American history is filled with “times like these.” Three times we have been here. I believe we will be OK. Though my rage boils over too often, I believe in Americans-in-the-middle. I believe there are extremists on the right and the left — and I believe they do not, do not, represent who we are as a people. They get the attention and the headlines today; spoiled children clamoring for their own ice cream cone, unwilling to share and willing to fight to the death to keep what they believe is theirs and theirs alone. Getting through this transition will not be for the faint of heart. But get through we will.
Help me out here: We keep asking: How can we get people to come here? How can we improve the “experience” for our visitors. Ought we not be asking instead “what must we do to become a place where people want to live”? There are a bazillion unscientific surveys that say Key West is a “top 10 this-that-and-the-other,” but those things are always about why VISITORS want to be in Key West. I think we should ask: Why one would choose Key West as the place to move to be a teacher, doctor, lawyer, business owner, cop, firefighter, etc. You know, the kinds of jobs and professions that make a little-town-big-city a great place to put down long-term roots.
Retail shopping in Key West is, to say the least, limited unless one is in search of T-shirts, tropical tourist paraphernalia and exceptional art work. None of which does a thing for a sprained ankle. So I wasn’t particularly hopeful that I’d find a cane, or if I did, that it would (a) fit, since I am barely five-feet-in-flip-flops; and (b) have a touch of panache. Figured I’d buy a can of spray paint if the functional black needed spiffing.
I ride a trike and I hold my breath each time a car or truck passes, some appearing to cut it as close to me as they can just for sport. Or following closely enough to bump me out of the way. Sometimes it’s a tourist in a fancy red rented convertible. Sometimes it’s a local bent on making the light first (you know it’s local by the residential stickers or license plate.) They have one thing in common: They either don’t see or pretend not to see a bike right beside them.
I’d pay higher Key West taxes if I knew the city’s leaders — the City Commission and the mayor — were committed to making Key West a home for locals. Put us first. If our quality of life is paradise perfect, the tourists will keep on coming. If we continue to put tourists and those who cater to and benefit directly from them first, we can kiss our island life farewell.