By the time you read this, I’ll be on vacation, and I have to tell you, I have a serious case of “vacation brain.” I’m having a hard time thinking about work. For part of the time I’ll be in Costa Rica, trekking through rain forests and watching a volcano through my room. Hopefully, the volcano will not erupt. I mean, they already had an earthquake this month, so I think they’re full up on disaster. I hope. The rest of the time I’ll bum around Florida and relax at home, trying valiantly not to check the Gabber’s Facebook page and my work e-mail.
In my stead you’re going to see a familiar face popping into your events. Well, she’ll be familiar to some of you – Shelly Wilson worked at the Gabber a decade ago, and she’s recently (very recently, as in “just this week” recently) returned from a three year stint in Denmark. She’s graciously agreed to hang out around town and take some pictures for the paper. If you see her around town, be nice. She’s a lot kinder than I am.
I’ll admit, I feel childish at how excited I am to have her back home, even if I’m celebrating her return by leaving the country. Shelly worked at the Gabber when I started there, and out of that grew a friendship, and even though she hasn’t worked at the paper in four or five years, I can’t think of the paper – and, by extension, Gulfport – without associating it with her.
Last week I spent some time talking with Chamber President Lori Rosso about Gulfport and our ties to the city. We came to Gulfport around the same time, and we’ve shared observations over the years. I don’t always agree with the Chamber of Commerce’s actions, but I always like Lori a great deal, so it was a pleasure to sit and relax with her. One of the things we talked about is what Gulfport means to us.
For me, Gulfport was exactly what I needed at a challenging time in my life, and even though I live across the bridge now, the tiny town holds a special place in my heart. Whenever I get frustrated with the job and think about quitting (it’s been nine years, people, and I’m amazed I’m still hanging in here), I cannot conceive of a life without Gulfport and the Gabber. It’s not that my world is so small as much as it is that you are all so big.
I’ve written about family before, and I love certain members of my blood family tremendously. Others? Well, if I never saw them again, my life would likely not be any worse for the absence. As an only child, I learned to make my family with my friends, and that’s what I’ve done with Shelly and, to an extent, some of you.
Because, really, we can talk about community and neighborhoods all we want, but what we’ve all done here is make our own families. I’ve done it with Shelly and the girls (Leah and Stacey and the rest – you’ve heard me talk about them enough in the past, I’m not going to rehash it here) and I see you all do it with each other. I’m honored to be a part of it, on any level, and I think that the fabric of our community is composed of family units that have little to do with blood and more to do with love.
If you’ve reached the point in the column where you’re waiting for me to start in on some group or another or launch into some bitter invective about trees or city council, I’m about to disappoint you. You see, I really do think Gulfport’s a truly fine city, and I think that the people, more than the location, more than the restaurants, more than the quirkiness, make it so.
Even if there are five million things that could be done better in Gulfport, it’s still wonderful. Yes, some of the properties could look a lot better and no, our beach isn’t on par with the barrier island beaches. Some Thursdays you love me and some Thursdays you hate me and some weeks we all love each other and some weeks we all hate each other. But we’re all tied to each other, bound by an invisible thread of shared experiences and community. We all may bicker, but at the end of the day we lean on one another.
Take, for example, that unpleasantness when St. Pete Councilman Wengay Newton blamed Gulfportians for crime on 49th Street. The week before it happened, a resident criticized Gulfport Councilman Dan Liedtke (for an unrelated matter) in a meeting, stopping only at the mayor’s insistence. When Councilman Liedtke later responded to Newton’s allegations and defended Gulfportians, that same woman stood again to thank him, and I believe she meant it.
It’s like this: I can say whatever I want about my family, but that doesn’t mean you can say it. Gulfport’s the same way: everyone in Gulfport knows, on some level, that the entire city’s in this together. Gulfport’s making it through tough times and looking towards better things, and, at the end of the day, it’s because of who the city is.