Greetings From the Gulf: April

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A-riffin’ and a-road-ragin’ on what is a-rockin’ and a-ruin’ my world

By John Morton

Baby, you can drive my car.

Well, that was a nice offer by the Beatles, but where the hell am I going to drive it? Straight into gridlock? No thanks. I don’t care how Fab you Four are.

Billy Ocean, you asked us to get out of your dreams and into your car. Nope. Sounds like a nightmare to me.

Then there’s the Cars. The new-wave wonder was a favorite in my late teens. The group is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But that name? Horse and Buggies would have been so much better.

My Amish readers along Bahia Vista are pumping their fists on that one.

Then there’s Steve Winwood. His former band Traffic is also in the Hall. But that name! So irresponsible. What would have been so hard to call it No Traffic?

Remember the classic tune “Crosstown Traffic?” Jimi, that may not have been what killed you, but it is killing me. Thought I’d let you know.

Meanwhile, Judy Garland’s “Trolley Song” never sounded better. Clang on!

“Magic Bus?” Never too much.

“Walk This Way?” Good idea. “Bicycle Race?” Yeah, I’m ready to pedal.

Despite Florida’s allure and inevitable growth, I never thought I’d see this – especially in Sarasota. The congestion is mind-blowing.

Of course, seeing as Sarasota is an amazing place, I suppose this makes sense. But for so many years, it somehow flew below the radar. And now, this influx goes far beyond the “secret is out about Siesta Key” talk. It’s an unprecedented ambush and it won’t get any better.

The new secret is this: What a wonderfully frustrating place to live.

And the fact that the cluster is now year-round is something to behold. It’s also no secret that rents are skyrocketing, housing inventory is nearly non-existent, and still folks come here in droves.

Droves. Past-tense of drives (kind of). Ha! Rush-hour humor. No, not the band. I can only take those guys for about 30 minutes.

It’s also no wonder that development here is on steroids. Hate it all you want, but I suppose we do need to have places to house the unstoppable migration. But will any be affordable?  

Meanwhile, down here, we call this time of year “season.” Forget that term forever more. It’s 365.

Spring break? Hey, I’m now breaking – and braking, for that matter — in all Four Seasons. And my apologies to Frankie Valli.

Keeping with my theme, someone on Facebook came through as always with this post:

The fact that there’s a “Highway to Hell” and only a “Stairway to Heaven” says a lot about anticipated traffic numbers.

Another favorite:

Fact … Sarasota is an hour away from … Sarasota.

Isn’t that the truth?

Part of the problem, clearly, is how Interstate 75 now serves as an arterial road. Away from the Key, if you want to go from Clark to Bee Ridge you take the highway. The parallel roads of Swift, McIntosh, Tuttle, Beneva, and Honore don’t get it done.

And nothing in the name of Eminent Domain – he had some hits in the ’60s, I think – can widen those roads. Houses and businesses are right on top of them.

Near the Key, the Tamiami crawl is another form of misery.

I was talking a few days back with a friend who lives on Siesta Key at Peppertree, and the topic of cars came up. He had just spent a trunk load on high-priced repairs.

It was then it hit me: Residents of the Key don’t need a car these days!

We have two small grocery stores at both ends of the Key, Publix delivers and probably always will (the only good to come out of the pandemic?), plenty of food and social joints are within a stroll, and you’ve got the trolley, Uber, and (hopefully improving) bike lanes.

Golf carts are another idea. Kudos to the chamber for pushing this concept, hoping to encourage an influx of parking spots for them. Yes, they also take up space on the road, but it’s not the same. Not at all.

Just ask the residents of The Villages up near Orlando. They are celebrating such a lifestyle with an – ahem – interesting lifestyle. 

To hell with the car. If there was ever a place to be quasi-stranded, it’s Siesta Key.

Which brings me to my latest car insurance bill: $1,154.20 for six months for a 2013 Nissan Rogue. And I have a clean record.

Then then there are the nasty gas prices. 

I wrote a story a few years back about a legitimate guy with a NASA background who was trying to convince Pinellas County to support his idea of an above-ground monorail system – like you see at Disney.

Folks chuckled. Nothing funny about it now.

Twenty years ago, many northerners remember how cities fought for plans for light rail, or people movers, and how everyone’s insistence on the freedom that comes with the car usually won the battle. Now we’re trapped in that supposed freedom.

The city of Sarasota in early March debuted an open-air free shuttle that travels from downtown over the Ringling Bridge to St. Armands and Lido. Good idea.

Yes, we have the Breeze trolley here, but it needs to go beyond the Key. Getting onto the Key is the issue.

Oh, and how delightful to see sporadic Stickney Point Road lane closures in the height of tourism season – all in preparation of the massive upcoming Siesta Promenade development.

Near Fort Myers Beach, Lee County created an off-island park-and-ride service where you leave your car a few miles inland and shuttle back and forth to the beach. With that in mind, is there any spot near Stickney where this could happen? Maybe near Publix in the Sarasota Pavilion?

That would be ideal, as long as the Hooters there isn’t knockered down to make room.

Oops — knocked down. My bad.

In closing, remember Gary Numan’s 1979 one-hit wonder? It was called “Cars” and it was a twisted ode to our dependence on them. Three-plus decades later, looks like it’s a song that was going in the right, yet fatefully wrong, direction.

His final stanza:

Here in my car, I know I’ve started to think

About leaving tonight, although nothing seems right, in cars

Wow! What utter nonsense!

Still, I wonder how many locals are starting to contemplate a departure from our fast-changing area? Are some at the end of their road?

I’ve said several times recently that Siesta Key is at a crossroads. Perfect wording, as it turns out. Our sleepy little island now has so many issues in its face, and traffic is honking as loud as any of them.

Quite the wake-up call, eh? And a tough one to answer.

(John Morton is managing editor of Siesta Sand.)

John Morton
Author: John Morton

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