As I walk the main street of this historically preserved city situated within the center of a major Florida metropolitan area. I have witnessed bars, restaurants and various shops change from one thing to the next over the years while some have remained through the economic recession; most likely through customer loyalty and since their doors have been opened many years or even decades ago. I’ve worked here for nearly three years and always I seem to find something new or experience events and meet people that I will carry with me for a lifetime.
It is when I stumble off the main street or truly look at my surroundings when I grasp the history and beauty this small community holds. Palm trees, painted murals on building sides, eccentric people and old brick structures that form the area of Ybor City. Cigar rollers in shop windows, flamingo dancers, the Improve, sea foam green rails and awnings entangle Central Ybor; while a grand sign above the Movico Theatre reads, “Centro Ybor” with a beautiful Cuban girl painted in red circa 1920s.
Parks with vendors on Saturday mornings, lined with a vegetable market, arts, crafts and handmade jewelry; statues depicting the Cuban and Italian heritage. Yellow trolleys depicting early century Tampa run through the city on tracks that lead to the port and Channelside. The 433 streetcar toots its horn as it approaches its stop; eager little boys and visitors cannot wait to board as I sit back and observe from the window of a coffee shop. Chickens run across streets and live wild in alleyways, perching in trees and vibrant in color. Rustic orange, brick red, white, black, and calico; one stands out among the others as its fluffy feathers resemble that of a furry little dog running about. I have met professional football, baseball and hockey players, Jerry Springer, Poly Shore, Underoath, Gogol Bordello, Mayor Pam Iorio. People visiting from Europe, South America and Asia; various languages fill the air and cultures experience this beautiful place. It feels like New Orleans but with the Spanish and Italian influence instead of French flavor. Cantinas, margaritas, beer, Sangrias, $2 martinis and PBR with a shot of cheap whiskey. Artisan roasted brew, coffee con leche and shots at various bars; live music, rock, Spanish, hip hop and Greek. A starving musician plays his saxophone while big name bands fill the old theatre headlines at what is now known as the Ritz. Rainbow flags, Puerto Rican pride, the Italian green, red & white; Hookah bars with Arabic traditional water pipes, Greek food, Columbian, Cuban & French, Italian, American, Japanese and Asian, everything you can desire within a ½ mile stretch. Cobblestone roads and brick laid streets; people dispersing free admission and drink tickets to entice those strolling by to choose their club to dance the night away.
Homeless men and women walk the streets, sleep on benches along 7th avenue and beg for money giving Ybor a particular feel despite the grunge and mislead paths of those less fortunate. The night seen changes drastically from daytime charm where drunk young adults, clubs with loud music, thugs who are just looking for a fight; cops on horses and girls wearing as little as possible. Transvestites, hoods, freaks and gays; outrageous hair, tattoos and body piercings, fashion unique and daring. Copious events accommodate it all; tattoo or fetish conventions, the arts, theatre, film festivals and pirates; parades for every occasion and event that consumes the Ybor scene. Super Bowl 2009, Auburn verses Northwestern in the last Outback Bowl; Gasparilla pirate invasions, St. Patties Day parade, Guavaween in October and cultural events spread throughout the year.
It is late March right now and the weather is now changing; slight rains dampen afternoon grounds and warm weather now fills the space around us. The desire to be outside is just what I look forward to during my free time or while I spend my afternoons reading school assignments or studying for that next exam. Ybor is the perfect spot to sit back and people watch whether it’s day or night. From young ladies pose for photographers in alley ways, or old couples walk hand in hand, women dressed in wedding gowns posing for their special day, business suits, Mohawks in Blue, red or pink, or maybe even Christian protesters attempting to change the lives of those late night sinners. Ybor has it all!
Each time I truly walk these alleys I wonder about every element that makes up this small stretch of old buildings; streets and paths through Ybor are so unique and yet how can I forget what I am truly part and the magic people feel when they come here. What I have taken for granted many times and over the years is a new awakening each time I let my senses overwhelm me and I truly look at the beauty that embraces this part of town. I find it fascinating the power of emotion and the overwhelming passions that incur when desires are formed in the realm of one’s mind. Desire in the sense of strong feelings and enjoyment in everything around me; to truly capture every element that makes up the whole picture and understand the beauty that is expressed.