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Observations: Coming around again

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image Pirate's Pointe Resort Mitch Traphagen Photo

Who knew things are coming around again?

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

Michelle and I were heavily laden with grocery bags and covered in sweat as we walked from the store back to the dinghy dock in Marathon, Florida. It was November 1999, and we were just discovering how cruising on a sailboat also meant walking on land. Our inflatable dinghy was our car, ferrying us from the boat to land, but once on shore, our feet were all we had to take us where we wanted to go. In Marathon, where we wanted to go was to a big grocery store for one last major buy before heading out to the Bahamas.

Struggling with our bags and pouring sweat, we watched a brand-new SUV slow and stop just ahead of us. A door opened and a smiling man yelled out, “Hey, y’all want a ride?”  We hopped in and enjoyed the blissfully cool air conditioning and the comfort of the leather seats. That’s how we met Steve and Ann. They were cruisers, too, but with a slightly higher budget than ours, one that allowed for rental vehicles such as the SUV that may well have kept me from experiencing an unpleasant coronary incident.

Steve and Ann are the best sort of friends. They are highly competent sailors and both appeared to be comfortable in their own skin. They are thoughtful and courteous in a way that made us better people by wanting to emulate them. A few days later, we left Marathon together, but we lost them within hours. We had a few problems to contend with and the contents of the ship’s log from that day are not fit to print in a family publication. But eventually, we caught up with them again and we stayed together, more or less, for the next few months.

Finally, they had to point north to return to the real world while Michelle and I turned south to continue our adventure for a few more months, but we never lost contact with them. When they moved to Amsterdam for work, Michelle and I kept an eye on their boat. They moved to Houston, and then they bought a place on the east coast of Florida. We went to the Miami Boat Show together. And just last week, we got an email from them asking if we could drive by a house in Apollo Beach because they were thinking of relocating again.

They came for the weekend to check out a few places in this area and they found a small house they really liked just down the canal from where we live. We jokingly planned barbecues and weekend sailing trips, and all the while I was thinking that a move from their very nice condo in Palm Beach Gardens to Ruskin would be roughly equivalent to the culture shock in our move from Ruskin to a small town in Iowa a few years ago.

Their realtor from Beggins Century 21 said that this year has been busier than 2005. In South County, the pendulum has begun to swing back from the depths of the housing bust. Indeed, someone else put a bid on that small house on the canal the very same day — and that bid won. My thoughts of hopping into the dinghy to motor the few yards to “Steve and Ann’s house” were dashed.

Slowly, perhaps too slowly for some, things are coming around again in South Hillsborough. For the most part, all people ever hear is how bad things are here; but with people outbidding each other on houses, things are quite obviously changing. Of course, the rising tide hasn’t yet raised all boats. We looked at another empty home in Ruskin and across the street was a notice posted on the door of a home that had long-since seen better days. It was an eviction notice, posted just the day before.

But, not far from where we live is a hidden treasure called Pirate’s Pointe Resort. Walking down the gravel driveway, I am transported from an eclectic, sporadically rundown Ruskin neighborhood to Sanibel Island. The landscaping is beautiful, as are the little cottages that make up the resort. The gravel and shell driveways were filled with cars with out-of-state license plates. If there was a place that I could actually write the book that appears in my head, that would be it. Perhaps the people from Michigan are doing just that, when they’re not fishing.

Florida hasn’t had the best press for the past several weeks and has even managed to pick up a new moniker: “The Gunshine State”. Through luck or grace, I’ve never experienced the Florida that has been bandied about in the headlines of late. Apparently, the tourists that are filling the resorts in the area aren’t all that worried about it, either. I can’t imagine it would be easy to hide a gun in a bikini and no one looked frightened as they made their way to the beach at Little Harbor.

Steve and Ann are now considering making an offer on another house in Apollo Beach. It is owned by a bank and has only been on the market for a short time so they’ll have to act quickly as such homes have a tendency nowadays to disappear quickly. Yes, things are definitely changing here. Who knew that things were coming around again?  If things keep going like this, one day we’ll meet up in Marathon again and this time, I’ll be the one to smile and say, “Hey, y’all want a ride?” Hopefully we’ll plan it out over a barbecue at their place.

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