Friday, August 22, 2014

Bill Butler Park Refreshed

The city has been spending some money on one of my favorite pocket parks in Old Town. The new sign...
...replacing the old sign:
Junkanoo is  a Christmas/New Year's celebration in the Bahamas, a street fair similar to Carnival or the original spirit of Goombay on Petronia Street before Fantasy Fest. Bill Butler was a  musical legend in key West who held jamborees he called Junkanoos and he was also well known for his New Orleans style funeral jazz performances. He died of an aneurysm in 1984 and the park was dedicated to him.
His family felt the park named for him was starting to slip into disrepair and they petitioned the city commission to get it up to scratch again which has been happening this summer, though the work is not quite complete. Before:

After (above). Before (below):
After:
We passed a man sitting out enjoying the morning with his coffee which seems an eminently suitable way to enjoy Bill Butler park if you aren't encumbered with a dog:
There are more and better childrens' playground facilities now and larger more descriptive rule books posted all round the park:
Which have always been there:
There is a small parking lot in the park but don't count on finding a space there, better to use a scooter or a bicycle or to come on foot.
Besides not everyone is quite used to driving these narrow lanes to get into Bill Butler Park:
For such a small place this  park has quite a bit of history. They say it was originally home to the Monroe County Colored Folks Home (sic!) which provided shelter to indigent seniors in the days of racial segregation. The connection to Bill Butler came from his habit of starting his New Year's  Junkanoo parades from this park. 
Perhaps those were the good old days. No such thing exists today.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

White Street Pier

August and September are the hottest months in the Keys, though daytime temperatures rarely rise above 90 degrees the air is thick and close, especially in the city but even on the canal where I live outside town. I don't mind these two hardcore hot months as much as some people do, but I am a fan of air conditioning. The a/c at work failed last week which caused the entire building to smell dank and warm like a locker room after a lot of showers, and it was frankly horrible. Dispatch however got two window units to carry us (and our radio equipment which has to be kept cool, thank heavens) through the crisis. It's hard to imagine that by mid November some people will be feverishly pulling winter clothes out of storage, long pants, socks and heavy shirts mostly. Right now our canal where we swim most afternoons is as hot as bathwater.
Taking a lunch break at three in the morning is s hock to the system as night time temperatures don't generally drop much below 85 degrees and stepping out of the building one finds oneself sweating pretty fast. Getting on the Vespa doesn't do much good as it feels like you're riding into a hot hair dryer. For most people in temperate climes winter is the time to stop riding but around here some people hang  up their riding gear in summer and take to their air conditioned  cars. Not me, I rode to the White Street Pier for some fresh sea air and peace and quiet.
The pier sticks out in an ell shape straight south from the end of White Street and makes a 90 degree right turn at the end about a quarter mile out. Basically its a fishing pier and the waves tend to pass underneath except when they are big when they break over the pier in spectacular fashion. To walk on the pier is like walking on a well paved runway with street lights and benches.
Some people like to come here at dawn and gather to talk, drink coffee and bore their dogs while waiting to see if the sun plans on coming up. Its not a bad place to do just that as you get an uninterrupted view up the south shore of the island. So far the sun has come up each day as far  as I can tell.
The pier is being renovated as part of this frenzy of island wide construction. Roads, sewers, street surfaces and now the pier are  all being repaired all at once it seems like. Happily the pier is frequently open in the middle of the work as they are closing off only the bots that are actually getting work done so much of the pier is available for silent contemplation, fish killing and in some cases sleeping, until at least they get caught.
The Pier is sometimes used as the butt of a joke at the expense of the gullible when they are told that it is the rump of the former bridge to Havana, now closed down by the endlessly stupid Embargo against Cuba.
Its a good place to walk to dissipate  some of the tension that builds up from answering 911 calls all night. The breeze is at its strongest and the walk out and back is easy. I was standing around at the end of the pier minding my own business enjoying the inky darkness of the ocean when I was startled out of my reverie by a voice asking me some damned fool question, like how was I doing or something. Apparently a man and a woman had decided to do some star gazing on the pier, or at least that was what they called it and they were lying in the shadowy darkness behind a ramp between segments of the pier. Its difficult to find a spot to be absolutely alone in Key West. I tried to be polite but I think I failed, stumping off wondering why people can't leave you alone.
Then, if you want to be alone too much, there is the AIDS memorial at the inland end of the pier. It should be a healthy reminder that for quite a few people life got cut short a bit too early. I daresay these folks wouldn't mind getting their time back and to spend some of it engaged in fruitless small talk with strangers. Had I had the time I felt inclined to stroll back out and try to engage with the star gazers. 
I have to say it is a bit startling to see a name here you recognize as a formerly fully functional human, but even more startling is it to realize that there are endless rows of names that mean nothing more to you than the names listed in a phone book.
In the midst of life, as the Good Book says, we are in death, though happily not every 911 call has a tragic outcome. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Financial Crisis Explained




With thanks to Motorcycle Bridge Club, always a great read even if you like motorcycles or respect bridges.

