Saturday, June 28, 2014

PS: I Love You Key West

Today is the first day of vacation, three glorious weeks alone on the road with Layne and Cheyenne, no 911 calls, no cops, no commuting, no nothing of the daily grind. It's my turn to be the lost tourist,and I promise to pull over to let the locals by if I am holding them up as I lose my way far from home pottering through New England. The Fusion has fresh oil and clean transmission fluid, the tires are new and the interior is clean and we start our adventure safe in the knowledge we leave the house in the care of friends and neighbors on our new street where we actually like the people who live next door. With the house sat, the plants watered and the boat in Robert's capable hands we are set to leave town and think of very little except what a great country we live in and what lovely places we have to explore.
That it takes 12 hours to get out of Flatistan and the flat parts of Georgia is one of the drawbacks to living in the southernmost tip of Florida. Even though on this trip we are driving straight through, I am one of those people who has learned to enjoy the flat bits; Central Florida is an amazing place, flat but filled with cowboys, forests, rolling hills, weird towns and odd landmarks, a few of which I have illustrated in this blog. Below we see the lovely Rooftop Cafe, romantic (read expensive) dinner ambiance over a craptastic t-shirt shop. The contrasts of Key West, a flat city with a knobbly personality.
I saw this poster outside Red Fish Blue Fish, a tourist trap I'd recommend to no one unless you like fried food of a certain type, and I looked over the poster while Cheyenne sniffed something delicious at ground level. There, I thought to myself are all the activities associated with Key West in the minds of visitors, and  I have nothing to do with any of them. Nice work. Great blog. Very informative.
The parts of Key West that interest me keep cropping up as I walk around town, as I read the paper, as I listen to conversations and talk to people. I find the town fascinating from an observer's perspective because it is a city in transition, and yet remains a town filled with contradictions. In a country that equates quality with uniformity and exact replication Key West  trots off in the opposite direction, sometimes maddeningly so. Homeless? No problem!  
There was some bright spark, I don't remember who that wanted to turn this burned out ugly-ass wreck on Mallory Square, prime tourist country into a little restaurant. The excuse was as I recall that it was too small but I also seem to recall potential neighbors with much more muscle decided competition was not the American way in this case. Application squashed and the wreck lingers on in prime tourist attraction zone. How many tourist towns do you know love their moldering wrecks like this?
And across the way we have Key West harbor, lovely and what people look at when the sun sets and their turn their backs on the wreckage behind their backs. I love the tourist literature that spouts off about Key West's "world famous sunset." Really? Is it different from everybody else's? Advertising is weird.
Of course this is a town that struggles to combine wild drinking, part of its reputation, with history, literature and exceptional weather. The wild drinking requires massive clean up every morning and when I'm out with Cheyenne on early mornings after a night off work I see a lot of city workers charging around blowing sweeping and cleaning. They don't get as well as I do and I admire them for their physical labor in the heat even early in the mornings. People leave foul messes behind too when they are drunk.
More stupid t short shops, marring a pretty building, a landmark downtown known to anyone who has walked the upper end of Duval. I winder how these places stay in business when monthly rents on Duval are usually more than $30,000. It Italy they'd be getting audited to see if their tax returns matched their expenses. The Italian tax man is a lot less trusting than in the US where these places supposedly support their monstrous expenses month after month selling knick knacks. While defacing our lovely downtown at the same time.
Want to hazard a guess how much this jewelry stand might rent for? Too much is the correct answer.
This excessively long essay is my good bye my home town while I go off to explore parts to me unknown. I have crossed the Sahara desert with a motorcycle, I took the Great Siberian Railway across the Soviet Union in 1981 and I have navigated the Panama Canal on my own sailboat but I have never visited New England. Which should make me wonder where my priorities are. So as we drive through verdant mountainous twisty New England in July I shall look around and see if farting t-shirts are popular in resorts Up North.
I thought this window sign was funny. I don't think most people would have the nerve to actually shoot someone, despite the bluster. Mind you anything that keeps my workload down... The promise of violence is everywhere as though waving a gun around solves anything. I know people who can't leave home without worrying about where there gun is. All those off the wall places I've traveled? Never had a gun, never wanted one.
Then, when you least expect it Key West manages to look pretty. People drive down the Keys without doing their homework and all they see is the wreckage of no urban planning from Mile Marker 112 to Mile marker 2, and sometimes to my amazement people give up without checking out streets like these:
Yeah, I know, warm weather year round brings out the less able, the unmotivated, the residentially challenged, in a country that prefers not operate mental institutions. Better to spend the money blowing up Iraq to no visible purpose than taking care of our own. But behind the facade of indifference Key West does a lot for the poor, the medically indigent, the smelly and the unemployed.  
