Stefanie Kalem

Former Planet Music Critic, Current Oaktown, Calimafornia Hippie-Hipster-Type

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BEST WAYS THAT TAMPA BAY BEATS THE EAST BAY
Cheap Drinks, Cheap Cigarettes, Cheap Gas

When I visited Tampa this spring, I had $45 in my pocket and $60 in the bank. Why so destitute, you ask? Well, the gas station across the street from my house is charging $1.99 for a gallon of regular unleaded this week. Around San Francisco, a pack of Turkish Golds or American Spirits will set you back a five-spot. A Jack and Coke at a halfway decent bar in Oakland or Berkeley? $5 or $6. And that doesn't even take into account rent, electricity, produce and secondhand clothes (two trips to the Goodwill and you'll be hitting Ross). But when I arrived at Tampa International to head back west, I still had money to tip the porter who checked my bags (which were bulky with thrift finds, natch).

Football, Obviously

Despite not having ever been much of a football fan, I watched the entire Super Bowl this year all by my lonesome. Well, not the whole thing. I switched over to AMC's Audrey Hepburn festival when the third quarter got boring. But when I returned to ABC, the Raiders had scored, so I kept my attention on the pigskin for the rest of the time. Who knows? Maybe I was the psychic card up the Bucs' sleeves. And though I was afraid to leave my house, you'd better believe I was screaming with underdogged joy when Tampa won.

Gator Po'Boys at Skipper's Smokehouse

Why can't I get a good hunk o' gator tail in my new Bay area? You'd think it's because everyone's a vegetarian, but no. The Berkeley-San Francisco-Oakland triangle is a foodie's paradise, and most foodies would hate to limit themselves to things that don't feel pain. The Slow Food Movement has a massive chapter here, championed by Berkeley restaurateur and cookbook author Alice Waters. So where's my goddamn gator? Even the soul food joints don't have it. This is a chewy, chicken-like conundrum I have yet to sort out.

Skipper's Smokehouse, 910 Skipper Road, Tampa, 813-971-0666.

Easily Sussing Out the Dateability of that Hottie You're Chatting Up at the Bar

Oh, man, I used to bitch about how, in Tampa, any cutie with good taste in music was an instant nonmystery. Turn to the right, there's your fella. Turn to the left, there's a girl you know by sight, giving you the devil-eye. Excuse yourself. Ask some careful questions. Find out way too much. But now I miss the days of immediate 411 — dating would be much easier in these parts if my girlfriend could just come back from the bathroom and whisper, "He still lives with his mother." Everyone here has extra-high walls, agendas and defenses to keep them from getting fired up or found out. Plus, who the hell knows what these people have gotten themselves into before you met them. Nowadays I actually have to go out on dates, have awkward conversations, and try, try, try to figure out if my beau is damaged goods before it's too late and my heartstrings or naughty things are already too engaged. Friendster, here I come.

Every Night is Old Wave Night

When I first touched down in Tampa-town, the Masquerade was already doing Old Wave nights — and that was 1989. For once, Tampa Bay was ahead of the curve. In San Francisco, boys with fashion mullets and girls dressed up like Chrissie Hynde (yes, Jennifer Jason, they do get laid more often) queue up for blocks to pay $8 and dance to "Bedbugs and Ballyhoo." And to think, The Castle only charges $2 on Mondays.

Year-Round Summer Beats Year-Round Winter Hands Down

Sure, you're hot now. But imagine what it would be like to step outside your house on a mid-June evening, only to discover that the temperature's mysteriously dropped down to the low 50s. In the San Francisco Bay area, we get about as much summer as Tampa Bay gets winter — four weeks spread out over four months. The temperature will creep slowly up, occasionally nudging 90 between June and September. But mostly it's cool during the "summer" months — 60-70 during the day, and 50-60 at night. And sometimes the sun shines bright, the sky blazes blue, and you still have to wear a freakin' sweatshirt.

The Longest Consecutive Sidewalk in the World

Sure, it used to be crawling with glory holes, and probably still is. And, yeah, it often smells terrible. But Bayshore Boulevard is the great equalizer — bartenders, soccer dads, coeds, and checkout clerks all look the same when they're done up in Lycra and heather gray, huffing and puffing their way down that endless stretch of pavement. And because there are no inclines or obstacles, it's actually a delightfully nonthreatening arena for your transformation from barfly to fitness Nazi. I remember jogging down Bayshore at 2-something a.m. with two barback friends, all of us panting like horny basset hounds. We kept joking that the cops were going to pull over any second, tell us we weren't fooling anybody, and offer us a ride to the Hub. But we persevered, and with a few more weeks of Bayshore shuffling, we could climb a flight of stairs without breaking a sweat.

It's Cool When People Actually Stare at You for Lookin' Funny

OK, so I kind of solved this problem by striping my Volvo with candy colors. But folks I know who were born and reared in Northern California often complain that nonconformity is conformity here, that people are freaky just to out-freak one another, not because they "mean it." I'd always thought that you couldn't do yourself up strange without immediately feeling it, seeing it reflected in the eyes of passersby. But here, you can; it certainly takes more than a few tattoos, a '60s sundress, and pink-streaked hair to get noticed. There are men in the East Bay who dress like fairies — the Brian Froud, pixie-dust-and-magic-slippers kind — on a daily basis, and in San Francisco there are 6-foot-tall chicks with Mohawks on almost every corner. Not to mention the O.G. hippies in Berkeley, the cult leaders in the suburbs, and the godfathers of funk in Oakland. It really stressed me out upon arrival two years ago. How would I ever measure up? But then I figured out the secret: The trick here is to be yourself more than you've ever been before. But even then, it's not exactly shock and awe you inspire. It's more like nod-and-smile.

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