Sunday, October 30, 2005

Hurricane Wilma Damages Key West Real World House

It appears that Hurricane Wilma seriously damaged the Real World Key West house.
The morning after Hurricane Wilma passed north of Key West (Monday), a 6-7 foot storm surge from the Gulf of Mexico flooded Key Haven and other low-lying neighborhoods in the Lower Florida Keys. Residents homes were inundated with sea water, and automobiles on the street were ruined by the windshield level saltwater. And nearly as quickly as it came it, it receded back in to the ocean. What it left in it's wake is breathtaking. Entire households' furniture was soaked and ruined, flooring buckled, and nearly everything was out of place. A drive through the area clearly showed the damage - with piles of furniture, rugs, mattresses, and other possessions deposited in front of nearly every home.The Real World house, on Driftwood Drive, had its stylized gate ripped free, and left lying by the road. The mailbox, a statue of a manatee, was stained with mud and had a hand-written message propped in front of it. It read, "Security guard 'Manny' on duty!" Even Manny couldn't stop the damage: the door to the mailbox Manny was missing.The house is still boarded up, with it's aluminum hurricane shutters in place. There is no sign of anyone there. This house has a pool in the living room. With the sea-water flooding the house, I can only imagine what that looks like now. My guess is that Bunim-Murray/MTV lost their ability to film there due to the extensive electrical, lighting, and other systems vulnerable to the water. If they have to re-wire the whole production, this would likely take approximately 6-weeks. So, that is probably the end of things for the Key Haven house. Looks like Ed Swift got his wishes to come true...MTV is gone. Is he so powerful and connected he called in a favor with mother nature?
Here are photos of the house post Hurricane Wilma:

Here is the house as it stands yesterday, still boarded up and sandbagged. Half of the large driveway gate, adorned with airplane parts, was torn off.

The damaged gate, after being ripped from its hinges, lying beside the street. Notice at the end of the street, a pile of ruined furniture in front of a neighbors house.

In front of the Real World Key West house is a manatee
statue that appears to have been shot in the neck with a mailbox. Yep, this kind of Florida kitsch is still produced today. The sign, in the scrawl of a madman, notifies the public of security.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Key West Hurricane Wilma Photos

By morning, the media looked like they spent the night on Duval
More Hurricane Wilma
photos from Key West courtesy of

With a week of press coverage before the storm, many complained of hurricane fatigue. For me, it was hurricane coverage fatigue. Looks like some in the media felt the same way.Mallory Square Post Hurricane
Mike Sydel from the Weather Channel keeping the worry going
After the storm, Mallory Square had a coating of sand, and some of the bricks had floated up and out of position. The Weather Channel and the rest of the media did an excellent job of keeping the worry going.
Key West Aquarium sharks swim away
Down on Whitehead Street, the historic Cistern (yawn) lost its entire metal roof. Must have been 100 8-foot sheets of metal in the street.Hilton Marina totally destroyed
The best fish sandwich on the island survives another blow. Go BO!
The Hilton Marina was totally destroyed. All of the docks and wooden walkways were jet ski in front of the Casa Marina smashed to bits.
Fortunately, B.O.'s Fish Wagon (my favorite fish sandwich on the island) surivived the storm...I think better than Hurricane Georges. At least the shack is still in one piece!
Strange things floated into shorefront streets, like this jetski.
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Key West: A Violent Change of Seasons

National Weather Service Office in Key West Displaying Hurricane Warning Flags

Wasn't that a mighty storm in the morning? Fortunately it didn't blow all the people away (as it does in the song). The good news is that the Florida Keys wasn't destroyed by Hurricane Wilma. However, the islands were flooded with a storm surge that occured after many thought the worst was over. Some residents in the middle Keys were begining to clear limbs from their yards monday morning, when at 9 am a rapid storm surge came in. One friend told me the water came in from the canal at over 20 knots, swept everything from the first floor of her Cudjoe home, and eerily like a mini-tsunami, receeded with the neighborhoods posessions.Residents of Key West who live in low lying areas were also flooded. By some estimates, 50-60 percent of Key West was under water. Many cars were ruined from the saltwater flooding, and the city is very slowly coming back together.Some of the worst damage to the island of Key West was along it's waterfront. The Hilton's marina was totally destroyed, the sharks swam out of the aquariums outdoor holding pens, Atlantic Shores and Ocean Key House both lost most of their piers, and Louis Backyard lost it's backyard.Power has come back for many residents, and it comes as a suprise given the severity of the storm and the widespread outages across southern Florida.Economically, the damage is being estimated as immense. Fantasy Fest has been postponed, and the businesses and their employees are suffering from losing the busiest week of the year. Goombay was also cancelled/rescheduled.Finally, the biggest suprise might be the cold front that followed Wilma. Usually, post-hurricane weather is miserable - hot, muggy, and without a breeze. But this storm, being so late, ended up being directed by a cold front - something no islander can remember happening in the past.Though many have lost a lot, it could have been a lot worse. The island will re-open for business shortly, and for visitors, everything will once again appear as before: an idyllic island surrounded by gem-colored seas.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Judge: Key West Real World Can Continue Filming

