Although I'm sure palm trees in Florida are like pine trees in Canada in their commonality, there is still something about them that screams glamour to me. You could put me in a back alley or some rat ridden ghetto, and if there were palm trees, I would put on my sunglasses and pose for photos.
Monday, February 9, 2009
However, even I wasn't quite prepared for palm trees paired with icicles. Is that even allowed?
So, yes, as of late last night, I am home from my Tampa adventures. Home to countless unanswered emails, a Google Reader of 1000+, a pile of laundry, and a whole lot of jetlag. Such is this glamourous palm-tree filled life.
I think I have too high of expectations for new cities. I always expect a certain level of inherent character through the details, like the billboards, the street names, the architecture. I feel disappointed when the taxi takes me through the exact same stretch of highway on the way to my hotel, no matter what city I am in. I need to remind myself that the business areas of most big cities, as well as hotel rooms, are often ridiculously generic, which doesn't necessarily say anything about the core experience of living in that city. I almost feel as though I owe it to that city to take a cab to some random residential locale so I can really see it, outside the skyscrapers and the Starbucks. Unfortunately, conference trips often mean that my only moment to spare is used checking my email or changing clothes, not gallivanting about trying to find Florida's beaches and neighbourhoods.
However, my favourite billboard, seen on the ride from the airport?
Express Lube: Wednesday Night is Ladies Night
Academic conferences are such an odd little slice of life. It is hard to explain to the outsider the constant barrage of aggressive schmoozing, of name-dropping, of professorial rivalries, of learning copious amounts with a hangover. I simultaneously adore them and find them exhausting. The dork in me seriously holds back a squeal when finding out about some novel research findings, while the skeptic in me wants to slap my friend if she starts bragging again about which big names in the field she met last night.
Take poster sessions, for instance. Two hundred graduate students and professors, lined up in alphabetical order, standing by their assorted shiny coloured posters tacked onto bulletin boards. It is like a beauty pageant of sorts, only you are being judged by virtue of the title of your poster, rather than your ability to wear a poster. People avoid eye contact as they walk by you, or even worse, fleetingly pause at your abstract, only to walk away moments later. When I was an Honours student, I wanted no one to notice my poster, due to performance anxiety. Now I want to be the one surrounded by people asking questions, pointing at my graph, theorizing about follow-up studies. Even though I know that I am convinced at the value of the research I am doing, and I always have a number of interesting conversations at these poster sessions, I still want that blue sash declaring me Miss Psychology.
Quote of the trip, spoken by a friend doing her post-doc in England:
"Princess, the English take the food we deem fatty in Canada, and somehow force more fat into it."
The conference planners somehow had the brilliant notion of planning the conference for the very same weekend as Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate festival. Not to mention the fact that the crux of the event, the docking of the pirate ship and the invasion, take place literally right in front of the convention centre.
Despite the best intentions of security, this made for random drunken revelers looking confused as they stumbled amidst loads of psychologists in semi-professional gear in the centre's hallways. It also made for a lot of public drinking as I made my way to the conference at 9am, for eye patches and wench costumes, for mechanical parrots, and lots of beads. It was a very odd environment to be sober in, especially when, standing outside of a hotel room door, a man asked me if I was waiting for the elevator doors to open.
So, of course we had to skip out of at least one session to witness this debauchery first hand. As a friend and I were standing there, a man with a camera comes up, and asks us if we could pose for a photo with a nearby pirate. We happily obliged. He then asks for another favour, specifically whether we will pose for a picture with his son. Assuming his son is around 7 years old, we agree.
We walk over, and a tall boy of about 16 starts blushing, as it become clear we have been brought over by his father as trophies as such. As he puts his arms around us to take the photo, he mutters under his breath "I am so sorry. My dad is such a loser."
The oddest thing about this is the fact that we were literally surrounded by women in wench costumes, or various states of undress, and he chose us, in our conference gear.
I sometimes think that, as a Canadian, particularly one from a smaller town, I don't really understand sleaziness. As such, I wasn't quite prepared for the trashyness of the Tampa nightlife.
After a dinner of Cuban food and a flamenco show, a group of us decided to hit some bars in Ybor City. At first, we were looking for a salsa bar, but as we passed a string of barely dressed people on a threadbare red carpet, my companions suddenly got excited.
"Let's go there!"
I protested, stating that it was clearly horrendously shady. They maintained that this was the perfect reason to go there, as it was an experience we would never get since we wouldn't set foot in such a place in our "real" lives.
And, so we ended up busting a move in a club surrounded by more lycra and exposed skin than I've ever seen.
The bathrooms had no toilet paper, and were covered in garbage.
Instead of grinding with each other, girls were essentially straight up fucking, some of them simulating blow jobs on seated guys as the other girl pretend to hump her from behind.
And, yes, there was a girl fight on the dance floor.
As we exited the club, a bunch of shirtless guys with a pitbull on a rope were hanging out on the corner called us over. Soon after, a man started yelling "Japan!" at my Asian friend.
It makes waiting for the bus late at night at home seem a bit tamer...