Saturday, June 23, 2018

To Kill A Mockingbird

Rusty resting at the monument to Norberg Thompson, the man who created Key West Bight and commercial fishing they say. From the Key West Historic Marker Tour which you can see all around town:

"Norberg Thompson was a man of initiative and enterprise who always seemed to be ahead of the times. By shaping much of the economic infrastructure that gave growth to the town in the first half of the 20th century, he significantly influenced the development of Key West.
In an early business venture, he was involved in the sponge industry, having taken over for his father as the representative of several New York sponge buyers. At its peak, local spongers held a monopoly on the sponge industry- supplying 60% of the sponge demand nationally. Thompson was responsible for a good portion of that success.
Most of Thompson's businesses were located in the Historic Seaport District. His business, Thompson Enterprises engaged in fishing, ice production, cigar box manufacturing, pineapple and guava canning, turtle soup production, sponging, and hardware sales. Over time, business after business would emerge, flourish, decline and be replaced by another. Thompson's various business ventures are a reflection of changes to Key West during the early 20th century.
At the peak of his career, Thompson owned most of the Historic Seaport. His greatest achievement was the thousands of local jobs his businesses supported for nearly 50 years."

Of course when I chose to sit on a  bench and Rusty decided to pause and watch the world go by a local resident took our decision badly. I don't know why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird because they do like to dive bomb passersby for no apparent reason:
From Harper Lee's novel we get that quotation that you can shoot all the blue jays you want if you can hit them but it's a sin to kill a mockingbird. Which is a shame as jays aren't nearly as aggressive. Rusty just ignored the irritant. Maybe he's read the book?

From the history blog Facing Today this observation:

"The longest quotation about the book's title appears in Chapter 10, when Scout explains:
"'Remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.' That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
'Your father's right,' she said. 'Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy…but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
So, who is the symbolic mockingbird? Later in the book, Scout explains to Atticus that hurting their reclusive neighbor Boo Radley would be "sort of like shootin' a mockingbird." Mockingbirds are not the only birds in the book. Finch, the last name of Scout, Jem, and Atticus, is a small bird. Like mockingbirds, they are also songbirds."
And so home to be annoyed by the camera, my soulful dog on his choice of furniture:

Friday, June 22, 2018

Key West Sunrise

Key West has elections this fall and both the city and the Monroe County commissioners are playing musical chairs. Term limits move occupants out of city jobs while county commissioners are not limited but it is believed there may be a retirement or two in the offing. Or not.
Key West produces some fiercely odd elections and I suppose that must be the case in a town where people come and go and commitments are frequently killed by alcohol and  upsetting the wrong person can lose you your job and thus your tenuous hold on life in Paradise.  So when an election cycles comes round all sorts of names pop up as candidates. And within days or weeks most of them drop away.
Teri Johnston with eight years on the city commission and a well oiled electoral machine must be the odds-on favorite for mayor. Especially since the only candidate to raise more money than her has dropped out suddenly because of a bad back. Yup tens of thousands of dollars from a sugar daddy in Louisiana and the candidate's back problems put the kibosh on that candidate. Key Weird in  full flow.
I matured in a  very politically active town in California and though I was never directly involved in campaigns I learned early on as a journalist that if you are alone you aren't going to get attention. It takes a circus to get elected, by which I mean an organization with fundraising and scheduling and  reply to enquiries people all involved. A lone wolf is an eccentric candidate.
In Key West  that is not an easy thing to organize:  a group of committed people into a a single campaigning unit.  Those that have that kind of backing are well entrenched in the community and are known quantities. That leads to more confusion.
Here's the thing and it's not easy to understand when you assume that every small town is like Key West. While it's true many towns are small enough that everyone knows everyone but the actual physical isolation of Key West makes it truly isolated.  Often there aren't that many bids for a contract, or a contract requires local knowledge. Or only local money is close enough to an issue. All this leads to a certain kind of conflict of interest. Everyone knows everyone and many people bidding are related.
For all the above reasons politics in Key West is  rather inbred. And inescapably so. The issues are all the same and no one really wants to deal with the intractable problems of a small town that is too popular with the monied classes and thus ever less accessible to the rest of us.  There is lots of talk about building worker housing known as "affordable" though the affordability seems mighty suspect.
 A friend had an apartment come available and she asked my wife and if we'd like to live in New Town in her two bedroom, two bath unit. Not at $3,000 a month we don't but that is an easily attainable rent nowadays.  The fact is wages have not kept up with prices in Key West and some creative solutions will be needed to keep services functioning.
I suspect the future is one of company housing with a majority of rotating staff, often of course "illegal" immigrants, around here mostly Europeans on student visas not authorized to work. Thats has already been happening and it's hard to envision a future where housing can be made affordable. The other issue I have with the affordability thing is that when you tie housing to a job you create a dependency that seems unhealthy to me. It's bad enough needing a job in a town with no outlying communities but when your home is tied directly to your job you are pretty much in servitude.
 Commuting is the new way of life, long lines of cars morning and night snaking from Key West to Big Pine, thirty miles in pursuit of a place to live. It's not what many people move here to do but the commute to Big Pine is the way of life now. That Big Pine got wrecked by Hurricane Irma doesn't make it any easier...
 I learned that Bier Boutique a funky delightful hamburger joint of First Street will be gone in a  couple of weeks. It will be missed but the young owner swill find their way in a less expensive less exclusive community and  their departure is Key West's loss. Mine too as I like their food. Supposedly their corner of First at Flagler will sprout worker housing after they are gone.
I am glad I have managed to make Key West my home. In a few years my wife and I are looking at  a departure date, hopefully around 202, when we take to the road to seek out those corners of the world not yet enjoyed. We could stay in our home here but I cannot see a retirement  in a place that offers fishing and drinking for recreation and increasing traffic and housing woes ina  community bleached of color by money and entitlement. I wish it weren't so but the free wheeling Key West that is celebrated in tourist literature is harder and harder to discern in a  town struggling to find the definition of "affordable." 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Sammy Creek

