Sunday, November 11, 2012

Flamingo, Florida.

The fact that it was Election Day when I was cruising the Everglades on a boat may have accounted for the fact that the other passengers were foreigners. I had voted in Big Pine Key earlier in the week and was free to take a little road trip with my faithful sidekick, and Labradors don't vote in this backward state so we were both in fine fettle for an adventure.

It doesn't look like it but these flatlands are part of Monroe County whose seat is Key West, which fact may come as a surprise to some readers. Flamingo residents would have voted in Monroe County not in contiguous Dade, even though there aren't many residents at the headquarters of Everglades National Park.

It's pretty easy to guess there are more birds than people, even though the pink one seen above is a roseate spoonbill, not a flamingo. For humans that want to stay, temporarily in Flamingo there used to be a rather uninspired motel building on the waterfront. However a hurricane put paid to that and plans to build new accommodations have been shelved, the government preferring to blow up Afghanistan rather than maintaining our precious parks. So accommodations are reduced to bring-your-own-canvas:

I'm sure a monstrous sized RV would be accommodated as well. However Cheyenne and I had reservations in a dog friendly La Quinta motel up the road in Collier County so we were sleeping in luxury. The park is not very welcoming to dogs as it happens. They can only circle parking lots, and trails are outlawed to them which I think sucks. My dog is better behaved than most children.

So when I went into the Marina Store to pick up a refreshing fizzy cola and the clerk offered a ride on a boat as a matter of her corporate selling strategy I automatically demurred saying I had a dog. No problem she perked cheerfully, dogs are welcome. I'm not sure a hundred pound Labrador was what they had in mind but on she went and obediently laid down to snooze while the big old pontoon boat took off up the canal.

Our pilot and guide was a drawling laid back character who earned his tips by delivering his commentary in a manner that I can best describe as in the style of Garrison Keillor telling tales of Lake Wobegon. He entertained us in a dry witty way, converting measurements to metric for the benefit of the Spaniards, French and German passengers and a chattering group of Asians who claimed to be from Iowa. So much for stereotyping I was a bit taken aback to learn they were from the same place as my Vespa.


We got see a whole bunch of birds whose names as usual I barely remember. Start with another spoonbill.

I think this is a three colored heron, or some such:

An ibis?

An osprey having lunch.

An anhinga, whatever that is:

Aside from birds we also got to see some flora, much of which I knew, as I have been living among mangroves for quite a while. I've seen the manchineel (”man-chin-kneel") tree in the Caribbean were its dangerous poisonous properties are well known. In the Keys the common poisonwood tree inflicts unpleasant burns, similar to poison oak, but the manchineel sap is really nasty and it can kill if the fruit, which looks like a crab apple, is eaten

The easiest identification according to the captain was to look for drooping leaves which is the best identifier I've heard. Oh, and stay away if you do see those drooping leaves. I haven't seen any in the Lower Keys where the milder poisonwood is plentiful.

The canoeists looked cheerful as they toyed with manchineel death, and even though renting a canoe is an option in these waterways I'd rather go by big wide pontoon boat with a knowledgeable guide. The view doesn't change much. There is actually a 99 mile trail through the Ten Thousand Islands of southwest Florida, through the park. There are wooden platforms along the way for camping and I'm told the trip takes an average ten days of true wilderness travel. We passed a canoe dock available as the starting point for a short portage through the forest to a nearby lake.

We also passed an alligator resting on the bank.

And that got everyone's attention.

People do like to be scared when are safe on a boat . Alligators have a more fearsome reputation than they deserve unless you are going to be stupid and provoke them, when they will react. I find them much more fear inspiring than sharks, not least because they can run fast on land, and hunt even when they are not hungry, so I steer clear of them but they are also pretty docile unless provoked or unless you choose to swim in their backyard. An iPad as portable camera inspires me with fear for our electronic future.

Even shallow, low freeboard little boats can safely navigate among the alligators and crocodiles of Florida's waters.


The occupants of this canoe clearly thought their rental craft was going to tip and launch them into alligator infested waters when they saw our big pontoon boat rushing toward them pushing a wall of water in front. Which reminds me of the old joke about the difference between Canadians and canoes: canoes tip.

