Sunday, April 23, 2017

Key West Sunday Morning

I have been struggling to accept that this week we live under a vast giant gray cloud of rain, like Seattle but much more annoying as this isn't normal. Intense prolonged summer rain interrupted by prolonged drizzle followed by heavy overcast and wind followed by another cycle of rain. Thanks but no thanks.
The good news is that summer is actually being delayed by this weird weather pushed over us by strong east winds. The winds are dropping temperatures enough that it actually feels cool early in the morning when I leave work before dawn. 
It's been a tough few days at work, short staffing caused mostly by high priced rental properties makes it tough on those of us who have figured out living situations and hang on in our jobs. One of the most important criteria for hiring when all is said and done: do you have a secure living situation? There is a lot of talk about workforce housing and they mention teachers firefighters police etc.. but it's a struggle to get people to work as officers or dispatchers in a town where buying a house looks increasingly impossible. 
I love living in the Lower Keys as I find myself a stranger in a world where I have less and less in common with my fellow travelers. I came to the US to live more or less by accident and slipped into a life after my student days that settled me in a country that was exciting and forward looking and leading the world in the arts, business and diplomacy. I end my working life in the same country upended in it's ideals. I find it extraordinary that official policy talks about coal when renewable energy powers the rest of the world. Whoever would have thought scientists would take to the streets to protest their exclusion from the menu of solutions to world problems? 
In a  few years I will slip away to retirement and like so many before me I will leave the Keys and plod off looking for some other place to call home. Personally I hope the search takes years and years. It's not an economic departure as my retirement will be well funded after a life of government service mixed in with union pension plans. No, I find myself marginalized by a community that has drifted too far from the ideals that made it interesting for me. These days social events are powered by people older than me (wealthier goes without saying!) and Florida the Aged seems to have slipped into Key West in a big way. 
Young Rusty will age alongside me, I hope. After he dies if I outlive him I wonder how I shall cope with another dog. I will be north of 70 by then and unlikely to outlive, never mind walk a young dog. I remember when I was a youngster how old people complained about how we lived, bell bottoms long hair and a lack of seriousness. Now I see youngsters looking for well paid part time high tech work, no commitments, no unions no permanence. I just see a new generation with new plans and different ideals. Good for them. 
I like Key West because I am comfortable here. Fashionable clothes and expensive cars  still don't make a social dent here even with people who care about or can afford them. It remains desirable to be a little down at heel and for someone like me who equates fashion with dictatorship (strong I know) Key west accepts me in ways the outside world doesn't. 
I am already starting to come to terms with my transition out of the working world into a place where my time will be mine own, and I have no fear of boredom or pointlessness. I wonder where I will live eventually when the wanderlust dies down (around my 75th birthday maybe..?) and warmth and medical facilities will rate high on my scale of values.  Perhaps by then I will no longer need my surroundings infused with diversity and tolerance and art and eccentricity. Maybe I will be content with conformity.
I blame myself really for not having the inner strength to know how to enjoy living anywhere. Were I stronger in my convictions I could live anywhere instead of needing to surround myself with what matters to me. I have friends who are convinced there are ghosts in Key West and maybe they are right but I don't believe it.  What I do believe is that places affect us,  for reasons I cannot easily put my fingers on, but I have known deep agitation in certain places and profound serenity in others. Just like that. These feelings irritate me because they tend to control my decisions about where to live and how well I will cope while living in a place that doesn't suit me. I feel I should rise above such chimeras but I can't.
So when I see more and more people excluded from this place simply by the cost of living here, and therefore the difficulty of finding a way in, I feel a sense of regret myself. I know it's not my problem, I know there are other alternatives and some people fight the good fight to live here and succeed. But there is my belief that a city that can't for whatever reason house it's workers faces a dismal future. Perhaps it's as well that my retirement plans call for a tour of the Americas rather than sitting here watching the city evolve to suit its current crop of empowered residents. When I return I dread what I may I find but there again what I find will be what those who keep on living here want this place to be. And I have  to deal with that.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Key West Arrival

