Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Short Walk On Sugarloaf Key

For once I started out on a walk properly equipped. I had sprayed myself with mosquito repellent, and "slathered" ( I hate that word) suncream delicately upon my face and loaded two bottles of water and a plastic bag into my back pack. The lingering breezes of a late cold front had inspired me to consider finding the end of a particularly mysterious, winding trail on the south shore of Sugarloaf Key.There were two cars parked at the trail head, one a work van which I suspect belonged to this dude probably hunting for bait while shouting on his cell phone in the marshes. His bicycle was parked, unlocked where I could have stolen it. The Keys of an era gone by, unhappily.Cheyenne and I have walked the trail, old State Road 939A several times but this time I wanted to get to the end, which I had measured as four miles away. An hour and a half I figured in delightful mixtures of sun and shade.The fish float is a popular decorative motif in the Keys' wilderness. Someone abandoned a package of bait along the trail. We were forty minutes into our walk when Cheyenne sniffed and passed on by. Sun cooked whole shrimp are not to her taste, it seems. It was time for a pause that refreshes. I put my baseball cap into a plastic bag and filled it with water.I used to own a collapsible nylon water dish for dogs but we live in a brave new economic world and a plastic bag has lots of re-usable uses. And it's cheap. Ha! here come the owners of the other car at the trail head. Sensible people using bicycles instead of ambling.
However when you walk you get the time to look around and enjoy the view. Looking north: Or you can stop and try to take a picture of mangrove snappers swirling in the not completely clear waters.Yes, I know, I missed the fish altogether. Cheyenne was still frisky at this stage and hunting for smells in the bushes.
Lovely isn't it?
More water for Cheyenne.I have to confess to a small oddity in my life. I grew up reading Italian comic books and much to my surprise when I started going back for visits I discovered a book stall in Terni where they sell old copies of my favorite stories. They are lightweight and easy to read and usually I read them late at night at work when I'm tired and pictures are a relief for tired middle aged eyes. I happened to have one in my pack and because I had forgotten the paper I amused myself with Tex Willer for twenty minutes while Cheyenne napped.The Hand of Destiny was a rip snorting adventure set in New Mexico and in case you were worried Tex and Kit Carson put the evil doers to rights by the end of the episode.
By which time we had to get a move on to reach the end of the trail. Some kind person put out three heavy duty benches where I figured the trail was soon about to end.Nope, no end in sight and I decided not to spend time wandering the enticing salt flats. I checked my cell phone and to my horror discovered we had been walking for two hours and no way was I going to be home before my wife. I knew we were close to the end, open water was opening up on either side of the trail and I could smell salt air blowing. Finally, two and a half anxious hours after we left the kennel at the trail head we reached the end of the trail. It was not a very exciting end, I had hoped for a small beach with perhaps a sturdy home made bench set under a mangrove to admire the view...I could see Big Coppitt across the waters of Saddlebunch Harbor but that was it, nowhere to sit, no guest book to sign. We turned around.
