Thursday, October 27, 2011

Marine Dust Catchers

I was riding the back roads of the Upper Keys and I wanted to keep stopping because stuff caught my eye. On the other hand I wanted to get home because I was tired and hungry and my dog was waiting for me. But I am going to ride the highway one day stopping every time something catches my eye.

I did bring myself to a halt when I spotted the back of a dust catcher store that faces the highway somewhere around Mile Marker 85, as I recall.

They were bursting with stuff no home should be without.

There must be a vast black market in styrofoam buoys for those who care about such things. Imagine the commercial fishermen clad in white rubber boots shuffling by offering styrofoam globes "cheap" like the feelthy pictures of old.

It was a vast graveyard for shellfish of one sort or another.

And conch. of some sort?

I never cease to e amazed at what people will buy. I am a rotten consumer.

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Threats from Hurricane Rina seem to be fading and this year, unlike years past, city officials had the great good sense not to hype up the whole hurricane-death-drowning routine. This year they simply said they're keeping an eye on things and we shall see. At last word Rina was curling up and dying, very satisfactorily for Fantasy Fest goers.

You pays yer money you gets yer choice of places to view the parade Saturday night. I'll be dispatching well away from the loonies and the drinkers and the naked people.

Fantasy Fest is smart marketing as it doesn't much clash with traditional Lenten festivals and all that Mardi Gras stuff that's going on in the Spring. People come to Key West as winter is starting to close in Up North while down here a motorcycle makes a comfortable couch as a place to see...

...or to be seen. This ape hung, candy decorated "biker" was losing control of his jaw as he discovered his loud pipes were no match for exposed breasts in the Fantasy Zone. Suddenly he was no longer in Miami, man.

As the night progressed a person here and a person there became a flood of humanity rippling back forth like sea anemone in a tide pool. The crowd got so thick Lower Duval was closed to vehicles for much of the night.

For visitors it's all great fun, a special time to visit. For locals Fantasy Fest can get overwhelming. I had a slightly surreal conversation with a food delivery guy who you'd think would be excited by the influx of potential customers. Instead he was cursing up a storm about inconsiderate people and how they ruin everything for residents etc...etc...I wondered how his tips might be if he went around fulminating everywhere on his delivery scooter. I'd be grumpy too if he appeared at the door with my fish sandwich.

Traffic on the highway has been gnarly this week, with people driving like they are escaping a war zone. I have been cut off more times than I can count, run off the road and nearly obliterated like a bicycle in a Grand Prix. But it's all part of what goes on about now.

Sensible people take a vacation this week if they can't stand the event. Me? I'd rather have Thanksgiving week off for a short road trip and put up with the slight inconvenience of large freewheeling crowds spending money. At least it's not going directly to the banks.

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East Berlin By The Sea

Ocean Reef is closed to the public, the ultimate gated community, and sealed off to the outside world. It was no coincidence I crossed paths with a Rolls Royce leaving the club as I arrived by well worn Bonneville!

The tip of Key Largo has been sealed from the rest of the island chain and is connected by one road off Card Sound Road which is also known as County Road 905.

I was advised that if I wanted to attend the public meeting on the sacred ground I had to park my machine at Checkpoint Charlie, though they kindly offered me a ride in a club van. "What? No motorcycles?" I said. "That's sad..."
"They're too noisy," sniffed the lemon-sucking guard. Thus tarring my silent sewing machine with the same brush as the Harley pirates who revel in open pipes! Bummer. Cell phone service must be superb in the enclave.

Owners get shabby covered parking for their outlaw rides, and I felt sorry for them. It's no big deal but it is indicative of the tedium of life behind walls. I find it hugely ironic we spend billions to fence off Mexico while now allowing Mexican trucks to flood across the border while at the same time plans are being laid for another fence cutting us off from Canada. You just never know where the new Berlin Wall is going to pop up!

The meeting in the Cultural Center wrapped and I left on foot, anxious to get out of the discomfort of the manicured strait jacket that is this place.

Much is made of the absurd notion that a butterfly's wingbeat in the west may eventually produce a cyclone in the east, but chaos theory has a great underpinning of truth to it which is that advances in the human condition come in fits and starts and frequently by accident when we were looking the other way.

Unfortunately the animal imperatives of pleasure, avoidance of pain and minimization of effort lead us to fear chaos, with some justification. And we seek to impose order to avoid pain and effort.

The result inevitably is tedium. So boats, golf, tennis, cultural attractions and movies for communal viewing are all on tap for the sewing circles of the 21st century.

The problem is that we desire that which we don't have, and in our imagination life is perfect in a calm enclave surrounded by walls, provided with emergency back ups and guarded by private security and a million dollars-worth of Monroe County Sheriff's deputies! Theirs must be the most totally uninteresting assignment in the county. God knows they aren't needed anywhere else. But here the maintain a crime free zone.

