Saturday, December 29, 2007

Caribbean Time Shift

What a strange and wonderful wonderful world: wake up in Fort Lauderdale and have lunch on the shores of the Bay of Samana in the Dominican Republic. It was a short two hour flight and we were picking up a rumbly, slow diesel truck for our wheels. On the way down I had looked out the airplane porthole and watched the islands of the Bahamas slide by 5 miles down, Bimini, Andros, Ragged Cays and into a cloud bank faster than I could turn the pages in my book and I thought about all those weeks spent bashing into wind and wave on our boat trying to get as far south as time allowed. A matter of weeks, not minutes!

Then we landed in another world and started driving as usual, and we were in the very Third World of dirt mountain roads, bumping my wife´s wounded arm, passing little stick houses and horses and pigs and pot holes and we reached the only beach in the Dominican Republic that isn´t really a beach, just brown frothing water a very brisk sea breeze and strange fried rissoles for lunch- pictures to follow.

Back over the mountains dodging potholes and into the lobby of our five star world, soothing music, 11 dollar (US) rum punches and all services in three languages.

Very confusing, very stimulating. All in wonderful summery 85 degrees and perpetual sunshine. Sometimes Key West just isn´t warm enough.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On The Road Again

My wife is certifiable. We have to be in Miami tomorrow to get her operated wrist a new cast and she has decided we need to take advantage of a work-free weekend to travel. So Friday morning we leave the ground at Fort Lauderdale and regain sea level two hours later in the capital of the Dominican Republic. She got a couple of cheap tickets, dusted off our passports and loaded up with cash and fresh batteries in the camera. Santo Domingo here we come!

--------------
Meanwhile I was in Key West today and parked my Bonneville in a motorcycle lot next to another machine that has long interested me. Its the tiddly ride in the stable produced by Erik Buell, but in many respects I think it is one of the more interesting.

For somewhere south of five grand you get an ultra low maintenance 500cc single cylinder (half a Harley Davidson engine) motorcycle that has a top speed around 80 mph, shakes like jello and gets 70miles per very expensive gallon. It uses a final drive belt, the engine valves need no adjusting and the fuel and oil are carried low in the frame. Its an easy bike to ride with no chrome to polish and a modest size that makes it easy for smaller riders. The streets of our country should be flooded with these bikes. Too bad Buell doesn't offer decent luggage and a nice windshield to create the ultimate inexpensive commuter for a new century. Don't get me wrong, I love my Bonneville, but the Blast could well live up to its name for lots of riders.

Riding With Rilke

The saying" bright enough to read a book by," is sometimes used to describe a full moon and lately its been that way on my street. I'm lucky enough to live where street lights have yet to penetrate so every night is a light show, stars on no moon nights, and crisp white light bathing everything for the other ten nights a month. When we were out cruising I preferred traveling by night, partly because it was cooler, partly because the ocean is a marvelous place at night. On moonless nights I sat in the cockpit of my sailboat and watched a deeper darker sky than a city dweller could imagine possible, and the term "velvet" sprang to mind. But to be on a tropical passage under a brightly shining moon is another brand of magic altogether and even though the silver disk obscures the stars, I really do prefer a full moon. It's an event I notice even when the moon is just starting to rise over the mangroves with the sun still high enough in the sky to be able to...read a book by. I was turned on to the book in question by the Moto Philosopher, a mention of a motorcycle biography by a Canadian university professor who told the story of riding to Texas on his highly unsuitable Ducati. The notion that a 700cc standard motorcycle might be "unsuitable" for a journey of several thousand miles is a modern conceit, propagated in a consumer driven economy where every garage should house a multiplicity of cycles, one for each purpose. A huge cruiser to travel, a dirt bike for fire roads, a scooter to commute and a classic to admire and on and on and on. Ted Bishop turns his back on that theory, falls in love with a Ducati Monster in monstrous matt black and takes off across America. Except this isn't the oily reminiscences of a wrench monkey. Bishop feels like he has climbed his mechanical peak when he has checked his chain final drive tension every evening. And perhaps, that is why the book is delightful. It is about riding a motorcycle, seeing places and enjoying America in all its grotesque glory. That's because travel writers love to zoom in on the weird and the whacked, and Lord knows there's plenty of grist for their mill in these United States.The other reason this book makes a good read is because Bishop is a professor of literature and he's a part-time detective and he's on the hunt for first editions and buyer lists and all sorts of other irrelevant nonsense. Don't get me wrong I love to read but Virginia Woolf and James Joyce are not anywhere near my list of classics I need to re-read, since I last hacked them in school. Thus Ted Bishop's orgasmic research in the ivory halls of Austin's academe don't do much for me, but I appreciate his well written fervor.

