Friday, May 31, 2013

A Night Out In Key West

My wife is the social secretary, and I find as I get older and more set in my ways I am as happy to be at home as I am to be out and about. Perhaps it is the lack of roads to entice me to ride, perhaps it's Cheyenne's minimalist requirements, perhaps it is the comfort of a shaded deck, but in any event I wouldn't show up for jazz and wine at the Gardens Hotel unless I got an uxorious shove.  
 Its a nice enough spot on Angela at Simonton, The Gardens Hotel.
 And most Fridays Michael Robinson plays the piano in this ancient and elegant registered historic place. Actually the mansion boasts quite some history on it's website, a quarter city block cleared by the original hotelier to make up a garden around the home. There are some extraordinary details including a  friendship with the Cuban dictator Batista who permitted removal of artifacts and plants from Cuba. All to the benefit of what eventually became the Gardens Hotel. 
My wife likes Michael Robinson a school district employee she respects but we had plans for an extended evening in the city so after a taste of plonk (they have this peculiar but effective self serve wine bar in the hotel. You put credit on a card and help yourself to wine by the ounce. Its actually very cool) we had to move on from the serene luxury of The Gardens.
So I discovered this was the night to check out Solo, a relatively new place on Greene Street, open about six months and from what the wife had heard is quite the in spot. Prissy in Paradise liked it too, Donna Reviews Solo. We had appetizers only, the fritters with two sauces and a flatbread, which is rather like a thin crust pizza and as tomato sauce is ubiquitous on American pizza the flatbread makes a pleasant change.

I liked the place though I thought the tables were a little too deep, meaning you seem to sit a long way away from your fellow diner. There weren't many diners when we were there so I spun the table on its axis and we ended up much closer, within talking distance, at a wider table. I hope Solo makes it and summer is always the test. Happy hour foods were reasonably priced, my wife got  a melon martini while I got myself a healthy pour of a decent glass of wine and though not extensive they had a reasonable range of draught beers. I enjoyed my glass of Portuguese white, dry and spicy and interesting. Solo has been quite a few things over the years and I hope this place stays as is.

Then we trotted off to the Tropic, ducking crowds on Duval by the expedient of being lazy and riding the Bonneville across the few  blocks filled with drinking amblers on the main drag. We had elected to see The Iceman, a film about a killer for the mob who lived a double life racking up a hundred murders while living the life of a devoted husband and father. I thought my wife, the former public defender, might not be too keen but she stuck it out. It was a long movie and the turn around was timed so close that we walked in on the titles at the end of the previous show. A movie about a psychopath is a tough row to hoe principally owing to one's inability to get inside his head. I don't much like people but not to the degree I want to kill them, chop them up and  freeze them before dumping their bodies.
 It was an evening much like any other across the fruited plain, dinner, a movie and so to bed to prepare for the day of work the next day. As tropically exotic as Key West usually gets for me.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Walk in the Rain, Tea and a Bizarre Letter

I hate rainy weather. In theory I like the idea of being tucked up out of the weather listening to the wind howling through the palms and watching the rain pounding the window panes, but in reality I hate feeling cooped up.
It rained yesterday as I left Key West, gradually drying up as I went, such that by the time I got home my waterproofs were dry even though the motorbike was covered in road muck. I tried to walk Cheyenne but the rain caught us after twenty minutes and we beat a retreat. When I got up after lunch it was...raining.
Hard. I could see rain pelting the waters of the canal underneath the house. I looked at my dog, and as you can see she had no hesitation about getting out, rain or no rain. Well bugger, off we went.

Summer downpours like this, which has lasted two days and seems reluctant to peter out tend to cause chaos in the Big City. Key West floods at the least provocation and streets routinely go under water. It's tedious stuff as the least water covering strikes terror into the hearts of the stoutest drivers, even those driving trucks that are "Ford Tough" and equipped with huge tires and four wheel drive. All for show no doubt. As a result the pace of urban locomotion is reduced to a pedestrian crawl.

