Friday, November 30, 2012

Southern Color

I read that winter is closing in Up North and by all accounts it seems we face the prospect of a more severe cold season this year than in years past. Snow is falling, skies are gray and more of the same is predicted for the weeks ahead. Not in Key West, where it is an endless summer. And for that I am grateful. Seasons are appreciated by people other than me. Here's a reminder why:

Big Pine Color

I like the way these mobile homes get the color treatment on Big Pine Key.

I lived for years on boats, a way of living the is frequently viewed with (misplaced) romanticism. I liken it to life in a trailer which gives the romantics pause.

That's because living in a mobile home or the like is viewed with disdain in this country. To me it seems like efficient living.

Put a coconut palm up, paint the house a bright shade of tropical and call it good. Looks good to me.
There is always the chaotic pack rat in an neighborhood ready to live down to the stereotype. And if you've got a nice vintage BMW rusting in your yard for God's sake get on with it and get it running, or give to someone (not me!) who can and will get it on the road.

The Avenues, Stock Island

The Monroe County Commission last week took some steps to move forward the process of gentrification of the waterfront on Stock Island. Big plans are in the works for the commercial waterfront tbthat will soon enough become home to recreational marina dockage with suitable support services ashore. The nature of the southern shore on the island will change, little by little and the modest homes built here for the Key West workforce will undoubtedly face changes in their own right.
The Avenues is one area of concentrated residential building, a dozen streets laid parallel on the western side of the island, a place where homes sit cheek by jowl on small lots, a mixture of mobile homes and houses set down in neat rows. I took Cheyenne by for a walk and enjoyed a cool Fall afternoon under the sun.
Srock Island is just east of the Big Tourist Kahuna called Key West and has for all recorded history played second fiddle to the seat of Monroe County. Stock Island is not a city and is unincorporated though that too may change in a few years if a referendum can be organized. Key West wants to add wealthy Key Haven, Mile Marker 5, to the tax rolls. However working class south Stock Island is another matter.
Stock Island, Mile Marker 4, got its name from the practice of keeping cows on the hoof here for use by the Key West population as needed. The unfortunate bovine victims were taken to Rest Beach alive, killed and dismemebered there and served on plates to the city residents. key West has restrictions on boat and trailer parking that would be hard to enforce in these parts. I am convinced city regulations as much as city taxes will prevent incorporation.
Stock Island's role in support of Key West remains today except that these are the homes of people who work in the city and commute from these more affordable homes.
In the middle of the afternoon this is a peaceful spot to walk your dog as everyone else is away at work. Another reason to enjoy working nights!
During the boom years some of the larger more solid homes commanded prices close to half a million dollars which seems astonishing now.
Stock Island may not be a city but it is urban. Around the corner on the streets and avenues to the east there are all sorts of businesses, once again of a type that couldn't make it on the expensive, densely populated soil of Key West. This is where body shops, carpenters welders and plumbers keep their offices and supplies.
This is not an area of great beauty and I've remarked previously on my surprise at how only wealthy neighborhoods get greenery. It's as though the wealthier you are the more trees your street gets, which seems weird to me.
And those few bushes that do exist often support a threat as well.

My Labrador ignored the frenzied barking and kept plodding stolidly along as usual. She found a pile of bread crumbs in the street. An indignant homeowner stepped out a d said "I didn't know dogs ate bread," which if true labels her as a prime idiot. What she actually meant was she put the bread out for the birds. There were no birds in the street when we approached but I guess the sight of a fat Labrador eating avian scraps was too much. We kept going and I even managed to tear Cheyenne away from the found deliciousness.
I saw this line of roofs, these wires all laid out geometrically and I wondered why there are no trees here. And no sidewalks either. City services wouldn't be all bad though I don't suppose the residents will ever know.
Funny place the avenue but it was fun finding it cool enough to walk in the noonday sun at last. It's been a long summer.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

People On Whitehead

I was people watching again downtown, this time while sitting n front of the county courthouse, that would be the building that marks Mile Zero on US Highway One.

The woman on the bicycle looked happy if determined. The guy hauling the guitar on his back looked like Opie from "Sons of Anarchy".
The homeless types hunched over the picnic tables looked like... fixtures. Oh well, I get my turn at those tables from time to time as well.

Just another great day South of Reality.

