Saturday, October 6, 2012

Renting In Paradise

This notice appeared recently on the bulletin board at work. As happens everywhere a colleague had a lead on an opening in her building so she posted for anyone in need. In Key West it is quite common to see homes divided up into units. The configurations can be odd and space is usually limited. This offering seemed reasonable by local standards to my young colleagues who perused it.


Thirteen hundred bucks seems a lot but consider that with a $500 deposit and first and last you still need $3100 to move in before you even buy groceries or hook up utilities. Got a dog or cat for company? Too bad! Call this a reality check if you live somewhere affordable and liveable.

If it seems expensive consider the approval with which this offer was received by experienced renters, who viewed the terms as very reasonable. I live in less than 800 square feet on a quiet street with ample parking under the house but I do commute 27 miles (42 kilometers) each way which adds not only the expense of travel but the need for vehicles and their subsequent maintenance. To live in Old Town means coping with close quarters living, frequently testy neighbors, drunks and loud tourists behaving badly far from home and commuting by bicycle. Beides I actually enjoy riding Highway One so living in town doesn't suit me. At these prices, just as well.

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.