November 18, 2008


BRO1 & BRO2's Excellent Adventure


Greetings and salutations fellow iBikers!  You may have noticed the site on standstill the last few days.  This was a direct result of life intruding on virtual life.  For the last few days the Freebird, the Dilligaf,  & the Scientist have been enjoying the sunshine and hospitality of the Florida Keys with our parental units.  After decimating the local dolphin population and enjoying 3 days of excellent NASCAR racing, we have returned refreshed and reinvigorated to again take up the good fight.  Along the way, we witnessed what may be another preview of things to come for the Grand Strand.  Like the greater Myrtle Beach area, the Keys underwent their invasion of the body snatchers over the last few years.  Booming housing markets (remember those?) and swarms of retirees decided to remake the keys in their own image, and the change was not for the better in our opinion.


We have been visiting the keys for decades now, and recall quite fondly what the place was like even just 10 years ago.  The annual tourist migration (of which we were a part), the pleasant laid back atmosphere, the booming sports fishing capital of the world, the huge variety of little local markets, stores, shops, local artists, reef tours, beaches, and sometimes maddening traffic and congestion all lent themselves to an atmosphere of barely controlled chaos.  But, in spite of all of that, it was a thriving economy that had a life and character of it's own, and there was something for everyone to enjoy regardless of age, economic circumstance, or interest.  Then came the new wave.  You may recognize the symptoms. 


The new wavers had fat wallets, sedate lifestyles, and basically just wanted the world to shut up and go away.  They didn't care about the people who had lived their lives in the laid back semi-tropical atmosphere where people got along to get along.  They didn't like the slightly seedy looks of the local trailer parks or the off the beaten path motels and condos that had their roots going back decades.  They certainly had no use for all the little surfside bars and digs and dives that were the life’s blood of the community where local charter captains would gather at the end of a long day in the gulf chasing elusive prey.  They had no appreciation for the richly varied history of the place.  In their view, history began with their arrival, and everything that happened before was unworthy and irrelevant.


So, the new waivers set about remaking the world in their image.  They started creating incorporated areas with impressive sounding names like "The Village of Isles."  They passed their rules and regulations designed to drive out family businesses that had survived Category 5 hurricanes but could not survive their intolerant attitudes.  They started buying up the little family run motels and businesses that had made the keys accessible to everyone and replacing them with 2 and 3 million dollar condo developments.  They passed ordinances that drove most of the local sportsfishing fleet out of business.  They weren't worried about the loss of tourist revenues to the area.  They had plenty of their own money to make up for the losses after all.  They had their own boats.  They had it all.  Then the economy tanked (and their assets right along with them).  The result?


The Keys are becoming a ghost town.  Want to buy a boat?  They are a dime a dozen down there.  Marina lots that used to be filled with cars while people went out fishing on their boats on the weekends are now filled with boats and FOR SALE signs.  Towering "boatels" that were built to house the mammoth fleet of vessels sit idle, silent.  They are now hulking rusting steel monuments to the idiocy.  The 2 and 3 million dollar condos and duplex projects look bright and shiny and pretty in the daylight, but the nighttime tells the story.  Drive by them after sunset and you will see not a single light on in any of them.  No one is home.  They are all gone, in what is supposed to be the peak of the season.  My brother, father, and I went out fishing on a Saturday on one of the remaining charter boats.  The time was, you could barely get out of the dock it would be so thick with departing charters.  Instead, we left from a dock that was surrounded by abandoned condemned buildings with their guts hanging out and falling apart.  When we got out to the oceanside, we saw a pitiful handful of boats that looked like nothing so much as the last dying gasp of a terminal patient on life support.   One night we went to eat at one of the few remaining landmark restaurants in Islamorada.  Time was, you could not get into the place without waiting an hour for a table.  We walked in at prime time and it was 80% empty.  Chilling.


I know a lot of you will say virtually everything we saw can be laid at the feet of a souring economy.  There is no doubt that and the burst of the housing bubble played a part, but the decline I am describing started long before that.  I have no beef with retirees who have substantial assets.  God Bless them.  My own parents are two such, and after having worked their assess off their entire lives (and along the way saving the world from Fascism and Communism), they deserve the enjoy themselves and the fruits of their labor.  My beef is with those who think they are the ONLY thing that matters.  That they can just move into a community and shove aside the things that made the community what it is without regard to those who were there before them.  I have seen it happen in many places.  A form of it is happening here in Southern Maryland where I am writing this, a form of it happened in the Keys, and it seems like a form of it is happening in the Myrtle Beach area as well.  It never seems to end well. 


Unlike my brother, I’m not a biker (although he keeps working on me!).  I’m just a guy with a bunch of opinions.  In my day job, I do an odd mix of nuclear physics and satellite design.  If you ever want to know what areas are alive and kicking, all you have to do is look at satellite imagery at night.  Look for where the lights are on.  Some areas are brighter than others, but you can clearly see the bright spots of human activity and commerce and continental boundaries.  Some areas are dimmer than they used to be, and in some places the lights have largely winked out entirely.  It would be a shame to see that happen in Myrtle Beach.


But, maybe that's just me.


WHen the lights go out