Monday, October 22, 2012

Conch Fritters

They look like hush puppies, balls of corn meal scattered through with bits of green pepper and conch meat. Conch (pro: konk) is a mollusk and the meat is rubbery and white and flat when removed from the shell and pounded to give it some tenderness. Some people eat it raw, "cooked" in lime juice and they call it conch salad but I prefer conch fritters where the corn at least gives some flavor. Steaks are best because the conch is dipped in delicious batter mixture and deep fried. Well, anything tastes good when fried. Personally I'd rather let the conchs alone and leave them to wander the sea floor very slowly and deliberately minding their own business in their shells. If not you can buy Honduran conch in Key West, Honduran because local conch have been fished almost to extinction. Now we do the same to the Central American variety in the name of tradition involving some weird meat that tastes like a bicycle inner tube. Go figure.

People On Duval Street

Some random shots taken as I strolled Duval Street. The Five Guys Burger and Fries downtown is doing well at Duval and Truman and now they are opening a second spot at Overseas Market where the old Key West Diner all-you-can-eat place used to be. They still see the need to advertise.

Flying by bicycle, the best way to see Old Town. Unless you like to walk. Or ride a scooter.

This guy, doing a valuable job in the heat of October, looked incongruous waiting at the light with his cart, negotiating the intersection as though he should have been making "Vroom! Vroom!" noises as he pushed.

Trader Joe's grocery chain is reaching critical mass I think. My wife loves the fact that they are as close as Naples, and expected to move into southeast Florida before too long. A chain one can like, I suppose. We lived and died by Trader Joe's in Capitola when we lived in California and you will still see all sorts of products from the chain around our home. Trips out of state have always netted a quick visit to Trader Joe's in Atlanta or Chapel Hill or Chicago... I had a friend suggest Trader Joe's should move into the old Waterfront Market!

Burly mountain man riding Flatistan looking around for..? Curves on roads? Who knows.

The relief of shade. Even now in mid October temperatures are in the mid 80's and there is only a hint of a chill breeze after dark.

The body as canvas, if you like that sort of thing.

The body as cushion:

See those naked backs? I told you it was hot, even inside the Bull.

Hot enough to be wearing only shorts and no one bats an eye on this street. Pretty soon shorts will seem excessive for some fantastically minded exhibitionists.

Children and Fantasy Fest don't really mix but I bet I will get some pictures later this week of weird nudity and children all on the same street. Some parents haven't a clue.

I saw the black dude who dresses like a pirate in a leather tricorne like this one. He was cycling home on Stock Island so I'm thinking this is another pirate fantasist. Pirates never roamed Key West in history but they are all over the island these days.

This is one way to earn a living:

That pink bag would be a perfect match for my Crocs. I wanted to steal it but...middle class morality prevailed.

June Keith on her blog had a devastating critique of Hemingway the Man, which made for interesting reading and I couldn't get it out of my sad as I watched them crowd "his" bar which I don't think would've quite to his taste as it stands.

But that's what it's all about, the fantasy, the image, the escape. And here it all is, the famous street, the heart of Key West's escape, in glorious technicolor.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Pirate In Key West


I am not a huge fan of pirate nonsense or small children and combining the two you'd think would send me over the edge. He however seemed rather appealing, though how he managed it I am not at all sure. When someone asked Fred why he didn't want children he replied deadpan: "I prefer to have disposable income." an unworthy sentiment of course, and keeps coming to mind. The other line I really like a lot is when well meaning people interfering in my life suggest I'll like children when I have them. Which leads one to ask onsefl, what if I don't, what do I do then? Take them to the pound? Drop them off at your place? Luckily the issue has never come up, nor shall it at this late stage.


Sleeper Awake!

I was on Whitehead Street and I saw a couple of tourists occupying my favorite table downtown. This is where I come with a con leche from Jeanna's Deli, more properly known as the Courthouse Deli these days. That's the convenience store across the street from the Green Parrot Bar. The table under the banyan tree in front of the county courthouse is a good place to take a break while downtown. As these tourists figured out.

