During this strange, strange week that the Republican National Convention occupies my town, I find myself walking around a city of contradiction.
Protesters and police, for instance. Cops versus anti-establishment types. Cats and dogs, right?
But this week protesters have regularly approached Tampa police Chief Jane Castor — presumably a symbol of Authority, the Oppressor, head of the very police state they rail against — and asked to take a photo with her.
And except for one person dressed as a very graphic lady part, the chief has obliged — a rock star even in a city providing a stage to an America divided.
Interesting moment in an interesting town.
Not that there isn't plenty of anger in the protest chants you hear out there, taunting officers with that tried-and-true though unimaginative "F--- the police." But my favorite, directed toward officers who had donned riot gear during one of the tenser moments, was this:
Take off that riot suit!
Nobody is high-fiving in the end zone to celebrate a peaceful RNC just yet. But it's a start.
There is contradiction, too, in the promise of 50,000 visitors landing here when in reality, much of downtown Tampa could not be deader if there were tumbleweeds blowing through. Blame bad weather, traffic or the fact that the steady downtown lunch crowd fled for the week. Blame catered events and RNCers crowding restaurants and bars at their hotels rather than venturing out.
On Wednesday morning, waitresses gathered in the lobby of the usually bustling First Watch to peer out at the deserted street, the place mostly empty despite their sign showing patriotic red (jam), white (butter) and blueberry pancakes. The Tampa Bay Rays store was quiet, too, and what would make a better souvenir to take back to the home state than a Rays ball?
I see a security guard, hired to protect a tall residential building for the week, crossing the street with the last slices of a boxed pizza ordered at 4 a.m. to hand to two homeless guys. A second guard, Duval Hutchinson, tells me they've seen less anarchy, more just giving people directions. They got all geared up the night before because of the big party over at the nearby park, expected to last until 5 a.m. But by midnight, all was quiet.
"Not much action," he says.
Okay, so much for party central. But all of those visiting Republicans safely in bed without mayhem is probably a good thing.
One of my favorite moments roaming the city this week came during what was supposed to be Monday's big protest, decimated by weather. Reporters asked — okay, begged — Chief Castor to say something, anything, they could make into news.
As she faced a pack of microphones, a protest group all in pink sidled up behind her and unfurled their long pink banner for the cameras and began singing a protest song.
What's a police chief to do? Take the press conference elsewhere? Tell them to go away?
After a quick consultation, she turned and said pleasantly: Okay, but could you not sing?
And the protesters said: Okay.