So I went to the party at the Trop
1. Usually it's real easy going to the place the Rays play. Walk up. Walk in. Plenty of seats and whatnot. Not so Sunday. Only so many available openings in the perimeter of sharp-topped fences and walls.
2. What I saw outside: Signs that said GREEDY OLD PARTY and SAVE THE MIDDLE CLASS. Cops on bikes. Cops on horses. Cops with big-tongued German Shepherds. Cops with flashlights looking under hoods and trunks of cars. Cops with pistols strapped to their hips.
3. What I saw inside: Trays of Cubans and grouper sliders and paella in pans the size of tractor-trailer tires and vats of lobster mac and cheese on long tables set up all over the soft fake grass. Busch Gardens belly dancers dancing and Bucs cheerleaders gyrating. People pointing phones. People dressed like cowboys. People dressed like they live in colonial times if colonial times had black Nike shoes.
"These people will see what Tampa Bay is all about. This convention is a great advertisement for the Tampa Bay area. We want them to really see Tampa Bay — see the Rays, eat Cuban food. We want them to come back and spend money," host committee president Ken Jones said.
He said the event struck a blow for regional cooperation, as tourist agencies on both sides of the bay helped pay for it.
"The bridge mentality with Pinellas and Hillsborough has gone away," he said.
Maybe it's not quite like it once was. Maybe. "Welcome to Tampa Bay," the voice kept telling the people in St. Pete. The only piped-in voice who specifically said "St. Petersburg," at least the only one I heard, was that of Rick Scott, who called the city one of Florida's "shining jewels." I left before Rodney Atkins sang songs, and my Times colleague Mark Puente says he said "St. Petersburg" a good bit, too.
5. Printouts with area factoids were taped to the men's room walls. Guests making pit stops learned things like St. Pete has the world record for consecutive days of sunshine -- 768 -- and that Parents magazine considers Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo America's best and that movie star Winter the dolphin lives at the the aquarium in Clearwater.