Friday, May 29, 2020

Duval Night

So there I was at 5:30 in the morning enjoying my lockdown solitude...
They've paved Duval by now as you read this which was a brilliant move causing dust and mess and minimal disruption. Some people got annoyed anyway but there will be naysayers till the end of time in this town.
I don't think we will see these kinds of construction machines parked on Duval Street again for a while. Parked on the yellow too. They were lucky parking enforcement has been suspended.
A sign of life. Surprised me, all blue and everything:
The Grand Cafe in unusual garb, closed for business yesterday today and tomorrow.  Undoubtedly later.
The colors of the old theater still fill numerous phone photo albums and you can see why. The Strand opens for business at six am.  I watched them opening up but I wasn't there when they closed at midnight. 
We face the great unknown, reopening and people and crowds. This has been a time worth remembering. I wonder how we shall look back on it, an interlude, the end of normal times, the beginning of a period of change or some other thing?

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Clouds Are Back

One of the great things about Keys weather is that it rains in summer when its hot and in winter when it is relatively cold it is mostly dry. That suits me. That the rain in summer doesn't usually last makes it perfect. If you like endless gray skies and drizzle and flat light the Keys weather won't suit you at all. Two days of rain in a row and you wonder who thought you wanted to live in Seattle.
Winter skies are blue and clear and bright and sunny, the light is white the sun is low on the horizon. In summer the sun moves overhead reaching a point midway between Havana and Key West, the Tropic of Cancer, and it is so strong the shadows change their shape and let the light and the heat burn you if you aren't careful.
But the sky fills with clouds what Clyde Butcher calls Florida mountains.
They pile up and indeed they look as solid as as the highest peaks in the world, places of cold and ice and dangerous ledges and profound chasms. Minutes later they take the shape of a sleeping dog or a man with a big curving nose. I spend a lot of time studying their shapes and their whimsy.
Sometimes the anvils of thunderheads look more like nuclear explosions than clouds and the they drop sheets of heavy cold water, droplets from five miles up as cold as snow when they hit the ground and turn to humid heavy air.
Rainy season has barely started and Rusty has got me wet three times. Its all his fault as if he weren't around I wouldn't go out and hope for the best even when skies are black and clouds threaten.
Sometimes I carry an umbrella but most days I can't be bothered. I wear shirts that dry quickly and I carry an extra plastic bag to wrap my phone and mu camera and I trudge on following the fur ball who used to be afraid of the rain.
My fatal error was making a fuss of him when he got wet, when I'd rub him down with a towel and and share a nice dry room in the house with him. Apparently this wasn't the treatment he got on the streets of Homestead where getting wet meant sitting under a bush shivering and waiting it out. So now instead of dreading rain he shakes it off and keeps walking secure in the knowledge he is a nice middle class dog with a home. And I who introduced this concept to him am punished by finding myself getting rained on in turn from time to time. I have to towel myself when we get home.
As it happens there is a good side to all this trafficking in misery. I do get to see some astonishing cloud filled sunrises and some blue skies such that most people sleep though.
In the morning I do draw the line when I can hear what sounds like hail peppering the roof. To give him credit, Rusty who is exceedingly smart sticks to his own bed knowing I will baulk at the prospect of setting out into a storm.  I am actually pretty sure he is as happy as I am not to walk out under a tropical waterfall. The only trouble comes when I feel drops on the trail and he ignores them.
I like summer for a change but by November I'll be ready for dry sunny days, cold breezes and crisp cold nights. At least for a while because I am fickle and pretty soon I'll be craving another round of heat and clouds and sudden squalls. What a life.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

