Friday, September 30, 2016

Chugging To America

It has been a  more than usually bizarre week for the US Coastguard based in the Lower Keys, and their unhappy work has been a reminder how lucky we are to live on this side of the Straits of Florida. Five dead Cubans washed ashore among the Lower Keys, as well as three live migrants.
Because I work in the 911 center in Key West a phone call from some local night owl announcing they have come across a group of cheerful, disheveled, wet Cubans fresh off a boat is not uncommon. We send officers and an ambulance to make sure they stay put and are in good health while we call the Border Patrol, nowadays known more properly as ICE and they take them off to Homestead for processing before they release them. The dry foot policy means Cubans fleeing Communism get to stay of they set foot ashore anywhere in the US. 
It's a policy that needs to change and soon. With daily scheduled flights leaving the US now for Cuba it's obvious that something will change soon, as soon as Congress can find time. And Cubans know it too so anyone with plans to start a new life in the US is figuring out ways to get afloat in some kind of bath tub to come to the US. They've done it in a homemade amphibious 1951 truck which was stopped and sunk by the Coastguard about ten miles from the Keys after the passengers were removed. They were sent back to Cuba where the driver of the truck then went to Mexico and walked into the US and settled in Miami:
Image result for amphibious cuban truck
Not all rafters as the balseros are known in English make it to the US. Some craft like this one displayed at the East Martello museum are incredibly flimsy. The sign on the wall behind it asks the last Cuban to leave the island to please turn out the lights...
And if you check local commentary on Facebook or in the newspaper people who live here don't greet the new immigrants with much joy. There is usually a lot of talk about how the government settles the migrants and offers them services that aren't available to locals etc... but it has never seemed to me that people so energetic and driven and imaginative come to the US to sit on their backsides. They can do that in Ciba just fine if they want to. Below you can see a picture I took of a Cuban Chug on Boca Chica Beach with old Cheyenne peaking round the bow. The hull has been painted with  "USCG OK" which means they checked it and cleared it. You'll see these boats on many beaches slowly rotting away slowly as no one is paid to remove them.
This week five bodies washed up and the only speculation anyone could figure out was that something went wrong at sea and that happens a lot and we living here in comfort don't ever get to know about the extent of the lives lost. The Straits of Florida are dangerous waters. I've crossed them several times in stout modern sailboats and I have got caught in very nasty weather and been scared by the force of the waves as the wind blows against the Gulf Stream current. To make a 90 mile journey across from Havana in this blows my mind: 
Luckily in this case there were survivors who presumably told their story to investigators. It seems the rafters left Cuba September 20th and capsized the next day and floated helplessly across. Two bodies hit the beach, three were found at sea and three people, incredibly, survived. Who knows who else may be out there dead or possibly even alive. It's been a bit of a horror show.
I hope the wet-foot dry-foot policy is abolished soon and people stop trying to come across like this. But there are so many things that need attention which are currently jammed up in our dysfunctional government so I suppose nothing here will change. When you see what we put to sea in to go fishing or swimming or snorkeling it makes you think about what boating means in Cuba.
This week we got a reminder that tons of unseen, unknown people are ready to risk it all to get here.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Nefud In The Keys

Human experience is a very personal thing, we all see life through our own set of eyes and when I say that this summer has been extraordinary that may only be owing to my experience of it. Yet, I talk to friends here in the Keys and they tell me the same thing. So perhaps it really has been an unusual summer.
It has been hot as blazes. Scientists tell us this year has been the hottest on record and July was far warmer than any previous July recorded. I am not one to complain of the heat but this year the heat has been stifling, high humidity has clamped down in ways not previously experienced. South Pacific island nations are sinking but here in the Keys we are burning up. Climate change? You decide; as far as I'm concerned it's obvious but these days science gives way to what we prefer to believe.
Rusty and I took a walk on Boca Chica Beach because I had a couple of hours to burn in the afternoon and burn we did. Even Rusty who is resilient to heat like no other dog breed took a seat in the shade in some wet seaweed and stretched out panting. 
The sun was tempered by a nice breeze  blowing across the water but it wasn't enough. The funny thing is that summer is usually a time of mellow fruitlessness in the Keys when tourism dries up, roads empty, things get more laid back. But another of those personal feelings surfaces this year when we talk about traffic. It has been heavy and unrelenting like winter with people driving in long lines and very slowly across the Overseas Highway. And I know I'm not alone in getting frustrated because I have seen some high speed locals zipping along when eventually the lollygagging tourists in their convertibles and their jeeps and their rental sedans eventually pull over or leave a  wide gap and we can get back up to the speed limit. 
So this year tourism has been relentless, heat has been relentless, and I spent far too much of my summer vacation in hospitals with my wife's gall bladder. But take a look at this. For all that I boiled my brains and I had to be at work in three hours this was our walk. Not too shabby.
 the walk back to the car took twenty minutes with no shade. I felt like T E Lawrence crossing the Nefud desert to attack Aquaba. I love that movie.
Image result for lawrence of arabia in the nefud
We were rather less heroic Rusty and I.  But just as hot.
And please when you come to visit drive the speed limit plus five. Put the phone down, watch the road and drive like you mean it. If you want to meander and not pay attention, pull over and let us by. We have places to go people to see dogs to walk and things to do. Like keep your hotels running smoothly and washing dishes for your restaurants and answering your 911  calls when you get drunk and confused.
It took a while for Rusty to get over the heat in the air conditioning on the tile floor.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Mallory Sunset

By day Mallory Square is just another tourist attraction, a brick paved area inhabited by residentially challenged, passed through by visitors afoot or on bicycles. It's named, oddly enough, for the man who made his name in history  as the Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory. In the photo below that I took a couple of years ago you can see the monument to the USS Maine, the white plinths, which ship sank in Havana Harbor in 1898 precipitating the war with Cuba. 
Nearby there are more reasons to visit the square as, for instance you might want to stop by the aquarium:
And then the sun starts to set and crowds start to shuffle this way as do the vendors and their carts:
And the ocean looks especially lovely:
Rusty was on a test run to see how he copes with crowds:
He did great:
Attracting babes as always.
The spectacle that evening was on the water as far as I was concerned:
But on the brick pavers the crowds were checking the acts and each other.
And the knick knacks and art work.
And the music.

