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Here’s Brunch, a pop-up, weekend email during the 2020 Legislative Session — 3.15.20

A brunch buffet’s worth of real-time reporting during Session.

Good Sunday morning.

Legislative negotiators announced Saturday a budget deal that still needs to be finalized and delivered to both chambers for approval in the coming days. But for all intents and purposes, the 2020 Legislative Session is done. All that’s left is a “debate” over the budget and the symbolic dropping of the handkerchiefs — although with health officials warning against mass gatherings, it’s probably not a good idea for that ceremony to take place.

With Session over, this is the final edition of this pop-up email. Thank you for making room at your brunch tables for us. We’d like for “Brunch” to return once the campaign cycle is running at full-bore, but we will, of course, need a sponsor of the masthead above to make that happen. If you are interested, please email me at Peter@floridapolitics.com.

Thank you to our strategic partners at Shumaker Advisors, especially the wonderful Amy Maguire and Ron Cristaldi, for their sponsorship of this Session’s edition. What an exciting team they’ve put together at Shumaker.

The world has dramatically changed in the seven days since the last edition of “Brunch” arrived in your inbox.

Do everyone a favor, please just read “Brunch” today and skip heading out for the eggs Benedict and Belgian waffles. Charlie Warzel of The New York Times has a must-read op-ed “Please, don’t go out to the bars tonight,” explaining why gathering in groups right now is selfish and puts the lives of others at risk.

Please be safe. Godspeed to you all.

— The latest —

Thirty-nine. The Florida Department of Health announced Sunday morning that there are 39 new Florida infections by the novel coronavirus, with the total numbers COVID-19 cases in the state now at 100.

Locations. Four of the new cases are in Miami-Dade County (two of them are travel-related); 17 new cases are in Broward (most of them are not travel-related).

Ron DeSantis is banning most visits to nursing homes statewide and acknowledges the coronavirus has likely spread into the general population. Image via AP.

Increased testing. The surge in positive tests came after state officials allowed private labs to screen patients in addition to the DOH’s three labs, which increased the rates of both testing and reporting. In addition to Florida residents, seven non-Florida residents have also tested positive.

Another death. The Miami Herald reports there has been a third death from the infectious disease: a previously diagnosed 77-year-old man from Lee County. Earlier, a fourth Floridian died from COVID-19 while in California.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, in a news conference Saturday, stressed that the odds of getting sick from the coronavirus are “still very small,” Nevertheless, there remains a risk of people who have no symptoms transmitting it to the elderly, frail or physically vulnerable. DeSantis ordered the postponement of all visits to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other similar facilities.

— Coronavirus preparation poll —

As more and more people test positive for the new coronavirus in Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce is putting forward a survey aimed at Florida employers to assess how companies are handling the pandemic. That information will then be passed along to other business leaders.

— “As you know, for the last two weeks, it’s been impossible to escape the daily breaking news of the coronavirus,” the survey reads. “Our goal is to meet this challenge head-on by sharing best practices among the private and public sectors while providing employers with the guidance they need to keep their operations running.”

The survey asks for employers to give their overall “level of concern” regarding the virus. It then asks leaders what steps they have and have not taken. Options include adding hand sanitizer to the office, suspending travel and allowing employees to work remotely. An additional question focuses on how long those policies will last, with options ranging from “less than 30 days” to “indefinitely.”

Additionally, respondents are asked what the Florida Chamber can do “to help your business during this time of uncertainty.” The poll also seeks to crowdsource additional relevant questions that the Chamber could be asking of business leaders.

DeSantis has already asked municipalities and private entities to postpone mass gatherings, which will interrupt large-scale events and can slow the entertainment industry greatly. As for other day-to-day business operations, it remains to be seen the extent of the impact, or just how long it will last.

— Broward coronavirus prep continues —

The Broward County legislative delegation, chaired by Rep. Shevrin Jones of House District 101, will meet with local officials Monday to discuss the county’s efforts to combat the spread of the new coronavirus.

Jones and other members of the delegation will sit down with officials from the Department of Health as well as members of the Broward Health and Memorial Healthcare hospital districts. That meeting will take place Monday afternoon, with a news conference scheduled afterward for 3 p.m. Representatives from the League of Cities will be on hand as well.

Shevrin Jones will meet with Broward officials on preparations for coronavirus’ spread.

Jones will be returning from a Legislative Session, which saw lawmakers set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to help tamp down the spread of the novel coronavirus after signs of community spread in the state.

