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That city across bay is not so far away


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 3, 2001

Unlike most everyone else in Tampa, I will actually drive to St. Pete for things.

Sometimes it's even closer than staying in Tampa.

After I moved to Tampa from St. Petersburg 10 years ago, women started asking me, "Where do you get your hair cut?"

When I told them St. Petersburg, their expressions fell.

For a while I went on to tell them the name of the salon and that it was only 25 minutes from my house in South Tampa. While I waited for them to take out a pen and jot down the info, they just looked at me with a tolerant smile -- as if I had suggested they drive to Oklahoma to get a haircut.

What is the deal?

From South Tampa, St. Petersburg is the easiest of drives. Over the Gandy and you're there. I still get my hair cut there. I go to an allergist in St. Pete -- not even close -- in St. Pete, but way west, almost to the beaches. It takes about the same amount of time -- 35 minutes -- as it did to get to my former allergist at the University of South Florida.

I got my hair cut last week and on the way home stopped in the T.J. Maxx on Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) Street and 77th Avenue N. I bought a Saks bag ($40, regularly $75) but realized when I got it home I didn't like the color. I decided to return it to a T.J. Maxx in Tampa; maybe they'd have a different selection.

I thought I remembered a T.J. Maxx on Hillsborough Avenue just west of Dale Mabry a zillion years ago, so I drove up. It wasn't there. Maybe it never was. A woman I asked in the checkout line at Staples said it was just four or five lights west. Hillsborough is all torn up, no possibility of turning left, so I had to backtrack past Himes before I could pull into a strip center and turn around.

I kept driving west on Hillsborough, past I-don't-know-how-many lights, past the airport, past used car lots and pawnshops. I stopped at a Shell station to ask directions. The guy inside answered with, "What is T.J. Maxx?"

It turned out he was a really nice guy. He apologized and said he was new here. I think he meant in this country. I told him what T.J. Maxx is, and he said, yes, it's in a shopping center a few blocks west. He was pretty sure he was right.

He was. The store is at Hillsborough and Hanley, not a road in my previous vocabulary. I arrived 45 minutes after I left home. It would have taken 20 minutes to go to the one in St. Pete.

Anyway, they did have a slightly different selection of Saks, plus a great looking yellow leather Furla bag from Italy for $80. I didn't buy any of them but did get a soap dish for $2.99.

Driving home took only 29 minutes since I knew my way, still nine minutes longer than if I'd gone to the store in northeast St. Pete.

What is this whole attitude Tampa has about St. Petersburg and vice versa?

When I lived in St. Petersburg, it was looked upon as odd that I drove to Tampa so often. Since I am not from here, it had never occurred to me it was far. When I actually moved to Tampa, I was considered a traitor in St. Pete. It was as though I had rejected the whole town and everyone who lived there, and stupidly so, since St. Pete is superior to Tampa.

Tampa is so dirty! say people in St. Pete.

True, St. Pete is cleaner.

Tampa is sexier.

They're just different.

"Oh, you took out your dark clothes for the winter," remarked my St. Pete allergist during a February visit.

Of course he wouldn't know.

In Tampa, you can wear black year-round.

- Sandra Thompson is a writer living in Tampa. She can be reached at tampa@sptimes.com. City Life appears on Saturday.

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