t(A)m(P)a

Join me on my narrative musings of my travels to, during, and from my second AP grading journey in Tampa, FL!

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I suppose the trip really started the day before, on the highway, my 2007 Suzuki Reno sputtering and squelching down to a laborsome roll. The vainful revving cried all the signs of transmission trauma, and so rather than risk trying to press on, I pulled over and did the only reasonable thing that an at best moderately mechanically-minded college writing professor who had to be 1,300 miles away in Tampa in less than 24 hours could do: I called upon our Lord and Highway Savior, Triple-A.

One could find oneself questioning one’s sanity, packed in ‘old Joe’s’ tow truck along with his tools and drive-thru soda cups.

“I don’t care. But they track me anyways,” old Joe said, about as New Yawk as they come. He was an odd yet even more oddly appropriate character for a tow-trucker. Tattooed and white-bearded, with a lean frame of someone who had clearly started doing ‘real’ work at an age that most kids today spent working at convincing mom and dad to buy them a Nintendo Switch.

“Fifty-two years as a mechanic,” as old Joe put it, hacking and rubbing his Santaesque face mane.

“So you’re retired?” I asked, bouncing along in my seat.

“Once upon a time.”

“So this is just part-time.”

“Eh, started that way,” he said. “And here we are.”

“Well, I guess it’s good to stay busy.”

Old Joe glanced at me and winked. There was a warm twinkle in his glistening blue eyes, almost as if he might really be Kris Kringle’s long lost whatever. “You got a long way to go before you retire.”

Ain’t that the truth.

The Advanced Placement grading attracts a wide range of educators: from high school teachers to college profs, poets to bloggers, and all other manner of interesting, eclectic, and creative people in-between. Perhaps what we most share in common, however, is the drive for adventure: to journey some place far from home, for a distinct goal that we can explore beyond on our own spare time.

That and compensation for our work, of course.

Last year had been my first AP grading, and while it’s hard to pin down exactly what lessons I took away from that week – if any – one fact of modern life that I did confirm was that it’s far better to travel at abnormal hours than common ones.

‘Travel’ sucks. Anyone who touts how much ‘I love to travel’ on their OkCupid profile really means ‘I love to take a Xanax nap and wake up some undefinable time later in awesome places.’ Granted, we’ve come a long way from Oregon Trailing our way through droughts, and snake bites, and dysentery, but whom among us doesn’t wish an ever-easier time of it all? Shorter lines and quicker flights and more inches of legroom than your stretching limbs could ever dream of what to do with.

Well, while most of that is as near fantastical of a hope as finding ‘the one of your dreams’ by flaunting your travel exploits via online dating, there are some smaller, perhaps more practical steps one can take to make the least out of their travel. And scheduling a 6AM flight – like I did – might be the most effective of options within your control.

As such, I was able to spend a good part of the first day before our actual work began on the beach in Florida, about 40 minutes from downtown Tampa where we’d be confined for the next seven days or so grading. But not that first day of cloudy sun and fine white sand, and floating in the salty waves with deep breaths of “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

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While I may not have had as much time as I’d like for exploring, relaxing, etceteraing, I did have plenty of mental opportunities to reflect on my surroundings. For starters, Tampa feels too far south for its size – then again most Florida cities feel this way to me. But the few skyscrapers here stick out like sore glass thumbs from the flat former swamplands, drained but not entirely forgotten. You can feel the natural wet in the air, as it certainly feels you. Always wet. Always sticking. The whole scene wanting to return to muck and marsh, to suck apart the baking pavement, and stucco walls, and black-painted stormproof streetlights.

It feels like a shell here. Not a sad place, but one void of rodents and bugs and all other creatures that seem like they should be skirting, slinking, buzzing to survive. Gods know if I counted more than 7 birds within the city during my stay – to be more precise: four crows, two tiny little guys, a white gullish thing soaring overhead, and a chicken clucking about the brick side alleys of Ybor City – not surprisingly the most charming part of Tampa.

Overall it is an overtly human imprint on the land, directly reflecting the whims of the gulf coast environment even while trying to press it away. In the sun, the whole place brightens awake, caramel shingles and golden decos spanning the city. At least until the moody, moony clouds roll on in from the steamy waters to the west, fed since dawn, daily, by that same smiley oppressor, who’s really more like a plane of heat bearing down on your head rather than a single source of muggy light. But by work day’s end, that light is gone – vanished behind the very swirl it’s been stewing over the bay, from here all the way clear across to Mexico. These clouds turn Mordor-dark as the day draws on, the light breeze soon whips up like a siren of even more monstrous gale still to come. The rain strikes, fast and heavy to signal the workday’s end at 5:00pm, eager to play its part in nature’s ongoing war to reclaim this land from societal order. To dissolve all here that’s not green.

There aren’t very many green-colored buildings in Tampa. But I guess that’s true for just about every city.

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The grading factory crew!

Still, there’s plenty good with this place. From the fine fresh brews of Cigar City, to the wavily wondrous works of the Dali Museum across the bay, to icepops gone wildflavor. If only there were more time to explore all these and more – but grading is grading. Work is work. And so we labored, almost in sight of those swaying palms. [Click here for the full photo album]

There’s plenty more to say, but this seems like enough observational ranting for one post. What I will mention about the reading is in echo to my concluding sentiment following last year’s; that is, while it’s a hell of a lot of arduous work, it’s also a damn good time too.

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Will I be back in Tampa for next year’s AP grading? Good question. All I can think on that matter are the wise words of tow-truck Joe. I’m far from retired after all, and so my work future looks bright, even whenever and wherever the clouds roll in.

Thanks for taking some time to read a little about my AP grading journey. Feel free to share your own thoughts or any questions you might have about the event! Especially if you’re thinking about applying for next year!

Solset

The sun is still high above and beyond the grass-toped dunes,

but it is sinking throughout each breath,

sighing away its light to the waking night.

Where the moist slope meets the endless sea’s white jaws,

here the shaded sand awaits its foaming fate,

its part in this life,

while the narrowing swath of twilight-lit beach higher up glows

from endless sight to endless sight,

the shadows crawling up from the grooves and prints and the crumbled walls of

kingless castles long forgotten by their once studious, now carefree masters.

 

There are no longer any boom boxes blasting here.

There are no kites flapping in the sticky wind.

No lifeguard whistles.

No idle chatter nor children’s laughter.

Now there is just the breaking roar,

the groping slosh,

the receding sizzle of cooling mist.

Now there’s just a chilly breeze

and the distant call of some tired gulls

gleaming toward the warmer sky.

 

That sky glows as it fades.

The sun illuminates the same cotton clouds over warmer fields.

For a moment, now, here, they are in highlighted bloom,

the light’s last stand.

Soon they will be just silvery wisps by the stony moon’s guiding light.

Or else just blackness until the waking dawn.

 

This is our sunset, here, for now.

Forever someone’s sunset. Forever someone’s sunrise.