Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Hot Sauce Of Life



To mark my sixty second birthday, the day I am at last eligible for a  social security pension, three years from being eligible for Medicare,  I thought I would ponder some words of wisdom. My friend Bruce in Arizona (below, when he lived on a boat in Key West),  turned me on to a blog by a man in Philadelphia called Don Springer, who writes Tales of the Streets and illustrates it with his black and white pictures of street photography from his hometown. 
All I know about Springer is what he writes about in his periodic essays, his time in Vietnam, his tremors that require him to use a stabilized camera (technology! Yay!)and the lessons he gives to street photographers. His discussions about photography are grounded in common sense and decency which I find thoroughly refreshing especially after I came across the usual crowd of nasty navel gazing poseurs on of all things photography forums -DPR leads the pack for cruel vociferous gear heads with nary a photo between them. Springer by contrast posts his pictures and discusses the meaning of life much as one might around a coffee shop table. Very refreshing. Check it out even if photography means nothing to you:
After my accident last year I was determined to get back on my scooter and ride again and that I have done. However larger issues loomed and my life has  taken a turn in a  new direction. Motorcycling all my life has been a solitary pursuit, and for fifty years I have ridden alone all over the place. However my future is charted in a direction that at the moment doe snot allow for solo travel. Were my wife the stay at home type that would be one thing but she wants to be involved in all the risk taking and excessive travel I have mapped out for us. And in light of this can do attitude a motorcycle is not going to be the vehicle of choice. Not with a sidecar, not with a tent trailer, not as a solo ride. It will be a van to accommodate the three of us in comfort because we are old and grumpy and don't like to sleep on the ground. 
However this fine plan has cut me adrift from my solo riding hobby a bit. With limited time off I am bound to be more inclined to travel together in the van than take off by myself on the Burgman. We will have two years to get the van just right for the off and when I'm not working overtime to pay for it we will be testing it in various configurations and locations to simulate where we plan to travel and camp as we go. So I need some other hobby to occupy my fertile mind. I used to enjoy taking photographs in the days of film but terrible automated processing combined with high expense and too many shoeboxes filled with useless prints pushed me away from recording my life in pictures. I don't have many left from those days in mid 1980s when I wasn't quite 30. I always did like night work. I cleaned movie theaters for a while to get free tickets in the age before videos.
  
I used to go out at night with my Minolta and take pictures much as I do now of Key West, fighting the cold on the foggy California streets on my way home. Photography only came back into my life when I reluctantly bought an Android phone to replace  a outdated flip phone.  That phone soon taught me the fun of taking and sending pictures as electronic postcards. And the phone slowly convinced me to get a camera even as digital picture quality improved and put the last nail in the coffin of popular film photography. Nowadays I very much appreciate the ease of taking and seeing pictures instantly while storing them in Google's cloud and enjoying them whenever I want. Plus I get to select some of them to post online at Instagram Flickr Facebook and here as well of course. Once you have the equipment photography costs nothing and as I have discovered there is a ton to learn about digital picture taking that wasn't  a possibility with film. Despite the obsessions of "serious  photographers" telephone photography isn't all bad; my wife took this  phone picture on my last visit to Santa Cruz about five years ago:
When Springer talks about photography as hot sauce all he means is that you spice your photography and thus your life  the ways that tastes good for you. And life without hot sauce, whatever that may be for you, is flavorless and flat. It's really quite simple yet we all of us find it so hard to live like we understand this simple principle. The way he puts it  males me embarrassed to have had such difficulty with my hot sauce:
Do your thing and find your vision and don’t get sidetracked by the the so called negative energy users. You will never make too many photos and you’ll never have too much time to do it.
Enjoy your hot sauce my friends
Simple right? Well, that's my project I guess in my sixties. I have heard people talking about it being too late at a certain point but  I am more convinced than ever that it's the breath that counts...as long as you are breathing it's not too late. Time there for to mix  up a fresh batch of hot sauce. Happy Birthday To Me.



Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Afternoon Sunlight

My sister offered to use her surplus airline miles to buy my wife and I tickets to visit her in post-Brexit Britain next Spring. She lives in Scotland and is an ardent separatist wishing an independent Scotland were back in the European Union for her children's futures. She is living through tough times as farming subsidies vanish and practices sustained by the EU are withdrawn and her neighbors find their backs to the wall as the markets for their products are in a state of total uncertainty. Yet she found time to figure out with my wife how we can get back for a visit next Spring Break. I look forward to it.
My own future is filled with certain uncertainty and where I look forward to that my sisters, all three of them, live lives of measured certainty. I  was always the wanderer which leads me to conclude there is a great deal of nature in us overriding the nurture. But that is an argument I leave to geneticists to sort out; I have a life to live.  For the first time in twelve years of posting on this page I find myself running into a mental block as i thresh out my situation in my own mind while trying to maintain an outward even keel on the page.
My relationship to Key West is changing even though my feelings for this town, and my very generous employer haven't changed. For a nomad like me to find myself able to describe Key West as home is a special thing, and as much as I struggled to think of Santa Cruz as home during my decades in California, the relationship never jelled for me. I grew up there and became an adult even though I arrived in town at age 23 and was properly an adult in body if not in attitude when I left Europe for the last time as a resident. I know my feelings for Key West will evolve into the most nauseating nostalgia after we take off until we eventually return to the reality of this place and a cabin in the sun in a grossly overpriced marina. And then the complaints about Key West's shortcomings will resume. It's what you do when you live here.
I suffer also from a slightly obsessive personality, producing a daily blog for a dozen years hints at that condition, so now my mind is focused on the future. My wife is pondering living options in the van we are staring to design which will be built in the Spring while I am contemplating maps and routes and distances and costs and photos. Too much of my life has slipped by the era of film and I have few photos of my life in the 20th century. I was born as the first human built satellite circled the Earth and i grew up in a world promising technological wonders always  "...by the year 2000." That landmark came and went and sure we have astonishing technology but not the flying cars and body transplants they promised when I was a child. I'll happily take the Internet and satellite communications in the meantime, thanks.
Digital photography has become my blessing and my curse. I cannot see an immediate future on two wheels. If I were single and dog free I would take off on a motorcycle to see the world but as I am encumbered with two sidekicks a motorcycle even with sidecar is not going to work. And let's be honest, the comfort of a van and a home on wheels wherein I can close out the world has its appeal. My friend Webb who loves an ascetic life in a small sailboat acknowledges he could make a comfortable home in a  box on wheels equipped as it will be with kitchen toilet shower (after a fashion) and heat and cold. To him 72 square feet of living is luxurious but for most people living in a shoe box would be a severe inconvenience. For me now a motorcycle is surplus.
That is where I can now focus my intensity: digital photography is difficult to master I have discovered and nowadays the technology is superb and free! The modern digital camera has outpaced me. If you look at early entries in this blog when I conceived the idea of documenting this wondrous happy place I had landed in you can see I had some good photography ideas in between the cliches but the machinery i held in my hands, an HEC smartphone was sorely lacking. Especially as I had no idea how to bend digital photography to my will.
I am attempting to remedy those deficiencies by taking on a course of photographic learning with all the intensity I applied to learning to ride a motorcycle in my teenage years when the only tools I had were magazines and books and trial and error. I have one ankle that still aches occasionally from the time I dropped my motorcycle on it when practicing a slow turn I read about in a magazine interview on how to ride better!
I ride my scooter to work and I find, much to my surprise I feel no fear after my spectacular wreck a year ago. I am extremely cautious around distracted drivers or people pulling out of side streets but riding still gives me pleasure. However I am really focussed on my desire to have an interest in something that I can enjoy with my immediate family on the road. Photography will have the added benefit of moving the story of my life forward in a creative way I hope and leave behind a few mementoes for my distant family members who want to remember the black sheep of the family who left them for the New World. Jack London isn't in it!
