A change in perspective

Published on: February 3, 2011


I expected a small town renaissance to take place during the recession but instead I found a lot of snow and ice. Although it is beautiful for a while, that beauty wore thin after two cold winters.


It is amazing how the passage of time can change perspective. I once read a generalization that said if you aren’t a liberal while young, you have no heart and if you aren’t a conservative while old, you have no brain. Having met young conservatives and old liberals who were far from heartless or brainless, I don’t place much stock in that but perhaps it does serve to explain why some former flower children from the 1960s are now Tea Partiers.

In 2007, I was Florida’d out. I stopped seeing the beautiful, laid-back atmosphere of this place and began seeing crime, traffic, and long lines everywhere from the gas stations to restaurants to the grocery store. My wife and I found a small town in Iowa that almost no one has ever heard of and bought a house for roughly what people are paying for a new full-sized pickup at the big auto dealerships in Brandon. I even found a handful of other Florida refugees amongst the 2,500 people in the town. There was virtually no crime and when you had a doctor’s appointment, you never had to wait. When I went to get my Iowa driver’s license and literally walked right up to the counter to do so, I thought I was in heaven.

Over time, I became aware of a problem in this small town and its neighbors — something had recently changed between generations. While the town was filled with good people who I was proud and honored to call neighbors, it seems there was an underlying current pushing out the best and the brightest young people. For the kids who excelled, it was almost as if they were expected to leave for the fabled greener pastures in a place that wasn’t anything like that small town. The unspoken and erroneous directive was that failure to do so meant that those young people weren’t living up to their potential, because the small towns themselves simply didn’t have potential.

Back in 2007, like many people, I could see the dark clouds beginning to form over the happy blue skies of the economy. I had assumed that with the promise of technology, America would see a small town renaissance. Young people and nostalgic baby boomers would move home and, thanks to the Internet, could find jobs working for distant companies, or for themselves, from the peace and tranquility of rural communities. I still believe that door opened briefly but few, if any, small towns took advantage of it. Small, rural communities have been in decline for so long now that perhaps an attitude of defeatism has taken hold. Perhaps they just didn’t see the opportunity. Maybe there really wasn’t an opportunity.

In my small town, the city council dropped a few million very precious tax dollars repaving the streets in the small downtown square. In doing so, they replaced a bouncy but quaint brick roadway. I wondered at the time if they had ever asked themselves if anyone had ever driven downtown on the brick streets swearing upon all that was holy that they would never return until the streets had been repaved. I seriously doubt that ever happened. I was thinking if they had dropped those millions on some serious community-wide, blazing-fast Internet technology and opened a few boarded-up storefronts for young, aspiring entrepreneurs seeking fortune on the web, maybe they would get something more than a few tons of already cracking cement for their money.

I was saddened to be wrong about the renaissance in rural America. There is truly so much potential in those communities that it defies description, but it is difficult to see it as people pack up and move out for the fabled greener pastures. It is difficult to see it when people stop you in the convenience store and ask in the most incredulous voice, “You moved from Florida to HERE?”  I loved the small town and I loved my inexpensive, old house. But after two cold, snowy winters and a few more boarded-up stores, I began to realize that what I had dreamed of simply didn’t exist in that dot on the map in flyover country.

Last week I made an appointment at Apollo Beach Family Dentistry. I don’t think I waited even five minutes before I was ushered into a room where Dr. Sharon Collier took stock of my situation and painlessly resolved the problem in less than 25 minutes. Since moving back to Florida, I don’t think I’ve ever waited more than 5 or 10 minutes to see my doctor in the Cypress Creek medical offices. OK, so yeah, I have spent some time waiting at the tax collectors office to regain my Florida drivers license and plates; but to be honest, they do a pretty impressive job given the huge mass of humanity that descends upon them, often dealing with strange situations involving missing car titles and suspicious-looking bills of sale handwritten by the guy selling a car or two along a wide spot on College Avenue. And they manage to work through the crowds without killing anyone or without the advantage of knowing pretty much everyone there as the tax collector in Iowa did. They really deserve some credit for the former, if nothing else.

Sitting outside typing these words as the sun sets behind palm trees, I can’t, for the life of me, explain how my perspective could have ever been so askew about this place. Yes, there are problems here, but I’ve finally come to realize that nirvana is a state of mind rather than a place on the map. Except for those few years to realign my perspective, South Hillsborough has been my home since 1995. On this warm winter day, I’m glad to know that I’ve found my nirvana and that I was able to come home again. The future is wide open and potential is unlimited. If my realigned perspective is merely a state of mind, I’m fine with that. It is a good place and there’s no snow to shovel.