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Look at that! Now, what's on the tube?

Published Aug. 24, 2005

I arrived at the Dade City office of the St. Petersburg Times more than six years ago, a mere boy.

I leave this week, a grown woman.

Ha! No, no, not really. That would be pretty darn dramatic.

I didn't really transform that much. But, wow, Pasco County sure did.

What a spate of changes since 1998. Folks I met when I got into town still referred to that little strip of asphalt known as the "road to nowhere." That lonely stretch (Bruce B. Downs Boulevard) is booming now. It's lined with gated-communities-in-waiting, the roads paved and the street lights up, anticipating the new homes that will sprout soon.

Those phantom neighborhoods have become a lot more common around here than orange groves and cow pastures.

This column concludes my run in the Pasco Times. I'm moving on now, just a ways down the road, to St. Petersburg, where I'll try my best to fill the job of television critic (a position I applied for because the job of beer critic doesn't exist yet).

It's been a great run in Pasco. I've met some wonderful people and some low lifes, agreed with some policy directions, and cringed at a few. I watched some tragedies unfold, and some triumphs. I saw Tampa grow closer to us and watched east and west Pasco grow father apart, even as they become more like each other. (Traffic jams do that, make things farther apart.)

The old movie theater in Dade City has been torn down. Same for the old bus station. The old system of volunteer firefighters got dismantled along the way, too.

I entered a gingerbread baking contest twice. I fondled a cow's private parts four times.

You don't get to do and see all that stuff in most jobs.

My sincere thanks to everyone. It's been a blast.

Life has become a pleasant routine for me. In moving on, I stopped and took a look around. Amazing what's gone on as I settled in.

I know I wasn't paying much attention, but wasn't somebody supposed to?

Jeepers, we created State Road 56 to ease the traffic out of Wesley Chapel, connected it to the kudzu sprawl of New Tampa and cleared the way for a huge, traffic-spewing shopping mall and more housing. All while creating a new morning traffic jam on Interstate 75.

We widened SR 54 in Land O'Lakes, then slapped a shopping center where the old horse farm used to be. We lined the highway with strip malls and broke ground on some of the ugliest townhouses I've ever seen.

There used to be woods across the street from the St. Leo Town Hall. Now it's a subdivision.

We paved dusty old Handcart Road _ an east Pasco trail that was known as the route to the dump _ and promptly began planning for subdivisions there.

We built the Suncoast Parkway through west central Pasco, then got busy building more homes all around it. And to the north, along SR 52, they're advertising Connerton, a city that hasn't been built yet.

Yep, a city. A city bigger than my hometown. Bigger than Dade City.

The plans are laid all around for more new cities: Cannon Ranch, Curley Road; you won't have to wait long.

They're going to bulldoze the old dairy farm in Zephyrhills. The one that's been around since the 1940s. It was on the outskirts of town when I moved here. Since then, they built a Wal-Mart supercenter across the street, next to a Lowe's, near the new Chili's, you know, where they're putting up the Ruby Tuesday, down the road from the Long John Silver's, next to the Sonic, between the two new motels.

Seen an orange grove without a "for sale" sign recently?

About the only place that couldn't get more crowded in the past six years was the U.S. 19 corridor in west Pasco. A city planner I knew told me in 1998 that he was hoping SR 54 wouldn't end up looking like U.S. 19. Right. Now we can only hope SR 52 doesn't end up looking like 54.

Fat chance. The plans are already laid to widen it.

Remember that scene at the beginning of the old television show All in the Family, where the camera pans down that line of houses, row after row after row, shoulder to shoulder to shoulder?

Is that Pasco someday? Take a look around at how things have changed in just a few years.

I'm no gate closer. I wasn't born here. But isn't there a right way and a wrong way to do this? Who's running this goat rodeo?

And how did all this happen in such a short time? Seems like I just got here.