For the 17 years I've called the Brandon area home I've seen all kinds of changes come to the area, and generally speaking, progress brought positives to the community.
But room for improvement remains. Here are five changes that could add even more to the place we call home.
• Commuter rail: This sounds pretty pie-in-the-sky a week after Gov. Rick Scott rejected high-speed rail and three months after voters shot down a transportation initiative that included light rail.
But every time a train rolls through the town of Seffner, the thought of hopping aboard and comfortably reading the paper while it rolls into Tampa entices.
If we came within a hair — or one balding pate — of spending $2.4 billion on high-speed rail, couldn't we find the funding to convert Amtrak into a dual intercity/commuter rail for a fraction of that cost?
Sure, rules, regulations and an array of other impediments conflict with this idea, but instead of telling me it could never happen, take a moment and imagine no more wading through Interstate 4 traffic jams, no more filling up for $45, no more wear and tear on the car.
I'm tired of joking about catching the morning train at the Seffner Pizza Hut when I really don't understand why it couldn't become a reality. The Amtrak goes right by there all the time. Create a station in the general vicinity and let us jump on for $5. That would be as good as the imaginary breakfast pizza I would gobble down as we made our way to Union Station.
• Outdoor concert park: Yes, the amphitheater at the Florida State Fairgrounds — I'm too scared and confused to remember the title sponsor — gives us a perfect place to hear the likes of Jimmy Buffett, Tim McGraw and the Dave Matthews Band, but what about a simpler concert venue in the heart of our area?
Envision a place where one of the high school orchestras could provide a concert in the park or the up-and-coming youth rockers could showcase their skills. All this pleasant weather has to have you longing to get outdoors and soak up the sun, but we really don't have that one place where the community gathers for a good time.
Back in my college days, I reveled over shows at the old University of Florida bandshell. I still remember when the Commodores once turned it out with Brick House, and the Outfield crooned about Josie being on vacation far away.
Well, two years ago UF built a new bandshell for a reported $700,000. We could craft a smaller version for a lower cost and maybe get some Community Investment Tax dollars to help foot the bill.
• More waterfront dining: This is another idea yielding from my current case of spring fever.
Sure, we have some great seaside venues down in Apollo Beach like Circles, but it sure would be nice to have something a little closer to Brandon. Yes, there's a void of waterfront dining options up here because there's really not waterfront.
But can't some entrepreneur get creative and give us a beach bar with sandy volleyball courts, Corona beer and fruity Rum Runners?
So what if it's overlooking a retention pond; it still would give a little something to the area.
• Green space enhancements: Plenty of folks out this way walk along the Brandon Parkway or play with their kids under the shady oaks of Paul Sanders Park, but we could always use more places to frolic.
Two years ago, a dispute arose over a triangular parcel bordered by Valrico Road, Lithia-Pinecrest Road and Brooker Road.
With plans to widen Lithia-Pinecrest still being debated, it may not make sense to develop that lot into a park, but a simple place with jogging trails and a bike path makes far more sense than letting it turn into a commercial development.
• Cohesive community leadership: The Regent, formerly the Brandon Advantage Center, typifies the greatness that can happen when our leaders get on the same page and strive to make things better.
We can enjoy other benefits on a smaller scale when our civic-minded residents rally together, but lately I've been hearing some scuttlebutt about internal clashes among some of our top service organizations.
As humans, we aren't always going to get along. There will be disagreements, but forgiveness and healing have to be part of the mix. We will limit all that we can be if bitterness takes hold.
The best stories about Brandon's foundation involve community pioneers pulling together. That's something we need never forget.
That's all I'm saying.