Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Hallows

It's not surprising Key West worships the holiday of Halloween, with it's mask and costumes and the mere pretense of danger and risk. One can dress up and abandon the daily dreary self and become a "wench" with sexuality to spare, whether or not one actually has that randy gene in one's make up, or a witch with the promise of evil thoughts and deeds to animate the socially proper weeks ahead. That this day precedes the Christian holiday celebrating the Saints, the favored interlocutors with God, has absolutely no bearing at all on the need to get dressed up and look absurd. Offices, banks and even my dispatch center permit or encourage employees to wear whatever employees want and one isn't supposed to bat an eyelid if the bank teller looks like this:

Personally I don't think Kermit's key lime stuff is enhanced by the statuary but it would be churlish to reject the modern concept of Halloween simply on the grounds it's childish. Growing up in Europe the notion that Saturnalia could be indulged by adults seemed preposterous. The Roman Festival of Saturn was created at a time when the empire had slaves and Saturn was the god of abundance and a mythical era equivalent to our Garden of Eden. The holiday saw roles reversed throughout Roman society with owners waiting on slaves and street parties and so forth. It was celebrated around the winter Solstice and came to be adapted apparently as Christmas. However the Pagan Samhain -summer's end - festival became supposedly Halloween, the night before All Saints Day. And this somehow devolved into a kind of modern Saturnalia where adults take on the role of children and prance around looking silly.

I take this stuff too personally I guess. It annoys me that I was born on Halloween and it becomes one of those socially awkward occasions when people ask me what am I going to go as, as though I were going anywhere dressed as anyone other than myself. Happily this year Keith needed Wednesday night off and I made the supreme sacrifice and agreed to work my birthday so he will owe me big time at some future date. So I will go to work in street clothes heavily disguised as a Key West Tourist. That I may be required to answer 911 calls alongside witches and goblins is just one of the trials of the day for me.

In Key West, a town with run of the mill radio stations heard anywhere in the US, a town where Caribbean music, old fashioned ska or soca or modern reggae which trips up on the doorstep of rap (unfortunately) is almost never heard unless it is socially acceptable Marley "revolutionary anthems" of decades ago, this is the town that throws winter decorations on a tropical tree and calls it good. The need to disguise oneself spills over into the need to disguise one's life as well. The fact that we live far south of the cold north that lent us these wintry traditions seems to encourage people to go over the top in celebrating the Nordic Pagan holiday.

Me? I celebrate living well away from the Nordic climate that gave us Christmas trees and snowflakes and burning Yule tide logs and all the other Victorian nonsense of a season of frigid cold and gorgeous hymns made crappy by modern "interpretation" and electronic organs. The worst of Halloween is that it unleashes another frenzied season of compulsive shopping, and even though shoppers across the Keys lament the absence of choice in stores in these islands, the need to spend money on gifts neither asked for nor sought makes itself felt. It used to be we held off marketing Christmas until Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday for which I am off work this year and plan to keep it that way. Now my birthday marks the end of summer and the beginning of frenzy and were it possible I would have it some other way. The good news is I can manage to avoid it all and so can you, if you choose. I'm 55 today and the world around me makes less sense than ever, and I wonder what my late mother was thinking to herself as midnight approached all those decades ago and I failed to appear. Had she held on another ten minutes I'd have been born November 1st, a delightfully inconspicuous day, but Fate decreed otherwise and here I am, a grumpy child of Halloween, still kicking and moaning pointlessly against my fated day, living the dream in a town that just happens to think Halloween is the most precious dress-up day in the calendar. Tell me the gods don't have a sense of humor.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Watching Hurricane Sandy

Last night I took this picture on the way home from a fund raising dinner on Stock Island. It was just after seven o'clock and the sky was a blue and pink and purple mess, just one more breezy, cool, yet essentially serene Florida Keys sunset.

