Call it irony but the Florida Keys this week are being ravaged by a solid cold front bringing rain, high winds and night time temperatures close to sixty degrees as we celebrate The Fall Holiday. What the hell I thought, I've got lots to be glad about so I assembled a few pictures from my store of who knows how many pictures in my picasa files and figured I could share these with those of you sneaking away from family gatherings to consider how life might be in Key West today. Pretty much like it is wherever you are I guess.
Cheyenne is in the Florida Panhandle with my wife so the home has been empty all week which has been rather weird. My wife and I communicate because we are human and we made the decision for her to go and be with friends; Cheyenne, who cannot talk or text, just saw me drive away after I dropped her off with my wife for the trip Up North. I've said plenty about Cheyenne on this page so let me just say she is doing well despite my benign neglect that shocks the more attentive dog owners in our stress filled world, and remember she came from the pound because someone else didn't want her. Why buy a dog when you get lovely animals for close to free from your local shelter? Does Cheyenne look like damaged goods to you?
Even in the Keys, even here life is a bunch of compromises and though I get to ride every day the ride is a trifle limited. One highway, flat straight and unvarying so I do my daily riding here and take to the road for mountains purple majesty whenever I can. I'm grateful for my sister in law in Asheville home to many winding roads, and my great rides last September in the Dolomites. This time of year all those lucky sods who get to ride in the most beautiful places all summer long have to put their machines away. I don't. I like riding even during the rain or a cold front. And I'm not alone on the road at least when the sun is shining.
I am not fussy either, I like riding slowly and I like riding fast and I even enjoy riding my wife's scooter, as I wait for my own P200 to come home from the restorer's shop. Gratitude to my wife for indulging my absurd nostalgic two stroke desire when she lets me ride her more modern Vespa as I please:
Sand sun and gentle ocean swells are the chamber of commerce view of life in the Keys. Throw in lots of alcohol and the sybaritic eating out lifestyle and you have nothing that remotely resembles daily living in the Keys. Funny that, life here doesn't live up to the sales image.
However let me point out that life is good here in the Lower Keys, it just isn't what you think it is. It's a mixture of work, always important if you don't have a private income, and time to yourself. Work is tough because this is a tourist economy and jobs aren't careers. Careers in the Keys are already taken by people who grew up here or got here before you did. How I found the best job of my life in Key West I cannot rightly say, but I work for the government which is the only other option in the Keys. If you're a welder you could open a welding shop...but then you come up against the high cost of living and cut throat competition from established business. Low quality housing, high rents and out of town millionaires buying up the best housing stock is not a pretty picture if you live in a McMansion Up North and want to trade snowdrifts for this:
The great thing about Key West is not just the waters but it's also the resources in town. It's a by product of the weather but in winter poets and musicians and actors and artists like to get a paid vacation in the sun and the city bustles with cultural events. The seasons here are marked as much by the tenor of public events as much as by the changes in temperature.
Our jobs have turned into a source of pleasure and accomplishment in our lives. It's not that work has taken us over but my wife loves her new adult education job and her boss seems to value her. My boss values me and for the first time in my life I have no desire to quit and move on. Next year marks ten years at the police department. How lucky is that?
We are both grateful for our union membership, health insurance, defined benefit pension plans and the prospect of social security and Medicare (single payer, finally! Ten more years!) if the one percent don't manage to steal that too. I have positioned myself as well as I can with a job that I hope can never be outsourced to India...
In my job you hear people being profoundly nasty, the inhumanity of humanity is in evidence in 911 calls, believe me. And then I remember how lucky I am. I send them help, no matter how nasty they are, and I get to ride home to my real life. And when I'm out and about I see all those people who didn't curse at me last night living lives like mine, meditating on the value of the timeless simple things in life.
I am grateful for the flat waters and astonishing seascapes I see every day in these islands, colors and shapes that most people in our high stress society get to see on magazine covers.
