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2001-03-15 - 1:41 p.m.

Who needs sleep?

Who needs sleep? (No, you're never gonna get it.)


WEDNESDAY, MARCH 15 INTO THURSDAY, MARCH 16
TAMPA, FLA.

Thursday, 6:20 a.m. and still awake – save for 20 minutes’ nap here in Tampa International Airport – no sleep for the partiers.

Wednesday morning was my last day of work, by design. I met David again for breakfast at McCabe’s, where Mrs. McCabe came over and talked with us for a while. On over to the Carpenter Complex, we talked with Joe and Craig, two of the owners of the Lakewood BlueClaws, and then caught a little of the minor league games at the complex. It was the Class AAA and AA squads taking on the Blue Jays still, and the Phillies sent some of their major leaguers down for some work. Catcher Mike Lieberthal was there to work on his swing – I imagine he’s still coming back from his knee surgery at the end of the season. He’d bat with one team, then walk to the other field and get some cuts in over there, then come back, etc. If he kept it up all day, he might have had eight to 10 at bats between the two games. Pitchers Keith Osting, Vincent (?) Padilla and Ed Vosberg got some work in on the mound as well.

After a few innings there, I went back to the hotel and got a few rounds in with my first fantasy league of the season. Three more to go before opening day. After Brian called, I drove out to Clearwater Beach to meet up with them. Over the causeway, a temporary lighted sign advises spring break traffic to follow one lane or the other to either the north or south beaches. I head south through the traffic circle and pull into a parking lot along the beach; turns out to be the same lot Brian parked in. I call him and see the restaurant across the street and head over to meet them for lunch. Justin, a friend of his from Boston U., is there, along with Danny and Sarah, two people he works with. Later we’ll also meet up with Colby.

After lunch, we walk along the beach a little, down toward the pier and look over the tables of photos, paintings, jewlery and collectables for sale in the breezy Florida afternoon. We walk just halfway out on the pier because to go further it costs 50 cents to get through the gate. But we’re out far enough to look down into the cool green water of the Gulf and watch the swimmers in the surf and sunbathers on the sand.

Brian and his friends then went back to Tampa to check into their hotel, and I returned to my Quality Inn to pack up and check out, having been convinced by Brian and Justin and the others to crash with them for the night after we go out in Tampa. It turned out to be a no-brainer – there’s no way I would’ve made it back (or wanted to go back) to Clearwater for the night.

I loaded the car, checked out at the desk, and put David Gray in my CD player for the ride across the causeway to Tampa. Somewhere to the west, a sunset colored the sky, but with the overcast in Clearwater, a long gray dusk descended on the bay as I headed east. Lights were coming on and it was still warm enough for me to ride with the windows open, letting the Florida breezes move through the car.

A friend of Brian’s had gotten the group two rooms at the Double Tree hotel near the airport – one exit east, in fact – and as I approached the city on the causeway, I saw the other Double Tree, a few hundred yards off to the north, right on the waterfront. I pulled into the parking lot of the hotel and met Brian and the others in their room. We stayed there for a few hours, drinking beers chilled in the sink and watching ESPN and “Survivor.”

After Alicia’s exit, we cleaned up and got ready for the night out. Once we convinced a cab driver to take six of us (at first he said it was too many, then when he returned for the third time he finally gave in) down to Ybor City, Tampa’s Latin Quarter northeast of downtown. The former Ybor Square cigar factory is the center of the district and we walked along, looking into the clubs and inquiring about cover charges and drink specials.

We settled on Club Hebo, where the drinks were two dollars all night and the dance floor was pretty open when we arrived. Brian bought a round of shots, and then we refreshed ourselves with bottles of Bud Light while we made our way over to the dance floor. The club began to fill quickly, and from the start a drop-dead lookalike of Colleen was there with her friend Holly – alike in body, features and actions. It was weird. If this were college, and Colleen, I would’ve been hooking up old school. Not once during the night did I see a drink in her hand, but she spent the evening moving from guy to guy, dancing with whoever she laid eyes on next – including each of the five of us. She bumped and grinded (ground?), shimmied and shaked, boogied on the bar and danced on the floor. Her friend, Holly, ended up hooking up with Justin, and at 3:30 a.m. as Brian, Sarah, Missy (another friend of Brian’s who met up with us at the club), Colby, Danny and I unwound in one of the rooms at the Double Tree, the door opened and Brandi walked in, followed by Justin and Holly. Turns out they were high school friends who both attend Indiana University and drove down together, spending parts of spring break in Daytona and Clearwater.

The festivities at the club included a “Fake the Orgasm Contest” – girls only, naturally – and after the first few contestants gave their performances, the DJ brought up a qualification: “You must have had sex before this in order to participate!” Colleen/Brandi took a stab at it, something about “Fucking me” and “inside me.” Yada yada yada. (“Who ‘yada yadas’ sex? Nobody ‘yada yadas’ sex.” “I’ve ‘yada yadad’ sex.” – from “Seinfeld”)

Girls danced on the main bar and a table in the middle of the dance floor, guys looking up at them as if at an auction, choosing which one they’d like to purchase and take home. Ordering drinks became a game of catching a bartender’s eye through the stand of legs and exchanging money and drinks between the soft, tanned limbs of the ladies in tank tops, halters, sundresses and cut-off shorts.

