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Prospective snowbird considers his perches

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By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 29, 2002

Maybe the grass between the shuffleboard courts is always greener.

As I wrestle with the financial mechanics of spending as much of my retirement in Colorado as I can, others, it would seem, are having the same daydreams and practical concerns about moving to Dade City, where I live.

In fact Where to Retire magazine, as reported last week, depicts Dade City as a top retirement town.

I guess those of us on whom Dade City's improvements have grown gradually don't appreciate them with the eye of an outsider looking for a retirement haven.

When I came to Dade City in 1973 the retail anchor downtown was an Army-Navy store; what is now Lunch on Limoges restaurant was the men's wear department in Williams department store, and the local version of hip clothing was evenly devided between leisure suits and jeans and boots -- and the men dressed worse than that.

I admit to being instantly attracted to the town, even if I had come here to cover a particularly gruesome murder, but my needs then were simple -- shelter, beer and women under 50, of which there were only eight or nine in New Port Richey where I had lived previously.

But now visitors to Dade City drive by picturesque St. Leo, by posh Lake Jovita and into a pleasant tree-shaded little downtown area with a couple of good restaurants, a restored courthouse and a bunch of antique stores that contribute to what the magazine calls a friendly small-town atmosphere and "laid back country living."

Heck, by the time I finished reading the story I wanted to move here, and I already live here.

But I'll still be taking a large part of my retirement out of town.

Exactly where that will be is a subject that has changed several times over the years. I used to joke that I wanted to live in Michigan, where a lot of nearby Zephyrhills' winter visitors hail from.

That was because every time I stood in line at Publix I heard that Michigan, unlike Florida, had perfect weather, no mosquitoes, only honest politicians, and no potholes, sinkholes or road construction.

As the years passed, however, and I had to be less of a smart-aleck and more seriously concerned about where to spend my golden (or pewter, depending on what the stock market does) years, I began to think a lot about Amsterdam, a city I visit just about every year. That was the primary destination until I discovered Colorado.

There is one thing that Michigan, Colorado and the Netherlands have that Florida doesn't, however, and that is, for several months out of the year, freezing, bone-crushing, teeth chattering cold. They are generally cool in the summer, when I visit there, but in the winter, when things tend to stay around a nice crispy 50 or 60 degrees in Dade City, people in those places are dealing with snow tires, antifreeze, massive home heating bills and actually having to wear more than three pieces of clothing when you go out to dinner (five if you count shoes).

And I, Florida Cracker that I am, come from a background where a sweater is someone who can't eat gumbo without perspiring.

So, in the end, I too will probably be a snowbird, spending the hot months in cooler Western and northern climes and the cooler months in Florida.

I've actually been thinking about the beach, but wondering whether I could get enough out of my home in Dade City to support buying a small condo on the beach. (Please don't tell my folkie-friends I said condo; it's an obscenity to them.)

The chances of that, however, become a brighter prospect every time some national publication has something nice to say about Dade City, which is why I commend the Where to Retire article to your attention.

It's absolutely true, every word of it, and I happen to know where there is this delightful little bungalow only a few tree-lined sun-dappled blocks from the quaint antique stores, the elegant dining and the aw-shucks, down home friendliness of this here little piece of peaceful heaven on a cluttered, hurried and stress-filled earth.

Note: Will trade for canal houseboat in Amsterdam or A-frame cabin in Sangre de Cristo mountains.

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