Battle of the Bays

Cross the bridge and defend your hometowns, Tampa Bay!

click to enlarge GREAT DIVIDES: The Red Sea, the Great Wall of - China, the Howard Frankland Bridge. - Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell
GREAT DIVIDES: The Red Sea, the Great Wall of China, the Howard Frankland Bridge.

A few months back, in preparation for our Best of the Bay issue, I interviewed an enthusiastic Pinellas guy named Peter Kageyama. Kageyama is one of an emerging new breed of marketing execs who've left traditional, labyrinthine big corporations to create a more client-friendly small-business model. Perhaps not surprisingly, he's also a big fan of author/speaker/"creative class" guru Richard Florida and his belief that cities should nurture edgy, alternative-lifestyle-friendly culture if they want to attract imaginative young new-school corporate types.I can get behind some of the things Kageyama and Florida are saying. (Example: A city must encourage its artists and bold thinkers.) Some of the implications, however, I tend to dismiss as wholly unrealistic. (Example: That Web designers or promotional copywriters automatically represent hipness.) But one specific point Kageyama made during the interview remains lodged in my craw.

It has to do with what he called "the bridge mentality."

The bridge mentality is the name Kageyama gives to Tampa Bay residents' general disinclination to stray beyond their habitual stomping grounds. People who live in Clearwater party in Clearwater; people who live in St. Pete go to art galleries in St. Pete. After all, most of us have experienced some form of the following exchange:

"Hey, how was your day?"

"You know, having to drive from St. Pete to Tampa and back for work every day is a bitch, but when I get out over that gorgeous water, somehow, it makes everything OK."

"So do you want to go to the Tampa Theatre tonight?"

"And cross the fucking Howard Frankland again? Twice? No way. Besides, America's Next Top Model is on."

Kageyama wants us to eradicate "the bridge mentality," to become more aware of what's going on across the Bay area. To think of the whole region as our community. To interact with it in toto.

I like the idea. But you can't just shove folks out of their backyards and shoulder them with the responsibility of becoming comfortable in the big wide world. People need baby steps, particularly when it comes to the kind of jarring cultural differences that exist between, say, Carrollwood and Gulfport. You have to start out with a little fear-mongering, by disguising the process of reaching out as an expression of fierce loyalty to the home turf.

And handily enough, we already have a long-standing, traditionally successful method for doing just that practically hardwired into our genetic code.

It's called competition.

What we need is some monster contest, held annually, in which representatives of Tampa, St. Pete and Clearwater vie for some superficially symbolic but actually meaningless title of supremacy. Nothing interests residents of one area in another area quite like the possibility that the other area just might kick their area's ass in the big Whatever Bowl. Sure, they might hate that other area at first, but I guarantee they'll learn a hell of a lot about it in the meantime. ("And there goes David Stewart, from the Davis Islands area of Tampa. Davis Islands, incidentally, is home to both Tate Brothers Pizza and that hospital where they cut the wrong leg off of that guy.") And each city could take turns hosting the event, drawing in the visiting teams' supporters to educational and economic benefit.

Most important, the competition should be some- thing unique, something that reflects Tampa Bay's inimitable character.

So, in the spirit of regional unification through bitter divisiveness, allow me to submit five potential arenas of contestation.

DIG UP SOME OBSCURE, SEMI-FICTIONAL HISTORICAL OCCURRENCE, THEN EMBELLISH AND REENACT IT. Does it really matter that Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders might not actually have launched their assault on Cuba from Picnic Island? Or that Cuba might not actually have gotten advance warning of the strike, and sent in a special forces team to stop it before it started? Or that, at the last minute, the battle might not actually have been turned into bloody chaos by the chance arrival of a Seminole war party? Just be politically correct about it, and let the Cubans or the Native Americans win sometimes.

TURN THE ANNUAL AIR SHOW INTO AN ANNUAL AERIAL COMBAT MISSION. Everybody comes in the hope of videotaping a crash, anyway. Load those cannons up with oversized paintball pellets, and pit MacDill's superior technology against the creatively tactical flight-plan filing of Alfred Whitted's recreational pilots and, uh, shit, I don't know, all the helicopters and private planes that celebrity Scientologists fly in on.

CAGE MATCH. The Bay area is a haven for semi-retired pro wrestlers. We could do a weekend-long series of undercard events, and top it off with a no-holds-barred three-way "cutthroat" slamfest. The only problem would be deciding which city gets Hulk Hogan, which city gets Randy "Macho Man" Savage, and which city gets Hector "El Nino" Gonzales, aka "The Oceanic Disorder from South of the Border."

FISHING TOURNAMENT/SEAFOOD COOK-OFF. Put the best captains and guides from each area together in teams, and pit the teams against each other for an entire season of various tournaments (inshore, offshore, golf-course pond, etc.). Points accumulate, rankings change, and after the season ends with a grueling three-days-on-the-water finale (televised live in its entirety), restaurants from each burg will prepare a spread from the catch and leftover bait. If you don't think people will come from all over to spend a weekend watching people fish and drive boats fast, I've got six letters for you: NASCAR.

THOSE DUMB-ASS CORPORATE BEACH GAMES. Sure, the tension is high when you're chugging a beer, spinning 10 times with your forehead touching a whiffle-ball bat, and charging into the surf to board a one-man raft in the name of Raymond James or Hough, Inc. But can you even imagine how much bigger the rush would be if you were doing it on behalf of your entire hometown community? You'd be like an Olympian!

Sort of.

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