Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Key West Speck Of Light In Endless Darkness

I'm fifty six today which gives me the duty or perhaps the obligation to reflect on the passage of time. Which is a perfectly pointless use of a ticking clock hand. Time passes, if it exists at all and we have to spend it on this little blue ball suspended in the darkness of space. Which is a rather portentous way of thinking about how serene and peaceful the night sky can be, especially when close to the ocean.
I took a lunch break at White Street Pier, where the cool night air was blowing and everything felt contaminated by salty dampness at three o'clock in the morning... Fall is upon us but in Key West that means something a little different compared to places where leaves change and frost kills plants and dogs chained outside grow winter coats and howl at the demons of the night. In the Keys humidity drops away, lips chap and one's Labrador starts to perk up after a summer of avoiding direct sunlight. "It's cold outside," Shannon said cheerfully when she got back from her lunch break at ten in the evening. By the time I took a Vespa ride to the beach four hours later it was in the mid seventies and decidedly parky. Just like people Up North who look forward to the first snows and loathe the last, I like the first signs of a break in the weather though by January I will be waiting for the return of summer, a time when sixty degrees is nowhere to be seen outside an ice box.
I drank a large ice cold can of Coke Zero while I watched the half moon move across the sky, ducking in and out among the clouds, and I felt pretty good. We got through Fantasy Fest in good order at work. I spent the night of the parade dispatching ambulances and taking calls from severely intoxicated people who had lost, it seemed, all the appurtenances of their complex modern lives; the city was adrift in a sea of missing cars, bicycles, cell phones, wallets purses and family members. Through it all I managed to keep above the fray and stay cheerful such that Shannon, new to 911 call taking, asked me how I managed that. Nine years of Fantasy Fest in dispatch I said, and in saying it I was surprised how long I have worked at the police department. It's the human condition, you get used to anything. One caller got mad at me because I didn't get all in a lather when he reported a man passed out at Higgs Beach. I got all the information to make sure the officer could find him with minimal effort and the caller was acting like I was supposed to get myself worked up as he was. "Oh I don't want to get involved." the caller said when I asked him if he wanted to meet the officer. Of course he didn't,but I noted his request for anonimity as I calmly did my job, because thats what we do in the modern world. We aren't our brothers keepers anymore, unless we extend ourselves to call the government for help, and I am grateful for that; its my job security, other people's fear, and that makes my job weird. It always amazes me how people can drink themselves insensible in the streets of our fair city, and leave themselves to be picked up by perfect strangers. I wonder what they think when they wake up next day in the drunk tank at the jail. Mostly they call the police department all angry as though its our fault they got pick pocketted while passed out. By then I'm home asleep with my dog and their loss of dignity is long forgotten.
Most of the time I have worked nights because I like night shift and I have been out to the White Street Pier before now in the middle of my lunch break. It sticks out south of Higgs Beach like a finger pointing at Havana and the tour guides like to joke it is the stump of the former road bridge to Cuba closed by the embargo. It is in point of fact just a fishing pier, a nice one, but nothing more. And I like to come here from time to time and contemplate the night time mysteries of the universe and the pleasure of being alive and intact. This time I was impressed by the utter blackness of the night surrounding the tiny specks of light I caught in my camera lense. I hope that in the event my body fails one piece at a time before my demise i shall still be able to take pleasure in the vastness of the unvierse around me.
While buying my coke I met the sergeant in charge of our shift at the convenience store and we chatted for a while. He is enjoying a new relationship which is helping him overcome the unhappiness of a recent divorce, and the new relationship makes for a much happier shift. When the sergeant ain't happy ain't nobody happy, believe me. We talked about the subtle pleasures of working nights, and he showed me a video of his latest high speed track driving exploit and we laughed at the prospect of one day being retired and not having a reason to stand around at the Circle K shooting the breeze. The best is to have lived with no regrets he said. Or as few as possible, as he admired his new companion pictured riding in the race car next to him at the Homestead Race Track.
The landward end of the pier is an area dedicated to the AIDS memorial, a remembrance of the time when people were dying all over the island in droves. And from time to time a new name still gets added. At three in the morning ruffled by that cool autumnal breeze the memorial gains in strength as the black shiny memorial slabs reflect the infinite darkness overhead, the place where those memorialized have gone and where we are bound to follow. No regrets.
It strikes me as telling that these kinds of thoughts only seem to be permitted in the dark of night in this town, which is a place dedicated to having fun, and that diversion is held as the highest ideal. Sun sea sand and music and restaurants and costumes and parties and all that stuff pushes thoughts of age and the darkness of eternity to one side. Just as well I suppose, but I am content and I feel lucky, in the face of decay. At the Big Pine dog park I met an old white guy radiating contentment along with his cheerful Collie, so happy Cheyenne got tired of him in a hurry. We were sitting there in the dawn's early grayness and he talked about a fellow he knew, a computer repair wizard who rescued a Ridgeback dog from South Africa and flew it home to Key West. They are inseparable and if you want your computer fixed you have to welcome the Rhodesian right alongside the tech into your home.
It kind of surprised me, my conventional interlocutor remarked, suggesting love of dog could cut business prospects. Cool I said, tired as I am of being nice on command, as necessary as it is in our overcrowded world. Lose some work (gasp!) love your dog. Nice indeed. He's a good dog the dude in the garden chair across from me went on, idling ruffling his Collie's coat. They live for 25 years, Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Hell I said its too late for me, the bloody dog would outlive me! He started chuckling, you'd be 80 as I told him my age, claiming 55 for the last time. Yes I said, if I get that far. I figure I've got maybe two more Labradors in me yet.
It's not possible for normally engaged Westerners to be constantly aware, as the Bhuddists would like us to be, of our status as a small speck of stardust suspended in Carl Sagan's dark and lonely cosmos. But from time to time it's nice to remember our main obligation is just to get through it and do as little harm as possible while being as kind as one can manage. Growing older I am finding it easier to be a human being rather than a human doing, and that can't be all bad. Living, working and having a life in Key West is icing on this very temporary cake.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Things I See In Key West

