Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Smathers Beach

A hot  day at the beach and at last it seems like there may be a few hints that the summer tourism drive is letting up a little bit. 
I paused on my way to work so these pictures were taken a little before six in the evening, and I took the time to play a little with my iPhone camera. 
Check out the smoothness of the sand in the next two pictures. I took photos of the tracks in the sand left by the tractor that tows a seaweed harvesting machine to clear the beach each morning around dawn. 
There were so few people on the beach that large areas of sand were left undisturbed all day by human feet.
Smathers is named for a Florida US Senator who was a contemporary of President Kennedy and who shared it is said a similar taste as the president in amorous adventures. Somehow he got the largest beach in Key West named for himself. Playboy Beach doesn't have quite the same ring to it, I think.
 The best time of year to enjoy this mile of silky imported Bahamian sand in relative solitude.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Bridle Path

It was hot and sticky and I was pretty sure Rusty would be too tired from walking downtown to spend too much time here. I was wrong.
An hour later...we half finished exploring the Bridle Path and i could see he was ready to keep going despite his tongue hanging down to his knees.
 A Busy Dog.
 The Bridle Path used to be where horses were exercised, though these days you are much more likely to see humans and dogs here traveling parallel to South Roosevelt Boulevard.
The ocean view across the street attracts lots of walkers and riders to the wide sidewalk on the other side of the street.
 It's the route I use when I have to spare coming into town.






 Bicycle anyone?
 This area is known as  the "swale" as we shall  see.


 The salt ponds were supposed  to produce salt but now they are just swamp.
 Very pretty but swamp nonetheless, occasionally kayaked.
 No camping on the swale... defined as a marshy depression.
 Rusty wasn't camping technically, he was just resting.
I like the Bridle Path and now I can trust Rusty not to run out into the four lane street we might come back here more often.


 A successful morning. He ignored me, ignored food and passed out.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Key West Fences

Some random pictures of  buildings that caught my eye walking Rusty early one morning. They were all taken between Virginia Street and United Street roughly between Bayview Park and Casa Marina. 
I noticed home many barricades the homes showed off between themselves and the street

This house had no fence or hedge on this side owning to the garage apparently but it showed  a lovely blank face to the world: 
A hedge above a fence:
A fence at the former May Sands school possibly being repaired:
A cement fence protecting an electrical substation:

A guardhouse indeed:

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Key West Life

On Tuesday Florida holds its primary election and I have to confess I suffer this election season rather than feel energized by it. Florida has become the poster child for gerrymandering with a majority of people registering as Democrats and both houses returning veto proof majorities of Republicans. The Democrat primaries are things of ugliness as the state party falls into disarray over the possibility of candidates actually facing the chance of election in the year Donald Trump weakens the national Republican Party. I guess we none of us are at our best when confronting the grim possibility of success. I am in two minds about voting at all, the first time casual corruption and social indifference has brought me this low. 
 
But I live in the Florida Keys and in this happy place elections mean not very much if like me you live in the county. Lots of names pop up, none of them too familiar and incumbents rule the roost so things will continue bumbling forward vision-free for a few more years I suppose. However two things stand out this year that cause me some heartburn locally. One is the hospital and the other is Mosquito Control. And both are producing some deeply weird and disturbing public stances. 
The newspaper reported on August 24th that a woman doctor at Lower Keys Medical Center filed a lawsuit against a male doctor who yelled and grabbed her one day in March while disagreeing over treatment options for a patient. She apparently decided to try to get him arrested for battery but responding officers declined in the grounds that four months had passed since the alleged neck grabbing incident. The newspaper reports she called police after her complaints to hospital authorities failed to yield results. And now this fiasco has gone public. Timing as they say is everything. 
 
 The reason I find this story of a workplace disagreement so compelling is because this dormant incident has been re-awakened at the exact same time that the hospital is in huge disarray and may see its contract with local authorities canceled. The CEO of the place was fired after it was revealed she notched profits up to an unheard of 32% of income a feat that merited abject praise from her for-profit bosses, but got her fired instead after local patients started a boycott of the hospital for its inhumane  treatment and billing practices. So in the news pages we learn of ineffective support of female staff while on the back page the hospital seeks understanding just as elections approach. 
 
