I was away from my work routine for three weeks though not always away from Key West. Finding myself on Duval yesterday morning I took a quick picture, me and Cheyenne and St Paul's cathedral half masked by fast food commercialism. This spot on Duval near Eaton Street represents the best and worst of Duval Street for me because there is lovely architecture but this spot also represents the total reliance on the tourist dollar.
Key West also holds out the promise of enough social variety and non conformism to make room for the eccentric in each of us to get out. My wife and I went to a Bernie Sanders gathering but the other side of Key West made itself apparent in the chaotic nature of the organization. We signed up, not expecting much, and hope that the candidate has better grass roots in more serious constituencies.
A staycation is a rare bird for me, I prefer to take a road trip or visit family in Europe or even explore a whole new country, but this year for assorted reasons none of those options were available. If one lives in the Keys one consoles oneself by remembering that millions come here to visit on their prized vacations. So if I was on the beach at Higgs watching the sunrise I was a lucky man, not some motiveless slob hanging around the home.
Of all the bars in town Agave 308 is my wife's favorite, a small hole in the wall under the Rooftop Cafe which is where the food comes from, upstairs. We home vacationers didn't eat a taco here but we met a friend, I had an agave beer, an ultra light oddity from Colorado and my wife had a mixed drink so we knocked off something she had wanted to do for a while. It's actually a pleasant little spot if you want alcohol and don't weant the rowdiness of Lower Duval just around the corner.
For us the staycation was an opportunity to see a movie precisely when we felt like it and we snagged up Ian McKellen's latest as soon as it appeared at the Tropic. Mr Holmes was a gentle movie, less a detective drama and more a meditation on old age, loneliness and the fear of forgetfulness. It was a slight movie but its quality was such that it stayed in my memory and I have pondered it's message ever since I saw it.
After the movie we bought Art from a man hawking his wares on his door-step half a block from the theater. Jan Halleran was moving to a senior housing apartment in New Town and was releasing his paintings to new lives as he packed the rest of his stuff. It was a sad story to me, unable to afford the rent on his minuscule apartment in the heart of the downtown action on Eaton Street he was lucky to have finally qualified for an affordable city unit on Kennedy Drive.
We were glad to get this piece made from found things after Hurricane Wilma, the devastating flood of 2005. We lived through that so it was a piece with extra meaning for my wife and I.
The first week of my vacation wasn't a vacation at all but a conference for law enforcement put on by the Criminal Justice Information System people in Tallahassee. I attended a bunch of lectures all week long on weird and abstruse subjects, not many of which seemed targeted at dispatchers. I heard about drone technology and FBI auditing procedures neither of which seemed anywhere close to my pay grade but I was reminded that abusing law enforcement computer systems can carry fearful penalties. I hoped to discover intimate details of the Florida Driver License system and they did teach us a few new investigative techniques when we chick driver and vehicle documents for officers on the road.
Because schools were out my wife the teacher and our dog came up with me so I got to walk Cheyenne around Jacksonville early in the morning. I quite liked the views of the St Johns river before dawn but she seemed to be less impressed. At least it felt like a vacation after I got out of "class."
On the way south we stopped in St Augustine and my wife the indefatigable electronic tour book reader located a food truck in a marina worth visiting. The breeze off the water kept us cool enough to enjoy a fresh salad wrap in the shade while the dog slept in air conditioned comfort in the car. It was a short stop as we know St Augustine well but the wrap was crisp and cool and fresh and delicious. Well worth the detour. I find my wife's ability to sniff out places to eat and things to visit is almost miraculous with her smart phone. Miraculous and great fun.
Another case in point was a fine little taco shop located inside the convenience store attached to a Valero gas station on US 41 in Bonita Springs. We had a business meeting in Southwest Florida and my wife and her smartphone located this highly recommended and extremely unobtrusive spot where we ate superb tacos, made by Mexicans for Mexicans. We'd never have found it without the iPhone.
Stopping in Ft Myers was cause for me to walk my dog once again in the early hours of the morning. We came across an art bar which looked intriguing, though at 5:30 in the morning it was decidedly closed. One reason we had to stay close to home was the need to make critical decisions in the development of our start up company. They will tell you if you decide to start your own company that it will take longer and cost more money than you anticipate. Laos it take slots of hope-for-the-best decisions.
