Tampa's version of J. Crew looks nothing like the catalog, where Lauren Hutton and her innumerable blond cousins pose gorgeously in white linen and khaki.
The floors of the abandoned discount drugstore on S Dale Mabry Highway, that the company has taken over for its weekend stand in the bay area, are filthy. You get discounts, not dressing rooms, not even restrooms. The clothes are jumbled in boxes. The boxes are lined up on long metal tables. Chains dangle pointlessly from the ceiling. In some places, the ceiling tiles are mottled with watery brown stains, and in a few others, the tiles are simply gone. The fluorescent tubes overhead wash everything in an uneasy yellow light.
Lauren Hutton wouldn't set foot in the place. But I went. I saw. I charged like mad.
Once I had higher standards. In a delusional fit _ brought on by visiting a branch of a New York department store on Florida's east coast _ I thought Tampa Bay would never be first-class until it had, say, Saks Fifth Avenue. Or Bloomingdale's, by chance.
I have finally wised up to the size of my wallet as well as the nature of my town and have downsized my expectations accordingly. No matter that Malcolm Glazer and his continent-trotting sons probably buy their suits there _ Tampa Bay is no place for Saks. And, sorry to say, it is no place anymore for the Bucs.
The Glazers professed to be aghast when the returns on their seat deposit program were lousy. They're suffering from the same affliction George Bush revealed when he couldn't get over those supermarket bar code readers. These guys don't buy the hamburger, and they never have to choose between eating and paying the doctor. They drive sports cars, not pickups. It's enough to make you feel sorry for them, they're so out of touch.
The cheapest season seat in the house _ the new house that the Glazers want us to build for them, so they won't go to Orlando _ costs $380, deposit and all. You want a pair, that's $760. That's not counting beer. Now say you've had enough of getting nowhere financially and decide to commute to USF to get a degree, move up in the world. The tuition for one semester is about $744. That doesn't count the books, the fees and, yes, the beer. The Glazers want you to choose.
So do the cheerleaders at the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, who if they would only put down their pompoms might notice that, no matter what their glossy brochures say, a whole lot more people in Tampa Bay go to work with their sleeves rolled up than with starch in their shirts. Ten bucks an hour but no benefits can pass for paradise. Only if worries _ about layoffs, paying for day care, putting money in the bank _ were riches would a lot of us be lining up to save the team.
Ah, yes, the banks. Tell me, please, why they were so eager to lend money for season tickets. Would that they were so eager to give people a break when they need a mortgage.
And why is it, please, that people who got themselves elected to office are willing to tell everybody else to belly up to the bar, but refuse to say if they've bought tickets? Do they think we're just so dumb we won't notice?
Now they're talking about taxing you for Glazer's benefit if you buy so much as a Big Mac.
Give 'em this much: They have nerve.
Next door to the J. Crew warehouse is a delightfully named discount store, MacFrugal's. In the adjacent mall, where SteinMart is, there is a cheap place for bedsheets, the Linen Supermarket, also a Buddy Bi-Rite, Bealls Outlet, something called Big Lots The Closeout Store, and so appropriately now, Play It Again Sports, where they sell used sports equipment. These places are not the other side of the moon from the whoop-de-doo part of town, Bayshore. They are just down the road.
On the other end of Dale Mabry, in supposedly cushy Carrollwood, the big women's clothing stores are discounters Loehmann's, T.J. Maxx, Marshall's. The closest thing to a fancy New York store is the Macy's closeout store on the other side of the bay, in Pinellas Park.
Don't tell me the Bucs' leaving would hurt Tampa Bay. Plenty of things are causing pain in this community, and none of them make the executive crowd hysterical. When people don't want to move here because the neighborhoods they can afford to buy in are declining, or the jobs they can get lead nowhere, or their kids' teachers don't even have enough paper _ now those things will hurt Tampa Bay.
Go Bucs, indeed.