Everglades Rod And Gun Club

Imagine it is the end of the Civil War and you are some fat cat from Up North with a bank full of carpet bagging dollars and you want some winter sunshine with hunting and fishing to keep you amused. You would have packed your bags and taken a train south followed by a boat ride from Fort Myers up a certain river to this place:
The Rod and Gun Club was only accessible by water at the time because south Florida was a bug filled boggy wasteland no good to man nor beast in those far off days before cheap air conditioning made South Florida accessible to the masses. When that happened big block condos sprang up everywhere ignoring any requirements of cross ventilation or shade. The Rod and Gun Club is from another era, a more expensive if genteel era designed before the condo was dreamed up.
I wasn't there to spend the night just to have lunch in passing and I was determined to enjoy the experience no matter how bitchy and mean the harried waitress became. Which was just as well as she had no great desire to welcome me to the outdoor dining area overlooking the river.
The waitress told to order quickly as she had a party of ten coming in soon and on that cheerless note I asked for a fried fish Reuben which sounded vaguely interesting. It turned out to be more odd than interesting. The bread was toasted dry, the fish was okay as it should be but the Reuben was just coleslaw served between the bread instead of as a side dish. Whatever...
The expensive lunch did the job even though the coffee never got refilled and the bill came to something extortionate like fifteen dollars or more and there was nothing remotely like gracious 19th century living about the whole transaction...granted it was lunch but I wonder what dinner indoors would be like.
There was a devastating fire in February 1969 that wrecked much of the place as recorded on the walls of the hallway.
The interior of the club is lovely, all wood and souvenirs and it feels like the sort of place where men would gather like walruses and snort and grumble about the state of the world. Check it out:
And in the middle of all this luxurious living I finally got to see my first Florida panther, albeit somewhat immobile:


Despite the shortcomings it's a pretty spot worth the visit and consider how welcome must have been the bright sun and greenery to hunters from the cold wastelands Up North days away by the fastest transport then available.
Even today when the place is just half an hour from the bright lights of Naples it looks pretty good to me. You might find it looks pretty good too come February on those cold long nights.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Short Walk Off A Bridge

Yesterday morning was cloudy and muggy and somewhat unpleasant. Granted it was a change from the recent spell of cold breezy sunlit days, but change isn't always for the better. It was clear to me a cold front was on the way, and so it proved to be.

Cheyenne's early afternoon walk, after I got up, was on the bridge connecting Sugarloaf to Cudjoe as I was on my way to pick up our organic vegetables delivered every other Tuesday by Annie's. Cheyenne as usual went nuts chasing fish smells left behind by eager anglers. I read a magazine and admired the views across steel gray, still waters.

For some reason unknown to me there was a ton of traffic going both directions on Highway One and I wondered if perhaps I had forgotten some event or spectacle going on in town. Other than the James Bond movie at the grossly mismanaged Regal Cinema and the homeless exhibit at the Studios there was nothing going on that I knew or cared much about. Yet people were traveling.

There was no one fishing on the bridge at the start of our walk but half an hour later I could see a couple casting about on the Cudjoe end of the bridge, she cheerful and enthusiastic, he silent and apparently morose, perhaps put off by my pink Crocs. So my happy dog, full of sun baked bait fish ambled by leashed momentarily to prevent her stealing their delicious rank calamari bait. I walked with my eyes averted as I dislike the anglers' habit of leaving their prey to suffocate, flopping hopelessly to death in an empty plastic bucket as impersonal and thoughtless a death as any I could imagine. It takes so little to dispatch a fish quickly and humanely, yet so few fish killers take the time to be merciful.

The only other living creature I saw was a pelican sitting and waiting for all I know for Godot, or perhaps wondering why his ship hadn't come in. Cheyenne adhers to her own rigid policy of ignoring wildlife and in this case she stuck to her pursuit of long dead fish and discarded fish scraps on the pavement. The pelican, eschewing conversation with us, the only other living beings on the bridge took off, in that way birds have, of making you wish you had wings and could change your mode of locomotion so easily and swiftly.

I am one who likes sunshine, and I could live with sunshine every single day and not complain. I like my world to be illuminated in primary colors, shiny green palms, big white puffy clouds, a cerulean sky suits me just fine. All the nonsense people, talk about seasons and brown leaves and trees that look like dead twigs, Nature's winter renewal etc... leaves me cold. Of course I too have to suffer the occasional gray day in the Keys with some weather drama of wind and clouds and rain, which is a refreshment that only goes to prove that daily sunshine is best. Faced with a glowering day like ester day the only thing I could think was that at least it was warmth enough to be in shirtsleeves.

Yet I think I am not alone in preferring sun to heavy cloud cover, at least in these seaside communities where people come to swim and play and be outdoors. I checked the artificial little beach at the Sugarloaf KOA campground and there was not a soul to be seen. Not even a pelican in residence on the beach.

