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Lou Pickney's Online Commentary

Back to Florida

Tuesday
July 10, 2007

"I never had to say goodbye
You must have known I wouldn't stay"
-September "Cry For You"

Last Thursday morning I arrived in Tampa via Southwest Airlines, my carrier of choice. Low cost, direct connection to most major destinations I want to visit, and friendly service. Plus, with my window seat and Dramamine/Xanax cocktail, I slept through the flight, which is the way I like it. Fall asleep in one place and wake up hundreds of miles away -- I can dig it.

The car rental process was interesting; I booked online via Hotwire and went with Enterprise. Brand loyalty isn't something that is necessarily a big thing for me, but I am loyal to Enterprise, which rented me a car in April 2001 (despite me being only 23 at the time) when my Dodge Neon needed major work shortly after my move to Tampa.

The "mid-sized" car I ended up with was a Mazda M3 with only 4,100 miles on it. It was a nice enough ride, though I swear the guy at the counter said that the car had power windows and power locks... which was *not* the case. Oh well.

Being back in Tampa was great; it's only been roughly a year and a half since I moved, so it's not as if I expected wholesale changes. But the little things I noticed: Kash n' Karry is now Sweetbay, the construction near the airport has drastically changed the layout of the roads, and traffic is even worse than it was when I left.

Kim, me, and Deann, partying in Ybor City in November 2003. The good old days.
Ybor City was rather depressing to see. While the interstate construction there is complete (and looks quite nice), it was strange to see my old apartment complex (Camden Ybor) now still desperately trying to sell itself to the public as condos, more than two years after the transition began.

But worse was 7th Avenue. Because of alleged tax problems involving club owner John Santoro, two spots I remembered fondly, Club Hedo and the Amphitheater, have been shuttered. I understand that times change and life moves on, but it was sad to see Ybor appearing to be in worse condition than it was certainly in its 2002 heyday. Such is life.

I wrote at length yesterday about the Millionaire tryout, but unfortunately that proved to be the highlight of the Tampa portion of my trip. Between some friends being out of town and others either going incommunicado or missing calls, things didn't quite pan out for what I had hoped would happen there. Them's the breaks. The reality is that many of my close friends who lived in Tampa have also moved away, or moved on; it's not like Scott Massey was around to pull a Kilgo caper in the name of nostalgia.

On Saturday morning I hopped in my Mazda and drove down I-4 toward Orlando. My friend Adam Kelley, who had to miss the Millionaire tryout, rented out a room at the Omni ChampionsGate near Kissimmee (just off Exit #58, which I misunderstood over the phone as "Point Anna" but which is actually called Poincinia), not too terribly far from where the massive Disney World property is. The area is semi-secluded, clearly planned out carefully to allow for a gorgeous 18 hole golf course and a luxury hotel on the premises without eyesores or intrusion from competing hotels.

Adam and his fiancée Amanda (who he got engaged to just the night before) were going to meet me there, but as things turned out I actually beat them to the place. I strolled around the grounds, making my way through the lower lobby area. The hotel had ballrooms, shops, and an overall high-end, first-rate presentation -- and that was just on the lower lobby level.

Finally I found my way to the upstairs main lobby area. The scene that awaited me was something right out of a movie. "How Sweet It Is" by Marvin Gaye was playing over the hotel music system as I took in the picturesque view of an aqua blue pool shrouded in sunshine and surrounded by beautiful women. Adam told me earlier that I could spend hours at the pool and enjoy it; I saw exactly what he meant.

Adam and Amanda made it there before too long, and we spent some time hanging out. I decided to go over to the nearby Publix to buy some Coppertone spray-on sunscreen. It was a wise decision (otherwise I would have burned to a crisp), though I ended up not being able to bring it back with me as it was confiscated from my carry-on bag at TIA. Oops. But, I assure you, it was worth every penny for the trip alone.

My friend Gary made his way up from Tampa later that afternoon, flanked by his friend Kylie. The five of us hung out by the pool and passed the time in the Florida sunshine, though I tapped out earlier than the rest and went upstairs to cool off after awhile. The sun saps my strength like crazy, even when all I'm doing is lounging.

Saturday night was fun; while Gary and Kylie went to a concert at the House of Blues, Adam, Amanda, and I watched movies, including the very entertaining Mean Streets, which featured the completely unexpected and hilarious "D.D. -- Double Dunski!" line by Robert DeNiro that immediately had me diving for my cell phone to share with the Nashville crew via text message.

When Gary and Kylie returned, the five of stayed up talking, hanging out, etc. It was a very late night, much later than my normally sleepy self is accustomed to handling. I did manage to finally get some sleep, albeit on a blanket on the floor, as the blow-up air mattress that Adam brought was too big to fit anywhere on the floor. Luckily I made up for the sleep deprivation on the flight home (and then that night, both on the couch for several hours and then upstairs for "normal" sleep), though I'm still not 100% on that end.

I'm glad I made it back to Florida for a visit. I wish things had worked out differently as far as seeing some friends of mine there who I missed out on, but so it goes. But, with me holding Bucs season tickets, I might end up back down there again later this year. You never know.


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