Broward has been home to several of those cases. A particular issue is Port Everglades, which saw multiple cruise ship contract workers test positive for the virus. The CDC director says his office is working with those cruise companies to contact passengers and ensure they are taking precautions in case of any new transmissions.

Broward was one of the first counties to report cases of the virus in Florida. In recent days, neighboring counties such as Palm Beach and Miami-Dade have reported cases as well. That includes the Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who had recently interacted with a Brazilian official who reportedly tested positive. Suarez had decided to self-isolate one day before his positive test.

— Debate Night —

Then there were two. When the two remaining Democratic presidential candidates — Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders — return to the debate stage tonight (which is now in Washington D.C.), their party, political landscape, and the world are much different from the last time they met.

Coronavirus. In the previous debate, the fast-moving coronavirus was a minor player. Now the escalating crisis takes center stage. Rising infections in the United States and around the world have prompted a dramatic slowdown of global travel, upended financial markets, and raised questions about President Donald Trump’s ability to lead the nation through a prolonged period of uncertainty.

Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden will debate — amid a global pandemic.

Making the case. Biden and Sanders will argue about which one is best positioned to challenge Trump in November. Five other candidates who joined them onstage in the Feb. 25 debate in South Carolina have dropped out — most of them supporting Biden.

Leadership. Tonight’s debate will be a moment where the pair display their leadership skills in front of what could be one of the largest audiences of the primary. They’ll aim to draw a contrast with Trump, but also with each other, arguing that they have the right experience, temperament, and policy prescriptions to lead the nation through a crisis.

A perfect opportunity. “Moments like these don’t come around often in campaigns, and this is a perfect opportunity to show millions that you have what it takes,” Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary and campaign adviser to President Barack Obama, told The Associated Press. “They must show voters they are the answer to what is missing right now by being calm, honest, ready to lead and empathetic.”

— Voters are voting —

Voters are voting — Here are the Florida primary returns as of Saturday afternoon, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

Republicans. Supervisors of Elections have sent 1,206,938 Republican vote-by-mail ballots; 649,910 have returned, 378,701 are outstanding, and 4,181 are unsent. There have been 183,606 early in-person votes cast.

Democrats. Supervisors have 1,490,685 vote-by-mail ballots; 608,308 have returned 538,372 are outstanding, and 6,031 are unsent. There have been 337,974 early in-person votes cast.

NPA/’Other.’ Those classified as “other,” 249,766 vote-by-mail ballots, 17,207 have returned, 31,602 are outstanding, and 198,110 are unsent. There have been 2,847 early in-person votes cast.

— COVID-2020 —

Election Day is fast approaching, and every campaign manager in the state is wondering the same thing: How, exactly, should a campaign raise money and talk to voters during a pandemic? Beth Matuga tells Florida Politics that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

Funding is a big issue: Money wins elections, but “everyone is pumping the breaks for the time being,” Matuga said. That includes incumbents, many of whom had a string of fundraisers planned for the next few months. With close-quarters events on everyone’s no-no list, the age of banquets and cocktail hours is on hiatus.

Is calling OK? Supporters who drop by for a drink and hors d’ oeuvres are an easy sell. Cold calling is more difficult. And it begs the question: is it even OK to call right now? If so, is it OK to talk about anything other than coronavirus? On both counts, Matuga says, “it depends.” If you’re running in Broward, probably not. If you’re up in the Panhandle, where there’s relative calm, it might be worth a shot.

Speaking of hot spots. A couple of candidates in the Miami-Dade mayoral race have essentially suspended their campaigns. Matuga thinks more candidates in races across the state will do the same if the virus remains top-of-mind for Floridians.

Without question, down-ballot races are the real losers here. Matuga describes a sort of chain reaction — when small campaigns can’t raise cash in person, they pretty much can’t raise cash at all. With no cash, they can’t retool their efforts to focus on digital ads. And with door knocking out of the question and phone banking being a perceived faux pas in some parts, we could end up with a muted election cycle.

— College sprinkle —

Universities are the big winners in the Legislature’s sprinkle lists, with many schools set to take home a bevy of gifts. In some cases, the chambers tried to outdo each other a la divorced parents at Christmastime, lavishing the same schools with a different set of multimillion-dollar appropriations. Meanwhile, others were left to sit to the side and watch their sibs do some unwrapping.

Florida International University: The House wants to make it rain on FIU, including $19 million in last-minute cash for FIU. The funding is spread across three items, $1 million for the new Institute of Economic Freedom, another $1 million for targeted STEM initiatives, and $17 million for operational support. The Senate, meanwhile, would send $1.75 million to FIU, though the STEM cash is in the mix.

