Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Better in Bisbee

An alert reader noted that Chuck formerly of Frances Street has relocated to Bisbee Arizona, a town of 5,000 perched on an apparently steep hillside almost overlooking the Mexican border. It's Better in Bisbee | Living on the edge… is Chuck's page writing about life in the high desert. Here he was on Frances Street showing me his collection of motorcycles, including this AllstateTwingle by Puch.
When my wife and I were struggling to figure out where we should relocate to get away from California's cold damp coast which was wreaking havoc on her rheumatoid arthritis we checked everywhere you could describe as warmer living. We checked Arizona but the desert is searing in summer and cold in winter and oddly enough the dry air of the desert did nothing for her joints or my skin. I get parchment-like in dry air and I don't like it. I know, I know humidity is everyone's pet hate but with air conditioning one can live a civilized temperate lifestyle and show up to work without sweat rings everywhere. Chuck starting his lovely Beeza 650. That one was my favorite in his collection even though it needed work.
I suppose the fact that I knew people in Key West, that I had lived there previously helped, but we we weren't sure about Key West at all. Arriving by boat from California, with all the color and heat of a 7,000 mile journey to Panama from San Francisco and on to Key West had worn us down. We were ready for secure income, for familiar waters and for a change of pace. My buddy Robert expressed surprise when we got jobs and settled into the new routine. Not many people come to Key West and actually do that he said. Mostly they talk about getting a job and leave when the money runs out. We hadn't had a bad life at all in California but when we started living in the tropics, south of Baja in Mexico, my wife's pain receded and she started to sleep more soundly than ever she had in Santa Cruz.
Chuck sounds like he is enjoying Bisbee, a town that's off the map and where he can indulge his love of old cars and eccentric architecture and where apparently real estate is relatively cheap. Housing he says is one fifth of Key West prices so it would seem for a hundred grand you could buy a small home. How to pay for it is the question, as a city of 5,000 has limited work opportunities for those of us that need them. To pass the time Chuck will rent bicycles to visitors.

My wife and I stayed in Key West because we got good work, not that our jobs have been drama free but we have each of us negotiated the prickly personalities and prima donnas of our respective workplaces and are now able to live and work in peace. My wife had been a lawyer in California and she was burned out. Teaching appealed but she stayed in the criminal justice system at first by becoming a juvenile probation officer. Her interview was absurd, consisting of an hour's worth of questions about the lack of housing and the high cost of living in Key West...they gave her the job and warned her off visiting clients alone in Bahama Village, a nest of high criminality. She bought a scooter and made house calls unaccompanied. After defending murderers and gang members in California she thought the "gang problem" in Key West was laughable.