The re-elected mayor of Key West is in hot water for his plans announced without much of a by-your-leave to build a homeless rehab facility on Stock Island, on the northern half of the island previously annexed by the city. It's not a real popular plan not least with the homeowners on the golf course nearby and a swath of city residents who argue that a 24 hour center for the homeless will not solve the problem and may just make it worse. Worse than this?

I continue to be astounded by the numbers of people who drink themselves insensible night after night on city streets. Not all of them are residentially challenged but they sure don't hold back when it comes to quaffing cheap alcohol. While the bigwigs argue about the size of cruise ships the streets present this spectacle to paying tourists. Let me tell you the police are doing what is permitted night after night, taking names, arresting and moving along. What the real solution is I don't know but shooting down proposals like the mayor's isn't the path to productive discussion. The city has had a falling out with Reverend Braddock one of the leading homeless activists and his expertise seems to have been sidelined. I can't imagine how that helps.

Meanwhile we all muddle along. It's not all homeless and cruise ships in town. Life goes on as usual and this time of year is lovely with time and space for those that live here, or visit and appreciate quiet times. What better than local freshly baked pastries for breakfast, to go...

Hydration is all the rage and this couple luckily had a plastic recyclable bottle of filtered tap water bough at great expense to keep them from expiring on the hot city streets. They were at least one block from Harpoon Harry's and the New Market (Maun's) where refreshment is sometimes available as rumor has it. And non alcoholic too. I learned when living on a boat that water is terribly heavy so perhaps I am simply justifying my laziness.

I make it through an entire walk without so much as a sip of water. I astonish myself. This dude in the picture below went a long way to surprising me too. It's illegal finally to text and drive in Florida, as of the first of the month, so he couldn't have been texting but he crawled up Fleming onto White Street at ten miles per hour (giving me the opportunity to take the next picture below as he dawdled after a red light went green) then suddenly he got galvanized and started racing down White Street as though a firecracker had gone off up his fundament. Then at the light in front of Sandy's he flicked a cigarette butt into the street. His pest control company had the green seal of Eco-awareness on the back or some such nonsense. Irony where is they sting?

I really liked the 15 minute parking zone in front of the dentist's office. I've never had a fifteen minute appointment at Doctor Claude's office on South Street. Even to clean my teeth takes half an hour.