One City, Many Halls

Behold the New City Hall, the former Glynn Archer School, itself a monument to education in Key West throughout most of the 20th century. Now to be the nerve center of city operations in the 21st. 



I like the look of the place and I believe it will be extremely functional, despite the fears of the critics of the cost of renovation. It is across White Street from the National Weather Service office, useful when hurricanes strike, and just a few blocks from the police department, ditto when hurricanes etc, and furthermore the school and its ancillary buildings cover a vast city block which leaves lots of room for all the functions of city government, plus parking for visiting citizens. And the facade looks fabulous. This ugly green fence marks the edges of the property, one block wide and half a mile long, here looking west on United Street:
This  business of sorting out a new city hall has been vexing the city since Hurricane Wilma drowned the city hall on Angela Street in 2005. It wasn't  rising seawater which killed the building, but rainwater that dripped through the roof during the storm and riddled the building, already elderly, with mold. In response to the crisis the city moved everyone out and found new, temporary quarters at Havana Plaza on Flagler Avenue, itself a building wrecked by Wilma and rebuilt. Inertia seemed to set in and when the suggestion was brought up that perhaps it was time to seek a permanent solution to the wanderings of city hall Key West got its collective knickers in a twist and a huge public debate swept the city about what to do.
Some thought remaining in the rented accommodations on Flagler was the best idea which was not too sensible as the city offices are scattered through the length of the plaza building, parking is minimal and its a long way (by Key West standards) from downtown citizens equipped only with feet or bicycles who might want to visit their city offices. Plus, lets face it, for those of us with an aesthetic standard of even the basest sort the place is plug ugly and unimpressive. Good for commerce no doubt but awful as the people's place. 
So Mayor Cates brought up Glynn Archer School (named for a valued administrator of years ago) which was about to become surplus to school district requirements with the massive new construction at Horace O'Bryant school nearby. Some people suggested refurbishing the original cause of the problem, already half a century old and getting older and mustier (named for Josephine Baker a long time city clerk much admired). But the building fortunately is as tired as the ghastly 1960s architectural style it espouses:
The old city hall on Angela at Simonton also houses Fire Station Number 2, long overdue for an overhaul. I've never been inside but I'm told conditions for the 24 hour shifts are positively medieval so the plan took hold to demolish the lot, build a new fire station and use the rest of the land for parking to serve Duval Street whose 600 bock is a short walk away.  
Don't imagine for one minute that plan went over smoothly but the Mayor spent more political capital than one might have thought he had and somehow Glynn Archer with an estimated bill around 25 million dollars won out. And the firefighters get this proper fire station palazzo in the old city hall parking lot, facing Simonton Street, even as the main building is to be demolished.. 
With me so far? City Hall on Angela Street got washed out and became medium old city hall. Flagler Avenue became temporary city hall, meanwhile Glynn Archer finally became new city hall. That leaves the grand daddy of the them all, known as Old City Hall still standing on Greene Street still looking magnificent with a clock tower that actually tells the time. Pretty cool.

Better than that though because this building, built in the era long before motor cars were invented still functions as the meeting room for city commissioners and other city committees and advisory groups. It has a traditional meeting chamber with a proper dais, glowing with wood trim and approached by a magnificent wrought iron staircase.
As much as it pains me, I have no doubt the newest city hall will come equipped with a modern commission chamber for such gatherings and the door will finally close on the oldest of old city halls. Yet for those who reside in the city I have no doubt the facility on White Street, with its magnificent facade and modern equipment will do the job required with maximum efficiency as is proper in the modern era. And its about time Key West reduced the quantity of  its city halls to a manageable number.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Morning In Key West

Morning, a fresh start for those who don't do shift work and labor odd hours, on random nights, catch as catch can.

A rising sun creates it's own special light.

Not everyone knows the poet was being ironic when he suggested strong fences make for good neighbors. This house, below has two fences:

Robert Frost spent winters in Key West, perhaps he knew whereof he spoke. Perhaps not. Check it out: ""Good Fences Make Good Neighbours": History and Significance of an Ambiguous Proverb"

The cemetery makes for great neighbors in my opinion.

Shadows.

Darkness and light.

The drama of thunder. What a great morning.