Thursday, September 30, 2010

Scotch Mist

Tropical Storm Nicole is moving east following the preferred hurricane route this year of aiming toward Bermuda. Lucky them, even though this one appears to be fading fast.I woke early after a night spent sitting up doing not much at all at work. There were a few calls for people sleeping on porches, drunks and vagrants presumably who hoped not to get spotted as the rain came drumming down from time to time. Life in Old Town Key West is one unpleasant adventure after another. It seems if you aren't rowing over parking or loud parties with your neighbors you stand an excellent chance of having your bicycle or your garden furniture stolen or even of having someone decide to use your porch as a bedroom. I get a jaundiced view of life in police dispatch.After breakfast Cheyenne looked at me as though it was time for a walk. Great, thought I, this is one of those days that being owned by a dog is a total pain in the ass. We set out for Big Pine Key, a place where perhaps we could find a not too flooded street to walk.As I turned onto Highway One it was obvious the forecast of north winds had been supplanted by actual east winds which were blowing a solid wall of rain at us. I turned north onto Middle Torch Key to see if we could snatch a walk before the impending downpour. Wikipedia has a nice description of the term Scotch Mist: The term given to a light, steady drizzle, the name being typical of the Scottish penchant for understatement. Loathe though I am to offer up definitions, I could not describe it better myself. I am not fond of rain and I was not enjoying Cheyenne's bathroom stroll. All this and a bag of warm dog shit to carry around...She was enjoying finding the exact right spot. For some reason this cormorant decided we were invading his space and he seemed to think it was a better option to flap off into the teeth of the storm.In the back of my mind I have this romantic notion that perhaps a cold winter storm or a snowfall or a blizzard or something might be fun at least for a short while, simply as a change from a bland diet of warm or warmer. I read a couple of Alaska blogs in my web list and I marvel at how people in the Arctic Circle flens bloody animals while dressed in clothing so heavy no one in Key West would own such an outfit, far less wear one. They smile contentedly at the camera, collars open as though enjoying a brisk summer day at the beach. The countryside more closely resembles a fluffed white bed sheet than anything I would remotely consider to be proper land and dirt and plants. "Hmm, " I think to myself, "I could manage that, I know I could." Then I find myself stepping out into an 80 degree afternoon with horizontal slashing rain and I wonder why my dog can't spend an afternoon curled up with me and a book.
Claustrophobia is not something I think about much but when the great outdoors is reduced to a wall of water and blackened skies I find myself getting antsy.
We drove to the end of the road on Big Torch, some eight miles from Highway One and found a momentary respite from the rain which had yet to catch up to us. We walked in the bushes and pretended it was just another day in the Lower Keys. Bored youngsters had spread electric colored graffiti on the barrier at the end of the road and had drilled rubber doughnut holes into the asphalt. We were alone with the wind and the patter of drizzle on the leaves and the cawing of some miserable bird lamenting it's fate in a raucous drone across the bushes. It felt like the end of the world.
Wet and droopy we got back in the car.
Really, Tropical Storm Nicole, all of 35 miles per hour was a total bust. We had some sunshine before dark with the promise of more warm rain for another twenty four hours. I must be a terrible weather pansy.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Middle Torch Afternoon

I am sniffing out Autumn in the Florida Keys. Mind you, I'm not actually finding it yet. Temperatures are hovering around 90 degrees mid afternoon, though all the hurricane activity in the Atlantic and off Mexico is producing nice breezes, which blow away the humidity. However the sun, as Chuck pointed out, is lower in the sky and has changed the quality of the light.Thus it is Cheyenne and I are starting to look at longer walks in the woods, places we haven't seen since last Spring. MTK on the light pole stands for Middle Torch Key. Torch wood is some kind of hardwood that apparently burns nicely but I would know what a torch wood looked like if you hit me over the head with it. This street at the north end of Middle Torch Key and is a backwater of a backwater. It has just a few houses and they aren't all packed with people. Check out these serious and proper hurricane shutters. Let the wind blow and the coconuts fly! By the way storm season doesn't officially end until November so there's plenty of time for me for a hurricane to come by and force me to pull ours out. Just to make this little street perfect the opposite side to the homes is no longer open to development. This sign is Uncle Sam muscling in and outlawing free market destruction of the mangroves. Sell them off and pay off the national debt I say! Bloody government. That would be the same government that maintains a pretty nice road around here for everyone to use. Private enterprise did put up this rather nice wall.The paved street ended and we found ourselves in a sylvan paradise. I ambled, Cheyenne ran back and forth sniffing madly. God was in his heaven, and all's right with the world. The thing about these trails is that they are shaded but they are also protected from the cooling breezes. In winter that's great as a poor shrivelled up resident needs cover from the cold north winds. This time of year a breeze is nice.
Paved road above.
Dirt road below.
Jungle, Keys style.
The funny thing is, I used to dread winters in California, the damp, the rain, the mud. Here winter is just a different season, enjoyable in it's way.

