Friday, May 25, 2012

Some Working Stiffs

Summer will be gone soon enough and Up North as days become shorter in a few short weeks and as temperatures drop dreamers will start to wonder if perhaps they couldn't make it in the land of perpetual summer. They could read the paper for instance and monitor a parking lot:

Or they could use their mechanical skills to maintain a tour train... the depot on Ann Street:

Two and a half million people come to Key West each year, some bright soul with not much to do has figured this out. Most of them spend at least a portion of their time people watching at outdoor tables in the land of perpetual summer.

Some people come for romance, and like the other dreamers they adapt to their unusual role by spending money. Perhaps the sex shop downtown can make every tourist a "dream girl" heaven help us all, for a night in some improbably expensive underwear.

Dream over, they pack their pink suitcases in the rental car and drive back to real life on the mainland.

Jobs in the Keys fall broadly speaking into two categories, government and tourist trade. You end up selling things to people or providing the services the service workers need to function - police, utilities, mail etc...

Service industry jobs in the private sector pay horribly, offer few benefits and require most workers to hold two or three jobs. There are a few exceptions. For instance the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce gets more than a hundred thousand dollars a year but she has fossilized in that job and don't expect it to come available any time soon. This guy is wearing a name plate so he's a worker.

The Chamber put out a report recently estimating the private sector pays crap wages and the public sector should be shredded down to their level. Public sector jobs require employees show up and for employers to respect the law and pay overtime and permit unions and all that dreary nonsense.

The rising tide theory falls flat on it's face in Key West but civic leaders do spend a lot of time wringing their hands publicly about the high cost of living for the canon fodder in the trenches of the workaday world in Paradise. Selling boat ride tickets can't possibly be that lucrative, can it?

If you exhibit a penchant for sales there are jobs in Key West though you will need more than one to make it. It needn't be hard physical labor either.

Enterprising actors make a living performing at Mallory Square. Some of them have raised families, bought homes and lived thoroughly middle class lives with their tips. I'm sure this Silver Man is never a member of the AFL-CIO or of SAG and no doubt couldn't care less!

It used to be that all pedi-cab drivers came from Eastern Europe, one of those immigrant jobs that required no papers as they are ”sub contractors” operating their own business. Nowadays the economic slump means you stand an excellent chance of being pedaled around town by a native English speaker.

And it's one of those jobs that gives you time to catch up with passing friends, rather like store clerks and stand operators who hang on Duval, earn half a living and get to shoot the breeze.

I'd rather not deal with the public face to face and certainly not at Chamber of Commerce inspired wages.

Fortunately the are lots of workers who will. In fact during the boom years bar tenders and even bar backs made fantastic money when Duval Street was packed nightly to the rafters with drinkers with money, or if not money at least credit, before that went bad.

Standing around talking is a large part of cultural life in Key West. These are not tourists either. The ice chest on the scooter is one giveaway, the rag from the pocket, the headgear and the flesh tones.

Unless you work night shift an prefer the pleasure of your own company like me, you can get to know enough people on a small island that every block involves stopping and talking, or a least greeting in passing somebody or other.

Tourists visit bars and landmarks, though like the unhappy server I encountered recently, residents without private in Knesset rarely get to hang loose in downtown. She told a curious customer she hadn't seen the attraction in question as all she's done is work since she got here six months ago. It's not the sort of reply a tourist expects, nor is it one encouraged by the Chamber of Commerce but... it's the reality.

Rent a bicycle, employ a local.

Buy a knick knack and keep these aggravating stores in business though one wonders how they pay the rent at those prices... A thought also not encouraged by the Chamber bit I do wonder what they launder in these places.

Open containers Or not, or only sometimes. I am a local so its not my issue as I am expected to be sober at work.

I'm not sure if this is legal either, nor am I sure it's naked in a technical sense, thongs being what they are these days and I didn't look too closely.

Frankly I'm not sure what gender it was either.

Local? Tourist? Beats me. Have a nice weekend and if you don't work shifts then thank a union you have the whole weekend off. And that you don't have the Key West Chamber of Commerce campaigning to reduce your wages for you.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Boat Fishing Summer

Ambling home on the Overseas Highway I looked to the left of me and I looked to the right of me.

As it turned out most of the fish killing action was to the left of me, on the Atlantic side of the road, the south side if you talk like a mainlander.

There you are out in the ocean and your fishing guide stands on his platform and poles you along. When the flats pole is in action in means you are in shallow water, no matter how deep it may appear.

Some of the time is spent buzzing about on the horizon.

A lot of the time is spent maneuvering the boat on and off the trailer at the free launch ramps provided courtesy of the gummint up and down the Keys.

The view from the Highway to Key West is quite pretty especially in the Lower Keys after the Seven Mile Bridge where the road crosses more water and winds through fewer mangroves.

I often think of the boaters looking up at me driving or riding on the highway imagining that I am envying them their freedom.

I used to be glad when I was on the water away from speed limits and traffic lanes and crowds. At some level I miss the silence and skill of sailing but driving a motor boat has not made me a convert to driving an engine across the water.

I have found that sporadic use of a salt water immersed engine takes work to keep it functioning. Work and money, which is true to se extent of any boat.

Even though I am not one to pits my wits against fish a boat with a bed and a sunset view is still a pleasant place to be.

