Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Central Florida

We took a 90 minute walk all round the neighborhood after Rusty woke up. It might have been a tad shorter had I not overridden my dog, convinced I knew the way back and took him off in the wrong direction. After I failed to recognized any landmarks I meekly followed Rusty back to the van. My wife claimed she was awake. 
Van life used to be glamorized before the pandemic forced a lot of youngsters to think twice bout van travel on YouTube but for us old foges used to the vicissitudes of boat life waking up in a van is no big deal. Tooth brushing is pretty much as normal. In the limited privacy of a residential back alley wipes make for adequate shower substitutes. We chose not to install hot running water and a full shower on the principle that time spent in the wilderness would be good enough for outdoor solar showers heated by the sun or by our kettle. Our struggle to keep the van simple for travel to less developed places is an ongoing project. And our ideas are not at all suitable for people who like to spend most of their RV life in parks and campgrounds with full facilities.
The area around Coffeepot Bayou is pretty upmarket and as a result not only is the landscaping impressive but the homes vary wildly in style and decor, and not all of them are palaces by any means. However there are some splendid alleys where I like to walk Rusty with my camera.
Another reason I really like St Pete: an abundance of dog interesting alleys! Dale is not an early riser so we took ourselves off after our morning ablutions and headed to that quintessential symbol of civilization in any American city: Trader Joe's. I sat in the van with Rusty while Layne got in a masked line to shop, which is a rarity for her these days but Trader Joe's takes the pandemic seriously, lines masks and dividers for all. The line actually did move very rapidly and everyone complied according to my wife.
Our plan such as it was included a bit of boondocking, that is to say sleeping in the woods of the national forests of central and northern Florida plus a quick visit to the Custom Coach Creations factory to have our induction stove top looked at. The fan was not turning off whether Herself cooked on it or not and though it heated up just fine something was definitely wrong as the fan never turned off. Custom Coach Creations replaced it with an improved model, and rebuilt the countertop in two hours and sent us cheerfully on our way under warranty and free of charge. Amazing service always from that place. Highly recommended.
Florida Camping
As you can see the overnight spot was not the cleanest and though I left the piece of paper in the picture for effect I did not include the couch with mildew so thick it had grown leaves on the cushions and looked like watercress, nor did I photograph the skeleton of a deer, I think that was what it was, completely picked clean. The signs along the highway warning of bear activity got my wife looking at bear spray offers on Amazon. I laughed and got a glare in return. Rusty was cautious on the trail and crept along like a caricature of a hunting dog and in the end I was proved right. No one and nothing disturbed us, as unarmed as we were, and the night as black as pitch made the cabin all the more snug as we watched Netflix and listened to our exhausted dingo dog snore heavily from our bed. It was a quick overnight stop and free of charge with no neighbors and only the sounds of passing cars nearby on the highway for company. On our morning walk deeper into the forest I found a lovely glade that would have served us better but for a quick overnight this did the job just fine.
There are national forests in Florida suitable for boondocking but I'd rather we preserve the myth that the only places to camp in the wilderness are west of the Mississippi, though those places are a lot more picturesque than the pine scrub and sand of our modest and largely unknown National Forests in Florida and a few points further north.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Road Trip

It seems the sudden demand for campers and RVs has depleted the supply and naturally increased the cost. We took delivery of our custom built Promaster last March just as virus lockdowns were starting and we congratulated ourselves on our totally unplanned great good fortune. Indeed the van, if you can accommodate your sprawling life to 21 feet makes an ideal travel companion in a time of plague. We can go hither and yon and hardly have contact with another human being. Gas stops, 18 miles per gallon at $2:00 a gallon, are affairs of the mask, a quick hand sanitizer, and back to the comfort of our own toilet, our own refrigerator filled with better foods than gas station supplies, and then back on the road in minutes. That's the good news but the bad news is all those attractions, those small pleasures in travel destinations are now closed to mask wearing cautious virus wimps like us.
Florida Keys
Sure we can, and do buy restaurant food to go and eat it in the comfort of our own living-room-on-wheels, but its not quite the same as being spoiled by strangers, especially when you know restaurants are all teetering on the pandemic brink. Museums? Attractions? Shop explorations? Not likely these days and that makes a destination a tough place to select. The paradox of the approaching vaccine counter balanced by 2,000 deaths a day and innumerable more painful side effects, mixed in with crowded hospitals and exhausted medical staff, leaves me wondering how there can still be those who ignore the suffering and shrug off the virus as a hoax. Normally I would question my own choices, second guess myself, wonder if I was worrying too much, a bad habit I am prone to, but for me the modest privations I suffer to avoid viral contact seem not that harsh at all compared to hospitalization, ventilation, and no human contact at all.
 Florida Keys

