Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sunset In Key West

Not Mallory Square, the other town, the empty July Streets, the heat, the golden glow of a sun disappearing just after eight, not to return for another eleven hours.

It's an off political year, ushering in the last two years of the Obama Presidency but here in Key West the mayoral race which took place last year, has been moved to coincide with everyone else's election, so city voters, and their candidates are at it again. Living in the county I get to vote for county commissioner which these days oddly is like voting for an empty suit. The incumbent has grown roots and his challenger has visible strings sprouting from his limbs. The passionate drive to do right by your neighbors is somewhat lacking.

Mayor Cates came back to his hometown to run and has been consistently reelected ever since. Yet they run against him even though Cates is anything but an empty suit. He's more of a bulldozer than a consensus builder but luckily he aims his earth moving in the right direction mostly. It's thanks to him Key a West will have a worthy City Hall on White Street and thats not a bad legacy. He argued for a structured program to deal with the ubiquitous homeless and got shot down by an angry unified chorus from his Christian neighbors who, in an act of collective amnesia forgot they are their brothers' keepers. Now he's forcing the city to hire back his favorite city manager, known far and wide as the manager who hired not one but two assistants. When his predecessor abolished that plan and reassigned one of the retiring assistants he got a fat check and was shown the for. I read in the paper this week that there is now a woman assistant city manager, busy doing work already. Like I said, some days the mayor gets his head down and gets the job done. The rival candidates are an effort to keep him looking where he's going I guess.

I'm not sure what the story shown below is telling but because it's a story I can speculate when I see a Monroe tagged car like my wife's old convertible, on a u-haul... I can allow myself to speculate that they have found a new life Up North. Better work, lower costs, cooler summers, they like seasons and skiing on frozen water and stuff like that. Yet, because it is so hard to live here one has to wonder if it just got too much. One last Key West sunset...

Some businesses give up too and usually some other hopeful soul steps in and replaces the last tenant at least for a while.

Across the street the old stalwart Café Sole was still drawing customers in, even during the dry season that lies ahead, the slow months that test business owners' resolve and that of their staff who live on tips and when they get sick hope for fund raisers to stave off the bankruptcy that is medical care in our Haven of Freedom. Next weekend I hope to a fundraiser for a colleague dealing with cancer, and he in his 40s. That he needs a fundraiser fills me with dread: we share the same health "care" plan. My pancreas is fine thanks, for now.

Nowadays when I see a limp blue Conch Republic flag dangling in the 90 degree heat and one hundred percent humidity I think of the late Peter Anderson, Secretary General of the Conch Republic. He went to Texas with the cancer that killed him. The Conch Republic is a harsh mistress, and if you slow down, or lose your grip even slightly on the merry-go-round that is daily living here, you get tossed off.

The latest electronic edition of the The Blue Paper has a story about the notorious Mr Chapman getting kicked out of his family home on Petronia Street, swindled by some Miami crud who took him for a ride. He's getting a fundraiser to help him find somewhere to live in town as he too is getting flung off his merry-go-round.

My wife is visiting friends in coastal California, the land of no sunrises and no sunsets, the skies covered in a marine layer of fog, and my memories of that life remind me when I see the glowing sun morning and evening, how lucky I am.

It is said that we are lucky we cannot see the future as we grow like plants in the sure and certain belief that tomorrow the sun will rise.

I hope those elected this Fall remember somewhere in the recesses of their elected brains that for some, the merry-go-round in the Keys is tending to spin too fast. If the only people who can hang on have to have deep pockets the sunset will lose its variety, as only the top branches will get to enjoy the benefit of it's life giving rays.



