Sunday, March 24, 2013

Brunswick, Georgia

On the road Cheyenne gets her own bowl on a shop towel to stop the bowl sliding around. Travel in my family is a finely honed affair. I drive my wife navigates and Cheyenne lies across her bed on the back and snores. Then she walks then she snores then she eats.

A couple of weeks ago I was nearby on my motorcycle or a family gathering to see my nephew graduate the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. However my sister in law had a room at nearby St Simon's island and my nephew was not interested in showing us Brunswick, a order Navy town fallen on hard times since the Navy left in the 1970s.

I wanted to check Brunswick out and my wife the explorer was nothing loathe so we stopped off on our way to our vacation in the Outer Banks. The Federal Building, modern block ugliness:

City Hall was classically elegant which suited me:
Brunswick is an island of grid pattern streets laid out in the middle of low Country marshes so we were lunch to some strong little no see um biters.

I loved the details on the buildings, classical touches with elaborate cornices and... Pompeii style sidewalks? Amazing and lovely.

The old theater was still there, no longer showing movies, a monument to the fallen glory of old down owns. I curse the mall.

Kress Department Store, a southern monument, is fallen. In Key West it was Fast Buck Freddie's for years but here it is home o Wells Fargo Bank. Ugh!

Brunswick lives, against the odds and it's too bad my hip young nephew didn't notice it when he was training in Glynco next door. I like this town a lot more than the Stepford quality of St Simon's Island next door, a gated golfing community of no visible vibe.

I will be back. On a bright, hot sunny day, in the shade of huge spreading oaks. Hmm, Faulkner, Capote, Welty, Hurston, alive in modest little Brunswick.


Angels and Horses

As great as it is to go on a road trip and explore the Outer Banks for the first time I am missing a rather decent event filled weekend in Key West on my weekend off! The Blue Angels are flying this weekend and their arrival was celebrated by a bunch of Clydesdales towing beer. I read that they were at Daytona Bike Week so it make sense for them to put in an appearance here. Everyone likes to have a reason to be paid to be in Key West in colleague Robert came across them in the Overseas Market in New Town and sent me this picture from his rather poor quality (!) cell phone camera...

Makes me miss Key West already!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Change And A Rest

I warn my colleagues that I'm going to start getting antsy on my last shift before a vacation. They know that as the clock inches toward six in the morning I will be shooting out of the dispatch center like Calvin dashing out to play with Hobbes after school. It's not that I don't like work; I do, but one does need a break for time to time.

Working twelve hour shifts I end up with what appears to be a crazy patchwork quilt of shifts, Saturday, Sunday Monday, four hours Tuesday, off Wednesday then work Thursday and Friday. The next week I work the opposite except I always have a four hour shift Tuesday night to make up my forty hours weekly. By the city's payroll schedule I work three twelves and a four Monday to Sunday. It's fabulous. Especially as when I am working I get to spend my afternoons at home after I wake up, alarm clock free. I have lots of time to myself to recharge my introverted batteries.

So when my vacation starts the minute I wake up with me getting on or in a vehicle I still get a stab of uncertainty...should I perhaps plan to spend a little time at home enjoying the sun and the peace and quiet of my refuge? Then I remind myself that I can do that any day of the week. Time to get going.
Cheyenne is not a great traveler, and by that I mean she derives little pleasure from riding in a car, and whatever she does get comes from sitting behind me knowing I am there with her. I make it as good as I can with plentiful stops along the way, but at day's end when she sees us pull up in front of the bright lights of the front desk of a dog friendly La Quinta she starts to perk right up. This is where the day's road ends and she is a happy Labrador, swishing her big yellow tail importantly as she struts down the corridor impatiently nosing each door we pass wishing it to be our refuge for the night.
There are some people who never leave Key West, a circumstance I find extraordinary for I am addicted to the internal combustion engine and the freedom gained thereby. Life in Hawaii or worse in the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico would be too circumscribed by impassable water. I look forward to mountain excursions this summer on my motorcycle as relief from the flatness of the great Florida sandbox. Even in the car the road is a expression of an absence of responsibility of not having a place in the scheme of things. In the car we are freed from the bonds of societal convention, and we can drive any direction we please untrammeled by security checks or prohibitions we can carry large bottles of shampoo or even guns if we were so inclined (we're not). In the movies the road trip stands for new beginnings and unlimited possibilities. We aren't quite so far reaching my wife and I but we appreciate the freedom our car brings. It is not unlimited but It is a pretty stretchy elastic band that extends our scope far from our jobs and responsibilities and place in the world.

