Tuesday, September 16, 2008

All's fair but that doesn't make it right

Once we knew we'd be moving to St. Petersburg, we started thinking about where we would live when we got there.
I found a readers' forum on a real estate site from the area and posted a question asking about the best places to live.
I got several replies, including one from a real estate agent named Mike.
We wrote back and forth and pretty soon, he was Our Realtor.
We'd give him a list of houses we found online and he would line up visits for us.
He might have seen us as business clients but we saw him as a friend -- our first friend in Florida.
He took us through dozens of houses.
A lot of them were nice; they were OK. But they just weren't THE house.
Then one day, the day after a marathon house-shopping spree with Mike, I drove around all day long all by myself. I drove street after street, neighborhood after neighborhood, trying to find a house.
Six hours later, I went back to the apartment my husband is temporarily staying in and called up the Tampa Bay Craig's List.
(Craig's List is a free online classified service, available for most parts of the country -- including the Cleveland area.)
I found a house there that seemed perfect. A street was listed but no house number. I sent the home owner, who was selling it without a real estate agent, an e-mail.
She wrote back with the house number and we drove past it.
It WAS perfect. It was in a great location. It was the right price. And, most importantly, it was exactly the kind of house we were looking for.
We went and looked at it, one thing led to another and pretty soon we were making plans to buy the house.
And then we got an e-mail from Mike.
"Where are you guys?"
Mike. Our Realtor. Our friend.
How does Mike fit into this?
We didn't know so we didn't answer him. We haven't answered him.
I asked some friends. They said, "Oh, well. Too bad."
I asked a real estate agent. He said, "It depends on what you signed."
We didn't sign anything. Besides, I wasn't asking about the legality of what had happened, I was asking about the morality of it.
I want to tell Mike we never set out to betray him.
We had every intention of buying a house from him.
It just happened.
I just wish I felt better about it.

Those winds blew some sense in me

"If a hurricane's coming," I said to my husband the other day, "I'm not leaving."
He turned toward me, laughed and said, "Oh, yes, you are."
"The house isn't that close to the water," I said, waiting for him to keep arguing.
But he was done talking. He wasn't angry but it was clear he thought the subject was too ridiculous to waste any more energy discussing.
I was talking about weathering a typhoon in the house we are buying in St. Petersburg.
If you've ever flown into the Tampa airport, you've seen St. Petersburg. From the sky, it looks like a teardrop -- made up of almost as much water as land -- hanging into the Gulf of Mexico.
In other words, almost all of it is close to water.
The city is mapped into evacuation areas. The areas that get evacuated first are given the letter A. That includes waterfront property and all mobile home parks.
Our new house is in Evacuation Area B -- second highest priority.
But I still thought it was OK to wait out a hurricane there. How bad can it be, I thought.
And then I met Ike.
The winds were just starting to pick up when I dropped my weekend-marriage husband off at the airport Sunday afternoon.
By the time I got home, the sky had a yellow cast and the wind was blowing down leaves and limbs.
My backyard looked like a war zone. Most of the potted plants were tipped over and ...
It's one of those canvas shelters that have screen sides that can be pulled shut but most of the time are tied in the corners.
It had been BOLTED onto the wooden deck but now it was in the pool -- like a dead dog in a cartoon with its four PVC-pipe legs sticking straight up into the air.
I've got to get it out, I thought as my head quickly filled with visions of those four pipe legs ripping holes in the pool liner.
I reached in the pool, grabbed one of the legs and pulled.
But the howling wind was pulling back and the water in the pool was lapping over the side of the canvas, filling it like it was a gigantic upside-down umbrella.
I yanked and pulled and rocked and tugged and eventually pulled it out.
Now what?
I now had an upside-down umbrella on land. It was no longer in danger of sinking but now it was in danger of blowing away.
I stood on the canvas to keep it from blowing away and I looked around for salvation that wouldn't come.
I pulled the legs off and dragged it next to the utility shed to shield it from the wind.
The wind was still gusting as I walked back to the house, satisfied I had secured the gazebo as best I could.
I stowed some lawn furniture and righted the plants that had tipped over.
And then I went in the house -- and finally had the chance to say, "Yikes!"
The wind was THIS strong 1,000 miles from where the hurricane made landfall.
How strong must that wind be in Evacuation Area B?
Don't ask me. I'm pretty sure I'll be long gone before I ever get a chance to find out.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The last Chronicle column

What makes a woman -- who is not going into witness protection -- up and leave family and friends, a comfortable home and a newspaper career to move 1,200 miles away?
A husband whose lifelong dream has been to live among palm trees and palmetto bugs, that’s what.
You see, a few months ago, I dragged home from yet another day leading the charge to put out this newspaper to find my teacher-husband hunched over the computer, feverishly tapping on the keyboard with his two pointer fingers.
There were manila folders and stacks of paper everywhere. His reading glasses were perched on the end of his nose and I’m pretty sure he was sweating.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Sending out resumes to Florida,” he answered.
“We’re moving to Florida?”
“We can if I find a job down there. What do you think?”
What I thought was that our lifelong dream of moving to a tropical climate could actually turn out to be more than a dream.
And I also thought that it would give me an excuse to get out of the newspaper.
Putting out a 25,000-circulation daily newspaper is like riding a never-ending roller coaster. I would never voluntarily get off that roller coaster. It’s too much fun. But, at the same time, I always wished the thing would stop for just a minute so I could catch my breath.
And now, with the words, “moving to Florida,” I thought for the first time in my life, I could actually hear the sound of that roller coaster pulling into the station.
In recent years, there have been some things going on at the paper that told me it’s time to move on. Now I had the chance.
And, so, we were moving – or at least we were willing to move.
My husband sent out close to 100 resumes to Florida school districts that had teacher openings.
He never heard back from any of them … not even a “thanks but no thanks.” It’s as if he was filing those applications into a black hole.
And then he heard from St. Petersburg. He was one of a dozen prospects for one job. He went down for an interview. They hired him that very day.
And so, we really were moving.
Fast forward two months and here we are today. He has a job. I don’t. For the first time in 30 years, I not only don’t work at a newspaper, I don’t work anywhere.
Talk about a woman without a country.
I hope to get some writing work, hopefully on a magazine, and I plan to shop my column around down there.
But I just wanted to say how much fun it has been telling you stories every week in this column.
And I want to thank you for all the kind comments you have sent back to me about it and the stories of your own lives that you have shared with me.
I always thought that deep down we really are all a lot alike. Your reactions to this column proved that to be true.
I’ll keep writing online at pattiewald.blogspot.com.
I’m sure the skunks and other critters that have been terrorizing me in Ohio will get word to the wildlife in Florida that I’m on my way down.
Do you think beating with a broken broom handle on the top of the metal lid of a fire pit will scare away alligators in Florida the way it scared away birds of prey in Ohio?
Stay tuned.

Patti Ewald’s last day as managing editor of The Chronicle was Friday. You can always reach her at pagewald@hotmail.com. Please stay in touch.