Saturday, May 26, 2018


Roosters are everywhere in Key West including as art:
Weirdly enough the town in England where I was born has a rooster as it's symbol, here seen in the form off a giant statue I photographed in Dorking last month:

Dorking doesn't have public roosters like Key West:
Another form of public art I saw a coupe of weeks ago:
Ah Key West.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Invest 90 - Sub Tropical Storm Alberto

The  tropical disturbance over Belize and the Yucatan has been declared to be an Invest, Investment 90L to be precise which means not that it will became a hurricane though there is a 70 percent chance, but simply that the National Hurricane Center in Mia mi is interested in the formation's progress. Aren't we all if we live remotely close to its projected landfall?
Hurricane season starts June 1st officially and runs through November 30th in the Atlantic Basin so all this activity is a little early and coming on the heels of last year's Hurricane irma fiasco it is setting nerves to jangling in the Florida Keys. I was shopping in Publix yesterday and I overheard a (loud) conversation between two women discussing their hurricane preparations. They were lamenting their lack of preparedness for Hurricane Irma last September and are determined not to be caught out this season. And already with a previous tropical depression flooding the Keys with rain we have seen a  wet start to the summer.
The thing about the Western Caribbean is that it is a heat catchment area, the waters are shallower and the heat is intense early on in that area so hurricanes which need hot water to fuel their spiralling winds. 
So  hurricanes tend to form off the Central American coast early in hurricane season and late while the waters of the Atlantic spawn mid-season storms when the ocean is warmest.
Even though forecasters try to warn us of what's ahead they can only guesstimate numbers of storms not direction of travel or landfall, so even if there are an average number of storms, as they point out it only takes one to ruin your day. Hurricane Irma with its 140 mph winds has left a trail of damage that is taking a while to repair. there are hundreds of tarps still on roofs in the Lower Keys, not so much Key West but the islands between Sugarloaf and Big Pine. Reconstruction is still underway and insurance companies aren't helping when they contest every single claim.
A  lot of people lost their homes in Irma and many left the Keys. There is a shortage of labor already in the islands though rental prices keep rising and wages don't match the increased costs so there are more people leaving for that reason.Suddenly hurricane season has become real again and the prospect of more damage, more unpaid evacuations, more chaos is causing yet more people to rethink their idea of life in paradise and you can hardly blame them. 
It may be that all we get is a ruined Memorial Day with massive rain storms, and if that is all so much the better. And if one has to be laid flat by a disaster frankly I prefer hurricanes to fires, mudslides, lava flows and earthquakes. However hurricane season is an annual event and it is relentless. I would prefer not having to sit out another catastrophe, but this is the reality of life in the Keys from time to time.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Road Rage Commute

