Monday, November 16, 2009

End Of Duval

Let me say it straight up: this is not my environment. I wanted to check out the end of Duval Street nearest the harbor but try as I might I didn't enjoy this block of the street.There is nothing residential down here, there isn't much greenery and of beauty, the eye of this beholder sees not much at all. There is a pharmacy though, if you need pharmaceutical thing while busy getting drunk.This is dust catcher heaven and I watched these visitors poring over various knick knacks, doubtless imported from the Mysterious Orient for their pleasure.Every fifth male of my generation is called Michael, so I am ready to bet good money there is one with my name on if I ever feel the need to have a sea shell with my name on it catching motes of dust in my small home, this is where I will be sure to come to pump up the Key West economy:Duval Street is labelled in a potentially confusing way. This is the North end of the street, called Lower Duval because the numbers are lower here than they are at the south end of the street which is called Upper Duval.On the left there we see the imposing bulk of Zero Duval, Ocean Key House:This isn't actually a recreation of Check Point Charlie in the Berlin Wall. This is the entrance to the parking lot at the Pier House, Number One Duval Street:
You might come here to park a car on your way to the spa, or the beach bar and that's what you'd tell the attendant. You would also pass these old cement structures, left over from the days when the Key West Harbor waterfront was devoted to sailing ships and the movement of goods as well as people.Nowadays it's all about moving people which is probably a much easier way to make a living than sailing cargo around the coast. It's a lot less romantic to someone who earns his living in the air conditioned comfort of the police station. I don't actually miss my former job as boat captain.I was hoping for enlightenment and a point of view, about how the city makes it's money, but I could stand here and snap pictures till the cows come home and I would be no closer to a conclusion. A few years ago everyone was up in arms about Key West selling it's heritage to cruise ships and tour buses and developers and I wondered how it would be if the money spigot dried up. Now it has, for a lot of people, and the chance for the rest to make small fortune is evaporating fast. Yet the city still depends totally on tourism to supplement the steady income from the military, which fortunately shows no signs of disappearing. The last time the military pulled back left the city in ruins.I don't really understand mass tourism. I love to travel but my idea of making a journey is to see things, learn things and expand my comfort zone. I find it astonishing people keep coming back to Key West, and I am grateful for their constancy. Working for the city isn't as close to the tourist cash as working as a boat captain but the net result is the same. Without the visitor there is no salary. Beyond that rather base motive there is also the curiosity of trying to understand the phenomenon of repeat tourism, and the pleasure of living in a place that is a mirage of a pleasure palace that can be experienced only for a few short days each year.Of course Key West as pleasure palace wears a bit thin for people paying through the nose to live in the city, and that "island time" fantasy makes no sense to people rushing between multiple jobs and family obligations. Key West has always been trapped between fantasy and reality, ever since the Works Progress Administration decided to try tourism to revive the bankrupt city. The plan worked fabulously but Key West has had to reconcile being a romantic island with being in the business of being in business. Tourism always seems to provoke this dichotomy, but Key West's geographic isolation makes the situation that much more complex. When I lived in a mainland tourist town I had almost no contact with visitors. They had their routes to the beach and I had my tourist-free destinations in and around town. In Key West not only is that difficult to accomplish in such a small space, it is made more complex because being a local is a desired status. Most visitors desire contact with locals to go where locals go and eat where they eat.I asked once on a forum why people fascinated with key West don't just move here and the responses were the predictable mixture of family and job obligations, low pay, high cost of living and so forth. I was forced to the conclusion that Key west is better as a dream and a fantasy escape from real life than as real life itself. For some people this is the end of the road, and if they land up here with no money and no prospects, that's okay too. They take a seat, cadge spare change and watch the world go by. My mid-year resolution was to help struggling tourists trying to find their way on the streets, and to keep my impatience in check with the erratic winter driving and keep reminding myself that living here is a choice, not a dream killer. I would probably never visit Key West if I stopped living here. The tourist destinations bore me, and the fault lies, I believe, in me not in them. Lower Duval is for visitors and they certainly seem to enjoy it.