Friday, December 7, 2012

Living In Key West

I have been doing a lot of walking and reflecting this week, more walking than usual in the city, and in so doing I have talked with my wife about where we want to live. Living at Mile Marker 27 suits us both and irritates us both in what is becoming apparently equal measure. We have been giving consideration to making a move.
I have never lived anywhere as long as I have lived on Ramrod Key, we moved into our tree house in January 2005 and over the years we have made what was a fish camp on stilts a comfortable home. That it barely reaches 800 square feet of living space has not been the issue. That we live on street with a bunch of what appear to be retired Republicans afflicted with irritable bowel syndrome (as well they might since the last election) is a source of comfort to me as no one ever drops in on us and wastes my time with small talk. Even the 27 mile commute has pleased us, me on my motorcycle, my wife in her convertible.
In talking to our bank to renegotiate our loan we added up the cost of gas, wear and tear on our vehicles and considered how many miles our commute adds to our high mileage rides and the cost of living 27 miles from town looks hefty. We figured seven hundred bucks a month all in. Wells Fargo bank isn't Bank of America and renegotiation doesn't seem likely. Which fact sparks the adventurous spirit in us. Stay on with an unbearable burden of costs or move and make the move work for us. No contest!
There is no doubt we enjoy life on our canal in what we fondly call our tree house. I find it the perfect place to sleep during the day and when I wake up the views through the various windows are of shimmering leaves in bright sunshine with glimpses of blue sky and galloping puffy clouds. Even had I felt let down by the recent election (which I was a bit as the President is certainly not a socialist by any modern standards) the endless summer would more than make up for the political disappointment. I rarely scowl when I'm at home.
And yet I have to question if the endless driving is worth it. The issue isn't so much the commute Itself but it's the fact that if we want to see people or events in Key West we have to repeat the commute, sometimes we end up driving that same Highway One a hundred miles a day - each! It is that which is upsetting our balance after eight years on Ramrod Key. Faced with an interesting season of music and theater and film in Key West this winter we are as likely to miss as to see productions and events we may strongly wish to participate in.
The trouble is our life at home is pleasant enough that we have found it hard to commit ourselves to making a move. Sit out on the deck to watch a sunset over the salt ponds, or take breakfast on the porch with the sun rising to the east and ask yourself why bother to consider moving. As I sit and write these words I can hear the soughing of the breeze in the trees, the measured rise and fall of Cheyenne's snoring while the hum of the refrigerator is all the mechanical noise I can hear. Give this up to be closer to the Red Barn and Waterfront, the Tropic or the Tennessee Williams theaters? Hmmm...
But if the bank decides against us, as seems likely given their track record, the decision will be easy enough. Cheyenne would prefer to live in the city, she loves walking the streets. A five minute commute would change my life somewhat, though I would have to take road trips out of town as my previous experiment living in the city gave me Rock Fever in short order. I like road trips, I enjoy the sunrise and sunset views over the water as I commute. I should miss that and from time to time Cheyenne would miss flopping into the tannic mangrove puddles that surround our current home.
In talking over our options we have pretty much ruled out living in Old Town as it is more expensive to rent and I have no desire to live among tourists. We enjoy visiting old town but like to get away even if in the future our getaway is three miles instead of thirty. Parking issues, cramped living, crappy housing stock all contribute to the desire not to live crammed at the bottom end of a very crumpled sock. For many people the ability to walk to Lower Duval, drink beyond capacity and not have to risk jail by driving home drunk is a big plus when it comes to renting a hovel within spitting distance of Irish Kevin's. To me the prospect of tripping over drunks passed out on the sidewalks and fending off the unbalanced inebriated yet still ambulatory is only outweighed by the vomit I see in the streets and the numbers of calls we get at work of strangers passed out on people's porches. I'm not a Conch but New Town seems much more likely, with off street parking possible for my motorcycles and easy access to the highway out of town...
For those who dream of moving to Key West these considerations are the real issues facing permanent residents of "Paradise." It's also true that living at Mile Marker 27 limits the desire of your friends to come "all that way out" for a dinner party, and some city people even have a hard time driving four miles as far as Stock Island! Some days I want to go to a movie at the Tropic starting In the early afternoon. If the film ends at 3:30 and I have to be at work at six pm, what do I do for two and a half hours? Too little time to ride home, but too short a time in town to accomplish much and nowhere to nap before an all night shift. Frequently I choose to stay home with Cheyenne instead! That is a loss I do feel, living out of town.
And yet, when I talk to my friends and colleagues appalled by my immense commute I also know I'm talking to city dwellers who don't seem to see the physical beauty I get to enjoy every day. Life in Key West is urban living, frost-free certainly, but it is still life surrounded by cement and asphalt and high walls and short views. I alone see to get the privilege of daily spectacular views across the water, of nature untrammeled by human intervention. It's an effort to get to the theater for me, but it's no effort at all to be alone on the shore and see not one other human being anywhere. And that I would miss. A great deal.


Anonymous said...