It's good to get away sometimes, and there is another road trip planned for July but when I get home I am reminded how easy it is to get off the beaten path in the Keys. Visitors beat the beaten path down Highway One, the ones that drive, and go straight to Old Town Key West. In summer families take school vacations here at home and swim and fish in some of the more popular spots but Rusty and I can always get away pretty easily.
I remember when Sammy Creek was an abandoned house before the family gave the land to the state for a park. A nice thing they did too. Irma wrecked the place but its back now ready to be ravaged by the next hurricane.
It was a test of my camera's zoom lense, a  bit distorted but the boat was a long way out:
American Shoals Lighthouse on the horizon marking the edge of the reef:
It was a hot afternoon but this guy was focused on his fishing under the blazing sun:
There was no one else around so a plane overhead caught my eye. I was quite surprised I managed to get a clear picture. 
Rusty loves walking these dead end streets. Until he doesn't and then he stops, waiots for me and turns around.
We walked a mile total away and  back to the park and I was sweating, Rusty was panting and yet he refused water. Strange dog.
Afternoon walk done.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


When you ask a resident of the city if they go to Duval Street the usual reply is "not much." I'm not sure if this is a form of snobbery in an effort to put distance between the much revered locals and the much despised tourists or if it is actually a  response to a lack of useful shopping. The fact is downtown Key West is home to a great many chain stores and not all of them are what you might call useful, unless you ant pornographic t-shirts, alcohol or sugary processed foods.
I got a  911 call from someone standing in front of a business on Duval Street and I had no idea there was a business called River Street Sweets. Luckily our computer at work had the place listed but I still had to see for myself. Turns out it seems to be a chain too.  
There have been stories in the newspaper about perfume stores overcharging customers so signs like this one popped up promising refunds. Aside form the stories about strong arming gullible customers I am not a fan of being accosted on the street by people forcing me to look at products I don't care for and these stores are infamous for that. Another reason to avoid Duval. Apparently this one has bought the farm, at least for now:
This is a local store as far as I know and has taken up a position in the political campaign. Barrios is a solid Conch name:
Fausto's Food Palace promotes itself as a social center as much as a supermarket and it is decidedly local, on Fleming Street here, with another store on White Street for people allergic to shopping near Duval Street.
I was surprised to notice the Christian Science Church is temporarily closing it's reading room. I used to submit stories to the Christian Science Monitor and its radio services so I have a soft spot for this lot. They paid really well, double fees if your story went on the national Monitor Radio and then was rebroadcast on their short wave world wide service. Those were the days.
I'm not sure if this counts as a chain. Well actually its not really a  business either is it?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Webb's Habitat