For your amusement I include a picture of everyone's favorite fearsome Keys dinosaur. You'd be astonished how many people live in fear of snakes sharks and alligators, monsters under the bed, an attempt to make the excessively civilized little islands grow in stature by virtue of their danger. People constantly warn me of the danger of rattlesnakes when out walking Cheyenne but they are simply story tellers as their fears keep them far from the dangers of which they speak. That snakes exist there is no doubt but of all the predators in these islands humans are the most rapacious.
But food for humans is better when prepared in. A coffee shop...When I first encountered Caribbean food I was surprised by the lack of flavor in Latino countries, simple meat rice and beans and not much flavoring the way Mexicans cook by contrast. British Caribbean countries used curry and fried pastry in a creditable imitation of being stuck in the 1950s. Cuban food in Key West is full of fat sugar and salt and caffeine. What's not to like? I'm grateful this tiny town turns it out by the ton. I live here so I can only eat it sparingly but here it is and I am grateful for it:
I get to live where other people want to vacation. I know, everyone hates tourists, but these people bring the money that fuels the city. Tourism has changed since the crash, and that was inevitable. Tourists are older, more respectable and employed. Everyone else gets to stay home. Thank your corporate bankers and their derivatives. I miss the good old days of wild spending and optimism as grateful as I am for my job and my small place in this society. The benefit of the graying of tourism is there are fewer drunks being rowdy around the city of a winter's night, but the trickle down effect is trickling less abundantly.
When you live in the Keys one thing that gets confusing is how much seasons Up North change. In the Keys in winter cool weather and rain come and go and t-shirts remain the informal wear of the vacationer. We know its cold Up North because more people show up on Duval Street suddenly. People make fun of us because we say that sixty degrees is cold. It is cold here and if you are ever here when a cold sea breeze is blowing and the air is damp and you have no heat in your room you will feel cold. I've seen it happen over and over again. People from Up North look surprised and say, hmm it does feel colder than sixty degrees does at home.
Key West is also home to gross bad taste. It gets tiring watching people let everything, literally, hang out, but like getting yelled at on the 911 line observing this side of human nature reminds me to be grateful that I live here. Diversity is a pain in the ass, let's face it, learning to cope with other people's quirks and absurd beliefs, but the fact is my firm conviction looks like a nutty belief to you, and because we live in a nation built on a set of laws, not a common culture, we have to learn to get along. And Key West is a great place to learn the lessons of tolerance. If this guy walked your Main Street dressed like this would he draw no attention at all?
I like seeing mountains and I like riding them but sea level is where I feel best. I hear people remark that dry heat is better than high humidity, but I know the feeling of straw like hair and brittle finger nails in the dry air of the mountains. I loved riding up to Passo Giau last September, huge gratitude, but when the time comes to get home to sea level I feel no lingering regret.
Unlike Italy, which abides by EU requirements, I like having the choice to ride without a helmet and I treasure this Florida choice, the only thing that makes me remotely grateful to Republicans. I wear it most of the time but sometimes I don't. I grow weary of the need for absolutes in a world which is ruled by uncertainty and I would rather choose for myself. Whe. I remember reading a comment by a scooter rider who was toying with the idea of coming to Key West and renting a scooter to add to her life experiences but was out off by fear of looking weird wearing riding gear in a town where such behavior is hardly ever indulged. It seemed such an odd position to take I have never quite forgot the story.
I am grateful for the chance to do something good with this stupid blog. I get messages from people trapped just like me by the spiraling failures of our New World Economic Order except they aren't here and wish they were. I have gone out of my way not to sell out, not to pander and not to talk down to anyone who reads this page. The one time I was persuaded to change I found myself in a strait jacket. Never again. Writing my daily essays is not an act of pure altruism, it benefits me to record my days, to express myself and to have this electronic page on which to do it. Ah gratitude, you start to bore me so let us end it here.
Happy Thanksgiving wherever you and your dog and your motorcycle may be.