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Observations: Leaving and not saying goodbye

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image From the cockpit of my boat, Florida’s beauty is palpable. This is a good place, like nowhere else on earth. Photo Mitch Traphagen

Last month my wife and I moved away to a city we’ve come to love, but it isn’t Florida. There is simply no place else on earth like this place.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

Easter morning dawned brightly and beautifully, as seen from the cockpit of my boat at Little Harbor in Ruskin. As a Christian, I find the day holds a very special significance for me, but this morning was even more special. The incredible blue sky enhanced with puffy clouds and the cool breeze told me that this day was destined to be a Floriday — one of those beautiful days that only happen in places with palm trees and beaches.

But now, late afternoon on a beautiful Easter in South Hillsborough, I find myself in a laundromat with a surprisingly large number of other people. I’ve lived 51 years and had no idea so many people would do laundry on Easter. I guess there is always dirty laundry, regardless of the day. I certainly have my share. My trip to Florida wasn’t entirely planned; at least, it wasn’t supposed to happen yet. So here I am after not even having time to empty out my dirty clothes in my luggage from a trip to Minnesota last week.

My Easter dinner plans included a delivered pizza, until I found out that there was a two and a half hour wait for delivery today. Again, I had no idea so many people ordered pizza on Easter. I didn’t know until today that pizza places would be open on Easter. I’ve seen some pretty dark back alleys in some pretty scary cities and countries, but I’m starting to think that I’ve led an unusually sheltered life. For a lot of people, a holiday is just another day of work, perhaps with a delivered pizza for a reward at the end of it. Despite feeling a bit long in the tooth these days, it seems I still have a lot to learn. I also have a serious number of blessings to count.

Over the past many years, I’ve made no little secret about how much I love Florida, although I have a rather strange relationship with it. In this incomparably beautiful place, there is sadness, extraordinary struggle, palpable anger and some political issues that would make a third-world dictator blush. The last one is strange, too, because I don’t know how those problems come about — I’ve met any number of elected officials and have always been impressed with their commitment and dedication. Well, not always, but most of the time. Perhaps it is just the case of a few bad apples spoiling the bunch.

But none of that spoils Florida. Last month my wife and I moved away to a city we’ve come to love, but it isn’t Florida. There is simply no place else on earth like this place. It has been my home for longer than anywhere else, and for all of the problems, there are good people working to tackle them. And there are incomparable sunsets. And there is just the perfect Floriday when you need one. This is a good place.

So I’m not leaving. Well, I have already left, but I’m going to come back — as often as possible and whenever the good people at this newspaper feel I may have something to add to the excellence that is this publication, something that far supersedes me. I know that excellence exists with or without me.

But if I’m lucky, if the stars shine just right and the light from a perfect sunset turns my plans golden, then I’ll keep coming back, meeting more of the wonderful people I long ago chose to spend my life with and enjoying more of the perfect mornings, hot, sultry days of summer and the sunsets in which I can almost see God’s hand holding the brush to paint the sky.

Sharing a wooden bench, waiting for my clothes to dry, I am certain I look as tired and rundown as anyone in here. After a day of sanding, painting and other overdue boat projects, I am exhausted. But there is a difference — I’m exhausted by choice. I’m very certain that some, if not many, of the people in this laundromat are exhausted merely from the struggle to survive. As best they can, at least.

I am spending Easter evening in a laundromat in Ruskin, Florida. I am sharing this space with people who work — really work — hard for a living and for whom work doesn’t stop for a holiday. These are good people. People who smile shyly upon eye contact while they are folding clothes, or when they look up from whatever were their thoughts while sitting on a wooden bench waiting for the machines to do their job. This is Florida, just as the beaches and palm trees are Florida.

This trip is almost over, I’ll be gone by the time you read this, but I’ll be back in a few weeks. And then, God willing, I hope to be back again a few weeks after that. But right at this moment, I’m just enjoying a Floriday. And on this day, I’m counting my blessings and offering thanks. I am happy to be here.

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