Aside from the work requirements of the vacation Cheyenne is not much adapted anymore to consecutive long days in the car. She tires and takes time to recover from the enforced idleness on the back seat. The prospect of three twelve hour days driving to see friends in Maine was more than we could imagine putting her through, even though freezing cold summer days in Portland would have been a delight for her compared to summer days in Florida.
Downtown Ft Myers is quite clean and attractive though signs of heavy partying on the weekends usually net Cheyenne a few treats. When I find myself in these small towns I ponder how they manage to look neat and brisk and tidy where Key West looks utterly shambolic downtown. Perhaps its the wooden buildings that end up looking crappy and grubby. Perhaps there are just too many tourists in Key West to keep things looking at least moderately spic and span. Nowhere we walked did Ft Myers have a store that even vaguely resembled a crack house. I find Ft Myers' population far too conservative and conformist for my taste, radical that I'm not, but they know how to make their town look welcoming. Key West could take a lesson.
On the other hand I have heard from people that Key West's shabbiness is chic. Too clean and crisp and it will lose its charm they say. I'm not sure when shabby slips into grossly dirty but Duval Street could use a deep clean in my opinion. On a happier note travels to the mainland net rare motorcycle sightings like this Moto Guzzi 750 never seen in captivity in the Keys. One morning I heard a subdued burble on First Street and there it was in motion. I liked it.
Once again my wife scored a great stop at the Key Largo Flea Market. She looked at me like I was an idiot when I confessed I'd never seen it. She knew where it was, what it was, and what she wanted to get. The pine cones are custard apples, my favorite fruit. The succulent is dragon fruit all crisp white flesh with a mild Asian pear type of flavor. The sock contained a guava. We gorged on them when we got home 90 minutes later.
Staycations for Cheyenne mean more attention from me and as many walks as she can handle. And baths too when she falls into a mud pit. She is old enough now that an hour long intense walk in the morning has her curling up on her bed and sleeping it off all day long. I made the most of being with her all day every day.
I knocked off a couple of Key West places I had wanted to visit for a long time. One was the retired Coastguard Cutter Ingham. We wandered all over it for an hour checking out every nook and cranny taking pictures which I will post later in an overly long photo essay. I was surprised how uncomfortable and mechanical the interior of the ship was. It must have been like living in a boiler room.
My buddy Robert wanted to try the burgers at a relatively new hole in the wall on First Street so we knocked that one off. Bier Boutique took over the space formerly occupied by Little Jon's about a year ago so we were a little late to be calling this place new. The owners moved from Ohio and they decided to offer foods found only around Cincinnati along with more canned and bottled beers than you can count. The burgers we ate were superb. This place epitomizes the best of Key West eateries these days, small inexpensive informal and innovative. I like it a great deal.
And coming home from even a week away Highway One is starting, at last to get re-paved between Big Coppitt and Stock Island. It was long overdue as the daily grind of numerous 18 wheeler trucks on the sole highway have torn to asphalt to shreds. I pretend some days I shall miss the particular landmarks of certain extra massive potholes but really I shan't, the new and unfinished smooth surface is superb.
Walmart is coming and representatives of the infernal store met with the trade union of business owners, the Chamber of Commerce. They are also giving money to good causes.
James Chapman was in the news while I was away, making the decision to move to Delaware after losing his house to an unscrupulous loan shark. He used to pedal his brightly lit tricycle on Duval while playing extra loud music. All that is over since he like everyone else needs money to stay in Key West.
Sometimes one has to wonder why one lives in the Lower Keys in the middle of all the expense and the remoteness and the frequent lack of amenity. A staycation brings all that into focus, and for me the weather is a big draw as I enjoy year round heat and sunshine. But beyond that platitude I like the color of the society in which I live, the multiplicity of opinions, the determination to not conform to social norms I find very liberating as my minor tics aren't noticeable in a town that breeds weirdos like orchards breed apples. Key West is liberating if you can leave your petit bourgeois prejudices at the door.
I prefer living outside town for the slower pace, the quieter streets and easier access to the water. But spending time on the mainland reminds me how much conformity I avoid by living south of reality where fashion statements and displays of consumption mean nothing and where a strong liver and the ability to forget how things were done "back home" will get you far.