Tampa, FL II

Black water shimmers under a dark green canopy of trees as the three brightly colored kayaks plop softly off the pier. With quiet splashes, the small fiberglass wedges push their way up a narrow creek. Masses of undergrowth and stringy, exposed roots block access to the banks, sealing the boats within a long, winding tunnel. Hot pink blobs cling to branches at regular intervals, the egg casings of tropical snails dissembling as blazes. Cicadas buzz. The kayaks round a bend, bumping and scraping over shallow logs before moving into a wide area of opaque green water. An oar dips into algae, emerging from the water like a spoon from a bowl of tapenade. Three kayaks, three narrow black trails. A small pair of eyes surface out of the greenness, watching the boats drift past. With an explosion of movement, a net swipes at the eyes, emerging from the water filled only with plant scum. The lead kayak rocks slightly as the net disappears. The eyes resurface warily under the defensive cover of a thick mat of foliage hanging over the stream's edge. A few rays of diffuse green light glow on a patch of purple flowers. The kayaks paddle further upstream and the eyes vanish.

Ybor City is a small enclave of good architecture within the bland suburban strip mall known as Tampa. Wrought iron porches and balconies hang in front of weathered brick buildings, Florida's spin on New Orleans architecture. The doors of coffee roasters and cigar shops hang open, their strong, heavy aromas billowing down the main street. Thursday night is unusually quiet and bouncers idle around in front of clubs where music thumps for nobody. A group of drunk frat boys careens down the sidewalk bellowing about their collective level of drunkenness. A lone security guard sits on a bench outside an incongruously sterile corporate building, his back hunched forward as he greedily shovels food into his mouth from a tupperware container. A small black and white TV glows on the sidewalk in front of him, its tinny chatter mixing with the distant bass of the clubs.