Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Park Key Summer

I stopped the car on the way home to let Cheyenne out. In fact I wanted to step outside and just look at the water.I have an overwhelming sense of foreboding about the economy this Fall as kids head back to school this week and the news cycle revamps for the post vacation discussion of What Happens Next In America. Me? In my life I go to work, I ride home and I sometimes stop to smell the roses. Or in the case of Keys living I stop to admire the views, alongside my drive home.I ride my Bonneville every work day, but rarely leave home early enough to pause on my commute. On my days off I like to haul Cheyenne around with me which forges me to take the car, because I enjoy her company, and she seems to enjoy mine.It's been strikingly hot lately, proper high season for a summer time in the Keys. That means daytimes have hit 95 degrees and humidity is full on tropical. I enjoy the weather actually, as long as I remember to apply mosquito repellent before leaving home. With insect life held at bay I can stand and admire the play of sunlight and shadow on the waters of the Gulf, known locally as the back country, north of the Overseas Highway.Park Key is an acre of gravel fill overgrown with mangroves at Mile Marker 18, just south of the traffic light at Sugarloaf School. It used to be a place to launch a boat as evidenced by the crumbling cement seawall, but the entrance to the island is blocked off by cement barricades, making the "No Parking" sign at the water's edge redundant.
The waters are shallow and most of the islands dotting the waters to the horizon are simply clusters of mangroves with no dirt to speak of. You can't land on them as they are simply roots buried in the mud under the water. They start out like this:
The heat of the sun is mitigated by the frequent sea breezes that blow across the islands. We have also had some heavy clouds and rain which cool things off quite nicely. Summer is a good time of year to take the skiff out from the dock and go for a swim in the middle of nature.The water temperature, especially in these shallow waters is bath-like and comfortable.I am enjoying this summer in the Keys. Tourist traffic is down, and while that is generally the case this time of year, one has to wonder what our winter trade will be like in a year of burgeoning unemployment and the continued destruction of the American middle class.Today is election day in Florida when Republicans and Democrats go to the polls to decide which party candidates will go forward to the Fall election. As primaries go we Democrats don't have many races to decide but my wife and I will be voting this evening to support local election of the School Superintendent in Monroe County as well as voting for Alex Sink in the Gubernatorial campaign. In this next photo the 16 million dollar Fat Albert balloon operated by the Air Force keeps guard over the straights of Florida from it's position above Cudjoe Key, a modest white speck among the clouds.We also received our annual estimation of property taxes for the next year. I noted our taxable value has dropped and our tax rate has gone up by 200 dollars from $2450 to about $2650. Lots of my neighbors are up in arms about increasing tax rates on homestead properties (primary residences) but I've always felt paying taxes is my membership fee for participating in society. The other side of the coin is that my home's estimated value is down to $235,000 and with a $50,000 Homestead Exemption my taxable value is a modest $185,000 which sounds reasonable enough to me in this economic climate. Unfortunately we bought the house in 2005 for $559,000 which means we are asking ourselves why Wells Fargo, our taxpayer-bailed-out-mortgage-holder has proved unwilling to help us out, despite repeated polite requests for consideration and as our own income has shrunk. We are drowning in debt on a home worth one third what it was worth. And it will probably never again be worth as much as the mortgage in our life time. What would a sensible business leader do? If we were AIG we would ask for 180 billion in government money to bail us out. Fat chance. We face the prospect of no returns on a mortgage that doesn't seem worth the struggle now our own investment income has shriveled.

And so the merry-go-round goes round and we watch and wait and see what will happen to us and our neighbors and our economy as the upside down nature of it all sweeps us up. Meanwhile summer is hot and pleasant and peaceful in the Florida Keys.