Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Stock Island

I stopped by Stock Island to pick up dinner on my way home. Yahman sold me a jerked pork dinner and a curried chicken dinner to go, both excellent and both enough for more than one meal. Then of course I had to walk Rusty who had been waiting patiently for me to conduct the business that brought us both here.
It's always a pleasure watching the small brown dog strutting down a street with his tail flying like a banner behind him. His lively curiosity is matched now by the knowledge that I will let him wander pretty much where he wants to go. To an observer it may look like circles but he usually follows some invisible scent. I tag at the end of the leash and take pictures. 
I was struck once again by the way Stock Island has assumed the backwater mantle once enjoyed by Key West. Nowadays Key West is a haven for bored wealthy people escaping cold weather while Stock Island fights a rear guard action against gentrification. This means housing can appear crude and streets have no sidewalks in this unincorporated urban area but rental prices match Key West's outrageous demands.
690 square feet, all modern conveniences and your landlord's political signage to boot, All for $1800 plus utilities. I read somewhere nearly half the US population doesn't have four hundred bucks set aside for emergencies. Here the landlord has kindly done the math and you need $5400 to move in and if you have a dog forget it.
And next door the electrical substation buzzes merrily. In some parts of the country $1800 a month would buy you an actual house with an actual view. Around here you get what you are given.
I find Rusty to be quite smart and I suppose that's natural enough considering how long he spent roaming the streets of Homestead taking care of his pack, and I appreciate the fact he doesn't just chew through his leash and ignore me but I can't get him to pay attention to No Trespassing signs despite the fact he is undeniably smart.
Stock Island is a place of gentle decay, of land not enjoying the most intensive use. Personally I find the chaos and dirt and muddy puddles annoying but this is what you get if you aren't selling out to the highest bidder. On the other hand I find Lego towns of uniformly designed buildings and crisp clean landscaping to exude boredom and conformity. I am impossible to please. There seems to be little room for compromise at this end of the island chain. Key West is not exactly spic and span all the time but it is a cohesive city held together by wealth and ambition. Stock Island is a mess and it revels in it's lack of social vision. I'd gladly live in a compromise between the two...
The wondrous things is that in driving out the artists from Key West some of those artists have decided  to stick around and now call Stock Island home.
Safe Harbor the funky old marina is doing okay still and the county is planning on buying more commercial dock front to preserve commercial fishing on Stock Island. They used to live in Key West those shrimpers but they got kicked out by lucrative recreational marinas and resorts. So some came here others went up the Gulf Coast.
Hogfish Bar and Grill is the destination for tourists who want to drink beer on the wild side, threading their way through light industry, Haitian trailer parks and Cuban coffee shops and boat repair yards and dust and dirt unlike anything seen in their Old Town winter neighborhoods. Hogfish is self consciously "authentic" for anyone seeking the real Florida Keys. The advertising copyhas to be twee in that vein:
 "Unless you live here, you will only find this hidden gem on a tip from a local. So once here, you will know instantly that this is the place for REAL seafood Lovers! The "charm" we offer is that you will experience the style of what the Lower Keys used to be... before the nightlife and carnival atmosphere took over."
This is authentic Keys drinking, as authentic as anything can be when the label "authentic" has to be stuck on.
There's a steel hogfish lurking in the banana laves...
Eccentrics have their place here and artistic eccentrics better yet. Stock Island is duty and ill defined and colorful and real.If you think the Key West of the 1980s was superb and you are sorry you missed it, don't despair  you can find the same rough and tumble spirit on Stock Island today.
The car may be a wreck but the art is excellent.
It was hot and I was delighted to see Rusty ready to go home and take an air conditioned car ride for twenty minutes to get there,
They live their lives here in colorful trailers behind tall fences, they work in Key West keeping the tourist city going by doing all those jobs no one thinks too much about.
There are big plans for Stock Island and change is coming, slowly, incrementally, but inevitably.
When workers get priced out of here the crisis will be upon the Lower Keys.