A  funny thing happened yesterday morning as I rode home from work. It's been a process of getting around in between rain storms if I'm lucky and yesterday morning was lovely, unlike the night before. My ride to work was a nightmare of incredibly heavy rain that penetrated the collar of my waterproofs, reduced visibility to fifty yards and reminded me why not all Florida weather is considered mild. This was pre-hurricane rain and wind storm material.
Anyway there I was enjoying the ride home just as light was breaking through the clouds to the east, my Burgman 200 was  rolling along silently at around  55-60 mph  and all was well with the world. Until I came across a bunch of four vehicles crawling along painfully at 45 mph stuck behind someone either distracted or unwilling to drive the speed limit so I set myselkf up and as soon as we hit a set of dotted yellow lines I zipped by.
I passed another outlier also driving well below the limit and then I sat back ready to enjoy my speed limit plus five ride home. In Florida police can't write a ticket for speeding if you are within five miles and hour of the limit. Of course if they really want to they can get you for something else,  say "too fast for conditions" or "reckless" but in the grand scheme of things riding at the limit plus five gives you leeway to enjoy a  clear conscience and make reasonable progress.
I was feeling daring at that hour and in the 45 mph where there were no homes or cross streets I stepped up to 55 mph  - speed limit plus ten -  which could get me a ticket but I pay close attention to the road ahead and my speed just in case of lurking guardians of the peace. 
My relaxed ride was suddenly enveloped in a burst of air and noise as a big gold pick up truck rent the air as the headlights I had seen barreling down on me never slowed and pushed past on a double yellow line, certainly a reckless ticket if spotted. AS  the truck pulled ahead the driver waved at me through the window. 
I ride my own ride and I have found much to my pleasure that my Suzuki Burgman scooter even though only 200ccs looks much more imposing than my moped-like Vespa 150 which I loved. The Vespa did not look to the average poorly trained car driver like it should be able to go 65mph but the Burgman not only goes 80 mph but looks like it will. Why the truck driver was angry at being passed I couldn't  say. I imagine he felt stupid for not showing his own imitative and passing the dawdling car when he had a chance instead of being shown how it's done by a hairy old Hobbit on a moped...
He didn't get far ahead, they rarely do the angry ones as they run out of steam and initiative when they've made their point and find themselves unsure what to do next. I watched him turn off on a little dead end road, Pirates Cove where fishermen store and prepare crab pots. 
Last night on my way in to work a late shift I found myself stuck in a line of cars going ten under the limit. Not one of them passed the weaving car at the front of the line and I had to work my way up past them all to take a shot at getting past the evidently drunk driver in the small dark SUV. At least none of the cars in that initiative-free line took umbrage at my efforts to get to work on time.I wish there were a driving course like the advanced motorcycle riding class I took in England decades ago which taught me how to pass safely and effectively and "make progress" as the British motorcycle police call it. This is the best description I've found of that riding style by an American living in Wales: Making Progress by Chris Cope

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Renting Key West

My sister lives in the far north of Scotland, a lovely place no doubt and I had a fine time visiting last month. I got to see it under unexpected  sunshine, very welcome but  a rare interlude. That was followed by rain which was quite different.
There however I was on vacation. Here I am not and when the rain can't stay away I am forced to go back to look at the pictures I snapped when the norm was sunshine, when walking was a pleasure. I met JW on the street, a former dispatcher I trained who went to work elsewhere in the city he was born in. If you think you are a Conch my rule of thumb is that you must know JW to be able to make that claim. I am very glad he has put in his papers to become a cop so I will see him around the police station once again. 
I try to be nice when I see tourists stuck on the street, I really do. This lot were actually a lot smarter than my rather stupid stereotyping might have first indicated. They were smart enough to be making sure they knew where they parked their vehicle. Being Germans of some sort they were dying of heat poor things so I directed them to an oasis and congratulated them on thinking ahead, Even as I write this I think of my night at work yesterday when we started the evening in dispatch with TWO calls from tourists with lost cars.
I wondered if this was some variant on ice fishing. Apparently not:
There  was  some bad news last  week for Monroe County thanks to lingering problems from Hurricane Irma. The problem concerns canal clean up in the areas hit hardest by the hurricane's 140-150 mph winds.  The Feds have loaned the county six million dollars to get the canals cleared of  rotting sinking debris, so naturally they went with the low bidder at $55 per cubic yard.  Half a million dollars into the contract with just five canals cleared they have bowed out. 
It  turns out 55 dollars  a yard wasn't enough (the high bid was 160 dollars) and the employees after a  long days laboring had to sleep in their cars as they couldn't afford the Keys hotel rates. I guess the contractor felt no obligation to house the slaves. What extraordinary times we live in. So much public  hand wringing about  decency and wealth inequity and so much unseen servitude. Meanwhile the canals aren't getting cleared.
The housing situation gets no better and  workers are fleeing the Keys creating shortage that impact the ability of businesses to operate.   The wealthy retiree component of the Keys population wants fewer tourists - no problem considering the negative hurricane publicity - which flies in the face of the working segment of the population.
The  city commission has several "affordable" and "workforce" housing plans but get this: the rental rates are based on a  formula that has seen adjusted median incomes rise over past years.
Here's what they do. The people in charge calculate the median wage and set affordable housing as  a percentage, between about 60 and 120  percent depending on family size and home size. Here's the thing though and I could hardly believe it when I read it. It seems the median income in the Keys has gone UP by about $20,000 this past year which sounds  completely wrong considering diminished tourism and hurricane stresses and so forth.
Here's what happened. They calculated  adjusted median income by adding in the income of the non working element in the Keys, the wealthy retirees and snowbirds, people who would never qualify for subsidized housing. It just seems like the people in charge aren't even pretending to try. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Official Tree

