Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Slingin' Steel Rockett

Cheyenne and I were happily minding our own business walking the combined pedestrian bike path in Big Pine. Suddenly a screeching sound behind us brought us to a quick stop. How's it going said the young man who stepped gracefully off his skateboard, strolled barefoot through the gravel around us elderly plodders and took off. He flew gracefully along, dressed only in shorts, Tadzio to my Von Aschenbach, and as he swept along silently I thought to myself I'll bet he's got a story to tell. And he did, what a story.
I have been a wanderer all my life, something that many people find admirable in a way thy defies explanation to me. While it is certainly true that my travels have been inspired by a healthy curiosity but also by a search for something that was missing in my life. To come across an eighteen year old completely certain of his place in the world, his future and the pursuit of his fulfillment in it, is quite remarkable. Steel Rockett is a genius in his field, the Amadeus of the Aqualung, the Shakespeare of the Slingshot and he was born and grew up on Big Pine Key. "I went to the Adirondacks once," he said pondering his desire to learn to hunt on land. "But I don't like big cities, I like being apart." His apartness takes him deep underwater into regions of narcosis and death.
He learned to dive when he was a toddler and has been hunting food, and thus money all his life. He likes to ride Hammerhead sharks as they have a large dorsal fin which makes them easy to hold on to. His largest and most fearsome kill is an eleven foot Tiger Shark though he remembers a fight with a bull shark I think it was, five spears to the forehead and still not dead yet badly pissed off. "He scraped my arm," he said with a grin, relishing life as he came close to losing it. I grinned feebly and said when I see sharks in the water I like to get out. "Sharks are like bears, show fear and they'll get you." I guess the difference between me and Steel is he's a predator and I am prey. I know my place. Sharks as endangered? Not to this young hunter.
When he talked about diving he asked me if I dived and I was glad to say I was qualified though not keen to deal with the numbers I cocked in staying safe. He noted that diving is a sport indulged in by people who want to be cool (that instantly excludes me!) and they get agitated when he breaks their rules, diving beyond supportable depths and coming back to tell the tale. What you get when you meet Steel is an opportunity to step,outside the realms of the normal. I guess that was what Diana Nyad managed by swimming from Cuba. This kid does it every day and makes a living at it and he does it with assurance. He doesn't drink alcohol, he gets high by going down deep, deep enough to make air a narcotic, such that at more than 200 feet down Steel has hallucinated the way most ordinary mortals might hope to get high in a Ricks bar.
I don't want fame he said on turning down an approach by MTV because they wanted to fake the diving drama. He has aspirations,does this well adjusted young man, to dive in places in the world he has heard of and never seen, to own his own home and a boat big enough to get far offshore. But young Steel is here and now exactly where he wants to be doing what he wants. His bus was coming, I wished him well which seemed inadequate considering how easily he peers into the abyss, and Cheyenne and I strolled away, she grateful for the rest and me wondering what good fortune is it to grow up knowing who you are. A humbling encounter indeed, and one I shall treasure as his elders and betters can do no better than fall down drunk on the sidewalk while I'm at work.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Conchscooter's Tour Of Key West

So now I'm going to do that which I never do which is I am going to try to be a tour guide. Let me get the caveats out of the way first. This is my view of a good day in Key West and you are entirely free to disagree, or better yet add useful suggestions. There are tons of things to do in town, lots of museums and attractions and I am just going to highlight a few, so don't go all postal on me and get pissed off that I didn't mention your Aunt Muriel's favorite martini bar. I have limited myself to Key West and Stock Island because most of you stay-at-homes don't come here to drive, though frankly I'd make a beeline to Sunshine Scooters on North Roosevelt, rent a Harley and bugger off up the Keys for a look at some other islands if I were visiting. We'll let that be for a another time. I recommend renting a scooter because they are more fun than a bicycle (down people, stay down), but a bike is fine if infernal combustion is too much for your vacation. Do not rent an electric car they are too slow to be fun and are awkward to park. You may have to modify the start of your tour if you don't have a scooter, or if you rent a scooter that doesn't allow Stock Island tours, and you feel like being honest and following their rules. Here goes nothing, and someone suppress the peanut gallery for me please.

