Monday, September 19, 2011

Huh?

The parking attendant's booth struck me as funny with it's little hand scrawled sign. I wondered who might feel the urge to trespass in such a space but history came to my assistance.


When I lived in Santa Cruz California there was a besetting homeless problem which flourished in the relatively mild weather between a city council determined to be humane and a business community tearing it's hair out at the customer aggravation. Key West has much that is similar.

Like Key West, Santa Cruz had a real shortage of public toilets downtown. After the earthquake of 1989, centered in Santa Cruz county and utterly devastating to the city, the semi public bathrooms in the basement of the Cooper House got crushed and a local's refuge while out shopping was lost to time. In the end the city tried putting out Porta Potties for public relief.


I suppose it was inevitable but soon the Porta Loos became the refuges for the homeless. It was one of life's major frustrations to be downtown in Santa Cruz with the crushing need to go and find every single public toilet permanently occupied.

Looking back I have no clue how one dislodges a toilet resident who by the nature of the act is obscured from public view. But as I wondered at the energy and determination of the Hand Scrawled No Trespassing sign on the parking attendant's booth my amusement turned to sympathy.



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Sailing Home

The sun was starting to get close to the horizon at our backs, the horizon in front of us, to the east began to get that dark blue tint at sea level that tells a sailor that dusk will be upon the boat soon enough. Which sometimes is a good thing but not if the slow boat from Mexico is trying to make the anchorage before dark.


At sea the dark is a pleasure in the tropics, relief from the heat, fantastic light shows overhead with moon or stars but not both simultaneously as one cancels out the others, but my wife and I were tired of nights at sea after two years on the road. Most nights we had spent at anchor but most days sailing involved a night or two or three underway, taking turns on watch, sleeping with one dog or the other but not each other. My wife got dinner going and I took the first watch in the darkness then we'd eat together in the cabin of our catamaran keeping a nervous eye on the windows looking for signs of life and then she took the watch on deck while i washed up and went to sleep. She would wake me at some God awful hour and go to bed and I would sit up as long as I could hopefully till dawn when she would make breakfast, I would wash up and she would take the watch while I slept. I found the disjointed hours of life underway to be irritating and we had been sailing from Isla Mujeres for almost two weeks.


We were tired in general as we passed the Sand Key Light, shown here in a picture from Wikipedia, with the tiny nub of sand that the dogs looked at longingly. I did too thinking perhaps we should take a mooring and stop here for the night, seven miles from our destination. My wife said we should press on with daylight on our side.


It was the first dry land we had seen since we had left the north coast of Cuba thirty six hours previously. We were ready to stop but we had issues. Our three day crossing from Isla Mujeres to Key West had become a two week odyssey, interrupted a hundred miles from Key West by a storm that threatened to blow us more than 200 miles back to Mexico.

We took refuge inside the Cuban Reef and because we had planned to be back in the land of abundance within three days we took no perishable food with us from Isla Mujeres. American Customs are rather fussy about the importation of salad and apples and bananas. By the time we had drifted past the Sand Key outpost of uninhabited barren sand we were tired. We were tired of sailing adn keeping watch, of not having fresh food, of having to think all the damned time as every experience was new, we were tired of everything being complicated by language barriers and cultural weirdness,of not having anything be simple even for two Spanish speakers and travelers like ourselves. In some ways it may seem rather petulant to be fretting about voluntary isolation in a world made crowded by too many people but we had been traveling for a while we four and we were all tired. We wanted modern facilities and convenient modern life ashore, embarrassingly enough. Washing a salty Eugene Debs with a garden sprayer of fresh water after every beach excusrion at least twice a day got old for both of us.

It was a race with darkness, watching the sun set behind us, listening to the light breeze rustle the mainsail as the diesel burbled us forward at a speed a little faster than a brisk walk. The odd thing about making landfall is that you can be scouring the horizon for hours and after a long stretch on the water one tends to get antsy about confirming one's position so one keeps looking for the elusive first sight of land, in the manner of a member of Columbus's crew looking for a glimpse of the mythical Indies.

I spent altogether too much time standing on the deck under the weak and fading February sun looking for my first glimpse of Key West, our goal, more or less since we left San Francisco in the summer of 1998. I had friends and acquaintances in Key West and we hoped to stop and work for a while before setting off south again for a stint in the proper tropics of the West Indies where we had honeymooned six years previously. Our trip through the Panama Canal in the final months of US Administration had beset us with heat and humidity and we had enjoyed it. Cold was not on our list of to-dos.Key West held out the prospect of being a crossroads where travelers' tales could keep the dream alive we thought and keep us focused on further journeys. We had not been prepared for how tired we felt.


