Hard Candy – It’s a Hell of a Town

I just couldn’t make myself buy the “I Love New York” shot glass at the airport. See, that’s the one thing I collect – shot glasses. They’re tiny and serve double duty as holders for other things, like shells or vitamins or pennies. 
Don’t get me wrong: if I want a bagel the size of a Yorkie or some of the best theatre in the world, I’m not arguing that New York is the place to go. But do I love it? 
No, I do not. New York – and by this I mean both the city and the suburbs – makes me itch like a Navy seaman on shore leave in Thailand. I’m not built for the city or the lifestyle. I’m a Floridian, in every sense of the word.
My cousin Sue and I talked about this as she drove me to LaGuardia from Yorktown Heights. She recently spent two years in Charleston when our government activated her Coastie reservist husband. 
“There’s no pride in anything here,” she said, bumping over potholes and gesturing to the trash dumped in droves somewhere between the Bronx and the East River. I’m sure she meant mostly that area, but I realized then that she was right, mostly. We’d never let piles of trash accumulate like that, or put up with potholes the size of Rhode Island. What followed was a poignant discussion about the respect for nature and the way we in the south are more in tune with nature than the poor people who spend months stuck in the slush and snow every year.
And then I came home to Florida, and while I in no way think Gulfport has anything in common with any town bordering the East River, it does occur to me that we could be doing a hell of a lot better on the trash and potholes front. I love Gulfport, but it occurred to me as we risked whiplash to get to the airport, that some streets and alleys in our city would leave the same impression with tourists and more than one local: that we don’t have any pride. 

We aren’t a pretty town, Gulfport. We may be a quirky town, a fun town, or a town with good food and some art, but we aren’t conventionally pretty. If you forget the charm and the whole “waterfront Mayberry” vibe we’ve got going, we have some ugliness I think we maybe don’t see anymore. I think we love our town and our community so much that maybe we look past what’s wrong with it sometimes – and also why we tend to crucify people who point out our flaws.

But we’re ugly. We have a great personality, and that’s taken us far, but in the looks department? We could use some help. That’s why I was thrilled to hear the city manager has a plan to put some better lights along the beach and – even though it won’t do anything to decrease the amount of motor oil, fertilizer, and other contaminants flowing freely into Boca Ciega Bay – pave the beach parking lot. Thanks to Ward Four councilman Michael Fridovich’s pesky insistence it might be worth borrowing money to repair the colander that passes for our sanitary sewer (and after many years of some dignified, poorly-cloaked begging on the part of Public Works Director Don Sopak), we’ll even see some work starting in that arena.

Good times in Gulfport, indeed. No Bronx or Queens or Brooklyn here, no sir. Our trash is all… well, OK, our trash is still all over the place. Whether it’s litter blowing across city lines (and plastic bags ballooning out to the bay) or people who don’t care about leaving garbage set at the curb for days on end, we have a beautification problem. We still have alleys with trash piles and dead limbs, sunken potholes that aren’t apparently reparable (check behind the Sav-On Seafood sometime after a storm and you’ll see what I mean), and a few customers who apparently feel that since they aren’t part of the waterfront district they don’t need adhere to the same community standards (yes, I’m talking about the old Winn Dixie plaza, which isn’t exactly our shining star). 

Except they’re wrong. They’re wrong because you have to drive through the other parts of town to get to the downtown which, thanks in part to better funding than other areas, looks lovely. They’re wrong because the rest of us have to live in those other areas, and you know what? If I wanted to live in squalor, I’d move back to the south side of St. Petersburg and pretend not to notice the broken communal trash cans and litter on the streets.

Since I don’t, and since we’re officially into budget season, how about I make a few requests as we start talking next year’s budget? I want the city to pick up trash. Period. I don’t care where it is or whether the property owner calls or who they have to charge. Pick. It. Up. I want alleys I can drive through without wondering if I’ll pop a tire in a puddle. I want a second code enforcement officer and a more efficient system so we can get more done. I want our council to give more thought to how we’re going to serve the residents who moved here because they were utterly charmed by the downtown and less thought on how they’re going to stay in office. I want to revise not our codes but our code violation timeline so that repeat offenders don’t have a month to cut their grass every time it gets too long. 

I want people to remember they live in paradise, because we do. And I want council to allow our city management to hold us all to a higher standard. I don’t want to hear 5,237 bureaucratic reasons we can’t simply clean up our alleys, fix our potholes, or add more attractive lighting, paths, and trails outside the waterfront redevelopment area. I would like Gulfport – all of Gulfport – to deserve the attention the Chamber and the Gulfport Merchants Association and our wonderful businesses get us. I want a city that charms me in all four corners. And I’m prepared to pay for it. Raise my taxes. Go ahead. I triple dog dare you.

Or, hey, that’s cool, leave the trash and potholes. Because everyone who leaves New York just  tries to recreate it anyway, right, and since that’s what I remember of New York, that must be what the city’s all about.
After all, as the song goes, it’s a hell of a town.

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.