I will look forward to coming back, breathing a sigh of relief as we cross the Dade county line and leave behind the mass of people Up North. I have plans for when I get home, to launch the boat and look forward this year with the hope of a summer afloat. There will be road trips I don't doubt but first I shall be glad to get back to work, to my motorcycle, and to my routine. I will collect my accumulated mail and resume my newspaper delivery in the driveway. Things will be back to normal next week.

Meanwhile we have to confront roads, maps and weather and cold temperatures and we shall be the better for it, if only for a week confronting an actual seasonal change.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Elizabeth By Night

I took Cheyenne to work on my short shift this week and after four hours of sitting up and noticing Spring Break seems to be over, thank heavens, I got to take the Labrador on an early morning walk in town which she liked a lot.
However I managed to forget that the sun wouldn't be up for more than a hour so we ended up walking in darkness which was die actually. We were alone most of the way and Cheyenne is so well behaved I let her amble on the sidewalk as she pleased. First stop was the Minor Basilica of St Mary Star of the Sea whose Lenten Mass schedule struck me as impenetrably complicated. Monday through Friday you got two shots at hearing Mass but Monday through Saturday you only get one? Or is it three? Cheyenne couldn't even read the sign so she was no help. We moved on.
My cunning plan was to wander north on Windsor, cruise past the cemetery in the dark and make a short circuit on a lane and head back to the car with time to spare to pick up a coffee at Sandys before stopping at Publix to do some light grocery shopping. Then home to bed. Brilliant, except Cheyenne had other plans.
Cheyenne took a left on Truman Avenue and started heading inbound with me trotting along behind. I worked to keep her out of the Minor Basilica's property as The One True Faith in my experience isn't too fond of animals on sacred ground. I wanted to cruise over and check out the illuminated grotto but with my Yellow Labrador in tow that wasn't possible. The grotto supposedly keeps hurricanes at bay so I don't doubt I'll check it out again this summer.
Following my busy dog we happily turned off Truman, the main thoroughfare and plunged into the shady darkness of Elizabeth Street, a gently sloping street that passes Solares Hill, the highest point in town, between fourteen and sixteen feet above sea level depending who you ask.
I enjoy playing with my Android camera though I find the settings quite fiddly. However I do like the black and white effects especially after dark. Above we see Elizabeth looking north toward Solares Hill and below in color the opposite direction from the area of Petronia Street. You can freewheel a bicycle down here with care and concentration.
Angela Street ends at Elizabeth between these two large imposing homes. The furthest house is being massively rebuilt, while the nearest house has bowls of cat food and water on the sidewalk which requires some deft dog control when we get close by. You can see Cheyenne aiming for her free breakfast already.
I very much enjoy walking the streets of Key West after dark especially after the bars close (at 4am at the latest by law) but before the good working burghers of the city are up and about making noise and commotion. This is the time when the silent, light- free cyclists are home and the drunks have passed out and all you can see indoors from time to time is some night owl staring at a small screen or caught up reading a book. This time of year the night air is cool and there are lots of open windows and doors which give the silent streets a strange intimacy. It's almost like tip toeing Invisible through people's lives.
I especially like the architecture at night, the shadows lend a certain mystery, along with the silence, no voices no engines no footsteps. And then you ask yourself why a sports pennant matters that much, but I suppose one has to make concessions to modern fads, so because one lives in an attractive older home. I'd prefer the gate without the pennant but I am a sporting philistine.
It's been damp in the morning, my motorcycle seat is like a swimming pool most days when I leave work, but I'm tough.
I'm never quite sure what my plants are supposed to be doing and my frangipani has been looking pretty dead but in fact I found this one, pictured above and it looks equally dormant so I am reassured. I am child free religion free sports free and botany free. Some days you just feel useless.
Half way across town on Elizabeth following my intrepid exploring hound I started to wonder where Marlene Dietrich was; or more properly Lili Marleen leaning up against a lamp post waiting for her soldier. All I had was my shadow and my dog's shadow combined as one shadow. And then I found a bomb, or was it a tank pretending mighty unsuccessfully to be a scooter.
I took a color picture further along, highlighting the whites and blues but in the end I figured the monochrome picture looked better.
The Hilltop laundry boasts a pretty colorful tropical botanical scene on its walls. Still better in the stark black and white I thought. Besides Cheyenne was picking up speed on the (relatively) steep downhill section of Elizabeth heading toward Caroline Street. This part is decidedly easy to freewheel on a bicycle.
She got ahead of me as usual, but never too far. While I fiddled with the camera getting the scooters backlit she stopped and waited more or less patiently for me to catch up. Good girl.
Oh yeah, this is Key West where not everyone can hold their liquor. This guy stank like a distillery, and snored like a locomotive tackling a steep grade. It looked horribly uncomfortable to me sleeping curled up on a brick step with a reeking cup of alcohol still under his nose, but he was blissfully unaware. I nudged him with my foot and it turned out it was Jack Riepe on a private visit to Key West looking for his long lost BMW.
The walk was drawing to a close, we had reached our furthest point, Harpoon Harry's on Caroline Street where the bright lights and open doors had yet to attract their first customer. I was tempted but happily for my waistline my wallet was in my car. We marched back across the city on Margaret Street, still with hardly anyone but a couple of fearful dog walkers haring the sidewalks with us. I saw nervous nellies tugging leashes and waiting for the royal procession to pass by, Cheyenne in front, by now also leashed owing to the number of cars rushing to work, and me striding along behind. God forbid two actual dogs should cross paths.
A glance at the mirror wall (née bottle wall) at the late Carolyn Fuller's house and we were steering a course past the cemetery back to Windosr Lane and the car. The sun was coming up by now backlighting the trees across the cemetery, blue skies with a hint of orange where the sun was about to rise. We had places to go and food to buy.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Retirement Vanishing Point

