I rarely sit in the backseat, but here I am with my wife looking out the back windows. Her dad is driving and her mom navigating as we transit around the city where we all grew up.
For me, it barely resembles the place I remember. There are landmarks which will never change; the twist of the river, or the bend in the shoreline. Then there are the other landmarks I thought would always be the same and they changed overnight, like the skyline of the city. I recall coming home from my first semester in college and new high rise buildings were up in the downtown area.
We drive by the Alessi Bakery, almost a Tampa landmark in its own right. My father-in-law mentions they make the best Cuban sandwiches ever. “The secret is in the bread,” he says.
His daughter agrees. I think back on all the Cuban sandwiches I have eaten in my life. The only good ones were from Tampa. And they were really good. During the time I was in college and later served in the Navy, I remember restaurants and delis calling a sandwich on their menu a “Cuban Sandwich.” It was not. And I would always find myself thinking of Tampa.
Tampa is very rich in history. This was the place from which Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders began their Cuban campaign. In World War II, the older local population remembers Tampa International Airport as Drew Field and the other base, now MacDill AFB, trained B-26 pilots. In North Tampa where a beer brewery is located and just south of the University of South Florida, lie the remnants of the runways of another long forgotten airfield.
The B-26 was tricky to fly and some inexperienced pilots based at MacDill weren’t so skillful or lucky with the “Marauder.” If you ever heard the phrase, “One a day, in Tampa Bay,” it was the B-26 which gave us the saying. Too many young airmen died trying to master the bomber.
We travel through neighborhoods I remember from my youth. I think of the times I wished I lived in one of these other neighborhoods rather than where we lived. Now, those neighborhoods aren’t as nice as they were 40 years ago. In the years since, someone cut the trees, widened the roads, and inserted expressways into once beautiful and quiet neighborhoods. These actions, of course, crippled each locality and the once pristine homes in which owners took great pride now look like derelicts.
It is such a strange feeling, sitting in the backseat watching the scenes of Tampa fly by the window. I remember parts of the city and then there are things which are completely out of place. I find myself wishing I could go back in time, to the Tampa of the 1960s. I think of my Cuban grandparents, the days in school, and all my friends.
Then I realize something else–I really want a Cuban sandwich.
© 2010 J. Clark