January 21st, 2003


The Long Road to Tampa, or, Weekend in Review Pt. 1

I spent the weekend with htothem in Tampa, Florida for a weekend visit, frolicking, and a trip to Duff Gardens. Following suit with most of my traveling stories, some of the funniest parts happened en route to the destination. Friday afternoon, I rode the MARC train up to BWI with frockazulu, and after a short ride made shorter by a fun conversation, we see the train nearing the airport, get up, and begin heading towards the doors, where dozens of other riders are lined up to exit. The station announcement is made, and the line doesn't move, so I assume the doors haven't opened yet. The train hisses and pulls out of the station and on we go. Frock and I look around and wonder aloud if we hadn't pulled into the station completely yet when a man behind us asks if we just missed the BWI station. We said we did, and we assumed everyone else had too, but he filled us in that the people were all waiting to get off at the *next* station. Fortunately, Frock's wife was going to be picking him up, so we were able to call her over to our station, and I was not only treated to a very generous ride to the airport, but was able to catch up with Frock's son, who demanded to know who I was, where the fast train was going, if he was going to the airport too, and what that cloth thing around my neck was.

I am always paranoid that I'm going to mess up the whole check-in procedure, so I always ask someone if I have to check in at both the gate and counter. I was approaching one of the desks when about four cops told me not to stand where I was standing. I assumed it was usual cop crap, but one smiled and said, "someone got sick there a few minutes ago."

I only had to check in at the gate, the flight was on time, and there was a Roy Rogers right in my terminal, so I figure my travel troubles are over for the day. The attendant informed me that even though I was reserved for a window seat (and a Muslim meal, I might add...and oddly enough I didn't get searched once the whole trip), she had given all of the window seats away and I'd have to take a middle. I was in the rear of the plane and boarded late, so when I saw that one middle seat open in the back next to the largest human being I have ever seen in my life, I knew I was in for a cramped ride. He saw my face fall as I looked at him, and with his right leg was immobilized by some brace, clumsily stood up to let me in with a sheepish smile. Some passengers nearby interrupted our exchange by asking him how it felt and what it was like, all oohing and aahing over him. I lean to the girl next to me and ask if we are supposed to know who he is, and she says all she knows is he's a football player. Then the passengers all ask him if they could "see it". And he hands it to them: his Super Bowl Ring.

Just as my fear of sitting next to this guy switched to the excitement of chatting with a moderate celebrity, someone sitting in another aisle seat offered to switch with him so he could stretch his bum leg into the center aisle of the plane. I asked the stewardess his name, and she told me he was Kenyatta Jones, a player for the New England Patriots.

A little while into the flight, I lean back to the girl next to me (who was impressed that I wrote his name down because she too knew she'd forget it and her boyfriend would probably like to know that little aspect of the story) and say, so, that guy was a professional football player, right? "Right...", she pauses, "so what's he doing in coach on AirTran?" Exactly. I guess everyone's trying to save a buck.

I arrived in Tampa at the airport that 1977 built. For anyone who might understand, it looked like the Rockaway Mall did in 4th grade: mod number fonts on the terminal signs, everything was a shade of orange or brown, casino carpeting--the escalators were only 1-person wide and had that groovy ridgey handrails with some mosaic wave thing inbetween them. I was reunited with HM, she took me to Starbucks for a gigantic Carmel Frappuccino, and we were off to Ybor City for some beers.

Tour of Tampa, or, Weekend in Review Pt. 2

I wasn't expecting it to be shorts-and-t-shirt warm down there in January, but I wasn't expecting record low temperatures of an unheard of 40 degrees. After recent events, I was hoping to be able to leave my coat in the car for the night, but I thought better of it, and gladly so.

