Saturday, October 1, 2016

Truman Waterfront

I am trying to record as much of the old Truman Waterfront as I can before the new buildings crowd in on these untroubled 34 acres of former Navy base. This is the rather splendid Eco Discovery center where you go to discover the secrets of the rather unusual sub-tropical flora and fauna that live in the Keys:
There is construction starting on the open space and now there are fences within fences...making a nonsense of out-of-date traffic signs.
Rusty trotted off ahead of me and waited obediently while I caught up:
There is some effort to save some existing stuff which is decent of them. 
The old Coastguard ship Ingham is supposedly going to stay, unlike the Mohawk (which I thought as the more interesting ship) which was sent off for sinking to be a dive attraction off Sanibel Island.
The Eco Discovery center is designed and built to take advantage of the sunshine and uses sod on the roof for temperature controil as well as displaying local vegetation outside.
These floating things have been here since at least 2010 that I recall. I'm not sure what they are used for but they are outside sort of tucked away. I had an idea they are used for boat races or something: 
I took a fairly complete tour of the Dr Nancy Foster Eco Discovery Center in 2010 Link which is a reminder I should do it again:
I enjoy the exterior of the building too with its fish cutouts and coral silhouettes:

Mostly serving the unemployed, who I suppose need something uplifting to do in their abundant weekday free time. You'd think a museum type attraction could be open on a Sunday, but no luck.
Ooh look, modern electric car plug in station!
And ooh look a modern electric car plugged in. A Tesla. 
It was actually a nice spot to sit on the grass and watch people coming and going from Fort Zachary Taylor State Park in the distance.
And then we slowly made our way back around the waterfront.
The construction currently underway will beautify and limit our ambling use of what has been for a long time simple open space. The Bermello Ajamil website, whence came this groundbreaking picture, describes the four million dollar design as the largest South Florida park construction plan currently under way.
 Cheyenne used to like it too before the fencing and landscaping started. In this picture you can see the old Navy Guard hut with the sloping roof that guarded the entrance to the military part of the waterfront.: 
Now, in the area between Admiral's Cut where the waterfront nearly joins the Westin Hotel and the Ingham  ship museum this 3500 seat amphitheater will be built.  What traffic will be like in the lanes of Bahama Village as that many people come and go all at once doesn't bear thinking about.
Image result for truman waterfront amphitheater design
The brave new plan also calls for this former Navy warehouse to become a restaurant and museum:
And there have been noises about dressing up this rather stark black and white thing in tropical turquoise.
Image result for truman waterfront amphitheater design
I will miss our visits, Rusty and I romping about in the grass, unhampered by plans and developments, money and rules.
I try to take as much advantage of this place as I can, while I can. I've been doing that for years always waiting for  the hammer to drop and for construction to begin, Well, now it has.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Chugging To America

It has been a  more than usually bizarre week for the US Coastguard based in the Lower Keys, and their unhappy work has been a reminder how lucky we are to live on this side of the Straits of Florida. Five dead Cubans washed ashore among the Lower Keys, as well as three live migrants.
Because I work in the 911 center in Key West a phone call from some local night owl announcing they have come across a group of cheerful, disheveled, wet Cubans fresh off a boat is not uncommon. We send officers and an ambulance to make sure they stay put and are in good health while we call the Border Patrol, nowadays known more properly as ICE and they take them off to Homestead for processing before they release them. The dry foot policy means Cubans fleeing Communism get to stay of they set foot ashore anywhere in the US. 
It's a policy that needs to change and soon. With daily scheduled flights leaving the US now for Cuba it's obvious that something will change soon, as soon as Congress can find time. And Cubans know it too so anyone with plans to start a new life in the US is figuring out ways to get afloat in some kind of bath tub to come to the US. They've done it in a homemade amphibious 1951 truck which was stopped and sunk by the Coastguard about ten miles from the Keys after the passengers were removed. They were sent back to Cuba where the driver of the truck then went to Mexico and walked into the US and settled in Miami:
Image result for amphibious cuban truck
Not all rafters as the balseros are known in English make it to the US. Some craft like this one displayed at the East Martello museum are incredibly flimsy. The sign on the wall behind it asks the last Cuban to leave the island to please turn out the lights...
And if you check local commentary on Facebook or in the newspaper people who live here don't greet the new immigrants with much joy. There is usually a lot of talk about how the government settles the migrants and offers them services that aren't available to locals etc... but it has never seemed to me that people so energetic and driven and imaginative come to the US to sit on their backsides. They can do that in Ciba just fine if they want to. Below you can see a picture I took of a Cuban Chug on Boca Chica Beach with old Cheyenne peaking round the bow. The hull has been painted with  "USCG OK" which means they checked it and cleared it. You'll see these boats on many beaches slowly rotting away slowly as no one is paid to remove them.
This week five bodies washed up and the only speculation anyone could figure out was that something went wrong at sea and that happens a lot and we living here in comfort don't ever get to know about the extent of the lives lost. The Straits of Florida are dangerous waters. I've crossed them several times in stout modern sailboats and I have got caught in very nasty weather and been scared by the force of the waves as the wind blows against the Gulf Stream current. To make a 90 mile journey across from Havana in this blows my mind: 
Luckily in this case there were survivors who presumably told their story to investigators. It seems the rafters left Cuba September 20th and capsized the next day and floated helplessly across. Two bodies hit the beach, three were found at sea and three people, incredibly, survived. Who knows who else may be out there dead or possibly even alive. It's been a bit of a horror show.
I hope the wet-foot dry-foot policy is abolished soon and people stop trying to come across like this. But there are so many things that need attention which are currently jammed up in our dysfunctional government so I suppose nothing here will change. When you see what we put to sea in to go fishing or swimming or snorkeling it makes you think about what boating means in Cuba.
This week we got a reminder that tons of unseen, unknown people are ready to risk it all to get here.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Nefud In The Keys

