As many times as I’ve been to Tampa in the past, never once had I ever explored its downtown area and I had never even seen Raymond James Stadium beyond the lights being lit up at night and seeing them while driving on the interstate. Two important parts of the city and I had no idea what either of them were like or had to offer. The last time I went to Tampa was for a New Edition concert at the Forum early last year. I bring my bike with me wherever I travel now but at the time, I didn’t have the means to do so. There was really nothing going on in Tampa to make me wanna visit in all this time. Like many people, I eagerly await the new NFL schedule before the season starts so I can plan when and where I can go see my Buffalo Bills play. This year, they made 3 stops in Florida. I had already been to the Miami game. Next up for them was Tampa and I wanted to make the best of the trip.
I wasn’t just gonna go to the game and then go home. I don’t do that anymore when going out of town. At least I try not to because that’s exactly what happened in Miami when my plans were foiled thanks to constant, widespread rain. The weather forecast was looking good for Tampa and unlike Miami, it wasn’t exceedingly humid. The temperature was almost just right. That made for good game viewing and good bike riding. My first order of business was getting a ticket. StubHub, eBay, and Ticket Exchange all had reasonably priced seats in good locations but the price wasn’t low enough for me. I checked the one site that I never thought would have the best ticket price: Ticketmaster. Shocking, right? I used the interactive map and got an upper-level corner seat for 30 bucks flat which was at least 10 bucks cheaper than all the other sites. The only thing that pissed me off was that it didn’t wanna split up two seats that were together. I wanted to sit all the way at the very tippity-top of the stadium and two seats were still left there side by side but it wouldn’t let me snag one of them. Bastards. It’s that same bullshit that prevented me from going to see Janet Jackson for the first time not too long ago when she was, get this, in Tampa! At the Straz Center and they didn’t wanna split the seats up either. Must be a Tampa thing because I’ve never had that problem with any other city for any other type of event.
I’m still totally satisfied with my seat because as the sun went down, the shadow from a lighting mast (the stadium lights were on for some unexplained reason) cast over my row and provided some comfortable shade so it all worked out in ways I could never have anticipated. I had my ticket and the next thing on my list was to find free parking because in my line of work, I know that parking is a good racket to be a part of. Very high profit margins if you have or can score a good piece of land. I checked out the area around the stadium via online maps and decided that a location I ain’t gonna mention because of the Miami fiasco was my best bet and it worked out great. It was far but since I had my bike, it really wasn’t. The final thing to decide on was when I’d leave home to get to the game. I had to compensate for traffic but the reality of the situation was there really was none. There’s always that bottleneck upon entering I-275 South from I-4 but beyond that, it was a breeze.
I made one wrong turn upon exiting the interstate but traffic was light enough that it was easily corrected and the area around the stadium was easy to navigate. At least it was for me since I had studied a map. I parked my car and discovered that one of two shafts that keeps my bike upright when attached to my car had broken. I’m lucky my bike didn’t fly off while driving and I had to have faith that the other shaft wouldn’t break off from the increased load (it didn’t). I’ve had the part repaired since then. My first stop was a bathroom. A fast food joint was close so I went in and there was a fucking line of men, likely going to the game with the same idea as me, waiting to use it. Man, I said to hell with that and eventually found a portable toilet to use while biking to the stadium. I was early enough that I had plenty of time to circle the joint and soak in all the sights and sounds outside of the stadium. My only concern was finding a place to lock my bike up. The various people I asked just said to lock it up wherever but not so close to the stadium that cops would question it and think the frame was loaded with explosives. There was no dedicated bike rack that I could see anywhere.
Being a pedicab driver and Tampa not having any of them because the insurance requirements are too costly and the permitting process too difficult, I surveyed the area and although the land is flat and people plentiful, it’d be hard for a pedicab to be successful working any games at that stadium. Why? Because they never close any of the busy roads around it and there’s a shitload of traffic. It’s dangerous and all of the sidewalks are too narrow. Some wide bike lanes and relaxed regulations would change the dynamic. I flew solo on this trip if that ain’t obvious already because I don’t know any Bucs or Bills fans or anyone near me that likes urban biking or photography.
