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Tampa, explained

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A Big Guava native struggles to understand a Pennsylvanian’s fascination with the Cigar City. Also, Tom Brady is moving to Tampa.

Gasparilla Bowl photo. Banner Society illustration.

Tom Brady is moving to Tampa. Let’s discuss Tampa.

Alex: You know I have been lobbying to get sent to Tampa on a work trip for several years. I think the first time was when one of the Alabama-Clemson championship games was there, and you all have repeatedly declined to let me visit this essential city.

Ryan: USF hosts Florida in 2021. If I’m still in charge, you can go. If you demand to attend something before that date, I’m going to need to know a little bit more about your fascination with the land of my childhood.

Alex: Everyone who’s from my hometown, Pittsburgh, does not shut up about how great our town is in every way. I have never met a Pittsburgher who is not like, “COME ON DAHN ‘N HAVE A LITTLE CAPPY COLA ‘N FRY SAMMICH AT PRIMANTI’S,” even if they’re talking to someone in North Dakota. Yet Tampa people seem almost ashamed of Tampa, and I don’t get it, given that every glimpse I’ve seen of it says you have lots of fun stuff.

Ryan: Please name said “fun stuff,” and I will give you my honest assessment of how woefully off base you are.

Alex: Let’s take the Gasparilla Festival. Dressing up like a pirate and getting drunk on a boat seems great. People in non-oceanic areas would love to have such an event.

Ryan: Dollar store Mardi Gras based around a pirate who didn’t even exist that was canceled in 1991 because the organizing group didn’t want to allow black members. (That “1991” is not a typo.) They eventually backed down, and now Gasparilla is an inclusive place to see your coworkers drink way too much in the middle of the day while a local band plays Sugar Ray covers.

Also, it’s in January, one of the few times in Florida you might think, “mmm, it’s actually kinda cold to go get drunk on a boat.” You also might not, because you didn’t move to Tampa to make smart weather choices like “own pants.”

Alex: So it doesn’t cost much, showcases the creativity of the local community, has live music, and isn’t so hot that you’ll sweat because of all the body heat.

2018 NHL All-Star - Gasparilla Floatilla Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

Ryan: Bonus: much of the parade takes place along Bayshore Boulevard. Growing up, I was told this is the longest continuous sidewalk in the world. Wikipedia quickly confirms this is not true; there’s a sidewalk in Uruguay three times as long.

Anyways, Gasparilla’s only a limited-time event, so I assume your other Tampa fun stuff boils down to the beach, the strip clubs, the sports franchises, or maybe the theme parks.

Alex: I’m glad Tampa has small businesses that support sexual empowerment and provide an outlet for local artists to share their work with an enthusiastic audience. And I didn’t even know you had theme parks. Sounds like yet another point in Tampa’s favor.

Ryan: If you want to get a good picture of the political histories of strip clubs in Tampa, the Tampa Bay Times put together a great retrospective of the battle over the six-foot rule, which was the city’s attempt to crack down on lap dances in the late ‘90s. Basically, Tampa is equal parts horny and ashamed of being horny.

Let’s talk about those theme parks, though. The main attractions are Busch Gardens and its water companion, Adventure Island. Both are legitimately good and fun, and there are two things I should tell you about Busch Gardens.

One: When I was a kid, the park had a working brewery (the “Busch” was a reference to Anheuser-Busch) that guests could tour. At the end, anyone who was of legal drinking age got a free sample. I cannot emphasize how normal this seemed. You would go to a theme park with your parents, pretend to be interested in malt and fermentation, and your folks would get a mild buzz that would sustain them while you went on roller coasters.

Two: Busch Gardens Tampa is responsible for this pair of sentences on Wikipedia.

A few weeks after the Python roller coaster opened in 1976, a 6-foot-6-inch, 340-pound, 39-year-old heart patient died after riding. The ride’s previous tagline, “I challenged the Python and lived!”, was subsequently removed.

The Python.
The Python.
Joel on Flickr. Creative Commons.

Alex: That is, in retrospect, an unfortunate slogan for that coaster. It might even chase me away from amusement parks in general for a few months. Fortunately, this wouldn’t be a problem in Tampa, because it’s warm and there are other things to do. Maybe I’d go play on one of your million golf courses or check out one of several wilderness preserves you have, which I know exist because they’re readily visible on Google Maps. Or is your contention that all green space in Tampa is bad because it’s not sophisticated enough?

Ryan: Have you ever had someone soak a blanket in warm water and throw it over you?

Alex: I have not.

Ryan: So when you say “it’s warm,” you should know the sensation I just described is actually what Tampa is like. There are golf courses and tennis courts and biking trails and parks. You will sweat like an absolute monster at all of them and just wish you’d stayed in your air-conditioned car.

Maybe you’ll go to the beach instead, right? Turns out it’s somehow even hotter there, and the ocean temperature is stuck on Soup You Didn’t Microwave Long Enough. The Gulf of Mexico is essentially a Crock Pot where you can get sunburnt.

Alex: Every river in America is the color of human shit. At least you have a body of water you can swim in. (I assume there are buoys in the water to tell you at which point you’re about to be run over by a jet ski.) And while people think there’d be good aquatic food in places like Pittsburgh, because we have three rivers, there really isn’t. I bet Tampa has solid seafood.

Ryan: There’s plenty of grouper fraud, if that’s what you’re looking for. I don’t know that Tampa would be your first stop if you wanted to really go all-out on a tour of seafood. The city’s best-known fancy restaurant (Bern’s) and best-known non-sexual chain restaurant (Outback) are both steak-focused, and the signature dish from the area is the Cuban sandwich, which has no fish.

I mean, you can find tasty seafood in Tampa. It’s just sort of like saying you moved to New York for the Tex-Mex.

(The best-known sexual chain is Hooters, which, again, is not known for its seafood.)

Alex: Hooters, another local business that stresses human expression in all its forms. I’d say that sounds like a great place to watch the Buccaneers, except why not just do that in person, given that your fair city is home to the only football stadium in the world that has an in-venue pirate ship from which you could just watch the action. Probably for cheap!

Ryan: Nothing says “y’argh, we respect the law of neither land nor sea, matey!” like solar calculator numbers.

NFL: NOV 25 49ers at Buccaneers Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Still, Raymond James Stadium is a more pleasant place to watch a game than Tropicana Field, the facility built to lure the White Sox, and then the Mariners, and then the San Francisco Giants, none of whom left for Tampa. This is a bit like saying your uncle’s houseboat is a more comfortable place to sleep than the shipping container a few hundred feet down the pier from your uncle’s houseboat.

Alex: So professional football’s not your bag. Cry me a river (or in this case, a bay) about it. You can still attend something called the BAD BOY MOWERS GASPARILLA BOWL.

Ryan: Alex, you’re right. And I will send you to any/every Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl you choose to attend in a professional capacity.