Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mallory Square Morning

Every time I  cross paths with Mallory Square I am forced by my peculiarly wired brain to think about the name. Stephen Mallory? The Secretary of the Confederate Navy? What a strange choice of historical figure to commemorate even if his mother was a much respected widow, described as the first woman settler in Key West in 1823.
Ellen Russell emigrated from Ireland and met Mallory in Trinidad and had two sons. Her husband died from consumption in Key West and their elder son also died shortly thereafter of causes not recorded. Stephen Mallory grew up in his mother's boarding house, the only such place in Key West before the Civil War and she sent him Up North to get an education and become a lawyer. She died in 1855 and din't get to see him join the losing side. Still he gets the square named for him.
Mallory Square in those days was called Tift's Wharf after Asa Tift who was a merchant and wrecker of fearsome repute in Key West. He still has an approach road to Mallory Square named for him, Tift's Alley. As usual there are only so many wealthy and influential people to go round so their names tend to pop up more than once.
The Pez Garden is where the history of KeyWest is on display, behind the fence. The wall is where homeless people hang out and pass the day. 
 It's an odd mixture of people, eager tourists, lots of attractions, and then there are the hopeless, the crazy, the destitute, all mixed in. The city offers services of all kinds, food and communal shelter, but there are those who simply want or need to live on the streets. 
 And the other early morning denizens are the ones getting the attractions ready, the not so glamorous  work of clean up:
I enjoy the early  morning sunlight in the streets of Key West and the shadows it casts as well as the way it illuminates the buildings and trees. Walking Telegraph Lane the street sweeper left straight lines that caught my eye. Rusty seemed indifferent: 

 Flowers and a dog. Good enough for one day.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Silly of me I suppose but I was quite surprised or even shocked to see the free city boat ramp at Simonton Beach in use.  And they were launching a sailboat to boot, not just another center console fishing platform.
I saw evidence of more radical boating at Blimp Road near my home on Cudjoe Key. Two Hobie beach catamarans getting loaded up on trailers at the free county launch ramp:
There are lots of ramps available for anyone to use, one of those little remarked features of life in Monroe County. Roadside ramps with no fees or rules or hours or anything. Show up, launch, park your trailer and go sailing. Cool. 
Bigger boats don't have that option but standing on shore I enjoy taking pictures with my Panasonic telephoto lense. 
This one below was anchored beyond Sunset Key, well to the west of Key West:
These guys were off for a sail, looking good on their South African built Leopard catamaran. My wife and I sailed on a smaller catamaran than this from San Francisco to Key West and you'd think looking at them I'd feel some kind of yearning to be out there again. There isn't.
I'm not sure what happened. I think at heart I am a traveler not just a sailor. The prospect of sailing away from key West as we last arrived  makes me think of a trip spent sailing not sight seeing. Sailboats suck up tons of energy in both time and money. They also limit your ability to get away from them and explore on land. Besides all that Rusty wouldn't like it. He shows no facility with weird stuff like boats.
I saw this flag of convenience across the marina at what was the Westin Hotel and is now known as the Margaritaville Resort (not to be confused especially when sending an ambulance, with the Margaritaville Cafe on Duval Street). I peered at the flag through the camera and realized it was an unusual one on a part of the world that flied flags of convenience from Panama and the Bahamas and Bermuda, among others. Flags of convenience are nautical hold overs that allow ship owners to register their vessels in countries that maybe charge low taxes or require no minimum crew payments or have lower safety inspection standards. There's no requirement to actually visit these countries or belong there and these things make sense to people who own expensive yachts as well as cruise and cargo ships. This yacht was flying the flag of Cyprus. Mind you it was opposite the welcome sign to the "Conch Republic" so in effect one fiction was greeting the other.
Certainly they can look luxurious at the dock but out on the water pounding into the winds they are as uncomfortable as anything. That's also why owners have crew to do the hard work while they themselves jet off to some other destination.
Key West is done for the year, time to find some other fashionable destination.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Strong Winds And Rough Seas

What a difference a couple of weeks make. In winter this place would be teeming with people. This weekend there was no one out photographing the sun failing to rise. Well, technically it was rising all right it's just there was so much cloud there was no sign of any kind of sun up there. I fiddled with camera to get a low light picture of the Old Bahia Honda Bridge. Rusty rooted around in the grass.
The wind was howling out of   the east pushing the Straits of Florida into the seawall which lines the ancient ramp Flagler's engineers built to get the railroad up to the height of the bridge. Looking down at the water is one of my pleasures at this rare spot, raising high above sea level. I was glad not to be on a boat out in that mess.
So, apparently were these anglers happy to be on land. They were the only other people in the area except for a camper truck buttoned up tight which apparently spent the night. 
I did actually see some signs of daylight coloring the sky but it all got swallowed up by weather that promised rain all weekend, and delivered.
Rusty and I made the circuit, walking along the seawall where I could and stumbling through the brush to avoid gettingwet or swept out to sea.

