Thursday, August 13, 2020

Sloppy Joe's Revisited

13 months ago when I put this together the world was a different and lovely place, or so it seemed,  through the lens of nostalgia. Of course we were grumbling about stuff back then so I wonder if right now might not appear  to be the good old days of the a  future viewer.... In any event I post this now to remind us of what was and what again might be. For better or worse.

Sloppy Joe's

I found myself caught in a crowd on the sidewalk in front of the world's most iconic bar...It sounds like the opening line of a joke, and if Sloppy Joe's isn't the world's most iconic it is certainly Key West's. I know this because a woman in the knot of people watching a Conch Tour Trolley getting stuck in front of an obstinate driver afraid of backing up, said loudly in my ear:" Now I can get a Sloppy Joe's t-shirt," with the sort of excitement mixed with reverence I have heard among crowds attending a Papal Blessing in St Peter's Square. I was a bit surprised.
After the red car backed up enough to release the extremely patient professional driving the trolley the crowd started moving but not before several more people around me muttered"Sloppy Joe's" in various tones of excitement. Really? I hesitate to admit it but I have never had a drink far less food at Sloppy Joe's, nor do I really want to as I am not a fan of crowds nor am I very inspired by the sort of food offered to a transient customer base. It seems the bar has done a bang up job of advertising itself.
Sloppy Joe Russell has gone down in history as Ernest Hemingway's buddy in Key West. He ran a bar that wasn't, it was a speakeasy as during prohibition places selling alcohol were not allowed. As odd as that sounds I have wondered from time to time how life might be if the intemperate and incompetent weren't encouraged in their social stupidity by the lubrication of alcohol. I'm not complaining really as they are a form of job security for me, even as they sow discord in families and danger on the roads. Moderation is not a word one associates with Key West and alcohol unfortunately. 
Sloppy Joe created the Blind Pig  which he opened May 5th 1933 when prohibition ended and he became legitimate. That place was located where Captain Tony's is today and that's the reason they claim to be the original Sloppy Joe's... In 1937, by when he had changed the name to the Silver Slipper his landlord increased the rent from three to four dollars  a month and they say he bought the current building for twenty five hundred dollars in 1937.
One of the other legends about Sloppy Joe's involves how all the patrons of the Silver Slipper helped Joe Russell pack up the bar and hauled the entire contents up Greene Street to the current location. The Hemingway House used to tell the story, and still may for all I know that the urinal used as a flower pot in the garden was an artifact from the Silver Slipper on Greene Street taken during the move. Apocryphal but a cute story.
Then the name is anther story. Apparently there was a Jose Garcia who kept a bar called Rio Havana and it was known for being a mess with melted ice all over the floor and Hemingway suggested that place as the inspiration for the name Sloppy Joe's, not directly attributable to Joe Russell directly then. Who knew?
The funny thing to me is how durable the place is and bars around it come and go. The Lazy Gecko apparently had a landlord falling out and  a place that seemed as stable disappeared. IC Doubles claims to have entered into an extended vacation which has prompted Facebook speculation that it isn't coming back and so it goes.
I saw these pigeons keeping the Bull and Whistle (and Garden of Eden, the clothes optional bar on the roof) under observation. Rick's, Irish Kevin's Captain Tony's and Hog's Breath are part of that grouping of apparently permanent bars in downtown. 
But for some reason Sloppy Joe's is the one as Hemingway's pull is as strong as ever.  I remain astonished by the power of the writer's name not least because he only lived in Key West twelve years and claimed his home in Havana as his favorite place to be, which you can see here, Finca Vigia, from an essay I wrote in 2009.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Truman Waterfront Dawn

The moral of this story is don't leave your camera in the car. My idea was to refill Rusty's water jug at the fountain at the waterfront walk him a little around the palms as we had just finished a long walk downtown, and then bug out to Publix to walk in the doors the minute they opened, buy fruit and vegetables and head for a nap at home. Then the sun started to peek over the horizon.
The light and the colors were exceptional with a just a couple of thunderheads to add interest.
There was no wind so just to add to the atmosphere the waters were flat.
I was glad I had bothered to sling my camera around my neck. 

