Sunday, May 31, 2020

Sunday Morning

I took these pictures last week but they are emblematic of a Key West closed for business. 
I spoke with the van builders last week and they said they were working through this weekend to finish it so they can test it next week. There is no certainty but my wife and I may be driving up next week to pick it up. That is a journey fraught with complications but my wife has decided we can rent a  car, spend one night at the Hilton in DeLand  and once they hand over the van to us we have our own self contained space for the return trip. 
It's decisions like these that make post Covid life so complicated. I was going to go on my own but neither of us felt good about only me being on hand to check out the result of two years of scheming and planning, a van that holds the keys to our futures. 
Custom Coach assured us they will wear masks for the walk through and the explanation of systems and we felt it necessary to pint out that masks are required for my wife because we live in a  world where mask wearing is a political statement as absurd as that sounds. The Hilton has got the highest marks according to my wife for sanitary rooms and I have noticed new guidelines form the CDC discussing viral contamination where objects are unlikely to transmit the coronavirus. It always struck me as odd how the worst outbreaks centered on crowded cities to the exclusion almost of rural backwaters. Apparently now they think the best way to catch the disease is to sit indoors with someone for fifteen minutes or more preferably unmasked to enjoy the easiest transmission of the virus.
It feels ridiculous to plan a 350 mile trip across Florida like a military campaign but we have no choice. Once we get the van home our horizons will expand even in a world dominated by virus talk. Riot talk is another subject which hasn't touched the Keys. 
Repairs repaving and a gradual reopening.  Now we are told hurricane season will be "active" with two storms already logged. However what they don't point out this early is where all these putative extra active hurricanes may appear from and go to. I am a lot more knowledgeable about hurricane preparedness than I am about virus awareness. There is plenty of time to test the van out before it has to stand by as a self contained evacuation vehicle. By September, peak month for hurricane season, storm shutters in use here, below, to protect windows from maintenance chores, could be up to keep out flying debris.
It has been odd to see the gradual littering by Nature in corners of the city where people aren't walking.
There are quite a few empty storefronts and how soon they get filled will be a measure of the confidence people have in Key West's ability to draw vacationers.This is a resilient town nearly wiped out by the Great Depression and saved ironically by government intervention. 
It seems as though we must save ourselves this time and I have no doubt Key West will be up to the challenge. I hope visitors will get in the spirit of the thing and recognize that being different deamnds different behavior. 
I wonder what I will see here next week, I wonder if traffic crashes and drunk driving will come back on the books like before? 
Key West has had a dreadful reputation for bicycle accidents, the worst per capita in the State of Florida. Since the lock down  car crashes and drunk driving reports have vanished. As much as people like to say the side effects of the lock down have been bad, some of them have actually been good. Obviously this situation can't go on but a return to a more mindful normal would be nice.
Rusty found clean cigarette butt free water in the bowl at the entrance to Casa 325, the first time in memory he has been able to drink from that spot on Duval Street. 
"Online" is the default now showing experience of our lives. I enjoyed the radio broadcast of the 39 Steps on US 1 Radio, a substitute for a proper playhouse version of the play but I do look forward to sitting in a  theater once more I have to admit.
Fingers crossed, its all we can do. 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Interesting Times

The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat. Words to live by according to our President. I guess I am a bad Democrat then, at least for now, though given enough time and perhaps not too much of that the way things are going I shall surely mature into a good Democrat. Not, though, by ingesting bleach.
My brother-in-law sent me an article discussing the ways in which artificial intelligence can be used to create videos and images of people of importance doing things they never did. Soon, if not now, they will be indistinguishable from reality. A presidential tweet of immeasurable bad taste may indeed be produced to denigrate him and not to praise him and no one will know if it is true or not. Madness lies down this path. Shakespeare wrote plays about this lunacy five hundred years ago. Internet your name is Iago.
Truth is malleable, facts are becoming less stubborn, reality is a chimera suited to the point of view of the observer. And so today we will start to see the influx of visitors we dread and desire. The big issue is whether or to wear a mask.  The President of the United States has made wearing a mask a symbol of sheepish submission and the refusal to wear a mask the representation of rebellion against the tyranny of the government he leads. How this makes any sense only Shakespeare or Orwell could unravel: I can't.  I just watch and wonder at the state of collective madness our nation has sunk into. 
I once welcomed the Internet as a way to provide education, information and facts at the touch of a button without the interpretation of third parties. That view seems more and more naive as time goes by and every fact, every truth that is not convenient gets discarded on the pile of history marked fake news or deep state or dark web or some other such nonsense. Conspiracies replace benchmarks at will. Masks aren't a medical recommendation, they are the first step in Bill Gates owning the world by inserting chips into the vaccine we will be offered next year to inoculate ourselves against Covid-19. 
I quit being a journalist years ago when I realized that my world of what was known as news was being replaced by entertainment and "tips." At this stage in my life I find myself swept aside by a younger generation that displays the attention span of a firefly, flitting from blade to leaf to branch faster than I can keep up. I probably looked that way once to my elders and betters and I am reaping the inattention the elderly merit. Now that I live with a wife with no immune system the medical certainties of Facebook epidemiologists make me nervous. I have no certainties in this vast sea of confusion but I do know that keeping six feet away and wearing a mask when I can't are simple steps to preserve my family that I must take in the hope they will do some good. 
I see people present themselves at anti-mask rallies with guns on display, and where they then announce that they aren't afraid and to my jaundiced eye they look and sound ludicrous. They exude fear and resentment and poverty of ideas. Conflating rights without obligations, self without community makes no sense. I have lived an adventurous life and I have taken risks but I have always calculated the size of the risk, I am not a world record breaker or a pioneer, not a  leader in risk taking. I have assumed risks on the backs of those who went before. Therefore not to wear a mask when medical experts, who themselves struggle to understand a new disease, suggest wearing masks and maintaining one's distance I don't understand why wearing a mask is an abdication of personal responsibility.
The City of Key West has issued an order to the effect that public buildings and businesses must require people coming inside to wear masks. Fines and jail time are possible for offenders. Businesses that don't comply can expect a visit from Code Compliance, the people who render life not worth living with rules and permits and minute inspections. I'm sure its a coincidence but the re-opening order came a few days after a protest organized by Ed Swift, who is a man of influence, gained a lot of publicity. It was noticeable masks were in a tiny minority in photographs of the event. Presumably not photoshopped...
I don't live in the Key West of the 1980s but some days, the good days, feel like this community has been a reasonable facsimile set in modern times. People here don't protest coronavirus by parading with guns, food pantries step up where the state falls down, and I see a majority wearing masks without drama to try to do the right thing by their neighbors.  I have found a new slogan from my youth, think locally, act locally and stay home as much as possible. Everything else is out of our tiny marginalized no account hands. We are all peons in the post Covid era, heaven help us.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Duval Night

So there I was at 5:30 in the morning enjoying my lockdown solitude...
They've paved Duval by now as you read this which was a brilliant move causing dust and mess and minimal disruption. Some people got annoyed anyway but there will be naysayers till the end of time in this town.
I don't think we will see these kinds of construction machines parked on Duval Street again for a while. Parked on the yellow too. They were lucky parking enforcement has been suspended.
A sign of life. Surprised me, all blue and everything:
The Grand Cafe in unusual garb, closed for business yesterday today and tomorrow.  Undoubtedly later.
The colors of the old theater still fill numerous phone photo albums and you can see why. The Strand opens for business at six am.  I watched them opening up but I wasn't there when they closed at midnight. 
We face the great unknown, reopening and people and crowds. This has been a time worth remembering. I wonder how we shall look back on it, an interlude, the end of normal times, the beginning of a period of change or some other thing?

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Clouds Are Back

One of the great things about Keys weather is that it rains in summer when its hot and in winter when it is relatively cold it is mostly dry. That suits me. That the rain in summer doesn't usually last makes it perfect. If you like endless gray skies and drizzle and flat light the Keys weather won't suit you at all. Two days of rain in a row and you wonder who thought you wanted to live in Seattle.
Winter skies are blue and clear and bright and sunny, the light is white the sun is low on the horizon. In summer the sun moves overhead reaching a point midway between Havana and Key West, the Tropic of Cancer, and it is so strong the shadows change their shape and let the light and the heat burn you if you aren't careful.
But the sky fills with clouds what Clyde Butcher calls Florida mountains.
They pile up and indeed they look as solid as as the highest peaks in the world, places of cold and ice and dangerous ledges and profound chasms. Minutes later they take the shape of a sleeping dog or a man with a big curving nose. I spend a lot of time studying their shapes and their whimsy.
Sometimes the anvils of thunderheads look more like nuclear explosions than clouds and the they drop sheets of heavy cold water, droplets from five miles up as cold as snow when they hit the ground and turn to humid heavy air.
Rainy season has barely started and Rusty has got me wet three times. Its all his fault as if he weren't around I wouldn't go out and hope for the best even when skies are black and clouds threaten.
Sometimes I carry an umbrella but most days I can't be bothered. I wear shirts that dry quickly and I carry an extra plastic bag to wrap my phone and mu camera and I trudge on following the fur ball who used to be afraid of the rain.
My fatal error was making a fuss of him when he got wet, when I'd rub him down with a towel and and share a nice dry room in the house with him. Apparently this wasn't the treatment he got on the streets of Homestead where getting wet meant sitting under a bush shivering and waiting it out. So now instead of dreading rain he shakes it off and keeps walking secure in the knowledge he is a nice middle class dog with a home. And I who introduced this concept to him am punished by finding myself getting rained on in turn from time to time. I have to towel myself when we get home.
As it happens there is a good side to all this trafficking in misery. I do get to see some astonishing cloud filled sunrises and some blue skies such that most people sleep though.
In the morning I do draw the line when I can hear what sounds like hail peppering the roof. To give him credit, Rusty who is exceedingly smart sticks to his own bed knowing I will baulk at the prospect of setting out into a storm.  I am actually pretty sure he is as happy as I am not to walk out under a tropical waterfall. The only trouble comes when I feel drops on the trail and he ignores them.
I like summer for a change but by November I'll be ready for dry sunny days, cold breezes and crisp cold nights. At least for a while because I am fickle and pretty soon I'll be craving another round of heat and clouds and sudden squalls. What a life.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

