Friday, May 26, 2017

Signs Of Life

This used to be a camera shop and now it sells smoking paraphernalia, to smoke what precisely I'm not sure. The people of Florida voted overwhelmingly to approve Medical Marijuana but the part-time state legislature hasn't moved on it yet. Bit too modern for the fuddy-duddies in Tallahassee I suspect. In case you need a pick-me-up they sell beer. Mind you everyone in Key West sells beer. All the time it seems, and these guys don't want to be left out. The camera shop never sold beer, as far as I know. 
 Selling beer is not always to everyone's benefit.
This one caught my eye: an art gallery moonlighting as a real estate office. Of all the weirdness I've seen in Key West this is a first.
There was once a street between Fleming and Southard known in Spanish as chicken alley and if this decorative sign is to be believed the chicken was drunk. Nowadays the street is known less colorfully as Bahama Street.
This sign I caught before dawn when the night sky was as black as a piece of velvet. The glass bottom boat is at the north end of Duval so there was no light pollution behind the sign.
This one is a sad one because this is a very small town. I did not know the victim well enough to talk to her but she worked at my dentist's office and when finished she apparently came here to walk Smathers Beach. One day an impaired river under the influence it is alleged drove onto the sidewalk and killed the 49 year old dental hygienist out for a stroll.
Things happen for no reason despite what we try to tell ourselves. Then a pigeon lands on a sign at Mallory Square and so one gets back into the swing of things and ponders the birds choice of perch.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Bridle Path At Night

A lunch break on a night I felt well rested so I took the time to visit South Roosevelt Boulevard.
 It was windy and noisy and fresh and not quite cool. 
 For just about an hour I left the cacophony of 911 calls behind.
 I hadn't even brought my Lumix camera to work so all I had was my iPhone 6 in my pocket. 
 I walked on the path where once upon a time Key Westers exercised their horses.
 I brought one of my Vespas on my trailer to Jiri on Stock Island for a service.
 I dropped the Vespa off on my way to work and drove the car on my lunch break.
 There was no traffic at all so I stopped and took a picture, mid flight on the road:
And so to work. Happy Memorial Day weekend everyone!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

On The Water

Robert told me he needs to get motivation to get out on the water on his boat.
 In retirement he is a man of many projects, including Salty Dog:
 My wife got jealous after the last time Robert and I went out to lunch by boat.
 So she organized us into attempting a  ride to Geiger Key for lunch.
 It was a bit wild and wet outside for a twenty mile run to lunch, so sprayed and damp we quit.
 We took a turn around Cunjoe Bay instead enjoying the sun and the turquoise waters.
 It was lumpy out there and calm in here. Nice.
 Robert's 26-foot World Cat offers a very smooth ride:
 A great time with excellent views.

 Like they say its good to have a friend with a boat.
 We still needed lunch so rather less glamorously we drove to Square Grouper.
 I had chicken and waffles under the supervision of a mournful captive lion fish.
 It was a good day and  better yet because the boat wasn't mine to deal with...
We stopped taking the boat out when we discovered our new home on Cudjoe has a nice swimming canal with very little boat traffic and Cudjoe Bay offers no sight seeing and no pleasant swimming holes. When we lived on Newfound Harbor we went out a lot as our canal was too busy to swim in and a short boat ride netted us tons of good swimming holes with nice views.
So now we just jump straight into the canal for an afternoon swim. The perfect no maintenance pool.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Stock Island

