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Finding Ybor requires spirit of adventure
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 2001
Next week, an extra zillion people will be cruising around Tampa, a lot of them on their way to Ybor City. The question is: Will they get there?
It's pretty tricky if you're not from Tampa, and sometimes even if you are. Let's face it, unless you're an insider, getting around Tampa with its teeny cryptic signs (who'd guess a pirate hat designates the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway?) is not easy. It's even less so with the advent of the Ice Palace, the Aquarium, Channelside and somebody up high who, like God in Bruce Jay Friedman's play Steambath, manipulates traffic for his own amusement.
Last Saturday night, we set out from South Tampa for Ybor, and just past Ice Palace Drive and Newk's, we missed jockeying into the one lane that takes you straight ahead on Channelside Drive. (It's not exactly straight; you still have to swing around the silly roundabout at the aquarium.) Nothing was happening at the Ice Palace; forget navigating here when the Lightning, or worse, the Dixie Chicks are playing.
Detoured against our will, we drove past warehouses that seem abandoned till we got to a Y in the road. If you're lucky enough to be in the right lane, you can veer right, which will get you back to Channelside Drive. We missed that one and followed Meridian past more warehouses and railroad tracks -- just the kind of dark, deserted area you freak out at in an unfamiliar city. Finally, there was light and the first sign of civilization: the XX Adult Bookstop.
We dead-ended at Twiggs, turned right, got back to Channelside, missed the straight ahead lane that would've taken us into that roundabout by Nuccio Parkway and possibly, if we judged wrong, into the public housing there. We followed Adamo, stuck till we were past Centro Ybor -- there's no left turn on 15th Street, and 16th doesn't go through.
So we turned on 17th. It was so dark and deserted, a cat on Second Avenue stopped in the middle of the street to stare at our car.
I figured it's probably a lot easier on the dreaded interstate, so Monday afternoon I took that trip.
Thanks to the Ybor City Brewing Company sign, you can't miss Exit 1 from I-4.
After you're dumped on 21st Street, a sign tells you to turn right on Palm Avenue. The placement of the sign led me into a construction zone -- twice -- at the far end of the new apartment complex, which, by the way, looks great.
At 15th, there's a huge sign that points left for PARKING.
It leads straight to the Centro Ybor parking garage, a steal at $1 for three hours, except that the first lot you see is a sandlot charging $3 an hour on a Monday afternoon. Imagine the price on Super Bowl weekend.
Just before the garage, there's a Visitor Information sign with an arrow pointing left -- at the railroad tracks. There's no street there. I made a U-turn past the garage to go back in search of visitor info, and an identical sign pointed me to turn right, which took me around the parking garage building. I stared at the windows, which touted everything from the Museum of Art to the Lightning, Mutiny and MOSI. Around the corner, just before the garage entrance on 16th, a small sign in a window says, "Visitor Information. 1600 E 8th Avenue."
That's inside Centro Ybor! And you can't get there from here. The street stops dead; either enter the parking garage or turn onto a one-lane road along the railroad tracks taking you away from everything.
God forbid a tourist makes a wrong turn, like I did.
Driving north on 15th, I turned right on Columbus -- a vista of falling-down frame houses you can see through in the noontime sun -- and could not turn off onto a through street going back toward Ybor till 21st.
At the intersection of 21st Street and 14th Avenue, traffic picked up and the signage improved. A man standing on the corner wearing a backward ball cap carried a sign with a clear message: HOMELESS, HUNGRY, ANYTHING HELPS. GOD BLESS.
- Sandra Thompson is a writer living in Tampa. She can be reached at email@example.com. City Life appears on Saturday.
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