Friends said my wife and I were crazy when we moved from South Tampa to Brandon. That was in 1988, when Brandon still was considered "out in the country" and about the only way to get there was car-to-car combat on State Road 60.
But we found a roomy house on a lake with lots of yard for a lot less than folks were paying in South Tampa. It was walking distance to Limona Elementary, one of the finest schools in the county. We were little more than a mile from Brandon High School.
We never looked back.
Both our sons attended BHS. My older son, Ben, started the cross-country program at Strawberry Crest High School. Son Patrick was battalion commander for the Brandon Junior ROTC program. My wife, Elaine, has been a longtime volunteer for the cross-country program and specializes in being indispensible.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying we're invested here. This is our town.
When we moved here, all I knew was that Brandon High had a good wrestling program (it still does). There was no Brandon mall. There were only a few places to eat. There weren't a lot of grocery options. Valrico was just a dot on the map. Plant City was a day trip. Riverview was down south somewhere.
Now we're all in this together.
I get stuck in the same traffic jams as you, or by the trains that rumble through at the most inopportune times. I make it a habit to avoid the mall the closer we get to Christmas, lest I be trapped like my wife one Friday afternoon late last month.
It took her two hours to get out of the mall parking lot. I know this because I got a blow-by-blow account from her via cellphone. "Well, I moved up about 10 feet in the last 15 minutes."
Brandon is hard to categorize. We have our share of folks driving BMWs and Cadillac Escalades, but those same people might have an F150 parked in the driveway. We do like sports — football, baseball, and the Brandon Area Youth Soccer League was one of the first youth organizations of its kind here.
My kids played with the soccer league for years, and I coached there for four seasons with, ahem, mixed success. But that's what a lot of people do in Brandon. They wrap their lives around school, kids and family values.
People here go to church, and most vote Republican. They like barbecue, beer and Clint Eastwood movies. You're more likely to see them in jeans than suits. People who put on airs don't last long in Brandon. When folks here tell you something, they mean what they say.
What do you really want from the place you live? My friend Gene from Weaver's Tire and Automotive runs an honest shop that does good work. People still like to eat breakfast at Ben's Family Restaurant. The carnival at Nativity Catholic Church is always huge.
That doesn't mean there aren't problems. There is crime in Brandon, just like anywhere else. Houses are being built again in large numbers and that means more cars and longer waits at stop lights. But we'll deal with it because, crazy as it might have seemed all those years ago, we found more than a place to live.
We found home.