Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Laurel Avenue

Laurel Avenue on Stock Island is notable in my life because it happens to be where my motorbike shop is located, so it might come as no surprise that I decided to wander round and take a few pictures while I waited for Jiri to replace my tires on the Bonneville.Laurel Avenue is not, with the best will in the world, terribly scenic, even seen under Florida's magnificent Spring Big Sky. It's a street that parallels Highway One, to the very left edge in the picture above, and if while driving towards Key West you pass Burger King, you've gone too far. If, when leaving Key West you pass Murray Marine you've missed Laurel Avenue. For some people though this collection of light industry, small business and trailers is home. Trailers are the preferred residence on Stock island these days as trailers are somewhat affordable and at Mile Marker Five they are within a bus or bicycle ride of the jobs in Key West. The trailers aren't luxury residences even if they rent for at least $1200 a month:The businesses along Laurel Avenue come in all shapes and sizes, including construction, vehicle repair and so forth:That last one is an outboard repair shop in back of Murray Marine, which is a marina at the end of Laurel Avenue with access to Boca Chica Bay: They also rent center console boats at Murray's which could be something that one might want to consider if there is a burning desire to explore waters different than those of Key West harbor. Even though this isn't a wealthy neighborhood there is pride of residence with a very Caribbean flavor:And because Stock Island used to be the place where Key West kept it's cattle stocks farmyard animals can still be found wandering around. Key West has it's chickens while Stock Island has it's Muscovy ducks, much quieter and more dignified they are too.Stock Island has it's issues too of course. Lots of cars everywhere, even though parking is a good deal easier to find here and it's free:There were rumors that the previous Navy commander agreed to re-route fighter jets in training over poor Stock Island to spare the sensibilities of the wealthy residents of neighboring Key Haven. People in power are shocked, shocked by such scurrilous suggestions but there they are the jets zipping low overhead:The arguments over jet noise rage in the paper, but the fact is the Navy was here first, and supporters say the sounds of fighters overhead are the sounds of freedom, opponents want to Navy to go away, which would be an economic disaster so those of us spared the sounds of freedom hope they stay. Pretty soon the snowbirds will be heading north and the debate will peter out thankfully. There are some wealthier homes on Stock Island. Years ago, this development at the western end of laurel Avenue used to be just another run down trailer park. there was a bar facing Highway One and it had a hand painted sign on the wall reading "Free Beer Tomorrow." The end came and "Tomorrow' was erased and replaced by "Today" for one glorious twenty four hour period, then came the bulldozers and the new Coral Hammocks grew out of the wreckage of the trailer park:It's one of those gated communities where people paid more than half a million to buy a townhouse right next to Highway One and paid that much to park their BMWs under the blazing sun:For now, until development picks up again in a distant future there are "permanent" travel trailers to call home if you have the money:Live here and you could be on Duval getting shit faced within fifteen minutes on your scooter. A cab ride home might cost twenty bucks so you might want to figure out your budget ahead of moving on down.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cow Key Bridge