I stopped by Stock Island to pick up dinner on my way home. Yahman sold me a jerked pork dinner and a curried chicken dinner to go, both excellent and both enough for more than one meal. Then of course I had to walk Rusty who had been waiting patiently for me to conduct the business that brought us both here.
It's always a pleasure watching the small brown dog strutting down a street with his tail flying like a banner behind him. His lively curiosity is matched now by the knowledge that I will let him wander pretty much where he wants to go. To an observer it may look like circles but he usually follows some invisible scent. I tag at the end of the leash and take pictures. 
I was struck once again by the way Stock Island has assumed the backwater mantle once enjoyed by Key West. Nowadays Key West is a haven for bored wealthy people escaping cold weather while Stock Island fights a rear guard action against gentrification. This means housing can appear crude and streets have no sidewalks in this unincorporated urban area but rental prices match Key West's outrageous demands.
690 square feet, all modern conveniences and your landlord's political signage to boot, All for $1800 plus utilities. I read somewhere nearly half the US population doesn't have four hundred bucks set aside for emergencies. Here the landlord has kindly done the math and you need $5400 to move in and if you have a dog forget it.
And next door the electrical substation buzzes merrily. In some parts of the country $1800 a month would buy you an actual house with an actual view. Around here you get what you are given.
I find Rusty to be quite smart and I suppose that's natural enough considering how long he spent roaming the streets of Homestead taking care of his pack, and I appreciate the fact he doesn't just chew through his leash and ignore me but I can't get him to pay attention to No Trespassing signs despite the fact he is undeniably smart.
Stock Island is a place of gentle decay, of land not enjoying the most intensive use. Personally I find the chaos and dirt and muddy puddles annoying but this is what you get if you aren't selling out to the highest bidder. On the other hand I find Lego towns of uniformly designed buildings and crisp clean landscaping to exude boredom and conformity. I am impossible to please. There seems to be little room for compromise at this end of the island chain. Key West is not exactly spic and span all the time but it is a cohesive city held together by wealth and ambition. Stock Island is a mess and it revels in it's lack of social vision. I'd gladly live in a compromise between the two...
The wondrous things is that in driving out the artists from Key West some of those artists have decided  to stick around and now call Stock Island home.
Safe Harbor the funky old marina is doing okay still and the county is planning on buying more commercial dock front to preserve commercial fishing on Stock Island. They used to live in Key West those shrimpers but they got kicked out by lucrative recreational marinas and resorts. So some came here others went up the Gulf Coast.
Hogfish Bar and Grill is the destination for tourists who want to drink beer on the wild side, threading their way through light industry, Haitian trailer parks and Cuban coffee shops and boat repair yards and dust and dirt unlike anything seen in their Old Town winter neighborhoods. Hogfish is self consciously "authentic" for anyone seeking the real Florida Keys. The advertising copyhas to be twee in that vein:
 "Unless you live here, you will only find this hidden gem on a tip from a local. So once here, you will know instantly that this is the place for REAL seafood Lovers! The "charm" we offer is that you will experience the style of what the Lower Keys used to be... before the nightlife and carnival atmosphere took over."
This is authentic Keys drinking, as authentic as anything can be when the label "authentic" has to be stuck on.
There's a steel hogfish lurking in the banana laves...
Eccentrics have their place here and artistic eccentrics better yet. Stock Island is duty and ill defined and colorful and real.If you think the Key West of the 1980s was superb and you are sorry you missed it, don't despair  you can find the same rough and tumble spirit on Stock Island today.
The car may be a wreck but the art is excellent.
It was hot and I was delighted to see Rusty ready to go home and take an air conditioned car ride for twenty minutes to get there,
They live their lives here in colorful trailers behind tall fences, they work in Key West keeping the tourist city going by doing all those jobs no one thinks too much about.
There are big plans for Stock Island and change is coming, slowly, incrementally, but inevitably.
When workers get priced out of here the crisis will be upon the Lower Keys.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Webb Chiles

