Saturday, September 4, 2010

Big City Shopping

I had the rare pleasure last Sunday of riding to Miami in the front seat, but not as the driver, rather as a passenger on our collective way to Costco.I there fore had the opportunity to pointy my camera at objects flashing by at 60 miles per hour and because I haven't taken many pictures lately of the Overseas Highway, the camera helped pass the time admirably. Above, the oft-pictured old Flagler railroad bridge at Bahia Honda. Below, Money Key a spoil island created when the Seven Mile Bridge was built south of Marathon.Many people fear and dread the drive up the Keys from Key West. I enjoy it every single time. Indeed I still enjoy my commute from my home to work so every work night i get to see scenes like this. The modern Overseas Highway built in 1982 is wide and fast and easy to drive, yet I hear of people afraid to drive at night for some reason. This, shown below is the Seven Mile Bridge closest to marathon (which is a city, not a Key).
The road's surface is crumbling in some places like any expensive modern highway that is subjected to daily truck use. Yet it is striped and lined in every way with reflectors, making it easy to use at night even for visitors. It is a far cry from the pre-1982 highway created over the disused rail bed in 1938. That was narrow slow and awkward, and it made the drive to key west a true adventure. Not anymore. Marathon around Mile Marker 50 is a town that lacks landscaping and owing to it's rather long narrow layout alongside a four lane stretch of the Highway it has never seemed terribly practical for small scooters, nor attractive to cyclists, yet they exist.(Amazingly enough my opinions are not universal).
Beauty is decidedly in the eye of the beholder! Marathon seen from the Highway.
I am not a photo shop artist, preferring to show in pictures what I see around me. But when in the front seat of a car I have found the anti glare stripe at the top of the windshield can produce some rather odd effects. Driving the Keys is a mixture of causeway and bridge for a hundred miles across the water. Watching this lot bunch up in the roadway made me wonder if we wouldn't some action pictures of Harleys crashing. "Why do they drive so slowly?" my passengers asked as we were held back for miles by their dawdling. "Because they are car drivers let loose on the world on motorcycles," was my reply. The woman on the right in her yoga posture explains why motorcycling is so often a means of transport not enjoyed by passengers. Imagine forcing a car passenger to contort herself like that. "Honey let's take the Lexus, not that horrible motorcycle..." The comfortable passengers are on the bikes that are ridden like hearses in a funeral.
The back seat drivers. After a while Josh gave up on driving and told me to take the wheel.
Because we do not have, nor do we desire a television connection in our home (just as Lisa and Josh don't either) I frequently find myself out of my depth while trying to unravel Miami and it's omnipresent references to popular culture and fads. I could ( and would) spend hours discussing quantitative easing with you, or the relative merits of life as a peasant in Honduras versus Cuba, but I have no facility for small talk about them footballers or the merits of the latest electronic piece of portable wizardry. So while my wife was buying a vast pile of clothes at Macy's for under a hundred dollars I was left to contemplate the meaning of this:Eat burgers and shakes in vast quantities, ignore reality and wear tight trousers to more closely resemble your favorite starlet on television. The outside world confuses me. My wife loaned me her iPhone as I had forgotten to bring my book (a reread of Don't Stop The Carnival).
The seventy percent off signs are still up all over the department store as they were on our last visit. And with unemployment figures steadily rising I doubt they will come down until department stores are driven out of business by the Depression. The clerks were smiling for my wife's array of bargains while admitting to me they have never seen such deals in their thirty years in retail. Then we went off to that hallowed institution of savings."We're going to Costco Sunday. D'you want anything?" is the polite thing to do among friends in Key West. Many people like the bulk of Costco but fear the 130 mile drive to get there. Costco is a mixed bag for me as the warehouse style of the place encourages over buying but my wife has a list in her head and knows what she wants. The size of the place and the abundance overwhelms me every single visit.
In my perusal of the Internet I read about famine and rising prices in the face of worldwide drought and raging agricultural fires. Yet, here we are with $800 of food and a three month supply of freezer items and household supplies. In our straitened economic circumstances I watched my wife balancing future savings against current bills and she blanched but pressed on. My overtime hours stretch to the horizon. Shopping at Costco is like shopping in Latin America. English speaking whites are the decided minority and I wonder how the anti immigrant wave currently scouring the gutters of America will wash around here in November. Miami has been the safety net for millions of well to do Latin Americans who would as soon pick lettuce for a living as would your average Anglo. If dealing with Latino professionals is beneath you, don't bother moving to Miami where doctors, lawyers and the idle rich as likely to be called Garcia as they are Smith. And they may be from countries as far afield as Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela or Bolivia, and not necessarily Cuba. It used to be that many of them came to Miami for a week of shopping and immediately flew home with their loot. Perhaps they still do. At that level the Depression is just another economic opportunity.The pigs ears and rawhide are for Cheyenne (and a donation for the SPCA as well) and not for us. I wonder how a smoked pigs ear and mashed potatoes would work as a Depression Dinner. Josh's Altima was groaning with $1200 of theirs and ours combined groceries. We stuffed it all in and the women in back had to sit with their feet propped up as the foot wells were full of ice bags with the perishables.I drove home as fast as I could to a) cement my reputation as the fastest traveler on Highway One and b) to save everyone's sanity. When I say fast I don't mean crazy speeds, I just mean knowing where I can pass, where I can't and where one can shave a little off the top of the speed limits and when to do that (a holiday weekend is decidedly not the time to push the speed envelope). Mostly I get decent travel times because I am focused on driving not on playing with my phone. It took two hours and fifteen minutes to get back to Mile Marker 27, and that was with hardly any passing at all owing to the overloaded state of the car. To save 7 minutes I took the 18 mile stretch over the more relaxed and scenic Card Sound Road.The stretch was rebuilt with one lane in each direction instead of two, as a political maneuver to contain development in the Keys. The theory was if there were two lanes in each direction, thus allowing speedsters to let off steam safely, the evacuation times, as false as they are, would have been reduced for planning purposes, allowing more people to be crammed into the Keys under arcane state hurricane evacuation rules. The result is plenty of development and lots of tailgating by angry speedsters unable to pass on the long straight new road. I don't tailgate.
The views on the way home were spectacular as hinted by these pictures shot in passing. Traffic was moving briskly enough that we had a relaxed drive home. In a few months snowbirds will be clogging the road at all hours dawdling under the illusion that island time is a daily reality for those of us with jobs and deadlines. For now we get to drive like real people.
It was a hugely successful day and included an extravagant Argentine lunch which will be the subject of tomorrow's essay.