Thursday, May 31, 2018

Overcast And Grumpy

I find to my great discomfort I am weather dependent and I don't like gray skies and rain. I have known this for decades and in California when I complained of cold wet muddy winters my neighbors looked at me with disdain and remarked I had never spent a winter in Detroit. True enough.Then I had to survive summers in Northern coastal California, days of overcast skies and sunrise and sunset masked by marine inversion that blotted out the sky for hours every day. I craved Florida. I got Florida. 
It is absurd to allow gray skies and rain to dictate one's mood but I am old enough to know that is who I am. And right now the rain has been endless around here. Wind, gray skies, rain and on and on/ I am sick of it. I am a baby. It's not actually cold butthe grayness inspired me to play with the filter settings on my phone camera. Vivid dramatic I think, at the Waterfront Brewery where I enjoyed their wrought iron art.
Apparently the artist Ryan Stimers does more manageable stuff as well for people who don't need a giant sculpture for their business. Click on his name for the link. I wandered morosely along the waterfront looking for inspiration and i saw two young people loading drinks into a car which struck me as odd as there isn't a supermarket here. No point in over thinking it as they may have been crew on a boat getting stores for a cruise or something but their enthusiasm and good cheer reminded me that not everyone thinks flat seas and overcast are reason to be in the dumps. They were off on an adventure and I was silently grateful to them for reminding me that preparing even for a paid cruise can and should be fun.
I'm not sure if it was a crow on the post but I hoped it was, wished it was, looking out over our lives ready to clean up any carrion that might be found lying on the boardwalk. My wife remarked we haven't been swimming yet this year. The canal has been a post Irma mess for months and now that it seems to be returning to clarity -apologies to the sea life probably wrecked also by our garbage - the weather is not cooperating. In ten days my wife leaves for a month in Italy and she is grumpy at the thought of no swim before her landlocked holiday learning Italian.
And there was another lesson for me, two people enjoying the California-like day in Paradise. They didn't care their expensive vacation was nothing like the brochures; or if they did care they masked their frustration like troopers.
After exercise class I had arranged to meet Nick at Sinz a burrito shop on Duval at Truman. Friends neighbors and stranger shave raved about this place so I sat waiting for Nick who had to park a car, and I took this picture. The tall spindly palm reminded me of California palms that survive the relatively cool harsh climate there. I transported myself to a Southern California strip mall in one photo. 
I suck and do-it-yourself. I never go to Subway because I get anxious trying to figure what to put in the sandwich and the problem here is the  same and worse. Do you want a  burrito a taco or a bowl? Meat veg cheese salad bar salsa choices in rapid succession. Nick cheated and followed my example. We ate out of stainless bowls that most closely resemble Rusty's  food bowl. The place soon enough was packed. 
We had no sauces at the table but they put out soap. I pride myself on being able to cope with the unconventional but that had me floored. Do I put it on the food or my hands? Is it mandatory? Then the staff brought out the artillery and shooed off the invasive pigeons with bright plastic water cannon. Th barbacoa was shredded meat with no sauce. We talked a fair bit and got through the food which was a good deal less inspired than the conversation.
I walked back to my scooter where I found the Simonton Center security guard was hovering angrily over my scooter parked for 75 minutes in a  customer only scooter area. He should have been scowling at the moldy yellow twenty year old Honda Helix next to my silver rocket. These days a ratty old scooter lowers the tone of Millionaire Row formerly known as Key Weird. Boy I was grumpy.
We had dinner with friends twice this past weekend, once out at my favorite Italian Bella Luna on Cudjoe and once at home with the wife's cooking. Last year she took cooking classes in Orvieto and every now and again these amazing pastry balls appear on the table filled with sausage and tomato and spices bursting with flavor. What a concept. I should have stayed home.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Night On The Street

The ubiquitous Key West bicycle, Schooner Wharf bar illuminated in the background:
Personalized licence plate ona  scooter, perhaps for a business: 
Reef Relief,  once  always heard from and after the founders left key West, not so much:
 Old fashioned air conditioning:
 Paradise: a palm in every yard and  Jeep in every driveway.
 I like the display without the distracting jewels, 300 block of Duval:
 Doesn't every one? I miss the camera shop that was here:
 Water going to waste. I guess it has been raining...
 A mild mannered mockingbird:
 They charge five bucks for coconuts in Key West. I am amazed what you can get away with.
 Kilwins, home of the chocolate covered Twinkie:
 Everybody needs help but wages never seem to rise:
 Urban garden:
 Tired dog:
Tired me, time for bed.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Night Walk