This afternoon, Monroe County Court judge Mark Jones decided that MTV can continue filming its reality TV show "The Real World", despite the complaints of wealthy and powerful neighbors. After three days of evidentiary hearings, the Court found that although the neighbors may have had some of their tranquility disturbed (though possibly impossible to please), since the production is temporary and serving a greater value to the tourism-dependent County and that MTV producers have been trying to be a good neighbor, the complaints didn't rise to the level of an injunction to halt filming.The Swifts, who are use to getting there way, looked noticeably disappointed. Their attorney, Jim Hendrick, tried his best to convince the court that it wouldn't be too much of a burden to have MTV move the production to another house. MTV attorneys detailed the large amount of planning, work, and money that go into making a Real World house, and weren't accepting any idea of moving. It would be "so cost prohibitive...we would cease production" testified MTV producer James Johnston. "The house is the eighth cast member." He explained that contrary to Mr. Hendrick's assertions, the difficulties include 6-8 weeks of time needed, losing most of the crew, running into Christmas (which he said wouldn't work with the season's story..."There are no holidays on the Real World"), and he claimed that "we don't have the money". Hard to believe that MTV's producers are short on funding, but that is for them to claim. Johnston was adamant that this was an unscripted documentary, and therefore if forced to change production locations, it would be to the detriment of the story. Johnston stated "to stop taints the documentary", "affects people in front of the camera", relationships change, and the story would be missing a chapter (the eviction) and wouldn't make sense. The Swifts' attorneys argued the show was not unscripted, and wondered why an "unscripted" show would have such a contrived plot, complete with free rents, arranged jobs, and residence that although not actually on the island of Key West is being made to seem like it is a typical "fabulous" Key West home. MTV responded that the house is in the same area code as Key West, and that's good enough for them. Still, Swifts attorneys wanted to know why eviction couldn't be part of the story and said in closing arguments "in the REAL real world, kids get evicted." Both sides presented their argument: lighting evidence. One side had pictures, the other still photos. Swift, a once professional photographer, testified that his photos clearly showed the light monster invading his property. On cross examination, however, he was unable to explain why the photos appeared to grainy and off color, blaming his shaky hands. And he did admit, that since the producers had turned off some lights weeks ago, it was no longer bright enough in his bedroom to read.
In the end, the judge decided:
  1. MTV cannot increase the lighting presently being used
  2. cannot use the tennis court lighting
  3. must refrain from any further use of helicopters or other aviation devices,
  4. the lease, which ends December 1 with a 4-week extension option, could not be extended beyond those terms.

Clearly, the show is a temporary thorn in the side of the Swifts, unlike the tours his company sells that permanently wander residential neighborhoods to the annoyance of many residents. MTV has won and Ed Swift has lost. The production will continue, and in the end become the biggest commercial for Key West and benefit the tourism of the island. He will also benefit, of couse unless the fans of the Real World organize a boycott of his businesses. Then again, maybe he's losing his mind.