I approached Hilton Head with some curiosity. I have visited parts of the coast of Georgia and South Carolina, The Low Country so called,  but had yet to see this particular piece, this fabled retreat tucked into the live oaks and creeks of a marshy indented coastline.
The purpose was to visit my sailing friend Webb Chiles who is in the middle of his sixth circumnavigation of the planet on a small boat, as we shall see. He set my mind to pondering when he suggested that like Key West,  Hilton Head is heading toward that awkward place where the people who keep the place operating can't afford to live there, thus creating an insurmountable labor shortage. Well, perhaps it isn't surmountable but so far the increasing  gap between the wealthy and the workers seems to defy solution. Which is what makes it interesting.
I arrived Thursday evening and left Friday after lunch so I got see the barest minimum of a place that merits a return visit and who knows, a vacation. Rusty and I took our hour long stroll in the early morning along the main drag and we saw a place that is clean tidy and full of instructions on how to manage oneself. We dutifully stopped at the stop signs and looked both ways before walking. We slowed for sharp curves as instructed. We saw no trash, no bums, no crumbing sidewalks. The air was fresh, not with the scent of stale beer bit of woodlands and dew and pine needles. It was lovely.
I have seen other communities where neon is banned, Carmel California springs to mind, and so it is here. There are discreet shopping centers tucked out of sight in woodland groves and copses, banal shops like Publix and T J Maxx all that a small island community might need. There are numerous restaurants and because Webb is an upstanding guy he had checked for places that accept dogs and every single one with a deck was happy to accommodate Rusty. And motels too, as Webb's apartment is lacking amenity at the moment with everything torn up.
So Thursday night we girded up our loins to eat and drink and talk. At least I did, Rusty followed along gamely.
Naturally Rusty was perfect, sitting silently at my feet, no trouble at all. I dined on delicious crab bisque and shell fish cakes on grits, all of which was superb. Webb had a fresh colorful bouillabaisse that was too enormous to finish, especially after that crab bisque. I am made of sterner stuff as it were and scraped my plate clean. The best was yet to come so we repaired to the apartment which is under reconstruction and made ourselves homely on patio furniture with tumblers and a bottle. Rusty watched. I had taken him for a long woodland hike the day before in the mountains and he was ready for a rest. He sat on Webb's deck watching the tidal marsh below with some interest, while I presented the man with a bottle of his particular stuff.
Webb Chiles has written seven books about his monumental journeys under sail and he keeps a web (!) page (Link Here) which looks at life, love, music and poetry and death with an unflinching gaze. When I was a young sailor Webb was one of three sailing writers whom I classified in my first rank of writing travelers. I have come out of a tradition where the author gives not much of himself, just initials and vague references to peripheral matters (fear, marriage and emotions) not related to the journey itself. So when I read Webb Chiles, Frank Mulville and George Millar and their emotional sailing roller coasters I was hooked. I used to sit on my boat in the Santa Cruz harbor and turn the pages dreaming of travel. In summer I did travel by sail up and down the rugged coast of California, my adventures fed by the generation that went before and figured out this strange business of small boat voyaging for the rest of us. In winter I turned up the heat and kept reading under the glow of my 12 volt reading light above my bunk.
One thing about Webb is his ability to live on next to nothing. He is spartan, no doubt about it, but then he has his weakness and its pretty much unpronounceable. Laphroaig (Laff-roy-gg)  is a scotch whisky of rare pedigree from a place unpronounceable, the Island of Islay ( the ess is silent more or less for some obscure reason) and he laps it up like mother's milk at sea or ashore. I exaggerate but the end of the day ashore or at sea is contemplated by the sailing philosopher with a plastic (tumbler) of nectar. Because he is a spartan character, one tumbler drunk and with that Webb puts he bottle away. I was quite prepared to not like the stuff but I was determined to share this much read about routine with the Master. He gave me the crystal tumbler so I got the full treatment and I tasted it with trepidation.
To my astonishment what seemed like a quirk became a thing understood even by me who has no real understanding of whisky. The aroma in the glass is incredibly evocative of peat and those swirling black tannic thick waters of a Scottish bog and the taste seems bound to be a little intimidating when finally you put the stuff in your mouth. Instead the whisky tastes crisp and clear and even carries a slight fizz in the mouth which was weird but spread the flavor  of the drink right across my tongue. I found myself getting lost in it. Webb watched me grinning. Some people advocate adding a splash of water he said, but clearly for Webb Chiles that amounts to heresy. We spoke no more of water and drank Laphroaig unadulterated. It really was bliss. I was astonished but I liked it a lot. I want more but that is my not-so-spartan nature...
The next morning I wanted to see how Gannet was doing in this South Carolina marina and  so we three walked to the water on a lovely sunny morning. I wasn't at all sure how Rusty would do in this alien environment but I guess he has learned to trust me because he walked down the ramp to docks  without a qualm.
An air pump running nosily on the dock for a diver cleaning hulls put him off so I swooped him up in my arms and carried him past the offending engine. He seemed as interested as I in the 24 foot circumnavigating Moore ultralight sailboat.
This is where Webb is at home and he sleeps in the tiny cabin of his very functional Gannet. How he enjoys the truly tiny cabin I don't know but if you check Webb Chiles on YouTube you will find a series of videos made on the high seas that illustrate better than anything the reality of being on a passage in a small boat. And then imagine crossing the Indian Ocean doing that day after day for weeks on end...He loves it.

Gannet looked to my eyes to be perfectly set up and ready to go, with everything in its place. Of course Webb sees this and that which needs improving but the boat looks trim and ready for the final leg of his sixth circumnavigation, from here to San Diego after hurricane season.  He likes to sail so he uses a Torqueedo electric outboard to get in and out of harbors, 900 watts of raw thrust from a battery charged by solar panels. Independent living:
All that was left was to walk the trails of Hilton Head one last time wearing Rusty out for the long drive home, lunch on another delightful deck with my dog watching the world go by, a manly good bye till next time and off we went. It was good and I was sorry to be heading back to work, trading this:
For this:

And this!
My own Gannet...