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We're no Big Apple, just better
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001
Tampa is kind of the reverse of what they used to say about New York: "It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there."
And if you're a New Yorker here for the weekend, you'll probably see the city at its worst. All the things you want to get away from you'll get here: traffic, tourists, foolish hoopla getting in your way. But, even so, some of you will feel the sun on your face as you watch the Gasparilla Invasion and imagine the Bayshore as the pristine public sidewalk-on-the-water that it usually is, a place to walk with or without your dog, or run with or without your baby jogger.
You'll say, Let's do it. And in a New York minute you'll be in Tampa, looking for a house or a condo -- unless you already found one. There seem to be an abnormal number of places on Bayshore with "For Sale" signs. Around the corner from where I live, for instance, you can get a brand-new mansion for $3.2-million. This is not a typo. In Tampa you can get a whole house for only $3-million. Some are even less.
If that isn't enough to get you down here, let me tell you about some other things in Tampa my New York friends envy, although they would never admit it.
Yes, I am a former New Yorker, which you are about to become. You will talk about how fabulous everything was in New York blah blah blah and feel superior to everyone you meet here. It's okay. People in Tampa are surprisingly tolerant of this attitude. It may be hard for you to understand, living as you do in the only habitable square feet on the planet, the No. 1 city in the world, but Tampa has an inferiority complex. That's why we try so hard. We're not No. 2 or even No. 10 or 20; we're not even sure we're on the list. You'll be able to use your New York status to your advantage. I still do, and I've lived here for 20 years.
So, if parades (please) and big-ticket steak restaurants (The Palm is still best, everyone knows that) don't impress you, consider this:
Lunch. Don't worry, you can do it here. This is not a Sunbelt city where people sit around their pools all day. In Tampa everybody goes to lunch. Everybody. They do, because they can. A while ago, a New Yorker came to visit a friend of mine, and four of us met for sushi at Yoko's in South Tampa. The New Yorker, a woman of modest means (that combination is still possible; she's a writer) raved about the restaurant, glanced at what she thought was her check and without flinching reached into her purse to pay. The check was for all four of us.
Movies. Downtown, the Tampa Theater, an over-the-top rococo palace with a blue starlit ceiling and more statues than the Vatican, plays alternative, independent and foreign films and serves cappuccino and wine. Just like the City, right? Not quite. It's $3.75 a ticket (if you buy a strip of 10). And if you want to see a mainstream movie, we now have a new state-of-the-art theater with stadium seating minutes from wherever you decide to live, and, unlike my Upper West Side friend who says she no longer sees first-run movies anymore because "you can't get in," you can. You can even park.
Plumbers. You probably won't believe this, but in Tampa you can call a plumber or electrician or pest control guy and he or she will actually show up at the time you've designated -- not just in the same millennium, fix the problem and clean up after himself. Yes, like with a broom and dustpan. And if you run into some unrelated trouble while he's there, you've got an extra hand. The plumber helped me test my computer with IBM on the line. The yard guy figured out how to fix the screen door. They didn't charge extra.
Krispy Kreme. We've had them forever.
- Sandra Thompson is a writer living in Tampa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. City Life appears on Saturday.
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