Influential citizens want the contract with the Tennessee based health treatment system rescinded and they want a return to a locally owned community hospital. Which means elected leaders are shitting themselves as they face unremitting demands that they do something real. I've read quotations from local victims of this third world hospital expressing outrage that profit comes before patient welfare. A sentiment I have felt all my life and never expected to see it on everyone's lips suddenly, but when half the patient roster seems to be in court with instant final demands for payment from the Gauleiter of Lower Keys profit starts to look ugly. Wait long enough and every shade of human behavior will parade in front of you in this astonishing community. 
 
While the hospital's future may take a couple of election cycles to sort out Mosquito Control may face changes very soon.  A British company called Oxitec has a plan to release genetically modified mosquitoes on the secluded island of Key Haven just outside Key West as part of the struggle to contain Zika world wide. Unfortunately Key Haven is packed with wealthy white influential citizens who resent their opportunity to take one for the team and help eradicate the non-native disease bearing aedes egypti mosquito. It turns out the ranks of the wealthy on Key Haven are also loaded with conspiracy theorists of the sort who know that climate change is rubbish and everything they know about genetic engineering they learned at the movies. Check out this Facebook conversation by Never Again. 
 
Oh yes, bumper sticker politics will be making a return. Personally I'd be happy to see Oxitec loose the mutant mosquitoes in my neighborhood not least because after wondering what was going on it became apparent to me the opponents of Oxitec are a bunch of nutters. These are people who will happily pay thousands of dollars for dogs bred to exasperation but fear mosquitoes bred for impotence. Some of them worry impotent mosquitoes may one day bite their children rendering them impotent and the Zika outbreak in Brazil is the product of scientists tampering with nature for profit! Meanwhile they forget these same scientists eliminated yellow fever and polio and smallpox and gave us middle class First Worlders lives of ease and free from the permanent anxiety of sickness borne by insects. There's gratitude! Whooping cough anyone? Got plague? Need measles? Fear vaccinations?
 
I was listening to the radio in a recent drive to the mainland and the scientist interviewed said human brains are wired to see patterns and historically our Neanderthal ancestors were predisposed to believe the rustling in the underbrush was a threat because that was how the smart members of the tribe survived. Which has led us to be gullible in the modern era and to seek patterns where none exist. We like our universe to be well ordered, not chaotic. I find myself suddenly slipping further and further out of the norm in old age, like a space walking astronaut letting go of the tether preferring to spin off into outer space alone and unsupported. It's where my reluctance to vote is taking me. 
 
The line between seeking order in the universe and swallowing a conspiracy theory is suddenly razor thin in my view and thus it becomes easy to assume a hospital lawsuit is a way to pile pressure on our leaders to make difficult changes. But that theory at least carries no determine the outcome for the public at large. It may or may not be a coincidence and leave it at that. 
 
On the other hand some theories carry very real consequences. It's easy to assume Mosquito Control wants to wreck our white middle class DNA by offering lab space to a company that seeks to eradicate disease. So action is better than inaction, myth trumps facts, ignorance is no longer bliss it is a call to action. The entirely wrong action no doubt but action nonetheless. And I can't swallow that. I just can't. Next time you eat a hamburger you are eating cow DNA and that no more makes you a cow than getting bitten by a mosquito makes you a mosquito. But the planet is overburdened with people so I suppose selective self destruction may well be worthwhile. My only wish is that the idiots who deny climate change be the first to drown, that those who prefer chemical mosquito control to DNA mutants be the first to get yellow fever and let none of them be elected to office next Tuesday as so many primaries are essentially uncontested. Fat chance. So expect continued environmental degradation more diseases spreading and less rational discussion about how to deal with it. None of this is new, Shakespeare wrote about it centuries ago:
 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Burdines, Marathon

