The Weekend I Flew to Florida

I haven’t been to St. Petersburg in a dozen years. I flew in while it was still light and I saw Tampa Bay through the jet plane window with it’s endless threads of bays and inlets.  Once I was on the ground I felt the humidity and smelled the teeming green life. It was about 80 degrees at 8 o’clock at night. Perfect.

If I looked out the window of my hotel room when it was light there was a thin strip of blue in the distance between the trees and the sky. That was Tampa Bay.

I was there for a conference at the Poynter Institute, just like 12 years before. I walked the mile from the hotel to the institute, and I decided that downtown St. Pete has a long ways to go before it is a place you want to be.

A park in the center of the downtown was full of drunks and down-and-outs. There’s a street called Beach Drive where the tourists go. There were new condos under construction on 4th Street. Promising, you could say.

See that blue strip above the trees? It's Tampa Bay.

See that blue strip above the trees? It’s Tampa Bay.

Some of us see Florida as being not a part of the South. We think it’s full of Cuban expatriates and transplanted New Yorkers. It’s the diverse collection of scoundrels you would find in a book by Carl Hiaasen.

But going there gives you a different feeling. It feels like the South. The races are held in a frosty separation. Tastes and attitudes look like they haven’t changed much in 40 years, and obesity is a major problem. People are friendly too. It’s not all bad, but it’s not what you think.

One night I got together with a handful of other conventioneers and we went to see the Tampa Bay Rays play the Baltimore Orioles. It was in a domed stadium! I didn’t think I’d ever see major league baseball in another domed stadium after leaving Minneapolis, home of the erstwhile Metrodome where the Twins used to play.

I have wondered why I thought the Metrodome was such a terrible place to watch baseball. Was it the odd angles and sight lines of a multi-use stadium? Was it the plastic turf? Going to the Rays’ stadium brought it home to me. It wasn’t a park.

You go to a park to watch baseball. Not a stadium or an arena. A ballpark is a grassy outdoor oasis in the city. There is nothing wrong with the dimensions of Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. But it is covered with a roof and it doesn’t have real grass. You can’t see the stars at night. You can’t hear the ambient noises of the city… the car horns, the cry of a gull or the sound of planes landing at the airport. You can’t see the skyline of the city or the bridge over the bay when you sit in the upper deck.

My partners in going to the ballgame disappeared into the stadium recesses to have dinner and beer and a huge plate of nachos while I stayed to watch the game. They watched on the bar’s TV monitor to see if I’d catch a home run that went into the left-field stands. It was too far away to try.

I’m told the Rays play under a dome because rain delays would be a nightmare of scheduling and lost revenue if they played in the open. It rains a lot in Tampa Bay and when it rains it comes down hard. Too bad. And that reminds me of something.

When I was there, a story appeared in the St. Petersburg Times about a new report on global warming. It was tied to yet another report on the progress of climate change. In Florida, with its many low-lying shores, trees are falling over dead as saltwater creeps up the coast and invades freshwater marshes. But the Governor doesn’t believe in climate change.

You may think a state that is run by idiots might as well as fall into the ocean. Florida is a strange appendage to the continental U.S. Are we better off without it? Twelve years from now I’ll probably go back, so I’ll give it some thought in the meantime.

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