This extraordinary article was published by Forbes contributor Rick Ungar, and granted they describe him as a leftist (ooh!) the points he makes struck me quite hard. For myself I do have a defined benefit pension plan with the city, my wife has the same with the state and I even have a third much smaller pension from the Teamsters Union. However I am one of the few these days. We lost principal in the economic implosion so it seems unlikely I will retire before I'm 70 when I can take full advantage of the promised benefits of Social Security. Yet these days any and all planning seems like a house of cards built on quicksand. I have for years wondered why my fellow working Americans have supported the Big Lies mentioned in this article. Ungar has no explanation but the future he sees is bleak. This from Forbers magazine no less, Not Truth Dig or Alternet. That's the surprise.

The Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI) has today released its report highlighting the intense state of insecurity American workers are experiencing as they look forward—with ever increasing trepidation—to a retirement without sufficient money to see them through.According to the data, American workers have very good reason to be afraid.Per the survey conducted by EBRI, 57 percent of American workers currently have less than $25,000 in total savings and investments (excluding the value of their homes) put aside for retirement. In 2008, that number was 49 percent. As a result, almost 50 percent of the nation’s workers are either “not too confident” or “not at all confident” that they will have sufficient resources to cover the bills in their retirement—while many who are feeling a bit better about the future may just be kidding themselves.What’s more, it’s getting worse every year.

In 2009, 75 percent of the nation’s working class had managed to put something away for retirement, even if the amount was insufficient to take care of them in a time of increasing prices and rising life expectancy. Today—just four years later—that number has fallen to just 66 percent of workers who have been able to set something aside for their sunset years.These dramatic numbers should come as a surprise to nobody as the statistics have long made clear how badly worker income has stagnated in America since the 70’s.As workers have increasingly struggled to pay their current bills, due to employee earnings remaining static at a time where the high end of the income scale rose to unprecedented heights, it has become all the more difficult for these people to set aside money for their retirement. Further, the decline of the private sector union movement and the end of the defined benefit retirement plans that were once provided to workers as a part of their employment package have only served to make the problem worse.

If you are somehow unaware of the historic stagnation in the wages paid to the American worker since the 70’s, these bullet points, compiled by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and based on the Census survey and IRS income reports, should open your eyes:•The years from the end of World War II into the 1970s were ones of substantial economic growth and broadly shared prosperity.

•Incomes grew rapidly and at roughly the same rate up and down the income ladder, roughly doubling in inflation-adjusted terms between the late 1940s and early 1970s.

•The income gap between those high up the income ladder and those in the middle and lower rungs — while substantial — did not change much during this period.

•Beginning in the 1970s, economic growth slowed and the income gap widened.

•Income growth for households in the middle and lower parts of the distribution slowed sharply, while incomes at the top continued to grow strongly.

•The concentration of income at the very top of the distribution rose to levels last seen more than 80 years ago (during the “Roaring Twenties”).

