Clearwater, FL YAL Convention 2005 Log
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
June 2, 2005
Sitting in Tampa International Airport I had my first opportunity to collect my thoughts of the last five days of Clearwater. Last year was admittedly about seeing if the conference lived up to the hype. This year it was about making the most of the time we had down here and meeting as many people as possible from all over the country which is really what makes the whole Clearwater experience unique, besides postcard-worthy sun, sea, and sand, of course.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
One of the things we noticed arriving on Thursday last year was that it was very much like walking in late to a summer blockbuster – while you could still appreciate the action and have a feeling for what was going on, you missed important back story and nuance that gave you a greater understanding of the weekend as a whole. Making the decision to arrive on Wednesday was easy. Getting the opportunity to make it to Clearwater scot-free was a different story. We both had to deal with last minute issues with work and other commitments that relegated packing to a 2:00 A.M. warm up with a break for sleep and completion a few minutes before leaving for National Airport. Sadly we weren’t able to use the, “But we’re The Guys @ DCGreeks.com and have a very important matter to attend to in Florida for the next five days,” excuse to cut us any slack with the rest of the non-Greek world.
There were no Greeks on the flight from DC to Tampa which we took as a sign that we were either strivers, or that DC wasn’t going to be representing as well this year in Clearwater. We arrived in Tampa and realized that with all the strides that the Clearwater YAL had done in launching their website and with all the increased exposure for the conference that had been generated from our hyping of the event on DCGreeks.com, we hadn’t thought of a way to save us a $40 cab ride from the airport. An internet “rideboard” reporting when individuals or pairs of folks would be arriving at Tampa International Airport to split cab fares would have come in handy, particularly after enduring perhaps the most racist, sexist, downright offensive cab driver we had ever met.
While we were probably among the first in the DC area to have learned of the details of this year’s Clearwater Convention, we procrastinated to the point of losing a chance of getting into the main hotel – the Hilton Clearwater Resort – opting instead for the Howard Johnson Express. Advertised to us as a mere two blocks from the Hilton, it appeared a million miles away as we passed on the majesty and settled for the meagerness. A panicked call to the Hilton was placed five minutes into throwing our luggage into Room 506, but at $269 a night an eight minute walk from the HoJo's was worth it considering we were paying less than $120 a night.
Coming to terms with our decision or lack thereof to stay at the HoJo's, we threw on shorts and t-shirts and some sunglasses and walked over to the Hilton searching for Greek young adults. Finding nothing we decided to call a friend from Baltimore who we knew would also be one of the first ones down. He tipped us off to the plan of meeting at a bar inside the Hilton at 9:00 and that everyone would be going from there to a club called The Wave inside Shepard’s restaurant, a place which I vaguely remembered from last year sported the #1 rated seafood buffet on the beach.
With a couple of hours to kill we went and got food at the Greek-owned Post Corner Pizza, a place on the main strip that we discovered on our last night in Clearwater last year. We ordered the standard gyro and fries, which we do every time we come across a Greek-owned restaurant, particularly in different parts of the country. While this gyro offended our baseline rule of “If it’s not on a cone, leave it alone,” we found it otherwise authentically Greek, (even more than other gyros we’ve had, that haven’t started as strips), in the correct temperature, foldability, and greasiness of the pita, and in the simple plating of diced red onion and fresh mint accompanying the tzatziki. Our Greek waitress welcomed the sight of out-of-town Greeks so early, most likely anticipating a good weekend from those of us who were going to be staying that far from the Hilton. (Post Corner is across the street from the Adams Mark Hotel, which we learned was under renovation and new branding as a Radisson after one of last year’s hurricanes damaged it, thus not allowing the conference to return there this year.)
The desire to be social and meet new people overcame the urge to watch the season finales of Lost and Alias, watching some of game 2 of the Miami Heat – Detroit Pistons series back in our hotel room instead. We walked over to the Hilton and met a few of the Clearwater locals along with a guy from Vancouver. Billy from Baltimore, and some guys from Detroit, including DJs Chilly and Dennis, who many would recognize from last year’s DC YAL Weekend and also from the Greek Cruise, soon joined us. A Pistons loss thus signaled our exodus from the hotel bar to the Wave.
The Wave was exactly what you’d come to expect from a dance club that hosts bikini contests on a weekly basis – a DJ in a parapet tossing glowsticks and t-shirts encouraging girls to start dancing on platforms next to large mirrors. A light Wednesday night crowd of about 40 or so Greeks from the conference made it so you didn’t notice or mind as much. A bargain with the devil saw a $10 cover in exchange for $1 drinks ensuring three times the buzz at half the price for what you’d pay in DC or any other metropolis. Besides the group that had driven over from the hotel, this early Greek crowd was composed of a group of younger adults from Michigan, Chicago, Tennessee, and other parts of the Midwest who all went to some sort of Greek Orthodox camp growing up and use conferences like Clearwater as mini-reunions. Some DC folks showed up later along with some others from Jersey, North Carolina, California and elsewhere. Some of the conversations during the evening were centered on the following day’s Speed Greeting event, which was anticipated with mixed results once it was fully understood. We ended up closing the place down at 2:00 A.M.. We went to the Waffle House in the first floor of the hotel we stayed in last year. We wondered if it was going to be as popular with the Greeks as it was last year when the main hotel was closer to it. After a huge helping of hashbrowns, burgers, and chocolate pie, it was time to head back to the hotel. We went to sleep around 3:00 A.M. or so anticipating a late start to the first morning on the beach.