St. Pete

Second Impressions of St. Pete

Home is where you make it, and it’s beginning to feel like home here in the tropics.

We’re doing an OK job of finding new things to do, though not all of them fun. Karla decided we needed to ride paddle boards, those things that look like oversized surf boards. And believe me, they’re no easier to stand on without the waves. I can say that even though I’ve never tried to surf. After about 20 minutes of frustration in a fairly calm Gulf, I gave up and sat on the beach to let my chest burn to a crisp. It was one of the adventures we had while Kate was here a couple of weekends ago. Another was Kate and I going on our first bike ride together. I had the “Wannabees,” a group from the St. Pete Bike Club that helps mentor new folks to the sport, take us out. She kept up pretty well. The next day she and I went out alone and she had a much harder time keeping a slower pace. After about 15 miles, we were just a few blocks from home when she mentioned she heard a thumping as she rode. She had a flat—for how long I don’t know.

We showed her thbirchwood-SPe town, including having a drink at the Canopy, a bar atop The Birchwood on Beach Drive. Very happening place. And plenty of the women there could have been my daughter and a few at least close to my age. Well not really close but on the north side of 35. Didn’t matter. At a certain age we become invisible to any woman under 40, maybe 50.

All Politics is LocalSP pier
I have not carried out my threat to get involved with politics here. The biggest issue in town now is what to do with our aging pier. This competes with most tired of tourist attractions, a 1970s era idea that doesn’t have much to offer except little Mom and Pop shops selling trinkets and memories, overpriced food and plenty of vantage points to see pelicans posing with tourists or dolphins passing through the bay. The city council had this great idea to replace it with …ta-da…the Lens.

LensI’m not sure what it’s supposed to be, other than a more modern looking pier. It may have at one time been nothing more than what the critics called “a sidewalk to nowhere.” In response, the designers have added a restaurant, snack shack, an amphitheater and something we don’t really need here—more fishing spots. In any case, it’s the hot topic here and will impact the mayoral primary August 19. The current mayor seems to be back peddling furiously his earlier support of it. But the problem now is that they’ve closed the current pier without a clear plan for what follows. The old pier apparently has structural problems that are more expensive to fix than replacing it. Which, come to think of it, is true of a lot of things these days, including old people.

And of course the Trayvon Martin murder is a hot topic, with George Zimmerman having a lot of supporters. This is Fla. after all, where folks seem to be competing with Texans for who has the quickest draw. The Stand Your Ground law, otherwise known as Shoot First and Ask Questions Later Law, passed with bi-partisan enthusiasm and few are re-thinking that vote. And then there’s Gov. Scott, the Tea Party favorite who has been trying to impersonate George McGovern (or at least a Floridian vision of him) given his sorry poll numbers and the lurking of former Republican, former Independent and probably temporary Democrat Charlie Crist who will likely run again Scott next year.

And then there’s this: Seems the local energy company, since bought by Duke Power, conned the legislature into having customers pay in advance for a nuclear power plant that Duke is now abandoning. The power company gets to keep the money. Customers don’t get any refund, as many critics feared when the gift law was passed. This guy is mad as hell and he isn’t going to take it anymore: (It’s refreshing to have columnists who aren’t looking to impress you with their erudition [see George Will].)  In other words, the Florida legislature is in the tank like all other pols. Do I really want to be part of all that? I may restrict my volunteering to working a soup kitchen. The patrons at least have a modicum of dignity.

Rest of the Crew
Zack has also visited us. He has moved from Duluth to Decatur, increasing his commute by about an hour in trade for a small house instead of an apartment. He and Chelsea seem to like it. They just repossessed Lexie, their dog, from two weeks at an Atlanta dog whisperer compound where she presumably was cured of her separation anxiety. That was plan, but after the first night when they were able to leave her for 25 minutes in a crate without her inflicting damage on herself, they have refused to give us an update. That does not bode well.

Hunter still works to pay for her rugby addiction. She made the regional “sevens” team. The chief benefit of that game is there are eight less players on the other side to harm you. Next stop, national team tryouts. She’ll also be in Orlando in Oct. to play in a national and international “touch” rugby tournament. I guess that’s like flag football but with more beer.

Kate’s documentary on the Kennedy assassination is going well. The network (Military Channel) is thrilled with the rough cut. She hopes to wrap up production in mid-September and then head out to Hollywood, though she’s working connections on another possible documentary that might keep her in DC and another opportunity for a reality series that might have her travelling the world to capture drug deals on video. That cannot turn out well.

Like father, like daughter
kate in erAnd her bike riding has not turned out well so far. She bought a bike recently. Yeah, she crashed landed going down a hill and broke her collarbone. But look at it this way: She’ll get a new helmet out of it! It’s really unfortunate in several ways. One, we were planning to ride together starting Saturday at the beach we go to every year. Two, she’d been training hard for a Sept. 8 triathlon and was feeling really good about it. Three, she just bought the bike, which was a big deal because she’s always had a negative experience with bikes. This, of course, can’t help. The most surprising thing, however, was Karla of all people responding to Kate saying she might not ride again, that it was like falling off your horse (something Karla knows about) Kate needed to get back on as soon as she can.

I learned that lesson last winter. Karla didn’t have anyone to ski with one day. I hadn’t skied in a couple of years since I broke a vertebra on the slopes. Frankly, I was scared to do it again. But not wanting her to be by herself, I said I would go, thinking at the very least I’d win points. Turned out I had fun. We stuck to the greens and an occasional blue, and I even fell once or twice, but at a slower speed than I once would have. I do hope Kate will ride again.

