Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hiding In The Shrubbery

The reality of a the worst drought in 80 years is that we are enjoying perfect weather.
When I say "perfect" I mean weather that feels perfect to someone used to living in the tropics. Anyone used to April in Chicago stepping off a plane in South Florida might find the heat sudden and oppressive but for someone used to, and perhaps dreading the endless heat and humidity of August and September these days of clean crisp sunshine, dry heat and a cooling breeze makes the weather perfect.I lived through a prolonged drought in California in the 1980s and I unabashedly loved every minute of it. Drought in Santa Cruz meant winters were short and mild, it meant motorcycle commuting was comfortable for longer and summers were hotter and less foggy. I reveled in the drought.Drought in South Florida is not quite the same thing. Rains here are dramatic interludes in summer days and nights. Rain comes and goes and doesn't hang around, usually, as a form of endless drizzle. Rain refreshes and restores life to trees whose leaves are drooping. Rain is welcome.Cheyennes answer to the drought is plonk herself down in the shade and rest frequently. Standing admiring the views on Royal Street I heard my dog rustle and disappear. She found dried leaves and deep shade under one of the tropical palms that seem drought resistant in the extreme where deciduous trees are dropping their leaves prematurely.
Cheyenne's biggest annoyance at the drought is the lack of muddy pools to wallow in. Bad for her, good for me, her designated bath attendant.

Truman Waterfront

If you were to park yourself on a street corner in Key West to watch the world go by not too much time later, you would see pretty much every car and scooter on the island go by. It's hard to convince people who live on the mainland that life in the Lower Keys really is different, aside from the obvious tourist-attracting behavior, not least because there are not many people and even less land. It wasn't three weeks ago I took a picture of Baron Samedi riding his bicycle n Whitehead Street and here he was napping under a ficus tree on Truman Annex. Had he not been asleep I might have been tempted to try to start a conversation with him. As it was this little bird tried to start a conversation first with Cheyenne and when the dog got tired of getting dive bombed and came to me for protection the bird (a noisy jay perhaps?) started in on me. I figured maybe we were encroaching on a nest or something so Cheyenne and I backed the car up but it was no good. we were told in no uncertain terms we had to leave. So we did.Things are coming to a pretty pass when even the wildlife is getting stressed out and aggressive. The thing is the recent census issued preliminary numbers showing Monroe County, alone among Florida's 67 counties lost population. The State is up to almost 20 million people, but Monroe County has lost about ten percent of it's population and we're down to 73,000. The good news is that unemployment is ridiculously low here, less than seven percent.The bad news is that's because when people lose their jobs they tend to leave town and head north, Ocala and North Carolina being the preferred destinations, if not a relative's couch somewhere.Mind you, if there are that many fewer people in the county that just means you'd have to spend less time sitting on the street corner waiting for them all to pass you by.

The Things People Do

On my walks around town I find it important not to forget to look up from time to time, rather in the manner of the hero in a horror movie who forgets to check the rafters for the lurking monster, clearly visible to the riled up audience. In my more prosaic world, looking up yields pretty views.There have been a few rain showers lately, enough to refresh momentarily but not enough to really soak the soil. I am looking forward to dramatic dark summer afternoons of wind and sudden heavy downpours. I will probably regret saying that by the time they arrive.I like to disguise myself in a brightly colored shirt as a tourist, not easy to do when walking a large dog very much at home on the streets of the Southernmost City. These are not disguised persons, they are genuine visitors enjoying a Key West Diary view of the city:Looking down Ann Street I saw a solitary plastic beer glass sitting ion the middle of the road. I started to have a Victor Meldrew Moment muttering to myself "I don't believe it," but of course I did believe it even though it was early afternoon. I suppose in the grand scheme of things a misplaced glass of beer is no big deal.Nevertheless I could not help but ask myself, how the devil did it get forgotten there of all places?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Big Pine Key

