24 September 2013
Despite the birthday activities of the previous day, I had a 10:30 flight to Tampa, so I had to get up at a reasonable hour. I’d done laundry the previous night, so after packing, breakfast, and goodbyes, I left my sister’s house at 8:30 for the start of my ‘real’ vacation. The plane left on time, and landed in Tampa around 12:15.
Walking out of the terminal, I was embraced by the warm, wet blanket that is the air in Florida most of the year. I’d noticed on the way down the increasing cloud cover, and on the ground it was raining. Florida’s nickname is ‘The Sunshine State’, and there wasn’t any sun to be seen. I asked the shuttle driver what the deal was with the weather, and he said it’d been raining since Sunday, and was expected to rain the rest of the week. Apparently cold fronts also like Florida vacations, and one had parked itself over the state. The prevailing westerly winds were shoving warm, moist Gulf air into the stationary front, producing truly epic amounts of rain. Most of the Gulf Coast rivers were at or near flood stage, and outdoor activities were curtailed.
Well Jeez Louise. For months I’d been looking forward to laying on some of the world’s finest beaches. My first inclination was to drive to sun, but a check of the radar showed the entire state was awash. Many a time while living in Florida my friends and I would joke about tourists getting washed out, and now the shoe was firmly on the other foot. I’ve spent many a weekend camping in adverse conditions in the Northwest, but in that part of the world that’s expected, and I was only a couple hours from home. And I wasn’t spending large sums of money to do it.
I did have some business to attend to. I drove across the bay to Clearwater to look up a family member whom no one had heard from in a while. I had a 2-year-old address, so it was a crap shoot, but a reasonable one. There was no joy at the address, so I headed south to St. Petersburg to get a hotel room. I don’t usually make hotel reservations when visiting St. Pete, because there are dozens of Mom-and-Pop operations on the main highways, and if you’re not too particular, you can get a reasonable room for a very good price; usually around $50/night. Sometimes you can negotiate a better rate for multiple nights, and this time was no different. If you’re staying for four nights or more, there are several properties offering weekly rentals under $200.
After securing a room, I headed to the main library branch to get a non-resident computer pass (free and good for three years) and spent some time taking care of business. After that I drove around downtown to see what changes had been made. There was more steel and glass, and there are a lot more shops and restaurants, but no wholesale changes. St. Petersburg is still a sleepy retirement town at heart, and even at the height of rush hour, traffic is almost non-existent.
I’d spent the drive from Tampa fiddling with the car radio. At home I listen to jazz, classical, and live sports. I found jazz and classical stations on the satellite radio, along with a reggae channel. This would be the station of choice for my stay, and distracted me somewhat from the rain.
I went to a bar near the hotel to watch the Rays game and get something to eat. I was reminded of a couple of things about Florida. Smoking is permitted indoors, and a large part of the economy here runs on cash. This bar was cash-only, and didn’t have a kitchen. There was a restaurant next door that would deliver, and was also cash-only. Whatever. At least everything was cheap. Ate, drank, watched the game. After eating, I headed over to another bar close by to watch the rest of the game in a smoke-free environment. This bar took plastic.
On this day, and every other I was in St. Pete, beer was cheap, but good beer was hard to find. I’ve been spoiled living in Beervana, but I could usually find something palatable. Oberon Ale from Michigan is very popular, and I tried a pint. It tasted like . . . nothing. I like my beer to have some body and taste, even at $3 a pint.