Whoa! A rebel! Marlon Brando on a moped... Rockers are banned from Paradise but Mods apparently rule.

The sidewalk through the pruned and trimmed jungle was actually a golf cart autobahn and every few hundred yards Juan would pull up alongside and ask the striding eccentric if he needed a ride. Imagine the surprise when the white man smiled and replied in Spanish declining the kind offer. I endeavor to embrace effort in defiance of my animal nature.

I was brought up among the one percent and my mother, who died young, did not fail to impress upon me the need to be polite to the helpless. A lesson in manners that has gone the way of the dodo in this Brave New Century.

A friend came back from a visit to Canada and she was shocked by the pale uniformity of the residents of the Far North. I was surprised by her observations of the tedium of uniformity. Myself? I like uniformity at some level, diversity takes so much effort and where I enjoy stretching myself physically from time to time, being sociable is very hard for me.

If I could afford to live at Ocean Reef I could afford to buy isolation in the real world. To live surrounded by stifling rules as a palliative to the world outside seems appalling to me.

My friend wanted color and vibrancy and a little bit of chaos in Edmonton and her First Nation friend showed her segregation instead. The misery of segregation comes when it is forced, when it is used as social control. As long as we outside have sufficient means to live excluded from Ocean Reef who cares about the neatly clipped hedges and the private airport? However indifferent I am I dread the day when social inequality in the US leads to the view that this sort of dreary living is an unbearable privilege. That sort of chaos will bode nothing good for any of us.

My Bonneville was neither towed nor stolen- chaos kept at bay for more day.

That I found myself behind the Berlin Wall at the start of Fantasy Fest week in Key West and during the meetings that hold the future of Western Europe in the balance just added to my sense of irony. And my sense that anyone who feels the need to live apart guarded and cut off makes for the sort of leader recently pulled from a drainage pipe and murdered by the people he had until recently insisted loved and revered him. And just think: they are now going to get Sharia Law in Libya! Lucky them!

Ah, the freedom of the open road, untrammeled by gate passes, prohibitions and fear. Fear is a greatly overrated emotion. Long live the First Amendment.

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Naked Breasts And Classic Motorcycles

It's that time of year again when people take off their clothes and parade about on Duval Street.

And they do like the attention.

It's a money maker is Fantasy Fest, and they raise money for charity too but when the thing was founded three decades ago it was an effort to bring some life to a tourist town in dead season. This year they have succeeded beyond the usual measure, with the daftly named theme of Aquatic Afrolic .

They tell us there isn't a bed to be had in the city. Rates have dropped as have minimum stays so everything has sold out and Duval Street is packed as a result.

Body painting is the big deal this week. The rules are that genitalia must be covered by something more than paint. Women's breasts may be covered in paint only as long as they stay inside the "Fantasy Zone" which is Duval Street and the side streets to Whitehead and Simonton, but no further.

Painting must be carried out behind screens And for some reason men don't have to have their breasts covered as well which is too bad.

By the way sex acts in public are not allowed thank God. Last year a husband and wife went to jail, and very tearful they looked in their mug shots after she knelt before him in the middle of Greene Street in front of a cheering crowd and a police officer. Alcohol has a lot to answer for when it comes to public tastelessness.

I am no fan of costumes or public drunkeness but I accept Fantasy Fest as a necessary nuisance, in the spirit of funding the tourist industry upon which we all depend. Not that anybody asks my opinion or my permission.

Yesterday evening it was the turn of the Red Party, at Fogarty's, and that involves nothing as exciting as a hammer and sickle. I was at work so I was spared.

Red refers to the clothing requirement.

Or sunburn perhaps in the lack thereof.

On the whole Fantasy Fest is a few days of mostly middle aged naughtiness, and a time when peaceful gatherings across the country are getting gassed and shot with rubber bullets, Key West as usual is a model of moderation.

Silliness is on display alongside the nudity and overt sexuality.

Though nudes expect to be photographed. So one obliges.

I rather like the practical combination of grass skirt, tastefully pastied chest, handbag and reading glasses, with an iPhone the ready. She was prepared for all eventualities.

This week pay attention to signage as locals have permission sometimes that visitors don't. And if that seems unfair remember someone has to haul all the stuff in for visitors to consume.

Skateboarding is illegal on Duval but youth and beauty fully dressed and serene somehow seems rather less illegal than some of the legal nudity. And by the way men in women's clothing is nothing to get worried about. Around here it's quite normal, unfortunately.

But a parallel twin from 1967 with 6500 miles on a machine handed down to the owner by his grandfather. That's quite different. The owner's landlord saw me admiring it and he filled me in on the details as clearly he was used to passersby asking about it. "Lovely," I breathed. "Much nicer than breasts," I said before I could stop myself.
"Oh yes," he said smiling.
"Well," I defended myself, "I happen to be straight. Not necessarily by choice no matter what they say."