In the tough outlying communities further up the Overseas Highway we pride ourselves on our self reliance, well not really but one would like to think so. Happily there are fewer cars on the side roads so things are easier away from the main artery. Some days a man wants to go for a bit of a drive especially when trapped in the home by rain and it's on ay slime these that one might want a slightly greater reach along the side roads. In any vent we reached the red diamonds on the very end of No Name Key twenty minutes after leaving the house.
She was happy and wandered at will while I tried to make my phone camera work with wet fingers and an equally damp screen. You'd be amazed how quickly the phone ceases to operate at the slightest appearance of rain. So there I was standing in the downpour cursing my electronic Swiss Army Knife which was about as useful in the rain as a brick in my pocket.
I was quite jealous of my dog, I standing there watching her while she had fun and I had none trying to ignore the opportunities for picture taking that were beyond my hopelessly damp phone.
I dried out a bit in the car as we slowly made our way back to Big Pine. I was thinking about hot tea and melting honey on toast to fight off the chill of a 73 degree rainy afternoon, but Cheyenne was not yet done torturing me.
I spotted his Pashtun hovel on the No Name bridge and stopped to fiddle with my camera. A face popped out and I whisked him good luck as he eyed me eying him. I reserved for myself the thought of how mad for fishing the must be to squat in this unutterably miserable spot while waiting fr a fish to impale itself on their hooks. Tea and toast sounded better than ever, but my dog would have none of it.
It's not at all like Key West where it seems most streets could be rated "low lying" but flooding is inevitable everywhere when the rain won't stop.
These days new houses are required to be on stilts to keep them above the flood plain which makes sense when you see the waters rising.
It doesn't take much water...
A sense of humor helps, which is easy enough to maintain as long the waters stay away from the front door.
The duck may have been a decoy but the Key Deer weren't. As usual Cheyenne paid no attention to the curious creature, she was much more interested in the smells emanating from the securely planted trash cans.
At home with tea water heating, and the rain starting to ease up I made a trip to the mailbox and found a hand written note addressed to me. Jim Phelps? Never heard of him, and apparently he hasn't heard of me as I live on Ramrod even though the post office is on Summerland which confuses strangers, and fortunately doesn't faze our letter carrier. In this case I'd have been fine if the misspelled hand written note had got lost. That the postage was a freedom stamp added a small layer of irony.
Who knew? I want to sell my house. Not actually. In some way I cannot quite explain I found this letter to be remarkably intrusive. I restrained myself from calling this guy and giving him a piece of my mind but what happened to the notion of hiring a realtor to announce my intentions when and if they arise?
My wife suggested we tell him yes for some absurdly high amount but naturally these weird sharks aren't charities and I decline to play the fool for some evanescent amusement. Years ago I had a colleague at work who used to respond to solicitation letters, the ones that came with postage paid return envelopes by filling them with lead foils from the tops of wine bottles. By making the envelopes as heavy as possible he wanted to create the highest possible cost for the irritating senders. Perhaps I'll call Jim at two in the morning during my break from work and see how he enjoys intrusion, after all he did solicit me!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Key West Signposts

The world's population has doubled since I was born in 1957 and we are told it may increase to nine billion people in another 15 years. Some days it feels like every one of the current population of seven billion tramps through Key West. So some sign posting really does seem advisable.

There are however an awful lot of signs in this small town and I do enjoy documenting them as they come and go. Parking is a big headache so lots of signs address that issue in one form or another.

Not enough that there is a barricade; the words give added weight to the message.

And surprisingly enough the words do seem necessary. Fear of crossing a parking lot on foot is widespread and many drivers feel the need to park right on top of the object of their interest.

I wonder if these old signs of Navy occupation will survive the renovation planned for the waterfront area.

This jeep lives in front of Santiago's Bodega, one of Key West's best restaurants, and walking by always makes me smile.

This one by contrast is a reminder of the stabbing at Fantasy Fest, one of those weird murders that was between people who did not know each other. An out of town young man decided a knife was the way to resolve a perceived insult on the street. The Key West kid is dead and the Miami kid is in jail. What a waste.

Christmas already? No, just commerce. This all white Nativity reminds me of the story, apocryphal of course of the Texas governor who spoke against bilingual education arguing that if English was good enough for Jesus it should be good enough for Texas students. That may just be a story but if Jesus spoke Aramaic and grew up in Palestine he must have been...a Palestinian? I guess, not that popular culture reflects that.

I had not previously noticed this little place on Duval. A dude selling tour tickets engaged me in conversation remarking he used to sleep on the ground where people now sit on the deck and take alcohol. We reminisced for a while and I wondered at the way he told me about his life on the streets. Almost a badge of honor in this town. A county commissioner will tell of living on a boat once upon a time and stories circulate how the city's biggest developer used to sleep in doorways.

