Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Flagler Avenue

It's the alternative road into Key West and I have started using it again to come to work. Flagler Avenue is not as crowded during commute hours as North Roosevelt but a line will form at the light on South Roosevelt between 5 and 6 in the evening. Flagler Avenue is a four lane road that cuts across Key West's New Town neighborhood from the edge of town all the way to White Street. It is not terribly picturesque and this not well known to visitors but Flagler Avenue is a useful street, especially in summer. Coming into town for my night shift it's a lightly trafficked street with not too many traffic lights which makes it a much easier ride than North Roosevelt Boulevard. Flagler has it's quirks and it's decorative touches though the homes are definitely modern ranch style on proper sized lots. The High School, home of the Fighting Conchs: Once Flagler crosses First/Bertha Streets it becomes a two lane street and the city recently put in sidewalks much to some people's consternation. That was a whole other story:

Niles Channel

I check out if any cars are parked at the east end of the Niles Channel bridge as I come down off the 40-foot high crown of the bridge. If there are no cars there I frequently will stop, pop Cheyenne out for a quick walk while I wander the old Flagler Bridge and maybe take a few pictures.In this picture below the view is looking west, toward Summerland Key and distant Key West, the taller new (1982) bridge rises above the old (1910) Flagler Bridge which has been converted to a fishing pier with a break in the middle. A cormorant drying off it's feathers. I read somewhere these birds dive up to 70 miles an hour when they hit the surface pursuing underwater prey. i guess they earn a little time to sunbathe in between fishing expeditions. Every time I ride across the bridge I notice this trim ketch at anchor, after dark it has a bright anchor light, and frequently I see a dinghy at the stern which seems to indicate someone lives here.
Summerland Key on the west side of Niles Channel.

On the east side is a much smaller island, a mile long on the road to Big Pine Key.And out there the indefatigable Cheyenne rooting around ever hopeful seeking out unconsidered trifles abandoned by our formerly affluent society.

Lobster Pots 3

It's a dog's life, sleeping, eating and going walking. Cheyenne never had it this good in a past life before she was unceremoniously dumped at the SPCA on Stock Island.The Wharf Restaurant on Summerland Key seems to be doing a land sale business even as winter tourism drops off. There are always lots of cars in their lot. Cheyenne took her ease for a while watching traffic on Highway One. I read the newspaper as she shade bathed. She is a funny dog because going for a walk is her way of injecting some interest into her day. It does not necessarily mean actually moving during the hottest part of the day during the hottest part of the year. In the morning when I get home and the sun has yet to come up she is quite frisky and this time of year gets longer walks, no matter how tired I am. However when lunch time comes and goes she is programmed to want a walk so off we go. And then she sits after a short stroll in the heat.
And when we get home she flops, panting, on the bamboo floor slowly subsiding into a rip snorting, snoring sleep.
On the ride home i stopped on the bridge and took a rather poor shot of distant lobster pots doing their job in a strong tide. All that hammering and painting and tying floats to drop the whole mess in the water and hope a lobster walks in and eats the decaying chicken bait inside. What a strange way to earn a living.

Lobster Pots 2

Walking along Summerland Key with Cheyenne I was moved to contemplate the life of a lobster catcher. I grew up surrounded by agriculture and I learned first hand how a way of life as stark as farming is a life that one either loves or hates. I hated it it.

In the Keys farming was never very profitable even as people tried to grow winter fruits and vegetables, crops that are mass produced around Homestead and Immokalee on the mainland.

Fishing is still one of the mainstays of the local economy, that and tourism and government/military expenditures. Sometimes the economies cross and a lobster pot can be converted into a tourist souvenir, like a mailbox stand.
It is one of the great pleasures of living here that properly fresh seafood is never too far away. I told my wife about this place newly refurbished and opened after years of languishing, an abandoned building. With fishing boats pulling up in the canal behind it the fish can hardly be anything but fresh. On Stock island the owner of a well known fishhouse and restaurant has pleaded guilty to charges of buying fish from rogue, unlicensed fishermen. The settlemen with the Feds was announced in the paper with a fine of $500,000 and a program of education for the staff at the Rusty Anchor. The tone of the settlement as announced made it sound as though a bunch of uninformed staff had gone on a buying spree taking fish from unlicensed fishermen.
In the Keys lifting someone else's lobster pot can get you a ten thousand dollar fine and banishment from the community of decent and right thinking people. The problem had gotten so severe fishermen recruited volunteer pilots to fly sorties to try to spot people illegally lifting their pots. That programn was successful because the community supported the fishermen protecting their livelihoods. When you see the work it takes to go lobstering you wonder who would want to eat at a restaurant that bought illegal fish?

Lobster Pots 1

It may come as something of a surprise but lobster catching is an artisanal occupation that requires the hand manufacture of lobster pots and a lot of hard work on land before ever the boat puts to sea.To be a commercial lobster fisherman you have to first hand build your pots (after you get your permits and licenses and stuff).In the winter you'll see groups of wizened men, many of them Cubans, clustered around work benches wielding hammers and tacks putting together little strips of two inch pieces of wood.Commercially built pots, often purchased by recreational trappers are made of plastic but even they need work. Wayne made some to go crabbing as described here:

All over the place you'll see piles of these pots stacked and waiting for lobster season, from August to March.

In the Keys, commercial fishing is like farming elsewhere, seasonal, demanding and hard work but for which there is no substitute for people who do this line of work.