The Last Resort

In some respects, going to Key West is akin to traveling to the edge of the American universe and taking a good look at the future – and it’s not bright.

I’ll spare you the geography lesson, but suffice it to say we are dealing with an isolated island community that has been pumped up almost solely by tourist dollars. It is also a community that can only be supplied by road (only one), and, to much lesser extent, by air and sea. If Key West had to depend solely on air and sea replenishment, it would probably last about two weeks.

It is hot there in October and very humid too – much too much for me. I had hoped that there would be some moderating in temperature, but there wasn’t. Daytime highs were 87-92 not counting the real feel which was more like 91-99. Nighttime lows were in the mid to high 70s. Humidity generally was around 60% in the daytime hours. Without air conditioning, this place also curls up and dies.

The town itself is fighting a losing war on two fronts – culturally and environmentally. First, culturally. Key West is, if we are to be honest, a giant tourist trap that is fighting a rear guard action to maintain it’s historic charm. The famous Duval Street has, in the past few years, been likened to New Orleans’ Bourbon Street with the exceptions of the lack of world class restaurants and the proliferation of chintzy souvenir shops.

This is the essence of Key West: free range chickens wandering through souvenir shops. And stinky street water.

There have been some efforts to rein in the scam artists in the last few years but overall, the street is best taken in during the day unless you want to experience a mile long fraternity drinking party at night with all that goes with it.

The charming parts of the city are holding their own and are worth a look. Hemingway’s house, in my opinion, is well worth a look. We didn’t go to Truman’s Winter White House – they can sell their Trump souvenirs to someone else. There are gardens and wildlife exhibits as well. Basically, the tourism revolves around water sports and drinking. There are only a few bona fide land based attractions.

The old homes sit uncomfortably near new development, which is making continued infrastructure demands on the city. Also, you don’t have to set foot in the city proper, as there are a number of all inclusive resorts in Key West that have their own private beaches.

A final point – the city is for the rich. Cheap shacks and beat up trailers are going for $250k and up. Trolley drivers and other residents constantly complain they can’t afford to live in the city. Everybody is living 2-4 to a flat. The one trolley driver admits he and his wife can only afford their modest flat because she is a ‘professional,’ whatever that means.

And the apartments they live in are ugly. All of the new housing in Key West looks brutally out of place. For the sake of the people living in the old town, they can’t be seen from there.

If anything, the cost of living will get worse. Key West’s police cruisers are emblazoned with the words ‘protecting and serving paradise.’ Remembering the lyrics of the Eagles’ song ‘The Last Resort:’ “call some place paradise; kiss it goodbye.” Never truer than referring to Key West.

Strangely enough, perhaps out of sheer necessity for ‘the help,’ Key West has the rare distinction of having both a working Sears and K-Mart in town. I doubt you will find that combination anywhere else in the USA. Outside of the immediate downtown and quaint living spaces, it’s pretty much a resort town strip shopping center. I don’t believe there is one square foot of undeveloped land left in town, but I may be wrong.

This leads to the obvious – the whole thing is unsustainable. I wonder how many people know it?

Each day I was there, the sea reminded both tourists and residents that it will reclaim their paradise soon. Flowing under the permeable limestone, the sea water (from the Atlantic or Gulf, take your pick) comes up, sometimes violently, from the storm grates in the streets all over town. Some of the streets get a little wet, some turn into un-navigable rivers. The city leaves ‘Street Closed’ signs on most street corners to make shutting down the streets easy and fast. They need to: I saw the street in front of our place go from zero to completely flooded in about 30 minutes.

Just like this. Sometimes much higher.

The National Weather Service issues bulletins about this phenomenon every day. It looks like this:

Minor coastal flooding is possible in portions of the Florida Keys. The coastal flooding will be greatest around the times of higher high tides in the Middle and Lower Keys, but water levels will remain high even during low tide along the Bayside of the Upper Keys. See the latest Coastal Hazard Message for additional details.

And the water smells. God, does it smell. If you go to the south beaches as we did on the trolley tour, the guide will point out that these beaches, usually swarmed, are practically empty. Because it smells so bad. Why? Here’s the brief explanation from

That ubiquitous smell is decaying sargassum, islands of floating, brown sea algae that is piling up along the beaches of Key West, the Florida peninsula, Mexico and other Caribbean islands. Happens every summer when the winds and currents come from the south.

I can smell it just looking at this photo. Taken by the ‘most southwest point’ tourist buoy. And the whole area was flooded.

Except October isn’t ‘summer’ and this stuff is coming in by the tanker load. We had just observed the beach after the city had come by with some kind of scrapers to take as much of the sargassum off the beaches although some remained. The water is still full of it – you can tell because it’s brown. No one wants to swim in it because you will smell like raw sewage the rest of the day.

When the water comes up from the drains, it has the same smell. It makes ‘enjoying’ paradise rather difficult at times.