Though there is not much land and not too many streets in these islands of the Lower Keys, finding names to use for streets taxes the capacities of some people who abandon the bright and simple for the esoteric.Harbor Lights? What harbor lights? Though strangely named I like how this street, which is a gravel road at best, is also split in two by a wooded island right down the middle. >Cheyenne found a trail through the mangroves with a home made bridge carefully placed across a gambusia mosquito canal. Naturally my dog no longer constrained by a life of petty bourgeois boredom had to explore and tumble into the muddy filthy trench. I turned Cheyenne back as I could a roof;line through the bushes ahead and clearly the trail went somewhere. We contented ourselves with inspecting these weathered and artistic roots.It was a lovely warm afternoon, once again, and Cheyenne retired to the bushes for some shade bathing while I looked around and enjoyed the serenity.
I have lived on dirt roads before now and hope not to have to ever again, though we read of jurisdictions Up North especially in the Great Plains that are opting to turn costly asphalt roads into gravel to save money in the short term. Locally road maintenance turns to the weird to make travel more comfortable. I'll bet it's not everyday you find coconut husks doubling as road fill. I know I don't.I hope this isn't a metaphor for our straitened times.

Whitehead Street

There is a majesty and grandeur to Key West streets at night. It astonishes me how the city transforms itself after dark into something more than the sum of it's daytime parts.I could not stand to live in these well trafficked tourist areas of Old Town, the expensive desirable parts of old Key West, the source of musical noise and loud people staggering. The homes look quite majestic by night and one can see how a visitor might fall in love with this neighborhood, forgetting the realities of day to day life.It is often said that South Florida isn't part of the stereotypical south, a comment prompted by anti migrant feelings no doubt as city slickers took up retirement in Miami, and later Key West. While it's true that the ebb and flow of migrants has given the southeast of Florida it's own cosmopolitan flavor, it is also true that this is The South. One hint of the Southernness of the place comes from looking at the public architecture. The court house at 500 Whitehead Street is as southern as all get out, the beautiful colonnades, the bricks, the clock tower. It's pure In The Heat of the Night which could itself be construed as a cliche...Many years ago sitting on a beach in Nicaragua contemplating my future an American friend sitting next to me sucking down Tonya beer (Como Tonya no hay dos- Nothing Like a Tonya was the advertising slogan I still can't get out of my head) presented me with the paradox of my life. "You crave Northern orderliness in a Southern climate" he said, with a blindingly clear perceptive shaft of light into my troubled psyche. It did not occur to me I might find that, after a fashion, in the Southernmost City. Maybe I did. Or more likely old age allowed me to drop my excessively rigid social control issues.I think Key West offers enough orderliness to make life relatively easy, even though there is clearly a hierarchy of people who own the top jobs and maintain a close grip on the levers of power. There was a period when too much money was flowing through the city, the late 90s and early 21 st century was one of those periods and outsiders sometimes managed to weasel their way in, owing to a sudden series of job openings across town. Those openings have slammed shut with the economic retreat we are in. Consolidation is now the name of the game. Federal and State subsidies and grants are drying up, salaries face shrinkage and positions are starting to be cut. I don't anticipate the economy getting any better either and I wonder how tensions will rise in this isolated little town.

I saw incredible stress and solidarity after Hurricane Wilma gave the Lower Keys the shellacking of a generation. I'd like to think that as the economy shrinks, and prices rise we will be able to weather the difficulties as a community. 41 teachers face layoffs this next school year, but the cafeteria workers who protested absurd privatization plans pushed those plans away with community backing. Those state jobs with proper pay and benefits were saved. when the privatization sharks saw community solidarity.I feel lucky to face the ongoing Recession/Depression down here. And I hope our excellent public utilities keep the water and the electrons flowing.