•Wealth (the value of a household’s property and financial assets net of the value of its debts) is much more highly concentrated than income, although the wealth data do not show a dramatic increase in concentration at the very top the way the income data do.

As for the availability of the retirement plans that were once provided in return for years of service to one’s employer, the ERBI study notes that, in 1979, twenty-eight percent of American workers were the beneficiaries of defined benefit programs which guaranteed them an income from the day they retired until the day they died.Today, that number is just 3 percent.

And then there is the decline of the private sector union movement that, in 1970, saw membership peak at 17 million Americans holding union cards. Today that number is just 7.2 million workers.As all of these worker punishing factors began at roughly the same time as millions of Americans who are now reaching the age of retirement would have begun saving for their non-working years, should anyone be surprised that the average American is now facing a longer retirement without anywhere enough money to pay for it?

Still, what continues to amaze are the many Americans who will find themselves facing true economic disaster as they enter retirement and yet have, these many years, supported the policies of politicians that cheered the income inequality that has created this crisis as somehow being the true expression of American style capitalism.

Worse still, these are the very politicians who now seek to cut social security benefits—already insufficient to cover the true costs of retirement—and Medicare.Soon, millions of Americans will more fully understand the dreadful price to be paid for having backed the wrong horse as the country is left to deal with a serious senior crisis brought on by two generations of employers unwilling to properly compensate workers for their contributions and public policies that rewarded this greed.

You see, while Sarah Palin and friends were quick to declare legislation designed to solve a serious social problem (yes, I’m talking about Obamacare) as the coming of “death panels”, the true death panels—the faceless men and women who formulated the corporate greed policies that will send our seniors into retirement completely unprepared—have been at work in America for many years.

One of the greatest tragedies a decent society can experience is the abandonment of its elderly. We have set the stage for that tragedy to play out in America through policies that have denied millions the opportunity to properly save for their retirement.

The question is, what will we do now?


Summerland Mangroves

Big Pine Key is the center of commerce in the Lower Keys, the approximate half way point between Key West and the city of Marathon which are set fifty miles apart. Driving into Big Pine I found myself behind this pick up truck and I was forced to wonder how he did it. If I were to balance a cardboard box on the tailgate of my truck (which I don't actually own as I dislike trucks) it would promptly fall into the street if I were absent minded enough to drive off with it there. I turned off the Highway before his balancing act came to a sticky end.

The other commercial anchor in the Lower Keys is Summerland Key. Key West Diary: Summerland Key Nowadays Summerland Key has no video store but it does boast a rather decent liquor store with a surprising selection of beers wines and rums.

There are also a few decent walks off the main strip through Summerland. When I first got her Cheyenne was always ready to go for any walks after a lifetime spent on a chain or locked away. Nowadays she is more refined in her tastes and she decidedly prefers city walks.

Which sometimes feels a bit tedious to me because I enjoy the back country. Usually there's no one out here, and the wind blows like it does in the desert. Come out when the north wind blows and the sounds of traffic are blown south leaving only the sound that is the rushing of air past your ears.
Some time ago a blogger in snowy Wisconsin posted a picture of a blizzard for me. Living Among Tourists: Photo of Snow Storm... Not everyone got the joke as humor is a personal thing as I am fond of saying. Thus the picture above returns the favor to Martha Tenney who now publishes a new blog, Wisconsinland . She is in the painful process of finding a new home in a snowdrift Up North so I have included a slice of Florida Keys skies in our version of a blizzard, above.

For some reason Cheyenne proved willing to explore at least a little these trails this cooler time of year so I took advantage after several years away. This trail used to be a dumping ground for garbage of all sorts, old boats, construction material and rusting appliances.

Now the county has cleared the mess away and put down cement barriers to keep out future dump trucks.

These rock paths were originally built to serve planned developments across the Keys. Fortunately only a few of the developments were built, fortunately they were built else I'd not have a home out here! However large areas of mangroves that are in their natural state were left that way only because developments failed. This was an era when canals were cut trough the rock wit dynamite, a process that would never be permitted today.

Had the trails been built up they might have looked like this:

This is Cheyenne country where peop,e and dogs live and walk, a small Summerland community behind a canal parallel to the highway.

South of the Overseas Highway Summerland Keys boasts an airstrip and suburban homes with hangers, but north of the highway the canal opens up access for commercial fishermen.

Returning home to my small island a few miles north between Summerland and Big Pine I live south of the highway away from commercial activities, between a canal and the salt ponds. These are the local anglers I see across my street.

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