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

MTV Lawyers Defend Real World Show

The battle between MTV and the Swifts, a wealthy and powerful Key West family, will resume this week in county court. The Swifts complain that the filming of The Real World is ruining the tranquility and enjoyableness of their fiefdom, er neighborhood. Ironically, the Swifts have made a massive business of doing just that: invading the tranquility of a residential neighborhood with a stream of tour vehicles. Many have complained, with no sympathy from the tourism tycoon.
MTV is learning just how influential and powerful this family is, and has found itself in a fierce battle to save the upcoming season's production in a country court. MTV has already invested millions into the project, and was quoted as saying they would leave Key West entirely if forced from the present filming location.
All I can say is, be careful what you wish for Mr. Swift. Couldn't the argument you are making against MTV be then used to shut down your commercial operation in the residential neighborhoods? Wouldn't that be the ultimate payback. Maybe MTV should buy a house in the historic district, and file a lawsuit against the Swifts for ruining the tranquility of their neighborhood.
Of course, I think this is nonsense. Goodness know why the Swifts have their shorts so much in a bunch. The production is within their rights, as far as I can see. I mean, the show has usually been filmed in a residential neighborhood. And MTV went out of it's way to get feedback from the neighbors & officials, and just about everyone thought this was o.k, including the county attorney and mayor. Supposedly, the Swifts were against it from the start, and just couldn't be satisfied.
In a tourist town that many have complained is favoring the Swifts' businesses, this slap at free publicity is being met with incredulous responses. He's about the last person that people will accept a "not in my backyard" from.
What's MTV's defense?
Below is an abbreviated and edited part of the Defendants' (Bunim-Murray/MTV producers) Response to Plaintiffs Request for Injunctive Relief, part of the public filings for the case:

I. Introduction and Factual Background

A. The Real World

"The Real World" is a television program that is produced by
Bunim-Murray and broadcast on the Music Television Network (MTV)...The concept
of the program is that seven people who have never previously met are brought
together to line in a single house, and cameras continuously film them and
document their transition from strangers to roommates...In the upcoming season of
The Real World, seven people will work in Key West, Florida, and reside at a
house Bunim-Murray has leased in Key Haven (Monroe County), Florida.
Bunim-Murray has also leased the grounds adjoining the house. Filming at the
house and grounds in Key Haven is scheduled to end in December 2005.

B. Bunim-Murray Is a Conscientious And Good Neighbor.

Bunim-Murray has leased a house and adjoining ground in Key Haven...Renovated and remodeled the house and grounds to suit its film the seven people while they are living in the house, as is its right.
Bunim-Murray wants to be a good neighbor and, as good neighbors are supposed to do, it complies with all applicable laws and continually strives to peacefully co-exist with its neighbors. To that end, Bunim-Murray met with high ranking government officials of the City of Key West and Monroe County for the purpose of (a) informing the government officials that Bunim-Murray planned to do in Key West and Monroe County, and (b) providing the government officials with an opportunity to educate Bunim-Murray about what needed to be done, from a legal and logistics standpoint, for Bunim-Murray to lawfully conduct those activities...Bunim -Murray also met with its neighbors to explain what it planned to do on the property, and to address and resolve any concerns the neighbors might have...Bunim-Murray stressed to the neighbors that if they ever had any problems with anything going on at the property, then they should bring those concerns to Bunim-Murray's attention and - working together - the neighbors would be able to solve any problems that might arise.An Assistant County Attorney attended the neighborhood meeting and...Research the issues of restrictions on the proposed activity at this location...The Assistant County Attorney issued a written opinion that no conditional use permit is required, no occupational license is required, no home occupational special use permit is required, and their is no "single family" designation or other restriction against unrelated people living in the same house...(and) did not indicate that there was anything unlawful about the proposed activity...For three days...Bunim -Murray canvassed the neighborhood, again asking the neighbors...if they had any questions or concerns about The Real World...The neighbors who were at home during these visits overwhelmingly indicated that they had no objection to Bunim-Murray's presence in the neighborhood, and those neighbors signed forms saying so.

C. The Neighbor Who Is Impossible To Please

The are some neighbors who will never like you no matter how hard you try to please them or how accommodating you are. Plaintiffs Ed and Nancy Swift are those kind of neighbors. From the moment they learned that Bunim-Murray was moving into the neighborhood, the Swifts decided that they did not want Bunim-Murray there and were determined not to let anything change their minds.Indeed, instead of discussing their concerns with Bunim-Murray and trying to reach some sort of accommodation - as neighbors are supposed to do - the Swifts raced to the courthouse and filed their Amended Verified Complaint, asking the Court to enjoin Bunim-Murray from using and enjoying the property that Bunim-Murray has lawfully leased.Plantiffs' Amended Verified Complaint is noteworthy because for all of Plaintiffs' bluster they fail to identify any conduct capable of supporting the drastic injunctive relief they seek. The reason for Plaintiffs' inability
to identify any actionable conduct is simple: there is none.

