Commuter Story: Attitude, perspective shape drive across Tampa Bay

Just after dawn most mornings, I turn left from Clearwater Beach, drive straight for 45 minutes, turn right at the University of Tampa, and stop only when the street meets the water. My car runs on espresso.
From my office overlooking Bayshore Boulevard, I watch the King Charles spaniel and his Bichon Frise brother walk their owner under my window, followed a few minutes later by the chocolate Labradoodle I covet.
I live on Clearwater Beach and work in Tampa. For a girl from the Northeast who swore she’d never commute again and insisted on living close enough to the office to run home for lunch or forgotten earrings, this drive could be a real drag. Instead, I spend most of the time saying thank you.

I’m a financial planner who specializes in helping people who have lost a spouse to death or divorce. This work is intensely meaningful to me; I changed to this career after my mother committed suicide following her divorce.
Typically, my clients have spent their lives saving for retirement for two, and they now feel as if all those plans and all that work are going up in smoke. They face high stakes decisions at their lowest point. Together, my clients and I create futures that make sense, designing and tweaking through the years based on what’s most important to them. Time after time, I watch clients thrive in roles they never expected or, quite frankly, wanted.

Several years ago, I discovered the collaborative divorce community in Tampa: top attorneys, financial experts, and facilitators so committed to settling out of court that they give up the case if they cannot help clients reach an agreement.

I found a tribe so smart, strong, and supportive that I began traveling for more cases across the bridge. On my birthday, a friend and colleague confided that she was buying an office building just off Bayshore, with walls of windows overlooking the water, and invited me to join her. Thus was born The Tenret Company in Tampa, almost an hour from home.

Perspective is everything
My car has been slammed by a tractor-trailer truck that rammed me into the cars ahead on the Courtney Campbell Causeway and sent me out on a stretcher.  I have missed a performance at the Straz Center because almost an hour after leaving home, I was still stuck behind tourists on tiny beach roads.  

Yet, when the Leadership Pinellas selection committee asked me to name our community’s most pressing problem and specifically prohibited me from saying traffic, I stared at them blankly. Traffic?

Traffic is an hour in gridlock on an ugly highway full of potholes and honkers and snow and ice that at its worst lurks, invisible, until it sends you spinning into a guardrail. Traffic is handing a dollar to a grimy toll taker who snatches it and doesn’t even greet you or say thank you. Traffic is staring at landfills to either side and wondering why you chose to live where both temperaments and temperatures are often cold. Traffic is wondering whether it would be faster to get out and walk because going Just. One. Exit still takes 20 interminable minutes.

Leaving my condo where I hear waves slap the seawall; crossing two magnificent bridges where the bay opens wide; gasping as the sun rises orange behind the Tampa skyline, which is at once impressive enough to command attention but not commercial enough to ruin the beauty; being walled in not by exit signs but by palm trees and mangroves on either side; and watching an osprey soar with a fish in its talons -- that’s a privilege.
On one morning commute, I’ve seen a crowd gathered on Ben T. Davis Beach to watch manatees mate. The other day I saw a dolphin jump. ON MY WAY TO WORK. How can I complain?

Still wonderstruck after all these years
When I moved my business to Tampa, a client asked if I would move to a home there as well. While I periodically check Tampa real estate listings, I remain deeply committed to Pinellas, including serving as a director of Morton Plant Mease Health Care and on Baycare’s Investment Committee. The Clearwater business community is welcoming with abundant opportunities for growth. My home has a wraparound view of sailboats, with the beach, post office, grocery store, bank, and dry cleaner a short walk away. I am happy here.

Friends tally my mileage and time and tell me the commute makes no sense. But when you love the thrum and tempo of Tampa, combined with the calm and wide open spaces of Pinellas, the destinations become worth the journey.

Would I love for the titans of transportation, including Linda Saul-Sena in Hillsborough and Karen Seel in Pinellas, to transform this community with a public transit system? Sure, I’m a nut for productivity and efficiency, and fast trains create time. As someone who designs futures, I know it’s critical for our growth. As someone who watches folks’ faces when you invite them to come all the way to Clearwater, I see that, in the eyes of some, our bridges may as well be walls.
What if we instead relished the time we spend suspended over water between Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater?

Think of how we could market this area! Like the Research Triangle of Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill -- that powerhouse of education, arts, entertainment, and industry -- Tampa Bay unites the best of three glittering worlds.

More than 15 years after moving here, I’m still wonderstruck. And that’s why, for at least 45 minutes each way each day, I will keep saying thank you.

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