Someone got quite enthusiastic already about my birthday tomorrow. If anyone would like to swap a Halloween birthday with me let me know how we can do it and I am ready to get through All Hallow's Eve with absolutely no celebration at all. My wife is promising cup cakes from the shop in Marathon near where she works. I asked for pineapple upside down cake and she groaned I always want the most complicated cakes, so my evil plan to get cupcakes worked. Might as well get something for turning fifty six.

I keep seeing these painted faces around Key West. They were a sensation for a time but like everything in Key West they ended up being rather evanescent though the weather can't wipe their remains out completely. Cheyenne was not at all fascinated by the decal.

This weird loading dock next to Finnegan's Wake has been abandoned for ages, as long as I can remember which may not technically be an age but it has sat there like this for a very long time. Suddenly it looked like construction was about to happen. Not so fast! There's fencing in front of it but here it sits as always:

The Boulevard has been turned into two way traffic to help out the struggling businesses along its length, and the relief for all side and alternative streets has been enormous. Meanwhile plans are afoot to beautify Caroline Street where Pritam Singh is preparing to build a fancy new hotel behind the old West Marine store, and that building will require planters and bike paths and all that sort of urban renewal. Flooding certainly is a problem, seen here in front of Pepe's Cafe.

As much as government gets blamed for all the ills of the Western world business manages not to get too worked up sometimes about the details. A new gutter perhaps?

Here's the old West Marine at 725 Caroline...

...and here is the new boater's supermarket stretching from the corner of Grinnell Street. I think the building is quite attractive with its built in sliding hurricane shutters in a natty shade of blue.


And then of course there is a huge segment of Key West voters who told the people in charge that enough is enough and dredging is off he table. The city commission is telling the Feds to back off, the people don't want change, and they mean to hold their leaders accountable. Oddly enough many of the city commissioners supported the dredging study while their voters told them no by 75 to 25 percent.

I wonder if they will pay attention over the long term to the will of the people in this small corner of a tone deaf country?


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A New Bohemian In Old Key West

The lure of Key West refuses to dim for some people and often they ask me what to do about it. It's a question that perplexes me, not least because my cold logical Asperger's brain says if you want to do it, do it. But it's not that simple they say and it never is. When I was a kid learning to plough fields that I owned but that I had no money to maintain hence my ride on the tractor, I was in the habit of wondering out loud where would be a good place to live if one day my family could ever get its shit together and make some money from this biblically stony ground that held no appeal to me as a home. The old hand on the other tractor looked at me stonily and noted that with enough money anywhere is good enough to live. It's a lesson that has got away from me over the years but in Key West it has come home to roost.

George like me never even knew about Key West until he had an accidental brush with it. He flew over the town and throught the situation looked interesting, a town surrounded by turquoise waters. I rode there on my Vespa looking for a ferry out that wasn't there. Beorge became an accident two European ad spent a productive lifetime in Prague city of monuments and spires and writers and acommunism and bloody cold winters. Five minutes after arriving in Key West and abandoning his rental car for a walk George and his missus decided Key West was a lot better than Belize, the other short listed place with winter sun that looked better than Prague as a place to retire.

So here was my chance over tapas at Santiago's Bodega to find out why Key West. Weather? Of course. Fishing? Nope. Boating? Nope. Family ties? Nope, not at all. The literary scene? A big fat Yes for this literature major who first identified Prague decades ago by its Kadka/Kundera fame and only later discovered he could earn a living there. There was no unbearable lightness of beans in Prague for George who landed a volunteer gig there just as capitalism started to rear it's busy head behind the former Iron Curtain. By the time the chance for foreigners to get established in Prague had passed George was ensconced with local partners playing with money and learning to be happy working eighty hours a week in his adopted land speaking an adopted language with a cellphone glued to his head. Meanwhile back in Gotham City... I was living on a boat in California reporting news and making absolutely no money whatsoever. I met women though and learned the old adage they won't lie down in a cabin they can't stand up in.

So now George who grew up shuffling between DC and New York, his wife and their one year old live in Old Town a few months of the year scattered throughout the year, scattered enough for George to reject vehemently the snowbird label...
George has catapulted himself into a Key West that is alien for me, and thus that much more interesting. To me learning a language then learning to live that language is much more interesting than choosing to live in Key West which is a default position for a lot of incomers myself included, yet for George life is now beginning to flesh itself out for him. The monochrome world of finance in a country that is as exotic as it is distant has blossomed into the overly saturated colors of a primitive artwork that is Key West's fame and reputation. On the one hand it makes me a bit nervous because I am not terribly colorful. I don't pick fights in bars or solicit strippers, I don't commune with street people or lead impromptu jamborees on penny whistles and kazoos. I work overtime, pay most of my bills and fret about global warming, peak oil and bone spurs in my neck.

