Monday, May 31, 2010

Stadium By Night

When NPR's Morning Edition runs a story telling everyone housing is affordable in Key West, you get the idea that perhaps that as little as Conchs may know about the world outside, the rest of the country doesn't really have a clue about daily living in the Keys.The story goes that housing is cheap enough ordinary people can afford to buy. "Ordinary people" in this context are people who depend on paychecks to pay their bills, which in Key West tends to make them extraordinary. Stadium Trailer Park is one of four trailer parks in Key West that provide sort of affordable housing in the city limits.Stadium apartments resemble nothing quite so much as emergency military housing erected to meet an immediate need, but because this is Key West a temporary shelter has a tendency to become permanent by some form of economic osmosis it is difficult to classify.Like so many communities that are desirable as vacation centers the credit boom of recent memory persuaded a great many people they too could afford to actually own a house in the Keys, land of American Title Companies, English as one of the major languages (Cuban-Spanish and Creole not far behind with Uzbek coming in stronger all the time) and the US dollar for currency. Why buy in Antigua or Belize or even Costa Rica when you can have sunshine all winter and have the ability to read the newspaper in the local language?So the trailers have become more or less affordable in a town that has done a remarkable amount for people who need shelter. key West has everything, from free air conditioned tent dormitories on Stock Island known as KOTS- Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter, which is as temporary as any other accommodations, to acres of public housing scattered around town including conversion of military housing deeded to the city notably at Poinciana Housing and years ago George Allen apartments off First Street.
Stadium is the largest trailer park, with I'd guess a hundred and fifty lots on it, judging by the numbers assigned to the trailers/ It is a community unto itself and you would be wrong to think this is anything other than a community of working people. People who think they want to move to Key West often wonder if there are good or bad neighborhoods and they call the Police Department to ask. I tell them in Key West it's all down to your neighbors, this is a city with trailers on lots next to multi million dollar homes and the size of one's income doesn't measure how nice a neighbor you will be.For some people the biggest disadvantage of a trailer is that it is patently unsafe to sit out a hurricane in one. The most severe damage from hurricanes tends to come from tornadoes embedded in the storm and everyone knows that 200 mile-an-hour winds cause damage. They wipe trailers and their residents out completely. Live in a trailer and prepare to evacuate, to a friend's more solid apartment or ride the city provided buses to shelters on the mainland. The picture above shows Glynn Archer Drive heading north toward North Roosevelt Boulevard. Glynn Archer is known in Key West as 14th Street, it's old name, which is just one of those confusions that lurk everywhere in the Southernmost City to trip up newcomers. On the left there used to be Poinciana Elementary School which was replaced by the "new" school across the ball park on Kennedy Drive (13th Street, as was though nobody calls it that!). All that's left of the old school are the bus shelters, Dali-esque roofs eccentrically covering the sidewalk.The school zone is long gone.
A trailer makes an affordable home in a town where 1200 square foot cottages were routinely selling for $700,000 dollars. Even today to find an "affordable" home through a short sale or a bank repo you have to plan to plunk down at least a quarter million for a fixer upper and if that is affordable I think the term once again needs to be re-defined. Remember too that homes in Key West don't always come with the amenities you might expect. I have seen homes with no foundations, with sketchy roof-to-wall connections, no insulation is normal, even in this heat and bedrooms are the size of closets. Double glazed windows? Ha! Central air? Not likely! A garden? Maybe... and off street parking? Only for full price, please. The office below is a concrete block structure on the edge of the park which stretches all the way behind Publix and Sears to the north and the park goes east toward Mariner's Cove on Northside Drive. Mariner's Cove was an apartment building designed to be affordable for people connected to making their living from the sea, though whether it still is I couldn't say.I guess trailers here are pretty much like trailers everywhere else, rows and rows of them and as usual not too many trees in a working a person's neighborhood.This trailer was for sale for $12,000 though that doesn't buy the land on the lot which costs several hundred dollars a month to rent. Hope the neighbors are easy to get along with if you buy.
Stadium is almost a town within a town and it takes police officers ages to learn where the various trailers are. Most have numbers, some have letters and a few have double letters to mark their lots. It is a warren.This is Northside Drive along the northern edge of the park looking toward Sears and Publix on the left. Not everyone lives in a wooden 19th century house in Key West. If you want a tourist free home this is the place to come.
For thoughts on the economy this Memorial Day Weekend:

