Monday, October 19, 2009

The Way Ahead

I was having a late night discussion last night with someone to the right of me, not surprising in a Police Station I suppose, if you believe the stereotyping as I did before I started working here, but once we got passed the relative de-merits of illegal aliens taking social security (smart lads) and Goldman Sachs taking $50 trillion in taxpayer bailouts , returning $10 trillion and calling it even (really smart lads) we got to wondering what Key West might look like in a few years from now under our new leadership.
The Citizen had one of those revelatory articles it drops into the paper from time to time, when Mandy Bolen feels like dropping her ditzy blonde persona and we got the real scoop on the new mayor, a hitherto unknown player in the corridors of power in Key West. His mother had been a power broker in town but it turns out Craig Cates, the man who would run the city like a business, doesn't even own a home in Key West. He lives on a boat, not among hoi polloi at Garrison Bight Marina but at the other end of the lagoon in the rarefied atmosphere of the Key West Yacht Club. This would be the waterfront gated community that pays the city a dollar a year, in US currency for the lease on the property it occupies. One whole dollar, talk about low income housing! The First citizen of the city who has never held elected office proposes to run the city like a business so we can no doubt expect to see that sweetheart deal come under scrutiny!
The funny thing is the mayor doesn't even have to work at his business, the article went on to mention that NAPA (No Auto Parts Available) on the Boulevard runs itself without his involvement after 38 years and he spends his time on his motor yacht running between the Key West yacht club and his actual brick and mortar home in Cape Coral. The article happily did imply that the new mayor understands that the city, whether run as a business or as Public Thing (res public in Latin, whence the origin of the word republic comes) will require a slightly more hands on approach.
My interlocutor at the station last night expects the city will be managed more skilfully in the years to come. I said I am holding my breath in expectations of great things. Like the Irishman said "There is no doubt I have my doubts" but I hope for the best. One sterling way for the mayor to speak up and make a difference would be on the vexed subject of parking in the city. I have made lots of noise in my essay about the value of OSP- Off Street Parking- in old town for new home owners. The paper also reported recently that parking passes are issued at random it seems to Persons Of Influence in the city, many of them past persons and a quite a list it made. One former city commissioner holds 16 parking passes, and other notables, long since passed from office still have theirs, such is the value of parking for free in Old Town.
We decided, in our conclave last night that how swiftly the new Dear Leader cleans that mess up will be a measure of the way ahead. I'm not very good at holding my breath so I hope he gets on with it. As for Goldman Sachs, when I read about the new overseer of corporate honesty I realized there really isn't much hope on that front. Those extra trillions are gone I fear, but how much easier is it to feel indignant about parking passes?

BPK Night

My wife was away, I had the evening to myself and I could have done anything I wanted. Instead of checking out the drunks at Irish Kevin's or the strippers at Teasers, I rolled the Bonneville out from under the house. This is what I found at the end of the street, one of Monroe County's finest and a bunch of what may have been motorcycle riders.There was another motorcycle parked further down Highway One and the demeanor of the Deputy suggested a wreck investigation rather than a citation but I have no idea what was going on and could see no damage. I took the picture and headed north to Big Pine Key.Which at night is the land of the 35 mile per hour limit. As discussed in a previous essay about the Big Pine Key Deer Bridge these signs show a limit of 45mph (70km/h) by day and 35mph (60km/h approx) by night. The black band is where the 45 shows up in daylight hours but is cleverly invisible by night:This was an unplanned wander and my first stop was at the most unlikely of Big Pine Key stores, the Good Food Conspiracy which covers a great deal of holistic ground:
I have met Marney on my trips to the store and though she wouldn't know me from Adam, I have found her to be quite a character. Not one of those "characters" found on Duval Street dressed in women's clothes to amuse tourists, though she does wear women's clothes as she is in fact a woman. She is a long time resident of Big Pine and has carved a life on her terms which I find admirable. Her shop shares a small strip with an unlikely mixture of stores:
A blind store, a bait shop,
and a store selling crystals, ...which between them cover all bases.
The heart of Big Pine Key is the traffic light in the middle of the island. It's called Big Pine because the island is the largest in the Lower Keys and the second largest among all the island, beaten in size only by Key Largo, which as it;s name suggests is a good deal bigger than most. Big Pine stretches about five miles north of the Overseas Highway at this point and about five more miles in an arc sweeping approximately Southeast through Long Beach Road, a street discussed in a previous essay. The island is covered in pine trees though they are not large by continental standards as soil is as sparse here as anywhere else in the island chain.
Big Pine has a reputation for harboring iconoclasts, people who want to live away from the crowds and want to do their own thing. Homes are scattered all over the island, in subdivisions like far flung Port Pine Heights, or in the populous avenues north of the Highway through town. The interior of the island is criss crossed with dirt streets and fenced off homes buried deep and privately among the pine trees. Not forgetting a large portion of the back country is part of the National Key Deer Refuge. Riding Big Pine at night is a delightful country stroll for a rider seeking a change from the incessant traffic of the Highway or well developed Key West, 30 miles to the south:No Name Pub, with no one sitting out on an 84 degree (29C) night. This area, Tropical Bay subdivision, deserves an essay of it's own, as it is a remarkable variation on the Big Pine theme. This is an area of canals and modern suburban homes on large lawn covered lots that you might expect to see anywhere in suburban mainland Florida. To live here means an hour long commute to Key West which puts it out of range of all but the most determined. My 40 minute commute seems long to people who live in city limits. A lobster trap substituting for the usual garden gnome:
I spotted this dolphin on a dark side street and I had to laugh when i saw this marine mammal clutching the usual mailbox in a sea of grass:
The other popular mailbox holder is a manatee in the same posture, clutching the box. Darkness is abundant on the back roads of Big Pine:
Back in the mainstream of unincorporated Big Pine we find the late night pharmacy just off the Highway. Big Pine has a shopping center across the street featuring a Winn Dixie grocery, a Bealls clothing store, a pet shop, a Chinese restaurant, a breakfast café, a bagel shop a library and pretty much all one needs if one doesn't want to drive to the big city of Key West.
CVS's rival Walgreens has been trying to get a foothold in Big Pine and some locals object loudly saying they don't want box stores on the island, even though CVS has made a bridgehead. Big Pine has several restaurants, mostly of the home cooking and American Grille school of food service but so far, happily, no fast food franchises. There is also at least one drive through liquor store to support the second favorite past time on the island (fishing being the first, I think). The third favorite is hanging loose, and lacking a public plaza in the Mexican style we find people hanging at CVS's friendly benches: And so homeward bound with a stop to admire the waterfront homes, all illuminated and covered with palms, reflecting on the still waters:
And back across the bridges and causeways connecting Big Pine to the Torch Keys, Little, Middle and Big:
And across the water one can see the welcoming lights of Parrotdise, source of fresh fish dinners and Smithwicks Irish beer on draught, of which I shall have to write something, some day:The lights on the water are hanging from the dock that stretches out to water deep enough to allow patrons to come by boat. Its also a fine boardwalk for an after dinner stroll to look at the channel and the stars and contemplate how happy one is that frost and snow and fog are hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles away.