When in Lakewood Ranch, love thy neighbor
By Kevin Allen
There’s something special about living in a place where almost no one is from originally. Walk out the front door of our Greenbrook home and look to the left. The lovely couple who lives there is from Maryland. The retirees across the street moved here from New York; they’re sandwiched between two families from South Carolina. The couple that lives to our right? Also New York. My wife, Janet, and I? We moved here from Chicago.
I have yet to meet someone who can say, “I’m from Lakewood Ranch.” (I know they exist, but they’re as rare as a convenient parking spot in downtown Sarasota.) Although my neighbors and I came to Lakewood Ranch for different reasons, we all share a 34202 ZIP code. We’ve all chosen to build a life here, to raise our families and put down our proverbial roots.
We’ve been Lakewood Ranch residents for two years. We’re still adapting to the lifestyle and learning the rhythms. Guiding us in this journey are the people whom Janet and I meet on a near daily basis.
Because I work from home, my human interaction can be limited. We meet neighbors when we walk our black Labrador, Bixby, and we meet fellow parents with whom we share the joys of raising our respective toddlers.
I’ve met a fair number of Ranchers while spending — admittedly, not enough — time at the YMCA; and then there’s the classic conversation struck while waiting in the Publix/Earth Fare/Whole Foods line.
These conversations are usually sparked by something my daughter is doing, like trying to eat through the packaging of a Ben & Jerry’s pint while chirping, “Papa! Ice keem? Papa! Ice keem?”
“Enjoy these moments,” muses a wise Rancher. “They’ll be grown before you know it.”
The dog walkers are my wife’s favorite. There’s Duke’s owner, who tells us to have a blessed evening. There’s the woman who is always friendly, but whose dogs have yet to take a shine to Bixby. There’s the skittish woman who crosses the street whenever she sees us, but still musters a wave. We figure she’s not a dog person, and that’s OK. There’s even a family we’ve never met, but whose dog — a stately schnauzer we’ve nicknamed The Sentinel — comes right up to the edge of his invisible, electric fence and gives us a silent, stoic greeting.
The people at the gym are my favorites. There’s a certain comfort in knowing the type of conversation I’ll have with these folks based on the clothing I wear. If I wear my University of Missouri Tigers hat, inevitably a fellow alum, the parent of a student, or someone who knows someone who went to Mizzou, will strike up a conversation. If I wear a shirt bearing the logo of my employer, IBM, I’m bound to interact with a former IBMer or fellow tech nerd. (We’re everywhere, and we walk among you!) Same goes for any number of Chicago sports teams whose gear I’m probably too old to wear. If I don a Cubs hat, a fellow relocated Chicagoan and I are likely to lament the lack of a good Chicago dog and the dearth of decent pizza below the Mason-Dixon Line.
As with many of our peers, our friends and family are dispersed across the country. Lakewood Ranch never feels too far from them because we’re constantly meeting new people. It’s comforting to know that the micro interactions we have with our neighbors is filling that void.
We feel vindicated in our choice to leave the Midwest. We feel like post-modern pioneers. But perhaps most importantly, we feel home.
So, to the fellow dog walkers, the day care moms and dads, my workout pals in Mizzou sweats and the guy in line at Earth Fare with whom I agree that $6 is a rip-off for a pint of ice cream, thank you. You make a transplant feel planted.