Sunday, December 23, 2007

Weekend in Key West

Friday morning, we were up before dawn for our drive to Key West. Richard drove his van with artwork to sell. Alice (Danielle) and I took my car. We had collaborated to create cd's for the trip so we had an interesting audio background while we watched the scenery and talked. Alice has been away at college since August, so we had no shortage of conversation topics.

As the sun was coming up, we were driving the Overseas Highway, which hops, skips and jumps the islands that make up the Florida Keys, until it reaches the End of the Road, Key West.

We made the trip with only a couple of short stops, to take pictures and buy sandals. We arrived at the Casa Marina Hotel before noon. Now, "The Casa" is arguably the finest hotel on the island. It was built in 1926 by Henry Flagler, and has been completely renovated in the past year. The property includes the most extensive private beach in Key West, two swimming pools, and all the amenities you would expect from a luxury resort. In short, it is not at all the type of place I would expect to find the Bertocci family. It is only because I happen to work for the company that owns this hotel, and they have an unbelievably low employee rate, that we can afford to stay in Key West at all. At regular prices, we can't even afford to stay at the youth hostel.

When we lived in Key West we used to make fun of the tourists who we saw looking out of the windows of the hotel--we thought they were stupid because they were in their rooms instead of out in the town, seeing the sights, soaking up the ambience. But now I have more sympathy for them. It is very seductive, the room, the balcony, the private beach, and so on. It's easy to let the time slip by and miss out on the chance to tour around the island.

We called a friend and went to lunch and then spent some time at the beach. By late afternoon we were ready to head to the Sunset Celebration. The week before Christmas is not an especially busy time for the Mallory Square artists and performers, and in fact many of the regulars were not working. We saw our old friend Jimmy Brogdon. He designs and makes glass jewelry that he sells at Mallory Square and at some shows around the country. This is something he began just a few years ago. His main career was as a professional photographer. He was the photographer at our wedding, and for several decades he took all the school pictures for the students at public schools in Key West.

Alice ran into some pirates at Sunset, and they invited her to be their date at the annual Cultural Preservation Society Christmas party later in the evening. We had already made plans to attend the party--in fact, I went to it last year, too. It's a great way to socialize with the sunset folks when they are not working and are all in the same place at the same time. We had a great time and came home at a reasonable hour.

Here's a romantic shot...

...and it's still pretty after the sun goes down, too.

Saturday, it was more of the same--visiting, sunning, touring around on our rental bikes. Saturday night the whole family had dinner at the New York Pizza Cafe--outside in the courtyard, with the parrots and the roosters. After dinner, Alice decided to see what the nightlife was like, so she set out at about 9:00 and wasn't heard from again until 3:30 a.m. Because she is not 21 yet, she had to use her diplomatic skills to gain admittance to the clubs downtown--working within strict constraints that preclude her from lying or using a fake ID. She was pretty successful. At the 801 Bar, she found her way to one of the owners of the bar, told him her story ("I'm 20, I don't drink, I just want to dance and see the show") and he escorted her to the upstairs room where the drag show was happening, introduced her to the bartender and waitresses: "She can't drink, don't sell her any alcohol." Alice also made friends with some of the performers and one of them drew a big martini glass on her upper arm with the circle and line through it:

After the drag show, she talked he way into a techno dance scene at Aqua and then...well, let's just say, she had a very good time, didn't do anything she couldn't tell her mom about, and got back safe. The 'rents, meanwhile, stayed in the room and watched The Wizard of Oz on television. We cried when Mrs. Gulch took Toto.

Sunday morning we got a late start, had brunch at Camille's, and drove back home with only two pit stops. Richard worked Saturday and Sunday mornings at Big Pine Flea Market and arrived home about an hour after we did.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Hope for the Future

Today was a good day for feeling hopeful about the younger generation.

This morning, Fred Grimm had a story about how students rallied to help farm workers protest Burger King policies. (For some reason it's not uploaded to the Herald website, so I have reproduced it below.)

