Sunday, January 31, 2021

Those Chickens

Florida Keys Chickens
The city of Key West has now made it illegal to deliberately feed wild chickens in the city. So had you planned on bringing a big bag of bird seed with which to stave off avian famine you will now be flouting a new law. If you drop your fries accidentally and chickens eat them you will be just being a klutz. As far as I can tell it goes like that in the Southernmost City where wild chickens have been the subject of endless visitor fascination.
In the grand scheme of things this isn't really a  big deal especially as we all know the chickens will do fine as they have plenty to eat. Its not really about the birds, its about re-training tourists to see Key West through a  different lens. The mayor announced before the most recent election, which she swept, that she is onboard with a new vision for the city as put forward by a leading developer. In this vision Key West will attract fewer visitors but they will be wealthy people interested not in getting shit faced on Duval but on enjoying the ambience of an upscale historical little city in the sun. Not a place that welcomes sweaty wife beater vests and chicken feeders. I hope the jury will be out for a while on putting water bowls out for passing dogs (like Rusty).
Over the years I have come to respect the chickens in Key West. I grew up spending my summers running around a small Italian mountain village which was home to more chickens than humans so when I saw these birds on the streets they didn't seem that strange to me. I find chickens to be delicious, but while alive they are noisy messy birds. I have noticed they are also very family oriented birds. You'll see them wandering around town in tight family units, rooster, hen and chicks. Rusty doesn't like to go anywhere near them as he has faced off  against an angry hen and she gave him no quarter. He crosses the street to avoid chickens when he can and I encourage him to do that.
The cruise ship shut down has hurt downtown Key West during the pandemic and many stores along Lower Duval have disappeared, presumably owing to a dearth of shoppers.  The argument against the ships has been they don't contribute much to the city's economy, but after a year of no cruise ships Lower Duval looks pretty ravaged. I suppose the theory is that new and different shops will repopulate the empty spaces but I struggle to imagine a Duval Street filled withy stores that locals might want to shop in. The state is planning to tear down the recent vote in Key West to limit cruise ships so what happens next year, hopefully after the virus, will be interesting to see.
Key West has carefully cultivated  a reputation as a haven for Bohemian non conformists but its a reputation that is enjoyed more in name than in fact. The original city residents, the Conchs have put up with it reluctantly because they profited from the flow of eccentric seekers and their dollars. Businesses have done the same but as eccentricity shrinks and conformity is forced by new residents  who have no interest in allowing Bohemians to wander the streets Key West is pushing itself into a new vision of itself. 
The fate of the chickens may be uncertain but not because of the feeding ban, but because of the drive behind that ban to fundamentally alter the nature of the city. I don't think they have chickens wandering the streets of Boca Raton and I doubt  Key West will either before too long. I hope I'm wrong.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

YouTube Lets Me Down (Rant)

I am become a YouTube snob. Perhaps that's not completely accurate as I think I have always been a YouTube snob. Over the years I have joined the ranks of those who have figured out that anything you want to do has been done previously, and video recorded by someone else ready to teach you how to do it. And that, in our complicated technological world is a very good thing. Until it isn't. Like any form of communication YouTube has great value for the things it is good at: in this case simple linear technical explanations. Were you to need to learn how to change a car light bulb or how to remove window shades without tearing down the plaster ( I speak from experience here) YouTube is excellent. but when it comes to more complex trains of thought, the nuanced life as it were, YouTube gets pretty grubby. I had better explain. But be warned this may turn into a rant. If you disagree feel free to comment.

Duval Street Night
I have been told that the written word is passé and video is the future. That broad statement of fact came in the wake of me being told that blogs were passé and Facebook was where it was (ungrammatically) at. I ignored suggestions I move off this page because I like recording my diary in this form with these pictures but that could be put down to me being stupid or pigheaded or both. If I were here to make money. YouTube videos have become a way indeed to make money but I decided a long time ago money was never going to be a motive to post my photos on this page or anywhere else. I show up at the office to answer 911 and I get well paid to do that. After 17 years of listening to misery I am pretty tired of it but the ultimate goal is in sight and a desire for money this close to retirement is not going to drive me to YouTube. It's too much work to do videos properly, also I don't like my own voice and what I have to say, I prefer to say like this. QED.