A Dog's View

Sitting on a street corner letting my dog catch her breath I was enjoying a spot of shade myself watching the world go by. And then this dude comes streaking through all properly dressed for serious cycling. I could hardly believe my eyes, a late migrating snowbird perhaps.This next cyclist is more the sort of speed and attire I expect. This picture I took from a dog's eye view, near ground level. On the whole I prefer seeing the world from a few feet up in the air.Key West gets it's water from the South Florida aquifer, a pot of water that has many municipal straws sticking into it. And among the millions across South Florida who rely on it to feed their faucets the 73,000 Keys residents are literally a drop in an aquifer. We better get hoping for an active rainy season this year (rain, please note, not hurricanes) or else watering plants never mind ourselves, will become problematic. I read the other day that Saudi Arabia has dried up the single aquifer that fed it's irrigation system to grow wheat in the desert, an idea of grotesquely unreal proportions. Any way, because it doesn't rain much they have gone from being self sufficient in wheat to now importing wheat to feed 30 million Saudis. Just one more reason food prices are jumping up.I am glad there are people willing and able to grow ornamental inedible flowers and leaves like these. Beauty still has it's place in the Southernmost City.
I feel as though I should know how to fish. Millions come down here to chase fish and it seems like the least I could do. I keep promising myself I will learn, as a way to catch food, but chasing fish bores me, catching them horrifies me and cleaning them is just downright gross. I grew up on a farm and I have seen animals slaughtered and chopped up. I prefer someone else should do it for me, which does not bode well for me after industrialized society collapses, but until then...

Unconsidered Trifles

If it were the name of the lane it would be perfect; it is instead an instruction for desperate parkers who will block driveways with almost no provocation. The chair just happened to be there, perhaps for the comfort of the parking overseer.Drought or no the banana leaves are as abundant as ever. They droop over the sidewalks like shade umbrellas.The poinciana are blooming more and more brightly every day. It seems early to me but my notion that they should appear in June is doubtless all wrong.
It's a funny time of year, about now when the Keys settle in to a phony war type of calm. The snowbirds have left, schools aren't out yet and all we have left are a bunch of Germans all over Key West for some reason. It may be that as the dollar loses value and the Euro gets stronger (higher interest rates rule! paradoxically) the Germans are the only Europeans left standing with an economy so before they get dragged down by Spain Portugal Ireland and Italy they are taking a few trips. Where better than the Fabulous Florida Keys? Be that as it may all I hear on Duval Street these days is guttural Teutonic mumblings.Of course Cheyenne leads the way until she runs out of puff, luckily next to the bench outside Café Sole where we watched the world go by for a while.

In Key West we are back to living in the calm before the summer invasion of foreigners and families. Further afield one has to wonder what economic numbers will be pulled from the magic Federal Reserve hat as China sells it's dollars and Saudi Arabia facing increasing "unrest" at home. Wayne always says, with glee that we live in interesting times. I am not quite so gleeful.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Elgin Lane Musings

I have decided I want geraniums. I saw these lovely red potted plants and remembered growing up with a mother who loved geraniums. She also liked them because on hot Italian summer afternoons she liked to leave windows and doors open and she believed they keep snakes away.I wasn't expecting to see geraniums on Elgin Lane but there they were. I also was not expecting to see a poster calling for an end to new oil wells in the US. It's a nice idea but what do we replace oil with? I guess we feel the same about nukes right now but there again, where else do we get electricity? At the moment renewables don't seem ready to step up and take the place of what we have. As witnessed by the vehicle parked in the driveway of the home with the poster.I don't think of a V-8 Toyota Tundra pick up as being a fuel efficient vehicle.I keep hoping solar and wind will do more but apparently it's tough to run a grid with power sources that fluctuate wildly in their output. using corn to replace oil for gasoline is horribly inefficient and is driving up the cost of food causing Third World starvation. The choices seem neither easy nor obvious to me. This next sign always brings a chuckle to my gay buddy Noel."They got that right!" he said with a chortle when I showed him a photo of a crocheted doily with the same message I found in a country store in Georgia. I noticed a net carefully placed over a pool under construction. It would never have occurred to me but no doubt someone somewhere would take the opportunity to fall in were it not properly covered.And a little further on from the pool, around the corner I passed this splendid tub, headed to it's mew home in the back of a pick up.This goes a long way to explaining why I prefer showers to tubs. Modern tubs have none of the style or inherent comfort of a hip bath like this. Nostalgia extends to more than just vehicles.

