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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Brandon Report: A Short Trip Down Memory Lane...

My wife will tell you that I can be somewhat long winded when I attempt to provide you with detailed accounts of trips we might take, and I’m afraid that this just may be one of those that exceed your standard Two-Minutes and Back Button (TM&BB) reports. It isn’t that I need an audience to take a drive down memory lane; as I told my older sister over the weekend, I have frequent recurring dreams of my hometown of Brandon, and they are pleasant, so don’t expect much more than some pictures and maybe a little commentary to go with them. So if you can handle that, I’ll tell you a little about the place.

Of course, I love San Antonio and in the previous twenty-something years since leaving Brandon, my wife has asked me repeatedly if I ever thought of moving back to Florida, and I always responded with a convincing “no! Something changed this time around, and to be honest, I started thinking about how nice the place is. Granted, we would have to somehow overcome the need for real San Antonio food, probably trading our cravings for Tex-Mex for fresh seafood and Cuban fare, but my wife certainly knows her way around the kitchen and we’d probably survive.

During previous visits, my kids endured trips down memory lane where I would point out my high school, the McDonald’s I worked at and our old house. In spite of seeing these places and briefly recalling great memories, it was the overwhelming growth of Brandon that always convinced me it was all a lost cause. I mean, why move to some place that is overwhelmed with traffic issues, just because there are fond memories?


When we moved to Brandon in 1976, it was as though we had moved out into the proverbial country. This is a picture of the house my parents had built. It seemed bigger at the time. And back then, the driveway could hold six cars if properly maneuvered. I suppose the new owners don't have the same skills.

One of the great things about San Antonio is, you can drive twenty minutes in any direction and find yourself out in the country. In Brandon, at the time, it was not uncommon to see people riding horses through the sub-division on the way to the store; we enjoyed a mostly quiet, smog-free existence in minimal driving distance of the beaches of Clearwater and cities to the south and the malls and of course, the Buccaneers of Tampa.

When you are younger, everything seems bigger, mostly because you are on foot or on a bicycle. And when I return to the places where I spent hours on end, riding bikes with friends, I recognize that we probably never really rode more than a few miles in any direction.

Roads that were dead ends now enter into new neighborhoods that have been built over orange groves and cattle pastures. And yet, just across the street from Brandon Senior High School is the same empty corner that always had horses or cows grazing.

And speaking of the high school… It was over crowded when I attended. The school only had three grades – 10th through 12th; but as sophomores, we attended the afternoon session – from noon until 5PM. Once we became juniors and seniors, we attended school from 7am to noon. Double Session is what they called it. At the time, Brandon High was the largest school in the state of Florida and supposedly, the third largest in the country (in terms of student population), and “The Streak” was already well underway by then. Now, there are at least 4 or 5 high schools serving the same area, and just this year, The Streak ended.

Between our old house in Woodberry Estates and the school which is only a mile or two away, there is a Lakewood Drive. On bicycles, it was a killer in either direction. We would try to get as much speed going down the hill as possible to help make the ride up the hill in the other direction easier. It worked a lot better in a Camaro!

At the corner of Lakewood and Limona, the Limona Cemetery made for a nice short cut. My wife always thought if I died I would want to go back and be buried there, but I never really thought of it. It’s a nice enough place I suppose.

Down Limona Road is the turn. Perhaps this turn is why they built the Limona Cemetery where they did. Surely, I wasn’t the only 17 year-old in the history of Brandon to drive too fast on slick streets and cross the double yellow line and plow head on into another vehicle, right? Thankfully, in terms of head-on collisions, the injuries weren’t as bad as they could have been; by now, I suspect my parents insurance rates have returned to normal and the lady in the other car invested her settlement wisely.

But more importantly, I learned one of the life-lessons that has guided me as a parent, on that day at the curve on Limona Road in Brandon; that damage to a car is simply an insignificant byproduct of being young and stupid, and yelling or being mad is simply an unproductive exercise during a stressful situation. My father is always calm in his demeanor but I guess I expected some craziness that afternoon. Instead, he calmly made sure I was okay, and called the people in the other car to make sure they were okay and to offer whatever assistance he could. Then he simply told me that this was what insurance is for. It may not mean a lot to other 17 year-olds, but that experience would mold my view of stressful situations for a life time (at least this far). My kids have not had the benefit of growing up just around the corner from my parents, but I suspect in a way, they have felt the presence, regardless.

