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New route leads to new view of Tampa

Through luck and circumstance, I live but a couple of miles from where I work.

And I do really appreciate this, not just for the stunning price of gas, but also because I have experienced the motorist dodgeball that can be the daily commute across our bridges. Truth is, sometimes it takes me longer to walk from the office parking lot to my desk than to drive to work.

And yes, greenies, I have biked it, though given the level of friendliness toward people on bikes around here and those freakish bike lanes that actually go between traffic, I think I'd prefer my old across-the-bay commute.

So imagine my crankiness when they decided that Interstate 275, which stretches directly between where I live and where I work, must be widened to accommodate burgeoning traffic.

My serene commute suddenly became a daily adventure.

Because, as it turns out, when they undertake such an ambitious project for a major highway, they must sometimes close down the roads that run underneath it to get the job done. As in, my methods of ingress and egress.

Which is my morning challenge. Which roads will be blocked today? I have come to believe they use a Vegas-style spinning wheel to decide.

My up-until-now main thoroughfare, the great blinking signs told me, would be impassable until June. Wait, now it's July. I look forward to the Thanksgiving update.

As for other logical routes, well, you just never know. Open today is closed tomorrow. So I reroute and redirect, try one way and another. And along the way, see a lot.

It is truly amazing to watch a whole second span of a monster highway that will one day ferry millions of cars emerging piece by piece out of all that dirt and chaos.

Then there are neighborhoods I rarely saw before.

Two old men sit on folding chairs in a certain yard, watching traffic pass. I have started to worry when they are not there.

I see fine old churches I did not know existed and bungalows a century old, a karate studio, a billiards hall. I pass a planned massive housing venture that was supposed to enliven these urban neighborhoods, all quiet on those cleared and waiting fields.

I see slivers and curves of the Hillsborough River I never knew, with morning rowing teams slicing cleanly through the water.

Because of the highway project, I got to know Frank, or Fred, whichever. We've never spoken, me and this middle-aged, workaday guy on a construction crew, but the names seem to fit and that's how I think of him.

He holds the signs at an intersection often whittled down to one lane while heavy equipment chugs all around him on important business. I have spent long minutes facing Frank (or Fred), waiting for STOP to turn to SLOW. At some point we nodded good morning, then got to waving hello.

On a rainy day, he stood just out of the downpour and we commiserated, shaking our heads in an isn't-Monday-always-like-this way. One day he was looking over his shoulder and I saw a giant red hot air balloon in a nearby open field, ready to take off over the highway.

Pretty cool, I think we both thought.

That road is open more often than not now. Probably I'll soon be zipping back to work in no time, forgetting to think that I hope Frank has a good and sunny day.

New route leads to new view of Tampa 07/18/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 8:59am]

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