The parking lot which sees lots of traffic in winter was empty except for wrappers which appeared to have attracted raccoons to a trash can in the night. the winds spread them far and wide. 
My best bud. Two hours of rooting around and we were ready to go home and get out of a chill wind. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Key West Sunday Morning

I have been struggling to accept that this week we live under a vast giant gray cloud of rain, like Seattle but much more annoying as this isn't normal. Intense prolonged summer rain interrupted by prolonged drizzle followed by heavy overcast and wind followed by another cycle of rain. Thanks but no thanks.
The good news is that summer is actually being delayed by this weird weather pushed over us by strong east winds. The winds are dropping temperatures enough that it actually feels cool early in the morning when I leave work before dawn. 
It's been a tough few days at work, short staffing caused mostly by high priced rental properties makes it tough on those of us who have figured out living situations and hang on in our jobs. One of the most important criteria for hiring when all is said and done: do you have a secure living situation? There is a lot of talk about workforce housing and they mention teachers firefighters police etc.. but it's a struggle to get people to work as officers or dispatchers in a town where buying a house looks increasingly impossible. 
I love living in the Lower Keys as I find myself a stranger in a world where I have less and less in common with my fellow travelers. I came to the US to live more or less by accident and slipped into a life after my student days that settled me in a country that was exciting and forward looking and leading the world in the arts, business and diplomacy. I end my working life in the same country upended in it's ideals. I find it extraordinary that official policy talks about coal when renewable energy powers the rest of the world. Whoever would have thought scientists would take to the streets to protest their exclusion from the menu of solutions to world problems? 
In a  few years I will slip away to retirement and like so many before me I will leave the Keys and plod off looking for some other place to call home. Personally I hope the search takes years and years. It's not an economic departure as my retirement will be well funded after a life of government service mixed in with union pension plans. No, I find myself marginalized by a community that has drifted too far from the ideals that made it interesting for me. These days social events are powered by people older than me (wealthier goes without saying!) and Florida the Aged seems to have slipped into Key West in a big way. 
Young Rusty will age alongside me, I hope. After he dies if I outlive him I wonder how I shall cope with another dog. I will be north of 70 by then and unlikely to outlive, never mind walk a young dog. I remember when I was a youngster how old people complained about how we lived, bell bottoms long hair and a lack of seriousness. Now I see youngsters looking for well paid part time high tech work, no commitments, no unions no permanence. I just see a new generation with new plans and different ideals. Good for them. 
I like Key West because I am comfortable here. Fashionable clothes and expensive cars  still don't make a social dent here even with people who care about or can afford them. It remains desirable to be a little down at heel and for someone like me who equates fashion with dictatorship (strong I know) Key west accepts me in ways the outside world doesn't. 
I am already starting to come to terms with my transition out of the working world into a place where my time will be mine own, and I have no fear of boredom or pointlessness. I wonder where I will live eventually when the wanderlust dies down (around my 75th birthday maybe..?) and warmth and medical facilities will rate high on my scale of values.  Perhaps by then I will no longer need my surroundings infused with diversity and tolerance and art and eccentricity. Maybe I will be content with conformity.
I blame myself really for not having the inner strength to know how to enjoy living anywhere. Were I stronger in my convictions I could live anywhere instead of needing to surround myself with what matters to me. I have friends who are convinced there are ghosts in Key West and maybe they are right but I don't believe it.  What I do believe is that places affect us,  for reasons I cannot easily put my fingers on, but I have known deep agitation in certain places and profound serenity in others. Just like that. These feelings irritate me because they tend to control my decisions about where to live and how well I will cope while living in a place that doesn't suit me. I feel I should rise above such chimeras but I can't.
So when I see more and more people excluded from this place simply by the cost of living here, and therefore the difficulty of finding a way in, I feel a sense of regret myself. I know it's not my problem, I know there are other alternatives and some people fight the good fight to live here and succeed. But there is my belief that a city that can't for whatever reason house it's workers faces a dismal future. Perhaps it's as well that my retirement plans call for a tour of the Americas rather than sitting here watching the city evolve to suit its current crop of empowered residents. When I return I dread what I may I find but there again what I find will be what those who keep on living here want this place to be. And I have  to deal with that.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Key West Arrival

