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One Woman's Opinion

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La La Land, Part 2

Urbanna, Va.— The “Double Sunshine” is a pontoon ferry boat with an upper and lower deck that can seat about 75 people. It leaves its Naples Island dock at the foot of Tin City for a trip to the Gulf every day at 10 a.m., 4 p.m., and a special sunset cruise at 5:30 p.m. The sunset cruise is the best—a half sky of red and pink over a sea of reflection; almost magnificent enough to take one’s mind off the unpleasant fact that over the last year millions of Americans have lost almost a third value in their homes and life savings. On top of that, this nation could soon find the return of double-digit inflation, which will devalue the value of cash.

For years I have ignored “Double Sunshine” moored at the Gordon River Bridge as I have walked across the river on my way to 5th Avenue and the water beyond. Perhaps the reason I decided to take a tour of Naples Bay on the ferry this year was because La La Land was unusually cold. “Double Sunshine” sounded good.

by Mary Wakefield Buxton
The trick, of course, is to go on a blue sky day with a light breeze and a comfortable temperature . . . not too hot, which can so easily happen in La La Land, and not too cold, which also can easily happen in La La Land.

Across from “Double Sunshine” is “Naples Princess,” which offered lunch and dinner cruises to the Gulf along with “Sweet Liberty,” a 50-foot catamaran that took sailing trips. One also can sign up for a deep-sea fishing trip or simply rent a small motor boat ($120 for two hours) or kayak ($15 per hour).

Three toots and we were off on “Double Sunshine” for the Gulf. Kelly’s Fish House and Pinchers restaurants are on either side, both known for their fresh seafood. We passed Naples Sail and Yacht Club and two other svelte yacht clubs on our way to the Gulf. The captain said the fanciest club required a $40,000 fee up-front and the waiting period was 5 years. In this economy, however, I doubted this was still the case.

The water was brownish in the bay from the red mangrove trees that grew along the shore, but as we neared the sea the water turned that gorgeous drop-dead aqua. Soon we were joined by porpoises that glided by us as if in escort, while bald eagles stared down at us with no interest while perched on the tops of dead trees on the undeveloped islands. There are some 10,000 undeveloped islands set aside for Florida wildlife from Naples to Key West.

We passed Aquitaine and Royal Harbor, world-renowned neighborhoods for their palatial mansions, developed in the 1950s when an original land tract of 1,000 acres purchased for $50,000 was divided into lots that sold for $15,000. At that time a beautiful home could still be built for about the same price, or so the captain told us, and that today the same lot would cost over $1 million and the house would be another $5 or $6 million. 

What the captain did not tell us is that land in southwest Florida today is suffering an extreme slump in real estate sales. No one could sell a house today in La La Land at a price it went for yesterday.
As we steamed along, I saw all the luxury homes of yesteryear, some now on the market but not selling, I wondered how local government would get the revenues it needed to meet expenses when depressed real estate values would demand much lower tax assessments.

I wondered whether the small businesses that supported such estates—such as contractors, plumbers, painters, roofers, tilers, pool, lawn and cleaning services—could survive the latest downturn. I wondered if the massive new plan to create government jobs in the latest Congressional stimulus bill would be great enough to replace all the jobs lost to small business.

“Double Sunshine” did not offer a particularly happy venture, at least not in my thoughts. Those that reflect on the current economy are not necessarily elated. But it did afford a glimpse at how things used to be in south Florida. It also reminded me of the two ingredients of change: Change is inevitable and . . . change is always painful.

Many changes are coming. But the bank mortgage catastrophe, in which Congress played a role in creating, has caused real financial trauma to most everyone. Let us hope Congress finds answers to the problem that do not worsen the situation.

(Continued next week.) ©2009. 

posted 03.11.2009

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