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Reflections on Clearwater, 2004

DCGreeks.com's Review of

the 13th Annual Clearwater, FL YAL Memorial Day Weekend Convention

June 7, 2004

As first-timers to Clearwater, we wanted to see if this convention lived up to the hype as the must-attend annual event for all Greek-American young adults. We figured if we were going to do this right we’d need to take a day off of work to get there on Thursday and also not leave until Tuesday morning to take full advantage of the weekend’s activities. After a few days to recover, we sat down to write our thoughts and what we could remember from this year’s Clearwater event.

Location, Location, Location...

The thing about this convention that will probably always put it above and beyond any other National YAL Conference, the Chicago President’s Day Weekend Conference, and even DC’s own YAL Weekend over the Veterans’ Day holiday is that unless the polar ice caps melt causing freakish weather patterns or seismic catastrophes, this Clearwater event will always take place stumbling distance from a beach in Florida, and those other events, well, won’t. For Greeks that can take the heat, Florida and Arizona are probably the two best places in the country to be on Memorial Day Weekend. Thinking about the last two years when it’s been unusually cold and rainy for most of the East Coast during the last week of May, we were pretty thankful that we were spending the weekend in Clearwater and not in some movie theater watching a movie about the disastrous effects of global warming. 

The surprising thing about this Clearwater event is that they didn’t play their strongest suit more. Sure it’s great to host this event in a hotel right on the beach, but when you’ve got a tiki bar overlooking the Gulf of Mexico at your disposal, the wind coming off the water, ample alcohol, and your choice of Greek music or a Buffett and friends cover-band playing, don’t force people back into the hotel for a typical Greek Night-like hotel party. This was the disappointment of Thursday and Friday night as you found the smarter half of the group outside enjoying a perfect evening and the other half thinking they needed to go inside a loud, crowded, and stuffy hotel ballroom where you couldn’t really talk to anyone, just to get their obligatory fill of the same Greek music they’ll hear at a Greek Night back in D.C., Chicago, Boston, or New York. The concert on Saturday night was even more out of place. We’re convinced that the only place outside of D.C., New York, Chicago, Boston, or another big Greek city that you should have to travel to go see a Greek concert is Atlantic City, NJ, where going to the concert might keep you from blowing $500 at the blackjack table, and if you play your cards right (or wrong) you could end up getting “comped” to go the concert anyway. Don’t get us wrong, it was a great concert, but it would have been just as great in a hotel ballroom in D.C. in November or in Chicago in February. All this goes for the basketball tournament as well. You’re in Florida! On the beach! Why the heck do you think it would a good idea to spend the weekend stuck in some gym? 

So with that said, unscheduled beach time – good, beach volleyball tournament – good, dance at the church – good. And we’re serious about that last one, because even though the dinner and dance was in a church hall, you got the benefit of a an expansive grounds and inner courtyard area outside where people could take a break from the Greek music and dancing and still feel that they were in Florida. Without this courtyard area, there would have been no way to fit an estimated 1600 people comfortably in a church hall setting. We were surprised that they didn’t schedule something for Tarpon Springs, the Greekest part of the Clearwater area, if they were looking for a true Greek hook to the weekend. 

The Waffle House Doesn’t Serve Gyro, and That’s Not a Bad Thing…

At any Convention, there’s always the choice between eating like you’re on vacation and eating like you’re on vacation. There were those Greek young adults who opted for Clearwater’s best seafood buffets or authentic Greek restaurants in Tarpon Springs, and then there were those Greek young adults, including us, who decided we were going eat like crap, at such fine places as the Waffle House which was connected to the Ramada Inn, a popular second choice hotel for those of us who didn’t get our reservations in at the main hotel in time. While Waffle House was the only option for room service at the Ramada, there was no way we were going to go for that and miss out on the actual experience of sit down eating at the South’s premiere eating establishment. Whether it was in the middle of the night after one of the Greek Nights or at 11:00 A.M., there was the possibility of starting and ending your day with hash browns. We saw the same group of Greek guys in there at 11:00 A.M. every morning, but were impressed to see a table full of Greek girls in there as well, and even more impressed to see that they were versed on the hash browns preparation lingo as well, so you know it wasn’t their first time slumming it at the Waffle House. Lunch alternatives to the Waffle House included the Blimpie in the Hess Gas Station a hundred feet away or the Greek-owned pizza restaurant across the street from the main hotel, where we admittedly did get gyro on our pizza, which is something we believe more pizza restaurants should offer.

