© St. Petersburg Times, published February 8, 2002
BEADLESS BUT NOT BROKEN: Saturday night, I'm in SoHo with friend Jamie Moore, sipping Singha at Royal Palace Thai. Valentine's Day looms. The inescapable topic: men, and where to meet them. Jamie likes bookstores. "You just stand in the self-help aisle and someone comes along." It worked for her and a friend in New York. They picked up a book on witchcraft. Bam! A doctor stopped. "You ladies don't need a spell to attract a man," he decreed. I tell Jamie about the homeless guy who sleeps at Barnes & Noble. Looks pretty single. (Bonus points for facial hair; black marks for speaking in tongue.) "You would be dating down," she says firmly.
OUT ON HOWARD AVENUE, Gasparilla is a spoiled container of leftovers. Headlights bob through the Morrison Avenue intersection, finding the moldy stragglers. At Bus Stop No. 4, a muscle-bound man flops his ice chest on the ground, leaps atop it and begins to bellow like Tarzan. Then, politely, he gives up the box for a woman. She sits and waits for the next bus out. That's when it occurs to us to ask about love.
TIME OUT: First, we run home to Palma Ceia for dog duty. "True love," declares Jamie, "is when your entire body wiggles when you see the person you're in love with." Back to SoHo.
"I AM MISTER VALENTINE," declares Brad Shepherd, 42. He stands outside Westshore Pizza on Howard Avenue. His credentials: Born on Valentine's eve. Married 20 years. Not too drunk to be interviewed. "True love is knowing what the vows are before you say them," he says. He's a Hillsborough park ranger with a lab-chow mix named Forest. He nods toward Extreme Fitness, the gym where Jamie works out. "That's the meat market," he warns. "The only place I know where you'll find true love is a church." Church or the Circle K. That's where he met his wife. He calls her "pick of the litter."
PIRATE NO. 1 and Pirate No. 2 are walking to the Tiny Tap with friends.
Pirate No. 1: "I'm married to my soul mate."
Reporter: How did you know it was love?
Pirate No. 2, butting in: "What can I say? I saw his wife this one time, and she was looking really sexy. . . ."
Not you, No. 2.
HE HAS YOUR NUMBER: "I got digits," announces Krewe of Gasparilla pirate Todd York, 32. Not just seven local digits, but 10 out-of-town digits. As in, a telephone number. While tossing beads, he caught a person. "I knew her from high school. She looked great. And extremely happy to see me, which made it that much easier."
AT THE TINY TAP, we find a cadre of males from Canada, all with tidy hair. They dodge identity questions, leading me to pretend that they are Royal Canadian Mounties. One wears a necklace of 4-inch beads. He says he earned them by stripping for five women. The full monty, Mountie? He nods. By then, we have beads, freebies from York and fellow pirate Ernest Burnett. Mountie got a raw deal. All we had to do was mention love.
FINALLY: True love? We approach Steve Coto, outside the Tap. What he says: "It's all about respect." What his T-shirt says: "Gasparilla 98: Get some booty."
- Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard was once called Grand Central. Now Grand Central is a weekly City Times column. Patty Ryan can be reached at 226-3382 or email@example.com.