I had been told that Ybor City is like a mini-New Orleans. Having never been to New Orleans, my knowledge of the place is limited to whatever titty-flashing specials I have seen on TV. Ybor City was fun, fun to look at, the streets were blocked off for foot traffic, and it definitely gave off that Dave Attel kinda feel. what Ybor City had that I had nearly forgotten even existed they had in strides: the 18-and-over club. Long since the days I have even considered the 18-and-over club, I have only been reminded of their presence in recent years when I've gotten carded for cigarettes at the 9:30. The clubs were complete with street harking hoochies wearing sandwich boards inviting us to come into their club for the $6 all-you-can-drink Ladies' Night, which was a consideration until Here comes the Hotstepper came blaring out the doors of the place. HM and I chanted WORD 'EM UP until we were able to find the closest thing to a dive bar we could: Tampa's variation on the Such and Such Brewing Company, which for a place that brews their own beer, wasn't too bad.

We left after a few pints and some fries looking for a new bar. We saw BAR down one corner and hoped it would live up to its name, but unfortunately, it was like all the others on the strip. We passed cover band after cover band, one eurobootyhouse club after another. We happened upon an Irish bar, asked the bouncer if they had a band, and when he said no, we walked right in, delighted to discover a photohunt machine on the end of the bar and Stella Artios on tap with its own special glass. The man with one of those mutton-chops-merged-with-mustache-mustaches was endlessly fascinated by two chicks touching boobies on a little TV, but left us alone to chitchat with the couple from Boston to our left, the husband of which told us a great story about when the Lightning played "someone" a big fight broke out and the goalies ended up beating each other up. Vague, yet enjoyable. The walk back to the car was highlighted by a gal nearly falling onto a limo after losing her shoe in the gutter, and another herd of chicks shouting WHITE TRASH WHITE TRASH at...something or someone else as they trampled by us.

It ain't a Saturday morning if there ain't Trading Spaces. Luckily, of the six-or-so channels HM got in her hotel, one of them was TLC. After watching Hildi crapify another poor soul's room, it was off to Steak 'n Shake for lunch, and then HM drove us around to look at the sights.

I would like to preface this paragraph by saying to anyone who is a fan of or lives in Tampa, I mean no offense. However, being a native of New Jersey, it's nice to say what I'm about to say about someone else's home for a change.

Tampa is a dump.

Every billboard we passed was for either a bail bondsman, some real estate company whose tagline is "we buy ugly houses", or an ambulance chaser lawyer. One of them was courteous enough to advertise that he was most willing to handle "Personal Injury, Drug Trafficing, RICO, or murder" cases. We passed some of the most gorgeous Spanish Colonial homes in the most retched conditions, strewn with shit and begging for a paint job. Not to say that the area didn't have it's nice places; HM and I drove through both of them. The Bay was a sight to see, even with the big factory right on the horizon. In its defense, Tampa does have some of the best gasoline alleys I have ever seen, which I mean in all seriousness--I love to drive through strips of cheap commerce; and there was a barber shop on one of the streets that had a big barbeque barrel out front that the staff was making lunch in (I guess they put the Barber in </i>Barberque</i>!).

We spent the rest of Saturday afternoon at a flea market, digging through boxes of Hello Kitty Rubik's cubes, 12-packs of knockoff batteries, and frightening sticks of deo called "Confidence" or "Assured Feeling". I picked up an Atari game for my brother, but managed to resist picking up some fresh dubs for the Nizzeon.

Duff...Gardens...Hur-rah!, or, Weekend in Review Pt. 3

Saturday night it was back to Ybor for a new wave/britpop/Mousetrap/Panic kinda club night at a place called Orpheum, which reminded me a lot of the Metro Cafe, if only the sound system at Metro didn't resemble someone screaming in a bathtub. Like the bootyclubs down the street, Orpheum was offering a $7 cover and free rail drinks and High Life all night. I couldn't have been happier, but someone at the bar was complaining about how they had to spend an extra $4 on their Corona because they "don't drink shit beer". I had to point out that she *was* drinking shit beer, except hers had a fancy label. We met up with HM's Tampa crew, who were all very fun and I had a great time chatting it up with them about everything from pop art to shows and stuff. They all dwindled out of the club by around one, around which time I noticed a guy behind us dancing like a fool, and yet, somehow still being really good at it. I pointed him out to Helen Marie, and he and his friend came over to our table. His friend introduced the dancer as "The Genius", and after I asked to make sure, he reassured me that he's not in the Wu-Tang Clan. The rest of their friends came over and talked with us for the rest of the night while HM danced with the Genius, who despite our combined efforts, would not speak. A word. Truly a genius.

