Thursday, June 4, 2020

Sugarloaf And Environs

I looked at the road winding away from me to it's inevitable dead end in the mangroves and thought to myself how often do I get to see a winding snake of a road in Florida? Well, here it is:
Rusty was trotting into the sun because he was, for some unaccountable reason having a  good time with the slow old man who manages his life for him.
Wind clouds and sun. It was a hot blustery day and lovely to be outside without a care in the world.

High tides bring floods to back country trails and this time of year wading shoes, Crocs for instance, are best. That or plan to get your sneakers wet....
I've put some pictures of recent walks on the page to get away from the busyness of town and life in a country that is frantically tearing itself up to be reborn one hopes better and stronger and maybe kinder. Nature doesn't seem to much care.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Duval Re-Opened

Irish Kevin's sells food and thus has re-opened where other bars derive less money from food than drinks and therefore may not open until Friday. The idea is to allow less crowded activities as the city and county allow visitors to return after two months closed to outsiders.
On a first visit downtown I could see a complete change in atmosphere obviously with actual live people walking riding and driving but the sidewalks aren't yet crowded.
Masks, social distancing and trying to follow the rules is evident. My drive in to work has shown tons of traffic on the highway, a bit of a shock really after two months of no traffic at all. Fogarty's separated dining scene:
Some names didn't survive the shut down though whether they were thriving and simply ground to a  halt or whether they were on their way who knows...and who cares because the sense of normal life slipping away is only reinforced by the sight of empty store fronts.
Answering phones at the police department has been unusual to put it mildly. Mostly we have been getting administrative calls from people out of town wanting me, a police dispatcher, to tell them about the re-opening. Suggesting they call the chamber of commerce or gasp- try google! - is not a satisfactory answer so we have been telling people about the fifty percent occupancy rule, the masks and the distancing and on and on.
Most people are cool but you would be amazed by the occasional caller who goes off on the subject of being required to wear a mask inside. I'm not sure why they feel a need to berate us as far as we are from the centers of decision making but more than that I'm not sure why one would plan a vacation to a place that has, before you get here, made you annoyed. People are not always at their best in a  time of difficulty it turns out. Suffering does not ennoble.
Need a job? Apparently some people are hiring. I feel as though we are in a holding pattern at the moment caught between the shut down that was clearly delineated and the re-opening has all kinds of nuance and uncertainty. One has to wonder how much coronavirus has come into town but that won't be clear for weeks. We can hope summer will drive the virus underground but the future as Doris Day put it so  memorably is not ours to see. One day at a time.
Then Tuesday evening there was a peaceful march to protest the George Floyd killing. The police, Sheriff's department and Fish and Wildlife all marched with the protesters and yet the afternoon was filled with rumors and alarums about riots and and mayhem planned for the evening. Then people call the police to demand to know whats going on. No amount of reassurance that the chief and the sheriff are walking in the parade would calm the callers down. Facebook rumors ruled the city.
The march was entirely peaceful of course and went off without a hitch I am told. But the frisson of fear animated Key West for a few hours. And made my ear bleed with all the fear filled demands for information of which of course we had none. 
I look at my own pictures of key West coming back to normal and part of me rejoices and part of me sucks in my breath afraid for our own future. 105,000 dead and cases increasing in number, nationwide riots and an active hurricane season on the horizon. These are times that are sent to try us.
On top of all that parking rules are back and the parking control is out there ticketing and towing. Masks and parking meters! What a  town!
Duval Street has been repaved which is excellent but Simonton Street isn't  quite covered back up and some gravel was showing at the Caroline Street intersection.
The triangle at the entrance to the city may become a traffic slow down as the bridge into the city is operating on only three lanes at least into November so we shall see how that works out too as traffic builds. My wife and I will continue to order food to go to support our restaurants and now that we have people from distant places in the islands our own social distancing will have to be vigilant toi protect her own impaired immune system. 
I never felt able to encourage the highway to stay closed as my wife and I both have government jobs and too many people were hurting for money to be able to say keep the road closed with an easy mind. Now that things are going back to normal we have to hope that visitors will respect the rules and help keep the keys peaceful and as infection free as possible. I wonder how that will work out.