I was tired of fixing the boat in strange places. Even though the Gemini 105 is a light boat by most standards we had traveled well, and the boat, new in 1996 had kept us secure and dry through some terrible trials, tropical rain, horrendous waves and endless winds ancillary parts had a tendency to give up. I was an expert at disassembling and rebuilding the toilet, shit and all. The water maker was my essential companion. The lines and sails fell to my hands through force of habit, and the oil filter and fuel filters of the diesel a good deal less so. The boat was a home and an collection of pumps and engines and pipes and seals and crap that I needed to keep us going.


My wife had been cooking in a tiny space in the right hand hull. She made do with two burners, lamenting her six burner commercial stove in our home in Santa Cruz. The fridge, operated by propane gas was the size of two vegetable bins in our human sized fridge at home, and supplies came and went in ways that seemed more deliberately obtuse than random in our travels. We got used to buying what we saw when we saw it. We never assumed we would see it again tomorrow.She looks like Cheyenne but she was Emma, saved from the Santa Cruz SPCA and forced into a traveler's life that would have suited Cheyenne ironically enough but that Emma took up unwillingly to simply be with us.


We four, we happy band of travelers, exhausted, arrived in key West. It was Valentine's Day 2000.

Lazy Lazy Way

I live a schizophrenic life in some ways. On my days off I wander around enjoying the fresh air and sunshine, admiring the way the sales staff across town cope with the cheerful eager tourists and with my camera and inquisitive nature I hope to be mistaken for just one more visitor as I stroll and watch.


Then, when I ride in to work in my formal long pants and badged shirt I end up taking calls from the other side of the town, the side that is a good deal less cheerful, a lot darker and more angry and upset. It's like a whole other town from these happy tourists.


I had an armed robbery call the other night and the arrest was reported in the paper. Happily the dunce who held up the store did not seem to have a gun but he frightened me half to death as armed violence is rare and we had to worry that someone might get hurt. Domestic disputes are two a penny in a town that likes to drink too much, and every time officers go to these calls one has to wonder if anyone will get hurt. I find myself asking the same question over and over again. "Any weapons?" mostly the answer I type into the call is "No known weapons." and I hope that's true.


How is it possible I ask myself as the flood of misery spews out of the phone, how is it possible people can lose the plot so badly? The woman locked out of her house and trapped on the roof forced to ask a passing stranger to call for help? The man so drunk at home he calls convinced his roommate is dead, locked in his own room (he's not)? The tourists filled with panic in the lobby of their hotel, desperately seeking their stolen bicycle, found minutes later with all the joy of the Biblical prodigal son. How do you get so drunk you pass out on the sidewalk and a stranger stepping over you has to call 9-1-1 to get you help? It happens all the time and I feel bad for the freaked out tourists who think this is an unusual occurrence.


If Key West were a big city filled with menace and violence I doubt I could do the job of sending help all night long. The number of truly violent calls is far outnumbered by the idiotic and drunk and foolish. The lady with a vibrator stuck "down there" is comic relief after endless calls of pain and drink induced ranting. I'm not sure who was more embarrassed, she who had to face the paramedics I sent, or her boyfriend who had to make the call. Later another angry dunce thinks to intimidate me: "Do you know who I am?" Not if you won't tell me...Just doing my job is the relief valve that goes through my brain a dozen times a shift. To be a Police Dispatcher is to see that side of human nature that does not generate respect for the species as a whole.


I like walking Key West with my dog. It helps to forget the roommate who really did find his neighbor dead with his head blown off. I'm glad that was discovered on day shift. Suicide is easy as the song has it, perhaps in music, but in real life it does no good at all for those left behind.Even those of us merely on the periphery of death, enjoy a little quiet time in the streets of the prettiest town in America, to stop thinking about exactly what drives a human to end it all


Boring walks? Perhaps, but one can't have the relief without the trite, from time to time. Not every call is a crisis, but neither is every walk an exploration, but it is in fact an affirmation. Of
life. So there.

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Up With The Larks And Cheyenne

With all that potential moisture in the air sunrises have been fabulous this September, just take a look.


We stopped in the Saddlebunch Keys around Mile Marker 13 close to seven in the morning. Not least because I have discovered Cheyenne likes to walk the old bridges. They've been turned into fishing piers and my Labrador likes the smell of left over fish bait in the morning.


The rising sun produces a palette of colors like a painter bored with the usual strokes and suddenly every day it's some new wild psychedelic rainbow in the east. The sun drunk on dawn.


"And gentlemen in the Keys now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here..."

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