Monday, May 6, 2013

Lobster Pots

Lobster season starts in August but apparently its never too soon to start to get ready.

I am very ambiguous about lobster ever since I found out that they will live 120 years if not interfered with. It seems rather cruel to induce them to plop into cages and then take them out and boil them for food in a world overflowing already with calories.

There again I am not particularly fond of lobster meat, I have compared it previously to fish flavored string cheese, but lobster is a delicacy and much desired so it seems churlish to spurn the stuff.

Yet the business of catching lobster is endlessly fascinating, watching Cuban fishermen build these cages, label them and paint their floats their own particular colors. Stealing from another's trap is a heinous crime, similar in all respects to rustling or horse thievery. Jail time is inevitable if caught.

Everything is labeled and licensed and marked.

 
There is a beauty in the hunt and that is what I look for as I walk my dog past these crates of death.

The lobster mini season, a hellish two days will be in late July when amateurs descend on the Keys and kill themselves in the unbridled hunt for lobster. More of that later as we get closer. Mini season produces no lyrical pictures of an ancient trade like these taken on Summerland Key.

 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Made In Key West Band


 
Walk past the hard Rock Cafe  and you'll see there is  a narrow alleyway  that disappears apparently behind the mansion that is the Key West Women's Club, an edifice as fossilized as the club itself, yet in the darkness there is a little cobbled square and behind the square is a little wooden building and that is a  hive of wondrous activity every winter.
 
 
Sometimes it can feel onerous to lift oneself out of the comfort of one's own home and plod off down to the three hundred block of Duval Street, only to disappear up the little alleyway consulting the time in the manner of the White Rabbit of  Alice in Wonderland fame, tut-tutting about the time.
In order to avoid such a feeling of aggravation one buys  season's worth of tickets in advance. We in fact check the schedule and decide which plays we like the look of, and there being enough to justify it we do a season's worth. Then we cozy up to the bar, have a drink and sit on the porch to wait for the opening of the doors.
In years past the Red Barn had put on a lot of musicals and frothy silliness which are not my cup of tea, but the crop of dramas and thought provoking productions has increased each year and this year I am aggravated I managed to miss the opening production which was The 39 Steps, a story I have enjoyed in print and on screen but never live in a theater. Oh well.


 Our latest outing came last month when we saw the final night of Conchs, Cowboys and Tales of Old Key West, put on by the five members of the Made in Key West Band. Between them they claim 153 years of residence in the Southernmost City and because of that no doubt some cross dressing, even of the mildest sort was soon on display.


The band did a nice job, and they were having a rollicking good time on stage, a bunch of friends who for the most part go way back and are extremely comfortable together doing what is not at all their day jobs, except perhaps Paul Cotton who's musical career goes a long way back, enough that he is on a Wikipedia page  devoted to the band Poco...luckily for me as I had no idea who he was.
Above we have George Halloran a  local figure in the field of law. he has taken on a few sacred cows in the name of the people and he also knows how to sing. I thought he rather resembled Clint Eastwood in his shades. Below we have teacher Tom Murtha:
 Paul Cotton sang with a richness and presence that betrayed his professional career. It was also noted he was the only member of the band who did not know Mel Fisher personally. Murtha was proud to wave around a silver real hanging from his neck given to him directly by the august treasure hunter.
Gary MacDonald played the drums with fervor in the back of the stage. He and Mimi MacDonald have been leading lights in the theater operations in Key West for decades.
John Wells took on the role of de facto band leader,  grinning with delight at his own jokes, his plastic features expressing delight and surprise, desire and astonishment vividly enough to pull the audience into his performance. Some few visitors not completely familiar with Key West lore fell in love with him and his performance cheering him on, rowdy and happy, entertaining the staid theater audience with their seat dancing in the front row. They went home with happy memories of Key West those three women of a certain age in the front row.
 Then Island Alex cam on stage and danced sang and blew his brass, the consummate performer  having a ball on stage.
 Finally the sole woman in the performance Camille Russo Toler stepped up the microphone to sign variations on Oh Susanna. And in effect it was less a night about old Key West and more a night of cowboy and folk songs, familiar  repertoire with just a few references to Bum Farto ( the tourists loved that one) That Fucking  Conch Train in the spirit of cowboys singing of the Iron Horse, Mel Fisher and of course abundant if unsurprising references to coconuts, palms, warm weather and driving to the end of the road. Familiar stuff but not really engaging if you already live here.
It was a fun night out but with the winter snowbird season over I would have enjoyed a little more topical references, inside jokes perhaps and just a little mockery of the foibles of daily life on the island.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Pipe Laying On Cudjoe

The unwelcome news from Tallahassee is that the Florida State Legislature is not going to be sending any money to the Keys this year to help pay for sewers. They had promised fifty million for the latest installment but apparently Monroe County fell behind in the lobbying stakes and got zippo allocated. Our new state representative, she of the vacant smile and shiny forehead isn't doing too well at all since election day. She dropped the ball on getting our local private multi national corporation to drop it's false property tax exempt status on formerly military property. Balfour Beatty is trying to get out of paying eleven million in back property taxes to the county after privatizing former military housing at Peary Court in Key West. They have stronger lobbyists and deeper pockets so they get away with it. The compromise is that from now they will have to report which houses are occupied by the military to get the exemption. No doubt they will be unregulated and honest about it despite the absence of oversight.

