Friday, May 25, 2012

Some Working Stiffs

Summer will be gone soon enough and Up North as days become shorter in a few short weeks and as temperatures drop dreamers will start to wonder if perhaps they couldn't make it in the land of perpetual summer. They could read the paper for instance and monitor a parking lot:


Or they could use their mechanical skills to maintain a tour train...


...at the depot on Ann Street:


Two and a half million people come to Key West each year, some bright soul with not much to do has figured this out. Most of them spend at least a portion of their time people watching at outdoor tables in the land of perpetual summer.


Some people come for romance, and like the other dreamers they adapt to their unusual role by spending money. Perhaps the sex shop downtown can make every tourist a "dream girl" heaven help us all, for a night in some improbably expensive underwear.


Dream over, they pack their pink suitcases in the rental car and drive back to real life on the mainland.


Jobs in the Keys fall broadly speaking into two categories, government and tourist trade. You end up selling things to people or providing the services the service workers need to function - police, utilities, mail etc...


Service industry jobs in the private sector pay horribly, offer few benefits and require most workers to hold two or three jobs. There are a few exceptions. For instance the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce gets more than a hundred thousand dollars a year but she has fossilized in that job and don't expect it to come available any time soon. This guy is wearing a name plate so he's a worker.


The Chamber put out a report recently estimating the private sector pays crap wages and the public sector should be shredded down to their level. Public sector jobs require employees show up and for employers to respect the law and pay overtime and permit unions and all that dreary nonsense.


The rising tide theory falls flat on it's face in Key West but civic leaders do spend a lot of time wringing their hands publicly about the high cost of living for the canon fodder in the trenches of the workaday world in Paradise. Selling boat ride tickets can't possibly be that lucrative, can it?


If you exhibit a penchant for sales there are jobs in Key West though you will need more than one to make it. It needn't be hard physical labor either.


Enterprising actors make a living performing at Mallory Square. Some of them have raised families, bought homes and lived thoroughly middle class lives with their tips. I'm sure this Silver Man is never a member of the AFL-CIO or of SAG and no doubt couldn't care less!


It used to be that all pedi-cab drivers came from Eastern Europe, one of those immigrant jobs that required no papers as they are ”sub contractors” operating their own business. Nowadays the economic slump means you stand an excellent chance of being pedaled around town by a native English speaker.


And it's one of those jobs that gives you time to catch up with passing friends, rather like store clerks and stand operators who hang on Duval, earn half a living and get to shoot the breeze.


I'd rather not deal with the public face to face and certainly not at Chamber of Commerce inspired wages.


Fortunately the are lots of workers who will. In fact during the boom years bar tenders and even bar backs made fantastic money when Duval Street was packed nightly to the rafters with drinkers with money, or if not money at least credit, before that went bad.


Standing around talking is a large part of cultural life in Key West. These are not tourists either. The ice chest on the scooter is one giveaway, the rag from the pocket, the headgear and the flesh tones.


Unless you work night shift an prefer the pleasure of your own company like me, you can get to know enough people on a small island that every block involves stopping and talking, or a least greeting in passing somebody or other.


Tourists visit bars and landmarks, though like the unhappy server I encountered recently, residents without private in Knesset rarely get to hang loose in downtown. She told a curious customer she hadn't seen the attraction in question as all she's done is work since she got here six months ago. It's not the sort of reply a tourist expects, nor is it one encouraged by the Chamber of Commerce but... it's the reality.


Rent a bicycle, employ a local.


Buy a knick knack and keep these aggravating stores in business though one wonders how they pay the rent at those prices... A thought also not encouraged by the Chamber bit I do wonder what they launder in these places.


Open containers are...legal? Or not, or only sometimes. I am a local so its not my issue as I am expected to be sober at work.


I'm not sure if this is legal either, nor am I sure it's naked in a technical sense, thongs being what they are these days and I didn't look too closely.


Frankly I'm not sure what gender it was either.


Local? Tourist? Beats me. Have a nice weekend and if you don't work shifts then thank a union you have the whole weekend off. And that you don't have the Key West Chamber of Commerce campaigning to reduce your wages for you.





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