Friday, July 17, 2009

Summerland Key

Highway One rushes into Summerland Key heading southbound off the 40-foot Niles Channel Bridge, and on the right (the north side) there is a restaurant undergoing refurbishment. It used to be called Fishcutters and offered some astonishingly delicious fish sandwiches, which my wife still rhapsodizes about. In it's new, long awaited guise as The Wharf perhaps it will one day soon do the same. So far there has been construction work but no further signs of action:
The fish should be fresh on Summerland, as there are still commercial fishermen based here along the canal on the north side of the Highway. They park their boats here, mend their nets, and store their lobster pots: The first time I rode to the Keys on a Vespa in 1981 I worried about the likely lack of gas along the way. I didn't recall it was a problem then and it certainly isn't now. There are dozens of gas stations with a few open overnight all down the island chain. Summerland has two, the Mobil Station has a Dion's Chicken outlet and the Chevron has a mechanic's shop. This lady was trouble shooting at the Mobil with what looks like the Dion's cook interestingly enough:
If you are planning a day out on the water there is a 24 hour self service ice dispenser between the island's two gas stations. Visitors tend to forget that despite all pretensions to the contrary these islands are part of the US and people would rapidly organize a revolution were they to be deprived of twenty four hour availability of ice. Summerland Key's sit down gastronomic center has changed hands recently a couple of times and the changes weren't for the better. I haven't eaten there in it's latest incarnation but initial reports are encouraging. There are a few places worth visiting in the Lower Keys, but I would like an unpretentious café serving breakfast and lunch. I have to pluck up my nerve and give this place another try. I wish my neighbors demanded more of their eateries, but then if they did, they'd be in Key West!
In addition to enjoying a tax haven status as there is no personal state income tax, Florida enjoys wrecking it's natural beauty as best it can by repudiating all zoning efforts. There are zoning laws and restrictions on all sorts of things but the net result in the keys is that public landscaping is a mess. This is not my idea of curb appeal:The Highway itself isn't particularly interesting, and riding it on a bicycle seems a bit harsh, even if you have a café con leche in one hand to ease the tedium of avoiding gravel, parked cars and all that sun baked traffic.
To be the major commercial center between Key West and Big Pine Key one would suppose you might need a video rental store to compete with Blockbuster in Key West and the Big Pine video store in the Winn Dixie shopping center. The Summerland store has some excellent candies as well as the owner took over the Key West Nut House after the Big Coppitt business got flooded in Hurricane Wilma.
While driving through Summerland on the Highway it's worth taking one's eyes off the road to glance at the hardware store that offers northbound drivers a thought for the day:
The store itself is a modest unassuming building but they have pretty much anything a homeowner might need and a great deal of what keeps a boat afloat. It's pretty amazing to me and they are unfailingly helpful too. Before I went to Italy my fuel line was giving me problems on my boat. I came to the ACE store which had the clip on the shelf. 50 renminbi later and fifteen minutes of buggering about in the boat and all was fixed. All this helpfulness is just two miles (3 kms) from my home.
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The Summerland Post Office serves the islands between Sugarloaf and Little Torch, including my island of Ramrod Key.It's an undistinguished building, in the federal utility style:
I cannot help myself but I get irritated by automated address computers that extrapolate one's address from the ZIP when one is ordering something for delivery. My Zone Improvement Code is obviously in Summerland so if I give out my address as Ramrod it confuses the mail order computers occasionally, so I am tempted to give my address as Summerland. My wife gets annoyed when we get mail delivered to us on Summerland Key. It's just another case of machines gone mad, but fortunately the Postal Service doesn't get fazed and my mail arrives in either case.
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There has been some building in recent years along the highway including this fortress-like structure, hurricane proof I hope, looking rather extra territorial with it's massive walls and gates, fit for a consulate of an unfriendly nation:The food store on Summerland is easily identified by a large sign whose orange bands remind us this is hurricane season and neon signs are vulnerable to high winds. The canal that runs behind the supermarket separates the businesses along Highway One from the rest of the island, which includes the runway at the Summerland airfield (see my essay Conch Republic Air 25th February 2008), whose take off and landing area runs right over the market:Incidentally the Chevron gas station has a dock on this canal for boats needing fuel and supplies. While around the back of the market I spotted an intriguing sign...One is tempted to imagine that customers might well be okay in bare feet, but this is just the side door for those pesky old tradesmen and apparently absent minded employees (how often do you have to remind your colleagues to please show up wearing shoes?) There is much more to Summerland Key of course, not forgetting the best pizza in the Lower Keys, bar none including No Name Pub, which is Slice of Paradise. Aside from the flavor, the next best thing about them is that they deliver right up until the moment a hurricane is actually knocking at your door. A pizza pie and a glass of wine after you've finished securing your property really is a slice of paradise. Who says we can't be civilized in the outer reaches of mainland USA?