Raymond James Stadium (or Ray Jay as it’s called by locals) is similar to the Citrus Bowl. It’s right next to a neighborhood and the design is similar although it’s not as rundown as the Citrus Bowl. From my perspective, the stadium needs new and larger high-res screens and could benefit from a wraparound video screen to bring it up to date. The seats were comfy and modern enough. They had back and arm support with cupholders. Plenty of room to move and stretch. Unobstructed views of the city from the ramps. Didn’t get a chance to hit up the end of the stadium with the pirate ship. Next time, perhaps. One thing about it, though, after the Bucs got first downs or touchdowns, the cannons boomed loudly. I didn’t know what it was at first. I was looking for fireworks but there were none. Took a while for it to sink in because I could see the fake smoke coming from the cannons before the sound reached across the stadium. Same thing with the ritualistic “Tampa Bay” chants. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s a thing in Tampa where fans on one side of a stadium, arena, or whatever kind of gathering yell “Tampa” and the other side yells “Bay” and that goes back and forth for a little while. I was on the bay side and from where I was sitting, “Tampa” took a while to reach me because “Bay” was being yelled a bit too quickly.
Before the game, a band was performing outside. Upon entering the stadium, they were handing out free Bucs emblazoned sunglasses. Being a Bills fan, I had no use for them. Come game time, my team played an embarrassing game to say the very least. I was sitting in a section filled with college kids. Halftime at a Bucs game is nothing interesting as there is absolutely NO halftime entertainment. None. Nothing at all. I was surprised. Every football game I’ve ever been to before this one had something happening. Oh well. Expect the unexpected. For instance, do you have any friends that would be willing to stick their finger in your ear just for the fuck of it? I sure as hell don’t. I think that’s gross. Shit, I don’t give a fuck what the nature of the relationship is, since when was it ever cool or acceptable to stick your finger in someone’s dirty ass ear? Who would even wanna do that?
As I mentioned, I had a lot of college kids around me. They were mainly sitting in the rows in front of me to be more specific. You know how white people talk and the less mature ones generally converse about nothing important. Think of the dialogue from your favorite reality show starring some dumb bleached-blonde bimbo and her supporting cast and that should give you an idea of what I mean. During their lame convos that I was subjected to, one guy just stuck his finger in his friend’s ear like it was a normal thing to do and he didn’t even wipe the damn thing off! He doesn’t know what was in that ear before him or the last time it was swabbed. And the friend doesn’t know where that finger was before it was inserted. Sounds like some sexual shit, don’t it? To me, it’s like those disgusting ass motherfuckers who do tequila body shots from someone’s navel. Then again, alcoholics don’t care what goes into their bodies, now do they? Shit is unhygienic as hell, just like that body sushi bullshit. Oh, the grossness doesn’t stop there with these kids. There’s more.
During the lame halftime, you can either kick back and chill or go to the concession stand for food and drinks. I was hot and hungry so I ordered some fries and a soda. The thing about the soda was a one-time fill was under 5 bucks. To get unlimited refills for the whole game was under 8 bucks which is half what they charge at Sun Life Stadium. I only got the one-timer but my suggestion is to get the $7-and-change deal before the game. That way you have a cold drink before, during, and after the game because yes, concessions was still open and serving drinks when the game was completely over. When I got back to my seat and had finished what I bought, an employee came over with a towel to clean something from the ground in the row in front of me where the college kids were. I thought nothing of it until that point because I saw what was there upon returning to my seat and thought it was just some food someone had left behind or dropped. Oh, it was dropped alright because the chick who was sitting there puked on the ground.
