A Southern Sense of Place, Part 1

I’ve been musing over my own travels lately. Not a trip to the coast or a week in Washington DC, but life’s travels, a journey unbridled, sublime, risky, and full of historical perspective without the support of cell phones, instant access, and ATMs. Maybe I’ve come to the travel industry honestly. I never really thought about it within the context of AAACK! until lately, but I’ve spent a good part of my life traveling. Whether learning Swedish before English while in Stockholm or walking the streets of India in the 70’s or my Aunt’s own stints behind the Iron Curtain, my life and my family’s has been one of wandering. Enjoy the next few blogs.

Published in the Tampa Tribune (now the Tampa Bay Times) a few years ago. While I’m a wanderer, my wife will attest, I tend to think of one place where all roads lead.

TAMPA – How delightfully fitting that a Southerner, Mississippi’s Eudora Welty, is so inextricably linked to the simple phrase “sense of place.”

My own sense of place was born on a loose foundation. My father, a Honey Grove, Texas, resident until his late teens, was swept away like so many of his generation into the fires of war. He would never truly return to northern Texas, instead creating a life for himself and his family in the military.

Ultimately, his travels would take him and sometimes us, to China, Sweden, Thailand and Africa. However, it was early in his career, as a young pilot stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, that he sowed the seeds that would eventually become his place.

Assigned to the Strategic Air Command, he met a local teacher and, oh what a time they had. But their fun was tempered by the quip, “One a day in Tampa Bay,” as the test planes that flew above the city crashed regularly. The planes’ wings couldn’t always withstand the shear forces of the warm salt air. Lacking crew ejection systems, every day was a gift, a prayer said for those who didn’t live to see it.

In the early ’50s, the base hosted Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson as they filmed “Strategic Air Command,” the movie my father lived daily. On weekends, he and that teacher would frolic along the coast in Madeira Beach, where the Bamboo Beer Garden opened six years before they were married.

Years later, on hiatus from work and school, summer vacations were spent at my maternal grandfather’s house on Bayshore Court in South Tampa. With a deep front porch, arches throughout and the paint applied to create tiny whitecaps, the architecture took on a Mediterranean look.

Once or twice a week, my grandfather and I rumbled down the driveway in the early, muggy morning as we made our way to Ballast Point Pier on the edge of town. A quick stop by the bait shop, we walked with rods in hand the length of the pier, each footstep striking a splintery board, telegraphing our approach. Bare hooks prepared and lines cast into the murky bay, we would wait.

On July 20, 1969, my mother and I were with friends on Redington Beach while my father was in Vietnam. Late into the evening I was awoken to a momentous occasion. Someone named Neil Armstrong was stepping into another world and settled the race to the moon once and for all.

While most of us shut off the television and went to back to bed, my mother and her accomplice scoured the horizon and were two of three people that night who sighted a UFO. Supposedly, someone in South Florida also saw it.

Upon his return from Vietnam, my father always maintained it was Old Crow rocket fuel that was the catalyst for the sighting.

To be continued…