Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Siesta Key --Part 2

There is, I swear to God, a bona fide reason why I am sitting in the soon-to-no-longer-be-my apartment at the beach eating a 7-11 Big Bite and potato salad from Publix, to be followed by a Rexall Drugs cherry pie.

Originally, I had thought of driving to St. Armand on the next key to eat at El Colombiano, one of the oldest restaurants in Florida. They serve a steak to die for, and it seemed like a fitting place to say good-by. But the more I thought of it, the less appealing it became. Paying $70 to sit by myself didn't do it for me this time. I decided I did not need real silverware and linen napkins, preferred, actually, the belly-busters from the good people who brought us Big Bites, Big Gulps and Slurpees.

Here's the thing: I am hoping the deal will not go through. I feel as if I am being wrenched from the womb. Maybe the buyer will change his mind, or his wife will run off with all his money and the community pool lifeguard. Maybe, at the very last minute, he will develop an allergy to fine, white sand or become unable to bathe in the high-salinity Gulf waters. Maybe he'll die.

Maybe I'll skip the Rexall Drugs cherry pies. They sat in the back of the car in the sun for several hours as I took a long, slow drive around the islands. But then again the chemical and preservative content of these treats is probably so high they'll last well into the next millennium.

When I first started coming to Florida, it was a different place. There were still snake and alligator farms. Dinosaurland on Interstate 75 was a lot tackier and more fun. Sarasota, now gentrified but once the wintering ground for circus folks, was woolly and lower class. Bradenton, just up the road a bit, is still that way. In fact, it's a favorite place for reality cop shows to film. There are bikers and burn-outs, trailer parks where they repossess the double-wides if you're one payment late, too many bars and strip joints and roadside motels and penny-ante drug deals gone bad.

None of that stuff on Siesta. There's not a single fast-food place; the Siesta Village main drag is 80 yards long with three bars and live entertainment that ends at 11 p.m. because people need their sleep. The favorite meeting place for rambunctious teens is Big Olaf's Creamery. There's not a pinball machine or video game console to be found on the entire island. There is, however, one head shop that still sells paraphernalia from the '70s. It's not on the main drag and I have a feeling it may be on the payroll of the local police station. After all, if you keep the pyromaniac at the fire station, you'll always know where he is.

Not much changes on the island from year to year. According to the Siesta Key Association, homesteaders began settling on “Sarasota Key” in the 1880's, but few remained long enough to establish claims. An exception was Capt. Louis Roberts and his wife, Ocean Hansen Roberts, for whom Ocean Boulevard, Roberts Road and Hansen Bayou are named. In 1906, Capt. Roberts enlarged his house and began calling it the Roberts Hotel. The following year he, along with Harry Higel and E.M. Arbogast, formed the Siesta Land Company. By 1946, the Key was still labeled “Sarasota Key” on government maps, but was called Siesta Key by the County.

In late 1910, E.M. Arbogast began construction of the Bay Island Hotel on the north shore of the Key. Meanwhile, Harry Higel's dredge was busy not only digging the canals and filling low land, but also excavating shell deposits that could be used to surface the roads as they were built.

Harry Higel was mayor of Sarasota in 1916 and saw the building of the first Siesta Key Bridge in 1917. The second bridge on Stickney Point Road was built by the County in 1926.

As of the census of 2000, there were 7,150 people, 3,783 households, and 2,273 families residing there. The population density was 3,120.1 people per square mile. The racial makeup is shockingly white: 98.63% European American, and less than 1% African American, Native American, and Asian.

The lack of change is actually one of the things that kept me coming there. I have my restaurants, swimming holes, snorkeling points. If I want greater variety, I drive five minutes to one of the great, ugly stretches of Americana--Tamiami Trail, Rte. 41. Every conceivable fast-food mutation is there, along with a couple of strip malls dating from the 50s. I want class, I go to St. Armand. I want crass, Bradenton.

I think I've persuaded myself that I need to find another place there...

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