Monday, June 1, 2020


One of my favorite places to stop and photograph the sea or the sunrise, clouds or water is at the Old Bahia Honda Bridge. I have long enjoyed the heightened perspective, unique in the Keys of standing at the top of a hill, albeit one built by humans to help lay railroad track up to the 1912 bridge.
The shoreline is not typical of the beaches that attract tourists as it it all rocks and dead seaweed and gravel but the effect is variable as the tide comes in and out. These pictures taken a week ago were under threat of rain giving the place a stark colorless light which I also enjoyed. It's always different here, even when it's the same!
There are the remains of human efforts to pipe water to key West and they are crumbling with ever greater speed since Hurricane Irma raked this area. The trees are trying to make a comeback but gumbo limbos are notorious for growing with the least encouragement where other coastal trees are proving less resilient.
The destruction here after Hurricane Irma in 2017 affected me the most oddly enough. The grassy shade was swept away and road access to the water's edge was destroyed so campers have been dissuaded from spending the night. Construction to reinforce the road's edge has dissuaded passing motorists from stopping so there have been some socially distanced benefits.
The old water pipe built in 1942 to supply the Navy in Key West has been exposed  by the constant erosion of the weird clay marl that was dumped here by Flagler's engineers, dug up from the seabed and used to build the ramp.
This is a place I will keep coming back to even when others discover it's off beat charms. In the old days bus loads of tourists would stop, take a picture and get back on the road to Miami leaving Cheyenne and I to ponder the benefits of not having to be anywhere that day. 
The desire to visit the Keys has been building but these places are off the radar of the simplistic tour approach that involves stopping briefly to see the obvious and move on rapidly to the next well known landmark with stops to drink and dehydrate. That bars are still closed may not make all new arrivals happy but there again shoes shirts and masks to enter a business are what locals are doing these days because being an asshole really isn't cool. Besides these hardscrabble spots there are the hideouts of the Lower Keys residents,  the places enjoyed locally but where only the most determined visitors reach in their cars. The easy pickings are the day trip accessible Upper Keys which are open to the mainland at a time when the authorities in Dade and Broward are closing their beaches thanks to the protests that turned violent. So perhaps businesses in the Keys can start the reopening with an abundance of customers. Its been a long two months and there is much ground to make up.
I look around the United States this morning and I'm glad I am where I am. The check point has come down but the mindset of people who choose to make the effort to live here hasn't gone away. And whatever comes next one trusts that that will stay the same. The ranting from the White House doesn't outweigh the common sense and neighborliness cultivated with such assiduous long term practice in the Keys where people live close to each other and know each and have long since breathed on each other. The requirement to wear shoes and shirts in businesses to be polite to your fellow shoppers has an addendum: wear a mask. It's not a political act, its just being neighborly, a concept that used to animate all the United States not just fringe places like these islands.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Sunday Morning

I took these pictures last week but they are emblematic of a Key West closed for business. 
I spoke with the van builders last week and they said they were working through this weekend to finish it so they can test it next week. There is no certainty but my wife and I may be driving up next week to pick it up. That is a journey fraught with complications but my wife has decided we can rent a  car, spend one night at the Hilton in DeLand  and once they hand over the van to us we have our own self contained space for the return trip. 
It's decisions like these that make post Covid life so complicated. I was going to go on my own but neither of us felt good about only me being on hand to check out the result of two years of scheming and planning, a van that holds the keys to our futures. 
Custom Coach assured us they will wear masks for the walk through and the explanation of systems and we felt it necessary to pint out that masks are required for my wife because we live in a  world where mask wearing is a political statement as absurd as that sounds. The Hilton has got the highest marks according to my wife for sanitary rooms and I have noticed new guidelines form the CDC discussing viral contamination where objects are unlikely to transmit the coronavirus. It always struck me as odd how the worst outbreaks centered on crowded cities to the exclusion almost of rural backwaters. Apparently now they think the best way to catch the disease is to sit indoors with someone for fifteen minutes or more preferably unmasked to enjoy the easiest transmission of the virus.
It feels ridiculous to plan a 350 mile trip across Florida like a military campaign but we have no choice. Once we get the van home our horizons will expand even in a world dominated by virus talk. Riot talk is another subject which hasn't touched the Keys. 
Repairs repaving and a gradual reopening.  Now we are told hurricane season will be "active" with two storms already logged. However what they don't point out this early is where all these putative extra active hurricanes may appear from and go to. I am a lot more knowledgeable about hurricane preparedness than I am about virus awareness. There is plenty of time to test the van out before it has to stand by as a self contained evacuation vehicle. By September, peak month for hurricane season, storm shutters in use here, below, to protect windows from maintenance chores, could be up to keep out flying debris.
It has been odd to see the gradual littering by Nature in corners of the city where people aren't walking.
There are quite a few empty storefronts and how soon they get filled will be a measure of the confidence people have in Key West's ability to draw vacationers.This is a resilient town nearly wiped out by the Great Depression and saved ironically by government intervention. 
It seems as though we must save ourselves this time and I have no doubt Key West will be up to the challenge. I hope visitors will get in the spirit of the thing and recognize that being different deamnds different behavior. 
I wonder what I will see here next week, I wonder if traffic crashes and drunk driving will come back on the books like before? 
Key West has had a dreadful reputation for bicycle accidents, the worst per capita in the State of Florida. Since the lock down  car crashes and drunk driving reports have vanished. As much as people like to say the side effects of the lock down have been bad, some of them have actually been good. Obviously this situation can't go on but a return to a more mindful normal would be nice.
Rusty found clean cigarette butt free water in the bowl at the entrance to Casa 325, the first time in memory he has been able to drink from that spot on Duval Street. 
"Online" is the default now showing experience of our lives. I enjoyed the radio broadcast of the 39 Steps on US 1 Radio, a substitute for a proper playhouse version of the play but I do look forward to sitting in a  theater once more I have to admit.
Fingers crossed, its all we can do. 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Interesting Times

