Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mainland Again

I had to go shopping in the Big City last week and when Trader Joe's opens in Pinecrest, South Miami in October I am expecting that will be a permanent port of call on any trip north of Key Largo. Cheyenne was not in a mood to be left at home so she became the perfect excuse to stop and smell the ...mangroves on our way Up North.

I am a creature of habit like my dog so we enjoy the same stops, and every time I stop at Dagney Johnson State Park I keep promising myself that one day, soon, I am going to take an exploratory trip up the Highway to find things worth seeing in the Upper Keys. One day. Today I content myself with the discovery of bright orange mushrooms.

Key West Diary: Dagny Johnson Park

Some time money and sign posting has gone into the park recently. It was a failed development that was handed over to the state and as a result there is a basic infrastructure of vast spacious paved roads and a peculiar traffic circle now devoted to picnics and the like.

The trails are lovely and wide and covered in dead leaves which makes walking easy for gravel-phobic Labradors.

One guy on a bicycle came by with a cheery greeting but other than that we were alone in the woods.

We all know the gumbo limbo joke don't we? They call it the tourist tree because it's got red flakey skin. It also grows like nobody's business. Break off a twig or a branch, plant it in the ground (rainy season is best) and the piece will take root. Even for me! The frangipani does the same trick but that's another plant altogether with pretty flowers and an attractive trunk.

I have been here a few times, I admit. Key West Diary: Dagny Johnson Dawn

THere weren't people but there were spiders. I am not fond of snakes and spiders even though I know they have an important place in the ecosystem and I wouldn't harm them or their webs. They still give me the creeps. I confess. This lot were massive, big as a human hand fingers spread from the tip of one spider foot to the other. Brr...

Ooh, look! A composting toilet in the woods. Lovely. It pays to know where the loos are along the Overseas Highway and I kee Veterans Park, Sombrero Beach, Ann's Beach and Dagney Johnson in mind as I travel. They are government run and tend to be cleaner than the loos operated by the private sector in gas stations.

Dagney Johnson is off Card Sound Road a short distance from the Overseas Highway on Key Largo where the road starts to take off on the raised bridge over Card and Barnes Sounds.

The rather grandiose entrance is set back from the road so it's surprisingly easy to drive past it before you see it.

Entrance fee is $2:50 per person on the honor system. A bargain in a tax free state like Florida.


A note of apology generated last night to the nice lady staffing Checkpoint Charlie* at the Tropic as I had to hustle out of the theater after the film (Closed Circuit, a not very scary thriller with a great cast and a nice ending) as my wife had furniture she needed me to move in her new classroom and she was ready to get it done. Next time I will stop and talk and be properly civilized.

Checkpoint Charlie is my name for the new ticket checking barrier they have set up in the middle of the lobby to make sure people aren't sneaking into the Tropic theater. I had no idea art film lovers carry such a high proportion of scofflaws. In this case the ticket checker was very cheerful and quite in the spirit of a night out. Which later turned into a Sherpa expedition hauling bookcases up flights of Himalyan stairs. Living the dream.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Our Boulevard Nightmare

When I come out of work in the evening I see this, a row of cars coming at me almost on the same side of the road as the lane I want to take outbound.
At the first traffic light, at First Street appropriately enough, the Boulevard becomes one way inbound, towards Duval Street from distant Stock Island. It used to be, in the distant past a four lane road, two in, two out. It's been a year and I can hardly remember what it was like when you could come and go more or less as you pleased on North Roosevelt Boulevard, "The Boulevard" to locals. On days when snowbirds were crowding the street on the way out of town you could take Flagler or South Roosevelt and take a slightly slower route but with far less traffic. Nowadays outbound traffic is forced onto those roads and they can get jammed easily in the afternoon rush hour. On a small island one jammed street has rippling repercussions.

All of which is true and annoying, especially for people who work conventional nine to five jobs and find themselves jammed on the streets morning and evening together. However the really big problem is for the businesses which line this formerly lucrative street and now report a drop in business so precipitate many of them fear imminent bankruptcy.

From my perspective it doesn't say much about Key West shoppers, if the mere closure of one direction of the Boulevard persuades them to stay away from local stores. The whole one way loop is perhaps two miles long... And the merchants have been begging for business for a long time now, the whole year the road has been torn up in fact.

