Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Gato Village Pocket Park

I think this little pocket park behind the First State Bank on Simonton Street has been here for almost a decade. Time flies, it really does and yet the place, known as Gato Village Pocket Park, still looks pristine. 
That ugly jumble of cement across the street is the bank and the park is surrounded by a fence to resemble a garden in front of a cigar maker's cottage typical of what you might have seen a hundred or more years ago.
The wooden facade is built at one end of the park and offers  a pleasant spot to hide from rain or sun while enjoying the greenery.  Originally cigar workers came from Cuba when tobacco importers decided to bring raw leaves to Florida to avoid import duties on finished products. Key West was the closest port to Cuba so at first they came here. Gato in Spanish means cat...so here's the cat at the Gato Village Pocket Park! Very cool.
The whole thing is actually named for the family that ran the whole enterprise in Key West, and they built a factory on Simonton Street to process the tobacco and have the workers roll it into cigars.
Nowadays the Gato Building is owned by Monroe County and is home to several county offices including the department of public health. It is an imposing structure that hints at the value of the tobacco industry in Key West.
Eventually the same old bugaboo that haunts Key West today, the cost of doing business  on a small isolated island, caught up to the tobacco industry in the city. The people in charge figured they could have more land and cut costs by heading north to Tampa which is how Ybor City was born. All that is left is this representation of their famous Cuban  cigars:
This pocket park really is small and usually I find it quite empty. You can sit on the floor under the awning or on a bench among the flower beds. 
 Its a bit surprising to see it so well maintained after all these years!

I only know it's been here quite a long time as I unearthed this picture form January 2014 of Cheyenne resting on one of our walks through the area.
   

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Southard Street

I have been riding my new to me electric bicycle during my lunch breaks but I don't find it very conducive to photography. I bought the bicycle for a very specific reason, to try to avoid traffic jams projected for the next  year at the sole bridge into and out of Key West which will be undergoing almost overdue repairs.
In Key West the Cow Key Bridge is known as "The Triangle" as North and South Roosevelt Boulevards meet Highway at this critical three way junction. Anything blocking the bridge backs up traffic for miles so my plan is to park somewhere on the shoulder and complete my commute on my $600 Pedego Classic, lightly used six speed cruiser with a 350 watt electric motor powered by a 10 amp battery . Phew! Its as big a mouthful to describe as it is heavy to lift. This was me cruising down Southard Street with Light Pedal Assistance.  I got back to work sweat free, as I go to the gym for my exercise.
Aside from riding the bike lane at 12 mph I also enjoy walking Southard Street a one way ride away from Duval Street toward White Street. My yellow buzz bomb was rather overshadowed by the giant hump I saw on the hood as I walked by a couple of days earlier:
Walking, especially with Rusty gives me a chance to look as we go, and for all its usefulness as transport a bicycle still requires you to watch traffic more than the architectural oddities passing by.
An oleander flower (I think) celebrating the summer heat that has descended on a winter short by even Key West standards.
Rusty settled down on the sidewalk in front of Mangia Mangia restaurant, the corner building with the inviting awning.
I labeled this picture "White Ghosts on Patrol" on Instagram:
And I reserved a street corner panorama for the overloaded cyclist:
Rusty took our break in stride, paws carefully crossed.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Southernmost Wanted

I have seen the graffiti all over the Lower Keys and in Key West since about 2015. I made  a half hearted Internet search with no results (he has a private Instagram account for friends apparently) and resigned myself to never knowing who the author of these weird pointless letters might be. CYNE painted or printed with the additional slogan underneath: "southernmost wanted."
But it turns out these signs are bound to start disappearing. And most likely not coming back. Why?





Southernmost Wanted has a checkered and thus quite interesting  past, especially in light of the fact his crime in the Keys has been spraying uninspired graffiti and sticking small stickers on public spaces. In the past he was more inclined to violence it has been alleged. In the story below from the Fayetteville Observer one clause leaped out at me: "one of the odder homicides" in the community according to the author of this well written report. I reproduce an extract here. The link above has the entire story, well worth a read as it makes chilling reading.