I parked the car on James Street shortly after six in the morning. I think Rusty, my furry alarm clock, was surprised when he stuck his snout in my face and I promptly got up, loaded him in the car and dragged him to Key West. I was off for a couple of days and I called his bluff. You want a walk..? Three hours later he was dragging rather less enthusiastically as we finally made it back to the car after a  tour of Lower Duval, Mallory Square and Southard Streets.
As we walked down Grinnell we met clumps of people and suitcases stumping in the street. It looked like they had just arrived, from where I'm sure I don't know. They looked at maps and studied their phones and pulled their suitcases like refugees ready to arrive for resettlement. I wondered how it must feel to step off a bus or a boat or a place or however they got here and see this strange town on a warm tropical night. Decidedly not in Kansas anymore.
The newspaper reported this building will soon be converted into a retail or office space downstairs and workforce apartments upstairs. No mention of costs or numbers of units, and everything was nice and vague. But they say this place will change and soon:
In light of the fact that the only development you can do is fill in the empty spaces inside the city, I suppose this place is an underutilized as anywhere and workers do need housing. That they can truly afford is the conundrum.  A friend of ours had sold up and is leaving Key West for St Petersburg. He sold a 450 square foot completely furnished apartment in a small complex for something north of half a million dollars which in mainland Florida will buy a house mortgage -free with money to spare.
And then all this will be left behind. The attempts ate cramming in more cars generated a comment years ago about paving over Paradise but what else are we to do? Our leaders don't want a central economy or social engineering as they call it and where only money talks the rough edges of Key West will be smoothed out. And thus when people rely on cars not bicycles or feet, parking lots become a required evil.
In an effort to create cheap tourism options, rather than the traditional Galleon Resort experience for example (below) tour operators have taken to busing large numbers of tourists from Miami on day trips. This people infuriate the merchant class as they usually bring coolers and want to see Key West for a few short hours as cheaply as possible. There are so many motor coaches doing this type of wham bam tourism the city tried to corral the buses which need somewhere to park all day why their riders walk and window shop. They paved over this old gravel lot, shifted the homeless who used to be tolerated here and tried to charge the buses a thousand bucks a month to use the space pictured above.
That didn't work as the buses weren't going to spend that much to park. Consequently you'll see tourist coaches parked everywhere during the day, for free, along College Road, along Highway One, and  on Key Haven as they try to save money. It just all adds to the general sense that Key West is some kind of carcass to be picked over in a  free for all. Schooner Wharf "a last little piece of Old Key West" as they say, and I wonder how long that will last.
A commercial fishing boat docked at Conch Republic Seafood is another reminder of the good old days when the bight (the harbor) was filled  with fishing boats. It's a symbol and I wonder how many tourists notice or ponder it's presence among all the pleasure boats.
Little pieces of old Key West.

Friday, April 21, 2017

I've mentioned this madness previously but I took a few minutes to go out and check the Shrimp Farm, soon to become no doubt "workforce housing." Just how much housing is up for debate still.
In the picture above you are looking North on Highway One (east really) into Summerland Key from the bridge. Below is the view West (toward Key West) where the development space is behind the scooter. 
The shrimp farm was a collection of long sheds on the property and I remember those big round slow moving fans of a design used to create an air current through industrial buildings. It sat unloved and unwanted for a while until, according to the Barometer it got demolished as shown in this rather awful picture quality (my poor reproduction of a decent picture in the paper's archives):
The point is, they had apparently talked of creating a park. Not anymore. The developer of the Westin Hotel and Sunset Key thought 160 homes would go a  treat here. Naturally everyone protested and the suggestion was withdrawn. Too many houses they said in too small a space. It's not looking real friendly right now:
In this satellite picture from the ubiquitous Google Maps  shows the old Shrimp Farm jutting out north of Highway One . Whether or not the ponds would be filled in and I suppose they would, is that enough room for 160 homes? I haven't a clue.
What I do know is however many houses they do end up building, and they will now that a developer has sunk his teeth into this spot, each and every home will require two wage earners to pay whatever they decided is "affordable" or "workforce" rate. And each wage earner will get in a car to go to their jobs, probably in Key West and then drive home. Sounds like a recipe for even more congestion. 
The thing where it gets odd though is that no one talks about how much each house will sell for. I don't suppose they will sell for a price that is truly affordable for someone who works in a large hotel serving drinks and food will they?  This business of affordable workforce house is beneficial it seems to the developers. In a different political climate in a different world non profit Habitat type housing could create homes for working people but then where would the developers find something to do with their lives?  I wonder if the osprey nest seen below will survive any changes?
 I wonder what the next proposal will be? 100 units? A park? three McMansions? Who knows...
...but it will change, that's for sure and maybe some good will come out of it.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Regal