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Night Crawling

I like to walk some nights during my lunch break and to do that I prefer the south shore of the island. I am not supposed to leave the city during my breaks which is no hardship as there is a fine sidewalk along South Roosevelt Boulevard for joggers, cyclists and midnight walkers. Summer nights here are quite lovely with a black sky overhead, black water alongside and not much traffic at all. This Harley Sportster lives out here, the wheels no doubt of a boater living in Cow Key Channel, which is the waterway separating Key West from Stock Island.riepe, who likes to call me CS either because he can't spell Conchscooter or because it is an effort to insult me, takes pleasure in looking for motorcycle riders who have bigger problems than he does,which is not easy. However Key West is home to many elderly vehicles and tired tourist wagons which like to regurgitate oil on the streets. Park a motorcycle on it, and if it isn't a BMW riepe thinks it leaks oil.
I am no great fan of using the flash. Here's why:When I'm not walking South Roosevelt and photographing my Bonneville, sometimes I walk the White Street Pier and watch the homeless nap and the anglers dangle their lines. This place on the other hand attracts not too many people doing things. This is a place for humans being, not humans doing. Walk, look, listen and enjoy the silence.
In a few hours photographers will have their tripods up and pointed east, walkers will be walking and joggers will be running and all that goodness. This half hour is mine, and I like it very much.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Three Dollar Gas