There was nothing to worry about as our captain knew what he was doing and slowed to idle speed in plenty of time. My dog wasn't worrying about anything.


As if the alligator (and all the birds) weren't enough by the time we got back to the marina an endangered American crocodile was basking in the weak November sun on the boat ramp. Crocs are much more shy than alligators and they are also much more rare, 200,000 we are told versus two million alligators. Crocs are also saltwater creatures that can cope with water that is only slightly salty (known as brackish) whereas alligators are freshwater creatures.

There was more pandemonium on the boat as we paused near the dinosaur and then we were back at the dock. The canal was built after World War Two when developers thought draining the Everglades was a good idea. By the time scientists had convinced everyone is was a very bad idea fresh water filled with agricultural chemical runoff was flowing past the natural filtration of the grasses straight into Florida Bay causing algae blooms and affecting turbidty putting coral at risk. So the Army Corps of Engineers plugged the canal and flow is returning to normal, even though there are still too many canals in the Everglades that are wrecking water quality elsewhere. The plug:

And the marina store, home sweet home:

It was an overcast day making it pleasant for a picnic at the tables on the docks.

Cheyenne and I had places to go and people to see, so off we went, back up the 38 miles to Homestead, through the River of Grass, as Marjorie Stoneman Douglas famously called it in her eponymous book.

It is quite flat around here.

A long straight road it is.

But because Cheyenne was prohibited from visiting the alluring side trails and boardwalks we pressed on. Happily the speed limit is mostly a sensible 55mph, so it doesn't take long to get back to dog friendly country.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Arcadia, Florida

It's when you get away from the Keys that the limitations of life in the long thin peninsula become apparent. For instance on my recent road trip to mainland Florida I came across this bizarre conundrum. Two thin pieces of metal curving away parallel to infinity. Whatever could they be for?

We were in Arcadia the capital of cowboy country and home of the Arcadian newspaper apparently. Cheyenne rejected the offer of a city walk on the grounds of heat exhaustion and sheer bloody mindedness and decided to defy me and take a nap in the shade of the newspaper offices. I was disappointed as I wanted to take a walk as I quite like how different Acadia is.

Like I said, this is cowboy country and they are quite fond of that fact, witness this casual looking dude:

This is the seat of Desoto County, a city founded in the 19th century and named after a child who baked a birthday cake for a local bigwig. So he named the nascent town in Arcadia's honor. The census thinks 6600 people live in town. Cool, but I'm pretty sure they won't be embracing weird guys in pink Crocs in this town.







There is quite the Latin farm worker population here too.


I guess I should be over being surprised especially in farm country but when I see Mexicans in Homestead and Guatemalans in Burnsville North Carolina I am always a little surprised. The world of he Joad family really is long gone.


Central Florida. a different world.


Friday, November 9, 2012

An Unworthy Thought

I saw this editorial cartoon in last Sunday's Citizen and the point was clear immediately.

Snowbirds bring money to the Lower Keys when they migrate here in the dark of winter. They pay year round property taxes, supposedly with no homestead exemption and use services a few months of the year except they do love to clog the road, create lines in restaurants and talk loudly in public claiming to live here. It's astonishing how the arrogant snowbird stereotype persists, especially when there is absolutely no truth to it at all. None.

A Drink, A Walk, A Couple Of Encounters

When the Porch came to Duval Street I felt as though at last I had a place that I could drop in to and take a refreshing pause from the travails of daily life. Naturally it gets crowded because lots of other people have discovered the same thing, and equally naturally I don't get to hang out there often as beer has calories and costs money and I live 30 miles away but...from time to time I get to do some people watching.


Summer usually is a succession of warm days getting warmer as is the way around here, such that by September you are ready to find religion and pray to Aeolus, sacrifice a Labrador perhaps, and read the entrails looking for relief from the muggy daily overdose of heated summer air. Then yesterday the cool breezy autumnal days became full blown winter and north winds were howling. It was a facsimile, in minor key, of the widely reported winter storm currently dropping snow on the Hurricane Sandy survivors of the North East, poor sods.

