Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Turning 18 and heading to Ybor City

So much anticipation and furor surrounding this one day. The big one-eight. We all wait for it, impatiently and tirelessly. • We finally attain the status of adults (and, if we had them, we toss out those fake IDs — at least, the ones proclaiming us 18). But this milestone also places a huge weight of responsibility upon our shoulders. Now our actions have much more serious consequences. We must choose what we do more wisely, as now the legal system has some serious repercussions for us. • Many of us would prefer to store these daunting thoughts deep in the crevices of our mind and focus on some of the more longed-for rites of passage that come with being 18, like venturing out to the 18-and-up clubs. • Some bars in Ybor City will let you in at 18, after they've marked you with signs alerting bartenders you're not to be served alcohol.

To celebrate my 18th birthday, three friends and I dolled ourselves up with makeup and cute dresses before driving on a recent weekend to Ybor, notorious for its nightlife. Staring out of the car window at the commotion outside on the sidewalks, my eyes widened like a child feasting her sight upon the most incredible gift. The city was teeming with life. An endless congested mass of people circulated through the streets. Long lines in front of clubs were common, and the cafes and bars boasted a large number of jovial customers with ruddy cheeks, clearly on their fifth drink, sat at overfilled tables, chuckling loudly. Music throbbed through the walls of buildings, and the different sounds meshed into a euphonic melody. Screams and laughter erupted all around. The vibrant scene was intoxicating, energizing.

As we parked and began walking through the streets, the experience felt even more trancelike, and also slightly intimidating. Now without the comforting protection of the car, I felt exposed and scared. I could touch these men and women, some of whose ages varied from ours by almost 30 years, breathe in their foul fumes, see their bloodshot eyes. Single men in their late 30s loitering at the corners eyed the four of us, hungrily it seemed. These drunkards were almost barbaric, animalistic, stalking us like prey. Their eyes narrowed, scanning us from head to toe, and liking what they saw they began to approach us with grinning smiles. We returned the attention only with disgusted and solemn looks.

My friends and I clung to each other for safety, but even that wasn't enough. A large, bulky man reached across me to grab my waist with his squalid hand, yanking me closer to him. I yelped and forcefully pushed him away while one friend, quite freaked out herself, tightened her arm around me even stronger and asked me if I was alright. I nodded my head, but no longer felt safe walking through these streets. Although he didn't physically harm me, I was unnerved the rest of the night.

It wasn't just the creepy drunk men making our jaws drop, it was also the scantily clad women. Most females were wearing transparent tops over bras and short shorts, even though the temperature was about 45 degrees.

After plowing safely through the hordes, we finally reached our destination, a club called Amp. We waited in the under-21 line until we reached the door, where we had to go through a series of checkpoints. A bracelet on the right hand, X's on both hands and a stamp that was visible only when a special light shined on it. So much effort to prevent underage drinking, but yet, all so slightly useless since all it took to get some alcohol was to ask a willing person, preferably a man, to buy some for you from the bar inside.

Inside the club, multicolored strobe lights danced and illuminated faces for split seconds, over and over, on the dance floor. The four of us glided into the crowd and began dancing, feeling the music flow through our blood and reach our very core. Here, the men were much more reasonable than those on the streets. Although many approached us and asked us to dance, they also understood the meaning of the word "no" and respected our wishes. Okay, we did oblige the dance requests of some of the cuter and more presentable looking men, but mostly we danced with each other. We danced as if we owned the world, as if we had not a care in the world. We danced as if happiness was a choice. And we had chosen it.

In that moment, it seemed we had escaped reality and the pressures the world would soon be heaping upon us.

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