They say the Florida Keys are  a crossroads for sailors, and I used to believe that but what I discovered was that the Keys are the end of the road for many dreams, the last anchorage in the US, the sunny spot where waters are beautiful and the money and language and habits are familiar and the fear of the foreign freezes the ambitions of sailors who would girdle the globe. Yesterday I had the great good fortune to meet one of my youthful heroes, a man who sails and writes and meditates on the meaning of life and does it all elegantly and with finesse. Meet Webb Chiles:
He was a young man adventuring and writing his stories when I was bright eyed and bushy tailed learning to sail and planning my own escapes. Now in his 70s he is fit and active and completing his sixth journey round the world on a sailboat. He parked in Marathon last week after a 1300 mile passage from St Lucia in the Caribbean, which was by his description the shortest passage he's made in years. It took him two weeks and ended in the flat calm we experienced on shore. I watched his progress on a very modern satellite transmitter he carries LINK.  I peek over his shoulder across the oceans as the Yellow Brick transmits his position every six hours he is underway. Quite brilliant.
Webb Chiles likes challenges and his vessel for this journey around the world is 24 feet long and offers a small cabin with crouching head room and not much amenity. He loves this 2000 pound "ultra light" sailboat designed and built in my former home town of Santa Cruz California to surf the huge swells of the Pacific Coast. Gannet is an extremely able sailer helmed by an extremely able sailor and has only a small electric outboard used to get in and out of harbors. This boat is his home when he is away from his wife and apartment in Chicago.
I have admired Chiles all my life as a no nonsense man of action. He loves to be at sea, so he sails. He is not a salesman or an advertiser, he doesn't push a "lifestyle" he simply lives his life and tells stories. He has a very down to earth view of life, acknowledging the fact that he will die he has created a list of music he would like  us to listen to, to remember him by, his requiem. He has faced death at sea, drifting across hundreds of miles after his boat failed him, getting arrested in the Middle East when his fellow humans failed him, pressing on with his life against the odds when his relationships failed him. I admire him enormously and I am not one to be star struck.
We had lunch together in Marathon and we made the best of a noisy mediocre restaurant to talk of his life and his plans and he was incredibly easy going and down to earth. I was delighted the conversation included the subject of toilets which if you have never been a sailor you won't understand but for some reason and no one knows why put two sailors in a room and toilets end up in the conversation. It just happens that way. We also talked about transiting the Panama Canal, and life choices about where to live. Chiles likes San Diego for its mild climate and good year round sailing. But California is crowded and Chiles made the point that most people live in the Northern Hemisphere where most of the problems seem to be generated. It was a conversation worth having and I enjoyed it very much, and I could have spent more time bothering the man.
He describes passage making as entering the "monastery of the sea" and I admire his pleasure in his craft but I have seen his videos on YouTube (search Webb Chiles and look for a series of Gannet in the Indian Ocean, commentary on the journey which will enthrall you or make you wonder why anyone would do such a thing). I am glad I have made the modest passages I have made but I am also glad I can put sailboats aside and look to travel on land where I can see more and live closer to the colors and textures that fascinate me. I never did find myself at peace with the ocean or one with nature on the high seas. Sailing entails a lot of struggle and a search for the very good bits which are so rare for me. I remember a handful of passages of perfect conditions. Chiles himself had this conversation he says in St Lucia and the sailor he was talking with suggested 15% of sailing is in the right conditions. The rest involves a struggle with too much wind or too little or from the wrong direction, or uncomfortable seas and so on.
Webb Chiles sails using his cellphone (!) which is his sextant, his library, his music station, and so forth. He writes his passage log on his laptop and if you want a  taste of the business of sailing check the link above to explain what its like at sea in a small boat. His modest electrical needs are taken care of by solar panels and he burns no gasoline. It is a rare and fascinating existence and I am so glad there are the outliers among us who will show us how it's done. I am profoundly grateful he found the time to share his thoughts with me for a few hours between my work shifts. I hope I have encouraged you  to think of looking at his writings: HERE.  Check out his stuff, it is epic.
The sailing bug hit me when I was a youngster dreaming of escape from my home situation and I read Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. After I ran away to California I learned to sail at O'Neills of surfing fame in Santa Cruz and I moved onto my own boat full time and went sailing every weekend and on every vacation up and down the California coast and up the Sacramento delta. And I read books about boats and sailing and traveling by sailboat. Frank Mulville, Arthur Ransome and Webb Chiles were my favorites as they all approached sailing as part of life. They expressed their emotions, they didn't sugar coat and they brought to life the perils and joys of distant travel. It was fabulous. That I never attained their ease and comfort on the water is attributable to me and not them. They never oversold the experience. To have met Webb Chiles and to have found him as unaffected and thoughtful as he has been in print across the course of my adult life was a splendid and rare thing. I shall enjoy following the yellow brick later this year when he takes off from Marathon. Because when Chiles says he will be sailing away he will do just that, no hesitation, no "wimping out" no second guessing. The world needs more like him.