Neighborhoods

Hmm…so perhaps we don’t have to move after all?

Landlord might want to sell. We’re talking bargain-basement here. Of course, there’s a lot of work to be done, home ownership’s greatest hits: roof, electrical, plumbing. Still, it is under heavy consideration.

I’m developing a chronic case of whiplash from changing plans so quick and drastically. For the past month I’ve been visualizing life in different neighborhoods—gated, manicured and fresh-wind-blown from the river; quiet, sunwashed, blocks and blocks of 60-year-old stucco; busy, central, a walk to Publix, a bike to downtown.

I’d already started packing, dammit…

Getting to know your neighborhood follows the same timeline as getting to know a coworker. You’ve got your own space, but you see her every day. You learn little things here and there—she has a lot of dog-walkers, she’s close to a great little café, she floods when it rains. And then one day, bam: You realize that she’s got a juvenile detention center, say, or a sewage treatment plant.

It was a few months into our year and a half residence in Gillespie Park that Little J and I realized our yard was a throughway for questionable characters headed to and from the park.

Actually, Gillespie Park had a great personality. (And as you know, that’s code for “your neighborhood is fat.”) It had the Mexican neighbors who spoke little English but were generous with beer and laughed with us for hours as we stood in their dusty driveway; the gazebo over the pond in the park that took the place of previous neighborhoods’ bay views;  the sketchy apartment complex, the police substation, the “Ring of American Heroes” or whatever—gilded busts in the far corner of the park sitting in a circle, staring at each other in perpetuity.

One time I was awakened by knocking at the door. It was 8:30 on a Sunday morning, and I ignored the knocking until the person turned to tap on my window, which faced the front porch. At that point I figured it was the landlord and shuffled blearied to find the key (the deadbolt required a key inside as well as out—fire hazard, no?).  But I quickly realized it wasn’t the landlord when I heard an unfamiliar voice say (or so I thought), “Did I wake you?”  I swore under my breath, Yeah you frigging woke me it’s 8:30 a.m. on a damn Sunday who the hell keeps knocking when nobody answers—

I opened the door to a diminutive man holding up a tinfoil bundle partially wrapped in a dish towel. “Barbecue?”

“NO I DON’T WANT ANY BARBECUE, DAMMIT! WHAT THE HELL?!”

It’s hard to predict what idiosyncrasies we’d encounter if we moved. But after dreaming of new neighborhoods for a month or so, changing plans and pondering staying put has given us new appreciation for our little corner of the south downtown Bradenton ghetto. Sure, there really is a sewage treatment plant four blocks away, and yeah, our whole world smells like burning orange peels when Tropicana’s in full tilt, and yes, there’s drugs and crime and those two kids who overdosed a few Christmases ago. It’s a homely little area, but homey, too.

“I was gonna miss McKechnie,” CCB admitted yesterday. I’d been dreaming of granite countertops and grounded outlets and roads safe for biking, but yeah, I agreed: I like being able to walk to baseball games. I like the bicycle ice cream man and his bell; I like the whistle of a pre-dawn train delivering oranges; I like strolling to the Red Barn for Maria’s tacos on Sunday mornings, darting across First Street to Banana Bob’s tiki bar, traversing the car lot to buy beer at the gas station, and all of the incredible examples of humanity at those locales. I like how, when the wind blows just right over the laundromat on the corner, the whole neighborhood smells like fabric softener.

Last night, we sat on the front porch, looking out over the neighbor’s yard full of cars, the barren duplex next door and the frightening apartment complex beyond that, and we watched an incredible fireworks display from McKechnie throwing gold and green and purple over every weedy yard and broken street light. Opening day. Here’s to closing.

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