Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gustav's Sideswipe

I remarked to my wife yesterday that we must have settled comfortably into our groove as "freshwater" Conchs, because even though our islands are being sideswiped by a monstrous Category 3, soon to be Category 4 storm, we kind of expect everything to carry on as normal. She has been working on her new classroom getting it ready before she goes on vacation Saturday and I hung out with her downloading these pictures yesterday. The classroom is part of the College and is built of concrete blocks, supposedly hurricane resistant to some degree, but the ventilation system was whistling and whining as wind gusts hurled themselves at the building. It was my brilliant suggestion we eat lunch at the Conch Farm, because I was craving snapper and salad, which I got:We also got a perky waitress who said lots of locals were turning out, like us, to make up for the lost holiday trade as Miami drivers stayed away in droves from the Keys, which are under a Tropical Storm Warning. It sounds dire but it's a whole lot better than a direct hit and Gustav is looking mighty nasty. The Conch Republic Seafood Restaurant was a cheerful choice for lunch sitting behind one plate glass window and open to the weather on the other side we got to feel the cool breeze and get blasts of raindrops mixing in our sodas. It gave lunch a picnic feel and that was just fine.We got a ringside seat to watch the boats tugging at their dock lines and we talked about how neither of us missed living aboard anymore. We reminisced about storms we'd weathered at sea and at anchor and my wife shuddered thinking about the exposure to the weather of the boats anchored around Christmas Tree Island. "Anchor watch" she said, thinking how we'd take it in turns to devote our attention to whether or not we were dragging as the boat tugged and twisted in the wind gusts at anchor. Inside the restaurant it was snug:More so at the bar where sickly colored mixed drinks were flying around the room. The antidote to stormy weather is crushed strawberries and alcohol apparently.Conch Republic Seafood has a dandy little gift store strategically placed on the direct path to the toilets and it happened that as we waited for the gusts to abate we got to doing le shopping. My wife likes to take little gifts when she travels and she bought a couple of postcards to illustrate where she lives to people she meets in Turkey, and some "Mile Marker Zero" bumper stickers to hand out to the sailboat crew she will be lounging with. I found myself admiring the clothing, which is a bit out of character for me:They call it the "Conch Farm" because the city helped set up the place originally as a Conch research facility to see about raising the mollusks to reintroduce them to local waters where they had been fished out. (I'm told Conch meat now comes from Honduras on the only international flights seen at the Key West Airport). I drove the Maxima into town deciding that the Bonneville (not me!) had earned a day of rest...But when the weather relented we decided to go for a walk and play tourists a bit. First stop was my suggestion of free pudding after lunch (English boarding schools call dessert pudding for those that think otherwise) so we made a beeline for Kermit's Key Lime store across the street.Gaudy consumerism I know but they offer free samples and the merchandise really is good. This shop is wasted on visitors only! It turns out my wife's Turkish sailors are going to get Key Lime Taffy and hard candies whether they want them or not- personally I like the Key Lime tea cookies but it doesn't take long to get sugared out here.

Outside the rain had let up for a second as we strolled Green Street, and everyone had their tropical storm protection plan in place. Usually nothing more sophisticated than a plastic bag:

The wife is into peppers for her cooking so that was the next stop and while she tasted burning mixtures I found one bottle worthy of my attention at Peppers of Key West:

My first Key West scooter was an elderly purple Honda Elite and I have a soft spot for the 50cc workhorse. I liked seeing it commemorated on a bottle. Next door Key West Hand Prints and Fabrics is going out of business and their share of the brick building is up for lease. Change is good I keep forcing myself to remember the mantra. Back at the Conch Farm Gustav's outpourings were making themselves felt in the parking lot. I wondered if this small wheeled electric car might drown in front of my camera, but no such luck:And so it was time to go back to work for the afternoon and as I was driving I took the long way round, by the beaches. To get there I went through the middle of town past the cemetery, all windy and gray and bleak. Quite lovely, like an eighty degree November day. At the Corner of Angela we found another rainwater puddle at the famous bottle wall:I was not alone in my idea that a pause at Higgs Beach might be fun:The residentially challenged of Key West take foul weather in stride too it seems. This old dude has been around for quite a while and like all of us wants to make a connection with another living thing. In this case pigeons:I did not miss the opportunity to photograph a young woman cycling one handed and shouting on the phone by Salute Restaurant in the middle of the howling winds:Storms come ashore unimpeded on the southern beaches and Dog Park got blown around a bit. I could only imagine what might happen here with a Category Three coming ashore: Most of the occupants at La Brisa Condos are being bored Up North somewhere instead of watching the weather deteriorate in Key West, but not all!This weather has scotched our plans for a weekend's boating and swimming and I have to say we feel a more than a pang of guilt that's all we've got to worry about while the Gulf Coast is going to get ravaged tomorrow by Gustav, but survival feels sweet. Assuming the tropical wave currently in the Atlantic doesn't come ashore here in a week or two...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Dey Street