Friday, July 25, 2014

Circumnavigating Cudjoe Key

The highlight of my day yesterday was getting out on the water and skimming at 23 miles per hour across seas as flat as glass. Perfect.
Robert and I had made a date to get out on a boating trip but the afternoon did not start out well. Not well at all with strong winds heavy rain and black clouds.
But it didn't last and we arranged to rendezvous in the middle of Cudjoe Bay between our homes.
The bay is a wide body of water but quite shallow across the mouth to the south. Robert...
...and Salty Dog...
...had previously taken Dolly on a picnic to our target island north of Cudjoe Key so he had the return route figured. We now wanted to find a southern route out of Cudjoe Bay, across the shallows, and back into Summerland Bay to the east.
My representation of the trip is a bit crude(!) but the thin red line is, more or less the line we followed, a half hour out and a half hour back more or less if you go straight there and back.
We did not go straight anywhere as I drifted off hoping to find a shortcut between Cudjoe and the little mangrove clump south of it called Gopher Key on the chart. Fat chance. Robert sat back on the off chance I had more luck than sense but eventually we gave up trying to cross water six inches deep and got back to the business of making progress.
Robert said he had discovered the only available short cut by following a law enforcement boat one day, so we lined up the number eleven marker at our backs and aimed for a small island on the horizon with a roof in the middle... And found our deep water. Which around here means maybe four feet. Plenty for our little skiffs and their 25 horsepower outboards.
Robert led the way in his late father's 1983 boat and motor and I followed in my rather more modern, lighter and less mechanically noisy Dusky skiff.
There really is something about messing about in boats, especially small ones that brings out the boy in a man. There are minimal regulations for boating, life jackets and flares, a paddle a dive flag and an anchor and all of that is a mixture of rules and common sense. After that you are on your own. No licenses for old farts like us, just experience and good manners and a touch of youthful adventurous spirits. Swallows and Amazons Forever!
We had motors and the Keys to play in, unlike the Swallows and Amazons who were a fifth our age and sailed around England (and Holland, and the Far East) in their adventures. We had to keep an eye out for the convenient landmark called Fat Albert, tethered to the north end of Cudjoe Key.
The US Air a force had announced the end of the anti-smuggling blimp but at last word the Federal weather people at NOAA were going to take it over. Maybe that was a blind and it's a CIA project now...Who knows...We were busy aiming for neighboring Tarpon Belly Key, one of the few islands among all these mangroves that actually is made of dirt and rock.
Dirt and rock is the sum of it at Tarpon Belly, no luxurious sandy beaches so boaters need footwear to get ashore here comfortably as the pebbly shoreline is hell on bare feet.
School's out so even on a Thursday we were not alone. Our boats were undoubtedly the smallest and least crowded among the three or four others there.
Tarpon Belly is cut up by canals...
...and thanks to its dry land component was once used as a base for shrimp farming.
As to why that failed laconic Robert had a one word suggestion why: "Uneconomic."
Robert remembers coming out here and camping One of the wars...the hostage crisis! In 1979 then, the historian in me guessed, remembering my first motorcycle trip to North Africa back then. Robert remembered being twenty at the time, a sparkle in his eye, camping in a mosquito-proof shed built on this cement pad, complete with bunks and netting. All gone now.
The young anglers had caught nothing but a stingray which Robert said he had been forced to try once when caught out at night with no food. Inedible was his verdict.
The cement wreckage was part of the infrastructure of the shrimp farm and Robert says there are the remains of an old truck in the mangroves, remembering an acquaintance who had actually driven the vehicle on the island decades ago when the business was operating.
Salty Dog found a tennis ball.
Robert had a couple of candy bars so we smeared ourselves with melted chocolate in the 85 degree heat, like a couple of truants, standing in the shade of the casuarina trees pondering the wisdom of not being equipped for a swim and not looking forward to a trip home in soaking shorts. Where were our wives when we needed them?
The views through the trees are quite beguiling in this remote place.

Casting off our little boats from the rocky beach was easy.
Robert pointed out the landmarks, we got our bearings and got up on a plane heading west, directly off the beach.
The water was lovely and flat, like skimming across glass.
All shades of blue.
And lots of puffy clouds. This is my kind of boating, no waves, no drama, not at all cold.
We found our bubba sticks and managed to keep out of excessively shallow waters...
Robert showing me the way, from one... the next. I was noting landmarks and directions as I have only approached Tarpon Belly from the west when I lived on Ramrod Key.

Droning across the flats at 23mph according to the speedometer app on my phone. I had a Verizon signal the entire trip which was nice.
Waterfront homes on Sugarloaf Key, facing east:
Highway One on Bow Channel which is where I frequently like to walk Cheyenne on the old Flagler bridge, now for pedestrians and bicycles (and Labradors). It was too hot to take Cheyenne exploring by  boat though now I know the route I think I will take her for a walk on Tarpon Belly later in the year.

The waters tend to not appear very deep they are so clear:
We parted ways in Cudjoe Bay again and I sped across the water back to my canal.
To wake my dog, fast asleep in the air conditioning.
I sent my wife in California pictures and she was suitably jealous so all in all it was a splendid outing. Thank you Robert.
More to come no doubt, as Robert has my boat running perfectly. Great stuff! This is why we live in the Lower Keys!