Tampa is my favorite city in Florida, let's just get that out of the way right up front. To me it offers the best style and comfort of living without trying to be something it's not. I've been visiting the Tampa area as far back as 1991 so it was with great anticipation that I was sent on a business trip there last August. I phoned up some friends who live in the area and made plans to enjoy a couple of days in the office followed by a weekend re-connecting and enjoying the city.
One friend of mine picked me up at my hotel for dinner that evening and while I said that I could still find my way around, he insisted it would be easier to just come and get me. We hadn't seen each other in a good while and I looked forward to a pleasant evening of catching up over good food. The Cuban community in and around Tampa is nearly as strong as that in Miami but roast pork was not on this evening's menu. Tonight would be my first experience at Fleming's Steakhouse, a favorite of his, along the lines of a Don Shula's or Morton's of Chicago.
I just love the look on the face of the doormen when they rush to open the car door for guests then turn back to look more closely at you to see if you're "somebody" or not. Here comes my chum tooling up in a red Spider, don'tcha know! The last Italian car I might have parked my backside in was a Fiat or an Alfa Romeo at best but nothing and I mean nothing this high on the food chain. The man is clearly doing well for himself I thought as the comical part of the evening started early. That would be watching Mr. Awkward, yours truly, trying to get in to this low-slung roadster with a smidgen of dignity.
It didn't work but by the time we got to the restaurant I'd at least figured out how to alight from the thing with the air of someone who was to the Ferrari born. The valets couldn't get to the car fast enough and where my buddy strode in as any high-profile regular would I turned and gawked right back at the gawkers trying to see if they were "somebody," too.
The maître d' recognized my host and we were seated swiftly at a good table. Things on the celebrity spotting chart got off to a good start when my companion casually pointed out Raheem Morris, the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and another regular at this upscale beef emporium. While the steaks were good Mr. Ferrari was not impressed with our service this evening. The waiter seemed indifferent and pre-occupied and it showed. The manager made the necessary apologies after checking to see how things were going for us; it's always interesting how they always anticipate a positive response to their perfunctory inquiry. She got an ear full from my blunt buddy.
On the way out we got a repeat performance from other guests leaving and arriving. The valets were used to my host and had probably decided quickly enough that I couldn't be much more than a hanger-on. Still, how many times is the valet parked car waiting right outside the door, a mere flick of the keys away as we lowered our sated bellies in to the red beast for the ride back to the hotel?
I knew that much of the score: A Ferrari parked right outside of their front door? That's all any other visitor or pretender needs to see to wanna be seen!