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My Town

A warm reception

We knew the weather would be friendlier in Florida, but the real surprise is how kind the strangers turned out to be.

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 10, 2003

[Times photo: Stefanie Boyar]
Lynn Carson Stone, who recently moved from Connecticut, has fallen in love with South Tampa. One of her favorite things to do is walk along Bayshore Boulevard.
I moved to the Sunshine State from Connecticut, a place not known for its warm temperatures or residents. Believing people in Tampa were kinder, gentler, friendlier souls, I convinced my husband to head to Hyde Park.

Week one: Our next-door neighbors offered loaner furniture, the folks at the Old Meeting House welcomed me with a homemade ice-cream cone, and when I was struggling with the lawn mower, the cable guy rescued me. Home was exceeding my expectations.

Week two: Determined to complete just one of the countless projects in my new abode, I broke down and bought an overpriced mirror at Restoration Hardware. I'm not "handy" so I interrogated the store clerks for clues on how to get the mirror from the box to wall. Talk about customer service: Three hours later the doorbell rang, and store clerk Matt Otto, my new favorite person on the planet, arrived to help.

There were missing parts, the directions were impossible to read (the company is revising the 300 plus steps) and my drill kept dying. After 15 minutes, I was ready to bail, but two hours later my early reflections of Tampa were clear in the mirror.

For the first few weeks, I expected someone to jump out of the bushes and say, "Hey, you're on Candid Camera. You didn't really think people were this nice, did you?"

I've confessed my findings to other Yankee transplants who have confirmed my experiences are not unusual. I'd hear things like, "I don't know if it's the sunshine or what, but people are really happy here."

Then we'd swap tales of low temperatures in Chicago, Manhattan, Connecticut -- anyplace the mercury drops below freezing. "Did you hear about the snow storm and the canceled flights two days before Thanksgiving?" "Yep, six inches of snow. Isn't Tampa great?"

Walking away, wearing a short-sleeved shirt and sunglasses, I'd think, "Hooray for my new address!"

Moving into month two, I recognized a problem with our newly found good life. The self-discipline that I had fine tuned over three decades has been swept away in the bay breeze. Actor Demi Moore says, "Self-discipline is the key to everything." I think that's why she moved to Idaho and not Florida. For me, attention deficit disorder has clearly settled in.

It hit my husband, too. (Locals who have seen this before advise us to give it a year before we worry.) We meander through our yard, pulling weeds, trimming plants and watering our tiny garden. Before we know it, the sun is sinking. A quick trip to the beach ends only when our hunger turns to starvation.

Working from home has become extremely difficult; it's hard to focus on conference calls when you're lying on a raft floating in the pool.

I blame it on our conditioning. If you grow up in a place that sees the sun less than 200 days a year, compared to Florida's 300+

days, you drop what you're doing and move when the yellow ball in the sky is out.

Now it's pathetic how we gladly accept any excuse to get outside. "Honey, the mail is here." "Is the UPS driver looking for our house?" "I think the dogs need to go out."

Speaking of our canines, they are in hound heaven. Strutting into the Fido-friendly Old Hyde Park Village, there are dog dishes filled with bottled water and bone shaped treats on just about every corner.

Thanks to Nicholson House, our hounds have something in common with Mel Gibson's beasts: hip leopard print collars with mood stones. Yep, I have discovered my dogs' inner feelings from heat sensitive rocks.

When our car heads toward Davis Islands, the stones turns a beautiful shade of blue, which means they're tickled pink. At the end of an isle sits a dog beach, complete with green grass and a red fire hydrant. It's pure paradise to Amber and Kailey. Can't blame them. My favorite spot at Pass-a-Grille does not offer showers so close.

Even mundane errands turn into moments of "I can't believe people like this exist." Walking outside to get my St. Petersburg Times, I met a 75-year-old putting on his roller blades.

He shared with me his secret for staying young: "Keep moving." Then he high-tailed it toward Bayshore Boulevard.

The security guard at the grocery store helped me find Italian cookies, walked me to my car and told me to drive safely. The next time I saw him, he gave me a hand-written list of his personal local favorites: bakery, dry cleaner, deli, restaurants and a health food store.

I'm thinking the Chamber of Commerce can't even pull off a greeting like that. Who needs a welcome wagon, when you have people like this around town?

Two months into Tampa life, I finally found something to complain about: my rights of passage encounter with fire ants. While walking the dogs I stopped to untangle a leash that fell to the ground.

I didn't realize I was standing on top of a sandy surface, hidden well by surrounding grass. The ants quickly covered my ankles, the leash and then my fingers. Their feast left me covered with itchy welts. Finally, some unfriendly locals.

Thanks to the sun, bay, beach and some strangers that have became friends, the quality of our lives has skyrocketed in just three months.

To quote Dorothy: "There's no place like (our new) home."

City Times: The rest of the stories

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  • Lengthening the line
  • My town: A warm reception
  • Amy Scherzer's Diary: Partaking of parties
  • City People: He's all smiles
  • Obituary: Five decades filled with dedication, doctoring
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  • Weaving memories, mending hearts
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