Like mountaineers who summit Everest we turned to retrace our steps with all the let down that success brings in it's wake. I realized now I was going to hear from wife on her way home and I was going to have to point out I was lost somewhere in the mangroves. It was not going to be a pleasant conversation. Which was the moment I realized my shadow was no longer at my side.Oh God! I thought as I stretched out alongside her, I've killed my dog. From here the walk turned into an endurance trek, not so much for me as for my 8 year old dog. It was hot and sticky and she was panting. I picked her up and carried her 73 pounds as long as I could through the sunny patches of the trail. I found a plywood sheet and attached a piece of found fishing line and tried to persuade her to sit on it as I pulled. She was having none of it. Measure my concern by the lack of pictures. We staggered on until the damned phone rang. It went better than I had hoped though I suspect she was laughing at me, not with me. She agreed to drive to my car and meet on the trail. The sun was heading down to the horizon, shadows were lengthening and I was starting to feel lonely and not a little stupid. Finally...It was the best feeling in the world to ask that time worn cliché of a question: "How was your day?" after Cheyenne had finished greeting her savior with a wagging tail and jumps of relief. So we walked on with renewed energy ( and no more dog carrying thank God, my arms were falling out at the sockets) and my wife prattled on about her day at school and a tobacco whistle blower called Victor somebody who had told the girls about the true dangers of smoking...and my mind wandered off glad that this monstrous expedition had been reduced magically to it's proper proportion of just a family walk in the woods before dinner.Who knew you could end up walking eight miles through the mangroves and never be out of the wilderness? I do, now.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Salt Mine

Taking up from where we left off yesterday with my arrival at work...I carry a comb in my murse, which is less of a man purse and more of a back pack actually. It rides in my top case, locked and dry with all the odds and ends of daily living, including the brush aforesaid. A quick pass over the rug to remove lingering signs of helmet hair and in we go. The Police Department has been undergoing some paint and spiffying up which is nice for night shift as the painters are gone, leaving only the noxious fumes of modern paint gassing the building.The front door to the Police Station is locked much to the consternation of people who watch TV and think the city of key West has money to spare to keep a sergeant employed as a front desk clerk. I always tell people who need an officer for a non emergency to call us and we'll send one to your home or hotel where you can wait comfortably. Unless it's a crazy night we respond within 15 minutes for lower priority calls. Losing your ID seems like the end of the world, but compared to people having heart attacks or getting fighting drunk it is considered Lower priority if your life isn't in danger.Inside the corridors are wide and bland. We don't have cells in the police station. Sometimes prisoners are brought here to be questioned and the corridors are wide enough to walk three abreast but most police work boils down to paperwork and report writing after the action is over. You don't see much of that on TV, tediously filling out times, addresses and phone numbers.The smell of fresh paint will linger for a couple of days but the fresh paint itself will look good for several years to come. This is my office with a huge plate window on the corridor so passing dignitaries can look in at the brains of the department, in a manner of speaking. Another reason to work nights: far fewer dignitaries in the building.I like to arrive about ten minutes before six and I like to be relieved around the same time in the morning though technically there is no obligation to be relieved before six o'clock straight up. We each have a locker in the kitchen: In mine I keep some snacks, some magazines and books in case I forget to bring any (most of my colleagues read fashion magazines and gossip rags rather than motorcycle or sailing magazines for light entertainment). I hung up a map of the Dry Tortugas which drifted to my locker in some inexplicable way. It reminds me of happy times camping. In the yellow bag I keep my dress shoes. Our dress code requires a uniform of a polo shirt embroidered with a police badge, dress pants and dress shoes. Only women can wear skirts though none do oddly enough.My Kevlar lined slider pants qualify as dress pants and I suppose no one would notice my motorcycle boots but they get a bit hot after a while.Noel has been relieved already by Jessica and he has changed into civvies for his bicycle ride home.Rachel hands over her position on the main police channel to Nelly......someone has to listen to the channel every second of every day in case an officer calls for help, so the changeover takes a matter of mili-seconds. Night shift settles in and we adjust the chair heights, open the blinds... ...and watch a rain squall wet the parking lot and Garrison Bight Marina across the Boulevard. I am on Channel Two tonight so I have six computer screens to monitor as I run arrest warrant checks on anyone the officers come in contact with. Jessica dispatches Fire and Rescue and shares phone answering with me. Administrative and 9-1-1 calls are all answered here. And so the three of us log in to our various screens as darkness starts to fall outside. It's weird how serene and peaceful this room gets sometimes in contrast to the moments of controlled chaos when we find ourselves asking people the oddest and most intimate questions.I am looking forward to a quiet night so I can get on with To Have And To Have Not, the community book reading project. However the department has my soul until six in the morning and if the night goes sour I could be run ragged for the next twelve hours with non stop warrant checks and phone calls. Keeping my fingers crossed...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Eating My Way To Work

Daylight savings time is how I like my commute, as it means leaving the house in broad daylight to go to work.5:10 pm and Indies Road is clear of traffic all the way to Highway One. The empty lot next to my house is for sale for $168,000 the last time I looked.Pretty soon the three quarters of mile of single lane road gets clogged with slow pokes in cages. I generally find it easier to pull off and trim my nails while I wait for the car to amble up to me.