And around here, like Parrotdise on Little Torch Key there is a dock provided by the restaurant to encourage visits by water.

Thats the fantasy ultimately, jump in the boat at your dock and drive across the water to dinner without once stopping at a stop sign.

After last summer's desperate struggles with my bolshie outboard I find the smooth reliability of my twin cylinder Bonneville much more satisfying.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Kojin Noodles

My colleague Fred has been working his way through the menu and every evening at work his praise rises higher for the new noodle shop on Southard just by Duval Street.

It looks cute enough from the outside but when I figured out the nice to go hatch it occurred to me that lunch wasn't going to be air conditioned on this 90 degree afternoon.

And the cooking goes on in front of you which would be a nice touch in artificially cool air. I took a seat at the counter which did not get me immediate and rapid service but I had the newspaper to keep me company even if the server had better things to do. The cook smiled though as he put together a roast pork sandwich on naan.

It was the eleven dollar special so I ordered one as it came with miso soup. The place offers half a dozen pho type dishes, Asian noodles vegetables and meat and only one vegetarian offering, a rather boring looking miso with tofu. My first Asian restaurant not catering to vegetarians.

Small bowls for ten bucks, giant bowls for 18 so I figured a soup and sandwich would give me a quick look across the menu board. The naan was soft flavorless and not the least crispy. It was the reason I wanted the sandwich, as I love naan, who doesn't, and I miss Indian food. The miso was full of mushrooms and dark with flavor. The sandwich had a weird sauce that tasted of mashed liver which gave me pause. Luckily I had a teapot with hot tea to wash it down. Unluckily the server was quite surprised by my request for hot tea but I am one of those weird people who like hot tea on a hot day to cool my skin by sweating slightly. I had some mystery tea bag from an old tin hidden behind the counter and left it at that.

Here is the cheerful cook filling eighty dollars-worth of pho bowls.

Maybe I should have had a nine dollar beer to wash it down. As it was I spent $14 and left a three dollar tip. Oh and when it came time to settle the bill, also requiring an age to wait, I was told with no prior warning the credit card machine was down. Luckily and unusually for me I had a twenty dollar bill, else I'd have had to add an ATM fee from the Bank of American Crooks machine up the street.

I could have spent nine bucks on an El Gaucho Ernesto burrito from badboy up Simonton Street and sat in air conditioning.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Leafy Carsten Lane

When I need to walk and think I come to the little winding
paved road between William and Margaret Streets.

This was the first lane I "discovered" in Key West years ago.

I still like it as much as ever and I bring visitors here for a quick taste of what back street Old Town looks like.

My wife, the alternative education teacher, wears a star fish pendant as a reminder of the story about the guy walking the beach at low tide tossing the suffocating star fish back into the water. "What difference is that gesture going to make on a beach filled with suffocating star fish?" asks a passing skeptic.

"It made a difference to that one," replies the young man tossing another star fish back into the water where it can breathe. My wife tries to teach one failing child at a time despite the administration's hostility.

The school district is suffocating for lack of money under crappy self serving leadership. Teachers and students don't have money or leadership and the parents refuse to lead the charge to raise money for the schools. No one in charge supports throwing any star fish back in the water around here.

Under the current administration even a three dollar per parcel tax increase for the schools seems like throwing good money after bad. Three dollars wouldn't go very far in helping refurbish this wreck:

But somebody has seen fit to invest the money in the collapsing old structure that has been moldering away here for a while.

The other moldering bold structure around here is now hiding behind a new and fully formed hedge.

The Harris School is still available for development or rent or something, one gets the feeling for anything at this point. The city has given up the idea of putting the new city hall here.

But back to the matter in hand. This is quiet leafy Carsten Lane where it takes a wild (for Florida) curve:

Leafy shady lane.

Little wonder I like this little street. Look at it.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

400 Block Caroline

The clothing optional bar at the top is just the tip of the iceberg when you look at the whole building on Caroline and Duval.

For people who prefer adult beer in adult surroundings there's the Porch and it's craft products in the Porter Building across the street.

This block of Caroline is part of the tourist route.

Chain food is here too, the not inexpensive Brazilian barbecue joint. The meat platter at the bar is affordable.

The Lost Weekend has been around long enough to be classed as an institution.

And if that doesn't work there is the alluringly named Mr Cheapie's.

Among all these businesses a home owner needs to stand out to avoid trippers traipsing across the garden:

The Steve Walker parking lot, meter free. It's a hell of a business renting dirt for stalled vehicles.

I think this is a guesthouse but it looks like it belongs in Louisiana. Very pretty.

I have to come to terms with this piracy lunacy. As far as the history books tell us pirates were in New Providence in the Bahamas after they were kicked out of Old Providence near Nicaragua. The anti piracy squadron was based here, not the pirates. Oh well, truth and a good tourist myth should not be mixed.

Empty porches overlooking a lovely shaded street.

Sort of lovely, Grunts has come back to life across the street selling beer in a garden.

Lanes and alleys line the back of Duval:

Stools waiting for customers at Kelly's. This is quiet season after winter yet before summer vacations bring families. It's my preferred time of year.

This sign is actually true they say. Though it has lost some of it's cachet sincePan Am went bust and disappeared.

The four hundred block of Caroline looking north from Whitehead Street.

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