Rusty led me by leash but he was slow so I had time to place with the focus of my attention.
Below we see the navy basin reserved for its use by the US Navy.  After World War Two they parked submarines here which was the era before giant nuclear submarines went to see for months at a time. The National parks Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have docks here. From Time to time you'll see Navy ships, including foreign visitors tied up to the far wall, which is known as the Outer Mole where a mole is what civilians call a pier, where the street lights are.  The Inner Mole is at the bottom of the picture and that's what's known as the place where visiting boat racers used to tie u when there were events involving boats in Key West. Power Boat Races? Gone. January sailboat races? Gone. Change is good they say.

The former coastguard cutter Ingham is a museum nowadays owned by a former city commissioner and it was once open for tours.  These virus infested days attractions restaurants and public spaces open and close seemingly at random.
None of this photography and talk mattered at the moment when another dog showed up. Rusty played until a third dog joined the group and the two friends ignored their new playmate. So Rusty moved aside, the spare wheel at the playground. We left.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Rockdale Pineland Preserve

I took these pictures a month ago, and as they came just before my vacation. I held them over until now but I remember that strange day quite fondly. It started as so many of mine do with an alarm at 4:25 in the morning followed by a  leap out of bed and a short walk with Rusty to check the mail. I do this before I go to work as Rusty likes to keep up with the urine messages left by neighborhood dogs before he settles down to wait for a proper walk when my wife gets up.
These photos were taken in Miami in early July when I drove the van up for an undercoat job to seal the bottom of the van against corrosion. The voice at Andy's Truck asked me to be there at eight  and expect to wait several hours so I was on the road heading north before five. You get used to this if you live in the Keys and have doctors or mechanics or big shops you want to visit in the city. Some people find it odd that my wife and I routinely drive up, shop and come back in one day but we wouldn't be retiring into a van if driving bothered us.
So as I prepared for a morning in South Miami I checked the area behind The Falls shopping mall to look for points of interest. Using Google satellite and street view I spotted a triangular wedge of greenery 22 minutes away on foot from the Undercoat shop. Further investigation found reviews describing a sylvan spot with few visitors, my favorite being "A waste of taxpayers' money!" with no evidence at all that money was being spent on the half mile long park.
I had chosen to leave Rusty at home as the day was forecast to be blistering hot and there was no point in subjecting him to the life of a homeless man and a stray dog in Miami in summer so I was on my own -come back at one the undercoat shop said cheerfully - with a camera and no obligations at all. I walked to the grocery store, masks required and social distancing enforced, where I got a sandwich and a drink and set off for the scrubby park on the map.
It was hot as you like so I stopped on the way and sat like a street dweller under a tree and had brunch while watching people bicycle, catch the bus and stay well away from each other. People actually in Miami defy all stereotypes about visitors from Miami who come to the Keys. The stories are of aggressive people who dump trash and have all the social graces of  wild cats on catnip. In Miami itself I found people very socially conscious and aware of the need to keep apart. 
There was no need of that in the inferno that was Rockdale Pineland Preserve....Like I said money is not much in evidence here, it is just a wooded open space with a few signs and a trail down the middle. And many of the signs I saw were quite elderly. 
It doesn't look like much  but the 39 acre woodland is part of the ecosystem you find in the Keys and the Bahamas and it is a valuable stopping off point for birds in migration. It's called Rockland because that is what it is. Most of the Florida peninsula is sand or sandy, and I'm going to generalize a bit, but the Keys survive as they are rocks in the ocean which is why they don't have sandy beaches unless the sand is imported. The Bahamas are similar but they have huge undersea deserts of sand that used long ago to be dry until sea levels rose.
Thus this tiny piece of south Florida woodlands strongly resembles what you will find in the open spaces of the bigger Keys like Big Pine. And there isn't much sand.
I saw to my consternation dogs aren't allowed which seems a shame.  I did spot this little guy making a life relaxing in the shade. He seemed in good shape and unafraid of me. I noticed a can nearby so I suspect some kind hearted soul is keeping him nourished. I hate seeing animals abandoned, but sometimes people can be the worst thing to happen to helpless animals. 
A readable sign!
The shade was welcome at the very tip of the triangle, the southernmost point of the park, the proper entrance had I but known it. I found my way in by walking along a low wooden post and rails fence and hopping over when I saw an informal trail leading in the palmettos. The trail fizzled out of course where some homeless people had been camping but I pressed on thanks to the satellite view I had that showed me a wide roadway ahead.
The funny thing is this park is a block away from the hospital where I spent some quality time in ICU and my mind was focused on things other than going for a walk in the woods. It was odd walking out and seeing Jackson South right there, now reporting numerous coronavirus cases in treatment. I was lucky I was run down when I was all things considered. To be recovering from a  road traffic accident now seems about as bad as anything could be.
Another well worn sign explaining how much open space and woodland has been lost.  The Rockdale Story as told on the Dade County page devoted to this place:
"Pine Rockland is a designated globally imperiled habitat that occurs only in southern Miami-Dade County, the Florida Keys, and some islands of the Bahamas. Over 225 types of native plants occur here and more than 20% of the plant species are found here and nowhere else in the world. Five of these plant species are federally listed as threatened or endangered. These pinelands, interspersed with hardwood hammocks, once covered 180,000 acres of Miami-Dade County. By the time the city of Miami celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1996, only 2% of the pine forest remained, most of it within the protective border of Everglades National Park and within a few state and county preserves. From the air, remaining pineland fragments appear scattered across Miami-Dade's industrial, residential, and agricultural landscape, looking less like a forest than like islands of trees in a sea of urbanization."  
As you can tell most likely I enjoyed my walk  here all by myself. Early on I saw a head in a purple bandana moving purposefully through the brush and then swooped away on a bicycle down the trail never to be seen again. Fair enough. I was carrying my little camera, a Lumix LX100 if you care which is light and unobtrusive and easy to walk with in the blazing sun. I figured I would probably not be back so I took a bunch of pictures and I hope you enjoy them. I had fun taking them.
If you look online as I did for pictures of this place you won't find much while street view circles the park but never goes inside.
I don't know how well I illustrated it but there is a rocky ridge running through the park here, where the limestone is five or six feet high. I know that doesn't sound like much but in a state whose highest point in the peninsula is barely 300 feet in Lake Wales, an elevation of six feet is quite unusual. 
I took this picture looking down at the trail sign below me,  in an effort to give you an appreciation of the elevation, though I find it may be too subtle to notice. I guess you had to be there.