So when our Thanksgiving plans with socially isolated friends collapsed suddenly and at the last minute there were no hard feelings. First one then the other members of our generation with suitable medical issues for their age, said they were getting spooked by the numbers  and we understood, disappointed that one more modest holiday tradition bit the dust in a year of savage disappointments for some, and far worse for others. So we found ourselves with time off, a packed van and no destination in particular. Well, we said, let's make it up as we go along.

Florida Everglades I-75
Luckily our first planned stop in St Petersburg didn't cancel so we remained motivated to get on the road and we set course for Dale's place seven hours north. Actually we had been wanting to get out on the road for a while so the absence of a destination hadn't really put us off getting behind the wheel. The sun was shining the breeze was blowing and there were big white puffy clouds overhead as we cross the Everglades in the middle of the state. This was going to be our first stab at mooch docking.
I-75 Alligator Alley
The speed limit on the four lane highway across the Everglades is 70 mph and as usual Florida tolerates five miles an hour over and perhaps a little bit more but I, traveling sedately at the speed limit to improve my mileage, spotted one Seminole Tribal Police officer writing a ticket. The Florida Highway Patrol sit in their cream and black Dodge Chargers looking for all the world like alligators waiting for someone foolish to zip by. Then come the blue lights and a burst of acceleration worthy of a hungry dinosaur. The prey never escapes as this highway is a 80 miles long with one set of ess curves on an eighty mile straight roadway. Where the Interstate bends first left then right was where the two halves joined up a few decades ago. I remember when the middle bit was all dirt and construction and you had to pick your way from one finished section to the next across half a mile of off roading. 
St Petersburg Downtown, Florida
St Petersburg on a Friday looked fairly normal. A high percentage of people were wearing masks but enough weren't to make me wonder. My wife went to Publix to get dinner for ourselves and our bachelor host Dale while Rusty and I went exploring.
Florida Streets
I like St Petersburg very much, a great deal more than I did when I lived here thirty years ago. At that time I thought there should be more to this city wedged between two bodies of water and I guess people with more commitment than me decided I was right. There is art and culture, museums and theater, young people and students in a. town that used to be the butt of jokes about being "God's waiting room."
Florida B&W
I can't wait to get back here and enjoy whatever amenities the virus will have left in its wake. I know they keep telling us the world will be different and I suppose it will but people can risk eating out in the middle of a pandemic then I suppose restaurants will be in demand after this is over, and I trust the other cultural amenities will pull through. 
St Petersburg Florida
Our destination was the home of Layne's college friend who lives alone at home and has sporadic contact with his children and who willingly wears a mask and was outfitted with lanai seating so we could sit far apart and talk and eat Publix roast chicken. Dale was so impressed by our camper he ordered on himself from Custom Coach and he said he wanted us to park behind his house to see if the Promaster fit.
Custom Coach Creations
Dale's will be two feet shorter so he will have no trouble parking his in the alley. Mooch-docking is the term used to spoof boondocking, the term used for camping in your vehicle in the wilderness without amenities. We were mooching a free spot at a friend's place and I have to say we slept well there. Rusty even let me sleep in till 6 in the morning. The visit with Dale went on into the night with much to catch up as Dale lived an active life of business and travel which has been curtailed by the pandemic. He is a technology wizard so communicating by computer obviously comes easily but meeting face to face is such a rarity. The absurdity of all his distance meeting, no contact, masks up close and so forth will be a bad memory one day. That will be a decidedly good thing.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Bridge Art

When I was over at Bahia Honda I was taking  yet more pictures of one of my favorite places and in order to see things just a little differently I went into black and white mode. It is an impressive bridge even as the state of Florida allows it to crumble.
Florida Keys
Taken from underneath the new (1982) road bridge looking east of  south:
A shaft of sunlight across the new sandbagging rebuilt to buttress the road bridge after Hurricane Irma tore the old stuff down:
Taking a photo in black and white can really bring out the drama, however slight, in the sky.

The commercial fishing boat on the horizon just a speck through the bridges. 