Yet here I am living in the Keys, living the dream as it were, unable to explain how I even got here except I showed up on my boat after years of flirting with Key West and finding it wanting, when suddenly the fog of San Francisco Bay was no longer tolerable and enough of the outside world had penetrated Key West to make it at last comfortable for me. I find tolerance to be a precious commodity as I grow older and tolerance in California is draining away under the pressure of too many people and too many golden dreams crowded into a state no longer large enough, or golden enough to give them room. Key West's reputation for tolerance may be somewhat overstated nowadays as traditionally not tolerated issues like homosexuality and unconventional relationships generally are tolerated far more widely across the country. It's tough to be a Bohemian nowadays, an irony that I quite enjoy considering George's many decades of actual residence in Bohemia....our neighbors at Santiago's were from somewhere else recording their visit for posterity. Perhaps they felt the bohemian vibe?

George wants to soak up life now he is here, smart phone free, unemployed, and ready to live. I find it flattering he wants to do it in Key West, and it seems to me he gets what he wants. My wife and I wandered around Eastern Europe for three weeks in 1995, driving through Czech, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria and it seemed like the land of opportunity as change was sweeping the drudgery of Communism away. But I had no conception of how, or why one might choose to make a home there. Nothing daunted George did and did it well. Settling in Key West, resuming his literary ambitions, mixing it up with colorful locals (there are some, just not me) and reveling in joie de vivre should be a piece of cake for the Bohemian re-born. My dog tends to reflect my Key West ambitions on a sunny afternoon off:

George will make a much better gauge of what happens when one moves one's life to a Key West of which so many dream and not everyone attains. You should ask him how it's done the next time he greets your cheerfully on the street and asks how you are doing. He really means it, he wants to know. It was a privilege to meet a nice guy and he will be very gentle with you. He was with me. Must be those European manners.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Smathers Beach

These pictures were a lunch break in the early afternoon a week or so ago. There was no great reflection behind them, just that I hadn't been to the beach recently even though this is the route I have been using to get home in the evening and I wanted to stop and check it out. So I did.
I don't feel at ease wearing a police polo shirt, long pants and black shoes at the beach honestly. I deeply dislike being mistaken for a police officer as I'm not a sworn officer, nor do I wish to be, and my presence can be interpreted as a little overbearing among groups of swimmers and sunbathers.
Dead seaweed washed up here on the south side of the island and comes as a surprise to people who imagine long sandy beaches are a natural feature of the Florida Keys (they aren't. This sand is imported from the Bahamas and the coconut palms aren't native either).
Wearing stout shoes was. Help in getting out onto the water on the rocky uneven slabs that make up the groin jutting out from the east end of the beach.
It's the peaceful antidote one needs to mark the passage of Fantasy Fest's turbulent wake through the city.
A cruise shi in the distance navigating the harbor channel that will not be widened to accommodate extra large cruise ships.
Time to go back to work.
The meters that used to be here were removed after public protest.
Parking across from Smathers Beach was banned for a while in the sandy lot but I guess the disappearance of meters makes it okay to snag free shaded parking because I see lots of vehicles lined up there.
Smathers Beach was named for a friend of John F Kennedy who served in the Senate with the future President. He was a Miami native whose links to Key West seem tenuous at best...George Smathers - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. He is also infamous for his shared dalliances with his friend the president but one doesn't want to think about that at a place as wholesome as a public beach.
Pausing at Rest Beach further west one can see Smathers as a faint line on the horizon a mile away.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Masquerade March Part 4, Fantasy Fest 2013




A spectator at the Masquerade March Friday evening.

William strangling Heather, as one does.



One scandal that won't die is the local family that got involved in stealing meter money from the city. I was surprised to see it back on the street:















Do free drinks get your vote?


I knew we were getting close to the end when a sunset vendor muscled through the line en route downtown....

It was old fashioned silly fun. I had a good time, ninety minutes out of my life I'll never get back.