Up until I made the move to the little room I am currently renting in the new town section of Key West, I had actually lived on Stock Island. For those of you who have never been here, Stock Island is the last island you traverse across before going over the Cow Key channel bridge and on to the island of Key West itself.
Stock Island is divided in the middle by US 1. All of the island on the north side of US 1 is actually a part of Key West city. There is one main road, College road, which runs from one end to the other. Along said road is the hospital, community college, golf course with associated condos (developed by he who shall not be named), an elementary school, VA chapter, animal shelter, mosquito control, botanical gardens, aqueduct authority, small boating club, sheriff’s dept with the jail and homeless shelter, Mt. Trashmore, the old local landfill, and of course Sunset marina and Condos. Over at the property at the foot of Mt. Trashmore, the city is putting in the new bus depot and new animal shelter. It’s a busy road with a lot of stuff going on, is generally clean, and handy for getting to any of the aforementioned places. To the south of US 1, however, it’s a completely different story.
The south side of Stock Island is not incorporated. It is run by the county and it shows. There are a lot of small businesses on this side of the island including boat yards and marinas, restaurants, a couple campgrounds, and the like. Many small businesses have their offices out there because the rent is cheaper and they are not bound by the city of Key West for business licenses, which from all accounts I have heard, is a nightmare to navigate through.
But the majority of the property on the south side of Stock Island is residential. Very low class residential. There are blocks of run down trailer parks, junk everywhere, and a lot of abandoned property. The run down look also reflects in the residents whom are not, shall we say, up there on the top of the income levels. Crime is prevalent out there and a lot of urban outdoorsmen hang out on the streets. And it was out there where I resided for almost 4 years.
The marinas where I lived were somewhat cut off from the surrounding neighborhoods. Fences and security guards kept things relatively safe. But getting back and forth across the island could sometimes be a little touchy. Seemed everytime I had to go into town for something, there was an encounter with some drunk/druggy/scumbag. I never had any real trouble, and rarely did I walk the streets after dark, but it was still not a nice neighborhood out there.
The other problem was location. The previous marina, where I had all the issues, was located at the far southeast corner of the island. Without a vehicle I was riding a bike until I started crashing all the time. Otherwise I was reliant on the bus, which has it’s closest stop almost 3/4 a mile away. This meant timing my trips in town to the bus schedule. It also meant a run in for a bag of groceries took the better part of 3 hours out of the day.
Even when I moved to the north side, a trip to the store on foot took about 2 hours. The bus was not much faster and I had to try and time it so I could catch a returning bus without waiting 2 hours. I didn’t mind the walk, it just took up too much time over the course of a day.
Compared to living in town, Stock Island was cheaper, but it was so damn inconvenient. Sure, a vehicle would help, but I’ve pointed out many a time the pitfalls of owning such an infernal contraption down here. There are a couple of convenience stores out there too, but their prices are pretty steep compared to in town.
From a boating point of view, Stock Island is pretty handy. Some marinas, boatyards, a West Marine, and lots of specialized craftsmen abound out there. Depending on your location there is easy access to the water either on the Atlantic or Gulf side, with two channels connecting both.
But from a living point of view, I hated it out there and I’m glad I’m off the island. The inconveniences, the problems with the locals, all of it made my stay less enjoyable. I’ve come to appreciate the value of living in Key West itself, especially now that I am residing on the island. Even though my current digs are temporary, I can see big advantages to living in town. A trip to the store takes less than an hour. The streets are bit safer although I haven’t been out at night yet. I no longer need to rely on the bus service, handy as it was, to get around.
Stock Island is undergoing a lot of changes right now. A lot of the run down neighborhoods are getting bought up and redeveloped. Condos, “affordable housing” which has a totally different meaning down here, and commercial interests are being built. While it does clean up the island, it also displaces a lot of residents who will end up either jamming Key West looking for affordable places to live, or heading someplace else when they realize there ain’t nothing there.
I’m not sure where I will end up after I leave this room. It’s serving it’s purpose right now until I am ready for the next move. But I will strive to remain in Key West itself as opposed to going back out to Stock Island. In the event I wind up back on another boat, then maybe. But I don’t want any land home out there. Even though rent may be cheaper, the downsides are too great to deal with. If Key West itself does not have anything to my liking and budget, the lower Keys or even Marathon will do for awhile. Since I’m not looking for anything longer than 4 to 6 months at any one time, I won’t need to be too picky about where I am.
Stock Island did serve a purpose. It got me down here to the end of the world but now that I know my way around, I will avoid the island as much as possible. I did move to Key West to be in Key West, and if not for a few months or so, that is where I intend to stay. After that? Who knows. I found this place, I’ll find others.