Pets are not allowed.  Grrr... But I did walk the red line, all of it. Ha! In that heat. I went masked to the library afterwards just up the street and cooled off with a book at a socially isolated table.

The other main entrance for pedestrians and bicycles.
The world outside, beyond the post and rail wooden fence that surrounds much of the park:
The library was excellent, a quiet serene cool spot to read for a while. Had I brought a cable I could have charged my phone from the USB port in the table. Nice!
The van  was finished by one o'clock and I got the grand tour so they could show me the gleaming black under coat now protecting the vehicle from salt and grit and whatever else I throw at it.
I got out of the city and raided the fridge for the lunch my wife had prepared. I parked in an empty lot in Homestead and picnicked under the roof air conditioner as one should in these overheated times.
Travel by van is proving to be just too civilized. I could get used to this. I got Jamaican food at Yardie Spice for dinner and bolted for home. Not a bad day even though Rusty wasn't part of it. Gratuitous dog picture to prove he hates being left home to suffer:

Monday, August 10, 2020


Florida my Florida, the land of big skies and sunlight and summer clouds. I miss mountains and varied landscapes but these sights are a pleasure to get back to see even though for the first time I am sorry my vacation had to end.. 
I believe these white growths are called cankers and though they grow on weak or dying trees I find they give dead limbs and trunks a peculiar jewelled look.
They remind me of corals or anemones so I'm always looking for them when I see a dead piece of wood in the bushes. 
Then there are the clouds overhead, particularly abundant this time of year.

More cankers climbing the trunk:
I walk these areas a lot and then I find something I hadn't previously seen, a spectacular (by local standards) gambusia trench, a small canyon in fact in the rock. 
These trenches were cut in the rocks among the  mangroves and filled with gambusia fish which enjoy a diet of mosquito larvae. The idea was to control mosquitoes prior to developing these open spaces, and during the dry season gambusia survive by hibernating in the mud. Development never happened but the trenches, minus the fish, endure.
Looking aloft I spotted a red winged woodpecker that actually has a red head. He was a perky bugger too alternating between tapping the wood, squawking and giving me the stink eye. He darted off to annoy someone else barely giving me time to get my camera to my eye and record him poised in the void.
Another absurdly bright orange sunset driving home.