North vs. South: A tale of two Tampas

She's seen the city from both sides now.

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I've lived in North Tampa for most of my life. I graduated from Chamberlain High and USF. My husband and I bought our first house in Wesley Chapel and stayed for over six years. I've also lived in Lutz and Carrollwood.

During that time, I searched high and low for culture, creativity and kosher pickles, but usually found only yard sales instead.

A few months ago we moved to Hyde Park, because South Tampa's schools, closer proximity to work, and restaurants without giant televisions in every corner were more to our liking.

With our budget, I figured we would have to settle for a studio apartment near UT or maybe a shack under the Crosstown Expressway. Instead, we found a great house, in a terrific neighborhood, without a single fraternity in sight.

I've noticed many differences between North and South Tampa and, surprisingly, a few similarities as well.

DIFFERENCES

Walking in South Tampa is easy and safe. I haven't seen armadillos, gators or that speeding F250 with the driver who insists "Real Men Pray." Yes, Bayshore rollerbladers invade my personal space if I forget to stay to the right, but possums in Carrollwood are a lot more frightening and not nearly as hot.

South of Kennedy might be the real Chosen Land. In Wesley Chapel, I once called a plumber to fix our sink. When I opened my front door, he was swatting at something with his clipboard.

"I'm sorry ma'am," he said, a bit panicked. "I can't seem to kill this here bug."

I gently held back the clipboard.

"That's not a bug," I said. "That's our mezuzah."

"Your meh-what?"

"It's a casing that holds the Torah. Jewish people put them on doorposts."

I lost him at "Torah." This probably won't happen in my new neighborhood. Everyone here seems to have at least three Jewish cousins.

Dietary diversity reigns downtown. Gourmet delis, fusion experiments, Middle Eastern delights, and several dozen Asian-themed restaurants abound in South Tampa. Around the corner from my new house is even a gluten-free pizza shop and several farmers' markets. This is a nice change of pace. I'm sick of explaining quinoa to confused cashiers.

North Tampa has vast front lawns filled with kids and fire ants. There isn't enough room to plant basil in our new space. Upside: No lawn to mow. Downside: Local parks are crowded with felonies waiting to happen.

South is not the same as Southern. I now have neighbors who say "Good evening" without spitting tobacco first.

Carrollwood homeowner Cathy Stone noticed during sudden tropical storms, South Tampa residents watch their patio furniture float past Plant High School while people in North Tampa just watch everything blow away. In the aftermath of such devastation, people in South Tampa go to Ethan Allen and buy new furniture while North Tampa folks get creative with cinder blocks and duct tape.

There are no self-service car washes south of Kennedy, only car salons where Jeeves takes the Mercedes after dropping LuLu off at the spa.

North Tampa has pawn shops and South Tampa has massage parlors. Either way, at least I can find work.

SIMILARITIES

Helicopters loom at night. In Zephyrhills, they're looking for weed. In Hyde Park, someone was spotted wearing pantyhose with sandals.

My smiles surprise everyone. SoHo merchants don't see many happy women in their forties. In Lutz, they were just as surprised by my smile, but mostly because they didn't have to buy me a beer first.

In many parts of North and South Tampa, living room furniture can be found in the front yard. Retirees everywhere want to be comfortable.

MAKING THE MOVE

Mishon Glisson, an autism teacher, sold her home in North Tampa and moved to Hyde Park after her daughter left for college. Glisson enjoys restaurants, outdoor concerts and evening walks on Bayshore.

But she isn't thrilled with beer bottles left on her car, and wishes her neighbors wouldn't decorate their porches with futons and trash cans. But she loves the eclectic homes. For this, she gladly endures the spectacle of young adults playing Beer Pong at 9 a.m. before Gasparilla.

ADVICE TO FELLOW TRANSPLANTS

Rent first. This is how you find out that living behind MacDinton's isn't the best place to raise kids.

Familiarize yourself with parking rules. Glisson points out that some streets allow only resident parking and some allow everyone to park. Some streets allow parking on both sides and some allow parking only on one side.

Other neighborhoods only let you park if you have Namaste and WMNF stickers on your Prius.

Thank goodness for that. I'm finally home.

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