Stop The Car

Using my own two feet on the Pinellas Trail.

click to enlarge WALK THIS WAY: Signage on the Pinellas Trail points the way for pedestrians. - Max Linsky
Max Linsky
WALK THIS WAY: Signage on the Pinellas Trail points the way for pedestrians.

WALK THIS WAY: Signage on the Pinellas Trail points the way for pedestrians.Max LinskyStop The CarUsing my own two feet on the Pinellas Trail.Urban ExplorerBy Max LinskyI had to drive to take a walk.

Last Sunday afternoon, after a week of driving the 21 miles to work and back and a weekend of gridlock (thanks, Red Sox), my car and I needed a break. Like a pair of college sweethearts after their first fight, the Honda and I needed some time to focus on ourselves for a second. But first she was going to have to drive me to my walk. That's how it goes in Tampa Bay.

If you live here long enough, you'll find yourself getting behind the wheel just to get to the corner store, or to the garage sale around the block. A few people I know would drive to the mailbox if the yard weren't in the way.

But sometimes you just need to go for a walk.

The Honda and I parted ways on 71st Street N. and 22nd Avenue N., at a portal of the Pinellas Trail, a little less than five miles from where it ends at 34th Street S. Until Sunday, the trail had only been a sign on the side of the road, a crosswalk I sped over on my way to the beach.

The final five miles wind from Pasadena into St. Petersburg's south side, bellying up to Gulfport along the way. A large swath of concrete, wide enough to comfortably hold two bikers and a rollerblader, covers the old railroad tracks the county paved over in the early '90s. Occasionally the path is forced to climb over a major thoroughfare, the catwalk covered in a suicide-deterring chain-link cage. But for the most part the trail stays sufficiently out of the way, running through the kind of small neighborhoods only visited by their residents. It can be disorienting - without the street numbers to separate them, St. Pete's back roads can blend anonymously into each other. It's easy to forget where you are.

Up in Pasadena, and near Gulfport especially, the trail is filled with bikers and rollerbladers, most of them white. Mother-daughter power-walking teams fly by, weights wrapped around their wrists to help burn off last night's dinner. Kids cruise by on their bikes, trying to pop wheelies and scare the old folks hugging the cement's edge on their afternoon walk. Most folks come here to exercise, not to check out the scenery.

But looking at the backyards that line the trail, you see a side of St. Pete that's impossible to catch from a speeding car. A few houses have large fences blocking your view, but most keep the sightlines open, allowing a glimpse into the undressed side of families' lives.

A woman drinks iced tea on her screened-in back porch, her hand on her forehead as she agonizes over paperwork. A family gathers around a smoking grill. And Joe Brinkmann, an auto mechanic who has lived here for 15 years, is on his knees working in his yard in a pair of beat-up jeans.

He bought his house because it was close to the trail, and says that he doesn't worry about being peeped on. "I'd much rather have people walking and biking than driving by in cars."

The sounds are different out here. You can hear the birds chirping, the leaves rustling along the concrete - the stuff you miss driving the Howard Frankland every day.

The scenery changes once you're out of Gulfport and into the south side. The exercisers exit, or turn around. The backyards become industrial wastelands, lumberyards and school bus depots. Rusted out cars replace the basketball hoops, cement silos take the place of second-story balconies. There is nobody on the trail.

My walk was short, only a little more than an hour. I was sweating pitifully by the end. And, after five miles, I didn't want to take another step. So I called my roommate, the one who puts the trash in her trunk and drives it to the dumpster in the alley behind our house, and asked her to pick me up.

How else was I supposed to get back to my car?

The Pinellas Trail is 37 miles long, and begins in Tarpon Springs. For more information, go to Want us to explore your neighbodhood? Tell us at [email protected].

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