Friday, December 31, 2010

Vignettes XLI

We end the year with a photo of two brave souls on their vacation in Key West. Len and Heidi from Wassau Wisconsin came to town for a week to enjoy the sun and get away from their restaurant business for one short week.

We had lunch at Salute at Higgs Beach, fish on salad, one of my favorite Key West dishes and hard to screw up. It was a lovely summer day with a hint of outdoor air conditioning. We talked about life Up North in a small town versus life Down Here in a small town. We talked about the economy and how things aren't doing so well Up North but still seem okay Down Here. Len was amazed particularly by how busy local restaurants are.One has to wonder what the New Year will bring and the prognostications are nothing good for a lot of people. Unemployment is not going to going down they say, and Canada's economic bubble is supposed to burst any time now. All of which could mean fewer tourists for our visitor dependent economy. Yet Key West still has the weather and the ocean that it has always had and compared to the last Great Depression when the city went bankrupt this time around Key West seems quite strong economically speaking.Property values are dropping and will likely go lower but taxes are not, as a result dropping. By some mechanism that I can't quite grasp the State of Florida wrote a law to protect homeowners against rapidly rising housing costs such that if property values were to drop taxes wouldn't. It seemed an unlikely proposition a few years ago but the mechanism is keeping local government funded for the moment. Florida has no personal income tax and property taxes are the lifeblood of local government. No doubt the drive to wreck government at all levels will drive change on this as well. And with hundreds of foreclosures across the county property values even here will presumably have to continue falling which will put pressure on taxes.

Still, the sun continues to shine as freezing weather does it's worst Up North. The sun was shining on this astonishing offering at the Yamaha shop on North Roosevelt. I wonder where they found this lovely BSA 441 Super Victor An unwanted Christmas present perhaps? I wonder what my wife would say were I to ride this home in the New Year... With all the gloomy economic news I feel really lucky to be in a place where I enjoy living with a job I like and friends I like all at the same time. It has been rare for me to be so content in my very travelled life. My dog is really cool, my motorcycle is probably the best I have ever owned and I am still enjoying taking pictures and throwing them up here for people, 600 or more of you each day, to look at. Requests are always welcome by the way. On the subject of friends, Wayne and Chuck and I were out walking Sugarloaf Loop and Wayne burst out laughing when he saw this graffito:"I hope that doesn't sum up 2011!" was the thought as we walked by.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Captain Crabby

Wayne and Chuck mentioned on their blog that they has been making crab traps and the stone crab chase was on. Their most recent attempt to pull dinner from the deep saw me alongside them in their boat, and where I go my pocket Canon, camera that is. is sure to follow. Chuck was driving, Wayne was being the deckhand, as we approached the shallows with crab line tool in hand.I of course got distracted by the pretty picture a passing boat created,
but there was serious lifting to be done. I kept back while Wayne hooked the line and hauled up the first pot.Florida law allows five pots per licensed resident and the boys have one license only so they have five pots strung out in the waters in front of their Sugarloaf home. They tell me (a non angler) that there is some obscure limit on the number of crab claws each license allows, a gallon perhaps, but as they aren't likely to ever get even close we are all a little in the dark on the subject.The boys pulled with a will. Cheyenne found the process a lot more fascinating than I did. Crab pots smell fishy and they accumulate slime that gets on your arms and shirt sleeves and leaves gray streaks everywhere.The stone crabs seem quite fond of their own claws but Wayne was merciless, especially after one bloodied him slightly. He wrestled and wrangled the claw until it broke off with a succulent crunching noise. The wounded crab was tossed back as Wayne gloated over his single remaining claw. The tongs you see in the pictures were wielded by Chuck though I don't think commercial crabbers routinely put to sea in aprons using kitchen implements to retrieve their catch. It all reeked rather of the don't ask don't tell approach to hunting food.
The last putrid pig's trotter lay in the bottom of the pot.A new frozen pig's foot was added to entice new crabs to the pot and the whole mess was tossed back. Good riddance in my opinion. Wayne is enormously proud of his polka dotted floats- the "R" is a Florida requirement to indicate the trap is of the "recreational" variety. Poaching traps is a criminal offense and is treated extremely seriously by the state.
Poaching gets up to a ten thousand dollar fine and you can expect jail time as well. Thus were we to be seen lifting non "R" traps one might be moved to consider us poaching as clearly we weren't remotely like a commercial trapping operation. Especially as we came perilously close to trapping our own buoy in the prop...
There it was floating in four feet or so of water.
Zuzu and Tootie were also interested, especially as they are the dogs of the blog: http://zuzuandtootie.blogspot.com/2010/11/crab-traps.html
And so on, four more times.Men dogs and crabs.
Cheyenne located the true source of happiness on the boat which was the bag of frozen pigs' trotters.
Unfortunately they sell the feet in packs of five to match the number of pots allowed per license...so my dog had to give up her prize. My wife looked rather old fashioned at me when I suggested maybe we should stop at E-Fish on the way home and pick up a package for her. She looked to me like she was a dog that enjoys gnawing on frozen pigs' feet.And that black box was where the trotter ultimately went.
This crab was too small for the pot.
This one was destined for the steamer.
Stone crabs are one of those delicacies I find it hard to wrap my mind around. You tear the flesh from the living crab, boil the shit out of it and then let the meat chill. Then you crack the shell and dip the meat in mustard sauce. It sounds to me like the sort of meal that takes more calories to eat than it produces. As a survival technique I doubt this sort of foraging is worth it. Cheyenne likes crabbing.Wayne calls Chuck Captain Crabby when they are out on the boat. Perhaps, considering my disdain for the exercise it should be bestowed on me.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bocce Courts

