Thursday, August 16, 2018

My Town

Swimming in the canal behind my house, still a rather bilious shade of green thanks to Hurricane Irma's passage eleven months ago I asked my wife if she thought Key West has changed in our two decades living and working here. She looked at me like I was an idiot. Of course it haS she said firmly. It isn't, I wondered out loud that we may have changed and what seemed fresh and new and interesting no longer is..?  She snorted in derision.
I came to Key West in 1981 and there was no doubt the place was different. I kept coming back, visiting friends, going sailing living the life of a tropical wharf rat in short bursts before returning to real life in California where I sailed in harsh seas under gray skies through cold summers and colder winters. California was dynamic and interesting and the weather sucked. But Key West was too isolated and remote in those pre-internet pre-Amazon days for young persons like me. And then time passed and I sailed into Key West with wife and dogs never to leave.
The litany of changes that have taken place this century, for us, consists mostly in the ways we amused ourselves back when we were in our forties. My wife reminded me we used to get cheap eats on the beach at the Sands as it was known, an informal buffet place right on the water and dog friendly. We watched al fresco movies at the Atlantic Shores, the resort that was pleased to describe itself as straight friendly. Movie nights saw me chomping free popcorn with my yellow Lab on the chaise longue between my legs snoozing and oblivious to the movie crowd. Who was it on stage that handed out raffle freebies? Super girl..? Wonder woman..?  Lots of laughter and not bad movies either under the stars.
Then we had access in those pre-digital photography days to the Botanical Garden, an overgrown under attended forest on Stock Island that later fell victim to the organizational drive of a woman from Up North who mended the fences and started charging a fee and labeling all the plants. We bought pizza with Robert and carried boxes and beers out to the two picnic tables under the Canary island date palms and had supper under the trees before retreating and leaving the place to become the bums' bedroom as it did nightly. We cleared our trash of course as well. We ate at Stick and Stein and played incompetent pool and spent very little money. Or there was the buffet at Winn Dixie and the weird vibes at the Hukilau much lamented when it was torn down, Polynesia in paradise...
Things have tightened up in Paradise, where street art, bumming  a drink and standing around weaving palm fronds have  become memories for the most part. The color that was Key West, the hippy town that time forgot and that visitors proudly adopted as their away from home vibe has been buried under an avalanche of money. There is some perverse notion in me that a cleaner tidier Key West will be nicer to live in, yet despite the influx of money we still have a malodorous Duval Street with dirt ground into the paint, but we don't have the pirates or the men in tutus wandering around giving cover to those of us that like to pass unnoticed. Gone are the days you could rent cheap digs, do a couple of low stress jobs and have time left over to go fish or play a guitar or watch a sunset. When small homes in Key West sell easily for a million dollars  frivolity gets pushed to the curb. Come to Key West, pay top prices for a hotel room and see the southernmost buoy which is known to locals by several unflattering nicknames.
I admire the seashell for hanging in for now. Youth Hostel, cheaper rooms and a bit of funk. I cherish it as long as it lasts...