University of Florida: While the Senate and House aren’t aligned on FIU, both want a large cache of operational funds to land in Gainesville. The figure: $12.5 million. Senate pet projects include $500,000 for the Lastinger Center and $375,000 for UF Health’s Center for Translational Research in Neurodegenerative Disease. The House list tosses $1.1 million to UF Health for Alzheimer’s research.

Florida Gulf Coast University: The Senate wants $6.8 million for FGCU’s School of Integrated Watershed and Coastal Studies. The House isn’t on board, though it did include a $3 million boost for the Eagles under the Universities of Distinction program.

University of South Florida: The Senate plan includes three items that would total more than $5 million in cash for the USF system — $2.5 million for Sarasota/Manatee campus operations; $1.9 million for the St. Petersburg campus; and $627,500 for a cybersecurity initiative at USF proper. There was little love for the Bulls in the House, with the only approp being a $567,500 transfer to the St. Pete campus for operational support.

The Rest of the Majors: UNF would get $6 million in distinction cash under the House plan, though the Ospreys got a full-on snub in the Senate. UCF — the largest university in the nation by enrollment — isn’t due for a sprinkle but a trickle, if anything. Senators want to ship $75,000 to Orlando for the Florida Center For Nursing, while the House wants $425,000.

Further down the list were several small schools, but little agreement. Senate funding for Edward Waters College, Florida Keys Community College, and Florida Atlantic University. Those projects had no home in the House. The inverse is true for lower chamber line items at St. Petersburg College, St. Thomas University, University of Miami and Embry-Riddle.

— House’s Top 5 sprinkles —

iBudget: The Medicaid-funded program is getting something more akin to a funfetti parade than a sprinkle. The House wants $21.1 million for rate increases for the program, which provides in-home care services to Floridians with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Jobs Growth Grant Fund: This incentive program was former Gov. Rick Scott’s baby and, at one time, pulled in $85 million from the Legislature. The House is giving it a major trim, setting aside a “mere” $10 million. That still gives DeSantis something to work with for luring companies to move or add jobs.

BRIDG: At one point, the company, which designs and builds microelectronics, was envisioned to be the cornerstone of Osceola County’s NeoCity high-tech industrial park. But it has run into trouble and lost the support of UCF. The House is hoping to play hero with a $4.25 million sprinkle.

Boys & Girls Club: Here’s one most people can get behind: $2.55 million to the Boys & Girls Club. House member appropriations projects for the well-known nonprofit totaled nearly $9 million. Which of them get a slice if the House gets its way is a small mystery.

Keeping it local: There was a fifth-place tie between water quality improvement projects in Brevard County and hurricane recovery efforts in Hialeah, with many local improvement projects nipping at their heels.

— Senate’s Top 5 sprinkles —

Handcart Road: The Chamber wants $4.8 million for drinking water and sewer infrastructure improvements in rural Pasco County. The original appropriations request was shouldered by Senate President-designate Wilton Simpson, so big as it might have powerful allies.

Ponte Vedra Beach Dune Restoration: $3 million to continue rehabilitating a 9-mile stretch of St. Johns County shoreline, which has been wrecked by waves, erosion, and some powerful hurricanes.

Calhoun Liberty Hospital: Another storm victim. The original hospital was built in 1960 and kept trucking until before Hurricane Michael tore through Northwest Florida, forcing a total rebuild. It got $3 million in last year’s budget, and that’s the ask on sprinkle list for 2020 as well.

LECOM Health: LECOM’s network of clinics is focused on providing primary care, pharmacy, and dental services to low-income, uninsured and homeless populations. The Senate wants $2.33 million for Manatee County-based operation to continue its clinic-based services outreach effort.

Community Coordinators: Another pile of funding for the courts — $2.25 million for community coordinators. The item includes funding for 21 full-time jobs and, though requested by the Senate, is tied to HB 1105, which would allow circuit courts to create early childhood court programs and staff them with coordinators.

Medal health —

As the final contours of the state’s spending plan for FY 20-21 were nailed down, a line item emerged for the “Governor’s Medal of Freedom.” That honor is designed to reward a “meritorious contribution” to the state at DeSantis’ discretion.

The defense. “I think the Medal of Freedom … there’s a lot of folks and citizens in the state of Florida who do tremendous things, sometimes in a heroic effort, and we just wanted to give the Governor an opportunity to recognize them,” said House appropriations chair Travis Cummings.

