They say you can never go Home...

Soldiers of Sparta were allowed to return home after lost battles, only if carried dead upon their shields. I'm convinced this is a more practical and time-saving way to go about it.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

It’s a weird sort of town, Temple Terrace. On the one hand, it’s a sleepy little river town, originally built in 1922 for the wealthier, decidedly Caucasian Northern elite. Today, it is strongly middle-class and multicultural; there exists a healthy population of people with Thai, Filipino, White, Black, Arabic, and Pan-Asian background.

To the North is unabashed urban sprawl, an area called New Tampa. It is suburban, somewhat showy, usually gated. A large percentage of people my age have chosen to live or rent there, among the vast quantities of upper-middle class suburban families. Typical to sprawl, there is a single, grandiose four-lane brick-lined exit from each planned community, through which all residents of the community must pass to exit their manicured lawns and matching homes. They all dump off into the only main boulevard that services the huge area, comprised of only two (and sometimes three) lanes. At five-thirty am, the place is jammed like Tokyo in rush hour. Minus the bicycles of course, as the city rednecks…er, forefathers, who developed this area, have deemed conventional bike lanes unnecessary, and widened the streets to accommodate SUVs. I lived here until I moved to California for college; my family moved to Temple Terrace shortly thereafter.

To the East are huge tracts of agricultural land. With lots of cows.

To the West, just outside city limits, is a large university with an enrollment of approximately 40,000 students. There are three hospitals within three miles of the town. Adjacent to the University is the Museum of Science and Industry.

Despite the large number of students, the neighborhoods of the town seem largely calm and peaceful once you leave the city’s main thoroughfares. The narrow streets off these intersections are for the most part densely landscaped, shaded by large Live Oak trees. The trees are typically accessorized with long garlands of Spanish moss, which have largely managed to cling to the majority, despite the best efforts of two hurricanes.

The homes lining the streets are almost always older, sometimes in a state of disrepair, and the styles fall anywhere between unfortunate, late-seventies style contemporary, typical nondescript Florida/California ranch-styles, Spanish & Mediterranean Revival, Mission, mini-Georgian Plantation types, a few Key West designs, and plenty of what I like to call the “Florida Lean-To”—a look which, despite being a house in all senses of its construction, resembles a more artsy-version of a double-wide trailer.

The majority of the homes in this town, if not already situated next to the river, are oriented around a golf course.

When describing “home” to friends back in California, I would inevitably end up mentioning the golf course in an off-handed fashion, usually in a funny but otherwise unessential story. There was, for example, the time my brother commandeered a golf cart with his friends and was hauled off to the pokey on charges of grand theft auto (charges that were eventually dropped, thanks to the Parentals. That was the first time I had heard "fuck" used in the house; the floodgates have since been opened). Or, there’s the violently Christian college in the vicinity and the two students who were caught making love on the course, consequently humiliated in a public fashion, and then expelled from school. (This was a story I had enjoyed on a Christmas break in FL, and again from a girl in my Calculus class at Cal Poly two weeks later, retold with almost perfect fidelity.) And of course, there are the odd helicopter landings as mentioned in the previous post, drunken, naked runs performed at the dead of night, during younger years. There is any number of rather silly and ultimately unimportant, but nevertheless, fun-to-relate stories involving the golf course and my proximity to it.

Some of my ball-breaking friends in California have insinuated that I’m dropping clues about a certain lifestyle. To which I usually reply, that living on or near a golf course in Florida is like saying you live near a gas station, or Wal-Mart, or a 7-11. Golf courses are everywhere, numerous as the bugs and the elderly drivers and the New Yorkers in this state, combined. City crests of several Florida towns should strive for verisimilitude by ditching images of orange trees and peaceful seasides, and instead feature a huge cockroach, on a golf course, holding a semi-automatic weapon.

Which brings me to the last issue—the crime rate.

To the South of Temple Terrace is a small bridge over the Hillsborough River, which, like any of the other cardinal directions mentioned above, brings one back into the city of Tampa. Across the river, the jurisdiction of the Temple Terrace police department ends. The crime rate of Tampa is apparently somewhere between the third and the eighth most violent city in the US. Miami is better. New York is better. LA is far, far better.

You cannot order a pizza at the Temple Terrace Papa Johns and have it delivered after 7:00 pm, if you happen to live on the other side of the riverbank. It’s apparently that dangerous. When shit goes down, helicopters come with spotlights that can illuminate a city-block. My old high school lies a few miles down in that direction.

Recently I witnessed someone driving a putatively stolen car at breakneck speeds over the bridge into town. Distantly, one could make out two Tampa police officers, lights flashing and sirens blaring, a good mile behind. The guy lost control of the car, crashed into a nearby utility line, got out and began to run. Within moments, FOUR Temple Terrace police cars swooped out of nowhere, got out of their cars, tackled this guy to the ground, and shackled him. It was pretty cool. These cops are everywhere, and more often than not, they’ll stop you just because. It may be that they saw you picking your nose in a fashion they didn’t like; it could be the fact that you were driving 3 miles over the speed limit.

I like this town. Yes, it’s uncomfortably close to my family. Yes, it has really no one my age to hang out with. However, this is where I want to buy my first hovel.

Since I’ve come here, I’ve been sporadically attending charettes, intended for a large city redevelopment, which puts the city closer to its originally-intended town plan. Whatever. There are huge tracts of zoned-commercial land in this town that are virtually abandoned; it’s a chance to turn things around, give the city a new identity and go the route of responsible urbanism. As of last week, the master plan was finalized, and a rendering of the city’s “New” Downtown is ready, which I am posting because I’m proud of the work that’s been done:

Photo from Torti Gallas & Partners.