And to end a more or less gratuitous picture of Rusty doing his thing and ignoring my camera.
Florida Keys Dog Walking

Friday, November 20, 2020

Through The Looking Glass

The city of Key West is urgently pushing the barn door shut even as Coronavirus cases have almost hit 1300. That news has pushed local leaders to act in a way that is going to upset a lot of people and in a  time when taking a stand is not very popular  my hat is off to the city commission. (LINK) We all know that we have a more stable population in the Keys as winter residents come and don't leave.  Thus when people get infected now  they don't go home after vacation but show up at the local hospitals. Concern is therefore at a high level officially speaking and the city commission has grasped that uncomfortable bull by the horns..
Florida Keys
The city commission has passed another outdoor mask ordinance so we are back where we were this spring, masks on all the time, indoors and out when you leave home. I have been reading reports from hospitals in the Midwest where patients tell nurses they don't believe they have Covid 19 even as it kills them. It beggars belief but coronavirus has leapt out of the realm of science into the twisted up world of politics and wishful thinking.
Florida Keys
So now the city decides to tighten up to try to stop the virus in little old Key West and predictably there are experts in the city who know better, prominent citizens no less. The newspaper reports a local restaurant magnate has decided masks are ineffective and didn't enforce even the previously rather lax rules. One can imagine that with his erudition on the subject of epidemiology he has decided the new, stiffer rules are pointless. Which about sums up how hopeless the situation is become. Eleven million cases nationwide and here we are, crashing around in a  fog of premature senility. I saw one suggestion online to ward off coronavirus with oregano. What I wondered do they put on their pasta sauce, bleach, perhaps? If oregano worked would not the Italians of all people, among the most hard hit nations, not be immune? However being rational in the face of essential oils and witchcraft has no place.
Facebook lit up this week with the news that the newly elected county commissioner, and former long time city mayor, and his wife are in the hospital with coronavirus diagnoses. This stuff must be hitting home when we hear this and you'd think that to see such a popular leader and his charming wife laid up in the hospital would be a call to action. Yet the whole concept of politicized mask wearing is the worst legacy of the outgoing administration's fight to politicize absolutely everything. So Facebook doesn't light up with recommendations to wear masks and stay socially distant: no we see lots of hands joined in prayer. A charming sentiment but prayer is proving to be about as effective as oregano in keeping the virus at bay. Prayer and a mask is much more indicated as the city commission itself voted,  but we are as a species incapable of being rational. Oregano and prayer not masks. 250,000 dead, so far, hospitals filling up nationwide, health care workers at the end of their tethers. And we haven't even had a Pearl Harbor or a Tet Offensive to test our mettle, and here we are trembling before the dreaded mask.

I have to say my ambition is to get through the next few months unscathed if I possibly can, and reach the place where secure vaccinations become available and put this ghastly episode behind me. In the hundred years since the Spanish "Flu, which originated in Kansas of course, we seem to have learned nothing as a species, We are living through a  time where expertise, education, science and kindness are on the backburner only to be replaced by a pervasive sense that lawlessness and cruelty and ignorance are the new currency. It does my mind no good at all to see how badly we have handled this crisis for our generation. Key West as a holdout for thoughtfulness is a consolation, but this one human family is a tiny blip on the face of a national epidemic..
I don't know what the point is of trying to pass laws to make people see sense if they don't want to. In California the governor is under fire for violating his own indoor dining rules by having a  dinner party under what was essentially a closed-in awning area at the very expensive French Laundry, apparently open only on one side. When the author of draconian Covid Laws actively works to skirt them, what is the point I ask myself?  If we don't want to wear masks, if we try to avoid the rules like naughty children reading under the covers what is the point in saying you must, you have to wear a mask which in itself has become a symbol of political partisanship? Never mind the fact that doctors and scientists tell us its the best way to end this disaster, because a prominent restaurateur disagrees. Who would you believe? The businessman, obviously.
Let sleeping dogs lie I say. Trying to save people from themselves never has worked and obviously won't work now. I never thought much of the lockdown which hasn't in retrospect served Europe well. I wish we had had a strong mask mandate from the beginning, with social distancing and intense sanitary rules such that we could have pulled out of this with a reasonably intact economy. Instead  I feel as though I should learn to play the fiddle as I wait with dread for my next appearance in the ICU. I did not like being ventilated last time and I am not looking forward at all to next time, especially as some people breathe by machine for weeks. I don't think I could bear it as I was stuck with the tube down my throat for less than a day. I couldn't talk but my wife said it was the maddest she had seen me after I woke up, during my months in the hospital. 
Miami Hospital
I should much rather wear a mask, stay distanced and wash my hands. I'll keep the oregano for pasta night, thank you.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Little Hamaca Interlude