These reflections were squeezed out of me on Tuesday when I had the afternoon off, I had finished the books I was reading (Shadows, fiction by Webb Chiles well worth a read on your Kindle) and I was drifting through YouTube as Rusty snored on my leg. Usually I watch photography or van videos, reserving my van interests to people actually traveling not people moaning or building as neither activity interests me much. Photography videos focus on gear which is boring or complex computer driven editing which baffles me so If I can't find a video on actual travel done well, or photo composition that teaches me something new, I go back to reading or napping, as God intended we do on our days off. On Tuesday I made a horrible mistake and checked what that cheerful face was saying about Key West. I should never have done it. They are a nice young couple getting a free room at a hotel and using that as a base to explore Key West. I use the term "explore " loosely as their first Key West video involved tearing themselves away from the minutiae of their free room at the Pegasus and walking (masked, thank you God) to Sloppy Joe's straight down Duval, chickens included. In-depth research is not part of their schtick. Yankeesinthesouth Check it our for yourselves, you may like it. I found it predictable vapid and boring. And apparently irritating.
I suppose it's too much to expect travelers to make videos like Rick Steves' high quality productions but would a little research hurt? When I was traveling through Central America I dreaded boater get-togethers as they ended up usually being a bitch fest comparing prices and presumed price gouging. To me travel has meant learning, or at least making an effort to learn and with the Internet at our fingertips learning even a little history is easy and God knows YouTube doesn't exactly demand precision or depth in anything but  not one You Tube travel video seems to be able to tear itself away from offering travel advice to armchair travelers and comparing prices as though the world outside is one giant market and no more.  I see videos of pretty places with pretty faces expounding on cheap this or that as though we are ever going to actually be there ourselves. I guess I expect too much, hence the notion I may be a snob.
I used to be a radio reporter and I learned editing and meeting deadlines and how to get to the point over a dozen years of doing all three. I routinely slide a YouTube video two minutes from the beginning when I get past the advertising (nothing is truly free of course!). The pretty talking heads will blather for at least two minutes about nothing before they remotely get to the point, that has been my experience. To make a YouTube video as I would like to would involve video editing using film taken of the places I talk about, similar to  how I use still pictures on this page, to break up the verbiage. It is much easier to point the camera at your face and babble, script free for twelve minutes, collect the thumbs up and wait for Adsense to send money. Tellinga  story it ain't. Doing research goes no farther than buying a foreign widget in a strange place.
Besides, I like still pictures, I enjoy the process of capturing images for a story already in my head as I walk with camera in hand.  I wasn't planning to write about my growing disdain for YouTube, a lost opportunity for communication, when I took these pictures but after I lined them up I knew I could use them right here. None of these pictures need explanation if you have been reading this page about my nocturnal walks with Rusty and if my grumbles about You Tube are of no interest the pictures will, I trust, take up the slack.
I enjoy the freedom of not making money from this page, or from my pictures at all. Much is made of the word Freedom but the actual practice of freedom is a tough call for most people, indebted indentured and aspiring. "Independently poor" is what Webb calls it and he has a point. I don't envy the youngsters trapped in a cycle of making videos to live and having to live a particular way to make the videos. Then they have to deal with the avalanche of negative comments if they are popular.  I noticed after my accident and near death the persistent snarky comments dropped away as I suppose being nasty to a man at death's door was beneath even the trolls. Getting squashed was an extreme way to shame them into silence I suppose but inadvertently it has worked.
This is my world, a blank page, some photos and the thoughts in my head. I like history, I like geography and I love the ability we all have to be surprised by something, to be curious about something and then look it up and find out the reason why. Far too many of us are just to lazy to go exploring online. You would be astounded how often people call the police department and  expect me to know arcane legal issues off the top of my head. I try to be patient, if 911 isn't ringing and explain I'm a civilian with no training in the law but because I say "Key West Police" they expect an answer.  I try to explain that my job is to take calls for help and to send help but still they press me. If I can't palm them off on an available officer I turn to Google and read the results over the phone to a caller who by now has understood that is what they should have done for themselves in the first place. How old do you need to be to ride a motorcycle without a helmet? Is Florida's firearms permit valid in Connecticut? Don't call 911, Google it because I haven't a clue. Need an ambulance? That I can do.
The well meaning tourist couple on the Key West video looked around Sloppy Joe's and remarked the place must have some history. No duh, not that they had a guide book or came armed with the investigative instinct of a traveler. But the good news was they had some really interesting cheese on their sandwich. They held it up to the camera so we could see their hard cold melted orange cheese. It was extraordinary judging by the comments from the audience who were delighted by this bland superficial supremely uncurious view of  Key West.  The question I was left asking myself was, where do I go for my nostalgia views of Key West after I get in the van and go exploring for myself?  Perhaps I ought not to leave and just sit here moaning and grumbling until time runs out...