The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat. Words to live by according to our President. I guess I am a bad Democrat then, at least for now, though given enough time and perhaps not too much of that the way things are going I shall surely mature into a good Democrat. Not, though, by ingesting bleach.
My brother-in-law sent me an article discussing the ways in which artificial intelligence can be used to create videos and images of people of importance doing things they never did. Soon, if not now, they will be indistinguishable from reality. A presidential tweet of immeasurable bad taste may indeed be produced to denigrate him and not to praise him and no one will know if it is true or not. Madness lies down this path. Shakespeare wrote plays about this lunacy five hundred years ago. Internet your name is Iago.
Truth is malleable, facts are becoming less stubborn, reality is a chimera suited to the point of view of the observer. And so today we will start to see the influx of visitors we dread and desire. The big issue is whether or to wear a mask.  The President of the United States has made wearing a mask a symbol of sheepish submission and the refusal to wear a mask the representation of rebellion against the tyranny of the government he leads. How this makes any sense only Shakespeare or Orwell could unravel: I can't.  I just watch and wonder at the state of collective madness our nation has sunk into. 
I once welcomed the Internet as a way to provide education, information and facts at the touch of a button without the interpretation of third parties. That view seems more and more naive as time goes by and every fact, every truth that is not convenient gets discarded on the pile of history marked fake news or deep state or dark web or some other such nonsense. Conspiracies replace benchmarks at will. Masks aren't a medical recommendation, they are the first step in Bill Gates owning the world by inserting chips into the vaccine we will be offered next year to inoculate ourselves against Covid-19. 
I quit being a journalist years ago when I realized that my world of what was known as news was being replaced by entertainment and "tips." At this stage in my life I find myself swept aside by a younger generation that displays the attention span of a firefly, flitting from blade to leaf to branch faster than I can keep up. I probably looked that way once to my elders and betters and I am reaping the inattention the elderly merit. Now that I live with a wife with no immune system the medical certainties of Facebook epidemiologists make me nervous. I have no certainties in this vast sea of confusion but I do know that keeping six feet away and wearing a mask when I can't are simple steps to preserve my family that I must take in the hope they will do some good. 
I see people present themselves at anti-mask rallies with guns on display, and where they then announce that they aren't afraid and to my jaundiced eye they look and sound ludicrous. They exude fear and resentment and poverty of ideas. Conflating rights without obligations, self without community makes no sense. I have lived an adventurous life and I have taken risks but I have always calculated the size of the risk, I am not a world record breaker or a pioneer, not a  leader in risk taking. I have assumed risks on the backs of those who went before. Therefore not to wear a mask when medical experts, who themselves struggle to understand a new disease, suggest wearing masks and maintaining one's distance I don't understand why wearing a mask is an abdication of personal responsibility.
The City of Key West has issued an order to the effect that public buildings and businesses must require people coming inside to wear masks. Fines and jail time are possible for offenders. Businesses that don't comply can expect a visit from Code Compliance, the people who render life not worth living with rules and permits and minute inspections. I'm sure its a coincidence but the re-opening order came a few days after a protest organized by Ed Swift, who is a man of influence, gained a lot of publicity. It was noticeable masks were in a tiny minority in photographs of the event. Presumably not photoshopped...
I don't live in the Key West of the 1980s but some days, the good days, feel like this community has been a reasonable facsimile set in modern times. People here don't protest coronavirus by parading with guns, food pantries step up where the state falls down, and I see a majority wearing masks without drama to try to do the right thing by their neighbors.  I have found a new slogan from my youth, think locally, act locally and stay home as much as possible. Everything else is out of our tiny marginalized no account hands. We are all peons in the post Covid era, heaven help us.