Yes, those of you familiar with real life sci-fi cults (or just acquainted with internet lore) may well recognize not only that town but those very streets as hosting the world headquarters of the Church of Scientology. There's an old bank building on the diagonal corner from this coffee shop that's labeled "The Clearwater Building" and has a big Church of Scientology engraved across its top. Sitting here looking out the window, I'd guess that 80-90% of the pedestrians have been Scientologists. It's not a crowded street scene like a downtown business day, but it's far from deserted--usually I can see one to two dozen people outside purposefully striding the sidewalks.
"Wait," you may be saying, "how can you tell they're Scientologists? Do they have uniforms?" Well, yes. All in dark business slacks, blouses and shirts all white or blue (I suspect the colors signify groups). The women wear scarves; the men wear neckties. The scarves and neckties are one of a few different patterns. This makes all of them look businesslike (in a door-to-door missionary "Have you heard about L. Ron Hubbard?" kind of way) and, particularly for the women, slightly nautical. All of them have keys on rings on a belt loop and I believe all of them have pagers.
It is as if a thousand LDS missionaries had gone dot-com.
Every so often a renegade wanders past--a guy with no necktie, and a few people in polo shirts (when I came in the Starbucks someone with a "Flag" polo shirt was leaving, referring to the Scientology "Flag Service Organization," and I think I saw another polo shirt with an "Org" logo I didn't quite catch).
I have an irrational temptation to stand up and loudly say, "So, who here's a Scientologist?" I suspect this is my friend J.'s fault, somehow; he has a peculiar drive to look at--not just glance at, but spend hours digging through--things he finds worthy of mocking, from Scientology to UFO conspiracy theorists to fundamentalist Christians. (I understand the desire to learn about things one might disagree with, but doing it with the seeming goal of working yourself into a frothing rant--even if you think of it as mocking your "opponent"--isn't something I've ever been too enchanted by.)
So, anyway. I've spent the afternoon wandering about South Tampa looking at more potential apartment sites--this time without touring them, since they're older ones, not from management chains, and will require setting up an appointment to view. I also looked at another one in Palm Harbor, a sprawling, wooded complex called "Country Place" that reminds me of some of the vacation villas at Walt Disney World (usually a good sign in my book).
"Wait," you may say again, "haven't you already written--interminably--about NetPoodles' poor financial health and how you shouldn't be making any long-range commitments like, oh, another lease?"
Yep, guilty. But I've considered that if I'm going to stay in this area, moving to a more central location than where I am now makes sense no matter what--unless I get a job in Brandon or in the "New Tampa" area (the northeast corner of the county, directly north of where Brandon is), which is quite unlikely in my fields, I'm going to to cut down on my commute to virtually anywhere by moving westward.
And the honest reason for being hesitant isn't financial, I know. I want to feel like I can leap off to some other part of the country at a moment's notice if a job I want pops up.
Two years ago that seemed like a real possibility, but now it seems like a pipe dream. The chances of me remaining in Tampa through 2002 seem increasingly high; I don't have the money to just move somewhere else and find a job, the way some friends have done successfully (and some friends have tried to do and failed, a reminder that doing so is much easier said than done).
So the question, I suppose, becomes: if I move from where I am, do I want to move to a place that provides at least a credible illusion of a quiet country retreat, or do I want to move to a pedestrian-friendly urban pad in South Tampa (or a credible illusion of one of those, like West Park Village)? Is a charming seaside Pinellas village like Dunedin too far east to be a good choice?
And is telecommuting from Big Sur really out of the question? Yeah, I know.
Postscript: I returned home and picked up a few days' worth of mail, including a postcard from O'Reilly acknowledging the receipt of my resumé--probably the physical copy I sent after the e-mail one. For some reason this makes me more melancholy than cheerful, but I suppose I can't give up until the 30 days are really past--the end of this month.