A Scene of Ybor City During the RNC This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

September 3, 2012
It is a Wednesday night. Quieter than a weekend night, maybe, but not so quiet as it might usually be. The parking garages are full and there are people walking up and down the streets. The local Scientology building, which sits a few blocks away from Ybor’s main street, is alive and glowing with an -OPEN HOUSE-. Just a little ways from that, a club hung with rainbow flags glows with lights in every color, and a sign hangs on the side of the building that proudly declares Ybor to, in fact, be GaYbor. Everything looks as clean as usual (which isn’t too clean), and there are only little streaks of clouds in the sky. Hurricane Isaac is far away, heading for the Mississippi instead of the Bay, and the air has gone back to being hot and thick and still.

The main street is already gearing up for the night. Neon lights and gaudy displays of jewelry and silly clothing pour out of doorways and windows. The buildings are all brick, two or three stories, with second-floor wrought-iron balconies, like those made famous by New Orleans' French Quarter. In the daytime, the buildings suggest Ybor’s past: the mixing of Cuban, German, Italian, and Spanish immigrants, people working in the cigar factories, Cuban patriots flinching at the blows of the Spanish-American War and Cuban Revolution, locals watching as Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders rode through in the heat of the summer of 1898, headed for Cuba. While the sun is up, the main attraction is the Columbia Restaurant, a blue-and-yellow tiled masterpiece of Spanish and Moorish fantasy, the sort of place where you might come in and find Don Quixote himself dining. But by night, even a night like this one, the old little city becomes something else. It smells thick and heavy, like wine and beer and cigar smoke warming hazy minds in dimly-lit bars. People lounge around smoking in the Habibi Hookah Bar, and girls in skimpy clothing advertise for the various alcohol establishments.

Tonight, however, there is a difference. It is not just college students and partiers wandering the streets, and there are no streams of rowdy drivers pumping bass-heavy music into the night. A band of college or high school students does walk by, but they are dressed in business clothes, and not a one looks inebriated. People in suits and ties and business-heels walk up and down the sidewalks, keeping their steps quick and proper even in a place that asks for no formality. Their star-spangled name tags bounce on their chests, and their eyes are sharp with purpose and wealth. It’s seven-thirty, almost time for the RNC parties to start downtown, so most of them are heading for cars or hailing taxis.

Local police in their tan uniforms rove up and down the streets in bands, some on bicycles, some in golf carts, some on foot. They are armed and walk with purpose, but they aren’t in any hurry. A few are hanging around the Centro Ybor plaza in the center of the street, drinking coffee and talking to a local salesman. Two ambulances, lights flashing, are parked at one intersection, though they also don’t look to be there in response of an emergency. They are only waiting. Watching. Just in case.

They can’t be blamed, what with all the stories of Republican Conventions past. But they don’t have to worry. Two days ago, the protesters in Ybor mostly just danced up and down the streets. Last night, they had retired from their political activism by this time of night, as had the Republicans and delegates. In fact, both came to Ybor to relax and let loose, though witnesses say that protesters kept to one side of the street and RNC-goers, the other. And tonight, there is no sign of them.

And despite all the politics floating around, even though the Republicans are beginning to party in their football stadium and Jon Stewart is hosting his own event in Tampa's Straz Center, there are still just regular people in this mess. City workers sweep the streets. Young people hang around in their outside tables and bars, chatting with friends and looking up sometimes when the police pass by. A restaurant’s hostess talks to a waiter, gesturing enthusiastically in the middle of some story while he smiles and laughs. At a table near them, two old friends who have not seen each other in ages catch up. One of the women, who has moved away somewhere, ask the other, who has been living in Tampa, “So how’s the Convention been?”

Her friend thinks about it, then starts telling a story about how it made traffic a little worse, and some service people were suddenly pandering to the tourists at the expense of the locals. Then they start gossiping about another acquaintance, and that’s the end of that.

Nothing eventful really happens that night in Ybor. Later on, protesters stop traffic in downtown Tampa, but even that goes relatively peacefully. For one more night the police will have to wander the streets in packs, and the delegates will walk primly around, and then the show will end. The storm of national politics, like the thunder of Roosevelt’s rough riders or the winds of Hurricane Isaac, has come and gone, and is now, as per usual, a distant thing on the news to be watched or remembered, not felt. The national machine lumbers on, and the Cigar City wilts back into its end-of-summer haze.

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This article has 6 comments. Post your own now!

JRaye This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 5, 2013 at 9:35 pm
This is so discriptive, such a great peice! I used to live in Florida, in a small town somewhat like this, but next time I'm down there I'll have to visit Ybor! Really good job, keep it up! :)
Amaranthinium This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jun. 8, 2013 at 12:09 pm
Thanks! Hope you like Ybor if you go - if you do, try to eat at the Columbia, their food's amazing :) 
TheRealMVDarko said...
Apr. 20, 2013 at 6:17 pm
Love this piece with a passion. Can't tell you how delighted i was when SOMEONE commented on my work, but when i checked your work and realized that you're a talented, good-enough-for publishing writer, I was HONORED. Your voice is definitley unique, and the writing very evocative. I come from Africa and have never heard of Ybor City, but because of this piece, i have come to know, and will never forget it. Guess it shows just how universal stories can be. Anyway, good luck with the writ... (more »)
Amaranthinium This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jun. 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm
Thank you so much! I'm honored that you say I'm good enough to be published, haha :)
readaholic This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 5, 2013 at 7:08 pm
Wow, cool!  Really create an interesting picture of a town I now want to visit.  I just like how different this piece is from anything else I've read.  Very, very good work!!!
Amaranthinium This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jun. 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm
Thank you! :D
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