By Barbara Riddle
Where to live out the last third of a full life?
Still craving museums, foreign flicks, yoga classes and organic, local blueberries and kale? Check.
Prefer to walk everywhere? Check
Prefer not to navigate black ice and gray slush? Check.
Liberal, left-of-center Democrat? Check.
Financially challenged? Check.
Creaky bones? Check.
So, what’s a boomer bohemian to do?
Bouncing in the 1950’s between the various abodes of my divorced parents, refugees from the Midwest drawn to the wonders of Greenwich Village, I lived on Perry Street, Bank Street, Charles Street, Washington Place and even resided in “housekeeping suites” in the ungentrified Hotel Marlton across from the original Whitney Museum at 5 West 8th Street, the Hotel Albert and the Hotel Earle (listen to “Diamonds & Rust”). My education began at P.S. 41 and P.S. 3; roaming the streets as a latch-key kid completed it. I was brought up to believe that no matter what your circumstances, as long you managed to stay in the Village, life was sweet.
Flash forward to 2007, and I am reading a New York Times article about a town called St. Petersburg, Florida. I had already begun to think that I needed a plan for the future. My social security check was not going to cover life in NYC, and certainly not in the newly popular West Village, no longer a haven for bohemians without rent-controlled apartments. A free-lancer all my life, I had no company pension. The life I had carefully built up for twenty-two years imploded when I decided to exit from a difficult marriage to a complicated Czech filmmaker.
I hopped on a plane and spent three days in St. Pete. And, yes, I fell in love with the shabby genteel feel of this former booming 1920’s tourist mecca. Think of North Fork vs the Hamptons, and that’s how St. Pete compares to Miami. Much quieter, stunning natural beauty, situated between Tampa Bay and the Gulf, twenty minutes from pristine beaches and national parks.
Priding itself on a kind of Brooklynesque emphasis on local organic food and crafts and home to a thriving arts scene (Dali Museum, anyone?), it also has a liberal mayor and a strong sense of social responsibility—supporting movements as varied as gay rights, the Fair Food movement and climate change activism.
Haslam’s of St. Pete is the largest bookstore in the Southeast and just celebrated its seventieth birthday. Since 2007, I have been going between NYC and St. Pete, gradually weaning myself from the frenetic and demanding New York lifestyle that can be so stimulating and addictive. But—it is not the only way to live.
My friends on the Gulf are gay, straight, black, white, Latino; they are politically active Jewish atheists, Quakers and Unitarians who bring clothing and books to migrant worker camps, teach nonviolent conflict resolution in women’s prisons, and worked to get out the vote for Obama in both recent elections. Current hot issues are overturning Citizens United and climate change lobbying and education. You simply cannot find a better group of people anywhere in the United States.
And, oh yes, I am now in contract to buy a one bedroom, 660 square-foot co-op (with a screened balcony and parking) for $50K (not a typo) in a mid-century building which is an eight minute walk from downtown cafes and movie theaters, and a two minute walk from the library and a street with craft beer and vintage clothing shops. The monthly co-op fee of $500 includes a storage unit, electricity and central A/C.
This is one tenth to one twentieth of what a similar place would cost in the West Village. I can live like a human being for what I hope will be another twenty years! Most importantly, I will have time to finish my second novel and start my third.
I left the Village because I had to.
I’m settling in St. Pete because I want to.
Next up: How does a free-lance writer and ESL teacher make a living in a city like St. Pete?
Barbara Riddle has been contributing to WestView News since 2006. For information about her novel The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke (hard copy and eBook) and its screenplay adaptation, see www.girlpretending.com. Her memoir, Lovers & Latchkeys: Tales From a Greenwich Village Girlhood, can be read online. At www.talesfromagreenwichvillagegirlhood.blogspot.com/