Sometimes when packs of similar-looking pedestrians pass by my car in downtown Tampa, I play a game I think of as: Name That Convention.
What is it these particular people have in common? Are they insurance adjustors here for a yearly meet-up? Women judges in town to discuss justice? Volleyballers, cooks, caddies, comic book fans? Hey, it's cheating if you peek at the logo on their matching bags of swag.
But about one group that arrives annually there can be no doubt: the bouncing platoons of teenagers in their look-at-me haircuts, tights and T-shirts emblazoned with things like Make A Scene!, turning downtown streets into the set of Glee for their annual state thespian festival.
These kids do not just walk to various venues for their monologues, duets and such; they skip, they dance, they cavort, they hug each other — a lot. They do not actually leap on your car hood for a quick plie, nor do they wave to traffic with jazz hands, though neither would surprise you.
In short, they are big fun to have in town.
Right about here it seems appropriate to paraphrase a famous musical: We got trouble, friends, right here in River City.
In The Music Man, trouble meant a pool table, sure to corrupt and ruin the town's youth. Here, we just have a downtown that's no longer the sparsely-populated, tumbleweed burg it once was.
This year, some 7,000 artsy high-schoolers and accompanying adults will have to share Saturday, March 29, with a high-speed, short-course bike race that will mean hundreds of cyclists and spectators by the Tampa Theatre.
In Music Man parlance, that's trouble with a capital T, which rhymes with B, which stands for beer. Because, gasp, there will also be beer tents.
Believe me, I am not making light of adults who voiced concerns at a recent Tampa City Council meeting and sent emails detailing their worries about safety. (Though I do hope someone will make sure the couple who wrote they were troubled at the idea of their daughter "walking through a Biker Race with beer available" are clear we're talking Huffy, not Harley, here.) It is the job of parents to worry about the safety of the world into which they are sending their kids. It is the natural order of things.
In truth there are a half-dozen events other than the thespians in and around downtown that Saturday. This city will do what Cities With A Lot Going On do, like double-barricading the race area and providing extra police officers. As for getting across the street? They are teenagers, not toddlers, even with the multicolored hair and facepaint.
I can say this, having once been one of them. Many years ago I came to Tampa as a high school thespian for "state" (we killed in improv), emerging unscathed. The most subversive thing that happened was some in our group adjusted HELLO THESPIANS! on the hotel marquee to HELL LESBIANS. I'm still not sure what this meant, but, oh yeah, we were some edgy types. Or just kids.
And this is a Saturday bike race, not a drunken parade of lusty pirates out to pillage. (That was in January.) We manage to pull off Gasparilla yearly, not to mention some Super Bowls and a pack of Republicans and protestors who came conventioning.
Surely we can make sure the ones with jazz hands stay safe, too.