Maybe it was the promise of our incomparable Tampa-made Cuban bread or the lure of our balmy beaches.
Maybe they were swayed by tales of a Southern city gone pirate-mad for something called "Gasparilla." Or the fact that thousands of Republicans arrived here in the dead of August and lived to tell.
What do you suppose convinced the International Indian Film Academy to bring their Bollywood Oscars to Tampa Bay over places like Melbourne, Australia, or, say, Chicago or New York?
It's true: Next June, the Bollywood Oscars and all its ensuing celebrities, festivities, fans and glam land will be here in venues from the Tampa Bay Times Forum to the Trop. Why, pretty soon we'll all be tossing around the word IIFA (that's "EYE-fuh") easy as we say Wimauma.
Listen, I already know we're a great area, quirky, interesting and unique. But when we happen to make national news and find ourselves being called a place with palmetto bugs so big they fly off carrying actual people, hotter and uglier than the surface of the moon, hayseed, and also "Jacksonville," it can make a body defensive.
So my question, when the jet-lagged team of tourism officials and boosters, including the local Indian community, returned victorious from a whirlwind trip to this year's Oscars in Macau, a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China:
Apparently because we really, really want it.
Enthusiasm, says Al Higginbotham, the Hillsborough commissioner from Plant City who has become an unexpected ambassador for bringing international interests here in an effort to focus our economy less on home-building. "They saw the enthusiasm and genuine interest," he says. "More than anything, people want to know you care."
But we are not Los Angeles or New York. "There are some advantages to that," says Santiago Corrada, president of the Visit Tampa Bay tourism bureau. Events can get lost in those major metropolitan areas, he says, but come to Tampa Bay, and "you're it."
"We can sell that," Corrada says.
Apparently, we can. Apparently we impressed them with the support of our own Indian community. Apparently we wowed them with the impressive army of people who went — over the Fourth of July, a major American holiday, no less — and with the number of venues we have at the ready.
"That was a theme I kept selling to the IIFA people: We're going to be all about you," Corrada said.
Okay, so I was a skeptic. I secretly thought Commissioner Higginbotham was Baker-actable when, on his way out the door, he put our odds at 50-50. Did I mention Melbourne in the mix?
The lesson, I guess: Careful what you assume about us.
Last year, Higginbotham says he heard someone in town — he won't say who — had referred to him as "this hillbilly from Plant City" who had no clue about economic development. Now he can think of this comment with, as he puts it, "a bit of glee."
All right, enough of this. There's much to do, fundraising, coordinating, housecleaning, and, oh yeah, those months of events leading up to the actual Oscars. Time for a workaday town of the South to wipe the stars from our eyes, hitch up our britches and get to work. Hooray for Bollywood, y'all.