For Floridians, particularly those of us in the Bay area, the year 2012 has turned into a crash course in How Others See Us. When the RNC rolled into town, we thought the media would be wowed by our beaches, or at least by our highly efficient downtown lockdown. But no — what we got were jokes about the heat.
With the election, some of us figured the really exciting news was that Florida (and Hillsborough) had stayed in the Obama camp. But no — we had to suffer another reprise of the Florida Voters Are Idiots trope (as in, “People in Florida shouldn’t be allowed to vote for American Idol, let alone the President.”)
So when the world descended on Bayshore Boulevard to report on the Petraeus Affair, with its muddy mix of sex, social climbing and national security, I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised when Florida, or to be more specific, Tampa, got trashed again, this time by wags who couldn’t conceive of the words “Tampa” and “socialite” occupying the same sentence.
Granted, even some of us who live here weren’t quite sure what Tampa society meant, or what was going on behind the gates of MacDill. But that’s where the good journalism comes in. The Tampa Bay Times has done an excellent job in recent weeks of dissecting both — and even though the idea of a social scene centered on dressing up like pirates and sucking up to generals is more than a little queasy-making, you can’t dispute that such a scene exists.
Speaking of good journalism, it was a pleasure last week to attend the Griot Drum Awards banquet held by the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists — not only because CL’s Mitch Perry and Arielle Stevenson both won awards, but because of the thought-provoking panel discussion led by the Times’ Eric Deggans featuring three local African-American news anchors: Bay News 9’s Erica Riggins, WFLA’s Josh Thomas, and Channel 10’s Reginald Roundtree.
Mitch reports on the panel in detail on CL’s blog, The Daily Loaf, but suffice it to say that for all the progress that has been made in the area of racial equality and workplace diversity, there’s a long way to go. The divisiveness of the recent presidential campaign threw these issues into relief, as Riggins related in her funny-if-it-weren’t-so-appalling story of a black female Bay News 9 reporter who got accused at a Romney rally of shilling for Obama simply because she was wearing a sleeveless dress. (Because, you know, Michelle Obama wears sleeveless dresses. Sheesh.)
And speaking of pirates, I got a reminder this weekend of the role krewes play in the community beyond bead- and party-throwing. During the Heritage and Cigar Festival, a celebration of stogies and Ybor, I volunteered at Beverage Station #2, selling beer and wine for the benefit of the Ybor City Museum. Luckily, my fellow volunteers were more adept than I at getting beer (rather than foam) out of the taps, so I stuck to wine and cashbox duty.
I was impressed by the overall mellow mood, and by the dedication of my compatriots: a history teacher at HCC and her husband, a graduate student in Florida studies at USF, and two young women who were working to meet the quota of volunteer hours required to reach full membership in their krewe. They had a litany of other volunteer gigs either completed or lined up, and it was this — their expectation that being in a krewe was primarily about helping the community, not just about riding a float — that reminded me why the krewes are an important part of the city’s cultural fabric (especially now that their membership actually represents all of the city, not just the straight white male part).
It’s possible that a krewe or two will wander into the narratives of this year’s CL Fiction Contest entrants. The theme is “Ybor Stories,” after all. But we’re encouraging writers to go wild in their interpretation of the theme. You can incorporate Ybor in any way and in any era: as setting, as idea, as part of a character’s biography. You can base your story in Ybor as it was, as it is, or as it might be in the future, or conjure up an Ybor that is entirely imaginary.
You don’t even have to set the story in Ybor, but Ybor must inform the story’s events in some way. The deadline for submission is Dec. 12 at 5 p.m. The winner of the judges’ prize gets $500, the readers’ choice gets $250, and the winning stories will be published in the Jan. 3 edition of CL, with a public reading at CL Space on Jan. 12.
Go to cltampa.com/YborFiction for guidelines, entry form and other info.
And finally, don’t forget the CL Online Holiday Auction. I can’t think of a better way to while away your post-prandial Thanksgiving hours than by cruising through the 80-plus items in our auction — it’ll be like going to the mall, without, um, going to the mall.
No telling who will win the Cigar City package or the Edelweiss Air tickets to Zurich — the bidding on those packages was hot and heavy from the first day. But is no one going to challenge me for the Left Coast Bartending Class? These people are the coolest, most accomplished mixologists around, and they bring the booze! Much as I’d like to hoard this one for myself, I’m sure there are other imbibers out there who want to get in on the action.
And here’s another reason to revisit cltampa.com/auction: We’ve just added some great Broadway ticket packages from the Straz, and we’re now offering a football autographed by the hottest rookie in the NFL at the moment, the Bucs’ own Doug Martin. Catch his ball before someone else runs away with it.
The auction is a benefit for The Children’s Home; bidding continues until Dec. 12 at 5 p.m.