Sunday was Duff Gardens day. It was a touch warmer on Sunday than Saturday, so the windbreaker I had brought was just enough. There must have been about 150 people in the entire park all day, all of which of course were on line to buy tickets at the same time as us, but after that, the day was line-free. We sat on the rollercoasters upwards of four times in a row without getting off. There were about seven roller coasters in the park, and besides the swinging ship and the elevated Scrambler, we really didn't go on anything else.

As we were boarding the second roller coaster of the day, we overheard some 15-or-so year old boys who were getting off complaining about how that was the shortest ride ever and what a ripoff it was. HM and I bitchily called him out (to each other, mind you) about what an ungrateful bastard he was and how he should love any ride that he didn't have to wait on line for. We got strapped into the coaster, took off, and were just getting into the ride when it stopped and let us out. So the kids were right. It was the shortest line ever. I'd have felt totally ripped of if I had to wait for it. Needless to say, we didn't ride that one again.

We rode rollercocasters for a few hours, then hit the swinging ship thing, which they called the Phoenix. One of the guys on the boatload before us suffered a pocket unload on one of the flips, sparking the German father and son behind us to comment (in an ever so Lebowski accent) "It's raining lighters". We bantered back and forth with these two as we boarded the ride, and while the safety checks were going on, noticed a girl of about nine standing at the exit pointing to someone else on the ship sing-songing "you're gonna cry-y!" Sure enough, a few swings into the ride, a blood curdling wail rose from the boat. HM wondered if the girl was proud that she was right or felt bad for the kid who cried. I chose the first.

We went to Das Festhaus for dinner, but since the Tampa Duff Gardens is more of an African theme than Williamsburg's European theme, it was silly in and of itself that Das Festhaus was in a Morroccan-style pyramid type building. As we entered and got our food, the performance wasn't playing, so they had the Buccaneer's game on two large-screen TV's. The game was still 10-17 at the time, and one of the restaurant attendants kept coming on the intercom and repeating in a slow deadpan, "Go Bucks...Go...Bucks."

Sadly, the show started again, and we were treated to some of the most canned saccharine choreography and singing as the Festhaus players took us on a tour of the diversity of the world. We went to France where they did the Can-Can, Ireland where we sang that Harrigan song, and then got a touch of some of the vast musical history that is Italy with That's Amore. HM and I took our cue to exit when we were whisked away to exotic Cuba to the tunes of the Miami Sound Machine. It was getting dark and cold and we had more rides to ride.

On one of our last trips of the day on the suspended coaster, the Montu, we were clicking up the first hill and suddenly, fireworks burst up from the grounds outside the park. One of the guys on the coaster shouted "WE WON!" and thus, the news of the Buccaneer's victory was spread across greater Tampa.

Sunday night was a lazy evening of half-watched movies and room service Pizza Hut. My flight left Monday at 8am with no fanfare. I slept like the dead on the plane, landed in Baltimore to be welcomed with a snowshower, had a hassle-free trip from the airport to MARC, a smooth ride to Union Station, arrived at the Metro to find a train waiting for me at both of my transfers, and a waiting bus to take me the last leg home. Thanks to Final Fantasy Legend and Tetris on my Gameboy Oldskool, it was all in all a pleasant trip home. I got in and turned right back around to go to my brother's house to spend the day working on the Alone in the Dark game for Dreamcast, we hit Whitey's for a burger at dinner, and then capped the night with another stellar episode of Battle of The Sexes.