On The beach

Working an evening shift I drove into town late afternoon and paused at Smathers Beach. I figure in a few days the coronavirus carriers will be in town forgetting to maintain simple rules to keep our numbers low. Might as well snag a few pictures now to remember how it was.  
I was regretting not having my own swimsuit with me as the toilets/changing rooms were open and the freshwater showers were available and not being used...I could have been refreshed and dried and back in uniform in less time than it takes to tell. 
Those waters just looked too inviting and even the birds were maintaining their social distance. Unlike our crowded neighbors photographed in thick crowds Up North we in the Keys mind our manners..!
There are hard core athletes in the Keys, running in the summer like heat, showing up at the newly opened gyms where machines are spaced, classes are reduced and yet I know I am not hard core enough to share their breaths with them. Not yet. I exercise at home thanks to YouTube and keep my germs to myself.
I was left to sit in the shade in my long pants and closed toed shoes, which ended up trailing lovely yellow Bahamian sand all over the place, and I looked and thought and hoped for the best, while thinking about all the calls I have received at work from people anxious to vacation in the Keys. Are the Keys open yet? they ask, unable to use Google to find the answer for themselves.
I hope in the long run nothing changes, nothing happens, life goes on, money flows in, work blossoms,  and we return slowly inexorably to normal. They tell us we will be living a new normal in the future but my reading of the past tells me we will slip back to stasis, because entropy will lead us back to the old equilibrium because we want to fly across oceans, to eat out, to gather in crowded arenas, to drink in public to go shopping to walk the malls and what we are living now in the First World isn't normal.
I have read about plagues past and I am struck by how virulent they were, how little people knew or understood about what was killing them and thus they never figured out how to stop the next plague, the next yellow fever from coming back and killing them.
I have had dengue fever from youthful times in Central America. I was scared of being shot  as I found myself in the middle of a civil war but the bullets I dodged with not too much difficulty though they scared me whizzing past my head. Dengue fever instead got me good and I went home feeling the full effects of "break bone" fever. The Salvadorans I left behind got tortured and shot and they died of dengue, in droves. I had access to food and fluids, clean drinking and washing water, a proper toilet and lots of comfortable, stress-free rest. A couple of weeks and my girlfriend was nagging at me to get out of bed. Then she wondered why I didn't feel like marrying her. I like to be coddled.
When I was a teenager in Africa I met other overlanders talking about chasing down women and carousing in the brothels of West Africa. Even though neither I nor anyone else had heard of AIDS back then it dd not seem like a very good idea to me. I stuck to my motorcycle and kept riding and seeing and living my ordinary life in extraordinary places. I still got sick!  That time it was jaundice and I had to fly home from Cameroon a nasty shade of yellow and sick as a dog. The French residents of Cameroon to their eternal credit packaged my Yamaha SR500 and sent it home to me. I must have inspired much pity.
Central Africans died in droves from what I had contracted simply from being young and stupid and inattentive. I got an isolation room at the hospital in Italy, first rate care in the form of free socialized medicine and a month later I was the thinnest I had ever been and free to live my young stupid life. I got back on my motorcycle and looked for more horizons to ride to and get sick on. I toured the US on a Vespa and managed not to get ill. Yay!
It's easy to read the words and ponder the misery of desperate times in the past. For instance the 1918 'flu which originated in Kansas and killed millions in rapid and horrible ways all over the world. Again no one had a clue what was happening and they tried quarantine, isolation, face masks and prayer. And still they died.
We live in more enlightened times we hope and we chose collectively to try to save the old and infirm in a collective moment of economic shut down in the hope this thing will go away and not come back. I am betting that when I return next week Smathers will be populated and social distancing will be an artifact of another era. I hope not but if that happens it will be interesting to see what happens next.
I am not a social animal inasmuch as I don't miss the bars or the rituals of eating out.  I don't like crowds nor do I enjoy gatherings of people who don't know me and my quirks where I can't be myself. Yet I do miss the crowds and the people if only at a distance which surprises me as I'd have thought a total desert would suit me best. Thus I have learned of some deficits in my character by living through the throes of this very weird pandemic. I have had to work through the pandemic and maintain a schedule acting normal as everything around me shut down. It has felt odd I must admit.
What I miss is the effects left by the people if not the people themselves, the vapor trails they leave as they drift through the periphery of my life. I have discovered that contrary to my previous belief the zombie apocalypse subtracts photographic opportunities instead of multiplying them. The quirks of people and their inexplicable behavior are all forgotten in a world devoid of people where nothing changes, where streets are empty and the debris of civilization is covered by leaves and animal foot prints.  It's an odd feeling for me to discover it is people who in the end feed my photography and I am finding myself forced to admit that I am missing that part of my inspiration. I have tried to use the lock down to see beyond what normally makes itself apparent to me on my walks, to see details and angles and colors, but in the end the debris of our civilization is the part that is missing and the lack of it has made itself felt in an empty town.
Empty streets and clean empty sidewalks.  Nothing to see here, move along. Until next week.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020


A little rain gave Duval Street a fresh clean look helped along by the repaving job undertaken during lock down. 
Massive amounts of public works have been continuing in the Keys to try to take advantage of the absence of tourists.
Naturally there have been complaints the city should spend the money on coronavirus relief, though anyone who knows municipal funding rules knows monies budgeted for certain types of projects if not specific work have to be spent on those projects and cannot legally be diverted. 
The counter argument then arises that government is slow to respond and too rigid and all that stuff whereas when I was younger we took it for granted that government spending required planning, public comment and transparency. In my old age I find my previously commonplace beliefs about governance to be quaint out of date and old fashioned. I rather like becoming an old curmudgeon. "In my day..."
Everything is a source of negative comment in the world in which I live. La Concha hotel on Duval, the tallest building in the city is said to be ugly. I find it endlessly photogenic perhaps because I am not surrounded by tall architecture and lack variety in my skyscraper life.
I wasn't sure why he was looking at me like that but he didn't shy away when I pointed the camera  at him so...
I did get part of Memorial weekend  rain-free but the week ahead is rather spoiled by the knowledge of three things. June 1st the Keys re-open to tourists. Dade County confirmed coronavirus cases are increasing in number, by a large factor. Social distancing in Dade has failed signally. The people responsible for the Dade County spread are coming here in large numbers.  Consequently I feel a measure of existential gloom.


