Monday, November 14, 2011

Not The City

There are those who find themselves craving city life. I'm not one of them.

Sitting around talking yesterday with friends who live in the Lower keys we were discussing the problems that neighbors bring, principally noise in a quiet neighborhood. People sometimes ask me what is a "safe" neighborhood to live in Key west. My answer as usual is often more frustrating than useful to my interlocutor. They want me to quote chapter and verse on safe areas and "unsafe" neighborhoods, as though a city four miles by two miles could be so neatly divided.

My answer is that comfort and safety all depends on who you live next to, and if you find a nice place in a quiet neighborhood all it takes is one moving van to upset the dynamic of the entire street. Besides, in my opinion one's safety on the streets of Key West is dependant mostly on one's behavior. Bad luck always plays a factor but a resident who is home, tucked up well before the bars close, is never going to have a problem. A resident who doesn't go looking for drugs or hangs out with aggressive drunks is never going to have a problem. Don't piss off your ex, or your current squeeze's ex and you should be fine.

The problem of noisy neighbors is harder to deal with in a town where houses are piled on top of each other and most people who live in them have not been brought up to be respectful of close knit neighbors. I've lived for years in marinas and people who live on boats (and doubtless people who live full time in RVs) have developed certain protocols that make life bearable in close quarters. Old Town residents who are new to the game don't seem to catch on so fast sometimes.

I like living in the Lower keys, sensible though I am to the costs of commuting. I enjoy my commute too as it happens, working nights and finding a generally open road for my motorcycle ride.

Living outside the city one gets the opportunity to see the ocean every day and admire the changing seascapes. Woods and back roads and country paths are close to hand and tourist events, parades and crowds are options, not events to be borne in cheerful silence as the noisy drunken crowds swirl past the front door.

There again your average city dweller would find my life on the periphery of Highway One to be rather dowdy and withdrawn. Living far far from the city lights is a drawback when it comes to inviting dinner guests whose first preoccupation is the "long drive" a half hour of bridges and sweeping vistas and
islands dotted alongside one of the most scenic highways in the world. Then there is the question of a designated river to haul the alcohol besotted guests all the way back to the city.

If you live in the boonies of the Lower Keys you have to be prepared to meet people half way and happily there are lots of good watering holes in Key West and on the road where your friends don't have to drive so far.

I enjoy the chance to go to Key West and wander the streets, see a movie or a play or attend a performance and then go home to my silent palm forest, surrounding my moonlit deck amid the sounds of absolute silence. The streets and neighborhoods of the little islands scattered between Key West and the city of Marathon are backwaters of commerce, small businesses with civilized opening hours and no chains anywhere at all.

Fast food in Big Pine involves going to the deli section at the Winn Dixie supermarket, or picking up a to-go meal at one of many non-chain local restaurants or hauling home some Dion's chicken from the gas station(!). Its small town living the way I like it. Consider lodgings in Big Pine. There are no chains, just the Big Pine Motel, an old fashioned local establishment with all suitable amenities including a pool, several palms, plenty of parking and nearby places to get the necessities for an evenings indoor entertainment, notably liquor stores. as for peace and quiet Big Pine rolls up the carpet early. Cheyenne loves walking the neighborhoods in the predawn darkness when I'm not working and wake up early at home wondering why I'm not dispatching as usual before dawn. We get in the car and drive out here and go walkabout, my dog and I.

I enjoy the architecture of Key West as we all do who visit the town and marvel at its survival since it was founded in 1828. Key west is unique in a world devoted to franchising and rationalizing and uniformity at the expense of freedom and individuality. Take churches, for instance. I lost any pretense of religion years ago but I still enjoy the symbols of religious dominance in the architecture of past glories. St Paul's on Duval, the perfect setting for the winter concerts soon to come, and lunch time organ playing inside the hallowed walls and flying buttresses of classic church architecture. My other favorite includes the peace and Covenant Church on William and Fleming which I am photographing all the time, with it's sturdy square tower and battlements. Or St Peter's on Center Street, classic and serene. I really quite like them all ad their historic associations. But on Big Pine we have to re-dimension that pleasure for this is not the land of architecture or symbols of permanence. This is not a warehouse but a church and I'm sure it serves the purpose splendidly but it gives me no aesthetic pleasure, as though that should ever have been the goal.

Big Pine is the retreat for those whose appreciation of the world outside is jaundiced by experience or aggravation. "I'm a bitter gun owner clinging to my religion," the quotation attributed to our foreign-born Muslim President and quoted here by a free living resident of a trailer that would look palatial in a Brazilian favela.

That is what we are reduced to, bumper stickers and symbols and fifteen second television quotations taken out of context and used, in the words of Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, for a high tech lynching. But out here where the sun shines on the just and unjust alike its not the sloganeering that counts. Its the wildlife sightings, and I don't mean my dog.

Key deer are all well and good but I also spotted some seriously industrious bees doing their thing around these long red things. They made me feel exhausted just watching them hovering around.

The other great thing about life outside the narrow confines of the Southernmost City is that you can spread out. If you have a couple of old lawn mowers they have room to rot gently in the sun and not get in the way. I like this sense of life lived slowly and expansively.

When I first spotted this for sale sign on an old truck I thought it read: "Rum Good, or $600 Cash" which at first glance sounded like a reasonable trade if you happened to have six hundred dollars worth of rum handy for an exchange on an older truck. On closer inspection it actually was more prosaic suggesting the vehicle runs ungrammatically well.

The bright orange sign shown below is not offering something for sale but is encouraging visitors not to trespass. What a surprise.

Out here in the backwoods there's not a person or vehicle to be seen.

Which you'd think might make this far distant neighborhood "unsafe." Not so far at least, and my friends keep telling me to watch out for rattlers and stuff but all I ever get to see is the odd albino alligator sunning herself, in the shade, like this:

After my alligator recovered from her exertions I stuffed her back into the car and we rode off to do run our errands. First stop was prescriptions at the CVS where I waited in the magazine section for the pills to be popped into a container for me, by a highly trained pharmacist. Actually they are looking for another such apparently but only part time which seems a tough way to pay the rent in these islands where costs are abnormally high and wages correspondingly low and the hours are apparently reduced. Offering health benefits is so 20th century! I am always glad I have such a civilized job.

Among the magazines Money was offering suggestions on how to "invest" any spare ten thousand dollars you might have lying around. This should be good for a laugh, I thought as I waited for my wife's pills. Buy this or that the magazine insisted. Expensive exercise gear was one suggestion, or a not too expensive kitchen upgrade in your home whose value is plummeting daily or even buy a better car as though cars are "investments." Is it any wonder I asked myself that journalism is such a crap profession. Nowhere did the wise investors suggest stashing the cash in the mattress a time tested method of surviving deflationary times. Or buy bullion even (gold not soup). Buying a car? As an investment? Better off buying guns and ammo. Ask my secretive Big Pine neighbors.

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