Once out on the Highway I run up through the gearbox as I pass Boondocks, the open air fried food and beer emporium that is about the most famous place on Ramrod Key which is a mere blip in the roadway as tourists rush to the fleshpots at the end of the road. Ramrod is about two miles long and two miles wide so it doesn't take long to reach open water, crossed by the Niles Channel Bridge.The bridge rises 40 feet (12 meters) above mean high water and though that may not sound very tall it is the highest point between the Seven Mile Bridge and Key West.
Summerland Key spread out to the west of Niles Channel as seen from the top of the bridge. It may appear I was doing 60 in a 45 but it is an illusion, officer.
Key West is a pretty little collection of 19th century wooden homes; the rest of the Lower Keys are definitely not. Urban planning is a communist plot you see, designed to take away people's property rights so the sort of urban blight, lack of sidewalks and general derelict mayhem that characterizes Summerland Key is pretty much par for the course from Mile Marker 112 all the way to Old Town.Of course when you know that Ace Hardware is the best store of it's kind for hundreds of miles, and Slice of Paradise has the best pizza, and the Wharf superb fish sandwiches and organic beer and so forth, the pain of ugly streets is lifted somewhat. I am also told that the Galley in it's latest incarnation makes eggs Benedict to die for, so I shall probably feel obliged to check that out too. It would be nice as the Lower Keys need somewhere good for breakfast between Sugarloaf Lodge and...somewhere else. Square Grouper looks like a barn but looks are very deceiving. We celebrated a friend's graduation there last week which just confirmed what a surprisingly good place this is to throw money. (Yes Rob, I know it's pricey but I am an old fart so humor me).Mangrove Mama's is just past the Mile Marker 20. You'd think my commute is measured by eating establishments. I suppose it is really.This is the wilderness section of my commute, five miles of nothing but bridges and causeways (and Baby's Coffee if the loneliness of the highway starts to get to you). Why they are called the Saddlebunch Keys I couldn't say but they are a collection of innumerable unnamed islets, most of which are just clumps of mangroves.
And then, after the brief exhilaration of 55mph and several passing areas we are back to 45 and the urban agglomeration that is Big Coppitt. 24 Hour gas at the Shell station and Dion's chicken at the Mobil and a new and delicious Cuban Coffee Shop between the Mobil and Bobalu's Southern Café. More food for the weary traveler.And after Big Coppitt, Mile Marker Ten, the last five miles to Stock Island are on the Lower Keys' only semblance of a freeway, albeit held down to a staid 55 miles per hour, four lanes, a median and an actual on and off ramp at the Boca Chica Navy base. And then the Boca Chica Bridge onto Key Haven and Stock Island, the second-to-last look at open water.And on Stock Island, 23 miles from my home we are back in the land of intersections, traffic lights and pedestrians.
On North Roosevelt Boulevard the traffic thickens and as you can see it's 5:45pm, 35 minutes from home. I'm almost there. I've passed the last stretch of open water to my right and now it's city gridlock to the Police Station.1604 North Roosevelt Boulevard, my home from home for the next twelve hours. To the left is the fire station at 1600 North Roosevelt. The story that was told to me was the main fire station was built first and they got 1600, and then the police station came later on the side of the fire station but nobody wanted to change their letterhead so the police are at 1604 and instead of going up the numbers then dip to 1600 to accomodate the pre-existing fire station. A little known fact with which you can astonish your nerdy friends and win impressive bets.You'd think I'd be tired of the commute but Highway One, for some reason, never bores me.