If you can make it beyond the curve in the road, there is a convenience store located just on the other side of the railroad tracks. By San Antonio standards, I suppose it is odd since we have a Valero on every other corner, but this was (and as far as I can tell, still is) the closest little store to our house. We would ride bikes or sometimes walk along the railroad tracks looking for discarded Coke bottles to turn in for the deposit. The other day when I drove by for my own private trip down memory lane, I wasn't surprised to have to wait at the crossing for 4 or 5 minutes as a train passed slowly by. I cannot tell you the depth of stupidity that I have witnessed at that single railroad crossing, either from kids playing "dodge the train" or adults in cars not wanting to wait playing "dodge the train".

Today, the convenience store looks a little tacky, but who knows? It occupies the same physical location as it did before, but in my dreams, it is a different brand - maybe Stop 'n Go or something similar. I just know that as the finances of a kid mowing yards at $5.00 a whack, I spent a lot of money there.

Of course, I graduated from mowing lawns on my sixteenth birthday and began my one year tour of duty at BranMac, the nickname for Brandon McDonald's. Just like the high school that was overwhelmed with students, BranMac was overwhelmed in volume. The next nearest McDonald's was in either Ybor City or Plant City, I think. I honestly believe that the hard work I put in for a dime above minimum wage there would make military basic training and the supposedly high stress jobs I would hold over the years, a breeze.If the phrase "six and twelve on the turn" gives you chills, you should know that we routinely doubled that. Back when a Big Mac was maybe 85 cents a copy, we were routinely doing multiple $1,200 and $1,400 hours. BranMac was a finely tuned machine and we had something that I challenge you to find at any fast food restaurant today, and that was pride. We must have been so seriously brainwashed by the managers that we genuinely respected, a group of us guys purchased personalized T-Shirts and challenged other stores to grill competitions.

I drove by BranMac a few times during our weekend and noticed they had remodeled. My dad tells me that in a single day, they demolished the entire structure so they could build a new building. I didn't bother to stop by - and maybe I should have - but I couldn't bare the thought of potentially bad service at one of the finest establishments in the company history. Ray Kroc wouldn't have it, and neither would I.


On Sunday Morning I drove my dad and my son down to the car wash to get my dad's little baby, a Chrysler 300, a much needed (whether it was really dirty or not) bath. There is something about a clean car to make things right and my father was simply aching to get the car spiffied up. There is a certain sense of satisfaction that comes from forking over $30.00 and knowing that, barring any rain or unexpected puddles, you are driving one sharp car, all the way home. We discussed the car wash operation and the staff attending to my dad's 300 took great interest in the fact that I was goofy enough to take pictures of a car being washed. If they served food, they'd still be shaking their heads.

In spite of the massive growth in the area, Brandon still has lots of wildlife. We drove by a bank with an ATM machine out front and a group of Sandhill Cranes seemed to be organizing a bank heist. And they would have gotten away with it...

And I think that helps with why for the first time in years when my wife asked the inevitable question - would I move back - I suddenly felt like if a job presented itself, I would. In spite of the massive growth, I felt like the traffic moved, the result of some master plan that involved building beautifully landscaped parkways paralleling the main road through Brandon, State Road 60 or Brandon Blvd. I never felt overwhelmed by the traffic and more importantly, I didn't feel as though I would see vandalized street signs or tagged privacy fences. And that was enough to make me consider it.

I've traveled extensively, lived in several different countries and several states all over the U.S.; I live in San Antonio because I love it here. It never hurts to take a little trip down memory lane though, and I have come to the conclusion that I may need to do it a little more often.


Anonymous said...

I'll be back there next week. Get to go to a graduation in north Florida. I kind of miss it every time that I go back, but the drive to where ever I might get a job...I don't know! And quite often as I drive by your old house I have to wonder if the cut out in your closet is still there.

Dave said...

And quite often as I drive by your old house I have to wonder if the cut out in your closet is still there.


I kid you not, I drove by there Monday and wondered the exact same thing!

The inside joke is that I cut an attic entrance in the top of my closet in my bedroom to create a clubhouse. Too hot you think? Nope, I sealed off the back area and cut a hole in the air conditioning duct work so I could get cool air.

Maybe I should alert the new owners as to why their electric bills are so high!

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I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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