Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ducks Quacking Through Key West

The streets of Key West really don't need any more congestion but nothing deterred here's another tour through town and it's not a bunch of Eco-cyclists. It's a duck, and it's bloody enormous.

These contraptions drive through Old Town starting at the Conch Tour Train stop at Front and Duval and they launch at the ramp next to the Eco Discovery Center on Truman Waterfront. The idea is to take an amphibious bus and see some of Key West on land and a whole bunch more from the water.

There is a history with these contraptions that makes their appearance on the streets not just controversial for some but positively ironic for anyone who knows. It happened about a decade ago that a dude figured an amphibious tour of Key West was just the ticket offered by no one and thus unique. Well, it was a little too much for the established tour company in Key West, Historic Tours of America whose principal ("principle" for the grammatically challenged) is the ubiquitous Ed Swift. He used a monopoly clause in his contract with the city to have the Duck Tours eliminated. They were shut down and sued the city for damages.

It took about a decade but finally the city lost the suit and had to pay damages totalling as I recall eight million dollars. The tour operator said his amphibious tour only took place on the water and while on land the duck was simply transporting the passengers to the water where the tour itself began. No one disputed this statement and thus he was not violating an already dubious monopoly granted to HTA. In the picture below you will see, ironically enough HTA's "First Mate" giving a tour speech as the duck trundled down Fleming Street from Whitehead to Simonton.

Indeed because this is the city that has different rules for different businesses, it means the on land portion of this trip can certainly be a tour these days. The duck suit not only cost the city (HTA got out in some settlement whose details I cannot recall) but also opened the door for Swift's disgruntled son-in-law and former employee to open a rival tour group using gray colored trolleys to challenge the HTA orange colored tour monopoly. Thus we get even more tour vehicles in a never ending spiral!

I found the picture above on the Internet of the original Duck Tour which used an original WW II DUKW built by GMC. As a point of interest the word DUKW stood for the year the vehicle was built (D= 1942) U is For Utility, K means front wheel drive and W for two rear driving axles. Weird huh? And this is a designation dreamed up by corporate America, not the much maligned government. The new machines are much more vast and imposing, naturally ideal for the narrow streets of Old Town.

I don't know what to think of these contraptions on the water but following one on my motorcycle (on the street) was a noisy protracted experience. The exhaust goes straight up the back, you can see it in the second picture where it appears as a silver cylinder, which is good but it is a slow lumbering vehicle to trail around behind. There is no mercy in this town for any opinion that suggests perhaps enough is enough. Channel widening is on the agenda as a way to get more cruise ship passengers into Old Town and apparently the pace of tours around the city isn't letting up either. I am amused by all this as I reall the dreadful fuss made about some guy and his group of bicycle tours around Old Town. He was considered so disruptive they put limits on his groups of a dozen cyclists, pedaling. Weird but true once again. What is it the Good Book says about removing the splinter in your own eye before trying to remove the log from your neighbor's? Bicycles no, but amphibious tanks yes?