There’s fascinating stuff to see and discover every place. I’m in Tampa, Florida with my good hiking friend, Beth R. She invited me to come and speak to her friends on the national parks of the South. Yep, I’m there.
But first, she took me on an excursion through Ybor City, the historic cigar making area of Tampa. Like many ethnic neighborhoods, Ybor City started with a strong businessman, Vicente Martinez Ybor, a Spaniard who first emigrated to Cuba. He set up cigar factories in the 1880s and encouraged Cubans, the Spanish and Italians to work for him. Thousands of (mostly) men rolled cigars for years, until WWII.
Like most of these neighborhoods, the children and grandchildren of immigrants moved out to the suburbs and better opportunities.
Again, like many urban areas, Ybor City declined but it was never bulldozed. Now it’s on the upswing again, with restaurants, nightclubs and a museum which explains the area.
But the Columbia Restaurant hung on through all the ups and down. It is the ultimate, old-fashioned white tablecloth where men wear jackets, even if it isn’t required. No, I didn’t eat there, but I’m thinking, maybe, the next time.
At 5 pm or so, the first of Beth’s guests rang the doorbell. She had invited about 50 people and several brought friends and spouses. I can only describe this as a “soiree”, defined as:
an evening party or gathering, typically in a private house, for conversation or music.
The catered finger food was awesome. Beth’s husband pored the wine. I mingled, shaking hands and signing my book, Forests, Alligators, Battlefields: My Journey through the National Parks of the South. We had set up my laptop and projector to project on a blank wall. At 6 pm, I talked about the “nature parks”, showed some slides and answered questions.
Then back to shaking hands.
By now, more people had come. Some who had come early had to leave, clutching their book.
At 7 pm, I gave another 15-minute talk, this time about the “cultural” parks. Which national park units is the closest to Tampa, I asked? We decided that it was De Soto National Monument in Brandenton.
More food, more signing and the last guest left at 8 pm. Everyone needed to be back at work the next morning. This was a new experience for me. I’ve spoken at bookstores, outdoor stores, hiking clubs and civic organizations but this was my first private function.
If you’re curious, I have many other book events scheduled. See the list and come on out.