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Monday, Sep 25, 2017
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Feed the elephants, but don't get trampled

TAMPA - Talk, talk, talk. Blah, blah, blah. It's been like this for months. The RNC this.
The RNC that. For more than a year, life in Tampa has turned into an elaborate civics Mad Lib. "I can't believe we have to deal with [INSERT ANNOYANCE HERE] because of the RNC." "I won't be able to get to [MY HOME/MY WORK/MY SCHOOL/MY FAVORITE RESTAURANT/A RESTROOM] because of the RNC." Well, the RNC is finally here. (Join me, won't you, as I properly pronounce the initials through clenched teeth, "The ARENSEE.") What will we talk about now in Tampa? I broached the topic of The ARENSEE the other day with bartender Nathan DeWitt at Mise En Place restaurant, just over the Hillsborough River from Fortress Downtown Tampa. DeWitt was filling a slender Collins glass with clear ice cubes behind the bar. He was creating a political-themed menu for his restaurant's cocktail club and for convention visitors. For weeks, his restaurant gradually has been filling with customers in town to do political business. This week, they'll want the best flavors Tampa has to offer. For months, DeWitt has heard all the complaints from locals on the other side of the bar. All the whining. All the moaning and wailing. As if the bar was a satellite dish for misery. The convention will paralyze downtown. Protesters will wreak havoc. All of this costs too much. The kvetching has been a little like relatives who can't wait for an annoying uncle to leave. DeWitt and his co-workers at Mise en Place stand to make serious coin from the various private parties, big drinkers and general business the convention will attract downtown. "I don't understand all the people who are complaining about the convention," DeWitt said. "I think it's kind of exciting. How often does something like this happen?" Even for a bartender, DeWitt is a glass-half-full kind of guy. It's natural to wonder whether that outlook will stand the test of the events during the rest of this week. It's normal to wonder what exactly all those words will generate, both positive and negative. The Republicans will talk among themselves. The protesters will talk to the cameras. The media will talk to both of them. People across the country will watch. Or not. One wonders when the listening will start. There certainly are enough ideas for us to have meaningful conversation. How will we create more jobs? How can our schools be better? How can we feed more of our hungry? How can we help the helpless? How can our nation be stronger? When will our nation be stronger? What direction should we follow in the next four years and beyond? What have we learned so we don't have to again live through the pain we've endured? Who should lead us there? Help yourself to a topic. There are plenty to go around. For the next week, I'll be visiting places around the area to hear what people are saying about The ARENSEE. I'll be listening to how they talk to each other, what they care about, whether they care at all. That means going to cigar bars and restaurants and other places people gather. In other words, nowhere near the Forum. And nowhere near any of our many fine adult entertainment establishments. CNN has already been there. That news pond, as they say, is fished out. As for what the week holds, I'm with DeWitt on this. I can't wait to see where this takes us. This kind of circus doesn't come to town very often. Might as well feed the elephants, I say. And hope you don't get trampled.

jhouck@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7324
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