Some people like to watch the sunrise from the White Street Pier and in winter the place gets positively crowded. I would go to Dead Man's Curve near the Key Ambassador hotel. It has that informal name because before they put fencing in place a few smart people, including motorcycles ridden by the imprudent, had a tendency to kill themselves running off the road into the water. http://conchscooter.blogspot.com/2009/09/sunrise.html All that notwithstanding it makes for a good place to watch the sun come up and you will usually see a tripod or three as eager photographers gather to capture the rising of the sun.
However you are here because you got up early left your hotel on your scooter (or bicycle) and rode here to see the sunrise on your way to:

The most authentic local's place left south of Mile Marker Five, El Mocho, Stock island's most secret Cuban diner. To eat here is to be among Spanish speakers, fishermen, construction workers, body shop techs and plumbers carpenters and manual laborers. http://conchscooter.blogspot.com/2008/10/el-mocho.html You want local? Look for the little red diner on Maloney Avenue and my phone has it in its GPS so in keeping with my tradition of unhelpful bloody mindedness you can find your own way there from here...and here is the el cheapo breakfast, yours for five bucks though you might prefer grits to the fried potato bloc. Grits is good. Cheese grits is better.

After breakfast and maybe a second con leche if you are feeling expansive you will proceed down Maloney, turning right at West Marine onto 4th Avenue then turning left on Front and riding all the way to the end. This ride gives you a view of the less luxurious accommodations available to the working classes that serve Key West and keep fashionable Old Town humming.http://conchscooter.blogspot.com/2010/09/downtown-stock-island.htmlWhen you get to the end of Front Street you will see the thatched roof of the Hogfish restaurant which hipster tourists think is off the beaten track but you have beaten them out of the ball park by having breakfast at El Mocho. Go for a walk on the docks and around the back. There are real life artisans here in their workshops, quaint floating homes and a sense of waterside peace and serenity you won't find elsewhere in these busy end-of the-road islands.
You can spend some time on Stock island if you want to check out the working classes or perhaps buy an illegal fighting rooster at Bernstein Park if any of the local kids have caught a rooster on their travels and want to unload it. On your w ay back to key West check out Hurricane Hole on the south side of Highway One just on the Stock Island side of the bridge into Key West. You could come back to Hurricane Hole for a drink in the evening if you want a waterside meal away from the sunset crowds.
On your way to the cemetery if you take scenic South Roosevelt you will pass the East Martello Tower which is a fine little museum exhibiting some interesting connections to Cuba with Key West. And if that tickles your fancy head down or up Flagler to the area of 7th Street where you will see a walk in clinic which marks Government Road which heads south off Flagler to Little Hamaca Park. Government Road is in my GPS and runs behind the airport where a Cuban airliner is parked after it was hijacked to the US, confiscated and sold to a Cuban American family with a claim against the Castro government. Here it sits apparently forever:

Well that's one curiosity out of the way and if you can avoid riding to the end of government road to check out the old cold war Hawk Missile sites http://conchscooter.blogspot.com/2010/03/hawk-missiles.html you can keep on going to the cemetery in the middle of the island. I love this place and you should too. It's the best park in the city and all it requires is some peaceful contemplation from you and a modicum of respect for the dead and their families who still live in town.
If its getting late you could reverse the next part of the program and go to Fausto's on Fleming first or to Five Brothers a couple of blocks north of the cemetery on Grinnell for a genuine Cuban sandwich and perhaps some bollos (boy-ohs) deep fried black eyed pea balls like falafels, or perhaps a papa rellena, a ball of deep fried mashed potato with ground beef in the middle, a kind of Cuban scotch egg. Buy that and find a shady spot in the cemetery and commune with the dead. I like to think they appreciate the company of the living. There's a lot of Key West history buried here above ground. http://conchscooter.blogspot.com/2013/03/famous-dead-people.html
Fausto's Food Palace has two locations, one on White Street and one on Fleming just off Duval as though to emphasize the insularity of people who live on a four mile island but won't travel a dozen blocks to buy groceries. My wife likes to buy small containers of seaweed, antipasto, olives, octopus, and humus for instance.
Fausto's bills itself as a social gathering place but it is a supermarket on a small scale or a convenience store on a large scale.Faustos Key West | Store Departments boasts tons of yuppie foods, exotic spices, expensive labels and real butchers cutting up meat in the back, the place where you are as likely as not to see the owner doing physical labor despite his standing as a former mayor and current city commissioner.

