A SEASON, FLEETING: 49th Street N in Pinellas Park.
[Times photo: Jamie Francis]
Times staff writers
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 26, 1999
I am stuck in traffic and couldn't be happier. The sky is blue, the palm trees are fluttering, the top is down.
Even a traffic jam is tolerable in a convertible.
Cruising through Florida with the top down is like watching an Imax movie. Why do it any other way?
With the top down at night, the stars are your ceiling. The landscape seems bigger, more real, a tangible thing rather than speeded-up images whipping past your window. The trees rise all the way to their green tops instead of halting halfway up their blurry brown trunks.
I've read all about Florida's evolution, how it emerged from the sea and was a mosquito-infested swamp until greedy developers drained the land and walled the sea with condos.
The truth is, modern Florida was made for convertibles. Mine's a used Infiniti, cheaper than a new VW Bug.
I drive up and over Tampa's Davis Islands bridge at sunset, the gleaming bay and the sweeping arc of Bayshore Boulevard unchanged for decades, the downtown skyline to my left, rose-colored by the setting sun, the view changing with each new high-rise tower.
It's a million-dollar view I can't afford, but with my top down, it's mine. All mine.
-- TOM SCHERBERGER, Times Staff
I wake up in December, cold in my bed. Cold not because it is winter but because the central air is still running. A Clearwater December.
I get up 10 minutes early so I will have time to get what I want. I want it fresh. I slide slowly out of bed, wondering if it is worth it. Yes, I tell myself, it is. In the kitchen I ease back the sliding glass and slip into my back yard. The smell of citrus is distinct, the air sticky-sweet with humidity. Tropical.
The morning sky is a sunless blue, still bruised here and there by night.
Three trees reveal themselves: orange, tangerine and grapefruit. All are laden with fruit. Real fruit. Endless variations of yellow and orange, round and oval. I have a tough decision to make, the kind you make only in paradise: Which one to pick? Which one to halve and juice?
I had half a grapefruit yesterday and a tangerine the day before, so today itis orange. I eye two perfect ones as I walk to the tree. Deep orange and tugging at the branch with their sweet promise of juice. Fresh.
-- W. BRIAN OVERCAST, Clearwater
When we moved here from the Washington, D.C., area 15 years ago, people would ask, "Why did you choose St. Petersburg for a retirement home?"
I wasn't sure myself. St. Petersburg was warm and we had old college friends here, but it didn't feel like home. For more than 20 years my husband and I had lived in Bethesda, Md. We missed its proximity to Washington, the mountains, the seashore and Chesapeake Bay. We missed our friends and relatives, too.
Unexpected problems with the construction of our new home in St. Petersburg only lowered our morale.
Then I discovered the garden at the Museum of Fine Arts. I sat in the cool shade, thinking about the beautiful works of art inside, listening to the bubbling of the water fountain, watching a squirrel jump from branch to branch in a nearby tree. I absorbed the warmth of the Mediterranean architecture, the vivid reds of the flowers, and the blue waters of the bay in the distance. I was home.
Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, (727) 896-2667.
-- MEG WILTSE, St. Petersburg
My parents moved us from Ohio to Florida when I was 4 years old. It was 1947. Dad bought a frame house and a tiny adjacent grocery store and gas station on 49th Street South in St. Petersburg. A trellis covered with coral vines linked the house and the store, with a sidewalk passing beneath the flower-laced arch at its center.
That's where I played with my dolls on a hot day our first August in Florida, clad only in cotton, Mom-made underpants. Immense puffy clouds traversed the sky and the breeze stiffened. An irregular series of loud "plops" called my attention to the sidewalk unsheltered by the floral span.
Great drops of rain splashed on the cement, stopping inches from where I stood -- steaming silver-dollar spots interrupted by spaces of dry, the wetness growing ever more dense as I watched. On the other side of the trellis, where I had been playing, the sidewalk stayed dry.
The weather was behaving in its usual tropical way, raining in one place but not the next. But I saw it differently. I had stopped the rain. It came up to my tanned little bare feet and dared come no closer. This was Paradise and I its little goddess, under my bower of coral blossoms. -- LUCILLE SARBECK RUGA, St. Petersburg
My favorite place in Tampa Bay is the dog-friendly beach at Honeymoon Island State Recreation Area. A day's visit costs only $2 and offers everything a dog and his person could ask for.
My dog, Randall, and I have spent many glorious Sundays there. For him I pack a water bowl, a leash (dogs must be restrained at all times), bottled water, dog biscuits and a beach umbrella. For myself I bring a chair, a magazine, a Big Gulp, a bag of chips and a towel.
We swim and take long walks, meeting other human/canine duos along the way (he sniffs, I smile). He sleeps under his umbrella while I read, sunbathe and look. People really do resemble their dogs. I know I look like mine: I have his thick black hair.
In a world of NO DOGS ALLOWED signs, it's nice to have a place where dogs and their people can spend a happy afternoon in each other's company. And it's good, clean fun: dogs do their business in the grass, far from the beach.
Honeymoon Island State Recreation Area is at the extreme west end of S.R. 586, north of Dunedin. (727) 469-5942.
--GINA PETRUCCELLI, Tampa