A swirling, steamy mist hovers over the nubby red bricks on Sitios Street after a South Tampa downpour. Just three blocks long, this Palma Ceia street is unknown to many cab drivers, pizza deliverymen and movers. Even the crustiest Tampa native probably doesn't know about it.
Nestled between the Palma Ceia Country Club and Howard Avenue, Sitios Street lures those who enjoy living near SoHo and Bayshore Boulevard without the noise, parking problems and flooding endured on glitzier streets.
When my husband and I first saw the bright bungalows, with cats napping on porch swings in the afternoon sun, we knew we had found our home. Moving from Seattle, we initially thought Tampa was the most foreign place on earth, with its heavy air and scorching heat.
My husband flies a Twin Otter plane up and down the East Coast for NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) based at MacDill Air Force Base. Addicted to snowboarding, New World cuisine, independent film and gourmet coffee, Seattle was our green paradise. When told of our transfer to Florida, we braced ourselves for a life of longing and pink stucco.
Then we stumbled upon Sitios Street, perfectly situated near cafes and restaurants, and a short drive to downtown and the Tampa Theatre. Live oaks bend overhead, shielding babies and new parents out for a bumpy stroll. Bougainvillea bushes and carpet-like lawns frame the picket fences and storybook bungalows painted pale yellow and sage green.
The Palma Ceia Playground a few blocks away provides a lively meeting place for our chocolate lab, Cyrus. We have met a lot of friends at this park while hitting tennis balls to eager, drooling pooches. For the first time in my life, I live in a real neighborhood that probably hasn't changed much in the past 30 or 40 years.
Everyone knows everyone by name on Sitios. This is the kind of place where you can really borrow a cup of sugar and where your neighbor will call you at work if your dog gets out of your back yard. Kids play hockey in the street and toss a baseball with their dads. Today, on the Fourth of July, I imagine an enterprising youth will hawk lemonade from a makeshift stand.
People who move away often come back for street parties. A man who once lived in our house drives by every now and then to honk hello and wish us well. And we always love to hear stories about the different couples who have made improvements to our little house, built in 1924.
The old-timers, people who have lived on the street for nearly 60 years, talk about the days when milk and ice were delivered to their front doors. They also complain about the new mini-mansions that seem to be dodging city regulations more and more.
We've sipped champagne while playing shuffleboard across the street on lazy Saturday afternoons. We've enjoyed Halloween parties and Gasparilla shindigs that end with a short walk to the parade and festivities.
Lately, babies on Sitios Street have been popping like tulips in springtime. So much so that people have been asking about what is in the water flowing through our pipes.
We had our first baby in September and have joined the ranks of the baby joggers on Bayshore, much to the dismay of Cyrus and his friends at the park. At last count, our block of 12 houses had six recently born or soon-to-be-born babies.
On any given day, you can see neighbors showing off their baby's new tooth or expounding on the benefits of their latest piece of baby gear. People are happy to see each other working in their front yard or sitting on their porch. Maybe it's the potholed red bricks that slow everything down in this quiet quarter in South Tampa.
Whatever it is, we're happy to call Sitios Street home.