I danced with Sarah and Missy at times, and found myself reeled in by Colleen/Brandi, who took my hands and led them over her body. Usually I’d wait a few dates – or months – to do to a woman what she had me doing to her on that slick, dark dancefloor in Tampa.

The only downfall to the night was my rather new and still pretty clean sneakers got pretty dirty. Part of that was the two nearly full drinks knocked from my hand – for once it wasn’t me knocking them over. Colleen/Brandi knocked a bottle of Bud from my hands without noticing and another guy swatted my refresher for the night – a vodka tonic – and then gave me the $2 (plus tip) for another, but we’d decided to leave before I felt like another.

About 2:30, most of us decided we’d had enough. Justin stayed behind with Holly (and Colleen/Brandi) and the rest of us walked along the street, talking with the drunks and club employees trying to get more drunks into their establishments. A street performer – guitar or bongo drum or something – sat along the square, his yellow lab puppy at his side, attracting people like Sarah to his tip jar. We stopped at a pizza place for an early morning snack and some refreshing, non-alcoholic Coca-Cola. The pizza wasn’t any good, but it hit the spot nonetheless.

While we wandered into the pizza place, Sarah came up behind me and put her arms around my neck, leaning on my back as she walked behind me. Later, out in the street on the way to Missy’s car to go back to the hotel, she put her arm around me, and we walked – stumbled at times – along the sidewalk, back past Hebo for one final check on Justin. From lunch on through the day, I noticed Sarah was a cuddly, contact-oriented person, as is Brian – he always was. And that’s what I miss with my situation right now – working nights, I have little time to see my friends, those who live close in Philly and New York, Boston and D.C. And the few here, I hang out with during the day or on my nights off during the week – leaving little time for long, fun nights out on the town or to meet new people. The gang at work is nice, but with our varying schedules and late nights, we don’t spend the kind of hours together out of the office that allow those kinds of relationships – even simply in the form of close friendships – to form.

Extremely tired and exhausted, I fell asleep in the cramped back seat of Missy’s car – Brian sat behind the driver; Sarah on his lap, leaning back and sleeping; and Colby took the middle next to me, his arms draped over the back shelf. I put my head against the window and lost consciousness.

Back at the Double Tree, I called Continental and arranged to pay the $100 fee to change my reservation at the airport, leaving on a 12:50 p.m. flight rather than the 7:10 one I was booked for. The ticket agent asked if I’d take care of the fee at the airport, which turned out to be a good move.

Meanwhile, we talked about a little nightswimming, a collective second wind coming over the group. But Danny went to turn in, and after crashing on one bed with Brian, Sarah soon left as well. Missy, Colby, Brian and I considered it further, before Justin walked in with Colleen/Brandi and Holly. Brandi demanded 7up, and I showed her the door across the hall where I’d left the extra drinks from my hotel room. She hammered on the door, clearly annoying Danny. A couple of sips, and she was off to the pool. While Brian and Missy and I talked about going for a dip, I went out to the car to get my bathing suit – which I may or may not have needed – and saw a group of kids heading back to their rooms after a swim. A security guard and hotel employee were with them, so I took it that they were asked to leave the pool. I didn’t see her, but Brandi was with them. I got back to the room, and she had taken off her long skirt and put on a towel; although, she clearly wasn’t embarrassed at showing off the “Love Hurts” tattoo on her butt, just barely covered by the silk gray string bikini panties she wore. (Wanna see?) Holly and Justin lay together on one bed; Brian, Colleen/Brandi and I stretched out on the other, the five of us talking and joking in early drunken Tampa morning.

Justin then left to take Holly and Colleen/Brandi back to their Clearwater hotel, and Brian got into bed. Colby and Missy returned from wherever they had been and then left again, grabbing a blanket to go sit by the pool or drive to the beach or something.

I called Continental back. It was 4:45 a.m., and I figured I could sleep until 11 a.m. and try to get myself to the airport for a 12:50 flight, or I could suck it up and leave at 7:10 a.m., then have a nice, comfortable nap at home. The ticket agent said it would be no problem to switch back, and she moved my reservation again, to my original 7:10 flight. I changed my shirt, brushed my teeth, put on a hat, and said so long to Brian. The gas station at the corner was closed, and I saw no others on the short drive to the airport, so I returned the car with the gas tank half-full – no big deal when the car is on the company. Inside at the Continental counter, the ticket agents had not yet arrived, so the line grew as we stood there until 5:40 or so. I was third or fourth in line, and even managed a few smiles when dealing with the airline employees as I fought off sleep after nearly 24 hours on the go.

I slept for 20 minutes in the terminal near the gate, and would wake up only twice on the plane before our final approach into Newark – once when we sped down the runway at 7:40 a.m. and again somewhere over the southeast. Beginning our initial approach to Newark, I looked out the window where the clouds had cleared and saw Atlantic City off in the distance, then followed the New Jersey landmarks as we flew north over the western/central part of the state to land at Newark from the north. I saw Fort Dix, Great Adventure, I-195, the Turnpike (“Count all the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they’ve all come to look for America”), the two-river area I call home, I-287 and then I-80 as we turned toward the Meadowlands and Manhattan to land.

And I was already looking forward to the stories I could tell from my trip to Florida, being able to say I didn’t sleep my last night there.

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