"Never mind," he laughed, but it's true I did enjoy the Honda far from the madding crowds. And whatever else it is it's something other than a Harley, or a breast, just for a change.

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Derelict Boaters

The sacred right of people on boats to do as they please in Florida waters is a going to be curtailed, if a new pilot program works out.

The sanctuary advisory committee got a presentation of the proposals Tuesday at the Cultural Center at Ocean Reef, about as far North as you can go and still be in the Keys. The audience was out-attended by about 48 professionals to one member of the public (moi). The three dozen committee members sat around the central table while staff and reporters typed busily on laptops in the outer orbit of the vast chamber.

The County Marine Resources Director, Rich Jones, last survivor standing of a department that got decimated in a recent "restructuring" made the presentation. He said the state wants to regulate non live aboard vessels and is asking the Fish and Wildlife Commission (the former Marine Patrol) to do it. When asked why the program isn't going to be county wide Jones looked nonplussed for a moment noting it's hard to enact a whole bunch of new regulations when there's only one person to do it. So for now it will be tested in three Monroe County locations as well as two east coast and two west coast anchorages around Florida.

The idea apparently is to encourage responsible boaters, per state definition, and not allow irresponsible boaters to anchor out, thus to discourage spreading sewage and dumping of wrecked craft in coastal waters. It sounds easy enough, if expensive, but the devil is always in the details of lawmaking.
The state wants the trial program underway by next year and evaluated by 2014 but some of the simpler tasks seem elusive.

So to start with: every single boat in the three proposed anchorages has been checked and photographed and classified as liveaboard, transient or stored. That was amazing to consider how much work went into the study.

Boca Chica Basin has been discovered by people seeking cheap accommodations as a secure anchorage not too far from Key West and the population in the anchorage is stable around 85 boats with very few transient visitors. The pilot program is extremely keen to regulate Boca Chica and it's hovelcraft. Boot Key in Marathon is another area under consideration through the pilot program, as is one Upper Key anchorage of which I am not familiar.

The old white men, most with beards oddly enough, (so I fit right in,) listened with rapt attention to the fast paced and very informative presentation. Jones did an excellent job.

Everything has been mapped and classified and photographed in the anchorages however some definitions got stuck. "Floating structures" currently are unregulated and don't have to carry state registration stickers. That caused an outburst from the head of the Sanctuary who went on and on about his blood being made to boil by scum who don't pay taxes.

Happily he was put in his place by a mild mannered (bearded) respondent who noted the tax evading scum do pay certain taxes and do the grunt work in the Keys and couldn't afford to live here were it not for boats. A point of view that I was surprised to see informed much of the debate that excluded the reactionary walrus.

A platform with a leaf roof would be illegal unless it were properly anchored with legal ground tackle. However many of these hovelcraft are anchored on illegal d├ębris, cement filled engine blocks frequently. The county spent far too much money removing these abandoned boats last year: more they said than the widely quoted $273,000.

The broad outline is this: in future boats will most have to pass Auxiliary Coastguard inspections and wear a sticker. These voluntary programs have been in effect for years and are very basic, simple and easy to implement, and it's not hard to get a boat in compliance with lights and safety gear. Then a pump out service will be provided to suck sewage out of the boats' tanks for a reasonable cost, around $5 a visit maybe. That will yield another sticker. Those stickers and use of proper anchors will allow boats to live in these pilot program anchorages. Obviously the idea is to spread these requirements all round Florida. At this level they seem non intrusive, sensible and environmentally desirable. If the head of the sanctuary gets his way they will be used to eliminate tax evading scum...and therein lies the danger.

It really doesn't seem that arduous to me but change comes hard and there has been lots of yelling and moaning from people who think shitting in the water is defensible. Of course it is for those of us who live in homes with septic tanks until they finally get sewers installed the length of the Keys. That may be postponed till 2020 in the hope that public funding will come available. And we know that ship has long since sailed...

The 45 minute talk was rational and as clear as possible in light of the lack of definitions so far.

And clearly these rules are just a start. Unfortunately we are returning to a 20th century atmosphere where demonizing those who are different is once again fashionable and the attendees were obviously aware of the dangers. A lot of middle class white people started their lives in the Keys by living aboard and those that had made themselves known at the meeting prefacing their remarks by saying "I lived aboard..."

The FWC is also starting a new program checking boats to see if they are 'at risk' of becoming derelicts. All these changes are going to alter the freewheeling nature of living on a boat.

I spent more than a decade living on a boat in marinas and at anchor. I met a lot of people who said they had a God given right to do as they wish. In the future they are going to have to move to somewhere pretty remote to live like that and I don't think may of these so called sailors have the knowledge or the skill or the boats to cross the Gulf Stream in search of the fountain of freedom to anchor and pollute. They'd better learn how to pass a safety inspection if they plan to stay in Florida, land of unregulated development and pill mills and plastic surgery. And soon, very regulated anchoring.

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