Its a town where tourists struggle to fit in, and where to be a local is some inexplicable merit badge, where riding a bicycle is cool, especially if it is a substitute for a car and not expensive, and where visitors emulate locals. Yet when they go home these people lunge for the keys to their cars, and  slip straight back into normal. I will miss my two wheeled life, my canal, my malfunctioning boat,the heat, the tourists dressing down to fit in. I shall feel out of place in communities where pink Crocs are weird. Mine will stay at home, even though I see tons of people visiting wearing lurid colored faux running shoes.  
I amble these streets and wonder how these urchins manage to stay alive and functioning after a fashion dealing with the boredom of a life without purpose. This guy marched past me so fast I could barely catch him with my phone camera. Homeless? Dunno. But he looked young and used up and I wondered what talents lay hidden under his disheveled slice of life.
I read Richard Machida's Blog so when I saw this poster at Tattoos and Scars, a bar with an unlikely name I wondered what the mild mannered scientist gets up to in his other life.
Here's a Judge who recently fell asleep on the bench in mid-trial. Yet they plan to vote for him anyway. Are they paying attention? Was he?
Key West is a town that attracts some two and a half million visitors a year, many of them arrive by car thanks to the ribbon of asphalt that makes of these islands a peninsula. And when they arrive they struggle to find parking and then they struggle to manage the ticket machines which have instructions in four languages. You have to give them credit for persistence. I wonder how I will cope Up North. Can I plead ignorance of Maine's parking laws?
The State of Florida will be changing the shape of vehicle tags next year. The plan they tell us is to make them flat so cameras can photograph them more easily which is news I do not find encouraging. I'd rather be stopped by an officer of he law than punished by a camera. However along with those changes we lose our county designations, an option on current tags. That means that at last the city will have to change how it assigns "Residential parking" spaces as currently a "Monroe" labeled tag gets you the right to sue these spaces. Change never stops. Anyone know where this letter is located? First right answer gets a raspberry.
Cheyenne is a pig, but luckily I saw her eyeing the oblivious tourist's packed lunch. Its getting rather hot for my Labrador so she has taken to her summer habit of dunking herself in puddles which means walks end in showers for my patient dog. Luckily we took our outdoor shower from Ramrod Key to our home on Cudjoe Key in our recent move.
Stores open and close in Key West and everyone complains about the cost of living, and the bums and the interference of government and the preferential treatment certain people get, all the usual grumbling to be expected of a small town in a desirable place at a time when making a living isn't so easy. And then I spotted the Key West Mustard Company , so once again I am reminded I have no entrepreneurial bones in this body.I could not imagine making a living from getting enthusiastic about mustard. And yet there are people who sell peppers and aloe and plastic mugs and do nicely thank you.
There are times when your Labrador wants a pause in the action and she stops to rest under some fronds that look just right. So you look up and take a picture, just because you are there and you can and you enjoy looking up at  trees.While Cheyenne rested this is what I saw:
Looking down we were on Lazy Way Lane, a narrow line of shops wedged between the new overbearing hotel and the waterfront. Its a one way lane (supposedly) running from right to left in the pictures:
I wonder how long it will take for the hotel to swamp this picturesque little lane and I have heard rumors the developer has offered millions for Schooner Wharf. So far resisted but who knows how long before the hotel imitates neighboring Conch Harbor resort with its pool bar and restaurant? 
I was thinking these gloomy thoughts as I wandered past this preparation for a boat trip, and I liked the play on the word Brut, as Key West's version of a desirable wine,Brute will probably not take sales away from Champagne.
We ambled Cheyenne and I, and she didn't know this would be our last walk here for most of the next month as we visit Boston and Syracuse, and I hope Jack Riepe in New Jersey... when out of nowhere this pesky little mockingbird dive bombed us. I hate these pesky aggressive birds and I know its a sin to kill a mockingbird but it seems like it shouldn't be. Cheyenne ignored it the way she ignores most irritants in her life, an attitude I need to emulate.

And so our bags are packed, Cheyenne has food and treats and bowls even though she doesn't know it, and the prospect of three hard days driving to get to Boston. She'll enjoy the cool nights and we will take urban walks together and I will post pictures and we shall enjoy it. And i will marvel that people don't mind living in snow caves in winter and I shall miss this place.
No, I won't miss the morning deposits of what I hope is beer left along the streets after a  night of being on the town. This was I think one of the last pints pulled at Finnegan's Wake before they closed. I hope it was unused.
No, maybe it wasn't that one, perhaps it was this one at the corner of James and Grinnell Streets...
I will be glad to be gone, to see new things and be ready to come home and see old things and find my routines again. Walking Cheyenne, riding my motorbike, swimming in salt water, eating in at home on my nights off. And yes, back at work answering 911s. But a break is nice, we shall make the most of it.