Monday, March 08, 2004

Devil's Bargain

"And lastly, what is the deal with the Truman Waterfront? Someone spent 20 grand to let us know that, once again, condos are the answer. Will we be "hoodwinked again?" I hope not.

And what about the Village? It goes without saying that the heart and soul of Bahama Village is in the cross hairs. Where will the lifelong residents go? Does anyone care? It must be a scary feeling to watch your neighborhood being sucked away by people just looking to turn a buck.

When will the people of Key West grow tired of being overrun? The island is trampled by cruise ship tourists six days a week and jets roar in and out of town as our quality of life continues to circle the bowl."

Rob O'Neal is a photographer for the Key West Citizen, and writes an occasional Keys Life column for the paper. The above is from his most recent column.

A few years ago, soon after I got to know him a little, Captain Outrageous loaned me his copy of the book "Devil's Bargain: Tourism in the Twentieth-Century American West". It was soon after the Captain and a couple of dozen other long-term citizens had been bulldozed out of their small trailer park homes on Greene Street to make room for another pay-to-park lot next to the Conch Republic Seafood Company restaurant and bar. (Another victim was Kermit, the Key Lime Shop chef.)

The author, Hal K. Rothman, "traces the history of Western tourism from the late 19th century to the present, exploring in comprehensive and eminently readable detail the ways in which the tourist industry has shaped communities as diverse as Santa Fe, Aspen and Las Vegas. Each has been transformed from a small, obscure town to a mythic destination, he argues, often leaving local residents trapped inside the myth that the tourists' imagination creates." (Emphasis added.)

Few, I think, have any wish for Key West to go back to the sleepy fishing village I first saw in 1958 on a brief refueling stop aboard the USS Wagner, on our way to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base -- nor is that even possible. Many, on the other hand, are worried that all vestiges of the magical qualities of our Key West are being submerged in the interests of those who want to see more and more feet on the street, fools on stools, and bottoms in beds.

Balance is what is needed for a sustainable tourist economy else, as Yogi Berra once said, "Nobody goes there any more. It's too crowded."

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