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It looks like a city, sounds like a city, acts like a city, but isn't

Published April 2, 2006

Florida is a state with a lot of places that are sort of cities - but not really.

They have traffic, sometimes a lot of it. They have businesses, houses, fast food franchises and sometimes even signs saying what they are called by the locals.

Sometimes they even have elections, which are gags (unlike some, but not all, of the state's other elections, which aren't supposed to be gags but just turn out that way). Somebody collects the most pennies or gets the most business cards thrown into a bowl and is declared mayor.

Sometimes the places, like Spring Hill and Wesley Chapel, get all heated up about wanting to become cities. Sometimes people wonder why cities like Weeki Wachee, population 9, bothers to remain one.

The idea of incorporating and becoming a city usually dies out as soon as someone figures out that the "let's become a city" movement also means "let's add to everyone's taxes so we can provide services we are already paying for and getting from the county and, oh yes, let's create even more offices to attract more politicians whom we will elect only if they promise to cut those taxes."

But it would solve one problem: dealing with the folks (who may well be in other states and countries) who answer the phone when you call 411 for information.

The other night we were planning to meet new friends from near Tampa.

We figured a good halfway meeting place would be a not-bad steakhouse near Interstate 75 that I had eaten at last year. Even though seating at those places usually isn't a problem, I thought it would be helpful to make reservations.

"City and state please?" asked the robot that answers 411 calls to my cell phone company.

I dislike arguing the finer points of incorporation and the meaning of political subdivisions under state law with a robot. In fact, I dislike arguing about anything with a robot and plan to seriously maim the one that works for my prescription insurance company if I ever meet him or her and if it is, in fact, possible to maim a robot.

I know that phone companies think places like Spring Hill and Beverly Hills (Florida, not California) and Lutz are cities even if they aren't and even if they have no boundaries except those existing in folklore or in the equally arbitrary designations offered by the U.S. Postal Service.

So, to save time, I took a guess.

"Land O'Lakes," I said, trying to sound confident enough to impress the robot, although it just switched me to a real person who told me the steakhouse I was looking for wasn't in Land O'Lakes.

"Odessa?" I tried, knowing that "Odessa" is what some people call some parts of the area. "Lutz?" "Pasco Station?"

No luck.

"It might be a Tampa listing," I said, "or (thinking of the nearest city) Zephyrhills?"


Finally I called the fine folks on the desk at Caliente, a nearby nudist resort where people frequently ask for restaurant suggestions, and was immediately told, "That's Wesley Chapel."

I catch on slowly.

Even though the massive area of development (accompanied by an even more massive buildup of traffic) that has sprung up around Saddlebrook in the past 30 years is bigger than a lot of cities, it isn't one. And I have trouble forgetting that the intersection of State Road 54 and I-75 was once marked by nothing more than a gas-station-cum-fruit stand.

In fact, for years, the only way you knew you were in Wesley Chapel was a single sign on what was then a two-lane highway.

The sign was misspelled "Wesly Chapel," and since nobody much lived there, the state didn't get around to changing it until it was decided that people who paid big bucks for Saddlebrook homes and condos had a right to correctly spelled street signs.

But by then I had given up on going there for dinner and called our friends to make new plans.

"Why don't you guys come down here?" the guy asked. "We live in Lutz; you know where that is?"

We may never see them again.

[Last modified April 2, 2006, 01:24:20]

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