But no one said commercial fishing has to be tidy. It's a disorganized way to make a living, sudden wealth with a good catch, back breaking labor relieved by plentiful alcohol, and its adherents aren't required to have strong formal educations. All of which combines to produce an industry that exists in a state of mostly benign chaos:Fishermen, if they have to be lumped together, could be defined as old fashioned rugged individualists, self reliant businessmen of the old school who would rather spend time of their choosing, making traps and sorting nets in the discomfort of a boatyard rather than taking orders from a chain of command in a more organized workplace:Then there are the stores on Stock Island that keep this tenuous lifestyle supplied. On Highway One there is a Burger King, a liquor store, a minimart, a dollar store, a gas station, a Mexican restaurant and so forth. Here's Highway One looking north from my magnificent Bonneville:But deeper into this world of trailers, boatyards and fish traps there's a Tom Thumb convenience store right there on the main drag that offers Stock Islanders a place to get the ncessaries and to hang out:For some a flat surface is all that's needed to pass the time of day...not unlike how things go in Key West, except that around here tourists are less numerous.I am quite fond of Hogfish on Front Street, a bar and restaurant that serves a mean basket of fish and chips, in the open air environment that we all love and enjoy on a brisk sunny, winter day in the Keys. Good luck finding Front Street, a road which leads to the old power generating station that Keys Energy keeps on stand-by in case the main powerline from the mainland fails. The Stock Island power station could keep Key West in electricty for a couple of weeks if needed. Hogfish keeps the hungry traveler in fish and beer as the need arises: The Rusty Anchor is another good one, nondescript from the exterior but with a long history of serving up plates of seafood on 5th and Shrimp Road. These aren't fancy eateries but suppliers of honest grub to the workers looking for their noontime break. My favorite breakfast joint is an unassuming Cuban place serving an inexpensive plate of eggs, bacon and grits with a steaming cup of con leche right here:
The view from El Mocho of Maloney Avenue is what it is, certainly not waterfront vistas but the food is what counts and for the daily regulars bellied up to the counter this place is a source of the real daily news. At my table I sop up my grits with cuban toast and soak up the ambiance. Tomorrow who knows what might be occupying this spot?
Across the street lies the fire station,charged with protecting all these homes and businesses, scattered around south Stock Island. It seems a lot of ask of this tiny fire station and plans have been mooted to modernize the facility. Where the money will come from with the county's current state of insolvency doesn't bear wondering about. County employees have been laid off, more than two dozen so far, next year the budget crisis will undoubtedly deepen as Amendment One kicks in. A State prosecutor quit the other day because his salary didn't qualify him for a loan he needed to buy an apartment. The State Attorney's office in the Keys has the highest turnover rate in the state- 40 percent in 2007. I saw this vehicle outside this trailer and I don't put it beyond the bounds of possibility that a Deputy Sheriff lives in a trailer on Stock Island. This is affordable housing for all kinds of workers. We are in crisis in the lower Keys and the impending redevelopment of Stock Island trailer parks seems likely to make the crisis worse. When you see travel trailers made into permanent housing you know the need for somewhere to live is well beyond platitudes.One curiosity that I find somewhat ironic is that a mobile home, even of the permanently immobile sort, is rated as a registered vehicle in the state of Florida and all these homes have little vehicle registration stickers on them, like this one under the mailbox:I didn't have to look far for the signature piece of furniture I am finding in all neighborhoods I photograph in the Keys:Away from the waterfront and all its marinas and commercial shrimping there lies a neighborhood of homes off Cross Street called "Lincoln Gardens" in the official lingo but known locally as "The Avenues." Its a wild mixture of trailers and homes, old and new:This two year old modular home on stilts is for sale, all one thousand square feet of it, for $368,000 according to the brochure. It has 3 bedrooms, two baths and bugger all in the way of landscaping. Nearby there is a row of two story housing that has been built for sale as affordable and I have no idea what their selling price is. Units deeded affordable generally go for possibly $200,000 for 1 bedrooms and around $250,000 for two bedrooms to qualified county residents. The Conch style homes are next to Bernstein Park, which is an open space landmark in this part of the island.Across from the park is the old dog track now transformed into several blocks of affordable rentals, built by Ed Swift part owner of Historic Tours of America. Swift comes in for a lot of criticsm not least thanks to his street-clogging Conch Trains, but he has put his money where his mouth is. These places look pretty good for $700 a month for a one bedroom:Let's face it he could do more and Meridien West is supposed to be matched I believe at some future date by another 100 units labeled Meridien East, a suitable replacement for a long defunct drive in theater.
These are the times that try men's souls and as I wonder how long I will be able to hold on to my little tree house, our leaders, to their eternal shame, haven't yet sorted out a collective Plan A to replace worker homes which are being reborn as playgrounds for the rich. God knows where it will all end.