There are still a few of these bizarre little figures aroud town. For a while they were all the rage and had a Facebook page dedicated to them. The craze seems to have passed and slowly so will they.

This one below isn't going away any time unfortunately. I have never understood why prostitution is illegal but it is in Florida so drunk men expecting to get laid in these places don't and they tend to get upset. Consenting adults paying for sex in private doesn't seem criminal to me but getting pissed off because the women tease but don't break the law is not a good idea. You'd be amazed how much time police spend sorting this nonsense out. I was tempted once to visit a Nevada brothel but the whole thing seemed so tawdry, even if legal, I lost all interest as soon as I thought about it. I'm not sure what they would have thought had an eager young 23 year old shown up at the Mustang Ranch on his nerdy white Vespa. That probably would have been a first. An opportunity I missed.

I really like the Island Beauty store shown below. It reminds me of the kind of signs painted on businesses all across the Caribbean.

I am a terrible shopper. I'm as likely to visit a beauty store as I am a whorehouse. I just like to look. And photograph.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Carstens And The Cemetery

As odd as it may sound this tomb, prominently visible from Angela Street reminds me of a law firm. Perhaps it is instead a family with many branches.
The Key West cemetery has been featured several times on my blog, a space where I have stored nearly 3200 essays, most of them much like this one. Angela Street has also appeared on this page, which is also hardly surprising as it is a useful street. In the past the one-way arrow went the other way and I still think that was more rational. Or it might just be that it tended to serve my purposes more effectively when traffic was routed in the opposite direction.
Key West is enjoying the interregnum between the haste and waste of winter when the town is packed for weeks on end, and before the summer vacation period begins when families seek diversions here as much as anywhere in the country. They don't necessarily come to drink but they do fill the town. For the time being a cannon could be fired down most Old Town streets in the mid morning heat and not too many people would be killed.
I checked online and this home in the 900 block of Angela is being offered at around $650,000. Thats what we mean when we say real estate is pricey in Key West.
You'd think people might have to resort to living outdoors at those prices and several hundred do end up living on the streets. Not quite this lavishly though:
The Harris School seen from Carstens Lane. Not yet occupied not yet functioning as a set of office suites as promised. I still cherish the plan hatched by the defunct Rodel Foundation (a  charitable fund killed by Bernie Madof's investment scheme). They wanted to make an artist's colony of the place, a perhaps more elaborate version of the studios at Key West.
Carstens Lane is no stranger to these pages. I like to drive visitors down this lane from  scenic William Street to tree covered Margaret Street.
This house in the middle of the lane was gently collapsing for the longest time. Then came a sudden burst of activity. The activity appears to have  slowed a bit but the house now looks quite waterproof at the front. Preservationtakes a lot of money and effort in Key West, land of many rules and few shops.
One last look at Carsten's flora, in this casea  banana tree.
West Marine is moving out of this building on Caroline Street. You can have the building if you have $3.3 million. Did I mention buildings cost lots of money in Key West?
I cannot imagine how much their new digs further up Caroline at Grinnell Street might cost.  There's room for a great many boating supplies in there, and they don't have what you need there's another in the chain on Stock Island and more in Marathon and Key Largo. Or you could go to the local store called Los Cubanitos on Caroline Street known to some as Cuban Joe's marine hardware.
They are building this new monster store even as Caroline Street is due to get a make over with shrubbery and bike paths and who knows what to make the approaches to the waterfront more attractive. I suppose it's no coincidence a new 96 room hotel is going to pop up soon behind the old West marine store. City Commissioners were reported cheering on the hotel at a ground breaking a couple of weeks ago.
Meanwhile the city is mulling over plans proffered by the corporation that runs La Concha hotel on Duval that would bring one more unwelcome change to a city that seems  hellbent on change these days. Apparently the bar at The Top of the hotel is going to be replaced with a spa for hotel guests. Naturally this isn't going over too well among people who like to view the sunset from the top of La Concha with a drink in their hands. Oh well, I doubt we the people can persuade them not to make the change.
That is a gratuitous motorcycle shot. I took it one night when I went for coffee and I posted the color version of this same picture. Old time Key West in 2013.