In another fine piece of legislative sleight of hand the Republican statehouse is planning on cutting funding to programs that include the local MARC House which provides assisted living support to developmentally disabled adults. They do amazing work not that the state gives a toss. The have no lobbyists so funding gets cut. This in a state with no state income tax and low property taxes. There are dozens of exemptions to the state sales tax that could be plugged but once again it means goring the sacred cows of those with money and influence. So the MARC House gets slammed.

It's a weird thing but the Republican Party in Florida gerrymandered districts to take control of everything and now they have everything their plan is to build nothing and tear down everything. Even providing health insurance to the desperately poor in Florida is off the table. Even Governor Scott, the least popular governor in history has come out in favor of Obama Care arguing that half a million kids would get coverage. And he's the former head of a health insurance organization that got fined $1.7 billion for ripping off Medicare, so he's no friend of the sick and the needy, he's just a politico in search of votes. His Republican cohorts in the state legislature refuse to budge, coming up with lame expensive private sector plans that cover no one but put fees in the pockets of party donors, as usual. The governor has seen the writing on the wall and Democrats are already lining up former Republican Governor Charlie Crist to run again this time under the auspices of his newly announced Democrat status.

The odd thing is that Florida's budget is in reasonably shape after years of draconian cuts, and the state pension plan is well funded in a state that has 31 billionaires living in it and hundreds of thousands of wealthy five percenters who like the low tax status and warm weather winters of this state. And alongside them live people in dire poverty. This tax exemption stuff has been around for ages and I found an old article in the St Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) on the subject when the tax itself was just five percent.

St. Petersburg Times - Google News Archive Search

It always ends up as a matter of priorities, money for certain things is always found while money for others is "too expensive" and then they layer on party politics so tax-and-spend liberals are spendthrifts while in fact half the nation's debt was racked up by the Republicans and their overseas wars fought to benefit oil corporations even while cutting their taxes. Meanwhile kids in Florida remain healthcare free. Jolly good. And if we aren't careful we may manage to wipe out the coral completely.

For twenty years Monroe County has fought state plans to install a central sewer system. Key West wrapped up the city's a decade ago. But those of us that live in the county still use septic tanks which don't work at all well in limestone rocks. It's astonishing but the evidence is finally in and scientists agree raw sewage kills coral. Who'd have thunk? Finally we are getting the sewer lines installed and a new set of pipes are about to be laid between Cudjoe and Big Pine Keys. The public utility is overseeing the work happily, after a private company won the bid to do Stock Island and made a horrible hash of the job. The newspaper was full of stories of incorrect pipe diameters and sewage backing up into people's homes.

Had the county undertaken this monumental task twenty years ago finding would have been plentiful compared to the piteous state of public budgets after decades of slashing. The utility estimates that each property tax will get a $4500 surcharge to cover their share of costs, added to property taxes and spread over twenty years. Then there will be other fees I'm sure to close down old septic tanks and so forth, but in the end we will have a modern sewage treatment system after decades of shitting on the reef.

It is a measure of how far advanced the rot in our leadership has penetrated when an obvious public good like sewers are the object of political maneuvering. In a county where we can't manage to recycle, where stewardship means waiting on tables rather than taking care of the environment you'd think something as basic as sewers would be a priority. It is one more way in which we live in a very odd place down here, so close to Nature yet so far. The modern term I think is disconnect, the old fashioned term is stupidity. Pass the bottle.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Seen Around Town

A  disembodied head. And yes I know its off a mannequin but it was  a little disturbing nonetheless, all dressed up and everything.
"It gets harder at the Red Garter," Har har hearty har har. The Red Garter is a strip club populated by anaemic wan eastern European blondes showing off their chests to eager drunken hopeless men. I know because I went there once with a friend and the place made me sad, not hard.
"Sale Pending"  magic words in a very peculiar and uncertain economy. Better that than "Spain" where official numbers indicate more than a quarter of the workforce isn't working. What the real numbers are I dread to think.
A  trim Conch house with louvered shutters and neat green trim.
I liked the superimposed letters on the  well worn city sign. Generally I've found the city public works department responsive to requests for signage. Perhaps the author always lives by the adage that God helps those as help themselves. It works. 
A piece of history in my life. My wife and I checked this place out on Margaret Street many years ago. It was for sale for $250,000 but my wife didn't like the open plan layout. I often wonder when I walk by if I'd have gone quickly mad had we tried to live this  close to the heart of it all in Key West. Perhaps not.
Another sign in the window of the Silver plams on Tryuman Avenue: Rooms Available. Barely visible in the window reflections, but there nonetheless. It is almost miraculous how much more easily traffic flows on Highway One and around town now that the winter residents have buggered off home.
I met an aquaintance on Virginia Street. Peg was walking a friend's dog. We stopped and talked about our good fortune working for the city. And our matching footwear. She was a good sport about it.
I found these chaise longues cluttering the sidewalk. Perhaps they were unwanted and free. Or stored temporarily in public.
I left them where I found them. After much thought I have come to the conclusion that one major aspect of life in the Keys that I like is the principle of living and letting live. It is eroding but I treasure it what's left of it. That and "the weather and laid back island life (whatever that is)"... and all the other tiresome cliches quoted by each Citizen of the Day in the newspaper.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Jet Skis On Duval