So I have undertaken to teach myself photography and the blessings of Youtube make this possible along with my preferred written word form of communication. I expect I shall have to get involved in video at some point, my wife thinks the future is something I should come to grips with even as I struggle to adapt to the digital present...Carrying a camera is a solitary pursuit but I can look around even when I am not alone and I enjoy the process of learning to  notice what previously was only seen.
I have taken to reading Internet forums on photography and I find the participants as cruel and nasty and opinionated as participants on any other specialized forum. This however is not 2010 anymore and with a decade's experience under our belts we recognize and avoid people "vexatious to the spirit." Easily done, though I have to say I was naively quite surprised to find rabid people posting on a forum ona subject as pacific as photography. Webb tells me sailors do the same thing and god knows I've seen them discussing motorcycles tearing each other to shreds. I ain't got no time for that.
So I try to find the knowledge I seek and the opinions I might try to trust elsewhere. I have not much interest in gear as I like my modest undervalued fixed lense camera. I like the pictures I get from my Panasonic FZ1000  and it comes complete with image stabilization and total manual control as I want it and a zoom lense that isn't great all the way but it goes a long way out and produces decent pictures in  a package that fits in my hand just about (!) and cost me $360 lightly used on e-bay. I think the camera has been on the market for five years and it has only recently been updated slightly for improved video recording. The original version is sold brand new for six hundred dollars. In the same way I want to travel by banal two wheel drive van where more driven people want to rock hop in their four wheel drive homes, I plan to keep the photographic recording department simple with my Panasonic and a smaller Panasonic camera for back up in case of failure. I have my eye on an almost pocketable camera  for unobtrusive street photography and as it has a wide aperture it could be handy in low light situations. At this stage I am reluctant to go all National Geographic with piles of lenses and big heavy cameras and bush jackets and all that stuff. I don't really like using a  tripod much as I find it cumbersome and modern image stabilization is astonishing.
Of course there are proponents of photography who only use Canon or Nikon or Sony equipment and others who only use tripods and others who...blah blah blah. I just hope to get through this adventure with some decent pictures to post here and and on Instagram. Those and some words and perhaps the occasional video will I hope tell the story and make a proper electronic diary for me to look back on when I am in an armchair in a nursing home a surprisingly few years from now. Unless I fall to a violent death failing to negotiate Bolivia's Highway of Death in the meantime.
And one final note on this work in progress, I am leaning away from my previous title for this page after I got some grief not least from Webb for thinking a homage to Steinbeck might be in order with Travels with Rusty. Especially as, upon mature reflection Rusty's time is finite and he may not outlive the blog title. I wanted it to be snappy so my current tentative title which I came up with after searching Domain Names on GoDaddy is just that, and impersonal says Webb. For the price of $12 I bought ArmchairTrekker.com which if you type it into your browser will land you back on this page. Webb still doesn't fancy this name but I  like it as it's easy to remember it expresses my desire for a rugged journey undertaken in some comfort and it will make it easy for people we meet along the way to connect online. Conchscooter.blogpsot.com is a bit of a mouthful and let's be honest "conshscooter"  is the common mispronunciation and it has the same effect on me as nails on a blackboard. The cool thing about that name given to me on a motorcycle forum fifteen years ago is when someone says they know Key West and they can't pronounce "Conch" you know them for the poseurs they are. 
Yeah and I'm never going to fall in love with wild chickens either. Give me a nice quiet clean well behaved native Ibis any day.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Light And Shadow

I keep photographing the Southernmost Peace and Prayer Church on Fleming Street and it keeps yielding new perspectives.
A stranger walking by asked where Rusty might be and I had to admit he was at home as I was  between appointments and he was better off not being in town on a  hot day. 