One of the issues that animates the anonymous daily conversation in the newspaper in Key West is he issue of trees. For some reason this subject brings out the attack dog in anonymous in the Citizen's Voice column on page 2. Like parking and the cost of housing trees are an endless source of back and forth. There are the people who support having more canopy trees in Key West, trees that throw shade and create beauty (in the eye of those beholders).
Then there are the voices of those who want more native species, hardy palms that throw less cooling shade but these are trees their supporters would claim that belong on this sub tropical lump of coral rock.
Palmettos and the like. Between these two fearsome groups stands the city tree commission which tries to mediate tree removal and preservation. They get it in the neck from all sides because at every meeting they pronounce sentences of death on a number of trees that may be considered dangerous or intrusive or whatever. Plaintively they point out that trees not being cut down get their reprieves in private; it's only in public session where fair warning must be given do they sound tree death knells which make them sound arboreally blood thirsty. Not the case says the tree commission.
So the idea of naming an official city tree was brought up and the nomination promptly sank under a welter of recrimination and blame. So the mayor in his waning months in office  stood up to a storm of abuse and said this shall be done and the city commission got behind him. Not as much  abuse as when he pushed for the new city hall which even his detractors have to admit looks good, but still so now we have an official city tree in Key West:
It goes by assorted names, in Key West it's  known as the royal poinciana whereas in Africa and parts Australian they call this or something similar a flame tree. Personally I like the Caribbean flambuoyant but it's a poinciana and its distinctive orange blossoms appear in Spring and fade by the Fall. And boy, they don't go out willingly let me tell you. When they fall they create orange snowdrifts which annoy some people. The peanut gallery says the tree is relatively short lived harbors pests and makes a mess but this wouldn't be Key West is every least decision didn't draw massive and prolonged criticism. From 2009 I have this picture:
The funny thing is Key West was not always a city filled with canopy trees, you only have to look at historical photos to see how sparse they were. I was told, and it seems reasonable that there was no piped water before World War Two and rainwater was reserved for more urgent needs. Nowadays Key West is a greener town and all it takes it seems is regular supplies of water, and tree planting.

Sunday, May 20, 2018


I got lucky with the weather Friday morning. I timed my arrival at West Summerland Key, above Bahia Honda with the sunrise on a  cloudy humid morning when the air seemed to make the most of the sunshine that penetrated those various layers of clouds.
Rusty was having fun running through the bushes and across that rare hillside which was formed here by Flagler's engineers building up their track (1911) to the bridge across the "Deep Bay." The modern road bridge (1982)  is much less dramatic and requires no piled up dirt to cross Bahia Honda:
The old bridge is falling apart and I was quite surprised to have my vantage point to myself. There was one other car in the parking lot and its occupant was snoring.
The tides also run strong through the bridge pilings:

Rusty decided he had energy to burn so he raced up and down in the dried and not so dry seaweed piled up along the shore:

I try not to worry about him falling off the seawall. He is a dog and needs his wild moments. So far he does well coming back to me only occasionally with a thorn scratch or a torn pad in his paw. It does him good to be a dog exploring out of sight and minding his own business.
For me it's a time to enjoy the scenery and to try to record it, though I am never given enough time or encouragement by my dog to contemplate using a tripod for stability. Luckily my Panasonic has excellent stability control.
The old rail bridge leading to Bahia Honda State Park.
I miss this mangrove bush. It used to look so vital and alive with all its leaves. Hurricane irma put paid to that:
As was before the storm, (sigh):
Storm or not the fishing goes on:
I can't help myself  it looked so much richer before Irma: