Every morning Josée and I bike, mostly along the Bay Shore. Tampa is a great city for biking. Most streets have no cars, and there are little or no ups and downs, no hills that I’ve ever seen. Certainly none on our morning bike route. A Google search tells me (although this is disputed by readers) that the very highest point in Tampa is 74.92 feet, somewhere in the parking lot of Perkin’s Restaurant at 50th & Fowler.
We bike in South Tampa, where we, our children, and grandchildren all live. If you’re still working and need to stay within the city South Tampa seems to be the hot spot, the place where the new arrivals want to locate.
We’ve been biking for the past seven years, almost since we arrived in Tampa, and during that time we’ve never not seen and watched from our bikes million dollar homes going up, always two stories, replacing on the same, small single lot the single story “beach bungalows” of the first half of the 20th. century, when Tampa was a principal snow bird destination for the people from the frigid north who wanted a break in the weather.
Here’s one of the houses on our route that we pass everyday.
Is it a real place, where people live? It’s so well packaged that it makes me wonder if there are real people there, just too perfect. I never see the yard workers but they must be there everyday to keep it looking like this.
And this place makes me think of our own place, the place where we live, and the outside of which that is always such a mess, always with hundreds of little jobs that need doing, and instead are put off and not done… and I do feel a bit ashamed, looking at this house and seeing what could be done in our own yard, and knowing that I’m not doing it.
Here’s our mess of a front yard, mostly raised beds with cabbages, collard greens and salad leaves, that you probably can’t make out,
but believe me, they’re there and now during the Tampa “winter” on one of our outside tables at lunch or dinner there will always be something from the garden. But there might be even more, more tomatoes, more turnips, more red cabbages if we spent a bit more time pulling more weeds.
In the picture you can see only one table, but there are three others, kind of hidden, where we so often eat our lunches and dinners, with family and, when we’re lucky, with friends who are visiting .
Actually we have tables and chairs where we eat and drink on all four sides of the house and we’re out there except when it’s too hot in the summer, and throughout the year when there are those Tampa downpours that remind Josée of the crashing rains of the Africa of her childhood. We like the downpours because they fill up our rainwater collecting collection of buckets, pails, trash cans (that hold the most rainwater) and the some 20 blue, plastic recycling boxes that we get at Home Depot and line them up as at attention on the west side of the house to catch the roof runoff, and by all these means we cut down considerably on our water bill.
Here’s another picture of our house, this one from across the street. From this shorter distance you don’t see so much of all the disorder of our front yard.
Everything you see growing we’ve planted ourselves since coming to Tampa. Most everything has done well, certainly the olive, avocado, and Meyer lemon trees. And of course a number of palm trees, the names of which I’m always forgetting. There’s a Queen Palm right there in the middle of the picture, which was the very first one we bought and planted.
We planted the Queen palm nearly seven years ago (because we so admired one in our son’s backyard) and it hasn’t grown since (well, at least not enough for me to have noticed). Josée says it has.
The cypresses one of which you can see on the right, and the Florida slash pine that you can’t see at all, almost on our property line and threatening the electric lines, have grown the most, along with the avocado.
We live much out in the area in front of the house, although not enough of that time working in the garden, probably more often seated at one of our tables, just enjoying the Florida winter weather with a glass of Josée’s own orange wine, which is why we all came here in the first place.
If you were to look up and down San Louis Street, you would see a line-up of houses on both sides of the street, and let me assure you that these houses come with people and young children, although you will see little or no evidence of the presence of people and young children in the front yard.
One exception to this is the cement sidewalk along the front yard that all new houses are required to have and where the youngest children will scooter, or skateboard or bike. Otherwise we see almost no one outside on their perfect front lawns except the groundskeepers who come once a week to chop off the intervening grass growth.
What we would like to see, to have on our street? A line-up of stoops as in the inner city and with people crowded together, all kinds of them, seated or standing, chatting, and just being there and enjoying one another, enjoying being outside and being with their neighbors.
Again, the picture of the house up top of this blog, the one that got me thinking about all this, the one that we pass every morning on our bikes, well I’m sure there are people living there, but I’ve never seen them. Is there anyone there? Anyone home?
And the new houses going up everywhere on our bike route… well when they’re finished I know that people are moving in, but once in, I almost never see them again. Is that what houses are primarily for, to hide us from others, to separate us from our neighbors? I don’t know, I don’t think so, but here in Tampa that seems to be what they are doing.