Halloween beckons in the garden behind the library:

In the front of the library I met Gordon taking a rest. He was quite tickled by the idea....
....he might be sleeping with his own chicken. I like seeing people enjoying uncomplicated life in Key West.
Smiley roof face or frowning?
I didn't want to know how much this Elizabeth Street house might be selling for.
It may technically be Fall but there is still plenty of bright sunlight on the metal roofs of Key West.
I enjoy bright sunlight and the shadows produced even though most photographers are not fond of bright sunlight. 
By the time I got to Duval Street sunlight was catching the barest edge of La Concha the tallest building in town. My photograph reproduced on Instagram garnered the comment that it is also pretty ugly. I like the symmetry and the imposing bulk:
Peace Fantasy For Rent.       Perfect!
Stained glass reflections taken during a pause inside St Paul's:
And one more shot of shadows and light slanted across the side of a house:

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Perfect Anchorage

When I was living and traveling on a  sailboat I liked to explore coastlines which makes me a pilot not a navigator. Webb Chiles describes himself as pelagic inasmuch as he enjoys the open oceans while I am  contented to poke around coastlines. However a funny thing would happen every time we found the world's best anchorage and it happened to me and my wife and may have happened to the dogs too for all I know, though they couldn't communicate with us on that level. 
Inevitably we would pull the boat into the world's best refuge, away from pacific rollers crashing on land, far from noise and light pollution, close to a lovely beach and an easy dinghy landing and we would settle in to our new found paradise. And then aft a  day or two or a week or some unspecified amount of time my wife and I would look at each other and say quite firmly: "It's time to go." The anchorage had worn itself out in our minds. 
It may have been because the novelty had worn off and exposed the fatal flaws in what had seemed perfect or it may just be that we were in nomad mode and eager to keep traveling. Whatever the reason, when the time came to get moving we knew when we were ready. If we left before the feeling enveloped us we would leave with regrets and in some anchorages the feeling of relief and pleasure at being in the anchorage was fleeting because we weren't really enjoying what was on offer. Some refuges are just that and are not places of paradise where  a weary coastal sailor wants to put down roots..
It has become obvious to me this nomad instinct is alive and well even when I am not technically traveling. Of course one is traveling through life and time is fleeting and all those panic-inducing feelings. However while I have been traveling through time I have not been traveling through space. I have taken trips, small journeys here and there, but my home has been Key West and I have not been a nomad. This anchorage has after two decades worn itself out.
I remember pounding down the coast of Nicaragua in the Spring of 1999 blissfully unaware of the war in Kosovo and the US intervention which I heard about later. I was busy trying to figure where we might stop to let the dogs ashore as we tried to navigate the long featureless coast from El Salvador to the southernmost coastal village in Nicaragua, more precisely known as San Juan del Sur (St John of the South). We saw no suitable anchorages, no patches of flat water with easy beach access to let the dogs ashore, so we pressed on overnight and arrived in the dark in the open roadstead off the curving semi circle of yellow sandy beach that makes San Juan a vacationers' paradise ( that word again!). It was pitch black and we edged our Gemini catamaran into the bay getting confidence from the chart that showed no submerged obstacles, though spotting the unlit fishing boats at anchor was a trial.
Eventually after nudging our way in we reached flat water and I dropped the dinghy into the water. with outboard attached I got the dogs in and we went ashore where I found a massive cement launch ramp that made beaching the dinghy easy. I walked the dogs around the harbor, their first walk since Puerto Corinto 36 hours previously, and stayed inside the fence to avoid irritating authorities with whom we had yet to check in. At 2 in the morning there was no one in the office anyway but I'm sure we had been spotted unofficially so we stayed in the harbor limits. The dogs were happy to walk and soon we were tucked up asleep on board secure in the knowledge we had arrived and the anchor wasn't dragging in the calm conditions in the harbor. 