My wife suggested we go to the movies last weekend.She also mentioned there was a flick she wanted to see at the dreaded Regal Cinema in Searstown and I recoiled. I hadn't been to the six screen Regal in years, a place that lingered in my memory as a damp smelly place with gruesome employees and movies that never started even close to on time.
The movie was also a bit underwhelming sounding, a vehicle for three elderly actors who seemed like they should know better. Alan Arkin, Michael Cane and Morgan Freeman were starring in "Going In Style." I felt like our Saturday might not be going that way at all. But I'm a  good sport...so off we went in as much style as we could muster.
Well, traffic on Highway One was abysmally slow and chaotic for such a simple operation:one road one direction....follow the yellow line and put the phone down. But eventually we arrived and promptly found parking in the very small lot behind the theater. The box office was staffed and functioning, another surprise as in the old days they often ignored your feeble attempts to buy tickets. 
The theater lobby was clean and equipped for the youth of today, even those dressed in towels. We had a bit of fun buying beers which was Soviet in complexity as the computer only allows one sale per ID (mine was in the car) and you get a wristband with your purchase. The beers are kept locked up and after a few minutes my wife went back for her beer, her second on her identification and the clerk unlocked the safe where they keep the demon liquor. Apparently they take massive precautions as young people like to try to get beer for themselves at the theater...little criminals. Anyway she got a Blue Moon and I got a Stella Artois and off we went into a clean well kept theater screening room. The audience was well behaved and all was very pleasant. I was surprised, things have changed.
I would never have thought to recommend the Regal and even though it is nothing like the vast modern multiplexes on the mainland the current management is running a tight ship and that makes it worth considering once again as a place to go see movies. Which I consider to be great news.
And in the men's toilet  I saw a message that made me smile, a bonus: love is life. Whatever that means.
Life is actually quite good at the Regal these days. And the movie? It was okay, not memorable but it moved along at a  decent clip and I liked the ending. Can't ask fro better than that I suppose.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Truman Annex

The concept of the gated community is not a way of life that would suit me(or by extension my neighbors...) but some people love it. Even here in Key West the town that attracts old people with money to it's bohemian reputation there are those who crave a gated lifestyle. That being the case you'd think an entire city that lives as though gated like Naples might suit.
Truman Annex used to be a Navy Base and it was given to the city when deemed surplus to requirements but it has its share of history. The commandant's house became the Little White House when President Truman took a fancy to Key West. There are officers' quarters the weather station and so forth. And there are the homes expressly built for this development and they are modern homes in the Key West style. Developer Pritam Singh struggled to raise the 17 million asking price and went through noted troubles including they bankruptcy but he kept it together and went from being a homeless transient in Key West to one among its most successful developers.
Along the way he built homes that looked the way you'd expect homes in Old Town Key West to look, wooden painted white with greenery and porches and picket fences. Robert and I were walking through the development and he posed as he said goodbye and went his separate way.
I ambled along seeking and finding shade as the trees are  two decades in the growing and they are casting shadows. I have heard both sides of the gated community concept and in Key West where chaos thrives beyond the gates you can see the appeal of chicken free clean streets and the absence of bums.There are no stores here no paper wrappers on the ground but all that convenience is a few steps away in the rest of Key West, the noisy messy Key West most people think of if they think at all of this town. 
I've checked out some of the townhomes here and they are build in an odd way to maximize the number of units on each lot. The result is rather tight spaces and odd narrow living rooms and no sense of expansive living.  I guess it takes millions to buy that here.
Lots of signs too forbidding everything.
The same street names as in the outside Key West:

