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Boston Weather: 63.0°F | Rain Fog/Mist

The river runs though the center of the city


Column/Thomas T. Huang

A river runs through Tampa. The waterway threads the city, silt-brown beneath palm trees and glass towers. It mirrors the sun in patches of kaleidoscope light. Close your eyes.

Your hands shade your face and frame the opposite shore. Before you, the trees swing with partners, skinny, tall, awkward, in the wind. Office buildings stand behind you. The people inside toil over the city's paperwork.

Yesterday at lunchtime, hundreds of office workers came out to eat. They left the glassware buildings and filled the quiet of the street. The city shops sold pastrami sandwiches, fish and chips, and frozen yogurt. But some people just sipped diet soda they brought along. Jackets off, they rolled up their white sleeves and let the sun darken their skin.

The men and women wore very neat suits and shoes. They stayed just outside the shadows of their buildings to watch each other. Their eyes hid behind mirrored sunglasses. Nobody approached the river.

Steel-framed drawbridges lie hunched over the water. Sometimes they allow the passage of small ships from the Gulf. One bridge yawns and slowly opens. Its underside is decorated with the spray-paint of some fraternity at the nearby university.

Today you cross the river as cars whir against the grating of the bridge-floor. A sign on the other side marks the university. Maybe you belong.

The boys and girls stroll arm-in-arm, wearing Adidas shorts to display trim, muscled legs. They run in their Nikes and eat Sicilian pizza from cardboard boxes. C'mon, we're going to the beach at Clearwater. Check your pretty face in the rearview mirror. They swim in their Speedos. Everyone is brown from the Florida sun. They don't cross the bridge.

By the river, the air is cold. That's why you're there: spring vacation brings hot weather, you've got to get away. The breeze carries like a baby the smell of the sea to your nostrils.

Tomorrow you will walk on the riverfront. There you will meet a black man with a prune-wrinkled face who sits on a picnic table. Wearing a faded bandanna and carrying a Maas Brothers shopping bag, he will beg for a quarter. He will haggle with a shadow and trade a diet soda can for a cardboard carton.

Money warms you like the sun, don't it?

A river runs through the heart of the city. It cuts, but nobody notices.