It's 11 p.m. Saturday and I am walking down Clearwater Beach's Mandalay Avenue, prepared to be assaulted by a barrage of unbearable noise.
That's how some residents of the Mandalay Beach Club describe the sound on the island's main street. At this hour they are presumably tucked into bed in their gulf-front condos on the west side of Mandalay Avenue. The twin towers rise into the night sky like white apparitions, many of their windows dark.
Down here on the ground, people are having a swell time. The T-shirt shops are still open, with tourists inside. Teenagers are gathered in small knots on the sidewalk, acting goofy. A family of four walks past me, all licking ice cream cones. Couples of all ages stroll by, holding hands. I can easily pick up snatches of conversations as they pass.
There are three places on the Mandalay strip where the sound swells as I pass and where, if I were walking with someone, I would have to raise my voice a little to make myself heard.
The Brown Boxer Pub & Grille in Pelican Plaza on the corner of Mandalay and Baymont Street has a large open-air seating area. The place is packed and the music is lively, but the most dominant sound comes from people talking animatedly at the tables. There is a wave of conversational sound that rolls over me as I pass, but it fades quickly as I walk on.
The second spot is Toucan's Bar & Grill. It is busy, the doors are open and hip-hop music is playing inside. But the sound fades almost completely by the time I pass a couple more doorways.
I've walked nearly the whole length of the Mandalay retail strip, but right at the end, just before the roundabout, I hear voices above me and look up. The sound is coming from the second-floor outdoor patio of the Hooters restaurant, or perhaps its third-floor rooftop bar.
The worst noise I have heard on my walk didn't come from the restaurants or bars, which seem to be the targets of the noise complaints, but from the street. The driver of a party bus, irritated by a slow-turning motorist, blares a horn so loud I jump. And several motorcycles rev their engines to attract attention.
Overall, it's a much more civilized environment than in some years past, when young people with nothing much to do would cruise Mandalay, creating gridlock and filling the corridor with the sounds of revving engines, the thumping of bass from car stereos, shouts between stopped cars, and even an occasional firecracker. But now, thriving businesses have drawn the crowds indoors and the street isn't particularly busy.
Mayor George Cretekos says that if the condo residents wanted quiet, they shouldn't have bought homes in the heart of a tourist district. Of course, when the condo tower was built, Clearwater Beach wasn't bustling and trending upscale as it is now.
In fact, in 2000 when city officials approved the development — with city incentives, by the way, and over the objections of beach single-family homeowners who said the project was too dense — it was with the hope that it would bring a renaissance to moribund Mandalay.
Well, it's here. That seems worth celebrating to me — maybe in one of those jumping spots on Mandalay.