Then on NPR's Sunday morning show "Speaking of Faith," evangelical social activist Jim Wallis was talking about how he is well-received by students when he visits college campuses. He recently got a standing ovation at Wheaton College, where he was banned from appearing back in the Vietnam war era. He takes the long view, pointing out that Wheaton was founded by Jonathan Blanchard, a politically active abolitionist pastor. In that light, the swing to the political right that has characterized the American evangelical movement in recent years could be seen just as a temporary aberration, and Wallis is working to get it back on the right track. He said that he tells his young audiences about Jesus's "mission statement"--His first presentation in Nazareth, when He said, "I have come to preach good news to the poor," and Wallis says whatever gospel you are preaching, if it isn't good news for the poor, then you aren't in line with the Jesus of the Bible. Wallis is putting out an "email altar call"--which is to say, a call for a commitment, and he wants people to commit not just to a personal vision of salvation, but to a struggle for social justice. He is getting support from young people, if not from their parents.

The older I get, the more important it becomes to believe that young people have redeeming qualities. I appreciate the evidence I read and heard today.

Here is the article about student activists in Miami:

Good cause gives activism a new life
by Fred Grimm

(p. 1B Miami Herald 12/2/07)

The cacophonous throng of protesting farm workers weren't, most of them, farm workers.

Their faces betrayed them. Five miles into their march, they looked sweaty,sun burnt, affected by a long walk on a warm day through city streets. Clearly,these weren't folks who could spend 10 hours a day in Florida's tomato fields.

"Down with the king! Down with the king!" they chanted. They beat drums. They wore cardboard crowns. They held signs disparaging Burger King and marchedon the corporate headquarters to demand another penny-a-pound pay for Florida's tomato pickers.

But the Coalition of Immokalee Workers that marched through Miami-Dade Friday was, in fact, a coalition of a different kind.

The unsympathetic comments a number of readers attached to The Miami Herald's online version of the march story Friday demanded federal immigration cops scoop up the congregation and send them back en masse to whence they came.

The xenophobes would have been disappointed.

Thirteen kids had driven across the Everglades from Edison College in Naples. Fifteen down from Central Florida University in Orlando. Six more kids from Belen Jesuit Prep School in Sweetwater. Sarah Piper, 17, was among 13 students from Lely High School in Naples who defied their principal "and a few of our parents," skipped school and absconded to Miami. "We thought it was worth it," she said.

Four students drove down from Eckerd College St. Petersburg. Students from Florida International University and the University of Miami arrived by the busload. Youngsters from the United Church of Christ in Winter Park and Coral Gables Congregational Church joined up.

They were an unexpected sight for someone who had assumed that the term "student activist" had become an anachronism 30 years ago.

I had given up on the notion of student idealism after covering an anti-Iraq War rally at Florida Atlantic University in 2003. It was a gathering of gray heads. Hardly a student in sight.

But on a day when I expected so many farm workers of uncertain national origins, American students were out in force, full of determined talk about justice for immigrant workers at a time when immigrant workers have been reduced to political fodder.

I asked Edward Kring and Fabio Fina, both 23, both from Edison College: Weren't they supposed to be holed up in their dorm rooms embellishing their Facebook sites, playing online poker, blogging on the lyrics of Arctic Monkeys? Instead they marched nine miles. In person. Not an avatar in sight.

"We're supposed to be Generation Q, for quiet," said Fina. but he talked about a student activist revival "like in the 1960s."

So many idealistic fast-food consumers marching on Burger King must have looked a good deal more disconcerting to corporate execs than a bunch of hapless, Spanish-speaking, quite deportable farm workers.

Hundreds of energetic students had come to Miami-Dade in search of a righteous cause. And Burger King, determined to save a penny a pound, had given them just that.

The marchers headed down Northwest 20th Street, past a forbidding stretch of concertina-trimmed buildings and the custom motorcycle shop where Fabian Balbia was engrossed in a tangle of chrome pipes and gears.

"I didn't think much about this stuff until all those kids came by," Balbia said. "When I saw them, I knew it had to be a good cause."