First Impressions of Dunedin, Florida
From an outdoor table beside the Pinellas Trail, everyone looks old until you meet them one by one.
First things first: Today is January 24th, and the temperature is 71 degrees.
I am writing at at an outdoor table at Express Cafe, a coffee shop converted from a train boxcar.
My plank table under an umbrella faces a wide, paved bike path named the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail. A row of palm trees separates the trail from Railroad Avenue, a cobblestone street mainly for walkers.
Compared with the bike paths I know in Cambridge, Mass., and Denver, the the Pinellas is a trail where bikers and walkers move at a serene, leisurely pace. I have not seen a single jogger or a biker bent down over the handlebars of a racing bike.
Most of the bikes have fat tires. The riders sit upright, hands comfortably wide on the handlebars, rolling along as if on parade before an admiring crowd. The riders have time to admire the palm trees. They do not check devices to monitor their target heart rates. Most of them wear helmets.
Darlene, her sister Deb and I had lunch a half block from here at Cafe Alfresco — “Best American and International Cuisine on the Pinellas Trail.”
The moment I walked in the door from Main Street, I thought, “Everyone here is old.”
It’s an awkward criticism coming from a 66-year-old retiree. Darlene says my new beard makes me look 10 years older than that, so who am I to grumble about a town that seems populated mainly by people my own age?
Before I have time to answer that question, one of the nameless old people stops his bike at the cafe, takes off his helmet and asks me how long I am going to be sitting here at the table. I think maybe he wants me to watch his bike while he goes into the cafe for a latte.
“About 15 minutes,” I reply.
He explains that he sketches and asks if he can do a drawing of me. I say of course, and we introduce ourselves.
His name is Louis Burwick, and he recently relocated to Dunedin from Worcester, Massachusetts. I continue writing on my laptop, not sure of the protocol for being a good model for a pencil sketch. Do I avoid looking at him, like I do during a dental cleaning? Am I supposed to freeze my head and facial expression?
I sneak a glance at his large, white sketchpad that he had strapped to the rack of his bike. I don’t see much that resembles me on the page yet.
A few minutes later, I catch Louis’s glance as I look over at him, then turn back to my screen. He was looking in my direction with a level of attention that was unnerving, as if he was measuring the distance between my eyes, or calculating the angle of the frown marks on my forehead.
Louis told me he is 73 years old, but he looks 65 — a vigorous, strong 65 at that. He is a budding artist, taking classes in the area. He is bursting with energy and motivation, a real force of nature. You can’t help but like him right off the bat. He and his wife love Dunedin.
Meeting Louis makes me feel sheepish about my ageist reaction to the demographics at Cafe Alfresco. To dismiss an entire group based on age: not cool. Worse than that, it’s woefully inaccurate.
Each person in this Florida city where the temperature is 71 degrees in January has a backstory, a plan for the future, passions still worth pursuing. If Darlene and I were to spend part of each winter here, we would fit right in.
I would ride one of those fat-tired bicycles down the Pinellas Trail without worrying about the bpm readout on my Apple Watch. I would find people and ideas to write about, photos to take, interviews to record.
Darlene and Deb arrive at my table, wondering why I’m late for our planned rendezvous back at the car. I introduce them to Louis. When he says that he and his wife recently moved here, my wife asks how they like Dunedin.
That was 10 minutes ago. Louis is still singing the praises of his new home. He and his wife bought a condo several years ago, then sold their place in Massachusetts and are building a new home just off Main Street in Dunedin.
Louis loves Dunedin because of the weather, of course. He also praises the arts, restaurants, and friendliness of the people.
As if on cue, a tall, white-haired man in a yellow pullover strolls by, prompting Louis to interrupt his rave review.
“Hi, neighbor!” he says, rising to greet George Jackson, who moved here from Michigan. Louis makes introductions all around. George adds more praise of Dunedin’s small-town charm, which reminds him of the the community near Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he and his wife used to live.
“Most people think it’s real buggy here, and it’s not,” George says.
“It’s very artsy — and dog friendly,” Louis adds.
Were these guys briefed by the Chamber of Commerce? I hate bugs, and we’re not returning to Florida without the Yorkie Claire.
Our first impressions of Dunedin make it look like a remarkable place to visit or live, at any age.