10 Years in Sunny Florida

September 27, 2013 10:40pm
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tampa

As if we haven’t celebrated enough anniversaries this week, today also happens to mark the 10th anniversary of when I became a Florida resident!

Yes, it was 10 years ago today – give or take a few hours – that I pulled off onto Dale Mabry Hwy here in Tampa, my little black Sunfire loaded down with the majority of my worldly possessions, after driving 1,438 miles over a two-day span with the Northern Michigan town where I spent the first 23 years of my life in the rear-view mirror. For my first three weeks in town, I lived out of a Howard Johnson in South Tampa for $160/week … which was exactly as lavish as you would expect from a $23/night motel room!

But I didn’t care – I was in Florida. And eventually I found myself a job, and an apartment, and slowly I started to build a little life for myself down here, seemingly on the other end of the country from pretty much everyone I’d ever known…

Being so far away from family has always been hard, but generally they’ve always been pretty understanding of why I left. I’d been out of high school for 5 years, I’d gone as far as I could in the company that I worked for, my social life existed exclusively online … I just needed more than what Gaylord had to offer me, and they got that.

It’s still a little weird to think that I essentially picked the Tampa Bay area at random. I thought that I wanted to move here so that I’d be closer to the water for diving, though in hindsight I’ve yet to don a regulator since I left Michigan! Originally I was going to move to St. Petersburg, but started to look around Tampa more after a couple of apartments that I looked at didn’t live up to their promotional photos online. I was even considering Orlando at one point because I wanted to study oceanography and UCF had a program while USF didn’t.

There were other cities where I’d considered in between, before I had the guts to go all in and just go to Florida, too. Grand Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo … even some little town in Maine at one point, simply because I had a friend who was stationed there in the Navy … good god, am I glad that that one never quite worked out! I like lobster, but not enough to tolerate that kind of cold…

The truth is that none of those places worked out for one reason or another, and even though I was bitter about each one at the time, it was kind of all the better because deep down I’d always wanted to move to Florida … those were merely intended to be stepping stones, even though in hindsight I’m sure I’d have gotten stuck in any one of them and probably would’ve never made it to where I am today.

I love living in Florida, just like I love living in Tampa. It’s a big city, but not so big that I’m afraid to walk around downtown. Right now we’re just about equal driving distances to the Gulf beaches and to Disney World, so you can’t beat that! I love having choices of places to go – something we didn’t have up north – whether we’re talking about things to do on a weekend or even just which Walmart to go grocery shopping at. Plus, we have enough places to eat that the nice place doesn’t have to mean Chili’s or Olive Garden.

Obviously I love the weather, especially going into the next couple of months where it starts getting a little cooler … but not nearly that cold.

Contrary to many of my neighbors up north, I actually like the diversity that comes from living in a bigger city – i.e. unlike my hometown, Tampa has more than one gay person and more than one black person, and not everybody speaks English, either! I love seeing palm trees everywhere, including in my own front yard. And I think it’s neat that often times we get to watch cruise ships head out to sea when we take Cleo to the dog park down by the water.

It’s funny because Sara and I have talked randomly about whether we’d ever want to move someplace else, be it closer to family either in Michigan or New York, or even to somewhere entirely different, and thankfully she’s kind of on the same page as me on this one in that Tampa is our home and we like it here just fine. 😉

I’ve lived almost 1/3 of my life now here in Florida, to the point where I can’t really picture living anywhere else. Sure, we might like to move up to a bigger house at some point, but we’d still stay here … in fact, we’ve kind of already got the neighborhood picked out once the book sales start to pick up!

When I first moved down here until I’m not really sure when they stopped, I used to have nightmares where I’d suddenly be not living in Florida anymore – I’d be back at my old job stocking shelves at the warehouse, and eventually I’d think that my rent is due soon, and then someone would have to remind me that that was over, now, and it didn’t work out and that’s why I was back home again. It had been such a struggle for me to get here that the threat of losing it was very scary because I figured that all it would take was one slip up and without anyone around to bail me out, I’d have no choice but to go back to Michigan…

Needless to say, I don’t really have those nightmares anymore, but it’s no question that moving to Florida has probably been one of the most significant events in my adult life. It’s incredibly cliche, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true – sometimes you just have to pack up and follow your dreams and see where the road takes you. There’s a part of me that wishes I’d have had the guts to do it sooner and I couldn’t tell you how many years I stared at that map of Florida that I had taped to my door before I finally took that leap, but at least I did it and that’s really all that matters.

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