Friday, December 7, 2012

The Abandoned Tree

I was striding down Whitehead Street the other day and I passed a pair of cruise ship women, identified by the colored discs issued by the ships and affixed to their ample bosoms, while one was speaking to the other as our paths crossed. I overheard a snippet, "...I don't know," she grumbled, "...something about an abandoned tree." Huh? I thought to myself. Then I spotted a group of tourists standing around necks craning up above their heads.
By the time I got my phone out and the camera turned on they were moving up the street following their guide who had finished spouting about the famous tree on Whitehead Street. I overheard his patter "...the largest banyan tree in the world I'm told is in East Africa and takes up five acres." I took a picture of the crowd shuffling off, away from the now abandoned tree.

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.