Last week, the exhausted Gators at the University of Florida got an early Spring Break. Most of us have traded in the comfort of a week at home or the excitement of a week of partying for the familiar grind in Gainesville, which has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many which will likely last several weeks. Returning to school has been a tragedy, only slightly balanced out by the understanding that midterms have come and gone. However, a silver lining exists for those of us who couldn’t or wouldn’t haul down to Miami or Cancun and spend their week off in a drunken dream state: Gainesville night life. Perfect? No, not by a long shot.
Better than a Wednesday night in Tampa? In my experience, yes by a long shot.
I’m from Tampa, Florida. High school in the suburbs has a unique, pseudo-adult quality to it. The stores that populate the roads spread widely throughout the city. Long commutes become unavoidable because a 10 or 20 minute drive separates your house and the nearest McDonalds. For some, driving to school takes even more time than a Big Mac run. This, paired with the overwhelming propensity of suburban kids to drive their parent’s cars, creates a sense of independence that exists in a more purified form than in other high schoolers.
Kids drive for an hour to buy an overpriced latte with their classmates at a hipster coffee shop , they spend afternoons at the mall with their besties who drive them to whichever store they decide to shop in that day or they gas up their fuel-efficient cars and take them on to I-75 just because. This all feels very adult to someone who can’t legally vote; however going to college and truly experiencing adulthood often leaves kids from these walks of life very confused.
Freshman year at UF acts as a crash course on life.
It slaps you in the face with difficult truths and urges you to figure out your future career, your surroundings and yourself that you never would have a year prior. It also introduces you, albeit sloppily and arguably not in the most high-quality fashion, to what adults do on a Friday night. Or a Wednesday night, Thursday night or Saturday night. Adults go out, not to a Chick-fil-a or a Chilis, but to a Fat’s or a JJ’s or a Grog or a Bricks. They go to nightclubs. Grown ups drink and party and meet interesting new people and collect crazy stories and they go home with phone numbers and snapchats and memories. Some college freshmen learn this in high school, but for me and many others, the lesson was delivered at UF. Going home for Spring Break, with no responsibilities and feeling like a seasoned adult from my time in Gainesville, I assumed that partying there would be similar to the experience at school. I’ve never been more wrong.
I decided to go out on Wednesday night, which was mistake number one.
At UF, Wednesday tends to boast a life scene in Midtown. Ladies night on Hump Day, the perfect opportunity to relieve the pain of a failed exam early in the week or put off studying for one later in the week, happens to be a Gainesville exclusive. Ybor city, one of the most happening locations for Tampa partying, looked dead as the Roman empire last Wednesday. Luckily, I chose to be the DD, so I didn’t waste calories and a hangover on three people sitting at a bar and an empty street outside. Unfortunately for my group, they were less sober than I. They anticipated a great time and a packed nightclub dance floor and plenty of Thotiana and Mo Bamba and Sicko Mode. I parked on the hauntingly barren 7th avenue, the main street in Ybor, and silently noted how thankful I was to be the driver. My friends stumbled and I walked about five blocks to the entrance of Prana, the club we planned on going to.
The scene paints exactly the difference between clubbing at home and at school.
Outside of Prana, there were a handful of bouncers. The inside looked hollowed out and the bouncers wore expressions that suggested they would pay us cover if we would just please come into their club. Outside, there was a man dressed in Gasparilla gear (four weeks late) under the influence of some sort of substance, possibly a mix of a few. He performed, to the best of his ability, the entire catalog of Fortnite dances in the center of the street. An audience of astounded spectators gathered on the sidewalk and impatient cars waited for his performance to end and the road to clear. I looked at my drunk friends, sobering up with every passing minute, and realized that the night would get no more entertaining than viewing this man.
As I stared at the dancing pirate man (yes, I stared, what else are you supposed to do?), it became clear to me that I would not be going out again at home. For some people, and on some occasions, Tampa can be very lit. I’m not here to judge. It seems to me, though, that trying to force the life I live at UF into place I used to call home will never work. I’ve changed, but I can’t expect the world to change with me. Tampa will always be hour-long drives and overpriced caramel cortados. It will always be dinner with my family and sleeping in on weekdays. At UF, I’ll go out three nights a week, but at home I’ll always stay in.