Thursday, April 16, 2009


Marathon has a testy relationship with Key West in as much as it has a relationship at all. Key West is the destination in the Keys for people looking for the gold at the end of the rainbow, the small 19th century village filled with "characters" and queers and guest houses and leafy lanes and Art and Culture and Beauty. Marathon is the wide spot in Highway One:Marathon is so named because the railroad decided it was a marathon job getting the tracks to the ferry terminal at Knights Key, just to the south of the Marathon end of the Seven Mile Bridge. Some people call this place "Marathon Key" which is very annoying because no such place exists, despite civic efforts a few years ago to rename the town. Marathon was incorporated in 1999 after years of bitching at Monroe County about how citizens paid taxes and got nothing back. They created a city ten miles long, starting at the northern terminus of the bridge and stretching out towards Grassy Key. The city commission got off to a rocky start with lots of squabbling about how to do what but things seem to have settled down somewhat at last. They have parks:They have people sitting in their splendid parks: Dive shops, this one backed by the Faro Blanco Resort (that the ubiquitous Spottswood Family is starting to restore):So you can go diving from Marathon. even though Key Largo bills itself as the dive capital of the Keys, and the imminent arrival of the USS Vandenburg to be sunk off Key West as a diving attraction has a lot of divers excited. They have attractions in Marathon, at Crane Point there is the nature reserve which my wife keeps promising to take me to:They have a couple of chain motels and lots of funky 1950s resorts:And a humongous airport that could carry all the large jets that can't fit at Key West "International" owing to the short runway. The only problem is no one wants to fly to the heart of the Keys, and despite subsidies from the city, airlines come and go. Delta tried recently and promised to be back in the winter; we'll see. Cape Air gets a subsidy to the tune of several hundred dollars per passenger to fly to mainland Florida and they seem to be hanging in, but the giant runway and superb terminal sit pretty much unused.Developer Ed Swift was trying the build some sort of affordable housing in Marathon but that seems to have evaporated. Developer Pritam Singh got going on Tranquility Bay (where do they find these absurd names?) with it's Butterfly Cafe (nouvelle cuisine for working class Marathon) and the resort resembles... you've guessed it, Singh's developments in Key West -arrrgh! Everyone wants the "Key West style" celebrated at Truman Annex and the Golf Course and now found in Marathon. All those cutesy gables and porches and non-native coconut trees:I don't dislike Marathon, indeed my wife and I looked at buying a home here but the commute to Key West, where our jobs are, was one hour and fifteen minutes door to door. Besides urban planning is viewed as a communist conspiracy in staunchly self reliant Marathon. This is the town where people who visit and live here year round really like it. I mean really like it. It's not Key West, it has the gritty old keys style that Conchs in Key West are always nagging on about but that they sold for a mess of pottage. Marathon hasn't yet had a chance to sell it's grit so alongside the beautiful Overseas Highway one gets a taste of all the necessary rusty things that are needed to keep a community afloat. Trailer shops, boat shops, welders, builders and crane operators:This is Sarah Palin's real America in tropical style and though there is a community stage for live plays, it's not a place where one finds transvestite shows and gay tea parties and rainbow flags and all the rest that flourish in "the other place." This is where the work gets done:Or used to get done. There was a Harley shop here with a ferocious reputation for servicing Harleys ONLY so MamaJoe's never got my namby pamby foreign rubbish business. And now they are gone which is a shame:Despite it's shy face on the world Marathon can't stop the modern keys from making their way in. There's Publix, Winn Dixie, Home Depot, an excellent deli and liquor store next to the Post Office. There is a single screen movie theater with evening shows featuring tables and chairs and beer and popcorn. There is the best anchorage in the Keys. There are county offices staffed by friendly helpful staff which makes a change from suffering through the DMV offices in Key West. This is where I come to renew my driver's license. There are nice neighborhoods with full sized homes on proper lots:This is a town where if you have a truck and trailer and a dog you can flaunt them, instead of looking out sized and absurd in narrow lanes:Marathon has all the beauty of the rest of the Keys but is just a little reticent about showing it off. To find it you have to slow down, pull off the Overseas Highway and plunge down the rabbit warren of side streets till you find the open water:If you missed my essay on the best bathing beach outside Bahia Honda you should search for Sombrero Beach in the archive, it's a fine public beach at the end of Sombrero Drive on the ocean side of Marathon. Marathon doesn't spring to mind as a bicycle or scooter friendly town but my hat's off to the brave souls who chug up and down the edges of the busy Overseas Highway enjoying alternative transportation:I know it's there, the private Marathon, and despite my frequent shopping trips and feeble searches, I just can't seem to find it. Probably they don't want to share it because they've seen what happened to Key West when the developers got their hands on it. Who needs massive hotels and an invasion of outsiders when you have the perfect unpretentious town in the heart of the Keys that all those busy people rush past to try to find Paradise up the road.