20 imagesCommon Ground: A No Name power struggle To be able to harvest the energy delivered by the sun would seem to be the most honest and practical approach to providing electrical power, except it is not; the technology and consumer practices are not quite in agreement. Refrigerators, cook tops, air conditioning, lighting, they all have a definite draw, requiring the need for generators and a large bank of batteries to store energy, which can be hazardous and expensive to operate, never mind the carbon footprint left behind. This is the trouble of No Name Key, a 1,000-acre island a few miles off US/1 in the lower keys of Florida, where 43 homes have been built, none with potable water nor commercial electricity. For decades, property owners have been waiting for the right, or perhaps the privilege to electricity, even forming a LLC to push their cause, and for decades, their attempts have been ignored, denied or otherwise thwarted despite the power lines being just over the bridge. The conflict lies with a small band of residents fixed to remain off the grid, believing that they will serve as a model community for self-sustaining green energy and do not wish to see the island polluted with power poles, trucks and the work crews that naturally follow development. On the other side-the majority simply want to live comfortably in the homes that they have worked long and hard for, to enjoy their retirement or second home. At the heart of the issue are the Key Deer and the federally protected land they inhabit. Of all the islands of the Keys, No Name and Big Pine have the largest sources of fresh water due to various sinkholes filled with rainwater, a critical element in the survival of the deer. The concern is that if No Name Key is allowed to progress with development the less likely the Key Deer, along with other endangered species, will adapt and survive. An idea that lead to the halt of commercial mining of the islands limestone in 2009. Regardless of the opposition, the power poles have been installed, grounded and trimmed for future connection, only no wires. The act was done upon clarification from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stating that the presence of the poles would not affect the habitat, a green light, but not quite, their presence is currently being contested in the courts. Despite the official outcome of the power struggle, a few thoughts become evident while wandering No Name Key; the importance of preservation and that you cannot stop progress. Finding the common ground would seem to be the most difficult task.
20 imagesCrack of Noon Dive Team The crack of noon is the perfect time to officially call a start to the day. Once, of course the proper amount of coffee has been transfused and all the toxins from the night previous have fled; when all the filing, invoices, phone calls, marketing, errands, tank maintenance, and logging of time and take with the FWC have been completed, high noon is generally the ideal time to get out of the home/office and go diving, only not for leisure, this is still business. These are the events unfolding behind the scenes of Su Casa, a vacation rental lot in Lower Matecumbe of the Florida Keys; a nicely carved and secluded piece of paradise minutes away from one of the hundreds of key dive locations. This is where Rob and Dave operate, the self-described Crack of Noon Dive Team, from here they run a small business of collecting sea life from the reefs and in turn selling the spoils to various wholesalers across the country as well as for larger tank systems in aquatic parks and airports. Su Casa has been in Rob’s family for over fifty years and currently in limbo with the banks. Yet, despite the fact he is still determined to hold onto to his grandfather’s property and his childhood summer home, by way of casually renting out a lot or two and keeping the grounds in order with the profits of the commercial diving business. His partner, Dave, or Diver as he is known around the islands, learned his skill in the Coast Guard, where he first learned the ways and necessary contacts of commercial fish collecting and has been at it for nearly 20 years. It could be the clear waters, the blue-cyan of the skies, or the majestic clouds, warm sunshine, rum or women that entice people to come into the Florida Keys, however, running an operation such as this isn’t quite as dreamlike and carefree as one may be inclined to initially believe-it is not all palm trees and piña coladas. Those lures aside, there are perils and tribulations to contend with, such as sharks, fire coral, jellyfish, poachers, law enforcement, rum, shipping hazards and dishonest retailers are all waiting to thwart a hard, although rather enjoyable, days work. Often times retailers are quick to proclaim the death of a fish- withhold payment; add to their online inventory, while in turn marking up the cost threefold to sell to the aquarium enthusiast. Then there is the variable of cost of gasoline and upkeep of the holding tanks, the boat, dive gear and state licensing. Nonetheless, when the salt of the ocean gets into your veins, it is difficult to turn away from. Habits and skills are developed in order to live with it, profit from it and maintain a desire of an island life to call home.
20 imagesKey West: Bahama Village Take a stroll through Key West and you might notice a few things-free roaming chickens, bicycle rentals, boisterous t-shirt shops, and a general aura that any well-practiced and reliable drunk could be enraptured by, it is quite easy to do. Yet, underneath the tourist destinations there is a lifestyle that dates back nearly 150 years, on the edges of seclusion just blocks from the infamous Duval Street. A small, tightly knit community where nearly everyone knows each other, or at the very least can be politely recognize with the simple phrase, “heya cuz”. Welcome to Bahama Village, although it has not always been so named. The moniker was not officially adapted until 1988, before then the area was referred to by far less genial terms, such as jungle or black town. It is where a majority of the descendants of Bahamian slaves where sectioned off and allowed to hold residence in a so-called separate but equal community within the state of Florida, which is no stranger to the segregation of Jim Crow laws of old. Schools, hospitals, restaurants, and other various spots were to remain strictly sectioned off, preventing intermingling among the races, although some, such as Hemingway, had a tendency to ignore such preposterous acts of civilized society, actively immersing in the culture of the area, ripe with boxing matches, churches, chickens, cats, brothels, fishing and all sorts of colorful characters. It is an area suitable for a laid back lifestyle that only can be envisioned while appreciating a poetic sunrise and a bottle of rum, followed by lobster benedict at the Blue Heaven, one of many hang outs of old offering all sorts of entertainment, from whiskey to women, billiards to boxing in days long past, although not completely forgotten. Over the years, the village has garnished a bad reputation that it is looking to shake, encouraging the tourist traffic and the exponential swipes of a visa. There are several plans in motion to make improvements upon the neighborhood, with the encouragement of future business and the renovation of the classic Bahamian styled homes of the area. Although, this gentrification comes with a dark undercurrent, as many of the residents of the area are of a lower working class and may not be able to afford the increase of property tax as the value of the area increases. Maintaining a balance is crucial for the area, a balance between the lifestyle; a balance between the history of the neighborhood and the economic source of its future.