The paradox of driving the car to the beach and wondering how long before these scenes are smeared with oil did not escape me. I took Cheyenne to her favorite beach on the southern shores of Big Pine Key and we did some beach combing. She with her nose, me with the camera. There are certain features of life in this sub tropical paradise that take adaptation, including the frequent presence of seaweed on the beaches. Not that beaches in these limestone islands in any way resemble the long sandy strands of mainland Florida, a different geologic world altogether.Cheyenne is no water dog, in her former life, before the SPCA, I doubt she was walked, much less introduced to the joys of the water but she loves looking for things to eat in the rotting piles of seaweed. It is a fragile coastline this, in a place where land is available in only modest pieces and water permeates the landscape at every turn.There are no hills in the Keys and a large island is one that measures perhaps five miles (8 kms)across. Tides flood and rains flood too and as we go into rainy season huge tracts of dry land will become puddles of wet mud and brown water. Houses are built on stilts as though to emphasize the transient nature of human habitation on these specks of limestone rock. I try to imagine how I shall feel if/when these watery rocks, or rocky waters are smeared irrevocably with the orange and brown sludge currently swamping a hundred miles of Louisiana's permeable coast. My non color coordinated pink crocs are functional footwear around here and I wear them out in daily use tramping my dog on slivers of land that hover between air and water. And even though everyone knows the waters of the Keys were cleaner and crisper and more beautiful 30 years ago than they are now (as the old timers drearily drone on) I still find it hard to credit that I live where the boundary between land and sea is hard to spot. My crocs are on dry land next to water, though who can tell for sure from this picture?I had the great good fortune to hear Nancy Klingener's Under the Sun commentary on WLRN yesterday. She used to edit Solares Hill until she quit and went to work at the college library. One can hardly blame her for seeking money and benefits, but still I think about her every Sunday when I open up the paper and wonder what she would have thought to include in the weekly magazine. She was one of those who saw things from an angle not previously seen, which seems like a wasted talent in a library as compared to an editor's chair. Her commentary on the radio reflected on the general sense of gloom and sick anticipation that permeates people's minds as they wait for a hurricane to hit, and how similar this feeling of helplessness is as we wait for the oil to arrive. I saw wildlife people on the beach taking measurements and talking on the phone and doing God knows what else.I usually never see anybody here on a weekday afternoon during the hot rainy season we have embarked upon. But there they were "preparing" to meet the oil. Their disturbance of my stroll seemed emblematic of the future we face when/if oil lands. Everyone will be booming (incorrectly if you watched the video in this space earlier) and organizing and absorbing and the peace and quiet will be gone.
Klingener remarked on the unusual level of helplessness we all feel in the face of civil disaster approaching, unstoppable. Faced with a hurricane we try to increase the odds by putting up shutters and tucking our possessions away "somewhere safe" but faced with a deluge of oil all we can do is wonder what the hell happens next.One wonders how the economy will do when mangroves suffocate and tourists don't want to come to just drink and look at museums in Key West.One wonders where the pleasure will be in walking the dog on a sulphurous beach or going for a swim in oily waters.
Who will come to fish or dive? Do we all need to start thinking about alternative plans? Does a ghost town need a police department? Will parents leave and take their children someplace more salubrious? Will we need schools at all?
After Wilma in 2005 tons of people left. The flooding and fear shook the desire to live in the Keys right out of them. We got talks at work about how to cope with stress, and outbursts of anger were treated with compassion and a gathering round to help colleagues cope with endless lists of losses of things of value, of security, of certainty.
What is there to stay for in the Keys if this is gone, perhaps forever, perhaps just for decades?
We curse British Petroleum for not being able or willing to take every precaution to prevent this, and we wonder why the US Government, having learned nothing from the non response to Katrina in New Orleans seems so absent here as well. Not to mention absent in the field of regulation and oversight, but we also have to take responsibility ourselves as citizens who demand oil.I want clean water and a decent job but I also want a gallon of gas at less than three dollars please. Right now I'd pay ten bucks a gallon to put all that oil and gas back into the earth's crust and never hear the name Deepwater Horizon again. But the cost of endless supplies of fuel are being revealed starkly to us all. Drilling continues under the world's oceans because that is where the oil is. It's hard to get to and expensive but the easy drilling seems to be done, in large measure. That's what's meant by Peak Oil by those that understand the concept, coined decades ago and derided ever since then by "smart people." Those are the people who think cheap energy is forever, and pristine beaches and waterlines too.There is no rule in the universe that says oceans have to be clean and livable. We can foul them up anytime we want. We have that capacity. We don't have the capacity to keep drilling for oil and producing more in places where it can be retrieved easily and out of sight. Saudi Arabia's deserts have yielded for decades and they are tired even if Saudi Aramco says Ghawar can produce for years to come. Cantarell field in Mexico's Gulf has shrunk from two million barrels a day to 700,000 and if that comes as a surprise to you, you haven't been paying attention. I'll bet you know how many women Tiger Woods has slept with though, and Tiger Wood can't stop these birds from drowning in oil.So, in the end do we drill baby drill or not? And if not what do we do next to keep our cars and air conditioners going? I keep hearing people say "I'm no tree hugger, but..." Well perhaps it's time to embrace environmentalism as a sustainable way to live, not to reject it as "un American." There's nothing particularly patriotic about wrecking this:
I have a dream that the post Peak Oil world will actually better and more livable than the crazy pursuit of consumerism that has animated my neighbors for decades. I hope mindfulness and a rejection of the "70 percent of the economy is consuming" mentality can go out the window and be replaced with a decent home gown, home supported way of life. I wouldn't actually mind not spending another life or another dollar to blow up Afghanistan, if it comes down to it. I'd like President Wilson back, sans the racism, but with his refusal to get enmeshed in other nation's madness. We have plenty to do at home with lots of people to do it. I haven't honestly got a clue how that can happen, so I greatly fear that a spiral of rising prices, unemployment, and corporate lying is our future portion and as long as we can't imagine a world where hugging trees is actually the sensible thing to do, then all this is at risk of evaporating before our very eyes. And we, the "consumers" demanding cheap everything, lots of it and NOW will have to shoulder our share of the blame for the greed and stupidity and unregulated rape of every single thing that isn't nailed down and dead. I lay claim to this gumbo limbo, an act about as sensible as laying claim to owning the ocean floor, BP.

Come on down, bring your camping gear and enjoy the ocean.

The water's lovely.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Key West Mobility