On the other hand, T.E. Lawrence and Richard Burton (the explorer, not the actor) are writers of a different and much more interesting caliber, so they, and the Ducati keep me going between chiffon waves of Woolf and Joyce and their drawing room dramas. I am having a blast with this story; everybody should.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas Mr Smith

I found out another thing from my wife this Holiday Season as we got ready to bag some wine and chocolates and head out to a festive Christmas Dinner in town. "Today's the day Jews look forward to eating out Chinese," she told me, much to my surprise. Who knew? And I've been married to her for nearly 15 years. Apparently her family tradition was to go to Lake Tahoe and take a splendid day on the slopes when the gentiles were all giving thanks for the arrival of their savior. Jews are still waiting for theirs and Confucians are pretty much on the fence about the whole mystical savior thing, as far as I can gather, so one lot goes round and orders food from the other lot. We did the Christian thing this year and stuffed our communal faces.The family gathering involved as it often does in Key West, out-of-towners, pasty white and excited to be under hazy skies in 75 degree temperatures filling themselves with good cheer and alcohol. The family in question, of a colleague of my wife, is an extraordinarily jolly family of seven siblings, their parents and 6 grandchildren. We spent Christmas afternoon laughing and telling stories and generally being silly. They exchanged home made stockings,and were so kind to each other it positively made an observer wish he was part of such an extended family. The true meaning of Christmas, enhanced by a splendid tree, and of course the great fortune of renting a home with a canal front for fishing and a pool to swim in.Rather them than me in such chilly conditions, but I saw nary a goose pimple before the lights went out. It was a delightfully Key West moment, as we plunged into darkness and the party carried on regardless. We went home in darkness, Highway One a ribbon of taillights winding through darkened mangroves and moonlit lagoons. It was delightful, especially as the lights came back minutes after we got home, and restored everything to normal.
.
The Conch part of the program was executed a couple of days ahead of the Day, under the stars in the candle-lit backyard of a colleague of mine who put on another magnificent spread. This time we shared a groaning table with a large bunch of off-duty police officers, which is a state of affairs that can be quite startling until you get used to it. I rather enjoy it these days, sharing stories of good police cheer and a few occasionally macabre laughs along the way.
.
So among the good cheer was the entirely sober and very funny police chaplain and his partner, an officer with the State Police office in Key West. The chaplain, who I shall call Steve, because that's his name, is a police officer endowed with a mischievous sense of humor, very dry, and a worldliness that may be part of his nature but is enhanced by working the beat in a world wide destination town like Key West. Not to mention taking care of the souls and states of mind of men and women who deal daily with more than their share of human misery.
.
He and my wife, who teaches at the Juvenile Jail have a history and they were talking about this and that and juveniles, and in the Christmas spirit the success stories that make them cheerful, the straight and narrow regained, etc... when Steve points out that as a cop and a chaplain he ends up getting kwnown in the oddest places.
.
"I was on Oahu this year, on vacation with John, minding my own business and this kid comes up to me and is all over me, shaking my hand and being real friendly." The story goes on about this small world Key West-in-the-wilderness encounter, "cheerful probably because I didn't arrest him for something or other," Steve went on between forkfuls of roast pork. "I have no idea, can't remember him a bit, but he remembers me. Doesn't matter where I go in the world I meet Key Westers." It's at this point a tired looking detective at the end of the table takes a pause from bottle feeding his infant and says: "Does he have spiky blond hair?" And Steve nods through a mouthful of rice, and between them they checked the descriptors, which is cop-talk for what he looked like, and it may well be him. "Yeah," the detective says laconically. "Got a ton of warrants out for him and I heard a rumor he ran to the Islands."
.
"Hey!" Steve shrugs cheerfully,"they weren't my warrants! No wonder he was laughing when he met me!" and he dug back in to his plate.
.
Merry Christmas Mr Smith wherever you are, and perhaps its time to go straight or turn yourself in. All in the spirit of the season you understand.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Port Pine Heights