But the seagrass, as the locals call it, is a natural occurrence and the rest of Florida’s beaches are stocked with it as well. The real threat is the red tide which was forming off the Gulf Coast in the Tampa area when we were there. From

Why are red tides harmful? Many red tides produce toxic chemicals that can affect both marine organisms and humans. … The red tide toxins can also accumulate in molluscan filter-feeders such as oysters and clams, which can lead to neurotoxic shellfish poisoning in people who consume contaminated shellfish.

But back to the main point – Key West is barely above sea level and the rising ocean levels will eventually overwhelm the island. Miami is experiencing the same phenomenon, perhaps worse, since they get ocean currents that Key West does not (because of the coral reefs protecting the island). Building sea walls won’t work as the salt water is coming under the foundations, through the porous limestone and up into the city. There is no way to stop it.

Fun fact: Hemingway’s home was built on what may be the most hardened bedrock-like foundation on the island and its walls are three feet thick making it practically hurricane-proof. It’s also built on the highest part of the island. All this guarantees that when the island flood, Hemingway’s home will be the last structure standing. I’m sure he would have liked that.

I will have my revenge. . .

Another fun fact: all the sand on Key West’s beaches come from somewhere else. There is no natural sand on the island. And the world supply of sand is decreasing sharply.

Some other things:

We saw one large iguana on a sidewalk in Key West. When the state of Florida declared open season on the creatures, Key West really took it to heart, according to the local guides. The only iguanas we saw outside of that one big one, were little baby ones here and there. The exterminators had done a pretty thorough job which kind of saddened me because I wanted to see more of them.

Burmese pythons and other snakes: we didn’t see any snakes at all.

And the most important:

Insects: imagine this subtropical island surrounded by water and there are no insects at all.

No June Bugs or ‘Palmetto Bugs,’ ants, mosquitoes or any other flying pests.

I came ready to do battle in our rented condo. I was mentally prepared for big bugs. There were none – not even an ant or housefly. There was no need for DEET spray at all.

At first, it seems OK. Then when you think about it, it gets creepy. The insect apocalypse is real and is no more evident than at Key West. The place should be swarming with pests and it’s not. Not at all.

Of course, I could say the same thing for Florida as well and most of the South. And this is not good.

So Key West may not be the end of the world but you can see it from here. Despite the time and money we spent to come here and take a look, I still feel it was worth it, even if the fun quotient was lacking. I did come back with some nice cigars, so there’s that.

But I couldn’t help feeling sad as I left that so many of these people who have paid so much to live in this ‘paradise’ will soon see paradise lost.

The whole island is unsustainable and, well, nature bats last.

Some rich man came and raped the land, nobody caught ’em,
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes and, Jesus, people bought ’em
And they called it paradise, the place to be,
They watched the hazy sun sinking in the sea

                                             — The Eagles ‘The Last Resort’

Pre-Vacation Thoughts

I know it has been awhile since I put fingers to keys. I am sorry but sometimes I simply cannot write more than a few paragraphs. It’s hard for me to remember how much I loved writing, especially during my career in journalism. Now that that’s forever over, it’s tough to write when you know only a handful of people will ever read it.

I tried writing for Medium, but I don’t know their editors and I would seriously question their credentials. I know what real editors are – trained in J school, seasoned on the copy desk and on the beat – with years of experience to do a good job. If that makes me a dinosaur, I don’t care. If they’re going to knock down what I write for specious, unknowable reasons, it’s no better than writing for a blog no one reads. They seem to have a star system there and I won’t abide by it.

Another example of my increasing fuddy duddy-ism is an article I read this morning in the NY Times (who did not allow comments on which I find infuriating). The article was on the crass morons who attempt to video classical concerts with their phones. This line especially was infuriating:

“Some observers suggest that the restrictions on audience behavior are snobbish, elitist, or even manifestations of white privilege.”

Well, some observers are wrong. It seems like certain ‘weapon-words’ can now be wielded at any social convention that gets in the way of spoiled brats who insist their lack of manners of common courtesy outweigh an artist’s desire to perform and the audience’s right to enjoy, a performance without being interrupted by these phone-heads.

Yes, I have a smart phone. When attending an event as I did on Broadway a few months ago, the phone is OFF and in my pocket where it remains for the entire performance. What the Hell is so difficult about that?

I’m so done with this ‘woke’ shit. It’s weaponized for the sake of cultural power trips and causing a backlash among the very people who could be persuaded if they weren’t being blindsided with accusations. I’m surprised they didn’t say manners was also an example of ‘toxic masculinity.’

Call me what you will, I don’t care anymore. Is it any wonder I’ve withdrawn from all social organizations and become a semi-hermit? You can’t get embroiled in this ‘holier than thou’ nonsense if you avoid it all together.


In the end, none of this will matter in a few years when we’re fighting for our very survival thanks to climate change plus economic and political upheaval. A lot of nonsense will fall by the wayside when a head of lettuce costs $100 and arrives at the grocers once a week.