On The beach

Working an evening shift I drove into town late afternoon and paused at Smathers Beach. I figure in a few days the coronavirus carriers will be in town forgetting to maintain simple rules to keep our numbers low. Might as well snag a few pictures now to remember how it was.  
I was regretting not having my own swimsuit with me as the toilets/changing rooms were open and the freshwater showers were available and not being used...I could have been refreshed and dried and back in uniform in less time than it takes to tell. 
Those waters just looked too inviting and even the birds were maintaining their social distance. Unlike our crowded neighbors photographed in thick crowds Up North we in the Keys mind our manners..!
There are hard core athletes in the Keys, running in the summer like heat, showing up at the newly opened gyms where machines are spaced, classes are reduced and yet I know I am not hard core enough to share their breaths with them. Not yet. I exercise at home thanks to YouTube and keep my germs to myself.
I was left to sit in the shade in my long pants and closed toed shoes, which ended up trailing lovely yellow Bahamian sand all over the place, and I looked and thought and hoped for the best, while thinking about all the calls I have received at work from people anxious to vacation in the Keys. Are the Keys open yet? they ask, unable to use Google to find the answer for themselves.
I hope in the long run nothing changes, nothing happens, life goes on, money flows in, work blossoms,  and we return slowly inexorably to normal. They tell us we will be living a new normal in the future but my reading of the past tells me we will slip back to stasis, because entropy will lead us back to the old equilibrium because we want to fly across oceans, to eat out, to gather in crowded arenas, to drink in public to go shopping to walk the malls and what we are living now in the First World isn't normal.
I have read about plagues past and I am struck by how virulent they were, how little people knew or understood about what was killing them and thus they never figured out how to stop the next plague, the next yellow fever from coming back and killing them.
I have had dengue fever from youthful times in Central America. I was scared of being shot  as I found myself in the middle of a civil war but the bullets I dodged with not too much difficulty though they scared me whizzing past my head. Dengue fever instead got me good and I went home feeling the full effects of "break bone" fever. The Salvadorans I left behind got tortured and shot and they died of dengue, in droves. I had access to food and fluids, clean drinking and washing water, a proper toilet and lots of comfortable, stress-free rest. A couple of weeks and my girlfriend was nagging at me to get out of bed. Then she wondered why I didn't feel like marrying her. I like to be coddled.
When I was a teenager in Africa I met other overlanders talking about chasing down women and carousing in the brothels of West Africa. Even though neither I nor anyone else had heard of AIDS back then it dd not seem like a very good idea to me. I stuck to my motorcycle and kept riding and seeing and living my ordinary life in extraordinary places. I still got sick!  That time it was jaundice and I had to fly home from Cameroon a nasty shade of yellow and sick as a dog. The French residents of Cameroon to their eternal credit packaged my Yamaha SR500 and sent it home to me. I must have inspired much pity.
Central Africans died in droves from what I had contracted simply from being young and stupid and inattentive. I got an isolation room at the hospital in Italy, first rate care in the form of free socialized medicine and a month later I was the thinnest I had ever been and free to live my young stupid life. I got back on my motorcycle and looked for more horizons to ride to and get sick on. I toured the US on a Vespa and managed not to get ill. Yay!
It's easy to read the words and ponder the misery of desperate times in the past. For instance the 1918 'flu which originated in Kansas and killed millions in rapid and horrible ways all over the world. Again no one had a clue what was happening and they tried quarantine, isolation, face masks and prayer. And still they died.
We live in more enlightened times we hope and we chose collectively to try to save the old and infirm in a collective moment of economic shut down in the hope this thing will go away and not come back. I am betting that when I return next week Smathers will be populated and social distancing will be an artifact of another era. I hope not but if that happens it will be interesting to see what happens next.
I am not a social animal inasmuch as I don't miss the bars or the rituals of eating out.  I don't like crowds nor do I enjoy gatherings of people who don't know me and my quirks where I can't be myself. Yet I do miss the crowds and the people if only at a distance which surprises me as I'd have thought a total desert would suit me best. Thus I have learned of some deficits in my character by living through the throes of this very weird pandemic. I have had to work through the pandemic and maintain a schedule acting normal as everything around me shut down. It has felt odd I must admit.
What I miss is the effects left by the people if not the people themselves, the vapor trails they leave as they drift through the periphery of my life. I have discovered that contrary to my previous belief the zombie apocalypse subtracts photographic opportunities instead of multiplying them. The quirks of people and their inexplicable behavior are all forgotten in a world devoid of people where nothing changes, where streets are empty and the debris of civilization is covered by leaves and animal foot prints.  It's an odd feeling for me to discover it is people who in the end feed my photography and I am finding myself forced to admit that I am missing that part of my inspiration. I have tried to use the lock down to see beyond what normally makes itself apparent to me on my walks, to see details and angles and colors, but in the end the debris of our civilization is the part that is missing and the lack of it has made itself felt in an empty town.
Empty streets and clean empty sidewalks.  Nothing to see here, move along. Until next week.