Gen X Tampa memories

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click to enlarge The old entrance to Lowry Park's Fairlyand, circa 1980. - wikimedia commons
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The old entrance to Lowry Park's Fairlyand, circa 1980.

Some things are quintessential Tampa, like our annual celebration of a fictional pirate, Ybor City and the Todd Couples Superstore. These, and many other local gems have stood the test of time. But what about some of our other old beloved Tampa institutions that are no longer around?

I grew up in Tampa in the 1980s and early '90s, and thinking back, so many things that were popular didn’t make the cut for whatever reasons. Here are a few I remember.

1. Fairyland at Lowry Park Zoo. Yeah, it was a pretty shabby by the ‘80s but my little kid self just wanted to live there. That shit was magical.

2. Jai alai was all the rage. What was that about?

3. The Rambling River Raft Races! Thousands, or at least hundreds of drunken revelers built makeshift rafts and floated down the Hillsborough River. I think the only rule was that your raft had to float. I had a blast doing those with my parents and their friends, though it was a somewhat dicey for a little girl. Once some guys flashed us their dicks, and everybody was smoking weed, but it was circa1980, man. I was lucky to be wearing a life jacket at all.

4. We always started our day with Q Morning Zoo on the original Q105. I bet you still remember what The Tookie bird said. Go on, say it out loud. Good times in the a.m. I’m not sure if “Tales of Tunequah” would fly these days though, on account of the blatant racist stereotyping.

5. Speaking of radio stations, upside down 95ynf stickers were everywhere and Russ Albums was the jam! I learned so much from that guy. I still kinda miss that station. I don’t miss the Power Pig though, and we’ve not been able to shake Mr. Love Sponge. Life can be cruel.

6. The downtown club 911 — My first time at 911, or any club, I was 16 so I used a fake ID. Nirvana’s “Smell’s like Teen Spirit” played and the dance floor was jam-packed with pogoing, grunge-lovin’ youth. It was a milestone moment, like losing my virginity, but infinitely more meaningful and satisfying. Double fist pump to the chest and a peace sign hand gesture to you, 911. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Tracks. I was still using that fake ID to get by as 18, and I learned that dancing with tons of cute guys and trans folks who weren’t interested in getting in the pants of a teenage girl was hella liberating.

Other notable mentions go to Tampa Bay Center, The Dream Machine Arcade, and the pizza at Vaccaro’s at Westshore Mall — fuggedaboutit. And we can’t forget The Quick & Eazy drive-through mart where high-school kids could buy booze, Spec’s Music stores, and Vinyl Fever, where I bought that rite of passage for ‘80s adolescents, Violent Femmes' self-titled LP, which I still have.

Those are some of my personal favorite memories of Tampa, but those of us who have spent decades ‘round these parts surely have some of their own. Let’s hear ‘em!  

Image by Zeng8ter via Wikimedia/Creative Commons.

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