Located at the intersection of North Tampa Street and East Kennedy Boulevard, Solstice is a twenty-eight foot metal sculpture created by Charles Perry. I always think it looks like it is about to unravel or roll away. I can definitely picture some mad scientist harnessing lightning with it to open a rift to a dimension full of goblins or something. Could this have been Perry’s plan all along? Placing it in a place like Tampa known for its frequent thunderstorms? I can almost see the goblins now climbing up the sides of the surrounding skyscrapers, cackling and stealing babies. I really should pay more attention to traffic.
I like the flow and the symmetry of the piece. It is rumored to be named Solstice because it casts a perfectly circular shadow on the solstice. That seems harmless enough.
See list of public art in Tampa
When I have business in the area, I like to walk through the William F. Poe plaza to look at the plants, fountain, and architecture. There are many semi-secluded nooks at different levels connected by stairs. I don’t usually stop, but others do, sitting on benches or at tables outside the café. There is also a covered footbridge overhead connecting the bank and the leasing company. This area is mostly in shade and surrounded by trees. It always makes a nice place to spend one’s lunch break.
What I did not know until recently is how much Tampa history is connected to the place. It was the starting point of the 1909 auto race from Tampa to Jacksonville. Later in 1980, a forgotten Seminole-War-era cemetery was discovered during construction of an adjacent building. Finally, the plaza was built and named after the former mayor Bill Poe.
The plaza is located between East Jackson Street and East Whiting Street and between North Tampa Street and South Florida Avenue.
On the western edge of Tampa facing Oldsmar is a gem of a park named Upper Tampa Bay Park. Packed into this quiet peninsula on the northern part of the bay is a nature center, three trails, a good playground, water fountains, plenty of parking, and most importantly plenty of restrooms. There are many covered picnic tables and pavilions. You can also rent canoes there.
For those who get up early enough, a free educational tour of the port is available on the Bay Spirit Two (which also does paid dolphin tours). Leaving from the back of the Florida Aquarium next to the American Victory Ship, I got see well-known buildings from the opposite side. I learned the history of how the channels were deepened from twelve feet to thirty feet to accommodate larger ships and how the excess sand was used to create islands such as Davis Island, Harbour Island, and several small “spoil islands” reserved for birds and other non-humans only.
Tampa imports and exports material from all over the world. I saw giant gantry cranes for moving shipping containers on and off ships. It’s hard to appreciate the size of these until you drive under them. Elsewhere, liquid cargo such as fruit juice is pumped through pipes. Giant silos store grain, phosphorous, sulfur, solar salts, and other materials. There are several dry docks that work by being filled with water until they sink, allowing a ship to slip into them, and then are raised by pumping the water out of them allowing them to float again. This allows workers to clean and repair ships without having to use scuba gear, which I gather is quite an inconvenience. I also imagine that welding might be a problem. There are also docks set aside for several shrimping boats and for the sheriff’s department.
The tour is a treasure to many. It makes for a good field trip and is a good way to kill some time waiting for the aquarium to open.
Make reservations by calling 813-905-7678
Other Tours on Bay Spirit II
Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa is a popular route for joggers, bicyclists, and those who just want to stroll by the sea. It also serves as daily driving commute for many. Fortunately for everyone the Boulevard’s median is magically sprinkled with strange and wonderful works of art. One of these is called The Wave – a metal sculpture roughly ten feet tall created by Mary Ann Unger (1945-1998). It is supposed to represent a crashing wave, but people see different things in it. I like to think of it as a gelatinous sea creature sucking water through its body and filtering out plankton. When I see it, which isn’t often, it feels like an old friend.
Art of all kinds is important because otherwise what is the point of life? Do we work in order to pay the bills so we can continue to work? Or do we work to pay the bills in order to have time to play? Our art and our artists are local treasures.
List of public art in Tampa
One of Tampa’s local treasures is also a national treasure that connects us to the past. When the Navy cargo ship American Victory was sitting in Virginia destined for the scrapyard, Captain John C. Timmel arranged for its rescue to live on as a floating museum. One of only three WWII-era Victory-model ships still fully operational, it is open most days of the week for self-guided tours. Not only does it connect us to the past and provide educational benefit, but it serves as a reminder of the efforts of those that kept American soldiers fed, armed, and equipped in Europe, the Pacific, Korea, and Vietnam.
I went to see it and my first impression was that it looks like the game pieces in the Axis-and-Allies board game – only bigger. Once up top, I was surprised how many floors it had. One can see across the channel or look down at the kids playing in the water park nearby. I wandered around the deck, seeing the giant anchor and big guns. Inside I saw the kitchen and insulated food storage. Somewhere a radio played 1940’s-era music. At first I thought that there seemed to be a lot of toilets and showers, but now I think it appropriate based on how many beds there were. My guess would be one bathroom per eight beds. I didn’t count. I suppose when one is on a ship, one doesn’t need to worry about running out of water. Another thing I noticed was that the deck seemed rather smooth and slick. I can only imagine what it would be like rolling back and forth in a storm once it gets a little bit of water on it. It seems like a safety hazard. Is this normal on ships? I should have called ahead to schedule a guide to ask questions (yes, you can do that). Down below there is a collection of various model ships, artifacts, and information placards. I saw giant bullets and shells taller than most children. Wow.
A history of the ship can be found on the website, including the tale of how American Victory broke up sea ice for other ships while leaving a Soviet port despite not being designed for it.
To get to American Victory, take Channelside Avenue in Tampa to the rotary and turn into the entrance for the Florida Aquarium. At the stop sign, take a right and head for the water. Free parking is just around the corner.