I was walking the waterfront one day when a man came up to me and asked if I knew how to sail. Yes I said, I enjoy it. Can you get a Coastguard license? He asked. I have a fifty ton license I replied. Want a job he said, not really I replied. Oh go on it will be fun he insisted and I need captains. I'm not at all sure about this I demurred but off I went. We were living in Key West and working. A Key West house in Bisbee, by accident probably, or maybe by design...
Chuck spent much of his life traveling for work, trouble shooting and being an engineer much in demand across the Far East. He burned out too and settled in Key West to retire as his children started to launch their own lives. He seemed to like Key West but apparently not enough to stay. Read his blog and see how he feels more a part of the very small desert community than I suppose he felt a part of Key West, a town that can be stand-offish. I don't know why it is that some people fit in and others don't. I like living here because there are no social requirements, there are no dress codes, no value set by name brands or styles. It's the same apparently in Bisbee, but Key West is large enough that at the same time as making space for oddballs it offers real work too. At least not as far as I can tell so that works for me. I enjoy my own company and I can get that space here not least because so many people come and go. The transient nature of life in Key West suits me as much as it aggravates my social wife. Chuck admiring his BSA, his grimace was caught by the camera as usual and does not I believe reflect his feelings toward the machine.
Reading his blog one sees a man frustrated with the irritations of Key West, the drunken revelers, the gentrification, the stuff that makes Key West a place that is not stultified or dying but alive and irritating. I enjoy my life in the suburbs but that notion of not needing a car is appealing to a lot of people that think they want to live in Old Town. It's hard to be around true eccentrics and rebels when you are a nostalgic I find, and I have little need of human company and I enjoy commuting on two wheels. And like I've always said, ambition is frowned upon in Key West. He wanted to develop a business plan for my blog and I was flattered by his attention and his notion that there could be more to this modest pixelated page, a plan that fell through when his attention was diverted to canvas sewing on a more familiar business model, and I found myself worried about what I wrote, anxious not to let The Plan down. With relief I slipped back to my more familiar format, a page of dusty ramblings and ironic observations of my small place in life's broad canvas. Buchi, the new dog in Danger Boy and Pixie's life. Apparently the soil of a Bisbee is toxic to puppy paws and the dog may only travel without touching the ground. Danger Boy indeed! Bisbee Friends of Shelter Animals
My wife applied to work at the juvenile jail when it opened and needed a teacher willing to work a twelve month schedule. She was the sole applicant, got the job and promised to get her teaching credential subsequently. They were dubious, ambition is always frowned upon, but they had no choice so she did just that. And qualified to teach English as a second language, and qualified as a reading coach, but carefully did not qualify to be an administrator. She teaches with no ambition to lead so she threatened no one over the years. And she added to her juvenile probation state pension through the teachers' pension fund. Florida's state pension system is one of the few in the country that is solidly funded, surprisingly enough. Two years later Dade county laid off 400 qualified teachers and Monroe County was flooded with more applicants than it knew what to do with. "I'd never get that job today," my wife says, now enjoying her dream job of teaching adults in Marathon, a town filled with sober working adults eager to learn, taught by a fully qualified teacher who enjoys commuting the Seven Mile Bridge in her Fiat convertible. Pixie caught in a pensive moment on her Frances Street porch.
We came to realise that living on a boat and working in town was getting tedious. Our own neighbors in the marina viewed boats as low income housing and we started to feel trapped in our slip. Our boat never moved, our elderly Labrador could no longer get on or off easily and we liked Key West. It was a slow curve of appreciation but yes, we could live and grow old here. We had money from our home sale in California, a momentous sale choice selling that house that sealed our fate. We put a large deposit on a tree house on Ramrod Key and moved off the boat which we promptly sold. Goodbye Gemini catamaran, hello suburbia. I got a job at the police department much to my surprise after Captain McNeil (who bore an uncomfortable resemblance to the Ulster firebrand Ian Paisley) looked me in the eye after studying my sailing resume and said normally he'd never hire a dispatcher with such a spotty work history but he was desperate. I will outlast you I told him, and I did. And I still enjoy my work. My pension through the city of Key West is also reportedly well funded. How we got jobs with defined benefit pension plans so late in life I can hardly understand. The possibility of retirement made real by Key West of all places?
Bisbee is without doubt pretty and I think Chuck has found a place that might serve him well. It fulfills his nostalgia kick from growing up on the margins of modern society and the social nature of life in a small isolated mountain community, like that of my Italian youth, might suit him well as it would not suit me. Does this Bisbee Street not look French or Spanish or Italian?
People come and go in Key West, Chuck's Frances Street home is still adorned with his daughter's art project though the old Harley Davidson's parking spot has been replaced by a banal plastic scooter. I am growing into an old timer, trying to nurture my young colleagues into an appreciation of our extraordinary good fortune earning a living wage in a job we actually enjoy. And those pensions..!

I ride my Bonneville in the heat of a Florida Spring and feel my good fortune. Soon my new/old Vespa should be restored and perhaps I shall get it before too long. At least I know the job will be done right by Gene in Pennsylvania. Slow and steady wins the race I hope. We are taking a road trip during my wife's Spring Break in two weeks and we plan to cruise up the coast exploring in depth the small towns between Jacksonville and Wilmington. Essays to follow as I get some time off after these buddy weeks of drunken student revelers in town! I expect Chuck is glad to be far from Spring Break in Key West. I envy Chuck his proximity to Mexico, though he shows no signs of cruising his lovely Suzuki GS850 to nearby Naco for authentic Mexican tacos...I'd be there right away because to me the best thing about Tucson when we checked it out was proximity to Mexico and it's food.
I lived my life backwards in many respects traveling when I was young and experiencing as much as I could. Watching my mother die when I was 14 gave me a clear understanding of the fragility and limited nature of life. I wanted to live as many lives as I could with no guarantee of retirement as far as I could see. As my wife and I edge closer to that date cancer-free and active we feel lucky we landed here in middle age with good jobs, pensions we never had previously, lovely weather and thanks to the good offices of my gregarious wife, friends. For me it's still better in Key West and it's suburbs.