Food saves, and ODB died for our sins

The Tampa metro area is the second-most-dangerous in the U.S. for pedestrians, says a 2011 study by Transportation for America. Orlando takes first. Is the home-state pride clogging your pores yet, or is that just our much-coveted humidity?

I’ve been living in Tampa for about five months. I will be taking off soon, and I want this site’s travel writing to start here. This site will try to go easy on the first-person, but sometimes I’ll need it.

I’ve been trying to figure out whether or not Tampa is walkable. It strikes me a collection of small, old cities tied together with interstates and wide surface highways. Where there are sidewalks along major roads here, there’s little shade, a curious rarity in a state with so much sun and so many palm trees.

The old residential neighborhoods here are noncommittal when it comes to sidewalks. Clearly they just weren’t part of the original plan. In the South Tampa neighborhood where I’m housesitting this week, you’ll see sidewalks that run just the length of one lot, back to grass at the property lines. The corner lots often have new sidewalks that run for just that corner. Walk around our corner, then get back to walking along the curb. Are there blessed, comfortable corner-house children who bike in endless L’s all afternoon?

There is also a house nearby with a miniature football goalpost, bright yellow, arms bent askew, cemented in next to the driveway. This tells me that at least we are not in a neighborhood of strict covenants and busybody homeowner’s associations.

Still, although your inner complete streets advocate might as well put on wool long johns on a hot day, all is not lost for the pedestrian in Tampa. From where I’m housesitting, I can walk to South Dale Mabry Highway, and without crossing, visit Da Kine Hawaiian Cafe, actually a food truck stationed in a small lot.

Being able to walk to a lunch you can’t get anywhere else in town, well, that is still something to cherish. Even if you can’t change the unwieldy urban landscape or the culture of a place, good food is still doable anywhere. I think that’s part of the reason people fetishize and identify with their local restaurants so much, write so many dutiful paeans on Yelp: They are a saving grace that any place can have despite its seemingly irreversible flaws. Plus, there’s just something pleasantly odd about looking up a restaurant you’ve driven past a dozen times, only to find out that it’s part of the same little disembodied grid you’re in.

So I walked to Da Kine today, sometimes on sidewalks with a bit of shade from old trees, sometimes on the curb under the Florida sun’s 10-hour murder beam.

I drank an Aloha Maid strawberry-guava soda while a man got my beef and short ribs started on the grill—he said everything’s made on-the-spot except for the shoyu chicken, which is slow-cooked from early in the morning. After a few minutes’ waiting, he shouted out “Workin’ hard, bro! Workin’ real hard!” This somehow is more reassuring and charming than “It’ll just be another minute, sir.”

Meanwhile, I told another worker there that I liked his Ol’ Dirty Bastard T-Shirt. “RIP! Died for our sins,” he joked back. (Ol’ Dirty is at the very least timeless and without end, having given us the line, “I drop a ambulance on a nigga!”) This guy has an upturned baseball cap and scraggly hair that makes me think he might be in a grindcore band. The grindcore-detector needle is wavering right in the middle.

Professionalism be damned. Restaurants are more fun when employee grabass is free to flourish, and involves the customer.

They sent me home with a food-chain confetti of roasted flesh. If I can’t walk everywhere, I’m delighted to be able to walk to a meal like this.

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