Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Real Key West (cont'd)

Citizens' Voice of the Day

"I was out snorkeling and trying to get some of that fish poop for my bald head, and it was really hard chasing them around. I couldn't get any. Does anybody out there have any ideas how to get some fish poop? Man, am I bald."

"We have had such a wonderful laugh over the Citizen's Voice about fish poop as the new solution for balding men. My husband is a fisherman and many times has had fish poop on his head. He wants to know what kind of fish you're using!"

You might have heard that Key West is an "adult playground", a place you can visit to carouse, and do things in public that you wouldn't think about doing back in, say, Cleveland, Sioux City, or where ever you may live. The truth is, you can behave that way here, far from the potential or actual opprobrium of family, neighbors, co-workers and friends, and in a warm pretty place, with music all around, all the time. But you can only do it in private -- or when the City says its OK. Now is one of those times. It's Fantasy Fest Week, and today is Fantasy Fest Parade day.

Key West can be a friendly place. It usually is. The people who live here, some of them, want to get to know you while you're here, want to know that you are having a good time. Some of them work for (and earn) your "gifts of appreciation" in the course of making a living, so they can remain here in a place that most of them love.

The Key West that we came back to is not the same Key West we left two years before. It couldn't be, no place ever is when you return to it later. Some call it Progress (with a capital "P"), to others it seems like despoilment. I read a book, Devil's Bargains: Tourism in the Twentieth-Century West . Hal K. Rothman a few years ago, loaned to me by Captain Outrageous, that examined the impact of tourism on the American West. Publisher's Weekly wrote this about the book in 1998:

The West derives much of its appeal as a tourist attraction, Rothman explains, from its place in the American cultural imagination as a kind of exotic elsewhere, a refuge from the postindustrial urban world. Such perceptions pressure Western communities to stay frozen in time, he maintains, and play up their quaintness. Consequently, tourist demands, not the needs of local residents, play the biggest role in determining the community's values and way of life. Moreover, even as it bolsters the local economy, the tourist industry mires many locals in low-paying, dead-end jobs. Thus, Rothman concludes, "Tourism is the most colonial of activities... because of its psychic and social impact on people and their places."

Rothman is a professor of western and environmental history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and has written often about western landmarks, Las Vegas, the Western White House at the LBJ ranch, and many others.

This is a topic that I intend to return to in the future.

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