Friday, January 29, 2021

Alligator Alley

The two lane highway opened in 1968 to connect Fort Lauderdale to Naples and they called it the Swamp Pike and Alligator Lane, derogatory names for the people stupid enough to risk their lives on a narrow strip of roadway built up on the muck dredged from deep ditches either side. The road was unfenced and patrolled by wildlife which mixed it up with the drunk drivers and the sleepy drivers causing carnage among humans and beasts. It was not an easy 80 mile drive. It became known as Alligator Alley, a romantic alliterative name that has stuck, even unofficially, now that it is part of I-75 from Miami to Sault St Marie, Michigan. I have indeed crossed the Mighty Mac Bridge labelled I-75 so I know it's true. If you ever feel like dumping your snow chains and breaking free this is where I-75 ends, and no you won't see any alligators along the freeway. Sorry about that.
Florida Freeway
People still die here though you have to figure they must work at it because the dead straight road is properly fenced for all 80 miles and the median is huge so all you to do is set the cruise control and stay awake. In summer it is much less trafficked than a normal winter season.
Alligator Alley
In Florida speeding tickets are given out when you drive more than five miles an hour over the limit (cops can always get you for reckless or speed too fast for conditions if you annoy them...) so it is pretty much accepted that you can add five miles an hour to the limit...However if you do make sure you stay in the slow lane. The Miccosukee Tribal Police make a comfortable living pulling people over on the stretch of Alligator Alley that runs through their reservation as the ill informed think long and straight and boring equates to any speed you feel like.
Florida Highways
Alligator AlleyMuch is made of the name Alligator Alley and in myth this is a long hard drive across the southern part of are driving through the mystical Everglades swamp etc. etc...which most people think looks like a cypress swamp with dank Spanish moss hanging off dank dark trees and all that. The Everglades are known as a river of grass because that is what they are, named by a South Florida environmentalist (Marjorie Stoneman Douglas) who wrote about the necessary preservation of the marsh to filter water and maintain wildlife. The Everglades are wide open and flat and may very well surprise you. Even where there are trees, below, there ain't much to see.

Big Cypress is more like it, a relatively small chunk of the Everglades preserved for the trees. If you want to see alligators and dank hanging moss and stuff you need to go further south. Alligator Alley is all business. This is where you drive if you want to cross the state with no fuss and at speed. An hour and fifteen minutes and you are done. Blast the air conditioner, listen to the radio and put your phone down. Cell phones work all across these days so you are never out of touch, lucky you.
There are places to stop along the way. Most of the recreation areas are on the eastern side in Dade County. They offer boat ramps and some picnic tables trash cans as well as  scattered trash and you can launch a boat or an airboat off a trailer or push a kayak into the water and paddle your brains out if you like. I don't know much about fishing but kayaking would be as boring as paddling through a haystack in my opinion. All you'd see from water level would be the stems of river grass, important stuff for the water but not scenic,
There are two rest areas along the way including a fire station, toilets maps and vending machines such as you'd find in any rest area on any freeway.  All the stopping areas are good for a night's sleep especially if - ahem- you have a your own van to sleep in. Do not confuse bridge turn outs with rest areas...this is where the Highway Patrol parks and puts you under the radar gun. "Official Use Only."
This is a recreation area. Open year round in hunting season expect hunters marching off into the swamps. There are no facilities here, just a parking lot but they are great places to walk your dog  or to peer up close at the dreaded swamps.
There is one truck stop along the way, at Mile Marker 49 ( Mile Zero is in Miami, Mile 101 is south of Naples). It is run by the Miccosukee Tribe and offers the usual showers trinkets food and parking. The gas at my most recent visit was 20 cents a gallon above the inflated prices along I-75 in southwest Florida and that wasn't the worst of it. They are building new modern facilities and you can't pay at the pump at the current facilities. I had miscalculated my range and unwilling to pay $2:40 in Naples for regular I pressed on and lost my nerve. I bought $20 of regular at $2:60 a gallon and I had to stand in line inside for the privilege. I was annoyed at myself. You can exit the freeway here and take Snake Road  (a mildly twisting two lane) north to the Seminole Reservation and Immokalee beyond.
At Mile Marker 80 there is one curve in the road. It's actually a 'Z' first left then right. This where I-75 joined up when  they converted the two lane  Swamp Pike into Alligator Alley. I remember the road work in the early 80s when the brand new freeway became a mud pit and you had to pick your way between bulldozers as they joined up the section from the east with the section from the west.
You may think you are lost in the wilderness but there are constant reminders you aren't. This is a modern freeway. There is one intersection near  the Naples end of the Everglades. Highway 29 goes north to Ave Maria, the Catholic town in the swamp. Due south you get to Everglades City, a rustic pretty small town that never developed into a "city" and you also cross Tamiami Trail, Highway 41.
Tamiami Trail is where you want to go if you want to see alligators and the Cypress Swamp and all the rest of it. The speed limit varies between 65 (Collier County) and 60 (Dade County) and it's a two lane highway that was built in the 1920s well before Alligator Alley was completed in 1968. It's scenic and has lots of places to stop, with rustic restaurants and the world's smallest post office. Best of all you can take Loop Road a 24 mile gravel road that actually dips into mainland Monroe County and will take you through actual wilderness guaranteed to see alligators and swamps. If it's your first time in South Florida take Highway 41 and Loop Road.
You might well see cars stopped by the side of the road on I-75  but with cellphones comes rescue.
And soon enough news arrives of the end of the road.  The roadway was built as a toll road and it was completed early and paid for a few years later. The toll persists. For a car its a Sunpass toll of $3 in either direction. If you don't have a Sunpass (why not?)  you have to stop and pay by hand. There are no tolls to pay if you join Alligator Alley from Snake Road or Highway 29. 
When I am in a hurry this is the way home. I-75 goes to the Fort Lauderdale airport via 595 and joins I-95 and the Florida Turnpike so you can turn south and go straight to Homestead. Recently the state has finished building a four lane highway connecting Homestead to Highway 27. Krome Avenue (named for Flagler's railroad engineer) is now a freeway to Homestead, with a few traffic lights. I find it preferable to fighting traffic on the Turnpike through Miami.
The west coast of Florida boasts some of the most horrendous traffic in the state, worse even than Miami's death trap racers. Speeding is endemic which I don't mind so much but when you combine fast driving with undisciplined lane changes, tailgating and impatience  I-75 between Tampa and Naples is a nightmare. I have found that three-laning the whole road has helped and driving a  big box van helps too as people see me coming and stay away even in their over sized trucks. I put cruise control on 65 to save gas and trundle up the slow lane ignoring the chaos. It works for me.
The art of merging with traffic from an on ramp needs to be taught just as learning to pass on a two lane highway would relieve a lot of tailgating stress. The problem is the drivers coming onto the freeway don't achieve escape velocity on the ramp and they combine that with not looking over their shoulders to see what the state of traffic might be. They just blunder on, force you to change lanes and then speed up and away once they have disrupted your zen. Weird. Once again the big box van helps. They can't help but notice it and it does actually convince them to take evasive action. If you are in a  car be warned, driving skills are not practiced here: be extra defensive. 
I really need to go and spend some time on Tamiami Trail, much more scenic, more fun and as I know how to pass on a  two lane highway I can find my own way home without tailgating. For wasting least time the romantically named but decidedly pedestrian Alligator Alley is best.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Things I've Seen