Part of my recent wanderings put a variety of vehicles in front of my camera lense. You will notice this jeep with the absurd horns (oh cuckold!) has rain on the hood, which rain has also been part of my photography of a few days ago. There are a few days I wish I lived in Key West just to save myself the 40 minute travel time it takes me to get home on Ramrod Key. Mostly I am glad to leave the city behind, enjoy a winding drive across the sea and land in the quiet backwater that is my street at Mile Marker 27. If I did live in Key West I would demand expensive off street parking preferably covered, like this:We gave a dinner party for a friend who is retiring from the school district to take up a job at an American school in the south of France. And when Phillip made his goodbyes standing on the deck alongside my house he looked up at the star studded sky and listened to the night sounds and he was filled with wonder at the peacefulness of my suburban island neighborhood. While living in the Keys he has only ever lived in Key West proper, and yes it is more convenient, but if you don't mind driving, living in the outlying islands, especially on a canal with a boat at your dock, is much better. I have a small canal house surrounded by full grown coconut palms but I do not employ a gardener to clear my debris, which these trees produce at a prodigious rate, year round.My neighbors on Ramrod Key all drive proper sensible vehicles, monochrome paint jobs with all windows and doors secure. The same bourgeois conformity does not apply in Key West where bizarre paint jobs are the order of the day and doors are frequently optional extras for cars. I return to the theme of off street parking in this next picture. I have only the vaguest idea how some people can shut up their winter homes, park their winter cars and leave them out all summer in the heat humidity and rain. Yet people manage to do just that and return in December expecting the cars to run. This car has a cover, though whether it is in frequent use during the summer, or if it is a snowbird vehicle I couldn't say. As you can see every inch of space gets used. This cyclist on Eaton Street caught my eye with his shirt matching the flower bed. He just needed orange crocs to complete the ensemble. I like his heavy black functional bicycle. I think they are sold by a relatively new bicycle shop on Stock Island.
There is a new bakery in town on Eaton Street in a little wooden Conch cottage that ironically enough used to house Colez Peace bakery. When Cole's Dad sold the business and left town the bakery survived just briefly then the building became an Art Gallery whose name I found more than a little ironic: Poison. Poison became an inconvenience store and now it is once more bakery. I need to try it as the current incarnation of Colez peace is as part of the Restaurant Store up the street and competition I'm sure will serve the city well. Besides, bakeries are a sign of a civilized city.Looking down the street toward the west I saw this throw back to another era rumbling up.The bath tub VWs used to be quite popular when I lived in Santa Cruz, California, home, at the time, to the dwindling supply of air cooled VWs in the 1980s. This guy was riding down Eaton most nonchalantly one handed talking on his phone with the phone on speaker. Faced with a cascade of oncoming traffic he turned onto the sidewalk (which is legal in Florida) and kept on pedaling and talking. A better cyclist than I, Gunga Din.Is it possible three divers drowned at once? I qualified to dive many years ago but it is not a sport that appealed to me much with all it's paraphernalia and time charts and nitrogen intake and all the rest. I prefer to snorkel. This next is a classic Key West scooter, a middle aged man using his machine as basic transportation to get around town. If more Americans took this up as a daily practice imagine how much less fuel we'd burn and how much less clogged our streets would be.These are not the sneakers of a local resident, and even if it is not apparent to you, it is to me.Indeed this nice couple was looking to rent bicycles and the young employee at Eaton Bikes took them on a quick tour of their options and gave them a thorough explanation of their choices in potential rides. he was friendly and competent enough I felt like renting one from him, except Cheyenne wouldn't much like me riding if she had to walk.I have been seeing a lot of kayaks on car carriers lately and I figure this must be some fashionable move in parts of the country that pay attention to fashion. It seems like every second visitor has a canoe or a kayak on top of their vehicle.My wife wants to get a kayak but I am of the opinion that if God had wanted us to paddle she'd not have given us outboards. On the subject of small engines the Yamaha dealer on the Boulevard is doing a land sale business selling genuine scooters. Key West is suddenly bulging with Buddys of all different shades and hues. And this vicious looking machine is sold by Genuine too, a Black Cat.
This next car, a Smartfortwo had a smart ass sign in the rear window except it is in Italian which makes it cute I suppose. Judge for yourself, it reads "The dog is good but beware my wife!"Chill Key West indeed, if you have a private income or a pension; otherwise work three jobs and leave the island time to visitors. I feel lucky to hold one job and have the opportunity for overtime.And here is the most feared and fearsome set of wheels on the island. The five-miles-per-hour Conch Train equipped with loud speakers and the same old spiel over and over again. Along with off street parking I would make sure any street I wanted to buy a house on would not be part of the train or trolley routes.
Getting stuck behind the train is an exercise in patience and learning to...chill, Key West style.Cheyenne does that very well, curled up on the back seat in between numerous walks.Hey homie! I wanted to shout. Vato! Que pasa? But I remembered I wasn't in California and figured he is just an artiste of the ink.North Roosevelt Boulevard looks enticing thanks to the water but it's getting hot these days and infernal combustion is a lot easier than walking.
Not to mention working in the heat. I like my night shifts up in dispatch, even when the elderly air conditioning at the Police Station takes a dump and we have to run fans all night. My work place is still quite luxurious.
And so home on my favorite stretch of roadway, the endlessly interesting Highway One.It's called The Overseas Highway because it is more or less a causeway joining the several islands, and it makes for a splendid commute, especially if like me you ride against the traffic in the evening and in the morning and everyone else is going the opposite way.