There are certain things, after all these years that escape me about this town. Some people tell me the shabby chic is part of the charm of Key West but I disagree. I think maintaining the infrastructure is never a bad idea and if that involves filling the cracks and applying a lick of paint so much the better. Personally I'm not bothered but it surprises me that visitors aren't much bothered either. They come in droves. I suspect there is the New Orleans factor at work here, the slightly seedy, not really dangerous, down-at-heel charm of an eccentric town that is unlike where you came from. I get it.
That aesthetic is getting a work over as more and more uninteresting chain stores move in and eccentric local stores move out. The entire retail experience is changing anyway as Amazon and package delivery is replacing store fronts. Life in Key West revolves around Internet access and online life. Yet some physical shopping will still be required I suppose. I hope. Shopping as either life saving intervention or as recreation perhaps. Bigger brighter more comprehensive big box stores coming soon!
And yet life down here is honestly made so much better by the Web...I love my daily access to the world's newspapers, my ability to store and read numerous books on my phone, the connection of cheap telephones, Skype and instant photo sharing and messaging. It's a huge paradox to me that I like the isolation of life nestled in small islands surrounded by warm water, yet I crave the electronic connection that keeps me in touch, from a safe distance, with the world around. My sister sent me an email describing an outdoor dinner her village organized in Italy last week. I found a picture on Facebook, not a very good picture, and sent it to her: this one? I asked. Yet for all the connectivity my life here is as alien to her as it would have been in the age of the telegraph and steam engine. Connection is made by contact, not electronically.
My start up company is starting up without direct contact with the engineering company that is building the widget in Los Angeles. VezTek, who I have never met, says the completion date should be early to mid-October. The sales manager is in San Francisco, the marketing company is in Brooklyn and my Technology partner is in Southwest Florida. How the hell do you start a company scattered like that? Easy it turns out with modern technology. And yet I wake up on a small island on a distant dead end street as far removed from the hustle and bustle as it is possible to be without actually cutting off the road connection.
I cannot explain it but Key West has been in a total uproar over the opening of Taco Bell. It seems the last franchise actually managed to go bust in 2009,but so far this lot could only go bust by running out of food which they managed to do this last weekend. And yet the line to eat at Taco Bell keeps spilling over into the main road day and night. Speaking to those who have braved the impatient crowds lined up for cheap fast food the inside of the restaurant only has one operating cashier so the lines in the drive through can be as long as the lines inside. It's as though some form of collective madness has rained down on Key West. I understand the cheap food dilemma in a town where everything is expensive but this peculiar form of worship heaped upon a fast food joint is decidedly odd. Next week they promise to open for breakfast and I cannot imagine the chaos that will ensue. In other countries people scuffle to make a political point or to fend off starvation. Here they have come to blows to prevent their neighbors taking cuts to get ahead in the line for dollar tacos.
This is the year of Taco Bell, next year it will be Walmart's turn to upend shopping in the Lower Keys. We too deserve cheap is the Conch mantra, which leads those of us who came here to escape bland uniformity to wonder what happens next. At least they can't buy and bottle the weather which remains perfect no matter what we do down here.