Wanted in Tampa: Romance

Published on: September 23, 2010

Mitch Traphagen Photo

Tampa needs an Empire State Building. However, my track record in meeting at the top follows that of Cary Grant’s. My wife was delayed at the airport, and our planned romantic midnight meeting ended in her being angry with the shuttle company and me spending a few hours in front of the building with two non-English-speaking Korean guys and a woman who might have been a prostitute.


mitch01There is no romance in Tampa. There is a ton of romance in cities like San Francisco and New York. In New York, people in love can meet (or, tragically, not meet) at the top of the Empire State Building. In New York, people in love and lust can meet at the Chelsea Hotel; and then memorialize their liaison through word and song. San Francisco, of course, is a good place to leave your heart and a generation of dreamy young girls heard the mournful call to “please come to Denver”. Even Memphis has a romantic appeal. It seems people have walked in Memphis with their feet “ten feet off of Beale” Street and Daisy Jane was left there to roam the city before her love returned when the summer was gone. And everyone knows that if you are losing your love you simply need to ask them to meet you in Memphis.

But Tampa? What is in Tampa? Please come to the giant IKEA store near Ybor? Meet me at the Steak and Shake in Brandon? We need some romance here. We need something that isn’t a well-intentioned developer’s generic concept of charming! We need a Chelsea Hotel, a Beale Street, or a place to leave our hearts in the fog next to a bay. Oh, wait. We already have that last one occasionally. But it doesn’t seem we have much else.

Somehow in our frantic quest to choose from a hundred different varieties of breakfast cereal, we have missed the basics; the stuff that is really important. Stuff like love and passion and the occasional small extravagance. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the one missing it.

A short time ago, I decided to take a trip back into time. I checked into a room at Little Harbor Resort — a place that holds many special, happy, and yes, romantic, memories for me. My wife and I lived for eight years on a sailboat at the nearby marina and we spent many happy hours with close friends at the Captain’s Quarters and at the restaurant. Our boat lacked a bathtub and every year we splurged for a special evening on Michelle’s birthday. We checked into a room so she could plunge into a common tub, complete with bubbles.

Checking in alone last month gave me the opportunity to see the place as it is in my memories. I wasn’t disappointed. In my solitude, my eyes were opened to things I might otherwise have missed. I saw couples, both young and old, walking hand-in-hand down the quiet streets and down the pier. I saw families with children laughing and playing with the abandon that only children seem blessed to possess. I said to myself, “I remember when we were right there…”. I saw the ghosts of my friends — most still with us but some now departed. I felt what I felt then and was happy. Being able to feel those feelings again was a gift for which I was most grateful. As an added bonus, I discovered that I could take a vacation without leaving my own town, something the hotel desk clerk remarked upon while I checked in. “You didn’t have to travel far,” she said.

Perhaps part of the problem is that I’m reveling in the past and am not seeing the memories that are being made today. Perhaps I’m failing to appreciate until after the fact that, despite all of the bad stuff going on in the world, I’m not seeing the good stuff in real-time. I’m waiting for the reruns and the instant replays to determine what is and is not stored forever in my heart. Perhaps I’m just not living in the present.

Nah, I’m OK with the present. In fact, more and more I am beginning to really enjoy the present. As I get older, my muscles hurt and my short-term memory isn’t quite so sharp, but I can feel things that I never even imagined as a younger man. I can feel art, music and my wife’s touch on my hand in ways that I never before imagined. To me, that is certainly a huge benefit of getting older. In fact, it makes getting older worthwhile.

What I really want is an Empire State Building in Tampa. I want to walk with my feet ten feet off of Beale and have a romantic liaison at the Chelsea Hotel (as awesome as the gigantic IKEA in Ybor City is, I don’t want to have to plan a romantic liaison with Michelle there). Do I sound like an adolescent looking for a place to make out? I’m not — adolescents can’t afford the Chelsea Hotel!

In thinking about it, though, Little Harbor will do just fine. I’m OK asking Michelle to meet me at the Sunset Grill, because once the sun begins to set and we sit together watching another day in paradise coming to an end, it will just be the two of us anyway — no matter how many people are in the restaurant. It seems that romance in Tampa is where the heart is.