4/29/2007 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper
A few weeks ago, I traveled to Alabama to attend the annual awards ceremony of the Alabama Media Professionals. We met at Samford University in Homewood, and I stayed at a hotel in Tuscaloosa.
I was there only two days, but that was long enough for me to suffer a serious case of what I call “land-locked depression,” a sense of being smothered by land without seeming end.
In Tuscaloosa, I walked along the beautiful Black Warrior River, aware that it was merely a river, a narrow waterway with land on each side. In fact, I could see people moving in the homes and businesses on the other shore.
As a coal barge churned in front of me, I realized again – as I have done over the years in other cities and towns – that I, a Fort Lauderdale native, must live on or near the ocean.
At such moments, I vow never to take the ocean and its gifts for granted.
In Fort Lauderdale, as a child and as an adult, I could walk to the Atlantic Ocean in 10 minutes. In Daytona Beach, I lived in a Spanish-style beach house on the Atlantic. White sand was my front yard. In Key West, I lived on the Gulf of Mexico. “Cuba is right out there somewhere,” my neighbors and I used to joke. On Virginia’s Eastern Shore, I could walk down to the Chesapeake Bay and throw in a fishing line.
And now in St. Petersburg, I live on the water, where my neighbors and I watch the sunrise each morning, and, at night, moonlight glows on the water as far as the eye can see. Whenever I wish, I can walk to the water and put in my kayak or fish for a big one.
From my porch and front yard, I am spectator. Each day, I have the pleasure of watching sailboats tack against the blue horizon. A few times a week, when the wind is just right, agile windsurfers and kite-boarders defy gravity with their seemingly impossible maneuvers. Families come to get away from their crowded neighborhoods, and, of course, sweethearts often spread their blankets.
I have lived in many places, and I believe that St. Petersburg is a national model for the accessible, friendly downtown waterfront. At least once a week, I play the tourist by doing something downtown, something as simple as walking to the Pier or to the Vinoy or visiting the Dali.
I often drive to Fort De Soto Park to watch the sunset. When the forces are aligned in the sky, few natural events are more awe-inspiring than a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. Other times at Fort De Soto, I put in my kayak and paddle to one of the keys. There, I either fish or simply walk and enjoy the flora and fauna.
Sometimes at Fort De Soto, I look around and pity the tourists who spend thousands of dollars to visit paradise just for a few days a year. When you visit Fort De Soto, you can see why it was rated America’s best beach in 2005.
Indeed, St. Petersburg, along with the rest of the Suncoast, is paradise. And paradise is my home.
We know the cliches – “sun-drenched beaches,” “sugar-white sand,” “swaying palms” and “plush foliage.” But the cliches do not begin to reflect the satisfaction that we natives and other permanent residents experience each day by living in the real thing.
As I write, I can see the sun rising above the waterline. I dare not take this experience for granted.