In Key West a 65 degree evening with icy wind provokes a lot of comment and not much else. The air, when it is crisp like this clears away the particulates and everything takes on a bright shiny glint. The sun is very much lower in the sky, far below the Tropic of Cancer which itself is thirty miles south of here. Apollo is now approaching the Tropic of Capricorn for a late December austral rendezvous, before chugging back north to be almost overhead in June once again. And so I pondered for a while but Cheyenne got tired of waiting for me to finish my Palm, for she does not appreciate beer not even the Belgian stuff, and I had to get ready to hike.


We turned south on Duval and found that what I had suspected last time I walked by has actually happened. Fast Buck Freddie's is completely gone and some person named Hood is applying to the city to make changes to the facade of the venerable former Department Store. It has been masquerading as an art space for the past few weeks but that too is over.

The empty storefront will soon be something new, nothing lasts and in Key West especially so. We turned west on Southard and found more change, a good change this time with the departure of the chaotic Honda motorcycle shop to plague White Street with disorder dust and chaos so that this piece of Southard almost across from the Green Parrot is now delightfully restored to serenity.

Directly across Southard there is a new restaurant probably destined to fail like the myriad eateries here before it. It looked quite pleasant but politics notwithstanding this remains a recessionary economy even among visitors to Key West so a new eatery needs some strong reason to attract customers. Perhaps if it is barbecue like, or perhaps better than the old Meteor it may make a name for itself.

I tried to poke my camera inside the Green Parrot bar on Whitehead Street but the light was terrible and all I got was fuzzy images of people drinking. We kept walking, Cheyenne leading and me following blindly.

I saw a chicken amongst the public housing on Whitehead and I think the rooster saw me and was none to pleased about my presence. Cheyenne never chases free range Key West chickens for some reason but there again she doesn't chase Key Deer or ibis either. If she were Secretary of Defense she'd abolish her budget and zero out the entire national deficit just by minding her own business. People should be as smart as dogs.

It's not much of an advertisement on Petronia Street but that word indicates an old fashioned shoemaker lives within. Fuzzy got a whole page article in the newspaper a few years ago, the last living artisan of his craft in Key West. I was the second person to ask to take his photo yesterday and he was tickled pink to oblige me.

Further down Petronia we came to Mr Chapman's place and there he was readying his multicolored tricycle for his evening outing on Duval to cheer up the tourists with loud music and flashing lights. He has a new display of Buddha dolls on the trike and he was practicing his numerology, noting he lives on the same number as his birthday, 2-21 and should he forget his name it is easily found on the street sign at the corner - Chapman Lane. His father was 64 when he was born and his mother 14, a shotgun marriage he chuckled as a weapon made the union legal. He himself boasts Biblical progeny, 16 persons in all, counted among children and their offspring so far, from three wives and a few other incidental persons, he grinned. He counts himself blessed.

I had left Fuzzy content on his couch with his TV while the ardent Mr Chapman was tooting his horns and flashing his lights in search of adventure on the streets yesterday evening. I sided with Fuzzy's style on the whole.

And yes a few honkies voted for him too. So do you know why white people are known as crackers or honkies? "Cracker" is well known as an epithet and is used to describe the white men cracking their whips, at ox trains one adds as an addendum because the alternative object of the whips is too embarrassing to say out loud in this day and age. The term "honky" I learned years ago was used to describe white men who drove up to the "colored" whore houses and imperiously sounded their horns, unable as they were to enter the racially segregated establishments, to summon the women to their cars. Sometimes I am tempted to think we have made no social progress over the course of decades but then these things come to mind and one realizes that in fact positive change does come but slowly. Perhaps Tuesday was a harbinger of more to come. We can only hope.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Strange Lurch

It grew upon me Tuesday night as I watched the results roll in, no one, I thought, remembers their predictions and their discussions after the election is over. Tuesday night I was in a hotel room watching the returns with my best bud but she gradually lost interest and passed out in the glare of the television. I was still convinced President Obama would win a second term, as I had bee throughout the two billion dollar election campaign farce. Cheyenne snored.