The harsh fact is that in the grand scheme of things Key West doesn't amount to a hill of beans and that fact comes as a surprise to of us who live here. When the state put this forty five million dollar job out to bid (North Roosevelt is US Highway One, not just a city street) it went a company That as usual offered the low bid and this was just one small project in their pile. So it got on the back burner and no progress has been made. It doesn't matter to the big shots that our main street looks like this with no change in sight:

The Spottswood family decided to renovate their string of hotels and restaurants from the Triangle where the road comes into the city to the former Travel Lodge which is now the Bayside Inn next to the GM dealer. I am told they gave their employees three months severance which was decent and it makes sense for the businesses to get a fresh look in time for a fresh street. The newspaper said some 500 rooms have been lost temporarily.

So our state representative, she of the vacuous smile and shiny forehead, organized a meeting and Important People came to Key West, always an attractive business destination, and made lots of noise about how sorry they were things we're going so slowly etc...and suddenly workers appeared in the muddy trench and started wandering around acting busy. Here they are finally hammering a new seawall into place. It's only been a year since they started the job...

With all this whining and moaning city commissioners decided they had to do something so they authorized night work and more controversially agreed to proposals to turn portions of the Boulevard into two way traffic October 15th. The idea is that two way traffic will encourage shopping. Personally I have some reservations about this idea.

I'm not certain two way traffic flow will make the entrance to businesses smoother and more appealing. Dust, mud and broken asphalt is reportedly putting people off so my solution would be to work day and night to finish the job and replace everything and restore normal status before we get our winter traffic jam in a few short months.

As you can see the contractor has decided too few is still better than too many hands to make light work.

I know this: when the one way flow was instituted confused drivers, and this is a tourist town filled with outsiders driving, went the wrong way on a clearly marked one way construction zone. What will happen when the flows are changed is anyone's guess. I very much doubt I will be motorcycling here after the change, not unless I get a death wish.

I saw this sign outside Banana Bay Resort and the arrow is pointing the wrong way. Thats encouraging, take a walk down Hilton Haven Road, a dead end.

For a while there the deadline had slipped to the Fall of 2014, but after the Big Cheese Gathering they promised the contractor would get back on deadline and by July next year all will be finished. Fat chance I say. It'll take more than a garden mower to finish this job.

Supposedly when this is is finished the Boulevard won't flood after a rainstorm. Currently the left lane floods after a brief squall which pushes our fearful giant SUV pilots into the sole remaining dry lane near the crown of the road. What they will do when that is their outbound lane I don't know. Put two inches of water on a roadway and everyone panics so I see a lot of panic in the immediate future. Whether that will help shopping I don't know.

They say that the construction includes building storm drains to relieve flooding so the roadway should stay dry when the work is done. Supposedly there will be median flower beds with turn lanes and a new traffic light at Searstown. I have to admit I love the inbound lanes as they are now because it's a very direct route to my job next to Bayview Park. Removing some traffic lights and dealing with reduced cross traffic makes for a shorter journey for me. I dread the return of regular traffic lights as they are so incredibly slow to change. In order to avoid sitting for minutes at an empty intersection a lot of people prefer to run red lights and instead of dealing with that, the powers that be think that adding red light camera is he solution. Nope, the answer is to install traffic sensitive traffic lights. Oh well, that'll be the day.

I guess that as usual I'll stand on the sidelines and see what happens. Hope for the best and expect...the best.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cruise Ship Central