We made off the end of the bridge Cheyenne and I onto Sugaloaf across the Highway from Mangrove Mama's restaurant. Cheyenne checked the gumbo limbo trees and sniffed the grass, a spot where thick grass ears to grow naturally, an unlikely occurrence on limestone rocks like these and I hoped for a pause where I could read and watch the world go by. She was having none of it. She turned, as resolutely as only Cheyenne knows how and started stumping back toward distant Cudjoe Key. By the time we had made it past the middle aged angling couple, Northerners, no doubt judging by their refusal to acknowledge a fellow human met in passing my Labrador was ready to blend her yellow coat into the limestone rock of the heavily trafficked parking area.

I let her lounge for a while until I got completely bored, the newspaper read and my desire to return home overcame my reluctance to twist Cheyenne's arm, as it were. We stopped to pick up the vegetables delivered from the mainland to Cudjoe Key for us and a few of our neighbors, then it was on to home and an afternoon of movies ad exercise and some plant watering in an effort to encourage rain.

As darkness descended last night the rain came on as expected. I stood on the porch and listened to the raindrops bouncing off the palm fronds and a smell of rotting tropical vegetation filled the air as the rain moistened up the ground. The trees shook as the breeze rustled the wetted leaves and I stood and wondered what it would feel like to be standing on a porch watching snow fallen fall, as he season requires. Nothing good came of those thoughts so I hitched my shorts and went indoors to listen to the air conditioner rumble as it sucked the warm damp air out of the house. A good night to read a book on the couch and pretend it was snowing. Pretence is as close as I want to get.

Riding The Ferry

It happened that I was looking at the map planning a day trip north of St Augustine and I wanted to avoid the freeway for the journey north, so I eyeballed the state highway that skips along the beach throughout Florida's east coast. It's called A1A and it is not generally a fast drive as it meanders along barrier islands connecting coastal subdivisions and clusters of condos that typically fester along Florida's mainland waterfronts. Then I saw a little dotted line connecting the highway arose the St Johns's river. Aha! A ferry...that's always interesting. The route was thus enshrined in my Thanksgiving Day excursion.

The St Johns's river ferry in Mayport faces extinction if the city subsidy of $200,000 matched by a similar amount from the state were to expire the private corporation running the service says it will close which would not be good for the residents as there is no other way across the river if they don't pay the six dollar vehicle fee to ride the boat. It's a nice boat too, leaving the southern shore at the top and bottom of the hour for the five minute ride, the loading up on the northern shore and returning across the river at fifteen and forty five. Every hour every day from early morning to early evening the ferry runs with room for a couple of dozen cars or more. My wife wanted to take the coast road back even though it was after dark, and she was right because it was very lovely as we waited for the ferry to come back to the north shore of the St John's river.

We were the front car in the line to board and as there was nothing much to see and it was cold out, below sixty degrees with a breeze, we sat in the car on the front of the ferry...

...and these two dudes strolled up the rail and started chatting. At first I thought they were deckhands but as I listened, and they weren't whispering so I couldn't help but listen, I understood they were passengers.

"I counted thirty five pelicans," Guy Number One in the knitted cap said to Guy Number Two in the other knitted cap. He was looking at the pelicans roosting on the sea wall next to the ferry landing. "I haben't been over to the other side to count them," he added.

"That's a lot of pelicans," Number Two commented helpfully.

"I'm surprised they stay around with that guy being all animated and such" said Guy Number One.

"Yeah," Guy Number Two said, and I knew immediately who was the subject of that remark. At first we thought it was some by-product of working Thanksgiving Day, but apparently the deckhand is always as animated as we saw him. He directed traffic onto the boat at one end and rode over the river proceeding to then direct traffic off the boat. He danced, waved his arms, twirled, hopped and cackled loudly while directing the drivers.

"He's been like that ever since I can remember," Number One said, "ever since I rode the ferry as a kid," which means a long time as he looked to be in his late thirties the guy on the left in the photo above. Apparently the deck hand is quite the character amongst locals. "Never have talked to him," Number atwo replied. Then Number Aone changed the subject. "I saw a dolphin out here," he remarked looking over the side into the black waters. "I wonder if they sleep" he pondered as Guy Number Two hunched his back against the cold breeze. "I wonder how they sleep" Guy Number Aone went on, musing as if to himself. There was no answer because by now the ferry had arrived and nudged up to the dock on the Mayport side of the river. The animated deckhand, subject of the conversation, danced I to view to remove the netting blocking the nose of the ferry.


He spun the wheel behind him in the photo below which lowered the ramp onto the deck of the boat to allow the vehicles to get off. He grinned at us as I lurched the car into gear prematurely. You want to kill me on Thanksgiving Day?" he said with a grin. I apologized unable to explain I was anxious about being ready to lead the parade off the boat. On our trip north I had been at the back of the line which position I preferred.


We drove off finally and as unlikely as we are to go this way again I was glad I had overheard that snippet of conversation about the boat and the crew member startling in his open hearted innocence and a local's musing as we made our way by that imperiled ferry connection across the water.