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August 27, 12:40 a.m.
Tampa is a blur tonight, a smear of soft rain and humidity and downtown lights that have transformed an essentially modern and no-nonsense city into something much more mysterious and romantic.
Jack and I are staying in a terrific, high-ceilinged, one-story house in the Ybor City. The place was built as a shotgun shack, like so much else in the neighborhood. Ybor City was once a citadel of cigar rollers and cigar-box makers. The workers, mostly Cuban immigrants, became renowned for hiring readers to read to them from newspapers, novels, all sorts of great books, as they toiled.
Today the neighborhood is not wealthy but neat and quiet. We are warned to look out on certain blocks for crime, but there seems to be relatively little of it. A train line runs through the area, and at night you can hear a long, lonely freight train whistling and rumbling its way through to the docks. The rain and all the preparations for the convention have washed Ybor City back to its roots, at least for this night.
We tour local bars and restaurants, looking for Republicans. They are in short supply. At Samurai Blue—an excellent sushi joint—we just miss a table full of Michele Bachmann supporters, apparently regaling each other with tales of how much they did for the one-time frontrunner.
Rumors abound. Another cousin, from upstate New York—different side of the family—warns me against anarchist protesters, who he worries have filled eggs with acid to hurl at police. People in the city talk of Greyhound buses full of heavily armed people rolling through town. We actually pass a forlorn-looking group of local cops assigned to patrol Ybor City on foot and bicycle. They huddle together against the weather under the sidewalk galleries of local buildings, wearing light-brown uniforms that make them look like UPS delivery guys.
No anarchists, no acid. We can only hope the bike police make it home without a bad cold, and with some glimpse of the town melting around them, reverting to what it might have looked like a hundred years ago.
More from Kevin Baker:
Appreciation — June 26, 2014, 8:00 am
From Johnny Cash to “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”
New York Revisited — June 19, 2014, 8:00 am
And how it foretold the 2008 financial crisis
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”