OK...I finally did it. After agonizing over the process and with much helpful advice from all of you on the forum, I purchased a Trek 7200FX. I love this bike!
I thought I should publish my reasoning so that other newbies who are in a similar situation may be helped by my rather thorough process.
The choice came down to a Gary Fisher Zebrano for $439 from one LBS, OR a Trek 7200FX for $329 from a different LBS. Both shops were great. Both bikes were great. Both bikes had all the same components except the Trek had a more sporty stem and saddle. The GF had a quill stem and slightly more "comfort" saddle. Both had 700X35 tires. The GF had suspension on the front fork and seat post. The Trek just had suspension on the seat post.
I rode both bikes. I could have bought either. It came down to advice on this forum about front shocks. At this price point the shocks would not be as good a quality as on a $850+ bike. Also, we didn't have shocks 10 years ago, so why now on a bike that won't see much worse than unpaved dirt roads?
I thought the Trek was a better value. It had all of the same components, the stem and seat I was going to have the one LBS swap on the Zebrano for extra cost any way, and there wasn't a thing I would change walking out of the shop. All that for $110 less. I bought a helment, bike lock, and some other small accessories and came out at the price of the more expensive Zebrano.
Do I think I may need shocks? Well, (Cyccommute, you have me seriously thinking ) If I get really into biking I will purchase a Trek 3700 just for the sheer fun!
Thank you to all who responded and gave great advice and feedback. I hope that I can be as helpful to others on and off this forum in the future.