The gates opened fro time to time to allow residents' cars to escape:
The they closed to keep vehicles out. During the day scruffy oiks can walk through the Annex as it is open to the public.
Overhead the seaplane came back from the Dry Tortugas:
Free as a bird as they say. Or free as an untrammeled life gated inside  the Truman Annex.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Sunny Downtown, Grumpy People

Leaf blowers. The city commission has been thinking about banning leaf blowers. The furor this plan caused was powerful enough to take one's mind off the possibility of war with North Korea. I have no idea how I feel about leaf blowers as I live outside the city. I don't like noise and when I do outdoor work I prefer to use tools over machines, however I don't think leaf blowers are used for more than a few minutes are they? I have no idea but the anger is amazing on both sides of the issue. 
Then the county voted to raise building height limits a few feet. The idea is to allow buildings to rise above floodwaters. My problem is my skepticism because when I am told  building codes across the county will allow for taller buildings, I imagine businesses cramming quarters for employees under the rafters. I see a future in this county that involves living essentially in the company store to keep the tropical retreat functioning for those that can afford it.
There is no doubt a fair bit of stress in Monroe County right now. I was riding out of Key West in the middle of the day last Friday when the car in front of me started acting bizarrely. Tires screeched and the vehicle lurched forward and braked suddenly as though it's tired antique clutch were giving out. The car itself was old, covered black primer a tiny little Datsun hatchback from another era. My camera was in the Vespa topcase else I'd have snapped a picture. Suddenly the rear window was filled by a thick head of dreadlocked blonde hair with long deeply tanned fingers reaching out making gestures that indicated I should fuck off at my earliest convenience. I was puzzled as I had no idea what offense I might have committed against the wild eyed driver of the ratty conveyance in front of me in line to escape Key West's pernicious influence.I pulled alongside.
She leaned out of her wreck of  Datsun, a  shadow of a car as unsafe as you like filled with junk, broken plastics inside the cabin wherein resided the mad octopus who started screaming at me about safety and being on my scooter and being too close to her mobile toxic heap. All this even though I was two scooter lengths behind her, and in no hurry to push the long line of cars that once again built up leading to the sole exit to the city. I felt absurd arguing with the creature and I tried to apologize for upsetting her even though I had no idea why she was upset. I pulled ahead and left her to rant alone in the hell of her unraveling existence.
A scooter pulled alongside, a man older than me on a Yamaha Zuma bearing a broad smile. That was fun he said. I looked at him and looked him in the eye: Was I too close? He laughed, she's crazy he said it's all in her head. We rode to the green light shaking our heads.He took advantage of commiserating with me to cut ahead of the traffic and I followed along wondering what is wrong with people. Quite a lot apparently.
Then that evening I set off from home refreshed and ready to deal with work and pulled into traffic behind an AT&T small van. He immediately got upset and slammed on his brakes and lit up his four way flashers which was no problem for me as I was holding my usual two second gap. But from there on, the AT&T guy held exactly to the speed limit or less, so  while the cars in front pulled away he was driving to rule. There were no passing spaces so I held back and enjoyed the afternoon. Then a large silver SUV arrived behind me and started showing signs of impatience at this stately progress. So I got an idea. I pulled to one side onto the shoulder and let the giant SUV through  then I pulled back into the roadway behind him. The AT&T guy didn't stand a chance. He could see me riding near the shoulder a couple of seconds behind the SUV but he had to speed up. The SUV couldn't pass thanks to the heavy flow of oncoming traffic but he rode that poor AT&T guy's bumper all the way to Big Coppitt where Highway One to Key West becomes a four lane. By the time we got there AT&T was  5 or more miles an hour over the limit and I was riding along as fast as I wanted thanks to the SUV.
So much anger, including each of my colleagues who suffered road rage incidents that evening. Perhaps it was something to do with the holiday, or imminent war with North Korea or something. Perhaps it's just that economical smart scooters have no place in a world which believes there is no substitute for size.