Every Greek has Their Achilles Heel… to Sunburn.

This convention proves that no matter how old we get, we Greek-Americans are idiots when it comes to protecting ourselves against the sun. For us, it was five hours of beach volleyball on Saturday that killed us, getting sunburned on the back of our calves all the way down to our ankles. We never thought it was possible for Greek men with the natural SPF 15 protection afforded by our leg hair to get sunburned there. (And if you think that’s bad, the peeling this week is going to be even worse.) All throughout the weekend we were amazed at the odd patterns of lobster red and golden brown exhibited by our normally invincible Greek brothers and sisters. For many of us though it wasn’t our fault, as the squint lines through the sunglasses proved – this sun was just that brutal. Sunburn was probably the primary factor in keeping people back at their hotel rooms during the afternoon on Saturday and Sunday. By Sunday a mudslide under the big tent at the hotel tiki bar was definitely the order of the day.

The “One” out of 1600 – Good luck!

Having conversations with many of the guys and girls at this convention about the notion of actually meeting someone at Clearwater were quite enlightening. Many of the people shared the idea that there was no way to find “the one” in a sea, or in this case a beach, of so many young Greek-Americans all in one place. First off, there was really no one who stood out above anyone else in terms of the superficialities of looks. All the guys probably fit into one of four Greek guy prototypes and the Greek girls, thanks to either natural or artificial hair color, probably fit into six. (We ourselves even found at least half a dozen other guys with shaved heads over six feet tall that looked like us from behind.) Greek guys and girls who are typically the pickiest people anyway found themselves frozen by too many blips on the radar screen. The fact that this was a mostly YAL group and thus more approachable than the girls who tell you to lose their numbers at Greek Nights, made this even worse, because there wasn’t that “she’s out of my league” factor that keeps most Greek guys from talking to unapproachable girls back home. It was rare to see any two people talking exclusively because both the guys and girls were looking around to see who else they should and could be talking to at this event. It was also interesting to see that despite the fact that people had a whole continent of Greeks to choose from, most folks found themselves hanging out with people in the same time zone or within a six hour drive or three hour plane ride. So realistically that 800 number, assuming an even split between guys and girls at this convention wasn’t all that great, but let’s face it, the odds were probably a whole lot better than people would have found back home. 

Thanks, Alex, for Telling Us to Stay Through Monday Night…

A buddy of ours who we recently ran out of DC because he was such a great guy told us that we should definitely stay through Monday night and leave on Tuesday morning. (We’re just kidding, he’s the nicest guy and we were glad to get the chance to see him down in Florida.) If we were to do it all over again, we would have left early on Monday morning or sometime during the afternoon. The Greek Night on Monday night was anticlimactic compared to the all night grad party like scene of the night before at the church dinner dance. It’s hard to get fired up to go to a Greek Night knowing that you’re getting up at 5:00 A.M. to catch a flight back to D.C. or elsewhere and that you might have to be back at work later that morning/afternoon. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and we think that the convention should have wrapped up with the barbecue at the hotel on early Monday afternoon, not having tempted us to stay through to the evening. 

If You Only Could Attend One YAL Event a Year…

Our first time at Clearwater lived up to all the hype. If you only had the time and money to make it to one major YAL event a year, then this would be it. With almost four times as many people at this event than even a National YAL Conference, you’re never going to find a larger group of approachable Greek-American young adults all in one place. Combine that with a legitimate beach vacation in an area that could would be a great place to visit even without the addition of well over 1000 Greeks every year, and you start to see how this event has grown from a few hundred participants from Florida and the South over 12 years ago, to the national event it is today. 



Read past feature articles