Well, even the most devoted nurse needs to take a little time off, so a quick run to the video store to return 92 In The Shade, say, can lead to something more... like a ride straight up Key Deer Boulevard, just before sunset in a crisp 70 degree evening. Perfect. A motorcyclist looking for twisties will have a hard time in the Keys, as will a commuter expecting alternative routes to work, but for a middle aged man with years of riding alternative roads stacked in his memory, all it takes to have a nice ride is a thundering putt through the pines of Big Pine Key. On a dead straight road, even. Key Deer Boulevard is the left-hand road heading north form the traffic light on Highway One and it runs dead straight to a dead end about five miles into the pine forest. Along the way it passes three churches, the Blue Hole and a Trail Head, part of the wilderness area that is most of the pine forest. The wilderness area tends to butt up a bit against homeowners. Co-existence can be a bit tricky where people resent wildlife, and they choose to live in the would-be-hinterlands of BPK, the island home of those in the Lower Keys that want to be Left Alone. These are not people that want National Wildlife in their backyards.I mean really, who do they think they are kidding with "unauthorized entry?" Key Deer wander at will and local gardeners are always in a tizz about deer ravaged plants. Personally I'd love a few endangered Key Deer on my Key, as they make development extra complicated and restricted but those that have them, tend to hate the deer. I might start hating them if I actually hit one. They are small, but not that small and could easily wreck a 30mph motorcycle. I saw a couple on my expedition but they stood on the roadside and made no false moves.

So the anti-tree-huggers trying to get away from it all live alongside the canals of Port Pine Heights, a place that I rate as less than scenic in many respects, not that inexpensive, as even these depressed days you'll be facing an asking price of at least $600,000 for a 1500 square foot run down stilt house on a canal. And the canal may not be so scenic, but it gives a boater easy access to Bogie Channel, where, rumor has it, is to be found excellent fishing, with easy access to the Content Keys and the Gulf of Mexico. The best part of this back country for a two wheeled rider with a yen to explore is the number of odd streets, most unpaved that wind mysteriously into the mangroves, pine trees and scrub. I make a mental note as I rumble by, and I shall return with my camera and stout walking shoes. I've checked quite a few back roads around here (on the Vespa) but there are always more. The trick is to check for a) Street Names and b) a mailbox. A dirt road with a mailbox and no street name is probably a driveway, and boy! Won't they be surprised to see a stranger on a Bonneville show up in their yard uninvited. The biggest handicap I've noted on the Bonneville is the Ducati-style, minuscule steering angle. Its fine on the open road but turning at walking speed is a protracted and tiresome business as the steering lock is tiny. Not the best feature for a high speed u-turn and getaway from an irate homeowner in his narrow driveway.


One nice thing about the Bonneville is it lends itself, without protest to some weird pictures which pop into the viewfinder as the owner stands back and admires his hunky ride. Or stands back to admire the open water views at the end of Key Deer Boulevard,

while carefully avoiding the angry No Trespassing and Trespassers will be Shot signs hemming in the view. I must be a simpleton, I had a great ride, mostly at 30mph or less because the Sheriff's Deputies positively love to lurk in the 30mph zone on the dead straight road. I got no tickets, I got fresh air and my wife was happily zoned out on pain pills and Netflix when I got home.

My Bonneville: my panacea. And there's another of those bloody "Unauthorized Entry" signs in the background. I feel an upswelling of rebellion, one day I will just force my way into the scrub thorns and palmettos to prove a point. Bloody but unbowed, that will be me.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

