So, you’re a Tampa Bay resident now?
Sure, you physically live here along with the rest of the northern hemisphere. You’ve sweated profusely and roasted under the Florida fireball. But there are levels to Tampa Bay credentials. The expertise develops slowly, like tertiary notes in wine.
Tampa Bay is a large body of water, yes. It’s also the name of a vibrant, diverse community of counties, municipalities and unincorporated areas where somehow trash gets collected but no one is sure how. It is connected by a labyrinth of highways on which people have frequent emotional breakdowns. Knowledge of our nooks and crannies comes with the passage of time, especially if you travel anywhere via a big steel thing with a wheel.
Don’t despair. As you spend more time here, your matriculation may look a little like this:
You know Tampa Bay is not a city, but a region. You scoff at those who get it wrong. Scoff! You have it straight: The Rays play in St. Petersburg (for now), the Bucs and the Lightning play in Tampa, and you’ve procured the corresponding T-shirts.
You’ve hit up tourist attractions like the St. Pete Pier, the Salvador Dalí Museum, Sparkman Wharf and Busch Gardens. You’ve brunched at Armature Works and munched a sunset dinner at Frenchy’s on Clearwater Beach, listening to, incredibly, another limp cover of Brown Eyed Girl.
You post lots of sunny pictures for cold family in other states, cackling. This is going great.
Ooh, oh no. You’ve missed the last exit before the Howard Frankland Bridge. You’ve driven right by it, absorbed in your music, podcast or imaginary fights with cold family. With no choice, you’ve traversed all the way to Tampa to make a U-turn, eyeing the gas gauge, testing an arsenal of curse words you didn’t even know existed.
When the temperature drops below 70, you wear a hoodie with shorts. You think it’s giving “Princess Diana, jogging,” but it’s giving “Winnie the Pooh, depressed.” You’ve taken off your shoes during a summer storm because your car is over there across the Target parking lot-turned-Gulf of Mexico. You’ve dressed like a pirate on a winter weekend. You have a box of beads you swear you’ll unload, but it just keeps filling up. Elves. Elves are doing it.
You know where to park on which beaches during spring break.
You don’t go to the beach during spring break.
You can trap a lizard. Your household has a designated cockroach assassin. You know spring brings worms on strings catapulting from trees like Jason Bourne, and twice a year, love bugs will blatantly consummate things right on your arm.
Your psychic traffic abilities are sharpening. When you have tickets to, say, a show at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, or a Rays game at Tropicana Field, you budget 90 minutes for variables (multiple hours to or from Lithia). You bring water and snacks and fill up on fuel. It’s basically hurricane prep.
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You can pronounce Bearss Avenue and Lutz and Ybor City and Wimauma and Masaryktown. You know where Clearwater ends and Dunedin, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs begin. You know the difference between Port Richey and New Port Richey and Wesley Chapel and Holiday and Hudson, and that San Antonio is not in Texas. You have been to, or at least heard of, Ozona. You know homes in Crystal Beach don’t have mailboxes.
You have a favorite Cuban sandwich. You know where to get blue crabs and stone crabs, and you know the difference. You know Greek salad comes with a rightful scoop of potato salad. You have spots for tacos, smoked fish spread, Cuban bread, scachatta, hot pot, kanom krok, barbecue, key lime pie, kumquats and strawberry shortcake. You know the meaning of a POX burger and a 1905 Salad.
You’ve had so many local beers. You didn’t know it was possible to have so many, and yet, you’re drinking one right now.
Despite knowing all of this, something will still surprise you. You can live here for 10, 20, 30 years and find a fun fact, a delicious delight, a bizarre bug. You still can be tested, especially with so many new cars on the road. Just when you think you’re made of patience, you will have an unexpected crying jag on U.S. 19. You’ll remind yourself of the good bits, the burgers, the sunsets, the photos. You’ll sigh with resignation. Then you’ll know you’re truly home.
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