There is one bridge in and out of Key West and it crosses a span of water known as Cow Key Channel, which is not surprising as that river of salt water separates Key west from Stock Island, which as I have noted elsewhere was the place where cows were raised to feed Key West. The channel itself isn't so terribly wide, and looking south the key west bank is home to one of the more scenic Veteran's administration clinics in the US:Indeed the entire span of the channel towards Hawk Channel is actually pretty narrow when you realise the navigable portion hugs the left hand side of the waterway looking south:There are some live aboard boats anchored off the old houseboat row on South Roosevelt, but to the north the channel is entirely empty out towards the Gulf of Mexico. The white building to the right is the Headquarters of the Monroe County Sheriff's Department and the jail known to some as the Stock Island Hilton.As far as I can tell the two islands have been connected by bridge for a very long time. I've seen early pictures of Stock Island (keyshistory.org) which show a blasted heath of white pea rock and tufts of grass and a few despondent cows, but the age of the automobile required bridges, and make no mistake, Key West got cars as soon as they were available. It may seem odd these days but long before the road bridge to the mainland was completed in 1938 people were driving cars and parking them on Duval Street. I got this picture from the book Charlotte's Story which I highly recommend. It's labeled Boca Chica but if it's not the Stock island bridge it must have looked very much like this:After World War One it was possible to drive a very circuitous route from Key West to No Name Key where there was a car ferry to haul one to Knights Key (Marathon) where the journey continued to somewhere around the Matecumbe Keys where there was another ferry and so on. It was an all day job getting to Homestead. Nowadays it's rather simpler, and Cow Key Bridge is four lanes of busyness:And alongside the very modern bridge is the very modern hose pipe feeding the city drinking water from the South Florida Aquifer in Dade County. The Navy built the original pipe in World war Two, ending the city's dependence on rainwater and cisterns, and then a newer and bigger pipe was built alongside the new, wider roadway which opened in 1982:The bridge itself is massive enough there are ample paths on either side of the traffic lanes, protected from the traffic by cement barriers, for pedestrians and cyclists of which there are tons crossing the bridge at all hours:On the water there is always some traffic too, especially as Hurricane hole marina on the Stock Island side rents center console boats and kayaks like this one:It was a warm day but not toasty and I was forced to wonder how the poor dears would be getting along if it were really hot. Summer hot... Other boaters just abandon their rides and there they sit, not rotting because fiberglass doesn't rot, in the mangroves:As I leaned on the parapet of the bridge enjoying the afternoon sun I saw a couple of boaters doing something weird in the water. He seemed to be towing her across the current as she hung on for dear life. But as the perspective changed it looked more like she was pushing him:I never did see the end of it so I expect they made it home, wherever that is. Home used to be under the bridge itself to a group of homeless people who flew the flag from the bridge, a sign of patriotism perhaps but it didn't do them any good. Old Glory is gone as is their encampment under the bridge:Other people complained about the people living there and several agencies intervened and now the space is empty. Weirdly enough they've left the trash can down by the water and there is of course plenty of trash still lying around but of regular upstanding citizens not a one, even though the area has been cleared of undesirables in an attempt to render it park-like...and I have to say the prospect out under the bridge is fairly gloomy even on a bright sunny day:The only other thing the social deviants left behind from their life under the bridge was bumper stickers glued on the water pipe, another slice of keys history:
Back above ground as it were I couldn't depart from the Cow key Bridge without one picture of the trees surrounding the Hyatt Beach Resort, a positive forest I say and most picturesque even though it's just a buffer between the hotel and the highway:And then, once across the bridge and in Key West one reaches the triangle, written about elsewhere. A right turn (don't stop at the yield PLEASE!!) on North Roosevelt and the "business district" or take a left on A1A, South Roosevelt to Smathers Beach. The choice is yours when you are approaching Key West.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cuban 'Cane Burning

My colleague Belen relieved me at work yesterday taunting me by telling me she is scheduled to take a ten day vacation to Cuba next week. "I'm Cuban American" she gave as the reason for her jaunt to the forbidden isle under new relaxed Obama rules for travel to the godless communists' worker's paradise. I've previously taunted her that I've been to Cuba (by accident, by sailboat briefly) and she hasn't. The tables are turned. But it gives me high hopes the embargo will be lifted sooner rather than later and the Bonneville and I will take to the Cuban twisties. On a related note there are some people who notice the smell of burning in the air and last night we had a related call for service about a "smell of burning." The consensus was that it's sugar cane burning season in Cuba and the winds are strong and out of the south...

