Things to know about Tampa Bay if you’re just diving in for the Super Bowl

By Sue Carlton, Times Columnist
Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hey, y’all, welcome to Tampa Bay. Here are a few things to help you understand the local landscape.

First, on that whole “Tampa Bay” thing.

Tampa Bay is actually a body of water. But “Tampa Bay” makes a handy phrase for tying the whole area together, from the gulf beaches on the other side of St. Petersburg to the strawberry fields east of Tampa.

Out-of-town reporters especially love to say “Tampa Bay.”

But the truth is, the two cities, while separated by mere bridges, have about as much in common as … well, Phoenix and Pittsburgh.

Tampa, a gritty port town grown into a respectable skyline, has better scandals and more obnoxious politicians. St. Pete, with its lovely, lively, walkable downtown on the water, can show signs of sibling rivalry.

And hey, who wouldn’t?

Tampa has its Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but St. Pete’s team is the made-it-to-the-World Series Tampa Bay Rays — though with nary a mention of the city where they actually play. The indignity.

Speaking of our sense of place, try not to let our roads confuse you on your way to the Big Game.

You may notice that signs on Interstate 275 for the Dale Mabry Highway exit to the stadium contain the words “east” and “west.” You may also notice that Dale Mabry runs north and south.

We’d explain how this makes sense, but you’d fall asleep.

Just to keep you on your toes, our streets can change from one name to another and then another without notice.

We have a road called Boulevard — not Anything Boulevard, just Boulevard.

Near the stadium you might see a series of streets named for trees: Chestnut, Spruce, Walnut, Cherry, Palmetto, Beach.

Yes, we know it should be Beech. No, we don’t care.

To you, maybe it looks like our urban planning consists largely of wall-to-wall strip malls, the same chains as you have back home and the occasional girly bar. Do not be fooled.

In those dull strip malls you can find a world of ethnic food from a rich immigrant history. This includes, we are not making this up, Cuban-Chinese. Think fried yellow rice.

Speaking of food, should someone try to sell you an “authentic” Cuban sandwich that includes anything “avocado,” “chipotle,” “caramelized” or “chutney,” politely refuse and immediately seek a shabbier-looking establishment.

P.S. The answer to the question, “Pressed?” is always yes.

Should you find yourself on interstates 75 or 4, routes north and south or east to Disney, you might notice a flag.

If you do not notice a flag, when you get home you might want to schedule an appointment with your eye doctor, because this is one of the largest Confederate flags in the world, to many a symbol of racism, past and present.

We hoped, given that recent historic election, not to mention the fact that we had you houseguests coming in, the Confederate “sons” might take it down. But you seeing it is probably the point. Can’t have you thinking we’re an evolved town of the South, can we?

In conclusion, we surely hope you enjoy your time here.

And while you’re in “Tampa Bay,” well, try to stay dry.


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