Born and raised a Tarponite, Michaeljohn Targakis is a first-generation citizen from the Dodecanese Islands.
He was recently dubbed an ambassador for the city of Tarpon Springs by Republican National Convention delegates. Targakis has no problem wearing the label with pride.
It’s a sunny morning on the sponge docks. The street is quiet because it’s a weekday, but a few locals are roaming along the sidewalks, either enjoying a cup of Greek coffee or a freshly baked pastry.
A boisterous but soothing voice emerges. Speaking in Greek and waving his way through the courtyard of the Sponge Exchange, Targakis pulls up a chair outside of Katina’s and is ready to share his story.
First off, he explains why he goes by Michaeljohn.
“I don’t go by Michael because if someone calls that out in Tarpon Springs, 25 people turn around,” said Targakis.
In Tarpon Springs, it is common for transplants to use their native name as well as an American alias. Chances are, it’s up to you as to what to call them.
Targakis, 52, grew up in Tarpon, graduated as a fighting Sponger and then began his professional career as an international conversationalist.
Before taking off to travel the world, Targakis furthered his education at the Universtity of South Florida, where he earned a degree in speech communication and political science.
Targakis says that Tarpon is what sparked his interest in exploring the world. “I had seen it all here, and I wanted to see more,” he explained.
During his travels, Targakis learned a lot about himself as well as what he wanted to take on in the future. Another discovery was his love for local commerce and culture. Little did he know that this would lead him down a self-paved career path.
Coming Full Circle
He spent 20 years traveling the world before returning to Tarpon Springs.
A little more than two years ago, Targakis launched his own company. Native Tours pulls in people from all over to indulge in the essence of Tarpon Springs. Targakis briefs visitors on the history and culture of the city, which he says brings a return clientele to the area.
“I just know that I have a gem here in Tarpon Springs,” said Targakis. “It’s indicative by the number of people who come back more and more.”
According to Targakis, tourism is the biggest industry in Tarpon Springs, and he is dedicated to securing his niche. He calls himself a “clever conversationalist for hire.”
For Targakis, the motivation is the quality of life. He says that getting paid to do something that he loves is an unmatched blessing.
“This is a lifestyle for me, not just a job,” said Targakis.
For someone whose life is immersed in Tarpon Springs, one might wonder what Targakis does in his barely-there down time. For starters, he plays a mean guitar. And Targakis says that he owes his Greek roots for his love of great food, good wine and Mediterranean dance.
Father of two children, 16-year-old twins, Targakis admits that his life has come full circle.
“My first job was working on a fishing boat out here,” remembered Targakis. He was responsible for giving the lecture, working the air hose and selling tickets. He made $2.50 an hour back then.
Now, Targakis says that he is financially comfortable exerting the same amount of energy as he did when he was a youngster. His love for the work is just as sustained.