When I first spotted them he was pointing a video camera straight in her face, from less than a foot and he appeared to be interrogating her, which struck me as rather odd behavior but she didn't seem to mind. Maybe she's given commentaries on home movies from all the world, and perhaps her piquant commentary will persuade hordes of her relatives to come to Key West in search of the Fountain of Youth or some other such fanciful thing. Mind you considering their company not ten feet away that sort of encouragement would be quite astonishing.

For all that he was fully dressed and pointing away from the happy couple I could not really consider him to be the best possible advertisement for Key West's undoubted charms. I suppose I should have taken the opportunity to point out the value of the constitutional protections he enjoys by lying in the grass in a public place on a weekday afternoon, completely unmolested. All I could think was how does Naples (Florida) manage to be so clean and tidy and bum free while Key West can't maintain the same distinction? It all adds to the quirky nature of the Southernmost City, I suppose.

The tourists on Whitehead photographed above were not actually photographing the bum, he whom they affected not to notice. They were charmed by actual Key West quirk:

It really is a pretty spot at 500 Whitehead Street, all grass and trees and shade and chickens in the shadow of the county building.

The sylvan scene marred only slightly by the presence of the determined sleeper in their midst.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Summerland Key Lobster

Fishing is like farming in that the weather is never quite right. This year conditions have been not quite right for lobster and now pot fishermen are looking to crab to be their salvation according to the newspaper. I took Cheyenne for a lobster pot walk on Center Street and Northside Drive, not in Key West, rather it was Summerland Key, Mile Marker 25 after a quick trip to the post office. I had my phone in my pocket so it was that which I used to record the stroll the other day. I downloaded the pictures to my Picasa Drop Box, saved them to my iPad and here they are. I'm not very well versed in the camera phone and I don't think they have the richness of pictures from my pocket camera which I will use when I seek out similar pictures, to fulfill a reader request, on the waterfront on Stock Island.
Center Street Summerland Key.
Seafood for sale to the public off the docks.

Looking through the mangroves across the canal

The picturesque shambles that is fishing.

Harley Davidson colors in a fish yard.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Waiting For Armageddon

Fantasy Fest may be the testing ground for the chaos to come this winter when snowbirds and tourists crowd the streets and discover to their horror that Key West's main artery, North Roosevelt Boulevard, resembles the first day of the first Battle of the Somme minus the barbed wire and explosions. It's all mud and puddles and one way signs which sow confusion and delays and impatience. And the town is expected to be packed to capacity over the next couple of weeks.

I heard a comment from a friend about one hotel bar tender who, to her great astonishment apparently, has had only one weekend this summer of no guests, no drinkers and thus no money. The rest of the time her bar tending cup overfloweth with unexpected wealth. In this uncertain economy I am astonished by the numbers of visitors but not everyone is hurting. And they come to Key West to let off steam in droves. This picture put me in mind of the series The Walking Dead.

Key West is often described as being south of reality and even though the job market isn't the free wheeling affair it used to be unemployment numbers are relatively low. Around here you lose your job and you leave, unless you don't actually need a job. One of the candidates for State Attorney lost her job as Chief Assistant in the last round of elections when she disagreed with the winner of the race. This time round she beat him in the primary and may very well win the top job this month. She spent the interregnum in exile in Central Florida. No job equals no Key West for most of us, no matter how important our titles while in office.

My own job continues to astonish me. Just this week our union ratified a two year contract with the city and we get three percent raises each year, night differential goes up next year which is good for us night shift workers, and we will also get minimum pay for subpoenas. All very cool but how it happened I have no idea in a world where unemployment is rampant and not getting better. I just hope the visitors keep coming even if they choose to wear peculiar headgear. The city is hoping for tons of visitors even if all they wear is body paint and peculiar headgear.

The city commission has decided to put the harbor channel widening proposal to a citizen vote. The idea is a two part problem. First there will be a referendum on whether or not to ask the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a five million dollar study of how to widen the ship channel to accommodate vast spacious new cruise ships. Then if the study says its a go, and you'd better believe it will, there should be a second referendum on whether or not the widening should be done. The forces aligned in favor of the project are powerful and top of the list of reasons to do it is: employment. Argue with that if you can, and in this town coral preservation is a distant second to work judging by the voices raised in support of widening.

