Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Cool Higgs Beach

I am quite fond of Thanksgiving in the pantheon of national holidays that have been taken over by mass marketing. Canadians take their new world holiday a month earlier than the US does and fair enough as they are probably a season ahead of us anyway by October. And this year it seems winter has come early and with a vengeance, so it seems right and proper to remind ourselves that Canada may have a national health system but does suffer from crappy weather.No, I didn't take this picture on the shores of the Great Slave Lake last Monday. I was actually lurking around Higgs Beach giving thanks that the coldest part of the latest cold spell may have passed and we appear to be on the mend, with sunshine making the days bearable even though nights are still plunging below 70 degrees. Higgs Beach is home to the toasting tourist this time of year and even though it is firmly in the city of Key West it is run by Monroe County, and very strict they are too:Well, they used to be very strict in the days when Monroe County Sheriff's Deputies were stationed here and patrolled this tiny county enclave on all terrain vehicles. Budget cuts killed them off, though the county does provide numerous deputies for Ocean Reef Club, an inaccessible millionaire's haven at the northern tip of the county. It's on Card Sound Road, surrounded by gates and private security guards in addition to a squad of deputies exclusively assigned to the inmates protection at taxpayer expense. More public support for private jet travellers. The problem at Higgs Beach is that the place has deteriorated somewhat with the arrival of the permanently unemployed who take over the barbecue shelters at the beach: It ends up being an encampment day after day of people with nothing to do and nowhere to go and so they spread their belongings out and call it home edging out any non belongers from this end of the beach:It's not surprising really considering the amenities provided for beach goers, which include fresh water showers and restrooms. Besides which it's not illegal to be scruffy on the beach:But this does have the unfortunate side effect of giving diners at the Salute restaurant a ringside view of the daily ablutions and dramas of the permanent residents:The restaurant, Italian themed and tropical garish in decor......is going through a new ownership turmoil as the owners of Blue Heaven may be trying to give it a go. In addition to the restaurant and restrooms there's a volleyball net, pictured here with the resident frisbee artist seen around town in his very natty attire: A bandstand, which gives a deliciously old fashioned flavor to the beach but it would be too much I expect to ever hope to see the Marathon Band show up and give a deck chair concert on what is currently nothing more than a source of shade:Further along towards the pier there is the Garden Club ensconced in the dilapidated West Martello Tower. There is another 19th century fortress towards the airport which houses a museum and has a proper roof that offers views across the water. This tower is more tumbled down as the artillerymen of 19th century Fort Zachary used to use it for target practice: And speaking of history, the African Cemetery has finally been inaugurated at the beach, a stark and simple monument to an earlier unexpected landing in the city:It happened in 1860 that the US Navy intercepted a slave trader and about 1250 slaves came ashore in Key West. The Federal government promptly forgot about them and the city came together to try to keep them alive while a plan was developed for their future. They say 254 ex-slaves died, saved from the misery of the ship too late to live, but a thousand survivors were eventually shipped back to Africa and settled in Liberia which may not have been their starting point but was better than their planned destination. It's ironic they couldn't have settled where they landed, in the home of the free, but things on the slavery front were going through some turmoil at the time and it seems freedom was only available elsewhere. The refugee's perpetual story. All this history and much much more is on offer on the Conch Train which rattles through Higgs Beach as part of it's endless loop tours:For most people Higgs beach is a place to come and do what one does on a beach. As I am not much of a fan of lying around getting sand into awkward parts of the body I have to take my cue from what I see:And these people paid for the privilege of sitting comfortably on the sand by renting their accommodations:I took the next picture to illustrate one reason why I dislike hanging around on beaches: that it's impossible to read a book in any kind of comfort. It was only after I downloaded the image I realised it might have been more illegal than just reading a book:I had a debate with an eagle-eyed detective as to whether in fact s/he was topless but Darnell was as unsure as I was (he leaned towards "it" being a he) and he is paid to be a good deducer. His colleague Lee insists its a woman and he says he's a professional interpreter of the female form. So the jury remains out and you can decide for yourself, if you care. The point is, lying on your back and holding a book over your head is a pain. Sorry, but it is, topless or no!
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Higgs Beach also incorporates a bicycle path of which I took advantage as I had the car and my bicycle in town on Monday to do some heavy duty shopping. Other people were out riding too, enjoying the seasonable Thanksgiving weather, on bicycles familiar in shape and form:And less so, though doubtless much more fashionable. It must be a fad because it looks so gruesomely uncomfortable:No dogs allowed on the beach of course, which always used to annoy me because it implies, not without justification, that dog owners are slack about picking up after their pets. However there is a dog park across the street just waiting for a future essay I'm sure. And for those that want sun and sea air without the sand, a long walk off a short pier is available also:I read a a comment on one of my recent posts remarking how full up the tourist bookings are in the Keys and I hope it stays that way. Cheap gas has to be good for something. and getting to enjoy weather like this at the start of what promises to be a long cold winter is certainly something to be thankful for. Unless you are one of those weirdos who likes snow flakes and ski runs and visible breath. It takes all kinds.