Generally I find the Key West Citizen's editorials to my taste, on local issues at least. On national matters they suck, witness this endorsement.

Aside from the fact that The Candidate Who Believes In Magic Underwear never found a position or political plank he could believe in for longer than five minutes consecutively, Romney announced to the world at large hat he doesn't give a fog about the poorest half of our nation. That doomed his candidacy, whether or not the Citizen was paying attention. Anyone who was paying the least bit of attention noticed there was a massive and coordinated and extremely well funded bid to oust President Obama. The Grand Old Party announced its sole purpose in life was to get rid of the African American President, the one they labeled a socialist. It mattered not too them what they did to the economy or the country, or what lies they propagated as long as the black man was removed from the White Man's House. Not because he's black but because he's a socialist. Except he isn't (a socialist, he is still black!)

Reading the rubbish in the Citizen editorial I despair of anyone ever understanding what the hell is going on. How could anyone believe Romney could reduce our dependence on foreign oil? To reduce dependence on foreign oil we would have to nationalize oil production. If we keep the current system of free market capitalism the oil brokers will always buy the cheapest oil and sell it to the highest bidder and they don't give a toss whose oil it is or how foreign it might be. Try convincing a Republican loyalist the only way to reduce consumption of foreign oil is to undermine the spot market by "socializing" it! Their heads would explode. And the notion that "strengthening the military" is consonant with reducing the deficit is ludicrous on its face. Try telling a Republican the source of our annual deficits is a bloated military fighting two unnecessary wars with 700 worldwide bases and their heads will...explode! Public Broadcasting subsidies consume two minutes worth of federal military spending! Facts are stubborn things and privatization requires paying stockholders dividends out of profits instead of plowing profits back into the enterprise as employees soon discover when wages are cut and benefits annihilated by Romneys free market economy. Privatization does nothing for innovation! It just feeds the one percent.

To further muddy the waters the mainstream press is avaricious enough to ignore the illegal nature of the advertising begging us to vote (state) in support of Biblical Values (church) a conjunction expressly forbidden by the constitution. Never mind, the value-free followers of the Magic Sky Wizard lost on all fronts and were roundly ignored by deadly humanist values voters who supported affordable health care, living wages, freedom of choice and in favor of allowing poofs wreck traditional marriages by allowing them to marry too. The Republic is dead. Actually no, the republic is more alive than it has been ever since Ronald Regan proclaimed a new day in America and since Richard Nixon declared a War On Drugs. The fact is though that President Obama is no socialist.

He has pissed off the Evangelical voters easily enough even though our Affordable Health Care is operated through and by insurance racketeers, the banksters who robbed us and wrecked our economy remain at large and even though his Department of Homeland Insecurity is putting out a bid for 30,000 drones to monitor our beleaguered Homeland, President Obama remains our best hope for a better future. Oh dear, I voted for him though I am no fan. I can only hope the other believer in magic underwear, the Redoubtable Harry Reid, leader of the Senate, will do as he promises and stands up to the bullies of the Right.

Every time I feel ready to give up on this experimental representative government some small thing keeps feeding me the hope that things will get better that a brighter future awaits. I honestly expect more of the same, a gradually declining economy, restricted civil rights, more work for less pay for those of us at work, and diminished expectations all round. How can it be otherwise when one percent of the US population, under President Obama's socialist leadership, rakes in 93 percent of the income in the land of the free and home of the brave. I know what a real socialist would do with that statistic, and that ain't part of President Obama's plan to make things better for the majority of us.


Bahama Village Mural "Saturday Afternoon"

I have long wanted to take a few pictures of this mural on Petronia. It used to be the Lemonade Stand Art Studio and now it is a rather attractive store selling used stuff.

I could have taken a dozen pictures of all the details in this painting but I tried to not overdo it for some reason I cannot recall. I think my wife was hungry for lunch.

A nice self portrait of the People's Artist.

The Key West Fantasy, living the dream on the porch.

A real slice of Old Key West. Good contemplation for a day when, unusually for me, I don't have much tO say.