I parked the car on James Street shortly after six in the morning. I think Rusty, my furry alarm clock, was surprised when he stuck his snout in my face and I promptly got up, loaded him in the car and dragged him to Key West. I was off for a couple of days and I called his bluff. You want a walk..? Three hours later he was dragging rather less enthusiastically as we finally made it back to the car after a  tour of Lower Duval, Mallory Square and Southard Streets.
As we walked down Grinnell we met clumps of people and suitcases stumping in the street. It looked like they had just arrived, from where I'm sure I don't know. They looked at maps and studied their phones and pulled their suitcases like refugees ready to arrive for resettlement. I wondered how it must feel to step off a bus or a boat or a place or however they got here and see this strange town on a warm tropical night. Decidedly not in Kansas anymore.
The newspaper reported this building will soon be converted into a retail or office space downstairs and workforce apartments upstairs. No mention of costs or numbers of units, and everything was nice and vague. But they say this place will change and soon:
In light of the fact that the only development you can do is fill in the empty spaces inside the city, I suppose this place is an underutilized as anywhere and workers do need housing. That they can truly afford is the conundrum.  A friend of ours had sold up and is leaving Key West for St Petersburg. He sold a 450 square foot completely furnished apartment in a small complex for something north of half a million dollars which in mainland Florida will buy a house mortgage -free with money to spare.
And then all this will be left behind. The attempts ate cramming in more cars generated a comment years ago about paving over Paradise but what else are we to do? Our leaders don't want a central economy or social engineering as they call it and where only money talks the rough edges of Key West will be smoothed out. And thus when people rely on cars not bicycles or feet, parking lots become a required evil.
In an effort to create cheap tourism options, rather than the traditional Galleon Resort experience for example (below) tour operators have taken to busing large numbers of tourists from Miami on day trips. This people infuriate the merchant class as they usually bring coolers and want to see Key West for a few short hours as cheaply as possible. There are so many motor coaches doing this type of wham bam tourism the city tried to corral the buses which need somewhere to park all day why their riders walk and window shop. They paved over this old gravel lot, shifted the homeless who used to be tolerated here and tried to charge the buses a thousand bucks a month to use the space pictured above.
That didn't work as the buses weren't going to spend that much to park. Consequently you'll see tourist coaches parked everywhere during the day, for free, along College Road, along Highway One, and  on Key Haven as they try to save money. It just all adds to the general sense that Key West is some kind of carcass to be picked over in a  free for all. Schooner Wharf "a last little piece of Old Key West" as they say, and I wonder how long that will last.
A commercial fishing boat docked at Conch Republic Seafood is another reminder of the good old days when the bight (the harbor) was filled  with fishing boats. It's a symbol and I wonder how many tourists notice or ponder it's presence among all the pleasure boats.
Little pieces of old Key West.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Summerland Shrimp Farm

I've mentioned this madness previously but I took a few minutes to go out and check the Shrimp Farm, soon to become no doubt "workforce housing." Just how much housing is up for debate still.
In the picture above you are looking North on Highway One (east really) into Summerland Key from the bridge. Below is the view West (toward Key West) where the development space is behind the scooter. 
The shrimp farm was a collection of long sheds on the property and I remember those big round slow moving fans of a design used to create an air current through industrial buildings. It sat unloved and unwanted for a while until, according to the Barometer it got demolished as shown in this rather awful picture quality (my poor reproduction of a decent picture in the paper's archives):
The point is, they had apparently talked of creating a park. Not anymore. The developer of the Westin Hotel and Sunset Key thought 160 homes would go a  treat here. Naturally everyone protested and the suggestion was withdrawn. Too many houses they said in too small a space. It's not looking real friendly right now:
In this satellite picture from the ubiquitous Google Maps  shows the old Shrimp Farm jutting out north of Highway One . Whether or not the ponds would be filled in and I suppose they would, is that enough room for 160 homes? I haven't a clue.
What I do know is however many houses they do end up building, and they will now that a developer has sunk his teeth into this spot, each and every home will require two wage earners to pay whatever they decided is "affordable" or "workforce" rate. And each wage earner will get in a car to go to their jobs, probably in Key West and then drive home. Sounds like a recipe for even more congestion. 
The thing where it gets odd though is that no one talks about how much each house will sell for. I don't suppose they will sell for a price that is truly affordable for someone who works in a large hotel serving drinks and food will they?  This business of affordable workforce house is beneficial it seems to the developers. In a different political climate in a different world non profit Habitat type housing could create homes for working people but then where would the developers find something to do with their lives?  I wonder if the osprey nest seen below will survive any changes?
 I wonder what the next proposal will be? 100 units? A park? three McMansions? Who knows...
...but it will change, that's for sure and maybe some good will come out of it.