Former Fort Bragg soldier Brandon Mims was found not guilty Tuesday morning of murdering Michael Ray Staggs in a parking lot outside a Chinese restaurant in Fayetteville two years ago.
According to Staggs’ family, the jurors thought it was likely that Mims killed Staggs, but that they lacked enough evidence to vote to convict him.
Prosecutors had circumstantial evidence that indicated Mims could have been the shooter, but no direct evidence - such as video recordings or positive identification from witnesses - that he was the person who fired a shotgun into Staggs’ car.
“I feel comfortable that with the evidence that we had before us and that was admissible that we put on the best case that we could put on,” lead prosecutor Nitza Rothstein said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
Defense lawyer Dee W. Bray could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Mims could not be reached.
The case was one of the odder homicides in Fayetteville, seemingly random.
Michael Ray Staggs’ father, Mike Anthony Staggs, said it was a “stranger on stranger” killing, that his son did not know Mims and there was no known connection between them.
The younger Staggs was shot in the head Jan. 29, 2011, as he sat in his car in the parking lot of the Compare Foods shopping center on Bonanza Drive and Morganton Road.
Rothstein and co-counsel Scott Gainer were able to present these facts to the jury:
Mims had a burgundy Ford F-150 pickup. Witnesses observed a flash and loud bang from a burgundy Ford F-150 parked next to Staggs’ car, then saw the pickup drive away.
Mims was seen in the Chinese restaurant and shopping center parking lot shortly before the murder, and the restaurant had a debit card receipt of Mims’ roommate, who had given the card to Mims that evening to buy cigarettes.
Mims’ grandfather gave police Mims’ shotgun, which investigators say was of the type that fired the shotgun pellets that killed Staggs. There was gunshot residue in the window area of Mims’ truck.
“To me they proved the case,” Mike Staggs said.
But Rothstein and Gainer could not put Mims’ grandfather on the stand. He died last year. Had he lived, Mike Staggs said, Mims’ grandfather could have testified that, on the morning after the slaying, Mims brought him the shotgun and admitted that he shot Michael Ray Staggs.
Once again I find myself feeling relief that I live in a town where murders are so rare they don't get a rating. We get lots of calls in police dispatch from anxious relatives across the country who haven't heard from family members who come to key West on vacation or for business. Check the advertising and you might get the impression that if you come to Key West you should drink yourself insensible after you have met a whole bunch of boozy new wonderful friends.  Under the circumstances it might seem obvious that your friends and relatives are going to "forget to call." However that thoughtlessness strikes you, rest assured if they are engaging in drunken stupidity they may spend too much money and they may soil their reputations but this is not a town of violence. We don't have unusually interesting murders and I am very grateful for that. We do have a lot of drunken stupidity and helmet-less scooter riders with severe head injuries. And now the Sheriff has locked up an alleged killer. But he got locked up for graffiti, not murder which makes this arrest interesting to me. Are we witnessing the calming effect of the Keys? 
So why did I post a picture of a banal bottle of antiseptic soap, two dollars at CVS I discovered upon investigation. This story will I hope counterpoint the CYNE arrest with a description of the true crime scenario in Key West. I paused in my walk with Rusty to sit on a  brick wall and study the new business about to be built where Rum Barrel used to be, a bar opened by a pirate obsessed, media savvy doctor who wanted to sell food and drink for profit in Key West, and did very well parlaying his fame as a sports doctor to top flight sports figures I believe. The permit notice in the bar window says the city will be considering granting an easement to make legal what is apparently an illegal taking of city sidewalk. The brick ramp below has been incorporated into the architecture of the building apparently without a permit and now the usurpation of the public sidewalk is to be made properly legal. Bad enough you might think that a public sidewalk has been used illegally - there's a crime of key West proportions.
So, the question of the soap...read on if you have the stomach. As we resumed our walk I noticed a certain odor hanging about my person so I scrupulously checked the soles of my shoes. It wasn't dog shit either it was pungent and human and wherever it was it wasn't on my shoes. I raised my camera to take a picture and the smell became intense. I looked at my hand and the tell tale brown smears were everywhere and unmistakable. I recoiled in horror and started frantically checking my short tails and shorts to see how far the plague had spread. Happily it was only on my one hand -only - and I staggered down Front Street like a leper holding out a diseased limb. I spotted a hose and managed to squeeze a few drops from the spout with my clean hand but that did nothing except increase my sense of panic. 
I am not germ-phobic, quite the opposite, but I do know that shit actually does carry disease and anyone who takes a  shit  on a brick wall is probably not the healthiest of specimens at the best of times so I was looking at my hand with half a mind to cut it off. The inspiration struck. I was staggering down the street pondering y options when I saw the pharmacy, one of half a dozen in Key West and for as often as I have been critical of all the chain pharmacies springing up all over town I approached the front doors with a  profound sense of gratitude. It took a while but I have become reconciled to the misfortune and now I think I can safely say my hand and I are friends again and I no longer look at the palm worrying that nasty brown smears will reappear and fill my face with that ever so nasty smell. Human not canine. I pick up after my dog so I know.
Murder? I felt like murdering whoever put me in that predicament but this is Key West and I contented myself with sending them a mental curse and clutching my bottle of hand sanitizer close to my chest for the next unfortunate encounter bound to happen in a town filled with residentially challenged visitors and several weeks of winter to wait out in the tropics.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Caroline Street

I really enjoy Caroline Street.
 Homelessness I don't enjoy  though I admire the resilience that finds a way around the armrests designed to prevent resting. Why can't we put such toughness to productive use?
 Harpoon Harry's:
 Until I passed the music store I'd never given much thought to the component parts of a piano:
 Off The Hook, worth a  visit.
 Rusty the rebel:
 A (car) parking garage...
 ...filled with bicycles.
 Keys Energy architecture. The public utility that works.
 The Dirty Pig is not a name that inspires me.  I still miss Finnegan's Wake.



The details of Caroline Street.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Elizabeth Street

These aren't typical commuter scenes of most cities which are forced to absorb streams of motor vehicles every work day. There are streams of cars entering Key West at the bottleneck known as the triangle, but  down here the traffic flow tends to be of a more genteel nature as the day begins. A pedestrian, a  bicycle or even a tricycle ambling through town.
Not many people get to make of their journey to work a walk through Old Town. My wife drives the Seven Mile Bridge daily and it's a struggle for her to remember some people drive slowly to savor the unique experience. That she might be late to school is of no concern when the oblivious driver is on vacation.
A Triumph with a wine bar on the back, below. Sometimes I miss my Bonneville then I watch traffic turning the wrong way on a  one way or passing on double yellow lines or braking for no obvious reason or slowing suddenly for an empty crosswalk or not knowing how to stop at a stop sign or failing to look both ways... you get the idea. I have a second chance at life.
This picture didn't work out the way I wanted but it evokes that early morning mood in me. The cat prowling and nearly obscured by the irritating handlebar, the homeless due (or tourist?) struggling with the suitcase. End of vacation or start of a new aimless day?  I put the picture in my diary to remember even though the picture is too busy and unfocused.
This rather obvious joke was Instagram worthy:
Johnson's Grocery store on Petronia and Emma in Bahama Village.  brilliant convenience store marketing involves selling beer and conch for locals and letting tourists in on the "secret." The cool part about the grocery is the connection it carries forth to the past and the community around it. I like to stop a moment and see what piece of history is being celebrated.
Without Rusty  none of it would be seen as he's always  ahead of me.

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Slow And The Dead

When I worked nights I frequently found myself on city streets at three in the morning unable to sleep on my nights off. Since moving to days walking Old Town at four in the morning doesn't happen very often. However with my wife out of town and Rusty always ready willing and able to walk there was no excuse not to go for  a stroll. I ended up wondering if I should have stayed home.
Before six in the morning in those hours of darkness when hangovers rule Key West I let Rusty run ahead off leash. In a world filled with busy bodies it gives him an opportunity to let off steam and it gives me an opportunity to make whatever pictures I want. That he sits on command and can observe traffic patterns without me fails to impress most modern fear filled Americans.But at this hour I can walk and think without submitting to the ignorance of the masses. And young Rusty can enjoy the fact he is no longer negotiating life and traffic on his own. The sexton's building at the cemetery main gate on Margaret Street:
Why I wondered was a traffic cone on a  grave? An annoying vexing question with a stupifyingly banal answer no doubt.
The cemetery offers much atmosphere even through the railings that surround it. I was standing on Passover Lane and all I could see was images. No ghosts were harmed in the making of these pictures. I believe so little in the supernatural that lost souls never make themselves known to me. 
 Flowers pinned to the fence attracted my attention:
Moving on I find myself compelled to photograph empty silent streets at this hour, by now approaching six o'clock, the witching hour when people come back to life and start driving and making noise. Looking up Windsor Lane toward Solares Hill in the distance:
Ambling toward Truman Avenue I passed a Sprinter camper van with a luggage rack on the back filled with coconuts. People sometimes wonder why we chose a Promaster van over a Mercedes and the answers are clear enough in our heads, not least saving $30,000 in the purchase price and avoiding the expense and complexity of maintaining a modern clean burning diesel engine. I grew up in an era when diesels were solid reliable machines of no great performance and nowadays gasoline engines are the simple dependable alternative to diesel exhaust fuel and catalytic converters that have to be replaced periodically and all that stuff needed to reduce air pollution. I enjoyed the coconuts and stopped pondering another imponderable. 
That was when the walk started to get weird. I was no longer alone when a voice called from the shadows to get my attention. No I said, I carry no money. Oddly enough in England I've heard street people take payments with credit cards nowadays when they are selling newspapers. Mind you the police in Britain now prosecute people for thought crimes so they live in a whole new world brave or fearsome as you may see it. Anyway back to the matter in hand. It sounds like the opening line to a joke: This guy walks up to me ans says...
"Can I use your phone?" So I ask what the problem is and he manages to explain he left his phone in a  Pink Cab - You know Carl? he asked as though I have intimate knowledge of the city cab drivers' lives, though maybe he asked because I knew the number to Five Sixes off the top of my head. I asked the dispatcher who did not sound like a bright spark if he could ask Carl to look in his cab for a phone abandoned by a  distracted fare who was now hopping up and down in front of me worried sick. He seemed a little confused and slow, possibly helped along by too much alcohol, a common condition around here.
I think I got the message through to the dispatcher and I was surprised it took so much explaining to get the cab company to comprehend the problem.  I get these calls all the time at work and I call the cab companies for lost items every work day.  Indeed I was feeling rather grumpy that I was now doing my dispatch work for free in the middle of the street with an impatient dog sitting there looking hard at me. If your phone is so important, and mine is to me, how the hell do you forget it so easily? The last I saw he was crossing the street to waylay a fresh young thing he spotted over my shoulder to ask her to follow up my incompetent call and make assurance doubly sure. I fled, happy to be ignored suddenly.
Not for long as a hooded figure shouted across Windsor Lane at me "Does your dog like cats?" Good Lord I thought to myself, two in one morning, really? At least she made no effort to extract money from me. She was freaking out that Rusty might invade the privacy of the cats she has been feeding for twenty years behind St Mary's. As obsessive and nuts as she was, she had a point. It was after six and clearly long past due time to put the cat eating hound from hell on his leash. As you can see this one bored into me with the piercing stare of a someone with only one thing on her mind: Her cats. I was reminded why I really like dispatching and not having to get any closer than the phone to the array of nutters who still hang on in Key West.
Rusty is scared of chickens and pretends to ignore cats who stare him down so her feline charges were quite safe but there are some people you just don't mess with and she was clearly one of them.  I engaged her in conversation for the hell of it, but it soon became clear we weren't going to figure out the meaning of life, and no it isn't cats. Call me nuts but I wish there were more like her in a town sliding into conformity and dopey adoration of mainstream reality. Key West could use a few more eccentrics. 
Sometimes my tourist disguise is a little too effective. On Saturday a smelly man came up to me with an ingratiating air and grabbed my hand -ugh!- and started talking rapidly and following me. So finally I turned and said I work for the police department.  That was all it took and he melted away. I didn't have time to get to the bit where I point out I'm a civilian phone answerer.  I need to get more mean my colleagues tell me when they laugh at my street encounters.  I don't think we need more meanness in the US just at the moment.
I get the feeling that living on the streets of Key West must be incredibly boring, no matter what anyone tells me. We are told most homeless have mental issues but they can't get help so there they go aimless drifting day and night after day and night. So if feeding cats give you purpose then I guess more power to you and in the matter of dealing with people versus animals I'm on the cat lady's side. They fed Rusty when he was on the streets but with the ultimate goal of getting him into a home which he seems to enjoy and that must be why I prefer dogs to feral cats. Perhaps one day I shall fade away into the dog feeding equivalent of a cat lady. Meeting these people on the streets is making me maudlin which  probably means I'm going to attract another call at work from the mad electron woman who thinks her ex is sending her messages through her TV streaming service by subverting her internet account. Or the other one who thinks her neighbor is preventing her from sleeping by sending musical vibes through the wall separating their apartments by wires inserted into her pillow. Lucky for both of them they have enough money to keep them off the streets, for now. I prefer the endless parking violation calls between feuding neighbors. At least parking problems I can understand. And don't forget the reason why I like the cemetery is that dead people have no problems that prompt them to call 911.