The Washington Post is not delivered here. The New York Times is. Yes, I have left the paper I’ve known since 1970, just before, apparently, it was to leave me. Bezos has a bigger mouthpiece. I read where some think he bought it for a tax write-off. I understand that most of us, upon learning we could legitimately deduct something from our taxes, would. But when you have $250 billion, let’s hope it wasn’t, at least, his principal reason.

We also get the Tampa Bay Times, formerly the St. Petersburg Times.  It’s owned by the Poynter Institute, a reputable owner, for sure. And the paper does a nice job of covering the local scene. And they do what I think The Post should start doing—run AP stories about politics. Every time the House of Representatives passes a bill that is just for show, The Post wastes its dwindling resources writing a story about it. The Tampa Bay Times runs an AP story, if anything, and saves its resources for local stuff. Meanwhile, I’ve come to appreciate how the NY Times writes more in depth than The Post about issues, deeply enough that you can learn something besides that Congress is dysfunctional.

I think I can say that St. Pete is definitely a better climate than DC, except that I’m told DC has had a beautiful summer this year. Here we still have a breeze and almost daily rain showers. It’s 9:30 p.m., dark and gray outside. We’ve had rumbling thunder and rain today. It’s like living in a warm sponge.

Another evening in the new ‘hood.

Denverites love to perpetuate the myth that it’s cold there during the winter. The more people think November to March is nothing but frigid temperatures and snow drifts the more people will stay away—and they can have the city to themselves. They especially want Texans to remain Texans, I understand. Denver actually has quite mild winter weather.

I think the folks in St. Petersburg, Florida, too, have their tongue in cheek when they say it’s hot here from March to November. It’s too early to be definitive but from what I’ve experienced and what I’ve been told by long-time residents is that the weather may be hot and humid come the dog days of summer, but for someone from Washington, DC it will seem like a spring day.

Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but the weather has been a pleasant surprise. I write this on a day when it is about 80 degrees here and projected to be 93 in Fairfax, Va., my old hometown.  I’ll take even 90 here. Humid, indeed, but not oppressively so, which is what it usually is in DC. And the evenings are lovely, cooling nicely by 8:00 with a breeze off the bay, about three blocks away. But don’t tell anyone. Let them think it’s miserably muggy.

Into our sixth week in St. Pete, things couldn’t be much better, due mostly to the house and neighborhood we’ve inhabited. Built in 1924, the Spanish stucco abode has large rooms and enough archways and decorative touches to make this place charming. It is framed, I’m told, not with two-by-fours, or even wood, but by interlacing hexagonal hollow clay tiles about six inches long over which plaster is laid. It makes keeping this place cool in the summer easy to do. Being the cheapskate I am, I turn the AC off during the day. Unless I’m doing anything physical, which I scrupulously avoid, it’s comfortable. Writing does not require sweat equity, strictly speaking. I turn the AC on about an hour before Karla gets home as she is hot in the summer no matter what the weather.  Being a Texas girl it’s understandable. Cool summer days are unimaginable to her.

The neighborhood is charming. Many of the homes date from the first decades of the 20th century. It’s now called Historic Old Northeast and is marked by many Prairie style homes in addition to the Spanish stuccos. brick streets

Many of the streets are still brick, each with the imprint of Augusta Block, which may have been from the Georgia Vitrified Brick and Clay Co. of Augusta, Ga., though other sources indicated the bricks were actually made in North Augusta, which is across the border in South Carolina.  The homes are of all sizes and there are some apartment buildings, most of them small, older and well-kept. One in particular is beautiful:

Along the bay is a wide concrete trail and park that extends from the Snell Isle bridge to downtown St. Pete. The town has undergone a revival over the past decade and, due in part to the 5,000 students at the St. Pete campus of the University of South Florida, doesn’t feel like a retirement community. In fact, the city seems to attract young and older professionals looking for something Tampa must not offer.

I’ve met quite a few of them through the St. Pete Cycling Club. I figured the club was a good way to meet people, though I was concerned that I would be riding with a lot of young bucks who would drop me like an old girlfriend. Instead, I get dropped by a lot of guys my age and women who drop me like an old boyfriend. But I’m beginning to hang with them, even if my heart rate tells me I’m dangerously close to my last ride, like when I look down and see that we’re travelling at 30 mph. It’s flat, but 30 mph is tough, even when I’m sucking some wheel. We meet weekday mornings at 8:00 on the USF campus about two miles from our house. Usually there are about a dozen or two riders and we pretty much stay together for the first loop, but then a smaller subset takes another loop around for about a 25-mile ride, and it’s in that second loop when the testosterone gets going.

Saturday rides are another story, entirely, with a couple hundred riders showing up at the North Shore Pool at 8:30. Rides are called off a couple of minutes apart, “26 north, 26 south, 24 north,” etc. down to 18. The numbers are the average speed of the group on one of two routes. There’s also a Ft. Desoto ride, called the best ride in Florida by a book my son gave me. Ft. Desoto is usually pretty fast and hence a smaller ride. But the others can be a hundred riders or more.  Though they are supposed to be “controlled rides” at a steady pace, inevitably, some riders catch a traffic light. It’s hard to keep together, and even harder to keep it controlled. And if Ft. Desoto is the best ride in Florida, the place can’t compare to Virginia. The water is nice to see, the palm trees swaying, but the countryside, partly because it’s so flat, is uninspiring.

My son Zack was here for the weekend and rode three days with me. Memorial Day was a Ft. Desoto ride with more than 200 cyclists. We broke up by the second light and once we got to the park a large group stopped and from there it broke apart again. Zack, I and a young woman soloed home.

Much too early for a final verdict on St. Pete. But so far, so good, at least for the body.