The date of the referendum draws near, barely a month away and the terms of the debate seem to be set in stone. Business interests led by the Chamber of Commerce want a study to consider the impacts of widening the ship channel into Key West. Everyone else says no thanks. "Everyone" is of course a exaggeration but that's what opponents would limit think. The truth will become apparent October First when the vote is taken.
Cruise ship passengers land at the Outer Mole which the Navy ceded to the city while retaining control of the waters inside the basin. Those passengers come into the city on trolleys contracted for half a million dollars a year from Historic Tours. The bulk of the rest land at the Westin Pier and the city gets a much smaller share of those landing fees. A very small number come to Key West on cruise ships small enough to park at Mallory Square, block the western view and piss off the vendors who rent space to make their sales during the sunset celebrations.
All of them want to visit the bar area of Duval Street and check out the museums and attractions behind Mallory Square and do a little dust catcher shopping.
Merchants further afield express resentment they don't get the shoppers and the money off the cruise ships even as Loca residents complain about the crowds that descend off the ship in their thousands. It's a jumble of competing and conflicted interests.
I took a cruise ship once for a week with my wife and it wasn't a terrible experience. Te ship managed not to feel crowded and though we didn't gamble or watch stage shows our cabin with balcony was comfortable, room service was great and the adult pool was very pleasant. Of all our stops in Mexico, Grand Cayman and Jamaica, Key West was the most lively and interesting to me, as I struggled to imagine myself a visitor to my own base of operations.
The city makes millions off the visitors and shipping fees yet the numbers are declining, somewhere around 850,000 cruise ship tourists a year. Business people fear that if Key West doesn't learn to accommodate ships that carry six thousand passengers each, double the current complement, Key West will lose more traffic and more revenue. Channel Widening, Key West, Feasibility, Cruise ship, Environment, Dredging
The opponents say widening the channel will be a never ending job and the silt from the operation will kill the coral, while silt moved by the movement of the giant ships will only add to the problem. They say a city of 23,000 can't comfortably manage 6,000 passengers from two concurrently visiting ships, but double that with two giant ships and the city will be overwhelmed. Key West's moribund environmental organizations finally figured out whe they stood on the issue and whispered their very reasonable opposition. Dredging the Key West Channel for Larger Cruise Ships: Referendum on the Horizon | Last Stand Puts fire in your belly doesn't it?
Proponents of land based tourism argue cruise ship passengers degrade the experience and Key West will lose visitors who seek an exclusive tropical vacation in the city. Proponents of channel widening say cruise ship visitors whet their appetite for Key West and come back to stay after visiting off a ship.
Proponents of the study say only that it's a study, opponents argue the study will pave the way for inevitable dredging to widen the channel. The latest argument now focuses on National Marine Sanctuary rules and the lawyers in the crowd now argue that dredging a new channel is specifically outlawed and can only get Federal permission by act of Congress that overrides sanctuary rules. That has been a tough nut to overcome but I have no doubt the will be plenty of argument over that either way the vote goes.
I don't see the vote as final either way. Thee is too much money and emotion at stake for either side to treat this referendum as anything other than merely an opening salvo in a prolonged siege.
I am not attracted to this stuff, which comes to life by day and sees thousands of people shuffling around looking for mass produced souvenirs.
I have to say I chose deliberately to come in the eary hours to treat the space as mine own.
Mine and Cheyenne's of course.
Key West The Newspaper now has an Internet only presence advertised by these rather clever billboards around town. Cruise ships dominated the headlines. The Blue Paper | Key West The Newspaper
Even the current crop of "small" ships dominate the city skyline. You can see their distinctive smoke stacks across the city.
I wonder what this scene would look like with a ship capable of carrying six thousand passengers?
Cheyenne likes walking Mallory Square but in the heat of summer, even a modestly warm summer like this one she only has so much energy, and the cool bricks make a pleasant spot for to rest up. She wasn't actually locked behind a fence. I just made it look that way.
I took a quick look at the forthcoming season of plays at the Waterfront Playhouse but I don't think they'll be seeing me at this collection of over the top musical nonsense. I hae to hope the Red Barn puts on a few dramas this winter to keep me amused.
Happily I live in the county and I won't vote on the referendum. My interest is that my employer stay solvent and keeps paying me...but I have to wonder why our business leaders feel that selling the city for a bowl of cruise ship pottage is the only way the city's economy can flourish.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Pez Heads

It has occurred to me that I have neglected the Pez Garden. Like so many people who live around here I pay it lip service, I walk by on my way to the theater, or to photograph something more interesting at Mallory Square, or to drink rum at El Meson...but stopping to read the plaques? Moi? Hardly. And its been my loss. This was the only head I saw actually smiling, and with good reason it turns out.
Amid the collection of heads there are of course the heads of the famous, the well known or notorious depending on your point of view. But these heads, two among dozens, celebrate relative obscurity combined with human decency. I like them. Joe Pearlman was a leader of the Jewish community, and a leading light of Florida's oldest synagogue which he held together through the Depression, a time that almost wiped out Key West completely.
This next one reeks of obscurantism. A strong single woman with a feminist agenda and depicted with a mannish hat? Would it be impolite to suggest she was a lesbian before her time? I suggest it not in the spirit of criticism, but with the sadness that comes from acknowledging the impossibility of her being able to come out if indeed that was what she was, and it seems likely.
Whatever sexual preference she was born with, she lived a full life and did her part to help young women in her town. It's a splendid biography cut short by an early death.
I'm going to go back and collect more heads. There's lots to see:
Key West Diary: Pez Garden