Before the president arrived Thursday, there was plenty of opinion on display on a busy corner of Kennedy Boulevard, where dozens of protesters were armed with signs, bullhorns and convictions.
You had your small government proponents, your tea partiers, your Drill-Baby-Drillers, your Don't-Tread-On-Me flag wavers, a guy in a "You Lie!" ball cap, and a gray-haired lady whose sign said her health care had been just fine for 73 years, thank you very much.
I asked one guy if he didn't think maybe his Three Stooges button undermined the seriousness of his NRA T-shirt, but upon closer examination the "stooges" turned out to be Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. The guy with the "choo-choo mop" symbolizing taxpayers picking up the cost of rail got points for creativity, though not for his lack of foresight into the good rail could do us.
Drivers flying by honked in agreement or jeered in dissent. Everyone seemed to behave.
Just around the corner, tucked away on a side street on the University of Tampa campus, was a smaller place of protest, a barricaded off square for the determined few who found their way there.
This particular place was conveniently located right next to a captive audience: the endless line of people with actual tickets moving slowly inside to see the president, the college kids with their earnest questions, the Obama diehards, the presidential dissenters who wanted a voice.
Which made for quite the conversation there in the public square.
By those barricades stalked a man with a sign saying Wanted For Crimes Against Peace: Bush and Obama, and it's not often you get those guys on the same bill. A kid with his plaid boxered behind hanging out over his cargos held up one that said YOU ARE MORE THAN A NUMBER. "Thanks!" someone called.
The usual over-the-top Jesus guys showed up with their usual obnoxious bullhorns (hey, didn't I see you at Schiavo? No, wait, St. Pete Pride?) A woman called Mama Adade, in fur boots, turban and dreadlocks, rode up on her bike, planted herself center square and began railing at the crowd about "tired, cantankerous rich folks" who don't know what the back of the bus is like.
"Hey," called William Russell, who was waiting in line with his partner, "at least you can get married!" The crowd liked that one.
In the square, St. Petersburg's Eric Atwater held a sign that said Best Cookies in Town, handing out his "Obama Crunch" variety, formerly known as Hurricane Crunch. (Times change, okay?) Though clearly in the president's camp — "Barack Obama is a hero to me," he said — he gave cookies away indiscriminately and wholeheartedly. The Hell-No-to-Stimulus woman got one, and I'm just saying, one of the Jesus guys had crumbs in his beard. Mama Adade deftly pocketed hers without missing a syllable, having by now rolled a poster into a makeshift tube to amplify her thoughts and to give the bullhorns serious competition.
The line moved slowly, and the police horses that looked like they were in riot gear and ready for anything mostly just hung out. So many people showed up, for and against and in between.
We never cease to amaze me, our endless variety, and how much we manage to care.