Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bye Bye Freddie

The words have been written and the decision taken and change is coming to the 500 block of Duval.

I've heard some say Tony Falcone failed to adapt to the Internet era, that he should have cultivated the locals, that he should have adjusted his mark up after the 2008 economic melt down. Etc...etc...

I on the other hand have no idea what he should have done differently if anything as I have no head for business. What is clear to me is that everyone in Key West has a thought and an opinion about the end of the quirky department store that is now sinking out of sight into our collective memory.

Tony Falcone and his business and life partner at the time helped initiate Fantasy Fest three decades ago in a desperate attempt to give life to a moribund city in October when tourists were long gone and snowbirds were nowhere to be seen. His roots in the city go deep enough that he, like the big developers, oversaw the transformation of the city, it's modernization.

Lime all transformations the risk here is that Key West may be going too far, success brings with it deep seated and permanent alterations that change the essential nature of that which is being modernized. No one wants to live in a commercial fishing town, not many people want to life without modern conveniences, but by creating a year round economy and sucking in wealth, Key West has changed and changed so much that one of the authors of that change has changed himself out of his own business.

Fast Buck Freddie's walked a fine line between bad taste and fashion statements. It was homo-erotic home furnishings made palatable to the wealthy old snowbirds eager to prove their social advancement by showing off their wealth through fruity over priced furniture from the home town store. There was not much room for working Conchs and retail employees with three part-time jobs and barely enough money left over for a six pack.

It was a walk through retail fantasyland when one went to the store with a meager budget and an intent to buy a few seasonal knick knacks for gifts. The store was bursting with dust catcher fantasies, over wrought china, exotic Indonesian rattan, penis pasta and joke books.

I remember the Lee County Commissioner who returned to Ft Myers and handed out boxes of penis pasta to her fellow elected officials on the daïs. I think she lost her job thanks to her terrible Key West taste.

I had a job at Fast Buck's for a summer in the shipping and receiving department. It was a happy time for me, I was off the water tired of being a boat captain and enjoying driving round the city delivering furniture. I went into lots of different homes, an invisible worker on Sunset Key driving a truck where no one drives. I liked working there and wanted to stay. It was John that hired me, a veteran of the early years of the store, recently retired, shortly after I took this picture of him opening the store as he had for 30 years:
And after retirement with his house sold I am told he retreated to Costa Rica.

I remember this little mannequin which was sold in front of me to a grinning new owner. We the employees used to look at the child's horrid scowl and with the best will in the world the dressers despaired of ever making the child look appealing in the store window. Check him out, he looks positively demonic.

Eventually I was offered a job as a police dispatcher making a few dollars an hour more, and I tried to negotiate a raise at Fast Buck's but the private sector failed to see my worth. I went to the police department and now more than ever I am glad of that choice.

I will miss the place as we all will, and when a chain store that offers no challenges and presents a bland familiar shopping mall face to Duval Street opens in it's place we will mutter about the good old days.

Some say the good old days were after World War Two when the Depression was put to rest and optimism swept the land. Other say they were in the 70s or the 80s or the 90s and you will find the gold old days were when the speaker first set eyes on Key West. For some, in the not too distant future, these will be the good old days.

When I was shipping furniture out the back the Blue Paper published from the little shack at the top of the stairs. I once met Jimmy Buffet back here, he shares the building with Falcone and often hung around here. I had no idea who he was and only discovered his identity when the trembling women in the store pointed him out with awe in their voices. I saw first hand what wealth and fame and a reputation do to the rest of us.

It wasn't all good, I suppose, but that's the beauty of nostalgia, and it's curse

Everything looks better in retrospect.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Honda CBR 250

One of the annoyances of living in the Lower Keys is that you only ever get to see a stream of assorted Harley Davidsons mixed in with the odd BMW looking badly out of place in their layers of all possible high impact gear.

And then one of my anonymous neighbors gets the bright idea to go and buy a modern motorcycle like a Honda 250.

This isn't a tired Nighthawk 250 or the diminutive Rebel which has a seat that is knee high to a grasshopper. It's supposed to be female friendly but it's just dead boring. This Honda 250 is most decidedly not boring.

Check this little boy racer out. Automatic Braking System and all on the front disk. The oil gets changed every 6,000 miles and the four valves in the water cooled single cylinder get checked every 16,000 miles.

The instrument panel is modern and complete and the riding position doesn't look to be as ferocious on a middle aged back as you might think.

The finish is lovely and considering these machines are made in Thailand (where Bonnevilles are assembled) these machines will be sold around the world at bargain prices - four grand in the US gets you one.

This owner cleverly installed a couple of color coordinated bungees to haul his/her lunch to work in Big Pine. I expect this bikes are that popular someone soon will create some useful accessories for the little CBR.