The problem when you work night shift and you only get one night off is that sometimes you end up not sleeping soundly. Perhaps I was dreaming of the night before when some big girl's blouse called saying he wanted to speak to an officer because the clerk at a convenience store was rude to him. We send the officer out and they get to talk to the caller but one is left wondering what would happen in a  real emergency. Then Rusty noticed it was 3:30 and I wasn't properly asleep so he leaped up and next thing I know I'm getting a cold wet nose in my ear. That will wake you up no matter what hours your work.
We haven't done a city walk in while Rusty and I so this was an hour of forced marching, him leading and me following. Starting at Waterfront Brewery. 
I trailed along behind my dingo dog, and I knew it was going to be a good walk as  he dodged this way and that sniffing everything. I tried to take a little time to take some pictures, looking for landmarks that I fear could disappear anytime in this rapidly changing town. The local marine hardware store known as Cuban Joe's on Caroline Street:
Then we got a call from a woman standing on a street corner saying she was induced to come to Key West to do a construction job and wasn't paid and had nowhere to live and she wanted  an officer to help her out. We don't judge we send them.  Then on the other line her former employer called accusing her of stealing his tools after he fired her for not doing the job. We advised the officers as they looked for the woman on her street corner. Her former boss kept calling back to let us know what a low life he had tried to help and one just got the feeling things here were not destined to go well. The officers found no tools in her possession and after a while the boss stopped calling so presumably they placated him as well. Exhausting. 
All too often we seem to deal with mistakes, often fueled by alcohol, not crime or even criminals. Police need to be psychologists as much as they need to be mediators and promoters of common sense.  I could never summon the patience to  be a counsellor for the incompetent.
I like alcohol but nothing has made more inclined to seek out Prohibition as much as my job. The capacity for self delusion is infinite it sometimes appears as people drink far too much far too often and end up in a fighting mood, passed out in a public place or simply rude to the people they love. All of which ios fertile ground for 911. Criminal acts can be carried out but its just painful to hear people in the throes of delirium caused by drink. The other night they said a drunk woman passed out in the street had been poisoned. No evidence offered or sought - we just sent paramedics and an officer.
I listened to two groups of people yelling in the street while Rusty and I were walking. "Nobody's scared of your faggot ass!" one of the men shouted over the protests of the man with the "faggot ass." Charming I thought, shall I call 911? They went their separate ways, feathers unruffling as they went, honor restored by insults. I remember when a homeless woman got mad at me in Higgs beach park years and years ago. "Faggot!"  she shouted at me, "you queer!"  she stuck her tongue out at me much to the admiration of the others in her party who resented me walking my dog in the park. Thank you I replied, in this town its an honor to be gay. I exaggerated for effect but I don't feel being called gay is the most cutting edge or imaginative of insults.
One in the group threatened to hit me as I stood my ground determined to make the point that walking your dog in the park is an activity that shouldn't be limited by bullies. Hit me I told the squinty man, hit me and I'll press charges and you'll go to jail. He backed off. Come on I goaded him, hit me! He walked away. They didn't bother me again but I resented and resent to this day how people will bully others into being scared in their own spaces. 
Ann Street 
People ask me if I'm ever scared to walk Key West alone in the dark. Not at all. I'm not even scared to answer 911 anymore. I think and I hope I've heard it all. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Bumping The Shallows

The first time I went aground I did the job completely and thoroughly and stayed parked in the riverbank for twenty five very long and embarrassing hours.  I had taken three weeks off and had decided to explore San Francisco Bay as carefully and extensively as I could while afloat. I had read about the joys of river sailing up the Petaluma River where I was told the breezes were constant and air temperatures approached tropical, an alluring prospect to one used to sailing the frigid Central California Coast.
At first it all went beautifully to plan starting with an overnight trip from my home base at the Santa Cruz harbor overnight to Half Moon Bay in my twenty foot pocket cruiser, a Flicka built by Pacific Seacraft, then in Santa Ana, California.
Image result for flicka sailboat santa cruz
I made my way to San Pablo bay carefully following the charts and I turned toward the Petaluma River motoring up a long row of markers stuck on posts above the thick brown waters. Much to my astonishment I could occasionally see the bottom in the eight to ten feet of water. I felt very daring taking my three foot draft into such thin water over a  sandy  bottom.
By the time I passed under the road bridge and found myself in the river itself two things became apparent: one was that the famous land breeze blowing down the valley was right there but unexpectedly the river views were miserable as I found myself locked on river bordered by tall riverbanks, levees in the local parlance, tall enough to contain the river at flood but also tall enough to obstruct all views. This was not what I had imagined, picturing myself sailing lazily up a brook between meadows, sharing the afternoon sun with cows and fields of pasture and whatnot.
So I did what a sailor does and I started sailing. I am going to tack up river all day if I have to, and great fun it was too, in flat water with a  fresh breeze on the nose.  The Flicka was a fine boat to sail being small enough to make single handing simple, sheets to hand a stout tiller and a responsive cutaway full keel. Except...I seemed to be having difficulty coming about, a pronounced reluctance to spin through the wind alerted me to the fact that a change of plan was in order but I was too slow. Suddenly, very suddenly the boat got a mind of it's own and chose to ignore my efforts on the tiller by driving itself into the reeds at the river's edge with the determination of a Samurai hellbent on self destruction in some glorious act of self sacrifice. 