It was seventy degrees and the north wind has been blowing cool dry air for days so I have taken to wearing my windproof vest in these Autumnal conditions. I know it sounds silly but when your blood is used to eighty or more degrees day and night, seventy degrees (known locally as 'zero degrees') feels cold on the skin. The air conditioner was off in the car for the first time since April. It wasn't the cold that forced me to take the car, rather it was because I had a frisky Cheyenne now unwilling to be left at home when she could be out walking. My Labrador loves these cool winter days and her summer hibernation in air conditioning is over for a few months. This next picture is of the south side of Big Coppitt which was protected from the breeze and the waters of the bay looked as smooth and glassy as a pond in the dying light of day.

And then as we sit here in peace and serenity in the fabulous Florida Keys enjoying a refreshing end of October, a break at last from the heat and humidity of summer, we hear that Hurricane Sandy is wrecking New Jersey and New York. And on top of that a massive winter storm is preparing to blanket parts of the northeast with snow. I mean, how weird is that? A hurricane and snow at the same time. The young Conchs I work with have never seen snow, except on the screen, and the idea of the two mixed up all together is fascinating and as unimaginable as meeting a Yeti on the street. Down here, in the land where a Category One hurricane is a matter of no great moment, the levels of panic seen Up North are every bit as startling as the notion of a snowy hurricane landing on your house. All I could think was that a snowdrift would put a serious damper on the hurricane parties traditionally held in the Keys.

But then when we look at Hurricane Sandy's impact on New Jersey and New York we know that self important reporters will call this a "killer" storm, not because brown people in tropical Haïti or the Bahamas died as it made its way north, but because Americans actually died when it rolled across our coast. These aren't people living in shanties or on low lying islands in some foreign land. These are our neighbors whose subways have flooded whose Amtrak trains have stopped running and whose planes are grounded. Electricity is cut off and by Key West standards unheated homes now without power face the prospect of becoming ice boxes. I mean, seriously, who wants to live through a hurricane that brings frigid temperatures in it's wake? In our islands a hurricane, even one that leaves behind devastation also leaves us sweating and buggy and uncomfortable but not hypothermic ferchrissakes!


Down here waterside dining is still a peaceful and enjoyable activity, the cool temperatures revealed by the long sleeves on the shirts in the photograph above. I find it remarkable when we are busy getting ready for a storm and the rest of the country barely seems to notice. After Wilma it was surreal dealing with the flooding that went almost unnoticed, overshadowed by the vaster more fearsome destruction caused just weeks earlier by Katrina, while the rest of the country went about its business as usual. And this summer I never noticed the appalling drought until I flew to Iowa and saw the entire state reduced to a brown crisp. It's only when it's in your home is the disaster real. And in this case I hardly know the affected areas at all. This is what I know:

I listened to NPR yesterday (91.5 from Miami) and it was astonishing how parochial, how community-radio-like the national network sounded. They were all excited and aroused by the storm in their own backyard. Similar winds and floods down here produce a yawn from the hardened newscasters in the nation's capital. Sods. Still I suppose there is a reason people still ask how we poor convicts manage hurricanes on our tiny lumps of rock cast into the middle of this big warm ocean like errant hurricane bait chumming for wind. It seems to me, considering the recent major quake in British Columbia, fires and drought across the US and now snow to blanket West Virginia while frigid winter is already shriveling testicles in Alaska, these funny little islands are doing quite well so far in the awful weather stakes. My wife goes back to California next week for a wedding and more than anything she will bitch about how cold and damp beautiful San Francisco is. Lucky her, she gets real Mexican food and superb Indian and Chinese cuisine while I'm stuck here with Cuban bread and palomilla steak if I want to go "ethnic". I just hope an earthquake or a mudslide or a forest fire don't get her while she's away from the safety of the Florida Keys where eighty five degrees is the forecast high all next week.


Monday, October 29, 2012

The Railway Condos And Noblesse Oblige

To look at them these condos look pretty much standard mass produced housing for the masses.

