Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Opinion

Hooper: Finding the cure in a Riverwalk ramble

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The lazy attitude that has betrayed me for so many years makes one last plea.

It's overcast and a bit dreary. You're just getting over a cold. Let's just ride around and listen to Luther.

I am undaunted. Spurred by Luther Vandross' ever chipper Glow of Love, I'm compelled to flee the ordinary confines of my car, and seek the extraordinary that awaits on the Tampa Riverwalk. I can't resist the chance to soak in the solace, to explore.

I begin just short of Waterworks Park with joggers and walkers and pet owners joining me. We're all embarking on solitary sojourns, but we walk together, searching. Physically, I'm looking to build my heart rate, break a sweat and shake my chest congestion, but the mental mission remains as murky as the cloudy skies. I'm seeking to fulfill my ever-present curiosity, some intellectual stimulation, but I have no idea what I'll find along the corridor.

I'm not sure what fuels the mission of the others, but it's clear they too are on a quest.

Of course, they sport the wear of outdoor enthusiasts — yoga pants and compression shorts and jogging gear — while I showcase faded jeans and a happy face Tee bought long ago at Target.

Memo to self: Buy a warmup suit.

The gray skies cannot dent my brisk pace, but I keep stopping — to read about Fortune Taylor, to read about Ella Chamberlain, to read about Kate Jackson. I stop to admire the newly added Veterans art near the Straz Performing Arts Center. It's compelling.

I stop to play the musical bench. I stop to realize walking the river is walking through a museum full of stationary displays and moving, living, breathing exhibits — the people. It's so much more with the people, the sense of community.

I keep walking. And thinking.

As I pass the dog park, I hear a man — older, worn and a bit tattered — sharing how his life belongs with the breeds that frolic next to him.

"I put her stuff on the porch and told her, 'You cheat on me, you can get the hell out,'" he boasts, loud and defiant.

His companion, a blonde woman bundled up in a black jacket, stares into the current, allowing his words to echo off the water and reverberate with sadness.

I keep walking. And wondering.

A child at the playground emits a hulking, guttural scream that belies his small frame. He's happy.

Later, I find myself trailing a quartet of teens. The lone boy among the four keeps talking about how much it costs to attend the University of Tampa. I want to show him Derek Bok's quote, carved into the Riverwalk just south of MacDill Park.

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

I keep walking. And searching.

I pass the folks with the quiet boxer but they pass me back when I stop to read more quotes.

One provides a bit of fodder for the next time I have to defend against those who argue my industry operates with a liberal-driven agenda.

The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.

The poignant words spark my curiosity. I spot a jewel from Eleanor Roosevelt.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

The quotes make me appreciate my ability to read, and I wonder for a moment about the illiterate whom life has cheated out of that treasure.

I keep walking. And wandering.

At the multiple staircases dotting the convention center, I direct some bike-riding tourists to a ramp so they don't have to rumble down a flight of steps.

"I guess you could tell we're from out of town," they said with a laugh.

"Just trying to help," I replied, unable to come up with something more clever and surely disappointing Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada in my instant ambassador role.

I keep walking. And dreaming.

A lady compliments me on my shirt, and I match the shirt's joy with a toothy grin.

I arrive at the Sail Pavilion as the barkeeps begin to raise the steel doors. I tell myself alcohol is no cure for a cold, but that betraying laziness says, "Sit a spell, kick your shoes off, get a beer."

I give in. Simon the bartender asks if I want water, but I order a Bud Light.

As he fetches the draft, a familiar guitar rift breaks the mid-morning silence. Bono's soulful voice stirs the clouds and invites the sun to join my Sunday constitution, and I realize he's right.

I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

But I love searching along the Tampa Riverwalk.

That's all I'm saying.

Learn more about the Tampa Riverwalk at thetampariverwalk.com.

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