Just walking and looking.
Outside Fausto's on Fleming someone had eaten a box of ribs, picked them clean, then left the bones in the box and walked away failing to connect the trash with the can.
One of those pandemic positives we see from time to time: sidewalk dining which should be a common sight in Key West but isn't. Better indoors with air conditioning seems to be the rule.
Overexposed picture of Duval Street, I was going to dump it but I liked the mood of burning heat it imparts. It wasn't really summer hot but I liked the look:
This plaque on the drug court complex caught my eye once again. I remember all the county commissioners listed. Three dead, one retired, one sitting. Time spares none of us. Commissioner David Rice gave me my psych test when I applied to be a police despatcher. I've been around too long.

Key West is pretty no doubt about that.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Mangrove Sunset Backwards

Much to my annoyance the computer downloaded my pictures backwards. I was grateful it downloaded them at all as sometimes Blogger is reluctant to add pictures to my page for some reason. The engineers have upgraded the service with all the usual screw ups change brings in its wake. Besides I am in a happy frame of mind at the moment, the Republic is secure, I am halfway vaccinated and the outside temperatures haven't caused me to break out in a  spontaneous sweat for several weeks. Life is good.
So I thought to myself I shall turn this upside down lemon into lemonade.  It was dark by the time Rusty and I were back at the car on Summerland Key. I had finished the walk by taking pictures in black and white and I rather liked the atmospheric views of the road, a departing Jeep, a stationary dog. Not, I hasten to add in the same place at the same time.
Look! A Christmas tree out of season!
I have been reading about locked down photographers unable to travel and who are as a consequence bored. Some days I leave the house more focused on giving Rusty a good time filled with not much faith that the trail will produce anything worth looking at and yet. and yet I see things.
I don't see dead people or anything exciting like that but the landscape yields some great sights even in these monotone flatlands. For every minute spent trying to capture it I get ten minutes of standing, or walking, and staring. Imagine the silence.
A plane full of Covid 19 and humans flew overhead into the sunset leaving a suitably pink contrail.  Grist for my camera.
I walk and I see stark white tree trunks in the gloom. I like that so I put a dark background behind them to make them stand out. Non Floridians worry about rattlesnakes and alligators. I worry about getting sufficient contrast.
Fat Albert framed, below. I have been reading some RV comments about Florida and there is universal dread of alligators. These are not people who follow Clyde Butcher very closely, a photographer who wades through the Everglades for the pleasure of finding pictures. I just walk through the mangroves and the most aggressive creature I find are horseflies.
I see signs of human passage, tire marks usually but I am very lucky to be alone on these trails almost all the time. Especially in a time of pandemic I feel privileged.
And here we are at the beginning of a forty minute stroll, a dead tree reaching up to the sky.
If I didn't photograph it would it still be there?