Mudhole Simplicity

Cheyenne has given up the struggle to stay clean and when the outdoor temperature hit 90 degrees this week the search for outdoor refrigeration was on.I wonder how we would live in the Florida Keys without modern conveniences, for instance suppose we abandon nuclear energy and power went out for long periods every day. How would we cope? Like Cheyenne probably who was subjected to a twenty minute outdoor shower to remove the crusty gray mud from her fur. She seemed to enjoy, for a change, the stream of cold cistern water as I rubbed the mud out of her fur followed by a vigorous towelling and a systematic brushing.So let's suppose we have to make do without cheap abundant energy, the air conditioning only works some of the time and supermarket shelves have only a quarter the choices they groan under today...would we all go nuts or would we be
capable of appreciating the new simplicity? Would a brisk cool shower chill us enough that we'd not miss the a/c? Could we learn to stand in line for the bus instead of leaping in our cars on a whim?I know Cheyenne appreciates the chill of the house but she makes do when we are out stumping along under the baking Florida sun and plunks herself down in the shade.

I figure in the drive to simplify we can learn a lot from the patience and good will of our dogs.

Dey Street

I never noticed the back of that large white lump on Caroline Street, until they opened up the space that was Jabours Trailer Park. I wonder how tall that building is? Viewed from Dey Street at Elizabeth.It's been a while since I heard the joke about the sailor sick of the sea who takes off marching inland with an oar over his shoulder. "What's that for?" asks his buddy as they make their good-byes. "I'm going to carry it inland until I meet someone who asks me what it is. That's where I'm going to settle down," replies the sailor. The oar pictured below didn't travel far from tidal waters, about one and a half blocks.I've noticed a few elderly VWs around town this week and here is another one, roof down chugging happily along. For one brief fleeting moment I rather thought that looked good enough to be desirable.There are some really lovely homes in Key West and I'm glad they are preserved for posterity.I read a comment in the Citizen's Voice this week, part of the ongoing rabble rousing about "low quality" tourism in Key West. One indignant comment came from a visitor who said they liked to come to Key West not for the music the drinking or the stuff to do, but simply to ride around on bicycles and look at the beauty. From time to time one gets to remember the value of doing just that.

Not So Hurricane Season

The news from states across the South is uniformly appalling. Dozens are reported dead thanks to tornadoes across several states most notably Alabama. Tuscaloosa has suffered major damage and the tornadoes don't seem to be appeased.I find it astonishing that last night severe tornado watch remained in effect across Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia. It is inconceivable to me that so many people have died and so much destruction has taken place. The descriptions of these storms is apocalyptic with reports of huge thunderous black clouds obliterating the horizon even as they spawn deadly twisters. It's all the language of excess, hundreds injured etc... and yet words seem inadequate. It is appalling.We keep following reports of drought or foul weather, rain and floods, slides and forest fires (every county in Texas had a wild fire at one point) and it all seems too much to simply prove a point. We were talking at work last night about the weirdness of living in Key West, a place outsiders automatically associate with hurricanes - "You live in Key West? How do you deal with hurricanes?" is always how the conversation starts out- and yet it is worth noting that in 2004 and 2005, both terrible years for storms, not one person died in the Lower Keys thanks to the weather. Not one.
It is hugely ironic methinks that people like to dismiss the Keys as a secure place to live because of hurricane season, which starts in June and ends in November, even as the rest of the country suffers one natural misfortune after another. Tornadoes may be ripping Alabama apart but down here the weather is lovely. And not only that but the Key West Songwriter's festival is underway through this weekend at assorted venues around town. I get tired of a lot of the events dreamed up to keep tourism alive, but this one, were I not working, I would like. If in town it's worth checking out. In that vein the Conch Republic Independence celebrations are lumbering on this week with a parade on Duval tonight and the famous sea battle tomorrow and the drinking good cheer and other stuff through the weekend. Much better to be here in good company than Up North getting the crap beaten out of you by that nasty unpredictable weather. What a paradox.

Tornado Images from Huffington Post.