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Local Places and personalities: The Hub

Simply put, my job is pretty cool. Not the one in which I wait on customers, who are often indignant with mean, pinched-bitter faces when I don’t get their café con leche and eggs benedict just perfect. I’m talking about this job, where I have the privilege to report on media I deem worthwhile.

Of course, there are always the drawbacks, such as juggling two jobs and school full-time, among other issues in life, like my mother’s death after my first week as the music editor, about 15 months ago. For me, her death was a lesson in the simple scope of being and non-being — if you can call that simple. What was simple were my options; I could’ve lingered beside her deathbed contemplating her last breaths and the relativity of time, thereby slowly dying within myself for an indeterminate amount of time, or I could “work through it,” as it were, with the coolest job I ever had.

There’s plenty of “me stuff” here, I know, but this job has shown me that “me stuff” is often everyone’s story. Student papers don’t usually get many celebrity interviews, so when we get stories about Mark, a longtime bartender for Tampa’s best dive bar, The Hub, for example, it’s our initiative to make Mark relevant.

At The Hub, people are on an exclusively first-name basis, to the extent that employees and customers alike won’t give last names to student journalists who are trying to tell the story of everyone via the bar’s Monday night vignette.

The Hub, a drunken, smoky part of Tampa’s history, is located next to Tampa Theatre in downtown and is about the only thing happening within a 10-mile radius on most nights after 7 p.m. It’s known as a watering hole for some of Tampa’s best indie bands, which include Dead Horse Detective Agency and Red Room Cinema.

Mark, who I originally met as the bass player for The Vera Violets, knew I wanted this bar’s experience from band members who usually come to the bar to unwind after band practice. Before we talked about bands, he told me about one of the crazier moments that has happened in his five years of working there: A guy walking by, dressed as a Union soldier at 2 a.m. holding a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and a live possum by the tail in another.

“There are a couple others,” he said, “but they’re kind of racy.”

Mike Ness of Social Distortion fame would be proud at a bar like The Hub, which reeks of blue-collar overtones. When asked why The Hub is such an attraction to local bands, Kevin from the Pink Lincolns (an old-school punk band) said, “We’re pretty much all alcoholics.” I don’t think he was being too glib, either.

On that note I upped the blue-collar ante by ordering a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon because it was the cheapest beer at a buck-fifty. Actually, I had a few by then and was ready to hit the restrooms. What first-timers will experience inside these restrooms is a graffiti experience rivaling New York City’s most decorated subway trains. This stuff isn’t for the faint of heart, as it features carved and markered rumors about your mother — stuff that only your father should know.

I spoke with Adam and Max from Coma Girl, a sort of noise-rhythm, post-rock-but-poppy band. Max, who told me “You don’t look like a ‘Harold,'” sported a lazy yet attentive buzz after three Jack Daniels shots. Both were excited about the band’s latest album, Women of Dodge. After listening to it, I’m reminded, yet again, of the local talent that just doesn’t get enough recognition.

Later, Mark told me about Brian from The Washdown, a local emo band who quickly signed with Lookout! records, but the band recently split up. I wanted to personally ask him about the break-up, but I knew better than to pester the guy while he was arguing with his girlfriend.

I stayed the entire night, “shutting down” The Hub at 3 a.m. on a school night, waiting for the real story to emerge. Sometimes, as a writer in this situation, the more I try to shut out the noise distracting my thoughts, the more noise I create. I realized this while driving by the bar and considered a decent angle on this story, but then I noticed Mark hanging out of The Hub’s glass doors, apparently staring at my car. Are they having an after-party? Did I leave something behind? The story just kept living.

I considered Mark for a moment; I’d heard his father died about two months ago, and I wondered what kind of relationship Mark had with him. Then it occurred to me that he was staring at me in that enigmatic way because I was going the wrong way on a one-way street.

Hmmm … I guess that’s a decent ending, I thought to myself.