Monday, February 9, 2009

Tampa, anecdotally

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. 

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...


insomniaclolita said...

Wow. Just wow.

ps. What did your asian friend say? Because I so know how it feels to be called something I'm totally not. Someone mistaken me for a korean girl. I don't even looklike one.

CAVFC said...

two of my cousins were at gasparilla this weekend. i'm pretty sure they wore wench costumes, and i'm glad your professional attire won the attention :)

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels that way about professional conferences. It took me quite awhile to get used to them.

Like you, I always have high expectations for new cities, and I'll never grow tired of seeing palm trees.

Welcome back!

Matt said...

1. Who wants a picture of girls in costume when you can have a picture of girls in conference gear?


Emily said...

i really hate to do this but you know i have to....

i told you so.

at least you made it back in one piece. others who have dared to brave ybor haven't been so lucky. haha

welcome back!! :]

Sheila said...

I lived in Tampa for 20 years and still never understood why we celebrated a muderer/rapist/pirate!

I love the ice on the trees - you should have seen the ice that covered my Florida yard - I never get used to it!

Paula said...

Palm trees make me think of glamour too - they have them in the south of england though! which is weird!

Tough Girl 101 said...

uhmm, that does sound frightening... and... bizarrely fascinating. Like a documentary down into the seedy underbelly of the floridian sun city.

surviving myself said...

Express Lube has some fucking geniuses working there.

Larissa said...

People hold pirate festivals?! That's the coolest.

Mandy said...

I agree Palm Trees with ice on them just doesn't seem right.

Anonymous said...

i'm so behind i didn't even know you had left our lovely country. lol. i'm glad you're back safely. that english quote? golden. hahaha....i bet if i hadn't spent so much time walking around when i was over there i would have gained weight!!

WKC said...

1. Clubbing? Try Baltimore sometime.

2. I once was playing kickball and some hood kids started calling me Ichiru. I later learned this was the name of a Japanese baseball player. I am not Japanese and kickball is not baseball.

3. "Don't mention the bloodshed, don't mention the scams, don't tell them Ybor City almost killed us again..."

EF said...

and I thought your conference was just a cover for attending Gasparilla! Given the Ybor story you related, you did find the heart of Tampa...for better or worse.

Babs said...

I was slightly offended when you said that you don't understand the 'sleaziness' here.

until I read that people were giving ORAL in PUBLIC?! unacceptable. and completely abnormal.

nicoleantoinette said...

I don't think I appreciate LA's palm trees enough.

Your Ill-fitting Overcoat said...

Ahhhhhhhhhhh my hometown. Born and raised, 22 years. Second generation.

Glad I left.

deutlich said...

work conferences scare the daylights outta me. i'm allllways worried something is going to go wrong and it's ALL my fault.

Jocelyn said...

My problem with attending conferences is that I don't want to attend the conference. I just want to explore the city and hang out in the hotel. So I have elaborate ways of MAKING MYSELF SEEN at the conference before cutting out for long hours.

Abbey said...

Awww, good old Tampa. It is a pretty generic city, having lived there a few years myself, and as someone else mentioned, Gasperilla is probably one of their best times of the year. In fact, this year is the first year in a long time that I didn't schlep there to join in the debauchery. And Ybor city sounds pretty par for the course of what I remember. Back when I lived there, it was pretty dangerous too, if you went off anywhere but the main road.

Yoda said...

The only part of Ybor city I ventured was the Gameworks! I was fully aware of the sleaziness that goes on there ... a couple of friends went to the 'bars', and one was fuckin' married!!

Therapeutic Ramblings said...

I'll never forget walking along the beach, seeing the wrealths and bows on the palm trees....while listening to a steel drummer.

Ybor City is definitely a bit trashy...though I think the east coast of S.FL out-trashes it....for better or worse.

Therapeutic Ramblings said...

I did APA 2-3 years ago in New about culture clash!

Your Ill-fitting Overcoat said...

p.s. Ybor City is actually a beautiful and fascinating historical district with really cool old cigar factories and amazing cuban food. That's during the day time. But if you just go to the 7th avenue bars at night, you will definitely see a lot of tube tops and people puking in public. But even at night, there are actually some great little spots-- you just have to know where to look!