The Spectator on why reopening isn't a problem. Color me continuing to be confused.

From the May 26th Citizen:

During the early staging of the impending reopening, Keys lodging will be limited to 50% of standard occupancy, in accordance with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent executive order.
Local leaders will examine the situation later in June to make determinations regarding the relaxing of occupancy restrictions.
Statewide, the number of reported cases surpassed the 50,000 mark over the holiday weekend, as deaths from the novel coronavirus rose to above 2,000.
The three most-active areas in the state continue to be Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, according to the state health department.

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Flag Pole

When we moved to Cudjoe Key five years ago I was glad to get out of our street on Ramrod Key, a long narrow single lane where the neighbors at either end disliked each other and we were in the middle of a lot of angry people. I felt like the middle child in a family at war with itself. Change is hard but we fell on our feet moving four miles closer to Key West with a wide street, pleasant neighbors and a canal we can swim in with hardly any boat traffic. But every paradise has its serpent and we were warned in rather uncertain terms about the big downside.
 "Those people" at Venture Out we were warned "will ruin your life every winter." The cause of the ruination was never made completely clear except that crowds of snowbirds walk their dogs along Spanish Main and clog the street with traffic. Plus they live in trailers.  As you can imagine someone who has lived much of his adult life on boats isn't put off by trailer living or any alternative lifestyle (see: vans!). Dog walking? Nothing wrong with that; God forbid. And after five years of living next door the worst I can say is the occupants of Venture Out have a tendency to run the stop sign at the entrance to the park. Forewarned is forearmed and I look out for their rolling California stops as they leap onto Spanish Main. The dog walkers are careful and I have never seen any dog eggs left behind. They have to be the cleanest dog walkers in the Northern Hemisphere, people whose example I try to live up to with trepidation. I take Rusty on the street  as he likes to sniff their trails when we walk in the middle of the night and the ground I find is super clean. There is never a noise complaint from the park and I never see the Deputy Sheriffs over there breaking up relationships gone bad. They are ideal neighbors in my book.
One evening as we drove back from a trip to Miami my wife told me she always looks for the flagpole at Venture Out as she commuted home from work in Marathon, and indeed the slim white pole rises up out of Cudjoe Key, an unmistakeable landmark from across the water on Summerland Key. It is a landmark, a reminder of home all the way down the mile long drive on Spanish Main after you turn off the highway. If the flag is not there you know there's wind in the forecast. If it is halfway down making room for the flag of Death at the top you know they are telegraphing something to the neighborhood. This weekend obviously it's Memorial Day. And a windy rainy weekend we were promised too as you can see, yet the flag is still flying perfectly spread by the east wind.
Today is Memorial Day of course but every day when you drive past the Venture Out flagpole is a day to think about home and loss and good fortune and all those emotions that make up daily life especially in a time of pandemic.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Monastery Of The Mangrove

Every other weekend I get Saturday Sunday and Monday off and every other weekend it has started raining to welcome summer. The end of a long drought is a good thing but why does it have to end on my days off? I am taking it personally.
A work day for me ends with an exercise tape at home, a swim in the canal behind my house and then I walk Rusty while my wife relaxes by cooking. I wash up not least because I am compulsive about stuff like that and let's face it a great cook isn't necessarily a great dish washer. Not in my home. Rusty licks a clean bowl when he feels like it but he's perfect no matter what.
I love my evening walks just as much as Rusty does.  This is my Florida, socially distanced and alone looking for anything that catches my eye.
I have mixed feelings about people coming back to visit the Keys, though the good part for me will be, I hope seeing better pictures. Months of looking for still life worth recording is starting to wear on me and I never expected that it would. Empty streets are only interesting when you juxtapose the emptyness of after hours with the busyness of regular hours!  Everything is empty these days all the time...
I am not looking forward to the traffic, the increase inevitably of 911 calls, the undifferentiated impact of people not thinking or not caring about the pandemic they think they have left in their rearview mirrors.
The Sheriff has held the line with the roadblocks against all requests and demands that he take them down. From what I've heard they have refused entry to more than 13,000 vehicles and made several arrests related to the road blocks. It blows m mind that people are thinking its worth trying their luck even though it's clear the road is closed! I cannot imagine they will bring much social awareness when they arrive next week. 
That is a problem for next week. And even then I doubt any of the hordes arriving in the keys will be looking for long empty roads lined by mangroves, dull uninteresting and not worth stopping on. These places will continue I have no doubt to be my refuge even as they were before everything went weirdly wrong. You have to find your quiet place where you can.