92 In The Shade

A sunny afternoon at home with one's feet up.
" I guess I've had an adventure. At least I moved to Key West. I thought I was leaving the real world behind." So says Peter Fonda's father William Hickey, in the movie 92 In The Shade, as he tries to dispense fatherly advice in the face of a threat against the life of his son. The film was made in 1975 on location in Key West, which is probably its greatest claim to fame. The plot is simple, the pacing languid and the characters not too complex, which happens to work well enough for the setting. Some parts of the film are depressingly true to 21st century life in Key West, and the old saying about the more things change the more they stay the same comes ringing through. I noticed the Pirate Torture Museum of Key West as a backdrop in one night scene, so I guess the Pirates in Key West myth has been propagated for some considerable time, and visitors have been bamboozled by that one for decades apparently. The waters, the fishing the beaches are all in place as they always have been. The streets are similar, the houses and greenery lining them are there and the essential quality of other worldliness that attracts people to Key West is in evidence. Old bars, long gone will cheer the hearts of old timers, but my brief visit in 1981 wasn't stamped strongly enough to enable me to remember much. I think the other side of Key West, the drab, hard scrabble, know-nothing booziness is clearly portrayed in a way that looks cool on film but reminds one that life in Key West has long been nasty and tough. The plot is simple enough. Tom Skelton is a talented flats fisherman and gets hazed by the old timers on the dock who are threatened by his potential. Warren Oates plays Nichol Dance, Fishing Guide and all around nasty guy. Tom doesn't take kindly to the practical joke Nichol plays on him, and overreacts to establish his turf and the retaliation spirals down from there. Throw in Burgess Meredith as his weird old monied grandfather, a bra-less girlfriend, Elizabeth Ashley and a crusty Greek Chorus played by Harry Dean Stanton and all Key West needs to be is a pretty backdrop.The video has apparently not made it to DVD, not on Netflix at least. I found an old VHS tape at the Big Pine Video Store in the "Keys" Rental Section. That's what its about really, its just a B movie set in the Fabulous Florida Keys, and the locations are real even if moved around a little. A good film for an enforced afternoon at home, post-op, with an arm in a cast and a large supply of pain pills.

Friday, December 21, 2007

4,000 Mile Bonneville

I got a call a couple of days ago from someone who lifted my heart. he is interested in buying the Vespa, and I don't know if I shall see him again after he takes a trip to do the relatives-at-Christmas thing, but I enjoyed talking to someone who finally undertsood a Vespa; the call came after about 4 dozen inquiries from people looking for a cheap scooter. The thing is I've started to slip into the Bonneville habit. I'm molding to my motorcycle. The handlebar grips slip into my gloved palms, my feet find the footpegs without hunting, and the clutch slides in and out with no effort or conscious thought at all. I am at one with my Bonneville. The Vespa, sitting low on that extraordinarily comfortable seat, seems alien. I like the image of the Bonneville, raw and mechanical where the Vespa, still beautiful, flows around its bodywork.The other benefit of enjoying the ride as an exension of habit is that I can take whatever the road has to offer, whether its the all too rare open stretch or the more common clustered clumps of slow moving cars. These days, with an ice storm ravaging the Great White North, the number and variation of out-of-state tags is spreading all around us. This means Highway One is slowing down and its not getting to be worthwhile to even bother passing when the line of cars and trucks extends half a mile in front of me.
Plus I'm not feeling myself these days. I picked up a head cold while we were in Miami and I've been sneezing and snuffling and head-achy and feeling morose. Yesterday the ride to Marathon, 30 miles each way, wore me out. I came home, unloaded the groceries from my saddlebags ("How did you pack so much stuff?"my astonished wife asked from her handicapped throne on the leather couch), and I passed out on the bed, tossing turning and waking up coughing. Thinking about the sun on the flat waters, twinkling with the promise of a warm ice free winter, feeling the 79 dgeree breeze blowing across my face, it feels good to be living here in the flats of Florida. A California friend came visiting and as she reminisced about the crumbling path from her Aptos house to the rumbling Pacific Ocean, I could picture the cold and the damp and the fog and I know where I want to call home.
And the sooner I stop feeling bluesy and morose and snuffly the better all this will become.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Marathon Memorial

Today was the day the Monroe County Sheriff's Office remembered Deputy Robyn Tanner, a deputy assigned to the City of Marathon substation. She died last week when her patrol car crashed on her way to a medical assist. The spot where she died at 90th Street is marked by a broken stairway, a pile of flowers and teddy bears and votive candles wavering in the winter breeze. This was the day after we got back from Miami and I left my wife propped up in bed, her arm in a cast, surrounded by hot coffee newspaper and reading glasses. I took the Bonneville out for my first ride since last weekend and I have to confess I missed it.

