TAMPA — Over the last six years, the workers at the Hyatt Regency Tampa have made a few observations about people shrink-wrapped in latex, led by leashes, enthused by ropes.
They smoke a lot of cigarettes. They frequent the fruit smoothie shop across the street. They tip well.
"Most of them are wonderful people," said longtime doorman Antonio DeSousa as he watched attendees of the 2012 Fetish Con traipse into the lobby of the posh downtown hotel. "Very friendly.
"Most of them don't drink or do drugs," said valet Jeff Petty. "They just got fetishes."
Upstairs at the hotel, the attendees dressed in everything from white body suits to mom jeans wandered through the annual convention and trade show dedicated to sexual fetishes and the products that fulfill them.
They attended workshops with such titles as "Pain is for Pleasure, Not Injury." They thumbed through an erotic novel described by its author as "Fifty Shades of Grey, but better edited." They watched a man tie up a woman on a table and nodded in approval.
But eventually, conventioneers had to emerge from the banquet rooms — and into the afternoon light with everyone else.
Weirdly, it didn't seem too weird to everyone.
"Sexual peculiarities don't mean much to me," said Steve Netta, who works as a computer programmer downtown by day, an aspiring standup comedian at night. "But, see, I'm a comic, so I see things in a bizarre way."
Netta was standing in front of the hotel, talking to employees. A man in high heels and a maid suit emerged from the lobby and declared, in a British accent, "It's bloody hot!"
Netta noted a resemblance to the British transvestite comic Eddie Izzard. He shrugged.
"At least these people are doing something constructive. It's a hobby," he said. "Some people collect stamps. Some people are leather-clad males."
Back inside the convention area, hotel banquet worker Kenny Hecker was manning a concession table stacked with mini-pizzas, sandwiches and salads and, surprisingly, doughnuts frosted with the letters "GOP." (Hecker said he was trying out the Republican-themed doughnuts in advance of the GOP convention later this month.)
Hecker said he found the whole thing interesting.
"You know what? They're real people," he said. "They're just people with different … thoughts?"
He paused. He heard the party might get a little wilder Friday night. Turns out a bunch of people were headed to Ybor.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374.