Friday, August 23, 2013

Island Time

It's a funny thing living on an island. I live near Big Pine Key and "my" island has two entrances, where the highway comes in over a bridge and where it leaves over a bridge. That's life along the Overseas Highway. Key West is technically an island but the one bridge in and out makes Key West something of a wide spot at the end of a very long peninsula. People here are fond of noting they live closer to Havana than Miami, with the added cachet that Cuba is forbidden to freedom loving Americans. All that notwithstanding residents of this hundred mile long peninsula like to quote the rather nebulous concept of "island time." Peninsula time doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Island time expresses a zen state of mind where being is more importantbhan doing. Island time is a concept celebrated in song, and this lotHoward Livingston & Mile Marker 24 - Key West #1 Band sing about Key West time, a state of mind where nothing much matters. It's a place where you sit back getting a menial job while drinking cocktails with your feet in the sand. Let's face it, Jimmy Buffett who started his career in Key West has made a mint off island time. Island time, whether you're a bum or a pigeon means hanging around not worrying about a thing.

It's got it's allure hasn't it? Living in Key West without a care in the world, a bicycle for a car, sandals for shoes and no winter clothing. However people who do live here do not live a tourist life of course. People ask me what to do should they want to move. My advice, which I dispense sparingly as advice is rarely adopted, is to burn no bridges and abandon all ambition. All the good professional jobs are taken. Anyone who is any good and shows up on time gets the manual labor. New arrivals start at the bottom which is tough to do when you are middle aged. Having fun at the Green Parrot is easy.

Having Sandy's at your beck and call twenty four hours is a double edged sword. It's great to have Cuban sandwiches whenever you want them but Cuban cooking makes no concessions to modern fads. Live at Sandy's red counter and your girth will explode. Skinny drinks? Hell no. Gluten free? Forget it. All the way at Sandys means butter and mayonnaise if you feel like it on both sides of your lard baked Cuban bread. Great for a vacation break, but when you live here self control needs to beat island time every time!

I like spending time here at the Tropic when I'm on peninsula time. Watching movies with subtitles and trying to avoid the wine, beer and pastries in the concession stand. Coming out of the Tropic after dark and feeling the warm night air envelope you is sometimes the best part of going to the movies, especially in February.

I spent quite a lot of my youth learning to cope with village life in an isolated valley. If you went there in the mountains of central Italy you'd think it was Shangri La. But for me it was a nightmare of conflicting emotions, ancient family grudges, twisted motives and no privacy at all ever. It really didn't suit my rather withdrawn personality. So when I see people celebrating their Key West roots, full blown Conchs born and raised here I am filled with a mixture of respect for them and embarrassment at myself. To be a Bubba, a "brother" is to be a local, with roots that can't be bought or earned in the community. On the one hand they grew up in a small town on the ocean in a tight knit community, and unlike me they thrive in that environment. I'm embarrassed sometimes because I am acutely aware that I am here from somewhere else. I don't like the idea that I am intruding in someone else's family gathering. Yet this is the modern world and to some extent all of us are from somewhere else, and people whose roots are in one place have also invited outsiders in. The insiders sell the outsiders the land and the homes they need to put down their own new roots...

Not all the arrivals in town are welcome. Some people take the concept of island time a little too far and as much as they annoy it seems like we are stuck with them, as much as the Conchs are stuck with us, the seekers of a modicum of island time in an otherwise mainstream life.

I learn my island time attitude from my dog. She sleeps a lot, likes her routine and even though I'd like to think she doesn't worry I rather think she does. She was pretty stressed when I met her and I wonder how much she thinks about the way things were versus the way they are. Nowadays she eats like a horse, sleeps like a dead dog, and is always ready for a walk. I don't know for sure about her stress levels but being with her for sure reduces mine.

Island time ends when work time begins. For some it's after a week or two, for others it's after a weekend.

Island time as an excuse for being late aggravates me. Island time as in taking the time to enjoy the beauty in the world around us is something completely different.

Island time. What a concept. What a reality.