It was a glorious day to be alive, bright sunshine, gentle north breezes blowing across the Gulf of Mexico bringing humidity down to desert-like proportions and temperatures close to 70 degrees. The liner in my armored jacket kept me warm enough and my heart was warmed in extra measure by the sunshine on the flat waters either side of the Highway.
The memorial was held at the sheriff's Aviation Hangar, where they keep the medical helicopter. The field alongside was packed with law enforcement vehicles, state agencies, police departments all over Florida and our own blue and white KWPD cars scattered amongst the strangers. Outside the hangar the honor guard lined up alongside the motorcycle cops ready for the ceremony. I took my place inside the hangar next to a Highway Patrol Corporal I've talked to from time on the phone, behind a row of anonymous State Marine Patrol Officers.
Deputy Tanner's family sat in the front row, a youthful mother of the 53 year-old deputy, her father coiled tight in pain, her brothers, police officers themselves with tears streaming down their faces. The tribute went on, a mixture of oddly inappropriate humor, bathos and platitudes. But in between the remarks made by a huge group of mixed acquaintances, there shone the character of the dead deputy. Her smile , her cheerfulness, her joy at the job. Her cats, her sidearm handed over reverently to one brother, her badge to the other, pictures of Deputy tanner on the job and my worst moment the Final Radio Call, Central calling 4-1-1-7 who was never able to respond, and so was reported out of service for the last time. And so it went, the sun shone, the breeze kept the flags flapping gently and the helicopters flew by in formation.

Thus, home we variously went to our own unhappinesses and joys, certain that today was a great day to be alive and saddened by the reason that pulled us all together. The greatest tribute of all was also the most modest, made a day earlier away from the all the uniforms and dignitaries. It came from a local homeless man who donated his five dollars to Toys for Tots in Deputy Tanner's name. Because, he told her Lieutenant, she always showed me kindness and respect. No greater tribute can a deputy have than this, from the least among us.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Slaughterhouse 7

Me and Sousaphone, 1973
When I was seven years of age my step father sent me to boarding school. It seemed normal enough, though painful, and I took the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as they came; that's what children do. I look back on my decade in English boarding schools and wonder: what were they thinking? The schools grew up in response to the need for colonial administrators in public service around the world, polishing the sun as it refused to set on the British Empire. Their children were herded in institutions of greater or lesser nastiness while their parents suppressed natives and sent home the products of all that far flung administration. Heart of Darkness wasn't in it.
Aerial View, Downside School, Stratton-on-the-Fosse
What these schools are doing in the 21st century I can hardly imagine, in a world where science has convinced me, childless though I am, that a solid close knit family upbringing is the best way to encourage level headed future citizens. Instead these places continue to adapt and create the background for Harry Potter and the benefits of magic. That they serve the scions of the wealthiest just makes their existence even weirder- they're not meant to be prisons they are supposed to release the inner fully rounded man (and woman in these enlightened days). Downside School in southeast England specializes in producing young Christian gentlemen, which it would, as the 600 pupils are attached to the Benedictine Abbey which operates the school.In the summer of 1973 my mother finally succumbed to the cancer that had been eating her brain and I returned to school to find consolation as best I could. My trombone classes were my escape and I would retire to the men's toilet at the school Theater and blat away at the Marine Corps anthem and "Silent Night" in B flat. The music school lacked rehearsal space and we used any and every available room to practice our dismal trade.
L-R Chuff, Simon McCall, Me
And then Kevin Byrne crashed the Music School like a Greenpeace protester at a whaler's convention. He rounded up the first few musicians he encountered and luckily for me he need to pee that morning and found me practicing assiduously in my hidey hole. So I became the second trombonist in a new experiment that was intended to make musicians of us and give us the appreciation of jazz we had so far never been exposed to.
We'd never been exposed to anyone like Chuff either- so called for his love of steam engines. He drank Real Ale, ran toy trains, ran everywhere with a limp ( I may be wrong but I think it was a motorcycle accident that gave him a scar on his shin). He could listen to a piece of music, throw it down on a few pages of handwritten scrawl, transpose it for harmonium and perform it on any musical instrument you'd care to name. He loved music and he loved teaching and he made life worth living for this accidental tuba player. I became a tuba player becuase this boy graduated and left the school, else I probably would never have had the opportunities I did:
As second trombonist I was a fairly obscure sound, in a room full of eager players but when the sainted Bernie left school I was promoted to fill his shoes. Bernie broke his arm (as seen above) and spent his musical season playing the sousaphone left handed, expertly, and I had to fill impossible shoes with my minuscule musical talents. My struggles to learn to support the band playing jazz and religious hymns, not to mention theater work and military music, kept me hard at it, and in a school where nothing much seemed to make sense, music gave me my my place in school and I earned modest renown as the man with the silver coil round his neck.
My role in all that stuff was very modest and just how modest was amply illustrated for me recently when the USPS dropped a package off at my house containing a printed summary of 34 years of musical tradition at Downside School.
It turns out the school is edging Chuff aside after decades of making music and thousands of miles traveled. "Internationally Renowned" is no exaggeration. When I played with the Slaughterhouse 7 we traveled no further afield than Wiltshire, but in the decades since, Chuff's energy has taken the musicians to Malta, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, South Africa, Chicago in 1987:Then there was Fiji and a performance at Sydney's Opera House. And raised millions for charity.


