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Roadways bind us together

I am a civic-minded individual. So it is time for me to plead for bay area unity. Eight days from now, we'll hear whether St. Petersburg's Dome gets Major League Baseball. You can bet that if the answer is no, people in Tampa will snicker, as they often do about Pinellas, and declare I-told-you-so.

This is not very productive except when it gives desperate columnists something to write about, as in:

We need to put our divisions behind us and start appreciating what we have in common.

Speaking of which, why not start with a contemplation of Our Truly Terrible, not to mention Unspeakably Ugly, Major Roads?

Next time you are stuck on U.S. 19 behind a concrete mixer and your mind just happens to wander to why it is Tampa has this insufferable superiority complex, you can consider Dale Mabry Highway. At this point, you can snicker back at Hillsborough. And then you can relate.

Think about it: Both U.S. 19 and Dale Mabry run north and south. Both are the main routes in and out of their parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. (And in the case of 19, through Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.)

On both Dale Mabry and 19, you are doomed to be stuck, if not behind that concrete mixer, then behind a tourist in a rental car who is searching for an I-4 on-ramp. Or else you're next to a kid whose car lacks air conditioning but does have that all-important feature, a stereo that can be heard in Romania.

I actually no longer mind any of this. Drive long enough around Tampa Bay, and your tolerance for absurdities becomes much improved. This has certain advantages.

It opens your mind to all possibilities, including the one once suggested by a Carrollwood businessman. Since it is impossible to find a single business on Dale Mabry by the method employed by humans _ actual street numbers _ he proposed that N Dale Mabry be decorated with signs the way the Disney parking lots are.

What this man meant was that between, say, the 9000 block and the 10000 block of Dale Mabry there would be an overhead sign shouting the word Anteater. All the shops in that block would be listed below. So you'd know that your favorite discount boutique was in this block, or else further north on, say, Bobolink block or Cockroach block.

Until these signs are installed, you can amuse your car pool companions with this game: Quick! For 10 points! What's at 15786 N Dale Mabry?

(The answer, incidentally, is Northdale Court, the shopping center.)

If you tire of this, God in his infinite wisdom also has provided Tampa Bay with State Road 60, which runs through both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Both counties, in their infinite wisdom, permitted 60 to become a living museum not only of highway hazards but of roadside blight.

But at least the piano that rotates high above Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard in Clearwater advertises a piano store. What the stuffed gorilla out front has to do with the vacuum repair shop it promotes on Kennedy Boulevard, also part of SR 60 and just west of downtown Tampa, is not exactly clear from the street.

Frankly, though, what's a sky-high piano and a fake gorilla next to the Incredible Floating Unfinished Door?

This particular door once tore loose from the roof of a station wagon in the far left lane of southbound U.S. 19 and flew through the air. This was a remarkable sight, but became even more so when I realized the door was coming at my windshield and a spot somewhere between my chin and collarbone.

But since Incredible Floating Unfinished Doors are by their nature magical, this door did not decapitate me but merely smashed my front fender and left headlight. Then the door did several back flips over my car until it landed in the middle of U.S. 19, after which several cars sped over the door without slowing for even a second to admire the peculiar beauty of what had just occurred.

Sadly, the Incredible Floating Unfinished Door was by then kindling. The owner of the car that lost the door stood by the side of the road crying, "My door! My door!" I too was by the side of the road. Only I was screaming, "You could have killed me!"

It took some minutes for him to notice me over the roar of the cars shooting past us to some other lookalike, lovely locale in Pinellas or Hillsborough, wherever.

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