While just the thought of falling into the Hillsborough River near downtown can spark a panic attack dry off and immediately start a course of antibiotics the longer ribbon north of the dam thats near Busch Gardens is a gorgeous getaway. The upper Hillsborough, especially above and around Fletcher Avenue, rolls through some of the most unspoiled land in the Bay area. Traffic noise is nil, thanks to a cypress swamp on both sides; alligators, birds and other wildlife hang out with hardly a care (you feel like youre on their turf). The water is the color of iced tea. You might want to think twice before swimming, but a paddle is the perfect escape from urban hubbub. The Hillsborough has a 34-mile canoe trail and nine parks for launching boats. Canoe Escape provides paddling excursions on the river. The companys president, Joe Faulk, says of the upper Hillsborough: It is, without a doubt, the best wildlife-viewing river in Florida. Canoe Escape, 9335 E. Fowler Ave., Thonotosassa, 813-986-2067, canoeescape.com
It aint 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, theyre inundated with low-carb, low-fat options that dont 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 cant 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 (thats Big and Beautiful Women and Big Handsome Men) to give us BBWs a place that we can call our own. Dont worry, skinny dudes FAs (Fat Admirers) are welcome, too. Saturdays at the Honey Pot, 1507 E. Seventh Ave., Tampa, 813-325-8566, clubrubenesque.com
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 arent 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 youre anything like us, you view the signs time estimates as more of a challenge anyway. 8 to 10 minutes to the airport? Bullshit, well be there in 6!
Lets 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 didnt 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 youll 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 youre 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 doesnt like to advertise it, but it doesnt 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 Luckys 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
On a sunny day last December, Pass-A-Grille jeweler Evander Preston rolled up to St. Petersburgs 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. Prestons 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 Prestons actions irresponsible; we call it spreading some holiday cheer.
Last year, after months of paddling through trash-filled Clam Bayou, Kurt Zuelsdorf had an epiphany: There are no government agencies that clean the areas 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. Thats 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 Charlies. 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.)