Sunday, June 5, 2011

Land And Sea

Sugarloaf Boulevard looks like an endless highway even though it's only a few miles to US One to the north. And with the well developed mangroves to left and right it also looks like a forest road though it's actually surrounded by flooding mud flats. The ocean is never far away in the Lower Keys and with a small amount of exploration one can usually find a water view from some vantage point or another, even in the heavily wooded tracts.
Indeed American Shoal lighthouse, visible on the horizon on a windy afternoon marks the outer edge of the coral reef to the south of Hawk's Channel. The water between here and there averages something less than twenty feet deep. It's not far away either, perhaps 15 minutes by boat, obviously depending on the speed of the vessel.It's the tranquil juxtaposition of sea and land that makes the Keys so interesting to me. Every view I pause to enjoy mixes land and water in ways that are rarely seen. When I lived on the West Coast the crashing of waves on a rocky headland was always the object of celebration, the swirling of tide pools and the violence of surf on the central California coast was considered the height of natural beauty. I like flat waters, small islands and a coastline that blends the two.

Whalton At Casa Marina

The lushness of the Casa Marina district in Key West has to be seen to be believed. Sometimes visitors are surprised to learn that Key West has distinct neighbors even though the whole city fits in an oval two miles by four, but it does. Casa Marina is the wealthy neighborhood, in the area around the Casa Marina Resort on Reynolds and Seminole. That was the destination hotel built by Flagler a hundred years ago to house travelers on his railroad. He built similar hotels in Palm Beach and St Augustine for the snowbirds of his time.Like most better neighborhoods in any city it has a lot of trees and greenery to complement the fancy homes. If you need thousands of square feet and a proper yard and covered off street parking this is where you look to buy. I've never really understood why public landscaping is a prerogative of the rich, I look at public housing complexes in Key West and they all look like they could do with banana palms and perhaps a few fruit trees mixed in with some hardy gumbo limbos, buttonwoods and West Indian almond trees. Instead the buildings sit in the baking sun like forgotten Lego bricks in a sea of crab grass. The funny thing about Key West is that fancy and funky are only separated by feet, sometimes a roadway and occasionally a fence. These homes overlook Higgs Park to the south.The park is home to a few families enjoying a picnic, a few athletes playing sports and a great many of the winter bum population who descend on the city in large numbers when the cold hits Up North.Everyone, no matter how high the wall or big the yard, ends up living cheek by jowl in Key West.
Buyer beware.

Garrison Bight

There is something in the air and whatever it is makes no sense to me. The city is bathed in white winter light, the skies are blue and devoid of clouds most of the day, the sun shines as though it were a crisp winter day. Garrison Bight off North Roosevelt looked lovely in this wintry light.That it was 91 degrees was offset by the fearsome Spring winds still blowing across the islands, as though it were March and not June. In the Caribbean strong winter winds are called the Christmas Trades as traditionally they blow like snot around the time of the Redeemer's Birthday, but in the Keys spring is the season for windiness. Except this year when rain is nowhere to be seen, except for a few sporadic sprinkles, and wind is everywhere and very strong. The economic Depression is being felt to some modest degree in Key West. there are tons of bank owned homes for sale yet a fixer upper in New town can still command $300,000 if there are any qualified buyers out there and any banks willing to lend money to ordinary people. Failing that it is now much easier to live on a boat in the city. For years it seemed as the economy bubbled and boomed that living on a boat in a marina was slipping out of the reach of the ordinary run of mortals. The situation is now reversed:And because summer is supposedly upon us, no matter how strong the wind or how cool the sea water, hotel rooms and parking are both available. Rent a room on the water if you feel like it, enjoy a vacation and bring lots of tie downs because the wind just won't stop blowing it seems.

A Key West Arrival

There is a sign at the entrance to Key West placed there a couple of years ago after a couple of centuries of neglect. Years ago my wife was in line at Publix in Searstown and overheard an anxious tourist ask an employee if it was many more miles to Key West. It was then we realized, as the Chamber of Commerce did a few years later, that there was no sign marking the entrance to the city. There is now and it is only partially obscured by road signage and only slightly awkward to pose in front of as it is thoughtfully stuck plumb in the middle of four lanes of very busy traffic.Some fearsomely intrepid visitors plunge through the traffic to get their pictures taken in the median strip at the Triangle.
The triangle is the point where US Highway One bifurcates as the right turn takes cars along bumpy old North Roosevelt Boulevard to Publix and other strip malls. The left turn lanes take cars and motorcycles south to the airport and Smathers Beach. When I am early to work this is the way I come:Stuck in the car wondering how nice it must be to be riding a motorcycle, one is always reminded of the magnificence of Key West's location when one takes South Roosevelt into town. The large buildings are Key West By The Sea condos, pink in color and made of cement as military housing originally and widely believed to be hurricane proof as a result.
Taking the long view this is quite the approach road to the city:To the right runs the Bridle Path (sometimes hilariously misspelled Bridal) which is where people used to...walk their horses (or their brides I suppose). Nowadays parking is prohibited in this convenient dog walking spot owing to the profusion of people who chose to sleep and fornicate in their vehicles in the bushes overnight. Visitors sometimes assume the copious No Parking signs don't apply to them, with tragic results.
They love to call dispatch and warn us that they will never ever return to Key West because of a $35 ticket for failing to obey city rules. Then they go to Duval Street and drown their sorrows with seven dollar beers and so it goes. People really are weird.I console myself by riding my motorcycle and taking pleasure from others doing the same when I am hauling my dog in my car.

Littering Sugarloaf

I left Cheyenne with the boys on Sugarloaf while I went to work and my wife had a girls weekend at a spa on a contest ticket she won, which you'd think means my girls were having fun and I wasn't. I had a good time at work actually and we had a few laughs coping with incipient disaster all night. No one died and a wife beater went to jail so all in all it was a good night at work. By the time the dawn came up I was ready to go home and have a weekend off, and luckily Cheyenne was glad to see me. She has such a good time with Wayne and Chuck I worry she'll forget me.In winter Sugarloaf Boulevard looks like Grand Central Station with elderly snowbirds parading up and down in running gear and cycling helmets and high visibility clothing, like an army of road menders on the move. In summer they're all gone, their empty houses are still here paying lots of lovely property taxes and Cheyenne and I had the run of the Loop Road. And a fat load of good it did me. I was looking forward to watching the sun come up from the bridge half a mile in but Cheyenne had other plans. She had me groveling around filling a plastic bag with her used dinner and then she stood there and looked at me.That look from my elderly Labrador says this is is as far as she goes. She held the pose long enough for me to fiddle with the camera and take the picture, then she turned and stumped back to the car.She paused briefly to see what was what and then she marched to the car and stood outside the passenger door ready to go home. It occurs to me to wonder if anyone ever has been fined for littering because there sure were a lot of beer cans in the bushes. An absolute fortune in fines. In the seven years I've worked in dispatch at Key West PD I can only remember one traffic stop initiated for littering. I cheered, to my eternal shame because getting a ticket is a massive annoyance, this I know, but littering is somehow worse to me than a lot of moving violations. It is a deliberate and well considered act.As ugly as the mangroves are to some people with all their gnarled twisted trunks and scrubby undergrowth I quite like these woods. A tourist friendly non native coconut palm is okay too.