Best Of 2008

City Living

Urban Exploring

Urban Exploring

The ladies of Club Rubenesque on stage at the Honey Pot.

It ain’t easy being big. Every day, heavy-set people have to fight a thin-centric media filled with stick-figured magazine models and shows like The Biggest Loser. At the grocery store, they’re inundated with low-carb, low-fat options that don’t taste nearly as good as their high-calorie counterparts. Clothing manufacturers stop sewing at a certain size, limiting fashion opportunities. Obesity is the new national health scare. Airlines are instituting, in essence, fat taxes. And to top it all off, the big and beautiful can’t even relax at an Ybor City club without getting laughed at. But two years ago, Sandi Hernandez created Club Rubenesque — a once-a-week dance party for BBWs and BHMs (that’s Big and Beautiful Women and Big Handsome Men) — to “give us BBWs a place that we can call our own.” Don’t worry, skinny dudes — FAs (Fat Admirers) are welcome, too. Saturdays at the Honey Pot, 1507 E. Seventh Ave., Tampa, 813-325-8566, clubrubenesque.com

Electronic signs on I-275 are useful (but may prove over-stimulating to drivers with a competitive streak).

If you drive on I-275 in the Bay area, you have by now noticed the new traffic alert signs suspended over the roadway. They display updates on traffic conditions, Amber Alerts and estimates for travel times to upcoming exits. These details — “54th Ave. exit, 3-5 minutes” — aren’t all that helpful, and a more accurate message oftentimes would be “If you can read this, you are stuck in a traffic jam.” However, if you’re anything like us, you view the sign’s time estimates as more of a challenge anyway. 8 to 10 minutes to the airport? Bullshit, we’ll be there in 6!

Let’s get a few negatives out of the way: It was surface-of-the-sun hot during the July 19 Red Bull Flugtag event in downtown Tampa. And yes, organizers seemed a bit overwhelmed by the reported 100,000 who turned out to see teams launch questionably constructed aircraft into Tampa Bay. And it sure was frustrating when all but one of the “flying machines” didn’t take off, but rather lurched unsteadily before falling awkwardly into the Bay. If you caught one of the many replays of the event, you know that the whole thing looked great on TV, the frame filled by the downtown background and a flotilla of boats that would have made Jose Gaspar proud. In this moment, Tampa looked like a real city for all the world to see — one that turns out en masse for shenanigans produced by corporate viral-marketing weenies, no doubt, but a city nonetheless.

Prior to the existence of the overpasses along the Clearwater section of U.S. 19, traffic during rush hour was a creeping, crawling, slow-motion nightmare. The overpasses have helped … pretty much. Traffic can still trudge at times, and you’ll still hit stop lights at most intersections, rush hour or not. Businesses along the route surely hate that potential customers can only get there by access roads, but overall it sure beats the U.S. 19 of old. While this newly overpassed stretch of road is not as efficient at moving cars along as north Pinellas residents would like, it is a valiant attempt nonetheless.

If you’re devoutly against our local tradition of having lean greyhounds chase a mechanical bunny around a track, but you want to play poker, Tampa Greyhound has you covered. This former dog-racing venue doesn’t like to advertise it, but it doesn’t actually engage in dog racing. Instead, the place has converted to poker, made legal by a state gambling exemption for parimutuel dog and horse tracks. You can bet on simulcast races from around the country while grinding out some no-limit hold-’em tournaments in the humble and casual Lucky’s Card Room, happily thankful that no dogs were hurt in the winning of the pot. 8300 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa, 813-932-4313. luckyscards.com

Holiday cheer from Evander Preston.

On a sunny day last December, Pass-A-Grille jeweler Evander Preston rolled up to St. Petersburg’s Williams Park in a Bentley. He popped the trunk and, like a Skid Row Santa, handed out 100 half-pints of Kentucky bourbon and Thompson torpedo cigars to some ecstatic homeless men and women lounging on the grass. Preston’s holiday stunt earned the wrath of some St. Pete residents and a former city council member who (unsuccessfully) tried to pass an ordinance that would have banned giving away alcohol on city streets. While some might call Preston’s actions irresponsible; we call it spreading some holiday cheer.

Trash (and a greener environment) are the souvenirs of an excursion with Kayak Natures Green Machine.

Last year, after months of paddling through trash-filled Clam Bayou, Kurt Zuelsdorf had an epiphany: There are no government agencies that clean the area’s waterways, so the only solution is to get residents excited about spending their weekends picking trash. So the owner of Kayak Nature Adventures began offering rent-free kayaks in exchange for filling a few bags of garbage. The idea took off and after just one outing Zuelsdorf had a waiting list of folks just begging to pick up trash. Now, almost a year later, he has reason to be proud: trash-filled water bodies like Clam Bayou are making a comeback — one kayak at a time. kayaknature.com

Suddenly, a gayborhood. That’s the way it felt when homo-centric restaurants, bars and shops started multiplying in the west end of Ybor City faster than you can say “Fabulous!” Streetcar Charlie’s. G. Bar. Spurs. The Honey Pot. Gallery Live. The gay-friendly buzz can be directly attributed to the leadership of Carrie West and Mark Bias, who moved their MC Film Fest shop to Ybor last year and brought with them a collaborative attitude that has created new marketing opportunities and a broadened clientele for Ybor businesses both gay and straight. As co-founders of the GaYbor District Coalition, Bias and West helped pull together a cross-section of Ybor institutions and newcomers (113 members last count) who are realizing the benefits that can come with an influx of gays and lesbians. (Hillsborough County Commissioners, take note.)