The city commission has also approved some sort of park for the Truman Waterfront though the newspaper article was decently vague about the details. The marina proposed by the Spottswood family may or may not be built though now it is supported as a way to pay for the park. How to pay for open space seems like the least of this city's problems but it is yet to be decided and I am pretty certain the people in charge have a plan. They spend their lives pulling financial rabbits from hats.

The county commission has voted to build a three million dollar fire station on Stock Island to replace the funky shed currently claiming to be a fire station. The new facility is promoted by Stock Island boosters as a suitable upgrade for the future of the down at heel island whose trailer parks feed the need of neighboring Key West for workers. The idea is that hotels and marinas and stuff which are expected to pop up like mushrooms on Stock Island will be reassured by the presence of a proper fire station. That Key West is making noises about annexing Key Haven and Stock Island doesn't come into the calculation to build the fire station.

Goodness gracious, so much stuff going on. These convulsions should lead to a new improved visitor experience one way and another. I'd like to see a shady park at Truman Waterfront but the fear always is that bums will end up owning the space. It's happened at Bayview Park where seating is removed periodically making the space untenable for normal people who like sit with their feet tucked under their hips, rather than with their backsides in the dirt. Personally I'd like to see the Truman Waterfront added to Fort Zachary State Park which charges a modest entrance fee and is mercifully bum-free.

The newspaper has been carrying lots of anonymous comments about Key West's resident population of bums. There is an idea floating around, delightfully naïve in its simplicity, that the willfully homeless should be shipped elsewhere, as though there is a city somewhere in this country that is actively seeking to augment its own population of dispossessed. Key West's next export: heroic hobos sent North. Failing that the back up plan is to keep on keeping on. Local charitable providers are in a tizz over how to keep running the homeless shelter on Stock Island. The main fund raising entity has been running the shelter and has decided that's more rewarding than seeking grants for everyone else so they upped and quit and said they will run the overnight shelter and all other groups can go seek their own funding. The funny thing is even though the deadline for a replacement organization was looming, the city had done nothing to replace the Southernmost Homelesss Assistance League as the operator of the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter. Now to everyone's astonishment, except the city's, SHAL shall run KOTS indefinitely.

It's funny how the city seems to stumble from here to there, pratfall to pratfall like the Marx Brothers, who's antics were carefully planned and choreographed well out of sight of the people buying the tickets to watch them. I keep wishing Key West had a vision but I'm pretty sure the city leaders, elected and not, have a vision alright and it is being implemented step by step. And it's not just a vision, it's a plan that will be paid for, which is amazing to me. The Mayor, who had moved to Cape Coral, came back a few years ago, re-established residence and announced he wanted City Hall to be re-built at Glynn Archer School on White Street. Guess what? No one knows how much it will cost, perhaps as much as $21 million, but the city's new administrative center will be built right where the mayor originally wanted it. It's taken a few years but it's going to happen, doubters are cast aside. I think the location is excellent and as long as they can preserve the facade it will look great, and as far as paying for it, that doesn't worry me. This town has an amazing capacity to raise money. Join me in being amazed.

So this weekend Key West has a genteel street fair in Bahama Village because Goombay always happens before Fantasy Fest. And then next week the gross bad taste starts to leak onto Duval Street culminating in an endless parade next Saturday, local floats with local themes at the front followed by the dreary plastic Krewes from Tampa Bay weighing down the back of the parade. Visitors will come in droves, eighty thousand of them, imagine that, and spend tons of money. The equivalent of 27 cruise ships in town all at once.

Locals will bitch about the crowding and the cars stopping suddenly at intersections and blocking driveways when they park. But the cash will flow for a couple of weeks until the Meeting of the Minds is over. Then peace and quiet will return for a few weeks until winter starts. The question is, will the chaos on the Boulevard spreading across town like an ink blot persuade snowbirds to stay away this winter? Businesses on the Boulevard are freaking out already about the loss of business. A taste of what Key West would be really like if tourists and snowbirds and other irritants stayed away.