On the other hand not many people buy an 80 mpg little racer to carry luggage so perhaps innovative bungees are as good as it will get. That and the usual throw over not waterproof saddle bags.

I like this bike.

Of course I would look like an overweight middle aged pratt riding it so my choices are probably a Suzuki TU 250 or a Cleveland Cyclewerks 250 both of which I also like a lot. Small bikes are so much more interesting than oversized penis enhancers.

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Five Years

Today is the fifth anniversary of the very first essay in this blog. When I started I had no idea how obsessive this enterprise might become, but here I am, 2668 posts later, tens of thousands of photographs, mostly of the Florida Keys, an average 700 page views a day, 228 followers, and no idea what the future might bring.

I understand that there are thousands of people across the country and the world who miss "their" Florida Keys and this blog, as whimsical and as personal as it sometimes is remains a window on the Keys for people starved of contact with these islands.

I have always tried to avoid formats or formulae, or cutesy repetitions like the photo blogs tend to pursue, for instance blue Tuesdays or weathered Wednesday's and stuff like that. These essays are a product of my daily life, heavily edited.

I just happen to live where a lot of people have a remote interest. I wish there were more blogs like mine about other places around the world with pictures and words. After all I like armchair travel too, but in my Internet searches unfortunately I find Key West Diary is all too rare. And so it goes. Five years. Amazing isn't it?

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Truman Road Works

Truman Avenue is going to be torn up soon and a new traffic light will be installed in front of Sears and dips that periodically fill with rain water and drown bicycles and small children will be filled in.

These palm trees were to be replaced with maintenance free palmettos but the snowbirds got upset and demanded the city sent money maintaining these non native coconut palms so workers were out recording them for posterity and so they will be returned ot their original holes I suppose.

Meanwhile at the other end of the road that becomes Truman Avenue the surface is being torn up.

This road used to be called Division Street as it divided the inhabited parts of the island from the wilderness to the east. Now it divides that part of the city that floods less in the rain from the parts that flood more in the rain.

I have no idea what they are digging up but I'm sure it will be good.

For the time being traffic is inbound only past Bayview Park but this will be work in motion.

The whole job is supposed to take two and a half years so traffic will be snarled for ages in New Town and everyone is excited about that.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

My Heroes

I love Aerostich. They sell clothing and accessories for people who actually ride their motorcycles and don't just accessorize them before re-selling them. Their catalogue is a work of art and makes a great read, packed with humor and candor in a world where selling is treated far too seriously. This is their ad in Cycle World magazine.

I am no shopper but Aerostich products are a sure bet and if they promise they deliver. I love bike stuff from people who ride and test their own products. They ride in the rain, in the dark, in the cold...and they have fun.

Besides this is a philosophy I can get behind. Just ride and stop farkeling. I know, that notion involves buying stuff from Aerostich to make riding a more comfortable affair, but I like thinking of reasons to take the bike, not leave it at home. Ride Everywhere, indeed.

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Higgs Beach Made Better

I had delayed returning to Higgs Beach t see the new fence and when I did finally check it out I was astonished.

With one quick move the authorities seem to have solved the problem of the bums taking over the pavilions at the public county owned beach in the middle of the city of Key West.

The old Astro City playground seen above has been replaced by a shady, waterfront child's park in the sand:

It was busy when I was there with mothers and kids coming and going.

In many respects it's a better location, with shade, an attractive ocean view, shade from the casuarina trees and the useful picnic pavilions line the fenced area.

These used to be residentially challenged cabanas filled with drinking squabbling bums who made a pleasant aft noon at the beach an impossibility for anyone with any sense of decorum in public places.

It's easy to point a finger in a shitty economy and say these are the dispossessed but unhappily these are the hobos and bums made romantic by early 20th century authors (John Steinbeck leaps to mind) though these modern incarnations are not by any stretch romantic.

The have relocated across the street to the wooden picnic tables next to the dog park, and there they sit. Key West offers an amazing array of services for the poor and homeless and hopeless, not surprisingly as this city is packed with millionaires and working poor. But there is a population, that swells in winter, of travelers and they seek no help and prefer to be viewed as rebels and outsiders.

It seems clear to me the relocation of the childrens' playground accomplishes the relocation of the bums, but also paves the ay for the new road planned to run inland from the beach, moving Atlantic Boulevard away from the shore.

Next the county will have to find the money to move the dog
park which was built with donations from citizens and now sits directly in the path of the planned relocated street. Once Atlantic is moved the remainder of Higgs Park will be mostly dog park, children's park a d recreational facilities, tennis courts and the like and the bum problem which has plagued this place will evaporate.

And the kids get their water front playground.

One has to assume the bums will move and some other neighborhood will be blogged for a while.

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