D. The Nature of Plaintiffs' Amended Verified Complaint

Although Plaintiffs' Amended Verified Complain contains only one count, it nonetheless appears to assert multiple theories. Specifically, Plaintiffs mention both "private nuisance" and alleged violations of the Monroe County Code, but it is unclear whether Plaintiffs are traveling under a single theory or, if they are traveling under multiple theories, where one theory ends and the next begins.Regardless of how many theories Plaintiffs are proceeding under, they seem to be complaining about five things: (1) Bunim-Murray will be conducting allegedly commercial activities that are not permitted...(2)on three consecutive days in August more than twenty cars were allegedly parked on two vacant lots Bunim-Murray has leased...(3) too many exterior lights have been installed...and some of those lights allegedly shone into Plaintiffs' home...(4) Bunim-Murray has installed exterior cameras on its property, some of which allegedly are directed at Plaintiffs' home...and (5) on August 21 Plaintiff Ed Swift heard people performing nighttime exterior carpentry work...and, in the future, unidentified noise may come Bunim-Murray's house...As discussed below, none of these complaints, individually or collectively, are capable of supporting the injunctive relief Plaintiffs seek. E. The Relief Plaintiffs SeekPlaintiffs seek and injunction that, if issued, would completely stop the filming of The Real World at the property
Bunim-Murray has leased. The relief Plaintiffs seek is breathtakingly overbroad,
with absolutely no attempt having been made to tailor the requested remedy to
Plaintiffs five specific complaints, as the law requires.For instance,
Plaintiffs allege that on one occasion lights shone into their home, but instead
of asking that those lights be turned down or off, they ask the Court to
completely stop...filming The Real World. Plaintiffs allege that on three
occasions too many cars were parked...but instead of asking that the number of
parked cars be limited, they ask the Court to completely stop Bunim-Murray from
filming The Real World....Plaintiffs allege that some cameras are pointed at
their house...they heard exterior carpentry work......completely stopping
Bunim-Murray from filming The Real World - is fatally overbroad in light of what
Plaintiffs are complaining about.

The case resumes on Tuesday of this week. I just hope that MTV doesn't cave in and somehow benefit the Swifts or their businesses. Otherwise, it may appear that the powerful and wealthy Swifts have blackmailed their way into a sweet deal.

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Rock Climbing in New Mexico and Beyond

Living on an island that rises to no more than 18 feet above sea level, and a part of the flattest state in the nation, it may come as a suprise that I care about rock climbing, backcountry skiing, mountaineering, and ice climbing. I do! I'm just putting that part of my on hold until I can resume my mountain life. If you want to check out a world-class guide service out west, you can do no better than Suntoucher Mountain Guides. They offer excellent:

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

MTV Threatens to Cancel Key West Series

The court case between MTV Real World producers and a Key West tourism millionaire is underway in county court. Ed Swift is seeking an injuction to stop filming of the show. If he succeeds, MTV producers threaten to leave Key West entirely, according to this morning's local paper. This is not the first MTV show to be filmed in Key West. In the past, MTV has filmed its Beach House and Road Rules episodes on the island, and this has resulted in a lot of publicity for Key West. And in the business of tourism, good publicity yields more visitors.
One might think that the free publicity that the popular show is likely to give Ed Swift's tourism businesses, including the Conch Tour Trains and Trolley tours, is well worth the alleged nuicance of a 6-month taping next to his posh Florida Keys home. Plus, many people who live in the neighborhoods that his tours creep through every day all day, have made similar complaints. Nope, he's playing hardball, and in his complaint requests:
  • A. Defendants, their agents and employees be temporarily enjoined from using Subject Property to film "The Real World" television series.
  • B. Plaintiffs be awarded all costs, expenses, and attorney's fees incurred in this action; and
  • C. Plaintiffs be awarded such other relief as this Court may find just and proper.

In court documents for the Swift on file, one nearby house complained that the production's lights are so bright, her 3 macaws (parrots) who live in her glassed-in porch "did not know when to roost". How much pain and suffering for that alone? I mean, caged birds unable to live naturally!?

Other complaints include:

  • the increase in boat traffic
  • a waverunner tour operation now making the waterfront homes a stop on their trip
  • boaters not adhering to the "No Wake" zone and causing resident's boats to "bang against the seawall"
  • waters are now unsafe for swimming due to the added boat traffic.

