High on the Plains: When in Rome, swim with the dolphins


Chad Christensen, Columnist

There are several large hairy Caucasians floating in the pool below me right now. Their droopy wives are yelling at them from the chaise lounge chairs demanding that they be lathered with sunscreen. The slow drifting males do not move. Sudden amnesia, I suspect. I was thinking about going for a swim this morning but I’m not sure if I’m ready for this kind of scene.

I’m on the top floor of the Sailport Waterfront Suites staring out at Old Tampa Bay. The hotel is located on Rocky Point, which is some kind of key or small peninsula that slips out into the bay just adjacent from Tampa International Airport. Unlike the aging gentry in the pool below, the pelicans have been active this morning in some kind of crazy fish frenzy, diving every few seconds underwater. They are very much unaffected by the morning traffic jam on the infamous Campbell Causeway, the road that connects downtown to the tourist town of Clearwater. It’s a fast-paced lifestyle down here. Everyone seems to be running from something.

When I first arrived at the airport, I waited over an hour for the hotel concierge to send their fancy courtesy van. It never arrived. So eventually, I found myself standing in line for a taxi. When it finally came to be my turn there was a confrontation at the pick-up spot between a yellow cab and a white cab. They started honking and shouting violently out the window at each other, both of them inching their beat-up cab closer to the curb. The airport attendant frantically left his booth to calm them down, but he too was soon pulled into the argument and there were many confusing hand gestures. The last one being a signal for me to get in the white cab. My first reaction was to say nothing; just pretend they’re not talking to you. But after being burned by my hotel on the free ride, I just stepped forward and got in.

My cab driver drove off, making a dramatic exit as he squealed his tires. Everyone curbside was staring at us. He then swerved around the corner and gunned it for the onramp. He was cursing profusely, making all sorts of accusations about the mother of the other cab driver. He pounded his fist into his hand, started speaking a language I didn’t recognize, all while he steered with his knees.

After a few minutes of mumbling, he pulled off to the side of the road and asked where I needed to go. Rocky Point, I explained. He shook his head, unhappy with the answer, and then started driving again. I noticed he didn’t turn his meter on. Instead, he got on his phone and began speaking into the microphone. Again, I didn’t recognize the language, but I understood what he was saying. He was gonna kill that yellow cab guy and probably crucify his entire family. It was a matter of honor.

After some confusion with directions, and a difficult short cut through multiple traffic cones at a construction site, we finally made it to the gates of my hotel. He slammed it into park, put his arms up on the wheel, and started to apologize. I told him not to worry, and that the yellow cab guy has it coming. I made a similar fist-pounding gesture and he started nodding. He was happy with this, and I swear I saw a smile. As I exited the car, I gave him a full general salute and waved him on. Now he really was smiling. The bastard had charged me too much, but I paid it. Florida weather makes people unstable. And bodies can easily disappear in the swamps.

I had similar issues with the hotel front desk. They accused me of running away from the van at the airport, which of course, was not true. What van? I argued. I saw no van. I began doing the fist-pounding gesture, hoping this would solve another difficult situation. Do as the Romans do, I thought.

The front desk people started nodding, if only to get me out of there. They gave me my room key but I insisted they tell me where the bar was located. They pointed me towards a dingy cabana by the pool, where I met the bartender, Tiffany, who apparently is “livin’ the dream.” She said that to everyone who came in there, which was okay. It seemed right, and her drink-making skills were immaculate.

But today seems very different as I look out off the balcony. You have to learn quick down here in Tampa. Kill or be killed. Or something like that. Several large crows have been swooping down at me this morning and twice I’ve had to throttle these damn birds. But I think we’re friends now since they seem to be tolerating my presence. In Greek mythology, crows were a symbol of bad luck which also has me thinking – maybe I do need a swim.