We stayed in San Juan for several weeks where we met an American expatriate businessman who ran a hotel and with whom we are friends to this day. But the day came when the day trips to see the sights, the long walks in the woods, the zip line tours, the sumptuous meals in the hotel overlooking the bay, the long drunken conversation's in Marie's Bar all faded away. We looked at each other and we knew It Was Time. A few days later we were pulling into the perfect, completely protected anchorage offered by Bahia Santa Elena in Costa Rica. There were wild mangoes ashore, parklike forest walks for the dogs, seclusion and solitude. We could stay there forever! Well, not exactly...
Key West was the perfect anchorage. We never intended to stay as we put the anchor down because we had to, as money had run out and we needed to find jobs. Our intention was to return to Santa Cruz California and figure out a way to pick up where we had left off two years before. Then life intervened and my wife's arthritis responded well to the warm humid climate of the tropics, work fell in our laps and  my wife's long held ambition to enjoy a pension in old age came true in Key West when she got a job as a teacher with the promise of a funded retirement. 
Paradise found no doubt about it.  Even at the turn of the century Key West was rated poorly by people who come to live here twenty years before, as they saw gentrification  over taking the city and ruining the come-as-you-are attitude of the city. For us Key West was as close an environment as we could find on the East Coast that resembled life in our pleasant little California town that we had enjoyed previously. So we put down our anchor and settled in for the log haul. My wife the native Californian was quite startled to suddenly find herself holding a Florida driver license but she could use her hands freely and that made up for a lot.
Now as we start planning retirement on the road we realise living in Florida and having that retirement in  tax free state means we will save a lot of money and effort driving around in a Florida registered van. With pensions from the state we won't have to prove we have a right to claim residence in this desirable retirement haven! California by contrast makes even Key West look affordable by comparison. 
Beyond all those dreary but necessary financial considerations which are propelled by my wife's good sense and not my pie-in-the-sky dreaming the fact is we both gave each other the look a couple of years ago and agreed the anchorage has grown stale.  At first we tried to rationalize it y thinking we could travel part time, then we figured we could do a snowbird retirement and spend summers in California among friends, or in Europe among family or something. Then reality set in and we knew we needed one more adventure before we die.
One thing that bugged me to death on our sail through Central America was my wife's vagabonding history such that everywhere we went she had been before. Indeed planning to drive South America she has visited half the continent already...but there are a few laces I have been where she hasn't and a few more where neither of us has journeyed before. They are now on the agenda. With the Promaster van scheduled to be delivered sometime around March the pressure is on the figure the design details we want for the interior. By next summer we hope to spend vacation time breaking in the engine, transmission and interior appointments on a road trip. Then we will know we have done this right. 
The fact remains the anchorage is constricting us right now. I wonder if  a boat in Key West might be suitable after Rusty goes to his reward, but right now I want to take full advantage of being here because who knows what the future might bring. The past couple of years have shown beyond a shadow of doubt the future is not written and nothing can be known in advance. I might not be pelagic on the water but I have no idea even now how far offshore my van meanderings might take me if one thinks of this speck of land as home and everywhere else out there as distant oceans. 
Rusty of course has no idea what he is in for but I hope and expect the broad horizons will appeal to the wild dog adventurer that burns in his domesticated heart. This will be his journey as much as ours, though he shows no sign of being bored by his current snug anchorage.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

tOPSY tURVY

Not what you expect to see when you stop off at Miami Subs for lunch during a long day of answering calls for service at the police department next door. The odd thing was the ghoul with poor dental hygiene was  in the restaurant for the same reason I was. Fantasy Fest requires fuel whether you are the sinner or the sinned against, or in my case a bystander helping tamp  down the excesses.
He was one of eight people including visitors from Miami who not only wore real costumes but together formed a barber's shop octet. At least that was what they sounded like when they burst into song.  