Two years ago I didn't own a campervan. Two years ago I wasn't walking properly either. In the wake of my scooter wreck I was loaned a wheelchair friendly apartment in Key West to give me time to get on my feet. So it was that I would bring Rusty and my walker to Little Hamaca where I would totter after him, my grossly swollen feet in slippers as we shuffled around the park. He was I have to say a very patient dog as he slowed right down to accommodate my slow shuffle.
Little Hamaca City Park Florida Keys
So nowadays to come back to Little Hamaca is to remember the winter of two years ago and to be glad all those hours of physical therapy, time in the gym and long walks to nowhere pushing that dammed walker have paid off.  I got to hate wearing wooly slippers instead of proper shoes and the heels of my hands grew thick calluses where I held on to the walker frame for dear life. The parting injunction from the hospital was to not fall over and i lived every waking moment concentrating on not wrecking my pelvis or the numerous nuts and bolts holding me together. It was a very interesting time.
Van Life Camper Florida Keys
I found the most annoying thing about being in the wheelchair was relying on my wife all the time to pull it out of the trunk and line it up with the door so I could lift myself into it. Even now every time I get in or out of a car I spare a thought for those days spent clinging to the roof, unable to rely on my legs to hold me up. I took lots of pictures of Little Hamaca in those days, my practice ground for learning to walk.
Aside from all the nostalgia stuff  Little Hamaca is a place to get away in the middle of Key West. 
Key West Florida
You will see some dog walkers lots of bicycles, a few homeless people especially in winter and a few joggers. People wandering with cameras, like me, are few and far between. I met Mick sheltering from a shower and we exchanged a few words. I didn't mention it to him but I used the same walker as part of my recovery when I was able to walk a little better. I seem to keep coming full circle in Little Hamaca!
The old Hawk Missile Battery towers left behind after the Cuban crisis ended in 1962  make for for something different to photograph and I take advantage:
Key West Florida

Little Hamaca Key West
The mangroves and the salt ponds are of course everywhere, even here in the city, next to the airport.
Key West Florida

Florida Keys Monochrome

Rusty likes it after all these years:Florida keys Dog
I find the mobile home an ideal spot to hang out and be by myself. With Rusty of course.
Van Life Key West
A new start in an old place. 
Van Life Florida Keys

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Glorious Day Off

Finally he got a sunny day on his day off. He urged the dog in his camper van with no effort at all and off they went to see the world on a lovely Tuesday morning.
That was me with Rusty yesterday in case you were puzzled. We parked twenty minutes from my house and soon we were walking together, more or less, around the Old Bahia Honda Bridge. Which as you can see is not doing at all well.

A kestrel was balanced on the remains of the old water pump house which was demolished by Hurricane Irma three years ago. It swiveled its head like a robot while I tried to capture it's rather disdainful stare.

Florida Keys Birding
Out to sea I spotted the low profile of the commercial fishing boat and a sailboat that perplexed me utterly. It was traveling downwind toward Key West bobbing around with its sails firmly furled. I know Webb Chiles, the inveterate sailor would have something grumpy to say about such lubberly behavior. I have to admit I was thinking negative thoughts about motoring downwind in a perfectly capable sailboat. 
No such issues with my camper van. I never feel guilty when I turn on the engine of the Promaster. Recharge the batteries, run air conditioning and get where you're going at an easy 60 mph.  I am enjoying travel by van and next week we are off to Pensacola to visit our socially distanced friend in that cool crisp climate on the Florida Panhandle. We are going to take a few days to make the 800 mile trip from Key West and I am looking forward to the break.
Looking pretty good for November and even though it is still humid the wind was blowing and it felt lovely to be out and away from my 911 desk.
Rusty and I were not alone.
After our walk I settled down with my computer in the back of the van and  while I wrote he kept an eye on things outside, his favorite place. 
Florida Keys Van Life
Our compact and functional kitchen, electrical induction burners, a Berkey water filter, a sink with 35 gallons of fresh water and a storage tank for the used water and a splendid view.
Van Life Florida Keys
A good morning's relaxation.