Human experience is a very personal thing, we all see life through our own set of eyes and when I say that this summer has been extraordinary that may only be owing to my experience of it. Yet, I talk to friends here in the Keys and they tell me the same thing. So perhaps it really has been an unusual summer.
It has been hot as blazes. Scientists tell us this year has been the hottest on record and July was far warmer than any previous July recorded. I am not one to complain of the heat but this year the heat has been stifling, high humidity has clamped down in ways not previously experienced. South Pacific island nations are sinking but here in the Keys we are burning up. Climate change? You decide; as far as I'm concerned it's obvious but these days science gives way to what we prefer to believe.
Rusty and I took a walk on Boca Chica Beach because I had a couple of hours to burn in the afternoon and burn we did. Even Rusty who is resilient to heat like no other dog breed took a seat in the shade in some wet seaweed and stretched out panting. 
The sun was tempered by a nice breeze  blowing across the water but it wasn't enough. The funny thing is that summer is usually a time of mellow fruitlessness in the Keys when tourism dries up, roads empty, things get more laid back. But another of those personal feelings surfaces this year when we talk about traffic. It has been heavy and unrelenting like winter with people driving in long lines and very slowly across the Overseas Highway. And I know I'm not alone in getting frustrated because I have seen some high speed locals zipping along when eventually the lollygagging tourists in their convertibles and their jeeps and their rental sedans eventually pull over or leave a  wide gap and we can get back up to the speed limit. 
So this year tourism has been relentless, heat has been relentless, and I spent far too much of my summer vacation in hospitals with my wife's gall bladder. But take a look at this. For all that I boiled my brains and I had to be at work in three hours this was our walk. Not too shabby.
 the walk back to the car took twenty minutes with no shade. I felt like T E Lawrence crossing the Nefud desert to attack Aquaba. I love that movie.
Image result for lawrence of arabia in the nefud
We were rather less heroic Rusty and I.  But just as hot.
And please when you come to visit drive the speed limit plus five. Put the phone down, watch the road and drive like you mean it. If you want to meander and not pay attention, pull over and let us by. We have places to go people to see dogs to walk and things to do. Like keep your hotels running smoothly and washing dishes for your restaurants and answering your 911  calls when you get drunk and confused.
It took a while for Rusty to get over the heat in the air conditioning on the tile floor.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Mallory Sunset

By day Mallory Square is just another tourist attraction, a brick paved area inhabited by residentially challenged, passed through by visitors afoot or on bicycles. It's named, oddly enough, for the man who made his name in history  as the Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory. In the photo below that I took a couple of years ago you can see the monument to the USS Maine, the white plinths, which ship sank in Havana Harbor in 1898 precipitating the war with Cuba. 
Nearby there are more reasons to visit the square as, for instance you might want to stop by the aquarium:
And then the sun starts to set and crowds start to shuffle this way as do the vendors and their carts:
And the ocean looks especially lovely:
Rusty was on a test run to see how he copes with crowds:
He did great:
Attracting babes as always.
The spectacle that evening was on the water as far as I was concerned:
But on the brick pavers the crowds were checking the acts and each other.
And the knick knacks and art work.
And the music.

It was all very exciting for one small brown dog of my acquaintance.
Rusty didn't even eat his dinner, he just passed out.