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A perilous journey north of Kennedy

sandra thompson
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© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2001

"I never go above Kennedy."

That's what people say who live in South Tampa. What they mean is, they never drive north of Kennedy Boulevard for anything. That is because people in South Tampa believe that anything worth having, we have right here.

But, in reality, that is only almost true. The Saucony Stabil running shoes I had bought in Durham, N.C., had to be replaced. Nobody in South Tampa had them; the Running Center, on N Dale Mabry in Carrollwood, did. I would have just had them sent to me, but the guy on the phone said the shoe had been re-designed so I had best try it on.

Oh no! I blurted. That means I have to drive all the way up there!

Said guy was sympathetic. "Now's a good time," he said. It was 1 p.m. "But I wouldn't leave after 4."

I knew that.

Actually, I can't remember the last time I drove to Carrollwood. It used to be a fairly frequent trip until Tampa's movie theater configuration changed and it was no longer necessary to drive to one of the small plexes up there that often ran movies we didn't get in South Tampa. Plus, you had to go up there for a real New York bagel before Tampa Bagels opened an off-shoot on West Shore Boulevard.

I zipped up Dale Mabry armed with the address and definitive directions to the Running Center. I couldn't find it. There are no numbers on buildings or strip center signs, so all you can do is risk your life trying to read the signs that list the tens of stores in each shopping center while driving 50 mph.

I U-turned and zig-zagged in and out of strip centers and side streets. I ended up at a pay phone outside a Publix somewhere past Ehrlich Road. The phone book, its pages as brittle as the Dead Sea Scrolls, was so tightly wedged into its metal holder that you couldn't read the numbers in the last column. (Mental note: Carry a phone book in your car.)

The guy on the phone at the Running Center was sympathetic.

"Where are you?" he asked.

"I don't have a clue. I'm outside a Publix."

"What other stores are in the shopping center?"

I looked around. "There's a Dollar Tree next door."

"Is there a Wal-Mart?"


He told me that the Running Center was a half-mile north of Fletcher Avenue, not 2 miles like I'd written down in error. The name of the cross street? Irrelevant, because "You'll have to go past it and make a U. Look for Arigato's."

Of course the new design on the Saucony didn't fit. But this place is worth crossing the line in our great divided city. I'd read about a store like it in L.A.; I even clipped the article in case I was ever there. At least this is a little closer.

Bill Davison, a runner himself, knew what kind of shoes I needed and put me on a treadmill to judge the appropriateness of the half dozen pairs I tried on.

I was laughingly outclassed by the other customers there, like the kid who runs for Leto who was looking for "something to get me through the summer. 500 miles." Or the guy training for a marathon who runs "4 to 6 miles a day, but I'm about to go up to 8 to 10."

I decided on a pair of Brooks "Addiction." Do they come in black? I couldn't care less what I wear on the treadmill or Bayshore, but white shoes for serious walking in cities like New York, or, God forbid, Paris? Humiliating.

They do! But they were not in stock. So I ordered them.

"Can I have them sent?" I asked.

"Sure," Davison said. Then, perhaps thinking I'd driven there from Uzbekistan, he said, "Well, I think I can. Where do you live?"

"South Tampa."

He didn't even smile.

- Sandra Thompson is a writer living in Tampa. You can reach her at City Life appears on Saturday.

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