It was all very exciting for one small brown dog of my acquaintance.
Rusty didn't even eat his dinner, he just passed out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Reflections on The Poker Run

Peterson's Harley of Miami got the 44th annual Poker Run in the bag last week and I watched the motorcycles leave town on Sunday morning. Like every other event or happening in Key West, the motorcycle ride is a way to raise money for charity. Oddly enough these wild hogs paired up with the Rotary Club. This is how you raise money for diabetes research:
Once upon a time city leaders helped dream up summer events to fill the void of low income season. These days low season seems to last two months and even then the run up to Fantasy Fest gets loud motorcycles while youngsters spent last week hunting for the traditional middle and school coffin, an event that marks the burial of youth and the emergence to manhood. That it involves roaming gangs tossing eggs is not supposed to be a measure of maturity.
I like to ride my motorcycle, or my scooter and I have done for almost half a century, but I'm not fond of Poker Run. Partly my disdain is owed to my iconoclastic nature, but partly too the riders themselves are hardly here to make friends. They are loud, they are happy and their joy comes from playing scary revel for a weekend before they go back to being accountants and tradesmen and air conditioning techs. Useful skills all but this weekend their greatest skill is pissing off bystanders. And it's a shame.
It's a shame because I don't like being lumped in with them. I'm not a "biker." I ride a motorcycle but that doesn't define me. I have come to realize that decades of riding have defined how I like to travel. When I travel I am a motorcyclist whatever the means of transport. To me riding a motorcycle isn't like driving a two wheeled SUV. Part of my joy riding is making progress as I see fit. My goal is to not get in anyone's way, which seems simple enough.
I don't wear high visibility clothing, I don't expect others to look out for me. I have no expectations when I'm on the road. I assume texting is more important than driving so I ride with that expectation in mind. The idea that people texting will notice a yellow vest seems unrealistic to me. It seems apparent that at least, is one belief shared by the poker riders and myself!
I read  about people who want motorcycles to lose their manual gearboxes which I find to be an odd thing.  To me the fun of riding lies also in the skill of riding. My car is an automatic because I don't have much interest in making the thing go. My Ford Fusion is reliable, comfortable, well equipped and simply needs to be pointed in the right direction. There is no skill in changing gears on long straight highways and there isn't much cut and thrust in traffic with a four door sedan equipped with ABS, sunroof, leather and satellite radio... and two cup holders I think. I don't use them much. Yet some people look for ways to attach cup holders to motorcycles which I find very odd. And lots of people like scooters without gears. I have a Vespa with no gears and I find it okay but not involving. Like my car. I prefer my geared old Vespa when it isn't seizing. Or my indomitable  2007 Bonneville, five speed gearbox, 93,000 miles and running fine, thank you.
So I stand on the sidelines and I feel like a survivor from an era that doesn't much exist anymore, a place where riding a motorcycle wasn't thought of as a lifestyle but "fun." We got a buzz from learning to ride well, from the cut and thrust of traffic and taking corners at speed from being rebels in how we rode not how we dressed or how we staggered. I watched the Poker Run go home in sedate groups roaring along obediently between cars, about as rebellious as you would imagine weekend warriors to be. I guess I am another old fart  looking over my shoulder and glad I lived and learned to ride when I did. Damn the cupholders and automatic gearboxes! Though modern riding clothing is quite comfortable and effective, even in black.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Simonton Beach

I look in the archives and I've been back to Simonton Beach quite a few times and I expect I will be going there again in the future. It's not a big beach, just a block wide but it is quite pleasant. 
Rusty was happy to take a break there from our downtown walk, watching the world go by, front legs neatly crossed as always: 
Cheyenne used to enjoy a dip when we came by, and I still miss my old Labrador from time to time and she died last February 12th so it's been a while already.
I look at Simonton Beach and it occurs to me there is more parking than sand here and that includes spaces to park cars and trailers as there is technically a lunch ramp here.
 The signboard has the least number of rules of any park I've ever seen.
 It is a  small chunk of public land wedged between  tall hotel buildings but the views are quite scenic. Here Christmas Tree Island has its own private cloud:
 And the  mirror flat waters of Key West Harbor get cut up from time to time by a passing wake:
It's nice to see a family enjoying the sand. And don't ignore the bar and restaurant (and restrooms) in the background: Lagerheads. I keep forgetting to try it out when I plan lunch downtown and I'm an idiot for not getting there.
There used to be  a homeless problem at Simonton Beach as you can see from an earlier picture:
There are boats are anchored out across the harbor and some of them park their dinghies at Key West Bight while a few pull up on Simonton Beach.
It's a bit of a public spot to leave anything of value  lying around so dinghies here tend to have human power rather than outboards. This is also the spot where people launch boats but its pretty sandy so they need a bit of oomph to get anything bigger than a jet ski in and out.
Its a nicer spot than you'd expect in downtown Key West and it's as free as you like.
We all like Simonton Beach. I am very glad to have Rusty in my life but I'd give a lot to hug her one more time, my curmudgeonly Cheyenne.