LARGO - The City Hall guy, being new to this, wore a bulletproof vest.
Steven Stanton didn't know what to expect. How could he? He runs the city of Largo, where the median age is 47.5 and where he has never had to face anything quite like a Tuesday night at the Coliseum.
In a city recently named one of the best places to retire, in a corner of town known for restaurants and commerce, this thing called Hip-Hop Night was exploding, unexpectedly, in a crazed and primal fury.
Thousands of people - black kids and white kids and schoolteachers and soldiers and people who would rather not say who they are or where they are from - flock to Largo after midnight from every place else to meld into an insanity borne of Hennessey and Hypnotic and bass and testosterone and cologne and sweat.
They come from Tampa, St. Petersburg, New Port Richey, Sarasota, bringing a culture normally confined to bigger, noisier, hipper places. When it peaked, they overwhelmed police and security and caused City Hall to push the manager to rewrite the club's rules for dress and decorum.
Stanton had to see the place. He joined the dozen or so police officers who help contain the crowd and stepped inside just before midnight, steamy in his dark suit and Kevlar.
The music sounded to him like angry people yelling.
"I tried to blend in," Stanton said. "But it is difficult.
"I inquired as to what a doo-rag was. I was told about cribs. I thought it was what you put your kid in."
Angela Minniefield wrapped her size zero self in small strips of black fabric, laced down the front and up the thighs. The outfit was a gift from her boyfriend, Maurice Higgins, who said "I like for her to look like a lady, know what I'm saying?"
Delon Walton put on a throwback Shaq jersey and rotated his cap 30 degrees to the right.
But Delon and his friends, Yate King and LaMont Garner, got bounced at the door for their $150 jerseys. No sleeves. No entry.
They packed back into the Dodge Shadow with the deep tint and bought Haynes Beefy T's at the Wal-Mart in St. Petersburg. Rolled back to the Coliseum with the shirts under the jerseys and 50 Cent pounding the speakers.
"If I can't do it, homie, it can't be done
Now I'ma let the champagne bottle pop
I'ma take it to the top"
Waited in line again. Nightclub owner Richard Fabrizi paced outside, keeping watch.
"Take the doo-rags off, guys," he said. "That tank top ain't comin' in."
Fabrizi made a deal with Stanton and the police. He's now turning away guys under 21. Girls can get in at 18. He has toughened the dress code, banned gang colors and clothes. Put more lights in the parking lot. Tonight - the Tuesday after Stanton's visit - there are 12 police officers and a sergeant on standby.
Delon and Yate tuck their white doo-rags under their caps so they won't show.
"A doo-rag is for hair conditions," not gangs, he said. He'll get the doo-rag back out once he's inside.
It's almost 1 a.m. when they walk through the doors, between the marble columns, past the purple velvet and white leather couches. LaMont checks himself out in the bathroom and splashes on some extra Cerruti Image cologne. Delon beelines for the bar for a Hypnotic and Tanqueray.
Bartender Lexi Parsons pours Hypnotic all night long. She also pours at least 10 bottles of Hennessey a night at her bar, one of several in the club. But she loves most to pour a drink she dreamed up herself. It's bright blue and potent and the ingredients are secret.
"I call it Cash Money," she said, "'cause that's what it's gonna make me."
Angela, in her new outfit, is outside by the pool with Maurice. The tiki torches are glowing and the water is still. They're having their picture made at the $5 photo booth.
She crouches over him in a chair, hips thrust toward the camera. Click.
She sits across his lap. Click.
She kneels, facing him, hands on his waist, and looks back at the camera. Click.
"We've always been this cute," she says.
Inside, Bone Crusher thunders onto the stage, arms swinging, dreads whirling.
"All my ladies, if you got real hair make some noise!"
Under the cloud from the Black & Mild cigars, the dance floor is body to body to body, bouncing, swaying, stumbling, clinging. Hips are melding into other hips.
Bone Crusher jerks around like a man in pain, his face growing shiny with sweat.
". . . if you got more than a dollar in your pocket make some noise.
I don't know what you heard about me
But a b---- can't get a dollar out of me"
Delon stands somewhere near the middle of the floor, Heineken in hand, doing the little two-step thing he does because he never really learned how to dance. Side to side, with a little rhythm. His white Reeboks glow in the blacklight.
Bone Crusher is shouting. "Is it hot enough in this (expletive)? "Cause you know my fat a-- is sweatin."'
Now Bone Crusher is shirtless. His huge belly is shaking. The crowd is shrieking.
"Take yo' (expletive) shirts off." He demands it.
"If you fat, if you skinny, take the (expletive) off."
Now shirts are swinging in the air. The air is full of hands, and cups swishing blue stuff, and more shirts.
A clean-cut guy with a Bud Light moves closer to the stage, grinning. "I'm a schoolteacher," he shouts. "I am not supposed to be here."
Behind his head a pair of bare breasts are bouncing.
LaMont doesn't dance either. It's too hot and he doesn't want to smell funky. Besides, he can't dance unless he's holding somebody, and Adrienne isn't here. He has been looking for her all night, but his girl never appears.
Barely an hour into the show, Bone Crusher is winding down, feeling mellow, or maybe tired. Behind him, candles are melting.
"This means a lot to me the way you came together and had fun and made peace," he says.
And then he is gone. And the lights are on.
The floor is slick and wet.
Delon didn't take his shirt off, but he did glance around. No harm in it.
"My neck hurt from looking back and forth," LaMont said.
They lean against the wall while the crowd makes its way to the door, getting one last look at the ladies.
"We get drunk as they do and tell 'em what they want to hear," Delon says, with a gold grin that cost him $1,600.
"We tell 'em it's rainin'. We tell 'em there's money at the end of the rainbow."
To prove his point, he reaches out and snags several women.
Even though they have never met him, they say they do not mind.
Outside, 13 Largo police officers hustle the crowd out of the parking lot before trouble can build. Before the rule changes, before the end of valet parking, fights were so common the officers just ran from one to the next, not taking time to make arrests or even figure out what the fights were about.
"They were like schools of fish," said officer Chris Burke. "A fight would break out, and the crowd would dart this way, then it would turn."
It has changed considerably in just a few weeks, the police say. There are no fights this night. Just a few stragglers, and one guy who leaves but keeps coming back.
"Get in the car!" they tell him. He doesn't listen. "Get off the phone and get in the car. ... I don't care, get in the car. ... Are you going to argue with me?