The Governor’s Medal of Freedom is given to civilians who have made a significant contribution to the security of the nation or the state of Florida. Image via Volunteer Florida.

How is this new? Gov. Rick Scott gave his share of medals to military veterans, with ceremonies that sometimes saw Scott honoring hundreds of vets individually. However, Cummings said this was “a little broader,” adding that while “men and women who are veterans are certainly worthy of consideration, there are other feats and accomplishments that need to be recognized.

History lesson. Gov. Scott gave his share of medals to military veterans, with ceremonies that sometimes saw Scott honoring hundreds of vets individually. However, Cummings said this was “a little broader,” adding that while “men and women who are veterans are certainly worthy of consideration, there are other feats and accomplishments that need to be recognized.

Hard to beat. How many medals does DeSantis need to dole out over the next few years? Probably more than he has the patience to give out, especially in the age of coronavirus and social distancing. The Tampa Bay Times reported in 2018 that Scott, who still had six months to go, had given out nearly 15,000 medals in the previous five years. His staffers had boxes of them ready to go. Will that be the case for DeSantis?

Home away from home —

Yet again, the budget includes provisions to ensure that Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez, a resident of Miami-Dade, has suitable space for a headquarters in an “appropriate facility.”

Where it’s at. The provision, agreed to by both chambers, allows for an “appropriate facility” at home that can serve as Nunez’s office. Additionally, a “subsistence allowance” is permitted the LG whenever she is doing official business in the Capitol.

Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez gets money again for a satellite office.

True faith. House budget chair Rep. Travis Cummings noted that legislators continue to have “faith” in Nunez, who emerged from the House in 2018 to become a member of the DeSantis ticket. “She is from South Florida and doing a great job,” Cummings said, with “big responsibilities.”

Hometown glory. Cummings stressed the importance of her South Florida roots, adding that “she’s obviously doing a great job. The more we can do to make her effective, the more we’re going to do it.”

Temp, not perm. The appropriation is year to year and would have to be approved next budget year again.

— Session download with Lee —

Sen Tom Lee says coronavirus made budgeting a lot more fraught than in recent years.

Bill bloodbath: Lee says it looks like a lot more bills died this year. That could have to do with the time it took to trim down the tax package to save money to fight the coronavirus. The House and Senate were in recess for hours Friday when lawmakers could have been on the floor passing legislation.

DeSantis wins: Lee also says the governor did very well with his priorities this Session. He got $500 million for teacher pay raises, and the E-Verify legislation passed if without a lot of the enforcement teeth Lee originally had in the bill.

Tom Lee gives the end-of-Session lowdown.

School choice v. public school: Despite Lee not getting his way on the bill that expands school choice legislation (HB 7067), Lee says this was one of the better years for traditional public schools in the Legislature. Lee fought to add transparency to school voucher programs, saying this isn’t “the Republic of China. This is the Sunshine State. But Sunshine didn’t prevail on that bill.

— Lifesaver —

Lawmaking at its best affects lives, and in some cases, saves them. But it’s a bit rarer for a lawmaker to personally save not one but two lives, as happened in Tallahassee this week.

The scene. Rep. Mel Ponder was having drinks and small talk with members of his legislative class at the Doubletree Hotel’s rooftop Eve bar, 17 stories above the concrete in Tallahassee, blocks from the Capitol.

— ‘Blackout drunk.’ That was how one lawmaker described a college-aged man who was dangling his girlfriend over the edge. He’d already been cut off by servers.

Mel Ponder is a lifesaver — literally.

Quick thinking. A matter of seconds. Ponder saw the danger and didn’t linger, moving with alacrity and grabbing the young lady’s ankles. The young couple was in danger of tumbling to the concrete below. If Ponder hadn’t been there, that could have happened.

Tube of Roach? —

It didn’t take long after a bill undoing Key West’s sunscreen ban for sponsor Spencer Roach to spot his face on a tube on lotion.

Worth a thousand words?: It’s not a true tube but a humorous photo edit. “It’s been circulating around the lobby corps,” Roach said. “I think it’s pretty hilarious.”

Second time’s a charm: Roach has tried for two sessions now to pass a ban. But last Session, it was part of a broader preemption ban. “It wasn’t a train bill. It was a train wreck.”

A tube of Spencer Roach?

Don’t call it preempting: But this year he wouldn’t even call it preemption in the bill title. Calling it a bill related to cosmetics kept it clean. Besides, preemption is a government debate and this was about public health.

