Rusty started whining as we came into town around 4:45 in the morning. I open the rear window for him at the Triangle, the place where Highway One becomes North Roosevelt as we turn into the city from Stock Island.
We rolled past Searstown (where Sears used to be) and started making the noise that dingoes make when excited, a high pitched repetitive whine which gave me fair warning to pull into Key Plaza and park in front of the new Publix (the old Publix is in Searstown as locals describe the two identical stores).
I got my Panasonic camera out of the bag only after I had opened the back door for Rusty. He scampered out into the parking lot not bothering to wait for creaky former night shift dispatcher to follow. I used to walk Rusty at night because I was used to being awake at these awful hours but since I was moved to day shift Rusty hasn't lost the habit and even on my mornings off he will wake me for a walk at four in the morning. So here we are...
I like Key West at night, and not just because the pandemic mandates social distancing. I like the black sky, even with, or perhaps especially because the streets lights kill the stars. You get this velvet black backdrop to the lighted empty streets:
News has percolated to the Keys that K-Mart is closing stores in Marathon and the Upper Keys and the reduced circumstances of the Key West store would seem to indicate its future is limited. The proper name for this shopping area is Key Plaza (not Keys Plaza as the pedant in me will happily point out...). However this is often known locally as K-Mart plaza because of the presence of that one fading store. We shall have to build new landmarks for the 21st century.
Staffing shortages are critical around town, as is affordable housing and the pinch is being felt everywhere. We hear of unemployment that is obviously pandemic related across the United States but around here there are jobs galore. I heard new owners at McDonalds are offering $17 an hour to start but it's hard to live a life in the Keys when rents are absurd and unobtainable.
Traditionally the three shopping centers, including Winn Dixie's Overseas Market have created the modern shopping experience for Key West. In the mid 20th century America was shopping at malls and Key West wasn't going to be left behind. So they built these modern blocks with vast parking areas and all the charm and character of the cement workers paradise I saw in the Soviet Union when I took a train across that sad country.
It's funny how modern and smart becomes out of fashion and ugly with the passage of time. Originally people who owned old wooden homes downtown craved modern functional ranchettes in New Town with wide streets, car ports or even garages with lawns and all the joys of modern living. Nowadays we view the revitalized Old Town as the best money can buy, judging by the monstrous prices.
Tastes change and pandemics now encourage shopping by mail so it all resembles the old Sears Roebuck catalogues used by isolated homesteaders 150 years ago. They ordered and the US Postal Service delivered, just like today at a slightly slower pace.
If you walk Duval Street after more than a year of no cruise ships numerous downtown boutiques have closed because they did not serve local needs, and even though some people hope the empty spaces will be filled with local friendly stores it's hard to imagine how that could happen.
Jewelry and Pool Products side by side... it all works to keep a local building open. I like this gem shop which sells stuff my wife wears from time to time as though to prove I did have good taste for at least a few of her birthdays! I swim in my canal so the pool products are outside my knowledge.
Gas at $3:15 a gallon, as if to welcome the summer driving season. Locals have no reason to go downtown when everything can be bought here if a personal appearance is warranted.
The virus seems to have heralded a period of change, of new ways of commuting, working, entertaining and thus you could say a whole new way of living.
I document these places, these stores, these places off the tourist track because Rusty likes to walk there, but also it occurred to me, because they may not be here soon. Certainly I won't be and I wonder what lives we will be living.
I saw one of the Publix trucks arrive with food we expect to see on the store shelves. They drive up and down the Keys and we assume they always will. I hope so.
The shadow flitting back and forth, self importantly, silently, was my boy Rusty having the greatest time. Weird dog.
I thought this was a cool picture of art in the industrial wasteland.
This was me admiring the lines of shopping carts in the industrial wasteland. Rusty was rooting around out of the picture.
More industrial art, a play on the value of piping in modern economies. Or something.
I did not think this was the place to fuel my destiny (or yours) but advertising works in funny ways.
This building behind the shopping center is where people go to see doctors and dentists and to have their eyes examined. I know that because my eye doctor works there. It's called The Professional Building for a reason.
Driving into Key West look for the sign and turn left.