It's an oldie but goody, Burdines on the water in Marathon. I think of this place as the survivor, the place to go for lunch when my wife and I are feeling a bit nostalgic. 
It's a bar and gas station for boats, it sits on the waterway from open water to the Boot Key Harbor anchorage which is the destination for anyone living on a  boat looking for a cheap place to stop for a while.
You can see tons of boat at anchor or on city moorings crowded into the big oval of well protected water, probably the most secure anchorage in the Lower Keys. There's nowhere like Boot Key Harbor in Key West and I venture to say most boaters wouldn't mind if there were. Key West is a city of exposed anchorages and long dinghy rides to shore.
My wife and I found Burdines a couple of decades ago when we stopped off in Boot Key Harbor  for a while. As I recall we had been to the Bahamas and we were thinking Marathon might be a place to stay thanks to the convenience of the lagoon in the middle of the city. Burdines was a  convenient dinghy stoip on the way back for the ship's store where we bought stuff for our boat, and one is always "buying stuff  for the boat."
I walked the docks with Rusty as I waited for my wife to get her lunch break from work and I was reminded what a pretty place this is, even if the people who live on boats work hard to spread their homely clutter everywhere.
More on that later to help digest what is always a solid lunch at Burdines. We always order the same thing. I have been getting the same green chili cheeseburger and my wife gets the greasy Ruben. The sandwiches are invariably solid and delicious and too complicated to eat without a knife and fork. The shared basket of fries are salty and delicious and too much for two people. 
They make a delicious lemonade here or you can get a Red Stripe if you want the proper Caribbean flavor under the straw roof. We went for caffeine and had Pepsis which only come in cans, no draft here. Service is cheerful and prompt.
Oh and dogs are welcome. Rusty was perfectly behaved. He loves being a part of whatever is going on and he watched everything with his usual keen eye. They brought him water and he was polite enough to at least taste it.
The only sandwich I can think of that I eat with cutlery. If you want to go berserk you can eat a deep fried key lime pie which is a tortilla wrapped slice of key lime filling dunked in boiling oil. Delicious and appalling all at once. 
We took another walk my dog and I while my wife high tailed it back to work. I persuaded my wife to go sailing in 1998. We loaded the dogs and took off from San Francisco aiming for Panama. It was an excellent trip and we had a great time but sailing is part of my past now. I don't want to end up using my boat as cheap housing. It may be ingenious to have a vegetable garden on deck but it impedes the use of the boat for its proper purpose.
Living in a  marina is  a lot like living in a  trailer park, minimal privacy, shared shower blocks, low rent encouraging people to moulder on their boats. It's  romantic to call yourself a sailor but in my book you need to go sailing to be a sailor. A boat that doesn't move rots. Admiral Nelson said that so it must be true.
I know what's like to have your life spill out and as hard as I tried to keep my boat trim and ready to sail it always got away from me so when I see the elaborate shore side life I understand. Though in the Keys this is just one way to hang on to the tropical dream and keep it affordable.
And you know what, I still feel the attraction to the romance of sailing. Even now I can remember the thrill of planning the trip, casting off and setting out hoping for decent wind, but not too much, excitement but not too much and an interesting landfall at the end.  It's never like that,  and I know it, but I can still taste the day dream of the perfect passage.  
Besides Rusty would hate boat living and the sea. It's so much easier to be on land with the little tyke. 
The romance of the sea, pure bullshit and always seductive. I think I need to read more Conrad.
We first came to Burdines by dinghy but there was no dedicated dinghy dock back then ( it was snowing and uphill both ways in the good old days). 
There have been plans to develop the neighboring marina so they forced everyone out and the place has remained empty and is steadfastly deteriorating. Marathon has recently got several name brand chain hotels, Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt are all in town and selling out apparently. I expect these docks will become something expensive and nice in the fullness of time.
It's hot out here but there used to be boats side tied along here.
Don't forget to tip. You know the joke about Canadians and canoes? Canoes tip. We used to tell each other that ad nauseam when I was a boat captain. 
Desolate and decaying. The romance of the sea, it looks beautiful under the sun, the water rippling the rusty roof makes you think of some south pacific trading post...
Burdines fills me with nostalgia, memories of times past, when people I knew were docked here, the waitresses were middle aged women who made a life in Marathon and made me think of professional old time waitresses in cafes with rayon aprons and a cheery smile and a joke. They made life on the waterfront a community, and for a while it flourished at Burdines. They are gone, replaced by the usual Slavic imports living God knows where, who knows how many to a room, keeping the Keys working while the rest of us, the weak, beat an unwilling retreat to where life is more affordable.
Rusty is my survivor and his curiosity is insatiable, always checking stuff out, storing his experiences as a dog that's wanted and that has a place. He sniffed it all, as busy storing his memories of Burdines as I have been.
It's just a place to get a sandwich and look at the water. The past is another country, they do things differently there.