Saving our skin: A straw ban preemption got vetoed last year, but Roach views this as a different animal. “There’s a compelling state interest,” he said. “This is about preventing skin cancer.”

— One more try —

A bill that could have saved the lives of state workers died in the House Friday. A move to relax the gift ban to allow rank-and-file state workers outside financial help if their health collapsed died without a hearing.

The bill. Rep. Jayer Williamson carried the House version of the legislation Sen. Rob Bradley got through the Senate, and it was a clean bill: allowing employees and nuclear families to get help via GoFundMe and the like.

Rocky road. That it didn’t get a House hearing is an oversight, perhaps, especially in the age of COVID-19 and economic uncertainty. Maybe the time used for recesses Friday could have been used to pass this legislation.

Alexis’ Law. The bill wasn’t named after Alexis Lambert, the veteran attorney who has had stints throughout state government (as well as in always-newsy Jacksonville). She was too humble for that. But the legislation’s need became apparent when Lambert explained how quickly a cancer diagnosis drove her into dire financial states.

Alexis Lambert’s request for reasonable changes to the gift ban didn’t make the cut for 2020.

Wait til next year. The bill will be back again in 2021, with House and Senate sponsors lined up already. Lambert overcame the odds of cancer and all that went along with the diagnosis. She’s philosophical about the wait, saying she grew up as a Dolphins fan.

— Pink —

Although they’re usually known as natty dressers, a contingent of lobbyists circulating on the fourth floor on the final Friday of Session was wearing ill-fitting, out-of-style jackets in rather hideous shades of pink.

The dozen or so men and women sported the hard-to-unsee look as part of a tradition honoring Marvin Arrington, an insurance lobbyist who died just a block away from the Capitol during the last week of the 2002 Session.

Arrington was known — and teased — for wearing a pink jacket on the last day of Session.

The end-of-Session tradition of wearing pink in honor of Marvin Arrington, an insurance lobbyist with an affinity for pink who died during the last week of the 2002 Session. Image via Phil Sears.

The search. His friends “searched high and low at all sorts of different menswear shops to find hideous pink jackets,” said David Ramba, who picked up his 15 years ago at the Parisian department store. “Gary Guzzo and I have some of the originals, so they’re fitting a little tighter than they have in the past, but we still carry on the tradition.”

Others honor the well-liked Arrington by wearing pink ties, shirts, and scarves; his friends also offered 100 pink carnations for accessorizing.

While lobbyists have come and gone, Arrington “was a real character,” Ramba recalled. “He told great stories. Back then it was pre-gift ban, and when he’d invite large groups of people over to his house, it would not be catered. He’d be at the grill doing all the cooking himself.”

A family tradition. His son, Reynolds, now carries on the cooking tradition with a catering company, Starvin’ Marvin’s, and has produced a namesake for his father, a toddler often referred to as “little Marvin.”

Marvin Arrington’s father, C. Fred, served in the Florida House in the 1950s, and Marvin would tell friends he grew up at the Capitol. Among lawmakers, their staff and journalists, he was known as a “white hat,” an honest broker of information. “He was just friendly to everybody,” Ramba said.

— Genius Bar closed —

Apple is closing all its stores outside of China for two weeks and will only be selling online. The move by the tech giant is an effort to rein in the global COVID-19 epidemic. Apple has about 500 stores worldwide.

CEO Tim Cook tweeted Saturday: “In our workplaces and communities, we must do all we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Apple will be temporarily closing all stores outside of Greater China until March 27 and committing $15M to help with worldwide recovery.”

Apple Stores have closed due to the spread of coronavirus.

As for China: Cook said in a statement that Apple’s stores in China have all now reopened, and through its experiences in the 42 stores in that country, the company is developing “best practices that are assisting enormously in our global response.”

Stay home. Workers will continue to be paid, and the office staff is asked to work remotely if possible, Cook’s statement said.

Virtual reality. Earlier, Apple said the company’s 31st annual Worldwide Developers Conference would take place entirely online this year. The event is usually held in San Jose, California, drawing thousands of engineers and consumers.

— Wedding bell blues —

The coronavirus epidemic is having a ripple effect on the wedding industry, with nervous guests, travel chaos, and some tough decisions by brides and grooms.

As virus cases increase in the U.S. and elsewhere, uncertainty is touching nearly everyone involved in the planning and execution of marriages: from photographers and caterers to harried wedding planners and venues.

 — Extra stress. “So much extra stress,” 26-year-old New Jersey bride Hayley Pass told The Associated Press. “After all this planning, it’s like, really, we’re going to postpone? We just really want it to happen, but it seems like the worst is yet to come.”