From the local paper Key West Citizen, written by their excellent reporter Timothy O'Hara,

"Nancy Swift testified about the amount of light coming from the home, a
helicopter taking video images of the home and the increase in the number of
vehicles and boats that come through the neighborhood. Swift also told the judge
that they were unable to have a "sweet 16" birthday party for their daughter at
their home. They did not want their daughter and their friends hanging around
the MTV house, because it was occupied by strangers, she said.
Bunim-Murray attorneys reminded the judge that the Swifts are partial owners of Historic Tours of America, which operates Conch Tour Train and Old Town Trolley tours that travel through residential downtown Key West.
Nancy Swift testified that the family does not live in Old Town because they wanted to live in a neighborhood that didn't have tour operators and other commercial activity.
"I wanted to bring up children in a family neighborhood," Nancy Swift said.
Bohrer referred to her attitude as one of "not in my backyard," as he asked
the judge to dismiss the case early Wednesday. The Swifts have no problem
subjecting the rest of the community to thousands of people tourists driving
through their neighborhoods, Bohrer said.
Monroe Circuit Judge Mark Jones refused to dismiss the case, meaning the defendants had to put on their side of the case.
Two producers and the director of photography testified Wednesday
about why the outside lights are kept on all night. They also measured the light
near the property line abutting the Swift home and results determined the light
in that area was minimal, they said. "

This all comes at a strange time for Key West and it's biggest businessman. A recent court case has leveled a $13.5 million judgement against the city, largely the result of Ed Swift's monopoly of land-based-vehicle tours and Key West creation and protection of that monopoly. Angry city officials have been calling for an end to the sweetheart deal between the city and the Historic Tours of America/Conch Tour Train/Trolley. Is Swift just trying to slap back at the city? Is it a big payoff he seeks from MTV? Most of all, is he really that ignorant in the irony of his complaint "not in my backyard", when that's how he makes a living: running a commercial operation in residential neighborhoods?

Next post, I'll fill you in on MTV's defense.

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

MTV's Idea of Tanning in Key West

With the way they do things, maybe MTV should rename it's hit reality show "The Unreal World". I mean, putting a bunch of strangers in a house that, even together, they can't afford, then adding a bunch of booze, in the real world this would lead to eviction, not fame. But then again, it's entertainment...or so the mantra goes.
Continuing it's reality show in an imaginary world, MTV has decided that the cast members will have a job in Key West: working in a spray-on-tan salon that producers created for the show. Producers needed to create and open the salon because Key West didn't have one, or as many pointed out, doesn't need one. If you want a tan, most people have the good sense to just step outside. This place is all about boating, beaching, and partying outside. We've got plenty of sun. I'll leave the spray painting to household projects.
The tanning salon is open for business. Here is their brochure:

Here is the front door:

But be warned. Should you enter, you will be agreeing to be filmed. Here is the warning posted at the front door:

More later.
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MTV Appears in Key West Court Over Real World

Local Key West tourism mogul Ed Swift had his complaints heard in front of a judge this week in Key West Florida.
Swift is suing MTV producers over the filming in "his" neighborhood of next season's Real World. Swift complained that "There is no doubt that it (the Real World house, very near his house) will become a tourist site." The irony of this statement wasn't lost on many Key West residents, who have long complained that his Conch Tour Train and Trolley have invaded their neighborhoods peace and quiet with a near constant stream of gawking tourists, and noise pollution in the form of bells, whistles, and a sight-seeing spiel broadcast over the touring vehicles' loudspeakers. One comment printed in the local newpaper's "Citizens' Voice", a "forum for you to tell us what's on your mind", summed up many residents view of Swift's complaint:
"Hello, I hope that Judge Jones tells Ed Swift the same thing Ed Swift told me when I complained about the Conch Trains waking me up in the morning and having gawking tourists looking at my house 24-7. Ed told me essentially to count sand. Well I hope the judge tells Ed to count sand, too."

In court, Swift, along with his wife Nancy, complained of the productions bright lights and the show's fans driving through the upscale neighborhood, apparently curious for a peek at the cast and house. The court case seeks to stop the production from filming, but I have heard from one good source on the "coconut telegraph" that the shrewd Swift is looking for a payoff.
The case will continue to be heard this week.
Visit for more Key West information.
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