Thursday, May 1, 2008

Homestead

In light of the fact that I shall be roaming the Everglades on two wheels or four this weekend on my way to my Tampa conference, I figured now might be the time to post some pictures I snatched previously of Homestead, a farming town at the end of the 18-mile stretch, that piece of Highway One that connects the Keys to the mainland. The Stretch is being re-worked by a Watsonville, California based company, Granite Construction which, when I lived in Santa Cruz county, used to advertise themselves as ready to do any job no matter how big or small, "from your driveway to the highway," they said. They meant it:

The old lifting bridge is being replaced with a scheduled opening of the "scenic flyway" this June 16th according to the newspaper. The rest of the Stretch is also getting a face lift with safety cement barriers being installed down the middle to end head-on accidents and an extra northbound lane being added for emergency use only. There's tons of land alongside the stretch:But the theory was that if the state made it two lanes in each direction it would aid and abet development as it would allow more people to evacuate within state guidelines. One way of putting a brake on development in the Keys is by calculating how many people can get to "safety" off the islands within 24 hours. Local officials work the numbers to accommodate developers anyway but the Stretch will remain two lanes wide when all is said and done, creating ample opportunity for road rage and tailgating:I will continue to favor the Card Sound alternative and its one dollar toll.

Once off the island chain, weepy visitors leaving the Keys for routine life back home get to drive through beautiful Florida City, a community that never saw a chain business it didn't like:

Once past that strip one can find oneself in the bucolic loveliness that is Homestead. I am not entirely joking here, because this little town is ragged on the edges and has a decidedly Latin flavor that may offend some anglophiles but Homestead has its charms. The palm trees that help to mask the light industrial neighborhood of small businesses and large fruit and vegetable sorting plants.

The southern reaches of Homestead remind me of Granite Construction's hometown of Watsonville, California, another predominantly Mexican community of farm workers which has subsumed the original Anglo inhabitants. The land surrounding Homestead is flat and rich, it produces year-round crops:Homestead saw a fair bit of prosperity in the 1990's on the coat tails of the wild land speculation of the housing bubble and lots of farmland was gobbled up by little box houses at inflated prices. Nowadays enterprising developers are staving off bankruptcy by turning the tracts into Section 8, federally subsidized rental housing, rendering those formerly $400,000 mansionettes almost worthless, the ones that did sell. Downtown Homestead continues along unperturbed slumbering gently in the 1950s:Unlike Florida City Homestead has retained a proper downtown, populated by mom and pop (mama y papi) stores and local restaurants.One of the better known Mexican restaurants is El Toro Taco which despite the odd name serves up pretty decent Mexican grub. Its right on Krome Avenue at Second Street: I usually head a little further down the street and chow at an unnamed hole in the wall which has a banda jukebox and six dollar dishes, which with a Styrofoam cup of rice milk called horchata, keeps the hungry motorcyclist nourished:Homestead used to have a big air force base here but that got blown away, literally, by Hurricane Andrew and the minuscule reserve base doesn't do much for the local economy. I predict a future of somnolence for Homestead as the economy totters on for a while. Perhaps its charming period flavor has been saved from the wrecking ball:Nice to visit and pause in if you are on your way home to the Keys, not perhaps as much fun if you are wondering where your next decent paying job is coming from.