This is a photograph of sugar cane fields south of Lake Okeechobee, with a processing plant in the distance, that I took on a motorcycle ride last year in May. The cane fields are burned every year to clear out debris (and unhappily the wild animals that live in it). Then the ash filled fields are cut usually by hand with men, Jamaicans normally in South Florida, armed with machetes. It is grueling work exacerbated by the ash clogged debris from the burning. Big Sugar is a disastrous environmental industry supported rather quaintly by a multi billion dollar subsidy from the federal Government, but as nothing compared to the banksters and re-insurance mobsters these days.

As a result the skies sometimes get hazy and the wood fire smell permeates the islands and we have to rouse the fire department at all hours to go out and look for flames, because one can never take the risk of ignoring a potential fire. One day I'd like to ride the Cuban cane fields and see how they burn theirs. The smell of smoke, not of cigars this time, is a geographic reminder of how close and how far we are from Cuba.

Baker's Lane

I was standing there enjoying a moment of peace and quiet in the sun, taking a moment before plunging into the tree infested alley, when with a rattle and a rumble an Historic Tours of America trolley came charging down Elizabeth Street.
"And that's what we call the Wedding Cake house..." or some such thing the driver announced as they drifted past the pink and white concoction frothing up behind the trees. The rest of the spiel was lost in the strong southerly breezes that have been sweeping the islands for what seems forever. The Conch Train Tour isn't a bad thing to do if you've never done it. It's ninety minutes of talk all over the island for $22 (I think). Locals go free with a visitor, or they did in the age of abundance, so there's your money saving tip for the day. J Wills Burke in his book "Streets of Key West" tells us the home was built as a wedding present to his daughter by the man for whom the lane is named.In 1885 Benjamin P Baker, a contractor and undertaker had his men build the house and they set to with a will. The author suggests in his/her deliciously dry nom-de-plume's voice that the workers were so relieved not to be building yet another coffin they added garlands and garnishes at every opportunity:J Wills Burke also suggests Baker's Lane is an ell-shaped half-street but it did a dead end for me in a straight line. Unlike many of the other 105 lanes in Key West, Baker's is relatively wide under its bower of natural shade:And it even provides off street parking. I could barely make out the tank on this elderly decomposing Harley:I don't doubt someone can identify this old MG down to the chassis number. I've seen it parked on Elizabeth Street for some time, its splendid Triumph Bonneville green color getting a bit faded in the sun:It is a roost for local wildlife and I hope it continues to run, it sounds and looks quite magnificent in motion. Less magnificent as a perch:Incorporation of wildlife seems very much part of the scene for peaceful Baker's Lane. Including guard cats of assorted shapes and ages:And if you have a tree blocking your property line you just deal with it:They used to build quite a fair bit in limestone rock and there are plenty of examples around town. I always like to snag a picture when I'm in the neighborhood:And evocative porches abound on Baker's Lane as they should:And then there is still at least one visible example of Old Florida jalousie windows, the type that open out with a handle you push on:My home has 1980's versions of the same and very slick they are too as you can leave them open at quite a wide angle in the strongest of rains and they keep the water out. Except in summer of course when the central air cools the house a treat. These shutters do the same with intrusive sunlight:You can't stroll Baker's Lane without being asked to think, even by the boring old municipal trash cans:And there was the obligatory stained glass window bearing a message I struggled to interpret. Possibly "Celtic Christian Poofs Rock" ? It seemed a rather mixed message at best, but delightfully bold and cheerful a splash of color, irresistible to my simple minded pocket camera.Further up I saw another slightly odd message suggesting the recipient could be in two places at once:Which was extra confusing to me as I could see at least three ringers...Whoever it was has money to burn, literally, in these tough economic times. Foreclosure does not appear to have struck Baker's Lane and there was a refreshing absence of For Sale signs. Indeed it would he hard to descend to live among mere mortals after a period of residence in what is an Olympian lane:
All green and everything even if the porch light is left on at all hours:Back to the tedium and noise of Conch Trains and people and stuff on Elizabeth Street. Oh but wait! Is that a Bonneville I see parked at the curb and waiting for me...I can tear myself away from Baker's Lane on that.