Island Driving

“Embrace Diversity”

That’s what the bumper sticker on the blue Prius said as it pulled away from La Te Da the other day. I naturally assumed the driver was gay or gay friendly and green, in as much as “green” has become an adjective describing more than a color these days. The car and its bumper sticker made me think once again of the riotous assortment of people living in, mostly, harmony on this tiny speck of limestone. (In hindsight, it was the car, the sticker and the dude skateboarding down the street wearing only a loin cloth of some sort at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday that reminded me of our diversity.) And that diversity stretches to include our clothes, our hairstyles, our piercings, our pastimes, even our vehicles, which say a lot about who we are.

Think about it. We’ve got the late model, luxury sedans or SUVs that often belong to a Realtor accustomed to carting potential buyers around to various properties. They usually have one of those “Patron of the Arts” bumper stickers, or perhaps a “Save the Reef” one. There are the basic island cars, which are probably the most common. Most of us fall into this category, I’d say. The cars are normal looking, probably eight to 10 years old and are likely reliable enough to get us to the mainland, but maybe not anywhere beyond, say, West Palm Beach . Any farther and we may consider renting a car. There are a ton of rental cars on the island at any given time. They’re usually the small SUV or a Pontiac G6 or a convertible Sebring that’s going the wrong way on Fleming Street with a blinker on staring at anything out of the ordinary, which, on Fleming Street can be quite a lot. They always stop at the Jeep with all the plants growing out of it. That’s one of those that falls into the “funky island car” category. These may be vehicles, usually pretty old, that are covered, literally covered, with stickers, or mosaic tiles or murals happily painted by Rick Worth.

Some of the legendary funky island cars include the Breakfast Anytime car with the fried egg on the roof, or the giant pepper car. I also always cracked up at the old van with the baby stroller lashed to the roof and a screaming baby doll lashed into the stroller. It was so wrong, but must have garnered some great reactions on U.S. 1 at 55 mph. Other familiar vans around town aren’t so impressive – as vehicles, or as the homes they have become. What looks like a broken-down Volkswagen bus on Grinnell Street actually is a broken-down bus, but also is a somewhat portable home containing a person who hasn’t showered recently, a dog and a lot of laundry. These vans have seen better days, and usually, so have their occupants. I have a feeling these people certainly are not the original owners of these relics, which brings me to the category of hand-me-downs.

I drive a hand-me-down Cavalier from my mom, who loved the car. I liked my old Saturn four-door better, but she was getting old and mom was in the market for a new car. It warmed my heart the other day to see the old Saturn, itself now a hand-me-down, still on the island’s roads, still with the paint peeling off the hood. The Hummer that nearly forced me onto the sidewalk on North Roosevelt Boulevard , however, jerked me back from my Saturn reverie. I’m sorry, I just don’t get the Hummer thing. With gas prices being what they are, you’re just being silly and are no longer impressive to intelligent people. I realize there are a lot of other gas guzzlers out there, including loads of pickup trucks around town. These I can understand for construction workers, business owners, fishermen and boat owners. They become necessary for a profession. That, and they’re pretty damn convenient to help people move. That said, there are a few unifying factors among all of our vehicles, namely dangling side mirrors from being clipped on Olivia Street . Other universals include parking tickets and parking permits that adorn our windshields at various times, and chalk marks on our tires from the parking enforcers charged with enforcing 30-minute loading zones. These people may frustrate us beyond belief at times, but they’re part of our One Human Family as well. Embrace Diversity – then wipe off the chalk mark.

Mandy Bolen’s columns appear in The Key West Citizen

Mandy Bolen's award winning "Tan Lines" column appears bi-weekly in the Key West Citizen. Offering unique insights on life in the southernmost island and life in general, her wit and wisdom has been likened to that of a "female Dave Barry."