This is the same chick that a guy was complaining about earlier. He bought her a beer and she dropped it and as we all know, alcohol ain’t cheap. I hope he learned his lesson: don’t buy a bitch shit that don’t appreciate the gesture and she showed even more (un)appreciation because when I was gone, a guy sitting next to me who saw the whole thing said the chick ate a hot dog, said she wasn’t feeling good afterwards, threw it up, the vomit got all over her hands somehow, and upon leaving her seat and the section, she touched the stair rails with her vomit-covered hands for other people to get a feel of, not to mention how she was dressed (and you know how girls casually dress these days) and no doubt got puke all over her feet. Disrespectful, disgusting ass people, man. I didn’t envy the employee (who appeared more like a security guard than a janitor) who had to clean up the fresh pile of chewed-up hot dogs. I bet that wasn’t on the application! To an extent, I can forgive some of her behavior if it was a food poisoning issue. Believe it or not, I’ve seen much worse situations involving girls and vomit and I ain’t talking about online or in porn movies either. People are just nasty these days. I wonder if the employee showed up because someone texted to the unruly fan number? What she did qualifies as bad behavior, doesn’t it? I mean, if you know you’re gonna upchuck, head for the bathroom. She and her friends never returned for the rest of the game. Good for me. Now I had a place to rest my feet and really stretch out.
One fan’s reaction pretty much summed up how the Bills were playing. Towards the end of the game, he was complaining about calls and their performance and rightfully so because we were sucking badly. Then he just had it. He couldn’t take it anymore. After another bad play, he stormed right out of his seat, right out of the section, and probably right out of the stadium. I could feel his pain but even if my team is losing and sucking, I stay until the very end. They were pissing us fans off and making not only themselves but us look bad too. It’s one thing to play good and lose. It’s another thing to just plain suck at everything you’re doing on the field and that’s what was happening. I was glad that game was over. Between bad plays (which was almost everything after halftime), I was playing Contra: Hard Corps (damn good game) on my phone and it was providing me with more entertainment than the football game. As for attendance, there were a lot of people there but it wasn’t anywhere near completely full. You have to keep in mind that people spend a lot of time where the alcohol is flowing and a lot of them leave during halftime or when the alcohol stops flowing so most sporting events I’ve attended never really look full at any point even if it really is sold out. It certainly wasn’t an empty stadium by any means. As for the view from my seats, no complaints here. When I visit a venue for the first time, I like to sit where I can get a panoramic view of everything minus consumed hot dogs.
I had locked my bike up against a tree near the entrance for my section and it was still there after the game. Lots of cops everywhere so I suppose that should’ve been expected. Keep in mind what I said in the previous sentence because it’s gonna be important later. Leaving the game was a breeze since I was on a bike. There’s a Kmart near the stadium and I stopped inside to hit up the Little Caesars because my credit card gave me 2 bucks in free money to spend at one. Turns out that Little Caesars’s inside of Kmarts ring up as Kmart. I had that inkling when the cashier was ringing it up because if you’ve ever shopped at Kmart, you know they give you more receipt paper than any other store in history. All of that for an Icee? I was thirsty so it didn’t matter to me at the time. Learn from my failure and if you get good deals on your credit cards like I do on mine, in this case, make sure you use it at a real, stand-alone Little Caesars location.
I’d say American Express is offering the best deals right now through their Sync program. The absolute best one that I’ve been able to take advantage of is the $5 off a $25 at-the-pump purchase at BP stations. I made sure to use it before making the trip. The key isn’t to fill your tank all the way up at once. You fill it up incrementally to get the most cash back. $25 here. $25 there. $25 now, get your receipt, then fill up with another $25 immediately afterwards. That’s a 20% savings on gas purchases with this deal through the end of the year and you get the 5 bucks back within a day or two. It’s a deal that simply can’t be beat with gas prices being what they are. Don’t have an AmEx card? Get a Serve card and reap some of the rewards (like Sync) of AmEx ownership. You gotta be smart and learn how to use your money wisely these days. Hell, any and every day actually.