A world of hurt. Postponing, rescheduling or canceling wedding plans raises a lot of questions: will the venue or vendors be available again? How about financial losses in the form of forfeited deposits on the event or honeymoon? Most wedding insurance doesn’t cover anxiety over virus outbreaks, and travel restrictions in areas affected by coronavirus could make rescheduling destination weddings difficult or impossible.

Social distancing is also another consideration; wedding vendors will have to take into account smaller events, with fewer people (and lower costs). Things like seating arrangements must reflect guests who are staying further away from each other — for example, a table that usually seats 10 will now seat just 8.

— Sports in Florida —

 March is usually a big time for sports in Florida. Just about any action involving a ball, puck, or 800-horsepower engine — and a lot of money — was to shake grandstands this week and next. Not this year, thanks to coronavirus.

Stop the Madness. The NCAA’s cancellation of the 2020 national basketball tournaments could cost Florida State shots at championships for both men’s and women’s teams.

The MLS decision to suspend play consequently postponed the home opener for David Beckham’s expansion team Inter Miami.

Minnesota Twins catcher Mitch Garver talks on his phone in an empty Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. MLB has suspended the rest of its spring training game schedule. Image via AP.

At least three major auto races were called off — IndyCar’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the International Motor Sports Association’s legendary 12 Hours of Sebring, and NASCAR’s Homestead-Miami Cup Series race March 22.

TPC Sawgrass The PLAYERS Championship was canceled after one round at Ponte Vedra Beach. The Valspar Golf Championship set for this week was bagged at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor.

Game called. Major League Baseball’s Spring Training always has been a precious treat, but scores of games canceled at Florida’s 15 camps, and the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays are not set to season openers anytime soon.

No love: The men’s and women’s Miami Open tennis tournament, set to start at the Hard Rock Stadium March 23, was canceled outright.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were skating to another tremendous regular season when the NHL paused the season.

— Westworld —

Season 2 of “Westworld” ended with the murderous robot “hosts leaving the Wild West-themed amusement park and entering the real world. After 10 episodes of robot rebellion against the humans who made them and used them, Season 3 — beginning tonight on HBO — presents a world as dystopian as the violent as the fantasy park they left.

As compelling as ever. And who can argue? Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wrightwho has been quite busy — turn in excellent performances once again, joined by Aaron Paul (fresh off “El Camino”). Everyone has a new park to explore, this time, it’s the one outside of Westworld.

Evan Rachel Wood returns as a murderous Delores in ‘Westworld’ Season Three. Image via HBO.

— Mind-bending. The new season explores the world that Westworld inhabits, with themes of rampant technology controlling and trading personal data. People talk to their houses, holograms, and simulations of loved ones lost. “Westworld” explores those thoroughly explores those themes, in a puzzle box that always asks, “is this real?”

New faces. Paul plays Caleb, a veteran who works construction, supplemented by a job app for minor criminal work — commentary on the current gig economy. New cast members include John Gallagher Jr. as a tech mogul, Vincent Cassel as a shadowy trillionaire, and Lena Waithe as one of Caleb’s employers.

A visual delight. According to The New York Times: “The show’s production remains sleek and eye-catching, however, and its ideas at least superficially intriguing, as long as the stellar cast can hold on to your attention. And the moment may be exactly right for a paranoid meditation on the possible end of the human race.”

“Westworld” premieres tonight on HBO.

— Brunching out —

Uptown Cafe and Catering — The popular family restaurant has been a Tallahassee staple serving breakfast and lunch daily for more than 35 years.

— Setting: Owner Fred Tedio and his son, Nic, the general manager, set the welcoming tone in the homey space, located across from Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. It’s fun and functional, with black-and-white checkered tables, local artwork, covered outside seating and space for meetings.

Uptown Cafe and Catering has been a popular Tallahassee staple serving breakfast and lunch for more than 35 years. Image via Rochelle Koff.

 — The menu: Highlights include a long list of omelets, pancakes, banana bread French toast, waffles, and specialties like kartoffel, a Tedio potato hash family recipe made with red peppers, onions, garlic and paprika. Uptown is also known for its baked goods and its house-smoked salmon, cured overnight, which is smoked with apple and hickory wood. While smoking, the salmon is basted with apricot glaze. The breakfast menu is available all day.

The deets:

Hours: Open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

GPS: 1325 Miccosukee Road.

Phone: 850-219-9800.

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