705 Channelside Drive, Tampa, Florida
Trinity Café provides human dignity by serving balanced gourmet meals at no cost to the homeless, disabled, and working poor without tedious means-testing or religious proselytization. For those who can afford it, a donation bucket is available near the door. I decided to volunteer to get an inside peek at how it all worked.
At 10:30 am (weekdays), diners line up to receive tickets for lunch. This lets the kitchen know how many meals to make. At 11:30 am (weekdays) the doors open and the diners are assigned seats as they become available. There are two volunteers to a table. One serves the meals and the other provides conversation. It’s actually not a bad way to meet interesting people.
The day I went, they had chicken underneath some sort of tomato-basil sauce and cheese next to grits and a vegetable mix. I had time to snag a plate after everyone else was finished. The tables have tablecloths and flower arrangements in the center, which gives the place a little character. I liked working there for a day (less than three hours). It had a fun atmosphere and a sense of camaraderie among the volunteers and employees. Spots fill up fast, so sign up well ahead of time. For their full schedule, visit their website below.
2801 N Nebraska Avenue, Tampa, Florida
2202 E Busch Boulevard, Tampa, Florida
It’s too far from my house to visit on a regular basis, but after I had run my errands that chili, cheese, and onion dog at Mel’s hit the right spot. They make their hot dogs on steamed poppy buns and they are awesome. The inside of the dining room is also very red. Don’t go if you don’t like red. If you don’t like hot dogs (what is wrong with you?), Mel’s also has burgers, sausages, chicken, and veggie burgers – so you should still go. The walls are lined with photographs of people in far-off places holding Mel’s bumper stickers. They even sell shirts. When you eat there, you become part of something larger because it has fans everywhere. I know some people who really like the place.
Unlike many places, it has fairly comfortable seating and the tables are mobile. This makes it easy to pull together tables for a large party or to get your sketchbook or computer keyboard at just the right distance for your arms.
The building Mel’s is located in is the only remaining structure of the old Henderson Air Field in Tampa, an army air base, and has been open since 1973.
4136 East Busch Boulevard, Tampa, Florida
Within walking distance of USF in Tampa is Mojo’s Bookstore, a great place to sit with a great book and great coffee. The store is divided in rough thirds, one devoted to records, one devoted to books, and one devoted to the café.
The last time I went, I perused the vinyl record section. They have big names like Billy Joel, Elton John, and Jethro Tull. They even have bands I’ve never heard of like Hot Tuna! I have no idea if they have any talent, but they sound delicious. Alas, I have no record player, but Mojo’s also has an entire bookshelf of CDs and DVDs.
I’m not a music person. What I really went for was the books. There are overflowing shelves of science, philosophy, science fiction, fantasy, the classics, law, psychology, how-to books, gardening, survival, and I’m pretty sure every other subject was covered, but I got stuck in science for a while (I saw something about quantum effects in biochemistry that slowed me down). I usually end up buying something. There is also a whole bookshelf devoted to used Star Trek books.
In the café section are snacks, cookies, tea, and coffee. I like the Yama iced coffee with chocolate syrup added. I also like that I can sit down there for a while to skim through the books better (assuming I can get away from the shelves).
2540 East Fowler Avenue, Tampa, Florida
Written by Daniel Noe, ChampionOfTheGalaxy.com
Just north of the giant blue pipe that runs over the canal next to 301 is Veterans Park. It is an inspiration and a tribute to the bravery and memory of those who have served in the armed forces, especially those with a connection to Hillsborough County. It makes one proud to be part of Florida, knowing how our fellow citizens look out for each other. In the small museum are framed medal of honor citations of those who left positions of safety to rescue others in the line of duty. Also in the museum are the types of guns (handheld and those much larger) used in the various wars that Floridians have been involved in. I even saw in a case the actual machete used by a citizen of Hillsborough County while in the Pacific. There were also buttons from Spanish Army uniforms during the Spanish-American war.
3602 North US 301, Tampa, Florida
Written by Daniel Noe, ChampionOfTheGalaxy.com
I love long boardwalks – especially when they run through heavily wooded swamps. Everything was green. The water was covered in green. The trunks of trees were covered in green. It was green as far as I could see, which wasn’t too far considering the density of the growth. I heard several birds, but couldn’t find them. Maybe they were green too. Green!
The Florida Aquarium has everything you would expect a large aquarium to have: fish, sea turtles, fish, sea cucumbers, fish, anemones, fish, spiny lobsters, fish, coral, fish, jellyfish, starfish, crabs, clams, fish, fish, fish, fish, and even fish.
In downtown Tampa since 2009 sits Samaria Café, named for the Samaria gorge in Crete. They serve breakfast and lunch until four every day. All the food has a bit of a Mediterranean slant. Every time I go, I order the house potato chips with my meal. They make these themselves and season them with little green flecks of I-have-no-idea-what-but-I-want-more. Last time I went, I got a Tuscan chicken sandwich with my chips. It came with Swiss cheese, mushrooms, sweet red bell pepper, and most of all it gave me something to put my chips into. It’s as if they built the place knowing that I would one day visit. They even have Tabasco sauce at each table proving they understand me well.
502 North Tampa Street
Written by Daniel Noe, InkDoodler.com
Danny’s All-American Diner is a hidden treasure in Tampa occupying a small lot away from the well-travelled roads. It has outdoor seating only. Parking is across the street where massive trees will protect your car from the sun. This is always a plus. They serve ice cream and chili dogs but are best known for their burgers, each named after baseball players. It was even featured on the show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The burgers are made using a special family recipe going all the way back to mid-nineteenth century Philadelphia. Fortunately, the family realized how awesome Florida is and came here.
4406 N Falkenburg Road, Tampa, Florida
Written by Daniel Noe, InkDoodler.com