Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pier Camping

I suppose the street lamps at White Street Pier are as good as a more conventional bed side lamp to read by in the middle of the night. As long as you don't mind members of the great unwashed public walking intrusively past your "bedroom." With a full moon overhead and a gentle breeze blowing across the water the White street Pier is an excellent spot to take a midnight lunch break. For people who don't working the middle of the night it's a good spot to fish:The Pier, which juts out into the Straits of Florida from White Street is open all night for people to take a stroll or attempt to kill a fish, whatever their preference. Sleeping is not though, part of the deal. But there were lots of snoring, restless bundles out there last night.
The end of the Pier is quite well illuminated and lacks benches and dark corners in which to snooze comfortably. The main length of the pier is where the log sawing action takes place. Here, looking north toward White Street in the distance:In the weak light it looks like a bundle of clothes but there are a couple of residentially challenged cyclists dossing down for the night:And another one next to them, this one listening to a baseball game on a radio.
How one sleeps comfortably on a bench with an armrest in the middle is a mystery to me, and I tried it in my well traveled youth and it didn't work. This one appeared fast asleep curled up, like a dog,into a ball. The funny thing (if you can call it that) is the city of Key West, working with the county and social service agencies provides free sleeping accommodations in air conditioned tents next to the Sheriff's headquarters on Stock Island. However many homeless people don't want to live by the strictures of communal living and prefer to take their chances sleeping rough.If I were a cop the business of "moving along" these homeless bundles would not be pleasant. I've seen the weary packing up and silent groans of people awoken from a deep sleep and told sleeping isn't allowed. The shuffling of the destitute seems pointless but there again it is legal because the city does offer them an alternative place to sleep. And let's face it, it is unsightly:One of the things about poverty in the US that has always struck a discordant note for me is the notion that being poor is somehow a moral failing. To be dispossessed is a repudiation of the American Dream and shows a lack of moral fiber in the poor.That sort of attitude has made it easy to ignore the sleepers and made it possible to blame them for their destitution. Madness, illness, divorce, job loss are frequently proximate causes of homelessness and we learn that nowadays there are more and more of "them," the people a colleague of mine is pleased to call the "residentially challenged." Put out more flags- an ironist's delight, Old Glory on a homeless bicycle trailer. Key West is a fine place to be homeless, the weather, the services the tolerance. In winter months the residentially challenged show up in larger numbers, just like their more affluent snowbird colleagues and I expect we will see more little bundles of joy on our night time streets in the weeks to come.
And along with them we will get tart remarks in the anonymous newspaper comment column called the Citizen's Voice complaining loudly about them. Might as well complain about the first winter snows, or the coming of the swallows at San Juan Capistrano.
A couple of "regular people" were on the pier enjoying the night, talking, and they eyed me a bit old fashioned as I walked around silently taking pictures after I finished my restorative con leche from Sandy's up the street. They strolled off in front me, still chatting and avoided eye contact with the strange man and his camera.Ironically enough two more candidates for sleeping accommodation pedaled their bicycles onto the pier as I left to go back to work. Funny that, they get to sleep for free, while I sit up all night to pay the mortgage. A bargain with the devil I dare say, either for them or for me.