 The fantasy fest lunch started with me sliding into my table across from my wife who arrived before me and ordered lunch as she the teacher was off on Saturday and I the dispatcher was making money on overtime at work with a limited lunch break. I was not best pleased when the freaks ext door leaned over and asked my wife if they could sing her a song...and then the nightingales came forth full throated and as sweet as could be. Color me astonished and my wife delighted. The best moment of Fantasy Fest, hands down, totally unexpected and perfect.
2019  will not go down in my memory as the best year for the annual street carnival one way and another. I just did not gel with event and found myself spectating in the wrong places at the wrong time. The Locals March on Friday night started in a  downpour and I was not  in the mood to wait it out after twelve hours answering the police radio. The weather is hot and sticky and frankly I am ready for a proper cold front after an exceptionally long sticky summer. Climate change may be a fiction or not human caused or whatever the latest line of denial may be but it looks pretty real in a place where tides won't go  down and heat won't go away and hurricanes are ripping things apart everywhere they go. Rant Over; but it's hot enough at the moment to destroy the will to live.  
So as I wandered Duval Street looking for costumes I didn't come across much on Friday. Perhaps they were reserving their splendor for the Masquerade March as the locals' parade is known, now that it isn't populated solely by local residents having some non-tourist fun. On Duval I watched people walk up an down and it was not that interesting. I looked at feet for a while wondering about a thread online I'd seen asking for photographs of footwear on the street. Sounds weird but they had an interesting variety. I didn't.
 Do I sound like a tired old grouch if I say almost bare breasts in public this week are overrated?  I am not interested in getting into a costume myself but I always hope for fantasy, variety, wit and maybe a statement about local politics or issues delivered with humor and good cheer. Instead I get women of all ages who think wit is airing their chests. Perhaps it is in a society as repressed and fearful as this one on this subject, so check out the reaction to these two women embracing a stranger who wanted a different picture for his vacation album:
I can only imagine what a French tourist would think of it all. I saw women topless on French beaches forty years ago when I was in a better frame of mind to appreciate them. On viewing some of my past Fantasy Fest pictures my Italian nephews, farmers by trade, were quite interested in Key West suddenly. I had to give them a reality check about the other 51 weeks of the year. This town is not the Bohemian retreat it once was.
This crowd of costumed revelers were on break between runs cleaning up the streets, maintaining the trash cans and barricades and keeping Duval Street bearable. They were pretty cheerful considering the heat and their physical labor. Which is just as well as their work is indispensable on a crowded street with lots of trash generated.
For me the routine continued through the week. I had managed to snag a lot of overtime thanks to my colleagues' indifference so my routine proceeded mostly unaltered. Rusty is a wonder dog of course with a  few limitations. Heat and crowds don't do much for him so I usually take him for a walk around 4 in the morning before I gird my loins for work which starts at 6. It is always a relief to spend time with Rusty  away from the politics and stressors of work. 
I have been contemplating the fact that after this Fantasy Fest I will only have to work through two more if plans go according to ... plan. The idea is to leave town well before Fantasy Fest 2022 and with my luck that will probably be the best and coolest and most fun carnival of them all. 
Oh and among those delightfully fully dressed troubadours at the beginning of these pictures there was one who called out to me by name. Even looking at him I failed to recognize Joe (and his girlfriend Destiny). Some paint, a wig and a smile and you are someone completely different. One day I shall try it when I am tired of being myself.
Of all the people I saw in public these two cheered me up the most.  Proper costumes:
It's  all in the name of commerce in the end and one supposes the money changed hands and in the end one hopes everyone went home as happy as they could. At the police department the hundred or so officers from our department and support from around the state get a day of rest but the work goes on filing reports about lost stuff, stolen stuff and fractured relationships  and alcohol fueled misunderstandings and poor parking and all the social debris that gets left behind after a blow out party. 
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears
That old Fiddler on the roof got a few things right: swiftly fly the years indeed. Some years you want them to fly in a hurry, others not so much. Or if you are  a dog you wait on the couch for the boss to get home.