My colleague Keith said he got tired of rain dripping through the ceiling fan of his Key West priced rental apartment in Old Town and he went out to get lunch on his day off. Too bad he didn't have a boat to get down Duval Street like his better equipped neighbors. He said he saw jet skiers further up Duval Street, there was that much water.

Actually these kinds of pictures are pretty normal for summer in the Lower Keys, when heavy thunderstorms blow through town and flooding is unfortunately a way of life. It doesn't take a hurricane to flood these streets and rain puddling is part of the reason why North Roosevelt Boulevard is all torn up. But today the rain has been ferocious, and insistent. My wife works next to the Petting Zoo on Stock Island and she found one local who was having a good time in the downpour. Mind you, when you've been neglected and mistreated as these animals have been, every day is a great day in the care of the Sheriff's Department Farmer Jeanne. Odd but true, the Sheriff gives these animals a home.

Too bad the jeep is out of action. This picture from just outside Key West is from a colleague of mine who was planning on coming in to work tonight, if her little Toyota doesn't flood. The flood advisory indicates up to four inches of rain may fall today. It feels like the heavens have pretty much disgorged every tear God has to shed today, already.

I road into town this morning for a training class at work, after I walked Cheyenne. It was overcast and there was rain in the forecast.during the ninety minute class we heard thunder and when I came out the skies had opened. No problem I got into my waterproofs and took off. Streets that have a tendency to flood were filled with water but the Inneville took them like a champ. I rode through intersections that car drivers were afraid to ford but there wasn't really a problem on my motorcycle. Waterfalls on canals aren't normal where Kristi lives. She sent me a picture to prove it. There really has been a lot of rain.

I'm working tonight so it will be another ride in under black skies, gusting winds and some highway adventure. Dress well leave early and enjoy the fun because every day is a good day to ride. The good news is that the drought is over and we haven't lost electricity in these wind gusts to 40 mph. Life is good, really.

Loose In The Lower Keys

 It was a windy day but the tenting went ahead. I was impressed, up it went in Bristol fashion and came down again as swiftly and efficiently. No Keys Disease there 
 Cheyenne has been reluctant in the summer heat to walk much in the woods so I end up taking rather dreary strolls in urban environments with more smells the better. On the other hand trailing around behind Cheyenne gives me a chance to get to know better those stores I would otherwise never notice. I am an appallingly incompetent shopper, but alliteration does appeal to me.
 Considering how ad-free my blog is I have to confess I am sick and tired of ads pervading the rest of my life. They are everywhere trying to put the fear of smelling bad, looking stupid or missing out on some great "opportunity" upon us all. Check out this poor afflicted car:
 A solar powered home for less than $400,000! Quick before it sells...
 Then there are silly slogans. I used to drive a tractor trailer rig around San Francisco where the slogan was something about caring or quality or some clap trap I can't recall. "The Real Deal" seems equally silly and impenetrable. I mean when you think about it what does that actually mean?
I am probably over thinking it.  Looking at the heritage Trail Bike Path under construction across the Lower Keys one wonders how they finally managed to pull it together. It is going to be quite the achievement, not least because they seem to be installing the new sewage pipes underneath the trial as they go. The bad news is the Legislature rejected a request for fifty million dollars to help pay for the $200 million project. Promises not fulfilled, of course. 
Florida's State Legislature is but a part time affair, meeting for only a few months in the winter in Tallahassee. It sounds crazy to me considering this is a state of twenty or more million people...But for most of the year the Governor and half a dozen Cabinet members rule the state by themselves. This year the lawmakers are rejecting Obama's Affordable Health care initiative and thus putting at risk of no improvement some half million Florida children who lack health coverage and more than a million adults. Way to go!
 Uninsured Americans raise costs and don't get preventative care. Oh well, who cares? Most of them are brown or black or poor, nowadays rapidly becoming the permanent underclass. I got mine and Ayn Rand would approve of such indifference to suffering.
 Meanwhile back in my middle class limousine with the air blasting I took a quick look down Key Deer Boulevard on Big Pine. My dog was reluctant to get out and go for a walk on the Jack Watson Trail in the Key Deer Refuge so  after pausing a while to check the status of the trees burned an uncontrolled fire last year we got back on the long straight road across the back of Big Pine Key.
 The back of the stores at Key Deer Plaza is Cheyenne's preferred milieu in the heat of summer.
 It is also preferred by wild chickens too. I guess my dog has good taste. Its just me that prefers a little bit of wilderness.