Even after a few hours on sun-kissed Sanibel, you can’t help but notice that this island paradise is bescrawled with bicycle paths winding through shaded forests, skirting the shoreline for miles, between ranks of stately palms, and dipping into interior waterways thronged with tropical birds and silvery leaping fish.
Indeed the Sanibel Islanders seem to do little else but ride all day. It’s common to see multigenerational families, from great-grandparents on down, happily pedalling and chattering on their way to the beach, traditional Sanibel lunches and towels tucked into their wirework baskets.
There’s the problem right there, I thought. This much carefree happiness comes at a terrible cost: For every single road on this bike-mad island is clogged, as drivers are compelled to stop for cyclists crossing from one bike path to another. In consequence, the free circulation of people, goods and commerce throughout the island is at a near standstill.
This insight, I reasoned, might help Sanibel Islanders accelerate a transition from their post-colonial economic malaise to a more efficient model. But where to start?
As with most traditional societies, Sanibel Islanders display a profound respect for their elders. Any sort of palaver must therefore begin at the top. And so, anxious to gauge the local appetite for progress, I waited by a bike path until I spotted an elderly gentleman, easily distinguishable by his traditional dress of sturdy white shoes and pastel-coloured clothing.
Stepping on the path and forcing him to stop, I began at once:
“Sir, I have a modest proposal for your island economy. The march of civilization, from tree swinging to bipedal walking to the use of domesticated beasts to powered conveyances, represents the normal course of progress. Now, pedalling is a pleasant pastime, I’ll give you that, but hardly the pillar on which a modern economy can rise and flourish.”
The gentleman stood dumbfounded. I felt that I had struck a chord.
“I recognize,” I continued, “that a collectivist model has its seductive attractions. But let me assure you, this quasi-communistic approach will only delay prosperity. Do you see this, sir?”
“Get out of my way or I’ll call the police,” said the old gentleman.
“Good day, sir,” I said, impressed by his English and beating a hasty retreat.
I was anxious, too, to preserve his dignity. For I knew full well that in this mid-day heat, the island police would in any case be snoring in their guard huts, deep into their siesta.
I have just one word for Sanibel Islanders and their dangerous flirtation with happiness. That word is “Grenada.”