Sunday, October 23, 2005


Westchase 3.5mi
I couldn’t decide whether to run or crosstrain to get back on schedule, but I had to work and the gym is closed on Sunday mornings, so I opted to run. I set out at a nice easy pace from the station onto Linebaugh and into Westchase. I never run in Westchase, and in some ways this area doesn’t even exist in my mental map of Tampa. During the years that I spent exploring the outskirts of this city after I got my first car, this entire community did not exist. This was one of my favorite places to go on a Sunday afternoon when I could go to Ella Hardy’s camera shop at the Oldsmar Flea Market, wander through abandoned dairies and ranches with my Rolleiflex medium-format camera, and drive my car along Racetrack Road in a manner befitting its name.
These days Westchase is a sprawling collection of subdivisions within subdivisions made up of randomly winding streets designed to break up the monotony of the three available home designs repeated ad infinitum. Imagine being able to look straight down a street of this kind of repetition. The curves help to break things into smaller pieces, and by the time you round the bend you’ve forgotten that this house looks exactly like that one.
I remember riding through here at Christmas time in the back of a rescue unit running emergency to a call. We were driving through one of the condo communities, and I was looking out the side window at the units illuminated by the rescue’s strobes. The light created a movie-like flicker effect as the same scene reappeared from the darkness time after time, projected on the screen of my small window. It was like watching a piece of stop-frame animation where the set remained exactly the same, right down to the Christmas tree sparkling by the sliding glass door. Only the actors changed as we passed. Here was a man laying on the couch, now a woman cooking dinner, an empty apartment, two children watching TV on the floor. Each scene strobed past so quickly it was almost subliminal. The only way to take it all in was just to watch without thinking.
I have witnessed this effect before while watching graffiti through the subway window in New York. On the Manhattan bound B train from Brooklyn, there was a place where an abandoned tunnel ran parallel to the B’s tracks, the two tunnels being separated by a series of archways. For some reason the empty tunnel was brightly lit, and some intrepid graffiti artist had taken advantage of the flicker created by the archways separating the tunnels when viewed from the passing train. Repeated on the far wall of the tunnel, framed by each archway, was an image of a rocket ship that shifted a little more to the left in each scene until it passed out of the frame, creating the effect that it took off each time the train passed. This snippet of animation lasted only one or two seconds, and I can remember it clearly many years later.
I drive through these streets nearly every working day, but the memory of that Christmas montage is one of the few that sticks out in my mind. My mental map of the area is rudimentary at best, and I just can’t seem to populate the woods and pastures of my youth with these lanes and cul-de-sacs.
Today I follow Linebaugh to Montague and run south through West Park Village and down its fake little Main Street (this development is too new to appear in the mapcard aerials, but it does show up on GoogleMaps). Starbucks is open already, and a few people stroll around in the predawn quiet, clutching their Sunday morning lattes, past the shuttered boutiques advertising “only the best for your baby”. There seems to have been some kind of carnival here this weekend, and the nearby park is full of partially dismantled rides, games, and concession stands. I feel like I’m on a stage set. Somehow even the other people on the street don’t seem real to me. Who gets up at 6:00 on a Sunday morning to walk around in the dark drinking $5.00 coffee? Maybe they’re extras hired by the neighborhood association.


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