They are actually the product of Historic Tours of America's housing for workers worries. It's been clear to Ed Swift principal (or "principle" if you read their grammatically wobbly website) of Workforce Housing along with his two sidekicks that to get people to work in Key West they will need housing (not pay apparently) that meets their needs. So various corporate-socialistic worker housing complexes have started appearing, and very nice they are too. Meridien West on Stock Island is a massive, well thought out example supposedly to be joined by Meridien East at some future date.

"Affordable" in Key West is a bizarre concept whe you consider an affordable home would be priced between $175,000 (very low) to a quarter million dollars for a two bedroom free standing rabbit hutch in a complex somewhere. Move Up North and that sort of money will get you a nice home in a nice neighborhood unless you're in the Hamptons or Mill Valley.

These condos are nicely located close to down town attractions and they are well landscaped. I like them a lot, and I have two friends who rent here and they tell me they are very happy in their unit.

It isn't pure altruism that got these condos built because they are an affordable "offset" for the massively expensive Steam Plant condos across the landscaping. The thing about Ed Swift and he has tons of detractors as all succesfull people do, is that he has an interest in the history of his home town and to some extent the future of his town. Te other it developers, the Spottswoods do not exhibit any interest in either. The obligations of nobility stop with Ed Swift unfortunately.

The steam plant was the power generating station for the city that shut down a few decades ago and sat silent and useless on this spot until Swift and his "principles" decided to have a go at making luxury condos with private garages and private elevators, roof top swimming pools and expensive views. All for three point two mill. Except the crash of 2008 intervened. These are now bargain priced for those workers with more than average capital to throw into their housing. These aren't apartments, they are "residences."

Aside from bragging rights and snob value on the scale of value for money I think the Railway condos are a great deal to rent or buy, though I have no idea if any of these units are available. You might have to make do with one of the millionaire "residences" across the way.

There is parking for two cars plus scooters under each apartment. There is landscaping and even though the views aren't the greatest, unless you like the back of the Keys Energy offices, this complex would constitute decent housing in Key West, or anywhere in the country in my opinion. They call them Railway because the terminus for Flagler's East Coast Extension Railroad was in the neighborhood and Ed Swift remembers Key West history when he builds.

I see Key West sliding inevitably into a gentrified future where true eccentrics and marginal people are long gone, most have left already leaving the willfully eccentric poseurs to fly the Conch Republic flag a little while longer. There will always be a need for servants and workers of course and as in any gated community we get a laissez passer to live and work on millionaire row. This future isn't here yet but the building blocks are in place anytime the leaders of this community choose to enact it. As far as I can tell all that's stopping them is the inability to let go of the old paradigm of quick cheap tourist cash, in exchange for a long dry spell as they build the new Monte Carlo of North America.

Workforce housing will always be an issue on this small speck of dirt far out into the ocean and whether the town will struggle on with it's current apparently successful formula of cheap tourism en masse versus that different vision that remains tantalizing but out of reach which consists of fewer people with more money and less, a lot less prurient appeal. Either way I have no preference. To me these are the good old days, a few artists hanging on, a few eccentrics left over, a few bums for gross local color and a few people like me on the sidelines, unwilling to seek oblivion through public intoxication yet glad to live in a town where name brands and status symbols matter less and the ability to buck trends and think for oneself still has its place, albeit in an ever diminishing circle. The big issues I'll leave to the Conchs and the monied developer types who will do what they will and ask no one permission before they do. The "obligation of nobility" for them will still be limited to making sure there will be workers around to keep the wheels of the tropical paradise turning smoothly. So far, so good.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Fantasy Fest 5

My last set of pictures from this year's Fantasy Fest before the big parade Saturday night.
















And so it ended for me, Fantasy Fest. Except for the interminable 911 calls all night!

Fantasy Fest 4

Still more pictures of people having fun at Key West's Fantasy Fest 2012.














More pictures to come later but this one I loved, anonymous with her hat pulled low getting home with dinner to go.