Keys are supposed to open things and the ones in Florida did not disappoint. We have had company for a few days and it seemed like a perfect excuse for a road trip. One that has been our Florida Bucket List for a while. The Hurricane called Irma gave us pause but they told us they were open for business. Depends on your point of view.
This archipelago is made up of over 800 islands that stretch from the Southeast tip of the Florida mainland for almost 120 miles. Probably only 30 of them are inhabited. They range from Key Largo of Beach Boy fame, to Isla Morada for the Bloodlines aficionados and then lastly the infamous Key West. This was our final destination. They were all ground zero for a Category 5 maelstrom a little over three weeks ago.
US 1 is a marvel of engineering. The two lane road hopscotches the cays and inlets via 42 bridges, one of which is seven miles long. It parallels the old railroad line that served to open the Keys in the early nineteen hundreds thanks to the raw ambition and some would say folly of Henry Flagler. He was rewarded with land from the state for every mile of rail he put into service and he was prolific.
At the southernmost terminus of the US, Key West has been home to pirates chasers, notables such as Ernest Hemingway, several presidents and today is a base for the Coast Guard, Navy and many misfits and forgotten hippies. They just ran out of land and decided to stay. They can be seen around town with gray ponytails, a minimum of clothing and that far away look in their eyes which is surely the result of too many trips to Margueritaville. My type of place.
It seemed to be a cross between Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans. The charming homes, at least the ones that have survived, have stories to tell. There are hawkers on Duval Street trying to sell wares of all sort including T shirts, cigars and even a bit of the flesh. Business in every aspect has picked up since the arrival of cruise ships. It seems when people have a short time ashore and money burning holes in their pockets they will believe just about anything. Almost like my Navy buddies of old. All in good fun.
From the looks of things the storm did little damage to this Eden and that is an important part of the story for the Keys as a whole. In the KW we saw, the streets were swept clean and piles of branches and ruined belongings were kept from the public view on the side streets. Put on a good show.Business as usual for the Golden Goose. Money is no object. Probably a good move.
It wasn’t the same scenario in getting there. Some of you have witnessed coastal destruction firsthand but it was tough watching this on the way down. Literally 20-30 foot mountains of brush, clothing, furniture and appliances were strewn everywhere. Cars boats and lives are upended in every possible way. Trees and shrubs were stripped of their greenery by the wind forces. It was almost like it was autumn in a place that doesn’t shed its flora. The beige of winter was omnipresent as far as you could see. People were trying to dig out and piece together what had been a dream getaway. I don’t know how long it will take? Their far away look wasn’t from peyote but despair
It was a metaphor in so many ways to where we are as a nation today. These people had found their bit of heaven whether it a was a mansion or a double wide. When you see the exposure to water on either side of the road you have to ask,”What were they thinking?” But the siren call of developers who were prodded on by the federal as well as state and local governments was too good to resist. Now what do we do?
As in Houston, Puerto Rico and maybe even the vineyards of Napa, people are looking for and even demanding help. If you can’t sympathize when you see their plight you are heartless. At the same time is rebuilding a smart option? What about next time and more importantly are we just insuring people against failure. Flood insurance is non existent in the private markets. Uncle Sam is the insurer of last resort and he is in the hole right now for about $30 billion large.
As we drove, we spoke of the options and approaches. Succinctly if you are Democrat you say we have to do everything we can to get these people back up on their feet. It is our responsibility and duty no matter how absurd the circumstances seem. If you are a Republican you say, no way. Everyone has to fend for themselves. If you made a mistake we feel sorry for you but it is your responsibility to fix it. The GOP are heartless sons of a bitches.Not really but which way do we play it?
Think about bankruptcy laws, student loans in arrears, defaults on mortgages, welfare, disability, poverty, unfunded pensions and auto repos. Is there a line of thinking here? Should we have free college tuition, free medical, and for some a guaranteed minimum income? I saw all that damage and there were FEMA tents and state crews and private contractors clearing roads. There was a lot of work to be done and a ginormous amount of money to be spent. We have to ask where will it all come from for this and so many others? And don’t say the rich.
The rub is I can’t be heartless and turn my back but the businessman in me says is this just throwing good money after bad? Those in need throughout the country are popping up everywhere. I just wonder if anyone is looking long range? We run huge deficits and rob Peter to pay Paul. No one is stopping to think. Don’t you worry TTG, we will find a way. Just tell me which way you think we should play this? Horn of plenty or Simon Legree? Not quite as easy as it sounds. Maybe there is a Key to all this? I hope so.
Ted The Great
Key west is actually closer to Havana (90miles) than to Miami.For a long time, it was the largest and busiest town in the whole of Florida, because it was close to the Bahamas and Cuba and provided a trade route up to New Orleans.
In 1935 the Florida Keys were hit by one of the worst hurricanes ever to strike the USA. Winds with speeds of 200 miles per hour (320 km per hour) battered the islands and a storm surge of over 17.5 feet (5.3 m) flooded them. 500 people died in the hurricane and the Overseas Railway was severely damaged. Irma’s peak sustained winds were around 110MPH Those that hit Naples topped out at 142MPH
Pan American World Airways, commonly known as Pan Am, was founded in Key West, with its first flight on October 18, 1927 to deliver mail between Cuba and the United States under a contract with the with the United States Postal Service.
Charles “Sonny” McCoy, the mayor of Key West, water-skied to Cuba, making the trip in 6 hours, 10 minutes on a slalom ski. He must have been smoking something.