The Bocce courts at the corner of White and Atlantic were in the newspaper recently.Apparently the organized players are petitioning the city commission to spend some money on repairing the playing area. I stopped by to check it out but it didn't seem that dilapidated to my feeble eyes. Nevertheless the city seems ready to spend $25,000 to buy materials to redo the courts.The plan would be for the city to provide the materials for the refurbishment and members of the 400 players would lend their skill and muscle to get the job done.It struck me as quite surprising that the city would consider this a high enough priority to spend money on, especially as the place seems quite serviceable still. The article mentioned that supporters thought it was fair enough for the city to spend some money on a project for locals not just tourists.By my calculation if there were 400 players in the organized leagues they would have to spend about $65 each to pool sufficient money for repairs, but in Key West we seem to be living in a little cocoon of our own. I notice the Oakland California Police Department is now refusing to respond to certain crimes including vandalism and identity theft owing to a shortage of officers. Cities in New jersey, another near bankrupt state are losing personnel, but here in Key West employees got a raise this year and the bocce courts will get repaired. This really is a great place to live.
It's not surprising the bocce courts are a popular spot. The view is lovely, across Rest Beach to the ocean. The courts are illuminated so tournaments typically are played at night and when they aren't in use for that anyone with a set of balls can show up to play.These courts are a lot nicer than the village square in Italy where I learned to play bocce. In the US people tend to call the game bocce ball which is like calling baseball- baseball ball. Bocce in Key West is serious stuff, and Cowboy Bill's team are the current champions as attested by the board:My bocce equipment is not tournament grade as far as I know, in fact after some discussion I think they are rather smaller than Italian sized bocce but I am not going to the dark side by calling myself a boule player. The French obviously are a pale shadow of the real thing in the world of bocce.My wife and I have been known to carry our bocce in the trunk of the car and we are not above stopping for a game by the side of the road if traffic gets heavy on trips to the mainland.As pretty as it is bocce is not, in my opinion, the world's most exciting spectator sport.
It is however exciting news that the city is ready willing and able to fund this diversion even in the middle of the worst Depression since the big one 90 years ago.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Islamorada Bridge Walk

While I was hovering around Mile Marker 72 to photograph Craig Key I took advantage to take Cheyenne for a walk on the old Flagler Bridge which has been refurbished as a fishing pier on the edge of the town of Islamorada (purple island). It is a beautiful spot from which to look out across the water. This is the view south of Highway One, toward the Straits of Florida.In a north wind the Gulf side of the Highway was white with wave action, though the waters being as shallow as they are the waves aren't that big. I have no idea what the cement lumps are in the water. they look like big ship moorings but whay there I couldn't say.The bike trail is nicely landscaped. Looking east toward Islamorada.
Cheyenne surprised me. I don't think of these cement walkways as being that interesting but my Labrador finds everything fascinating. I guess anglers drop fishy bits on the ground. She was determined to walk the length of the old railroad bridge. These people were anchored and enjoying bouncing as they fished.Had it been twenty degrees warmer it would have been a glorious day. That is to say had it been less cold I would have enjoyed it more. It was still a glorious day to look at.The tide was flowing south and that combined with the breeze made the water flowing under the bridges look like a river during spring melt. How, you ask did I get that last picture..? Not by levitating. The engineers have added nifty little fishing platforms to the old bridges, places that stick out to enable people to drop lines in the water more easily. I was alone on the bridge so i could wander at will.As long as Cheyenne couldn't fall off I was free to enjoy looking around. So I did.Then I came across these weird things and I speculated they may have been some fishing apparatus. I should be a detective I'm that smart. In fact I met an angler huddling next to his van adjusting his gear and he took the time to explain to me that the nets are used for shrimping at night. Someone dropped something good and I could barely drag Cheyenne away from the spot.It used to be that there was only one city in Monroe County- Key West. Then Key Colony Beach, a city of 800 incorporated in 1957, Layton of similar size was founded in 1963, then nothing much happened for a while. In the 1990s there was a move across the Keys to incorporate to improve services and Islamorada incorporated in 1997 and Marathon followed in 1999.Here we see the bike path image- a cyclist wearing a helmet. All part of the improved services brought to us by Monroe County. This in a county where only snowbirds wear bicycle helmets, for some reason.At the end of the path Cheyenne and I took time to grope around under the seagrapes on top of the sewall. I limited myself to taking a few more pictures......while Cheyenne thrashed around in the undergrowth finding I don't care to know what. A Boy and his Dog. This was the cause of my visit, Craig Key in the foreground and the Channel Five bridge arching in the background. More rushing waters.My sure footed mountain goat of a dog. Just as well she wasn't ready to go for a swim. I'd have frozen going in after her to rescue her.