Tuesday, December 3, 2019

To Have, Or Not

Bright crisp sunshine, a few puffy clouds and a trim set of masts over the water. Enough to put anyone in a good mood.
These two scoundrels decided to ask me for money as I walked by. I'll take your picture I counter offered, as I have no money. Oh all right then they said. We've just come from Brazil they offered in an attempt to astonish a tourist they had just tried to convince to give them money. Brazil I said? And I admit I was not a little surprised. They had been on a Buddhist retreat they said further compounding my astonishment. But I have to say the news of their actual non indigence and easy traveling style rather reassured me. Modern Key West has no time for the hobos of this world. Wealth and speed and fashion and status have replaced the modest level of anarchy and socail non conformity on which 20th century Key West was based.
I could see these two cheerful travelers living comfortably in the pages of To Have And To Have Not, the novel that Hemingway wrote in waves of sometimes less successful effort. If you haven't read the novel but have an interest in Key West you could most likely see past the wobbly style and weird plot holes and enjoy the descriptions of daily life in Depression era  Key West, among the wealthy, the poor the homeless and the boat dwellers and the drunks and the barflies. You and I might not fit but these guys would have been perfectly at home in that long lost world. Whether they fit here and now is open to question and whether Key West is better for that is also debatable.
It is rather silly to say blandly that Key West has changed. The amount of change and the direction of the changes is what matters. The other thing that matters is whether you can handle the changes with which you are faced. I have found this sort of turn over to be pretty much universal and have no doubt you have too. A neighbor who had lived all his life near our friend's home in Pensacola made the comment that he too lamented the changes wrought in his town and how things now are much more strict and conformist than when he was a young man in Pensacola...
I have similar feelings about the town I lived in during my 20s and 30s in California. I remember well my feelings of wonder and the joy of exploration living in a  town bursting with ethnic food never before seen and full size classic movies in a re-run theater, a place where I learned to appreciate movies in a  world not yet equipped with libraries of video tapes. Santa Cruz was an excellent education for my young emigrant self and when I go back for a visit now I marvel that a new generation of youngsters feels the same way now I did back then. Obviously the beach town has changed, the university has grown and the atmosphere has changed. But is it the atmosphere or my now elderly perception of it? I debate this with my wife from time to time and she, who graduated the university there at a time of intellectual ferment dismisses me as an old fogey. Youth sees everything as new and fresh and exciting. 
Key West dies the same thing to me sometimes. What looks fresh and new and exciting to visitors struggling to find their way looks old hat to me. The thing that helps me now is old age as i find myself empathizing more with the late arrivals' astonishment at this small town still apparently chasing its own dreams. Perhaps it is my curmudgeonly self but too often I endure old timers grumbling about the good old days and I overhear world weary residents complaining about "tourons" - tourist morons - a term I find demeaning and repugnant. To me the threat to key West comes from people determined to live here and equally determined to change and improve that which they came to enjoy. I find myself falling victim to that disease too and have to pull myself up short when I feel the grumbles coming on about run down sidewalks, abandoned cars and weedy streets. Gentrification I have to remind myself sternly is the enemy and a little decay is representative of the laissez faire attitude we seek to encourage. 
I suppose I have to take refuge in a cliche and a french one at that. The more things change the more they stay the same. Figure that one out if you dare, and apply it to Key West if you want. I'm busy going back to work.