Dey Street is a name whose origins need to be uncovered. My best guess is that it is named for someone, but I'm starting to think it's time I got a copy of J Wills Burke's book The Streets of Key West. This is the solitary 600 block of Dey looking from Simonton Street towards Elizabeth Street:I was out on a bright sultry August afternoon and one would think the street would be snoozing. Not at all; people were coming and going, mostly on two wheels:There was the dog walker:And while I was figuring how to take a shot of the bicycles, the street and the trash pile I could hear people in an animated conversation from some secret garden along the street. A busy place Dey Street:This street is mostly residential with a variety of styles:But there are some light industrial areas, which are really the backside of businesses on Greene Street which parallels Dey:And have I mentioned the value of off street parking? Each spot is prominently labelled to avoid showdowns:Of course you could use the public lot around the corner off Simonton, at ten dollars a day, and not heavily patronised in August:Or you could sweat like a gentleman and ride a Bonneville...This guy didn't get the concept at all, he was sitting in the car (probably a rental) sweating with the roof down and he had the engine running. So he was wasting fuel, copiously and not cooling off with the air conditioning. Bizarre.At least he wasn't parked here: Dey Street dead ends into Elizabeth Street about where the old Jabour's Trailer Park used to be, just beyond the white picket fence:Jabours was one of those wondrous places in Key West that every time i walked by I wondered how it still managed to exist. I never took any photos of the travel trailers that used to hang out in the park, but there they were, packed in tight and enjoying cheap waterfront living. Then the inevitable happened and the trailers, within easy strolling distance of Schooner Wharf Bar and Waterfront Market, had to go. Jabours sold the property for millions and a new condo development came in its place. Only it hasn't arrived yet as Watermark apparently has hit a reef and may have run out of money. Imagine my surprise when I spotted an RV in the open space. The trailer's are back!Not really, I think its just some watchman preventing people from trespassing in the dirt. It's dirt today and I have a picture of it, just to remind me of what was when someone picks up the challenge and throws some more dirt around to build something new where there was something old and perfectly adequate before.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Gustav's Tropical Storm Watch

A tropical storm watch has been issued for the Lower Keys, from the Seven Mile Bridge to the Dry Tortugas, which means storm conditions are possible within 36 hours. It sounds dire for Key West but this means nothing more than a wet and windy Labor Day weekend. That sucks for me as I happen to be off this weekend, and it sucks for tourism as we could use lots of free spending visitors to fill this low season lull. Hurricane Gustav actually poses a terrible threat to the Gulf of Mexico, closing down oil rigs which should lead to an increase in gas prices so that won't do our holiday weekend much good either. New Orleans could be a whole other world of hurt. Tropical Storm Hanna in the Atlantic is being weird and feeble which is good for Florida still recovering from major flooding. However there is another potential wave heading our way from the coast of Africa. I don't see anything too serious for us for the next week or so.

Tropical Update

I can't figure it. Perhaps we in Florida are radioactive or something but at the moment Gustav is on track to pillage Western Cuba this weekend and then trash Louisiana a few days later. Possibly as a Category Three which is ominously described by the National Hurricane Center as a Major Storm. So far the Keys are right out of that cone, as untouchable you might think as a lump of processed uranium. Meanwhile Hanna is in the Atlantic scheduled to coil like a snake on itself and is expected to make a big U-turn and head south and west (very weird that) to the Bahamas. Storms usually track east and north but occasionally they don't. All that leaves us with a big orange splotch just off the coast of Africa starting it's bowling ball run across the ocean. September is the peak month for hurricane season (which ends, none too soon on November 30th if the storms obey the calendar). My wife has a plane to catch to Turkey a week from Saturday. I think she would be royally pissed off if a storm interfered, so I have double reason to keep my fingers crossed for another week...

Passover Lane

I am not all sure what I photographed here. Its a sort of appendix off the street that fronts the cemetery, which is Passover Lane:This little nub of a half hidden lane ducks into the bushes like the White Rabbit down his hole in Alice in Wonderland.And it goes back a fair old way into the jungle darkness:There's nothing much unusual or out of place up this little unpaved alleyway just the usual charming homes and flourishing plants.And some of the houses had striking features, including an elaborate spiral staircase which I thought looked amazing in its supporting structure:Or a particular handle on a garden gate:And of course there always has to be one of these cluttering up the place:But like every other interesting corner of key West one can usually find one of these:And then its time to pop back out and face the sunlight:And nearly get run down by a cyclist:And Passover Lane reverts to its peaceful status quo ante:So now I've been up and down it and photographed it and pondered it and I still don't know what it's called!