Saturday, October 6, 2012

An Airborne View

I don't often fly out of or into Key West for a variety of reasons, not least because it's expensive, and because inbound connections frequently fail for me when a seemingly inevitable delay loses one a precious seat on the overbooked small planes that fly to Key West. At that point, stranded in Miami or Fort Lauderdale the frustrated traveler makes a frantic dash to the car rental counters, onward ticket and reservation be damned, and tries to snag a cheap rental to get home in time for dinner (fat chance!). Leaving Key West by plane things can go just as pear shaped when you consider flights from Key West International don't go any further afield than Atlanta which at last report was not considered foreign turf, technically speaking. Alien perhaps, in a big city way for delicate Conch sensibilities but not a destination requiring a passport.
The reward for putting up with flight in a small noisy turbo prop plane or a small noisy commuter jet is that one gets to look out of the window at what should be a beautiful, other worldly view of turquoise waters and small green islands. Very foreign to most American eyes. Naturally it was a rather gray day when I flew back to town and as my wife had secured me a ticket all the way to Key West and I had a seat on the south side window I got to peak out at my island fastness of Ramrod Key seen above, one of the darker patches among the uniform gray of the waters, not properly sunlit. Below we flew over Archer Key in The Lakes west Of Key West, one among many uninhabited mangrove islands, all twisted trunks, green leaves and water, with no dirt to speak of.
I was quite surprised I caught my connection in Atlanta, an airport of vast dimensions resembling Vatican City and equally impenetrable. I caught a train, scooted up escalators rising as though from the bowels of hell surrounded by long lines of penitents hauling their worldly possessions and I ran for the furthest exit on Terminal C. I was not the last on board by a long shot but as I was in the middle of three seats, refusing on principle to pay for an "upgrade" I was lucky I snagged a window seat to myself in a empty row when the plane's doors closed...
Two hours later we landed in Key West which is a pretty simple flight considering the drive would take close to twelve hours. I was squashed into a noisy airborne tube for two hours with a fizzy drink and a pouch of peanuts for amusement. The view in those last fifteen minutes of flight as we reached the island chain and turned west to fly along the northern edge was worth the irritation of flight. The much contested Wisteria Key, known locally as Christmas Tree Island, thanks to its festive covering of Australian pines:
The supposed owners of this island created by the removal of harbor bottom when the Navy dredged Key West's waterfront to gain depth, tried to get local approval for an ambitious development plan for the unoccupied island. Unhappily for them they were so ambitious their grasp exceeded their reach and their insistence on the construction of dozens of homes brought their plan which was in violation of county zoning unwanted attention, including from the Federal Government. Imagine everyone's surprise when the Feds announced they own the island and all development bets are off. The prospect of Wisteria becoming like the former Tank Island, now known more genteelly as Sunset Key has suddenly shrunk to infinitely unlikely.
Somewhere down there in that remote fastness of multi-million dollar homes and fastidious sterility there are homes of the rich and famous, a secluded island visited by members of the acting profession, senior politicians and one percenters. No wonder the owners of Christmas Tree were salivating at the prospect of seventy five homes and servants quarters. Quite the contrast.
The strip of land in the background is Fleming Key owned by the military and used for peculiar training purposes. I lived at anchor near Fleming and it was well known that at night strange chemical lights might be seen floating through and under the water among the anchored boats as Navy divers practiced whatever it is they practice that involves surreptitious swimming. The white building at the northern tip is quite the landmark from the water though it's actual purpose is to train divers in a deep column of water. Not for the faint of heart.
Planes have to land into the wind if they are to have half a chance of landing sensibly and because the wind blows mostly out of the southeast around here they generally come into land low over Old Town, which noise would drive me crazy were I a resident down there. As it is the final approach gives one a bird's eye view of downtown and it is fun to see the landmarks drifting along far below, like a toy layout of the town one calls home.
The slow descent is over all too soon and a few random pictures out of the little round porthole don't convey much as the plane comes down. These are snapshots taken at random that show with astonishing clarity streets cars and small landmarks that are obvious to one who knows the town from street level. Were the flight only this long it would be worth taking. No coincidence there is the chance of biplane rides from the airport to show off just such views.
The pilot warned us the landing might be bumpy, saying it is a normal approach for the short runway that requires instant application of the brakes. There have been attempts to lengthen the runway to accommodate larger planes but environmental restrictions have prevented any such construction. As a result planes landing have to try to stop on a dime lest they run off the paved runway while planes taking off have to restrict passengers and baggage to make sure they are light enough to get into the air safely. Despite all these restrictions the airport is reporting a banner year for numbers of people flying in and out of the city.
I don't know if I would get bored if I flew daily over the city but the chance to look out and down over Key West was an enjoyable change. I like climbing the lighthouse or having a drink at The Top which are ways to gain some altitude and perspective on the city and to do so at one's leisure. I won't need to fly over Key West again for a while but it was a nice way to change the perspective on Key West.


Anonymous said...

I remember my first flight into Key West eighteen years ago-eight seater plane and flight attendant gave everyone free beer...

Anonymous said...

You should take the seaplane flight out to Fort Jefferson.

Scootard said...

A cheerful description of flight, belieing the reality of cramped quarters, overworked and borderline surly staff and hectic changes in confusing locations best scouted online first, offset with an outstanding view.......Well Done I say.

Anonymous said...

Something tells me they should have rebuilt the railway, and then offered leisurely
rides from Miami to Key West, operated by independent contractors, not Amtrak.

Singing to Jeffrey's Tune said...

I second the plane to Fort Jefferson. Seeing that gigantic brick fortress rise out of the aquamarine, sun speckled waters was a sight.

Conchscooter said...

The seaplane thing is high on my list especially since it has gone away and then come back. On the whokle I am wityh Bryce, rail travel is better all round. Solares Hill the weekly paper deovted mostly to movies these days has suggested creating a mono rail but i doubt the one percenters will go for that sort of public work.

Anonymous said...

I love flying in. It takes me 14 hours in three different airplanes to get to your island. The contrast from leaving the cold for the warm is worth it. It feels like going from the freezer to a hot oven. I liked the old airport when they would lift up the plywood and shove the luggage in. Now it's all new and nicer, but still not as rustic.

Bob from Livingston Montana