It was always a vague plan to go back to Downside and pay a visit to the Band Room, the place where I can fairly say I got a leg up on the rest of my life, but now it's all gone. Progress has swept away the traditional jazz refuge that Chuff gave us, the breath of clean fresh air is drowned by a stuffy need for test scores and scholarships up the educational ladder, and so Downside goes back to the stultifying world Chuff saved me from so many years ago, in the boys loo at the School Theater. The sounds of the iPod have drowned the squawks of the students' horns and learning ain't what it used to be. And I never did take the time to wander down memory lane. Too late! No matter how hard I try I still manage to miss the bus from time to time in Life's unravelling of Time.Lo! A thought! Now at last, my wife knows exactly how it is that I occasionally manage to surprise her by knowing the words to traditional jazz standards and why New Orleans, pre-Katrina, always appealed so much to me.


Chuff left his mark, and I doubt he has any idea how profound it is.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Miami Surgery

Sitting on a motel bed with 40 television channels at my beck and call I find myself amazed, like a Martian first encountering life on earth as filtered through the lense of the T.V. Worse than a Martian I feel like a peasant, a quasi-local, trying to understand my fellow humans. I don't understand why anyone would want this intrusion in their homes; worse yet why did I ever have it in mine? Why did I wonder if I would miss it? Then I gawp at frenzied advertising and fail to imagine how it can even be so effective. It looks crazy to me, smiling people sucking down drugs (legal ones) and driving cars that are clearly powered beyond their abilities, and acting crazy cheerful in ways that in real life would frighten shoppers away. Buy buy buy.Then the delightful "news" programs which were like advertising only worse. Most "news" is thinly disguised advertising and the highbrow stories come and go rapidly and without explanation or rational discussion. Historical perspective? What's that? Why does one even need that? Middle East leaders, looking ponderous and serious were filmed walking seven times around a rock, an effort to bring Peace, they say. Which behavior must explain why Peace is so unattainable. Perhaps if leaders talked to each other instead of engaging in empty gestures, something might change. Case in point: Paris. We were treated to the US Secretary of State kissing the leader of half of Palestine, Abu Mazen, on not one but both cheeks. Wow! So European! Talking? No, kissing! I think its past time we killed our televisions and instead the people in charge want us to spend even more money buying new improved high definition televisions. And people will, amazingly enough people will line up to buy HD TV.I went to buy a couple of bagels for lunch after the post-op doctor's visit and the clerk (team member? associate?) in Einstein's sighed when I couldn't figure out how I wanted the turkey and cheese bagel. There are hundreds of possible variants it seems. I knew I wanted the whatever flavored bagel toasted but that never happened. And the other barrista got flustered when it turns out my Visa card (I was out of cash what can I say?) doesn't have a chip and still needs to be swiped. I personally can't wait for the day I have a chip under my skin and we can dispense with all this plastic nonsense. Don't laugh its coming. Out on the streets of Miami people reflect their leaders and are crazy. Drivers push and shove even in places where shoving accomplishes nothing. On stretches of open road they slow down. Changing lanes is a life altering, or ending experience. One black man with gold teeth got out at a traffic light and threatened me for changing lanes. He got back in when I smiled and licked my lips at him. Never take on a loony who actually appears to enjoy physical violence. Had he called my bluff I might be the second member of my family with a broken wrist. My aching wife got vaguely annoyed at my confrontational behavior but those drugs are keeping her quite comatose, luckily for me.

