The office of the editors here at the mag is quiet and sunlit, on the second floor with one wall of windows overlooking Pineapple Avenue. Sometimes over the tappity-tapping of the keyboards, we hear the conversations of passersby on the sidewalk below. Everything’s been more hectic the past week or so with the Chalk Festival, so the din’s been more consistent. Then last Wednesday, in our usual mid-afternoon lull, faint music started creeping in. It sounded like someone in here was watching a video on their computer, or maybe a stereo in the next office had been turned up. But no: It was the Sarasota Opera rehearsing their weekend performance on Dolphin Street. I walked down there to join other pedestrians who’d stopped to watch in silence.
Just picture it: Professional, international opera stars, standing in atop an asphalt canvas in street clothes, belting out Madame Butterfly as Victor DiRenzi paced and mulled. An audience in flip-flops, caught between a Burns Court Cinema matinee and Nancy’s Bar-B-Q dinner, so attuned to the rehearsal process as to not even applaud at the end of an aria. Just silent appreciation.
More great ambience on Friday night, when CCB and I were in Ybor to watch our boxing guru, Aaron “Jedi” Jaco, in his first bout in a handful of years. (They dubbed it “The Return of the Jedi,” har har.) Pre-fight dinner, we sidled up to the outside bar at the Tampa Bay Brewing Company at sunset, about 62 degrees, the uninterrupted scent of cigar smoke on the breeze. Beer cheese dip and sliders and “True Blonde” Ale.
The fight venue, the Ritz, is just up the street. Turns out, the tickets we’d snagged from Aaron at the gym on Monday were VIP, right next to the ring. We were basically unofficial members of the blue corner. When the first fight—heavyweights at 260 and 290 lbs—started swinging, we marveled at the sweat spraying off the fighters with every punch. (And then we covered our drinks.)
Another savvy crowd that collectively sensed the flow of the fight and swelled at all the right moments. A haymaker that’s blocked? Nothing. A quick, wicked-stiff jab in the mouth? Uproar.
Seven fights in all—plodding, sledgehammer heavyweights and hummingbird lightweights. A welterweight women’s bout with dramatic traded blows that ended, much to our consternation, in a “majority draw.” Wading back through the crowd after a trip to the loo, I passed the fighter whom we’d declared victor—a short, brickhouse of a woman with dark skin and six-pack abs, black sports bra and black fedora, her hands still taped and her shoulders still warm. I bent over to shout in her ear over the crowd noise: “You were robbed,” I said.
“Thanks,” she responded. “I know.”
When, two minutes into the main event, Aaron crumpled his opponent it with a titanic body shot, the crowd erupted. We jumped to our feet so fast our chairs toppled behind us.
Out on the street with the energy still high, the crowd waited for word on the after party. Every few doors we passed was a club where a line had already formed behind a velvet rope, and people handed out coupons or cards or tried to sell roses or asked if we liked tattoos. It still smelled like cigars. We headed to the pizza joint across the street to get a slice of pepperoni.
I know a lot of people who are much more familiar with the Ybor club scene. That’s never really been my thing (less so now that I’m in my 30s and comfortable with it not being my thing). I like the ambling crowds and the cigar smoke smell. Just the sidewalk scene is worth it.