I also get amazed at people whose reactions to the upcoming upheaval are to find arable (for now) land somewhere, but it and take up farming. As anyone who has ever farmed will tell you, it’s not something you can just learn from reading a ‘dummies guide to farming for societal collapse.’ It is fucking hard work and completely dependent on a climate that is going to turn very inhospitable to American staple crops in a few years. Your crops will also have to be guarded 24-7 for obvious reasons.

But knock yourselves out. Me? I’m buying freeze dried food that lasts 25 years. I don’t expect to last 25 years.

I’m about to embark on what the odds say will be my last grand vacation – a road trip to Key West. I plan on making it a semi-travelogue to chronicle the effects of climate change on the Southern states, as well as the, um, cultural uniqueness of the South.

There will be much to video as the South has now been hit with a flash drought and Florida itself is overrun with giant snakes, iguanas falling from trees and apex predator mosquitos. Key West itself is suffering from the same phenomenon afflicting Miami – sea water is seeping through the limestone the city sits on and coming up through the sewers and drains. The entire area along the Atlantic coast to the Keys is living on borrowed time, hence I have named this the ‘Say Goodbye to Florida Tour.’

It has also caused the usual nostalgia I get when replicating (somewhat) family vacations from the 70s and previous trips to visit a friend living in Florida in the 90s. I expect to find a totally different state now.

The family vacations were on the other side of the state – to what was a sleepy hamlet named Holiday, about 15 miles north of St. Petersburg. It’s now a typical Tampa Bay area suburb. I recently Google street searched where my grandparents (whom we visited in 1971 and ’72) lived and found the once pristine neighborhood is now shabby and run-down.

The vacations were some of the rarer fond memories of my childhood. I used to count down the days until we left and found the idea of exploring unknown lands exciting. In the early 70s, not all of I-75 was complete through Tennessee, so you have to get off the interstate south of Knoxville for a 30-mile trip down US 11. The road would be lined with desperate tourist shops displaying large Confederate flag bath towels and other such things. I say desperate, because these merchants knew once the interstate was finished, so were they.

And we’d carefully make our way through Lenoir City, mindful of the speed traps (or ‘Yankee traps’ as they were known then) as we made our way through scenes which had not changed much since the 50s.

So much about travel, even by car, has changed. My father would have been blown away by GPS maps that talk to you so my mother would not have to fumble with the map and then give it to me since I was a far better navigator than her. TripTiks from AAA helped as they were small and compact, told you a little about the terrain you were covering (“traverses rolling hills and pecan farms. . .”) and also marked where the known Yankee traps were (“WATCH SPEED”).

He would also be amazed that the $150 he took in cash for the entire trip in 1971 would buy him one night in a hotel today. And who needs cash (or traveler’s checks later on) anymore when everyone takes plastic debit and credit cards? Wave the magic phone at a gas pump to pay for gas or at many other places as well. Dad would thought he’d stepped into Buck Rogers territory. But I remember how impossible it was to get a BankAmericard (Visa) or MasterCard (Master Charge) back in the day. Dad had worked for Sears for a decade and couldn’t even get approved for one of their charge cards.

So, you had to carry cash or traveler’s checks.

If you broke down, there was no Onstar or quick cell phone call to AAA or your car makers’ travel program or State Farm’s roadside service or any of that. You waited for a cop or started hiking to the next intersection’s gas station for a tow. It was a harrowing experience and one we don’t even think about any more.

Road side rest areas of the early 70s were absolutely primitive by todays standards. Here and there you still found pit toilets! It was a real hit or miss in many states and finding a clean restroom was something you’d note for the return trip. Rarely were rest area and gas station restrooms up to the standards of your average Pennsylvania or Ohio turnpike rest areas of today.

Travelling the South, you’d look for Stuckey’s. Stuckey’s are still around, sort of, never a stand alone store any more but paired with a fast food/gas station. They were bought and sold over and over a long time ago so those are not the Stuckey’s old people like me would remember. They had a distinctive roof, pristine, air-conditioned interiors, clean restrooms, lots of pop and snacks and their famous pecan rolls. You noted them on the map for sure. There were McDonald’s but a low fewer than today. What was in season were the old-style family restaurants where chicken fried steak and cheeseburgers were always on the menu.

It’s so easy now. Your car’s computer tells you if there’s to be any breakdowns (usually) and Google maps or Siri will tell you where the nearest gas, food or anything you want is. Modern technology has taken a lot of the adventure out of vacation travel, but this is one instance I won’t be counted as a fuddy-duddy. I much rather appreciate the security of the smart phone on trips even though I do miss the mom and pop roadside attractions of yesteryear.

As for the cultural uniqueness of the South, I am putting a few magnetic bumper stickers on my car as magical talisman to make my trip safer. Nowadays, the big worry traveling, especially as a Yankee in the South, is road rage caused by Bubba taking personal offense at the Hillary Clinton 2016 bumper sticker you never quite got around to peeling off. You can see what I did in my latest You Tube video and follow the travelogue on the Facebook site.

So, there you have it – a new column where I will probably lose any readers I may have picked up from the South or offended Millennial liberals of whom this Hubert Humphrey/Scoop Jackson Democrat apparently has little left in common.