Like most serial apartment renters, I've had my fair share of weird and unsavory neighbors. Before you sign a lease, an agent shows you the place, or a model of the place, but there's no way of knowing if the person living on the other side of the particleboard is a potential friend, felon or future stalker.
In Gainesville, the creepy kid dwelling across the hall would only stop by when my girlfriend visited from Tampa. He would attempt to woo her with his slimy Mr. Sensitivity routine and linger until I kicked him out. In Sarasota, I lived in an apartment complex called Park Place where the walls were so thin I could hear the old lady next to me snore — and I can only imagine what the poor woman heard me do. Probably some kinky shit, because she wouldn't even make eye contact with me on the sidewalk.
In Bradenton, I lived in Point Pleasant, a 1920s-era hotel (and former speakeasy) on the Manatee River. My neighbors included an old man with a penchant for yelling, talking to himself and crying in the courtyard; a prostitute who catered to the senior set; and two girls I hooked up with who would later arrive in the wee hours at my apartment uninvited and unwanted.
It wasn't a good situation.
Luckily, I finally put Point Pleasant, Bradenton, nights of unbridled debauchery and my stalker neighbors behind me.
In fact, the place I found in SoHo has the best neighbors in my 11 years of inhabiting apartments. Katie lives in the apartment directly across the hall from me. Doug and Amy live catty-corner. On any given night, at just about any given hour, the four of us and perhaps a few of our friends/other neighbors can be found on our back stairwell ("The Patio") drinking, smoking and maybe munching on Katie's Tater Tots. Our gatherings are more about decompressing, and discussing work and life, as opposed to getting wasted.
"It's just like we're on The Patio," Katie says. "But bigger."
It's around 7 p.m. on Saturday and we're at Doug and Amy's wedding celebration at her brother's house in South Tampa. Most of the faces at our table are familiar from nights on The Patio, which has enough room for about four chairs. On some nights, though, there's been as many as 10 of us on there, knocking back drinks and telling tales. Unlike past neighbors I've had, Amy, Doug, Katie and all the friends they bring by are capable of drinking wine or beer from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m. without getting sloppy or doing anything stupid — or talking me into doing anything stupid.
The Patio took off as a social hub after the Gasparilla day parade. Our downstairs neighbor Mike, who unfortunately relocated to a house in Carrollwood recently, threw a bash while I hosted a late-night get-together at my place, which spilled out onto the stairwell. Amy had gone to bed early, so Doug and I hung out for the first time. Katie and her friends were part of the revelry, as well. In the five months since, it's become routine.
"You know, it's funny, I think this is the first time I've ever hung out with you anywhere except the patio," I said to Katie after we arrived at The Fox Jazz Club in Westshore. We were sitting outside, finishing our to-go wines and cigarettes before entering the swank nightspot. Knowing we both would end up too impaired to drive, we left the wedding celebration and dropped off Katie's car back at the apartment and cabbed it to after-party at the Fox. I wasn't a big fan of the $5 cover charge or $9 rum-and-cokes served in slanted glasses that looked as if they were about to fall at any second, but it was nice being dressed to impress with a smart-looking (albeit older) crowd. The band had everyone dancing to classic funk and soul numbers ranging from James Brown to Prince.
I was in such a good mood I was even coerced onto the dance floor and busted some moves, something I hadn't done since the Creative Loafing Christmas party. After last call, Doug and Amy's friend Jenny transported about 10 of us in her minivan back to SoHo, where we stuffed our faces at the Pita Pit before calling it a night. "Anyone want to sit out for a smoke?" I asked as we climbed the stairs.
"Might as well," Amy said.
"And here we are," Katie said with a laugh, "back on The Patio."
The Fox Jazz Club, 5401 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, 813-289-8446.