Commuting to home from a place of employment is the vexation of all of us. Some round here commute in excess of 150 miles a day, or more. Just to be able to afford a home and raise a family without going into hock. In the greater Toronto Area (Oshawa on the east to Hamilton on the west), house prices can easily be half a million or more and that's for your standard three room bungalow.
The other factor is your age and that of your wife. What we willingly do at age 40 we sure as heck don't want to be doing at age 65, driving a distance each day to and fro. Your case is easy, nights
most of the time. You have a decent position, seniority and I guess too
knowing you won't have to sail away some where to escape creditors.

What you have to determine is when you retire or are forcibly retired and ditto for your wife, where will you continue to dwell? And too you've had dogs before and when Cheyenne eventually passes, will you acquire anotherand will the place our eventually dwell allow pets in the long term? BTW US$700/month is cheap in commute costs
and I assume you are not required to pay for parking while at work either.

Think long and hard about shifting grounds Mike...

Conchscooter said...

Your comment makes me wish I had emigrated to Canada, Bryce. I love the assurance of a well regulated future in a country not torn apart by tea parties and myths of self reliance and billionaires buying political discourse and freewheeling unregulated banks demanding public bail outs while social programs are gutted. Retirement? Huh? They want to take our retirement income do the voracious one per centers. Retirement in the US is becoming a myth like Washington cutting a cherry tree down! My future plans take into account no certainties.
I wrote this essay with one eye on people contemplating a move to key west or it's suburbs.

bob skoot said...


While your commute may be long in distance, it is not long measured in time. You have highway access. I live in a city with no highways. All commuting is on surface streets zigging through the city with too many stop lights to count.

I am not sure there is a definitive answer. Less people is more desirable, but to have access to the finer things in life means heading to the city centre, which as you say, is more crampled and parking challenged. Plus you lose your privacy living in close quarters and your neighbours look at you and know your business.

I like the city for what it offers, but when we travel it is always to less cramped quarters and usually where cell phones don't work. If it weren't for the high cost of accommodations, the best solution would be to keep your home at Mile Marker 27 and have a teeny place in KW so you have a place to hang your hat when you go to town.

We have a shortage of 9-1-1 dispatchers here and they are/were doing a hiring blitz . . .

Riding the Wet Coast
My Flickr // My YouTube

Anonymous said...

Living in North Louisiana outside a major city, my wife and I travel 24 and 28 miles one way to work. Your story sounds like ours, but you are warmer, which we like. Keep up the great stories with pictures.

Anonymous said...

Come to Montana! I would welcome more liberals like you (there are a few of us wobblies here). The commute isn't too bad if you live in town, but the roads can be icy and sometimes it takes 45 minutes to go 30 miles on the snow and ice. You also have to watch out for bear and elk. Deer just bounce off the cars but elk and bear can do major damage. We are getting some snow and it's supposed to get down to 2 degrees tomorrow night. But don't let me dissuade you, it really is nice here in the Summer.

Bob from Livingston Montana

Conchscooter said...

My wife's health precludes us leaving the warmth of the keys. Our issue is we have to consider the true advantages of living in a town where everything is within cycling distance versus commuting in a post peak oil world. And will wells Fargo work with us on our mortgage. I get lots of overtime but my wife's wages have been cut by 20% and our investment income has shrunk since 2008. It's a conundrum.

Danette said...

IT does sound like a conundrum- but it also sounds like a big part of the decision is out of your hands. You just have to wait and see what the bank-robbers decide. Once you have that answer then you have to start thinking about the realities. One bonus of being in K.W. is going almost everywhere by scooter. Your car would only be used by your jaunts off the rock. Then you will really be Conchscooter again not Conchmotorcyclist. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

A quiet place to sleep is the holy grail for all night shift workers. You have that now and with a bit of leg work can find it closer to your job.

I have a 45 mile commute that takes 45 minutes and costs 400 per month counting tolls. My wife's commute is two miles and takes 5 minutes, so on average financially it's not too burdensome.

If your monthly cash flow is negative you must move. If not, you have a choic--though a difficult one. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Conchscooter: From what I'm told, there's no way you could get a rental in KW for anywhere near $700p/m. The commute is not great, but your housing costs are not bad for lower Keys standards.

By the way, your blog/pictures are terrific.

Conchscooter said...

Certainly not $700 for a family rental, but we won't have to pay anything like that for monthly vehicle costs. That's the trick. Scoot two miles to work, save two hours each a day in travel time and be close to friends and city entertainments on our time off. That's where the money gets saved ( or spent if we so choose). Commute costs aren't optional. To that we give up our quiet canslside tree house. Hmmm. It's not easy.

Anonymous said...

I moved from my beautiful mountainside home in Utah a few years ago to the flat lands of Texas and a rather conventional home in the burbs. My reasons were family and a mid life career change. I do occasionally feel wistful about my previous home, but ultimately it's just a house and my day to day life is more satisfying here. Your rationale for moving is more complex in that it's both an economic and lifestyle decision. I wish you the best and Key West would benefit from having you on the voter rolls.