Even if it's too cold to swim in winter it's just right for getting lost in the mangroves. Cheyenne doesn't know it yet, but in a few weeks the suffocating heat of summer will be gone and she will be ready to walk a lot further...I am getting ready myself for less swimming and more walking.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tropical Storm Warning

157 PM EDT TUE SEP 28 2010


It's nice to think that being as how it's almost October that hurricane season would be finished. In fact hurricane season lasts, officially all the way through November and this is the height of the season for South Florida. Welcome Tropical Depression 16 to the Florida Keys and a tropical storm warning issued by the weather people. That means we should expect strong winds and lots of rain in the next thirty six hours. I think I will take the car to work tonight...
The National Hurricane Center in Miami is currently plotting the center of the course farther east of us, but we are still going to get wind and rain. Like we haven't had enough with just the regular summer downpours.The sky has been getting darker and rain has been slashing the side of the house so I suppose we are on our way. My preparations have been minimal, amounting to getting the laundry in and moving the motorcycle and the Vespa out of the way of any wind driven rain. 35 mile per hour winds are nothing to write home about, especially if the center of the storm moves across the Bahamas and into the Atlantic. There is always a chance that these things will suddenly develop and become a serious threat to land but the mountains of the Sierra Maestra in Cuba provide a nice buffer to break the storm's strength.It's odd and rather pleasant how the active hurricane season has produced lots of storms that have all tracked either toward Bermuda or toward Mexico. That this depression is failing to follow the format precisely is rather annoying. Rain and wind. Nice if that's all we get for the next two months.

Closed Eateries

It's been a while now but Key West no longer numbers Taco Bell among it's fast food eateries. I never did bother to note it's passing, largely because I am not fond of the food. However some of my colleagues in Police Dispatch mourned the loss of "Taco Hell" as they called it.I acknowledge that residents can't be eating specialty foods in expensive restaurants all the time so let me say I would be bereft if Miami Subs and Outback were to close, among other inexpensive eateries. Taco Bell? Hell no. The fact that it has stayed unoccupied for so long is not a good thing.When Belen came back from her most recent trip to Cuba she brought her brother-in-law a gift up to Dispatch as we exchanged shifts. Belen has permission from the Treasury department to visit her relatives on the island, the one we white people can't visit legally until President Obama buttons up his courage and opens travel up for everybody. (Can you tell I am resentful?). What on earth, I wondered, did she bring Noel from Cuba? Noel visited his relatives a few years ago and still shudders at the memory of his one and only trip. "Mud huts and outhouses" he mumbles still awed by the poverty he could so easily have been born into, as he fires up his kindle for another night in dispatch. The gift itself wasn't that interesting- it was a bottle of salad  dressing from The Olive Garden in Miami. Lots of islanders crave an Olive Garden in Key West, and Noel loves the dressing: "I bathe in it!". Islanders might also start craving fresh doughnuts. The one doughnut chain couldn't survive without illegal immigrant labor and they got shut down once too often. Now it's going to be pizza. More pizza. I remember the old Key West Diner next to the doughnut shop. It used to serve an all you can eat breakfast buffet that kept me feeling full all day while I was out on the water captaining boats. It's been closed for ages. I think Wilma did this place in around 2005. I like the plaster pineapples on the roof.Given that these places have been closed for a while one might wonder what prompted me to put this essay together now. My favorite barbecue place has gone, that's why. Mad Dawgz at Mile Marker 21 on Cudjoe Key has gone and left behind a few weeds and some good memories. The signs are still there.The last I heard they were planning summer music to pull people in but I guess it was too slow to keep them going. Quelle drag.The other closure just half a mile down the Overseas Highway surprised me even more. Coco's Cantina has been a staple on Cudjoe for a long time but they too are gone.
Their menu was eclectic, mostly Cuban with occasional Nicaraguan or Thai thrown in as the staff came and went.
Now Coco's is an empty building and a pile of junk piled up in the parking lot by someone who apparently had to clear the building in a rush.
I wasn't a regular there but the food was okay and the take out Thai food was great while it lasted. My wife is very fond of Thai food. Mostly though they served Cuban meals.Now the door is barred and the lock drilled out. I guess the closure was sudden and perhaps not friendly.Happily the Sugarloaf Food Company is only closed for vacation.
I suppose a slow economy makes everything harder for small business though I can't say of course if the economy is the reason for the closures. Sometimes it's just time to close. Which is shame. I will really miss the barbecue.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Downtown Stock Island

