, grassy medians between several city roads once housed streetcar tracks, which carried passengers from St. Pete before cars were prevalent. Many locals, he said, have no idea.

As the tour drew to a close, Markus said he tried to offer passengers a bit of everything before intervening in his thinking with more anecdotes from a seemingly endless supply.

“I try to give them a bit of the history, the architecture, the ghosts, the murals – there are a lot of different things, and people don’t realize the history,” he said. declared. “I mean Florida, I don’t know if you realize – it was over a hundred miles out into the gulf.”

For more information on Bay Area Info Tours, visit the website here.