Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Landmark

Most people who live near well known landmarks never take the time to visit those spots.
Never let it be said I am like most people. And I should hasten to add, this is not the first time the Southernmost Point has graced one of my almost 700 essays. I was aided in my picture taking by the fact that it was between two and three in the morning and there were no lines of visitors waiting to have their picture taken. There is a fascination with the fact that Key west is only 90 miles from Cuba (150 kilometers) as opposed to about 130 miles to Miami (210 kilometers). And I wonder if the fascination will continue once our revered leaders get over their fear of the Cuban American vote and abolish the preposterous embargo. Meanwhile Key West peddles it's status as sister city to the Forbidden Isle, so we, in concert with President Castro get to profit by the political shenanigans. The actual southernmost point is behind the protective barrier that keeps civilians out of the Navy Base, which is right next to the public monument:I have previously mentioned that in years past the city commission pondered the requests of neighbors asking that the southernmost point be moved to relieve them of the constant press of tourists. Geography is a flexible concept in the southernmost city, but for the moment the point continues to reside at the corner of South and Whitehead Streets. This is a small slice of Whitehead at 2:30am.I find that photographing the most mundane thing in Key West at some ungodly hour of the night has the capacity to make everything appear far more exotic. The picture above resembles somewhere far away in my mind's eye, the Morocco perhaps of my youth, and it's just a scooter on Whitehead.
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There is also a debate over the Southernmost House.The fact is that everyone wants to cash in on the "southernmost" label, as though being the southernmost bikini shop is a mark of desirability or quality in our society's endless search for one more customer. If the cement buoy is in fact the southernmost (civilian) point in the city then this house reasonably could be the southernmost house, in all it's simple Italianate modesty:
But the Ramos family up on Duval Street claim, by dint of many, many signs that theirs is the Southernmost House. And they have the splendid date palms to prove it:For the price of a drink the guest house allowed locals to sit by the pool at the magnificent pile, but after the city commission denied them a permit to expand their operation the family sniffed in great vexation, swept up their toys and decided that no more would they allow hoi polloi by the pool. The stand off continues, and if you think petty nonsense has no place in paradise you'd be dead wrong. Either that or Key West isn't really paradise which is a thought no serious tourism agency would countenance. There is another fine structure across the street , the southernmost something else that I can't remember:And if you park your Triumph Bonneville in the middle of Duval Street between these two structures and point your gorillapod-mounted camera due north this is what you see:Duval Street sans people. Just how I like it.
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Moving inland from the corner of Duval and South we arrive at the Southernmost County Administrative Building. One of the things about administering Monroe County is that the territory is about 120 miles long but rarely more than a mile wide and the share of the 75,000 inhabitants who live clustered around Mile Marker 106 expect the same level of service as those living here, close to Mile Marker Zero. So all county offices have to be offered in triplicate to serve the Lower, Middle and Upper Keys. Which makes Monroe county expensive to run. The county had been thinking about no longer using the Gato Building in Key West to house some of it's offices. The city's administrative offices on Angela Street got Wilma'd in 2005 and they have been rather unpleasant and moldy ever since. So the city is looking around and considering building new offices somewhere. Which is a pricey proposition at a time when even our leaders have noticed a bit of a problem with the economy. They had thought about buying the Gato Building on Simonton Street from the County for a nominal sum, but calmer heads prevailed and a more ambitious building plan is still under consideration at far greater public expense. The Gato Building named for it's 19th century builder, was created as a cigar factory, and it has a rather more refined air than one might expect for administrative offices:The fact that it has parking attached and actually looks like a dignified setting for a municipal nerve center probably constitutes a second strike against it ever becoming Key West's offices. Across the street there is more open space available. A 1200 square foot (110 square meter) junque yard:Pitch a tent and there you are, another variation on the not-quite-affordable housing problem in the city. I was running out of time, as seems to always be the case with my meandering lunch breaks, yet there was time enough left for the cup that refreshes:A cafe con leche, known to some sceptics as a "liquid candy bar" but they are bitter people who like their coffee bitter too. A little sweetener, a moment to sit and think of nothing at all at White Street's 24 hour cafe, Sandy's, the other landmark: And from there back to work, for a few more hours till dawn.