There is a touch of irony involved in associating "downtown" with "Stock Island" in the title of this essay. The heart of the place pulses twenty four hours a day right here:The fact is that Stock Island can be reduced to a stereotype as easily as anywhere, and in light of the fact that it is the poorer, more run down neighbor, first island in line up the Keys from trendy Key West, the stereotyping is likely to be negative.Stock Island is and always has been since Key West was founded that island that existed to serve the county seat. In 1828 they put cattle on Stock Island and the herds gave the place it's name. There was no road, no railway, no airport and the smugglers and millionaires and working people wanted meat when they could afford it. So they kept their cows on the hoof here and slaughtered them on Rest Beach as needed.The pictures I took of this central area of Stock Island reflect the reality I see when I pass through there from time to time. It's place of what I am pleased to call light industry, that is to say this is where you come to get a scooter (or car) fixed, to hire a technician or get something fabricated.Some people come to pray at the Key West Baptist Temple, in it's own way a cathedral of order in a sea of chaos. The fact that it is called Key West and not Stock Island reflects the reality that the city next door dominates the tenor of life here. Residents on this island have the postal code that is served out of the main Key West Post Office, so for many residents that "Key West" address means they live in the city. When they call for police service they are inclined to say they live in Key West, which they don't, they live in unincorporated Monroe County which is served by the Sheriff.
Houses here sold for more than half a million dollars during the madness of the boom years. They don't any more.Like most places in Monroe County zoning laws are best exemplified by their lack of consistency, if one wants to be polite. A lot of people like the urban chaos of no sidewalks, no landscaping and an agglomeration of commercial and residential in an untidy heap.
I appreciate, more than many incomers, the ability one has to be left alone around here to live one's life. I am caught though by my preference for order over chaos. I'd like to see sidewalks and trash cans and a good deal less garbage in the streets.I hear this argument over the rather untidy front Big Pine Key presents to passers-by on the Overseas Highway at Mile Marker 30. Lots of people speak up loudly against gentrification, arguing landscaping will attract people who are better served by the rigid rules of life in Key West. Big Pine is reserved for non conformists and people content to live away from the demands of a tourist economy.Stock Island at Mile Markers Six and Five makes almost no pretense at siphoning tourist money from Key West.Stock Island had been facing massive redevelopment as money multiplied on Key West real estate and this was the obvious next market. This worker housing and small business refuge was on the verge of extinction.Maps were drawn up and published in the newspaper showing vast tracts of this land concentrated into a few developer's hands. I guess the plans are still there, and the owners still own the plans and the land.So far our failing economy has killed off redevelopment, or gentrification of Stock Island.I am actually happy about that but I doubt it will last. Cheyenne was sniffing around and suddenly jerked back as though electrified! She had been startled by the sight of two sleepers under a sea grape tree. You certainly don't have to leave Key West to see people sleeping in public places.Stock Island is an entirely residential community in the sense that people raise families here, and when they aren't here they can most likely be found working in restaurants and hotels and government jobs in Key West. This is, in a sense, a bedroom community for the "metropolis" next door.Some people are pleased to think there are youth gangs in these islands. There are youngsters that form groups, typically the Stock Rockers from around here versus the Village Boys from Bahama Village. However these aren't gangs in the big city sense. There are no fights, no weapons no big scenes.The worst that can be said is that illegal rooster fighting takes place around here. I have seen youngsters on scooters riding around clutching recently captured street roosters, birds that face getting their coxcombs burnt off and being put out to fight to the death in "secret" rings.Some might argue cock fighting is Cuban cultural thing, even though it is outlawed and it certainly offends my tidy bourgeois sensibilities. Kids here have the opportunity as do youngsters do in Key West, of living relatively free lives of bicycles and boats. From a distance it seems an idyllic way to grow up.100 percent financing? Have we learned absolutely nothing at all? Trailer parks cover much of this part of Stock Island, the ultimate in low income housing for the workers. Palm trees supposedly beautify anything. The hardest thing about living in trailers is the absolute need to evacuate for a hurricane.
West Marine, the California boating supply chain, saw fit to muscle in and set up a shop here. There is one in Key Largo, one in Marathon and one on Caroline Street in Key West in addition to this one.Like Wal Mart West Marine has the capacity to drive smaller Mom and Pop stores out of business. Is there enough recreational boating left to support even this chain store?While the tourist attractiveness is low there are a couple of reasons visitors brave the working class neighborhood.Cheyenne loved sniffing around the base of the trailers, a pass time that was less amusing for me. However I did spot this cat lounging on a cold air conditioning duct in the 90 degree afternoon. It was so comfortable that even Cheyenne, peacefully rooting around three feet away was not reason enough to move.Need aluminum work?
Or fiberglass work?
Or hydraulic hose work?If your car gets towed from Key West it could end up here. There is a lot of activity on Stock Island.
And some inactivity too.
The Tom Thumb may not be everyone's idea of a place to watch the world go by, but sooner or later it seems everyone who needs something done might have a reason to come by and be seen here. Stock Island is after all where I bring my motorcycle for service from time to time at Jiri's shop nearby.