The longer I live in the Keys the less capable I am of functioning in mainstream America. I dislike not making eye contact, I dislike walking among people who are hunched and afraid ( with reason as my little confrontation proves), I dislike the thoughtless nastiness of modern urban life. Its a pretty short sliver of land I live on, the rest of the continent (with all its marvelous medical facilities!) weighs heavily on my island and on my mind.

Normal cheerful programming will be resumed when I get over all this ridiculous surgery stress. She seems less stressed than I am. I need my Bonneville.

Construction Zone South

When people talk about "South Beach" in South Florida they usually mean a glamorous Art Deco neighborhood in Miami, but at the end of the road, south beach is the bottom end of Duval Street, more or less. Perhaps its the top end of Duval, because in upside-down-land, Upper Duval is the part of Duval furthest from the action. Lower Duval is where the action is, where the cruise ship passengers land, where people get drunk and look at naked women in city Commissioner Rossi's Red Garter strip club. At the Atlantic end of Duval then, lies south beach. The Duval Beach Club and the Southernmost Everything crowd the ends of Duval and Simonton Streets. Nowadays there are lots of holes. And the construction is promising a better future, bigger hotels, nicer facilities means more expensive and so it goes. But the old Key West, not the ancient run down Key West, the middling Old Key West, the one that came as part of the first wave of gay oriented re-development, is getting knocked down. At the southern end of the city that piece of history is long gone. Atlantic Shores was a place that offered rooms in motel-like rows heavily vegetated and really quite pretty. There was a diner for post-orgy breakfasts and Thursdays was al fresco movie nights where we took over the parking lot and lounged with free popcorn and cans of Heineken and my Labrador snored in my lap while I sank into the magic of the silver screen under the silver star-studded night sky. All gone. Even the pool where clothes were optional and men and women sun bathed, if they so chose. I doubt the new Southernmost extension will offer any of that. And who will miss Atlantic Shores?

The back end of the old Atlantic Shores was a place my wife and I still talk about. City Commissioner Rossi owned The Sands beach club, a place that offered decent food and outdoor casual seating on an actual sand beach. It really was a cool spot, and we enjoyed it. Our peripatetic yellow Lab Emma used to be able to sit alongside us in the sand and that was a bonus. The Sands is gone and a white construction fence is there instead. Across the street the old Reach Resort has been rebuilt and looks just as massive and solid as it did before Wilma trashed it in October 2005. The Santa Maria resort, a cute 1950's art deco motel has been transformed into minuscule condos selling for over a million bucks for each 400 square feet. I don't suppose the new occupants of the rabbit hutches will miss the ability to fling off their clothes around a public pool. They get tiny balconies to watch traffic whizzing by on South Street though.

I can't really say what I think about all this. Lots of people spend a great deal of time bitching about change and threaten to leave the Keys for a better, more expansive life Up North. What they don't investigate is that Up North is convulsing with change also, and for the price of a small residential condo in a converted Key West Victorian they can buy a tract house, twice as large with garage and a clean, bum-less street outside. But what makes the keys worth living in and struggling in isn't on offer in suburbia, at any price. Change is inevitable and it isn't usually a real improvement, but at least in Key West it is still a subject of debate and we all try to hang on and remember what's gone on ahead.

The 1990's was a decade of great wealth everywhere, in the Conch Republic as much as Up North and development was set in motion, but there was lots of good stuff that cheered people up in that decade. Much of it is gone or going as money dries up and people spend less. PT's a second rate restaurant where people liked to hang out is an actual parking lot. Dennis Pharmacy a cheesy but cheerful diner whose success was predicated on nostalgia is now a bland bank and so forth.

I wonder if one day we will wax nostalgic about the good old Santa Maria. Personally I never stayed at the old one and I sure as hell won't at the new one. As for my role in the poolside shenanigans at the Atlantic Shores? Why on earth would I miss them...?