Well, I sure have.
In my Jeep, in the HCC parking garage. On the sofa in the old Creative Loafing offices above Cafe Creole. In a “loft” on the other side of the railroad tracks that was more of a hostel-slash-squat, spooning a pretty girl I sort of knew on top of somebody’s loft-in-a-box-in-a-loft and surrounded by people who were still partying.
And other times—the last one at the REAX Magazine office, to the sound of a cop on horseback galloping up onto the porch in pursuit of an assault suspect running from Club Empire. (We found unexploded pellets of pepper spray—the kind they fire from paintball-type guns—all around the place the next morning.)
Usually, waking up in Ybor City wasn’t a triumph. Usually, waking up in Ybor City was a tab coming painfully due, the bottom end of a regrettable binge. I have awakened in Ybor City and said to myself, “I sure am happy with my decision to not go home last night, and, given the chance, wouldn’t go back and change it for a strip club’s worth of nipples.” Just, like, not nearly as many times as I’ve awakened in Ybor City with the shameful notion that I was doing myself a favor by not trying too hard to remember exactly what led to my waking up in Ybor City.
So, yeah, my track record regarding literal Ybor City awakenings is, um, not so regret-free.
Regarding personal and cultural Ybor City awakenings, however, I’m more than satisfied.
I was awakened to the limitless artful provocation of punk rock in Ybor City, when I attended a show at the original Blue Chair by the Nazi Hunter Jewboys that included a marvelous assassination of Hitler.
I was awakened to the reality that there’s always a venue if you look hard enough, when I attended Michael Poole’s Thirsty Ear poetry series at various Ybor watering holes back when the term “spoken word” was largely unknown. (I was also awakened to some fans’ depth of passion for poetry when I was thrown out of several—often along with a certain Will Quinlan—for not shutting the hell up.)
In Ybor, I was awakened to the fact that freaks who liked weird music had their own nightclubs.
In Ybor, I was awakened to the existence of groups of writers, directors and actors putting on their own productions because nobody told them they couldn’t.
In Ybor, I was awakened to the possibility of building a career, and a life, doing something I loved.
It’s different now, of course. Anyone my age will tell you Ybor City isn’t what it used to be. That’s what people my older sister’s age told me. And, I’m sure, what people my parents’ age told them.
And that’s OK, as long as there’s a place—a neighborhood, a district, a warehouse, a loft-in-a-box-in-a-loft—where kids' brains are awakened to the creative possibilities more often than their bodies are awakened to the repercussions of bad decisions.
There’s always a place like that.
For me, more than anywhere else, that place was Ybor City.