As follow-up to 10 (Possibly Crazy) Things I Believe About Tampa, I thought it might be fun to compare to what I have actually learned so far, after moving here…
We have been living in Tampa for a few weeks now and it is a little different from what I thought it might be like. Here are a few surprising things I did not know about the area but have learned so far through observation and experience…
1. The birds are nuts. I am dumbfounded by the diversity of wildlife here, especially birds. It probably makes sense being right off the ocean but I find myself gawking almost everywhere I drive. There is a crazy array of goofy-looking birds. There are real flamingos, pelicans, and brightly colored… somethings… everywhere! They are brave, too. We watched a bird steal an old lady’s sandwich on the beach (she did not react at all so she might have been dead, but still). The vultures here are BIG. Oh, and there are actual vultures here. They are big. I assume they get that way by stealing babies. If I see an empty stroller, my first thought is there must be a fat vulture nearby.
2. You will die of old age waiting for traffic lights to change. You can seriously walk back to your house, shave, shower, make coffee, check your email, and walk back to your car while waiting to turn left here. The traffic is insane and I am certain it is because the guy who controls the lights has narcolepsy. However, he is not as bad as the guy with sleep apnea who was in charge of road signs.
3. Road names randomly change. I am 100 percent serious about this one. Follow me on this. I turned right onto Gunn Highway, drove a quarter-mile, then turned left onto Gunn Highway, drove another half mile and turned right onto Gunn Highway, and then hung a right on Gunn Highway a mile later. I do not even know how to get to the mall which is less than five miles from our apartment, but I have been there at least ten times (in all fairness, six of those times were by accident). What bipolar wannabe comedian named the roads here?!? I don’t even know who I am anymore.
4. Tampa is prepared for the zombie apocalypse. There are elaborate, large screened in yards everywhere here. Imagine an entire yard, from the ground to the second story of the house caged in giant mesh screen, including the roof. It’s like your yard and roof are made of window screens. It is weird. They call them “lanais” (I don’t know how to pronounce it either) but in reality these steel mesh cages exist so senior citizens can sip sweet tea and watch zombies mope outside their steel caged yards. We are not going to miss a day of sunshine because of a little zombie apocalypse. More suga’, Ethel?
5. We are weird about hot water. True story. The shower water here is only lukewarm. Nicole called maintenance because she thought the water heater was broken but the complex explained it was fine. They just keep the temperature low for our safety. We actually had to sign a rent addendum saying we are responsible for any burns or scalds caused by our inability to operate a faucet if we ask the apartment to raise the water temperature (not joking–seriously had to sign it before they would do it). I don’t know if this is a legal thing or because many residents are too dumb to turn the nozzle back the other way if the water gets too hot. My understanding is if you want drive-thru coffee from McDonald’s, you have to prove you have a fire extinguisher in your glove compartment. It’s just a Florida thing, I guess.
6. The weather is amazing. It’s for real. I think when you live in Michigan for a long time, you forget the rest of the world looks different in the winter. During winter in Michigan, you can start the hot water for your shower and then go plow your driveway while you wait for it to warm up. In Tampa, I turn on the water and it is already warm. It actually took me several showers to figure this out because I would just turn the water on and then brush my teeth and make tea, being surprised each time the water was already warm when I came back. It creates a bit of scheduling havoc. I have to be certain I am actually ready to get in the shower before I do now.
7. No one believes you live here. Obtaining proof of residency here was like winning an Olympic medal. After you change your address, you have 30 calendar days to prove you are a resident. To be a resident, you have to show proof of bills being sent to your new address (which would happen after the first 30 days, of course), you must provide your Social Security Card, W-2, Passport, DNA swab, have at least 3 friends vouch that you are an “okay guy”, and demonstrate you are within at least 3 degrees of Kevin Bacon. Lucky for me, I bumped into Will Smith coming out of Cliff Bells in Detroit one time and he was in After Earth with Zoe Kravitz who appeared in X-Men First Class with Kevin Bacon… so, it was close but I made the cut.
8. Vegans here think it is 1974. This is a strange nether-world for vegan living. There are no less than 3 Whole Foods within a 20 minute drive from our apartment and they all have the typical vegan options Nicole and I would hope to find at a Whole Foods. We like to eat out, though. Exploring vegan (or at least vegan-friendly) restaurants is one of our favorite pastimes. The vegan restaurants here, though, are basically manufacturing cardboard. The food is straight-up old school hippie vegan with grains and nuts in everything. The other day, after being served the wrong item three times by a 74-year old long-haired waiter in shorts and wearing a headband, I finally accepted the oat-wheat sandwich with sprouts he was pushing. After the first bite, I considered using the bun as a weapon to hold the place up and find out where they were hiding the Daiya cheese. Luckily, Chipotle has Sofritas–a little reminder that vegans can eat like normies anywhere.
9. Florida thinks it has potholes. I drove by a road crew and observed them filling a dinner-plate sized dent in the road. At first, I thought this was just a way to waste taxpayer money and maybe the State was trying to justify union jobs or something. Or maybe there was a small amount of toxic leakage they were cleaning up. Then, after three more separate incidents, I realized they actually thought those little dents were potholes! In Michigan, potholes are where you might find trapped miners, possible alien abductees, smaller cities, and your cousin Jamal who left to put gas in his Iroc-Z 8 months ago. When Nicole and I drive by a pothole in Tampa, we treat it with the same awe and excitement as seeing a puppy. “Awe, look at that little baby pothole. You’re so cute, yes you are!”
10. The lizards are faster than your lizard brain. Some of the only animals that don’t gross us out (lizards are cute, they eat bugs, and they have no inclination to crawl in your mouth at night) still find a way to freak us out. They are literally everywhere. Yes, even there. Literally. The thing is, you can tell the tourists and new Tampa transplants by the sheer fear we have of stepping on one of the cute little buggers. However, lizards are frighteningly fast. You can not step on one. They move like little street magicians doing sleight of hand tricks with every step. And they wear top hats but it is tough to see them because they are so fast and politely take them off before getting out of your way. (I know… where do they keep the top hats, right? I don’t know. They are little street magicians!)
So that’s it. Those are the first 10 (almost certainly) true things I have learned about Tampa so far. I should add one note about snakes. I am trying to think of them as “footless lizards” so they don’t terrify me as much… but I still check the toilet before I use it. Footless lizard or not, a person needs a place of sanctuary.
Today’s Lesson: Florida traffic lights have never met traffic lights from other states. Tampa is prepared for zombies. Google Maps works as effectively as a Magic 8-ball here. This is the insane asylum for birds too crazy-looking to be in the rest of society. Vegans think “raw oats” is its own food group and exclusively what you feed to other vegans. Instead of “potholes”, Tampa has “pot-dips”. The water is warm, the weather is amazing, and lizards wear top hats (but politely remove them before you see them). Oh, and snakes–I mean, footless lizards–are still creepy, even in Tampa.