Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Like Going Home

Me and my Dad - February, 1980, Tarpon Springs, FL.

I've never lived anywhere else but New York.  Heck, to be more specific, I've only known two zip codes in my life.  I didn't even go away to college.

And yet, there's something about Florida, specifically, the Gulf Coast, from Bayonet Point to St. Petersburg, that has always felt like home.

I should explain that I'm writing this a week before you'll actually get to read it.  This is the preamble to one of the most special trips I've ever taken.  I'll explain.

The Gulf Coast - Tampa Bay - was an area I visited 16 times between 1969 and 1995.  My grandparents (specifically, my fathers' father and his second wife) lived in Holiday, just to the north of Tarpon Springs, in Pasco County.  Every December from '69 to '75, my whole family filled up the car and drove to see them.  The family dynamic changed by 1980, when the trip moved to February.  It was just my parents and I in 1980 and 1981, while my sister joined us from 1982 to 1986.  My brother - now with a family of his own, passed.  Two more visits to area came - in '89 and '95.

So as you can see, Tampa Bay has a meaning to me.  It's the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks.  It's Fred Howard Park.  It's seeing my grandparent's house (apparently, without its pink roof).  It's the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.  Clearwater Beach.  Innisbrook (which we won't be able to play golf at - this time).

It's driving US 19.

It's honestly hard to explain why this area has such a special place in my heart.  Many of the businesses and sites are gone now.  The restaurants have closed.  But there's a bond.  Many memories.  It's an emotional tie.

And finally, after 17 years, I'm going back.

The plan was hatched not too long ago.  My cousin Kris and his wife Lori are going to visit Lori's nieces, nephew, and former sister-in-law (that's the short version of the story).  I was introduced to them a few years ago when they came to New York, and they told me to come visit anytime.  The time never seemed right.  Money, of course, was tight.  But Lori's niece (and my pal) Brittany reminded me back in March on St. Patrick's Day that I needed to get my "Jerk Face" (my nickname) to Florida for a few days.

Kris and Lori asked if I wanted to join them.  They're driving (which I would love to do) but I can't stay as long as they're going.  So we came up with the best way to make it happen. I found two inexpensive flights, and they will pick me up at the airport (Orlando, to be exact).  The only thing is, Brittany doesn't know that "Jerk Face" is coming to visit.

There has been no mention of it on Facebook or Twitter.  This post - only to appear AFTER I've landed - is the first notice.

Oh, I can't wait.  Seventeen years is too long.  Kris and I have promised that we will take a ride around the old area (we will be based closer to Tampa).  He knows that I can probably serve as a decent tour guide, and I'm looking forward to seeing how everything has changed, and reliving everything.  No, you can't live in the past and you truly can't entirely go home again, but you can come close.  This will do.

At the same time, there are new things to visit.  New experiences.  Brittany will no doubt have some things to show me.  I'll want to see Steinbrenner Field.  Maybe glance across Dale Mabry at Raymond James Stadium (yeah, Paul Silverfarbs' Bucs play there, but the Steelers won a Super Bowl there).  Of course, there are plenty of Waffle Houses in the area to visit!  We might even go check out a Rays game.

Some golf?  The beach?  Who knows?

My hope is this will set things up for future visits - hopefully to bring Sean (at the very least).

It will be like a journey home.  It will be special.  By the time you read this, I'll be there.

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