Unfortunately my dignity was the only thing offered in sacrifice  that day in distant 1987. The Flicka plowed those reeds apart like Moses crossing the Red Sea and we came to a gentle halt in glutinous dark mud clamped all round the hull perching the boat bolt upright in the muck. I of course lowered sails as the boat wasn't heeling one bit, The ten horsepower diesel was no match for the muck and soon I found myself sitting in the sun on a perfectly level sailboat with a splendid view of the many and various weekend afternoon activities on the water. And all of them could stare back and giggle at my predicament. 

I was released eventually by a cheerful power boater ("stink pot" as we sailors derisively term them) who gratefully took a bottle of wine for his trouble. I was pathetically in his debt as I had tried all the textbook maneuvers to get out of the mud and failed - kedging with an anchor, trying to dig the mud out from under the boat with a paddle, and waking up at the top of the moderate high tide in the middle of the night in a hopeless effort to motor smartly out of the mud. Nothing doing, it took a ski boat with a monstrous large outboard to un-stick the Flicka.

As California has a steep and therefore deep coastline the chaos I suffered on the river was about as much experience as I would get in shallow water until I went sailing in Florida and the Bahamas three years later. I trailered the Flicka to Texas and motored round to a new job in Tampa. After I wore out my welcome I set off for the Bahamas with my girlfriend at the time.

It was an unhappy journey as I felt the responsibility keenly to keep my little home afloat and  safe not just for me but for her as well. Our relationship did not survive the cruise but my boat and my sailing ambition did. While in the Bahamas I came face to face with my worst fear: shallow water.  I sailed with determination and awful memories of 25 hours aground in the Petaluma River. To my amazement I did okay. I was scared, and scarred, but I piloted the shallows of those lovely crystal clear waters.

I had the  best sailing of my life in the Bahamas, thanks to the  steady breezes and close knit islands. For the  first time ever I really didn't much need a motor. It is possible to take all day to sail a few miles, following a late breakfast and  before the obligatory sundowner drinks, that sort of a "day" not sun up to dusk....Some short tacks in water barely deeper than your keel, the splash of an anchor and settling down for a swim and drink in the silence of an engine-free day. The Bahamas can offer the best sailing even if ashore there is nothing much to see or do. To visit the Family Islands not on your own boat seems a waste of time to me.
My wife and I wanted to sail level so we bought a catamaran and kept it on San Francisco bay in the mid 1990s, traveling upo from Santa Cruz most weekends, learning to handle strong winds and powerful currents and cold breezes. There was method to our madness for in 1998 we took off with our two dogs and aimed squarely at the Panama Canal with final destination my old hunting grounds of Key West.

Which I suppose makes the choice of a boat with an 18 inch draft rather odd as the coastline is mountainous and the waters are deep right up to the beach almost all the way from San Francisco to Panama City ( and beyond from what I've read). But there was no doubt our  34 foot Gemini catamaran was light, easy to sail well and very comfortable for us and the dogs.

 Debs ready to leap off to chase something while Emma always kept an eye on me.

Eventually it happened that shallow draft became not just nice to have in certain uncertain anchorages, Belize's coastline comes to mind mostly shallow and full of reefs, as well as the San Blas islands all very deep except where they suddenly were't...mostly we sailed and anchored in deepish water. 

On the very final leg of our two year trip to Key West we met the second major storm of the journey, strong winds and large seas in the middle of the Gulf Stream south of the Dry Tortugas. One boat in our group hove to, stopped in the stream to wait, while we and another smaller catamaran similar to ours turned tail and fled for the Cuban coast. I had no desire to sit like a duck in the path of one of the world's busiest shipping channels. We found refuge in Cuba and that was where I finally learned to embrace shallow water.
The couple fo who sailed See Ya, another Gemini catamaran showed me the way ahead, threading inside the reef along the north coast of Cuba, in waters protected from the storm, too far from land to be interfered with by officialdom. I watched the rocky bottom of Cuba's reef slip underneath my gaze with just a few inches to spare under the keels of the catamaran. When See Ya ran aground the crew laughed, and I tittered nervously alongside. They got off we proceeded. They dodged rocks and slipped through narrow passes, they watched the bottom and ignored the flimsy fake charts we had copied from some other Cuban wannabe visitor. I had never wanted to visit the Forbidden Isle wrapped up as it is in bureaucracy and ill feeling from our officials but there I was and in almost no water and having the time of my life.
I have never had any mentors in my life and every crazy idea that passed through the antechamber of my brain had to mature and express itself by my will power alone. To be taught how to sail the shallows by an almost stranger was a gift and I took the lessons with gratitude. Much easier than learning to sail a river by being stuck aground for 25 hours in the mud.