There were two things I was unaware of when I left the hotel to fin dinner at 6pm: The first was that there was a TB Lightning game at 7pm so in addition to being a Saturday, downtown restaurants were filled with hockey fans (of both teams) looking for a pre-game meal. The second is that was a HUGE event being held in the park across the street from the arena, so I couldn’t use the Riverwalk to bypass the increased pedestrian traffic caused by people trying to get food or into the arena for the game.
I did know that it was a Saturday, and thus my chances of getting into ANYTHING that late without a reservation would be darn near impossible. However, I also knew I was hungry and eating at the hotel restaurant was also not an option (see previous post), but there was a third saving grace to this evening – FREE streetcar service on the TECO line (a line I have ample opinions about).
Still with me? Good, because all the “exposition stuff” is out of the way, I can say I walked all the way from the Embassy Suites to past The Florida Aquarium without finding a decent eatery without a horrendous wait so I got on the streetcar and took it to what I thought was Ybor City… it wasn’t.
“Centro Ybor” is the THIRD stop on the northeastern leg of the route – I mistakenly got off at the first, which is slightly further than their maps make it look. Of course, all the sports bars were filled because they were hosting “watch parties” for the game so my choices were Jimmy John’s, 7-11… or a slightly hidden pizza place behind the main mall with maybe four or five other customers in it.
Touchdo… I mean “goal” – particularly since their NY-style pizza came to $3.50 meaning I get two quarters back for Sunday’s non-free streetcar service (and/or Lynx service later that night). When I returned to the Ybor City station, it was already 7pm. The game had started so the trolley system was considerably quieter so, as not to waste a free night, I got off at Channelside where the tailgating or whatever was going in that parking across from the arena was still going on, now they were listing donors, sponsors and “team captains” (that’s how I figured out it wasn’t a Lightning event, they could pronounce the names on their index cards). The reason I got off there was to get ice cream which didn’t disappoint, but I got back to the streetcar station exactly as it was pulling out.
Screw this, it’s only a two block walk back to the hotel.
It was three, and it felt like every foot of it with the surprisingly cool Gulf winds. Also, it was super bright or pitch black depending on where the arena was to me. The brighter areas had people either arriving late (more than I would expect considering they were already a half-hour into the game at this point) or looking for tickets (I actually thought the large guy standing outside the doors was asking to see my nonexistent tickets for security reasons) while the dark side (the backside of the garage) had scalpers, panhandlers and other shady looking characters.
The point is, I made it back unharmed… exactly as the next streetcar pulled into Dick Greco station. Because, of course, it did…