With picnic in hand the next stop is the Art and History Museum on Front Street in the former US Customs House. http://conchscooter.blogspot.com/2012/09/key-west-art-and-history-museum.html I love this place and you will too if you want to learn about small town key west's history, its attachment to Hemingway and local Art. Do not miss the Customs House and across the street you will see the Mel Fisher museum which I also greatly enjoy.

One hopes the picnic hasn't overheated because from here you will ride down Whitehead Street to Petronia and from there you will ride west to Truman Waterfront and seek out the Fort Zachary Taylor State Park where you will rest in the shade of the pine trees (casuarinas) saved from destruction as non native trees whose shade is much appreciated by locals. There is good swimming off the beach and a concession stand that sells hot greasy food if the delicacies from the deli at Fausto's are too esoteric for your sturdy pizza enflamed taste buds.
I have my favorite picnic table at Fort Zach hidden in the shade of the sea grapes flourishing near the fence that divides the park from the Navy base at the beach. Any picnic table will serve the purpose. Walk the fort later and the nature trail, a short lesson in native flora that I forget as soon as I have walked it. If you have done a good job of whiling away the day it will be close to sunset and most people I know avoid Mallory Square unless they have out of town visitors who have never seen the fair at sunset before. Now that the Top on La Concha is slated for destruction, the bar to be replaced by a spa (!), the most votes for sunset viewing go to Truman Waterfront, unscripted, unsupervised and sparsely attended. Here's your own spot to enjoy the sunset:

Up stairs at Turtle Kraals is Shannon's favorite spot for un-obscured viewing across the water in civilized surroundings with a drink in your hand. This is the view from ground level but upstairs is really much nicer.

The other great spot is rather eccentric but that's what you are looking for right? Ride to the top floor of the city parking garage at Grinnell near Caroline (close to Finnegan's Wake coincidentally) and from there you will probably be alone, unless there is a wedding in progress, and now I shoot myself as a gentleman does, for giving away the secret local sunset viewing spot, Key West Diary: Park And Ride. Just like this feathered rat:
Santiago's is my favorite romantic dinner place at the moment, tapas, wine and impeccable service make for value for money.

I like Finnegan's Wake a no nonsense Irish pub spoiled by too many television screens but made good by Boddington's and Smithwick's on draught. And an Irish breakfast plate to die for. And strawberry shortcake and custard. I am a pig.

So, there you have it. On the subject of eating out you could have Indian food on the terrace at the Pegasus Hotel, on Southard overlooking Duval Street. Or have a proper sit down dinner at Café Sole on Southard Street. Or spend a fortune at Latitudes on Sunset Key (better to have a very reasonable lunch there if you feel like lounging). There are too many suggestions. Or go for a ride on your motorcycle.

So now if you feel like putting me straight please go back and read the first paragraph again, okay?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

American Indian Arts Celebration.

I wanted to sleep. You know how it feels when you are just feeling like passing out? You crave the deep snuggling comfort of your bed? I laid down and my dog got next to me and... My wife shook my shoulder roughly: "Time to go. Get up! Places to see!" Damn it! I just worked twelve sodding hours...time to get up fifteen minutes after I laid down. She was merciless, gave me a pillow to lean against in the passenger seat and we pulled out from under the house at 6:50 am. I know because I saw the glowing blue numbers last thing before I passed out. She turned up the car radio and started humming to herself. She was having fun. I chose to drool into my pillow.

Four hours after we left home at Mile Marker 27 we arrived at the Seminole Village buried in the Everglades north of Alligator Alley, the highway that cuts across South Florida, and the tents were up, the vendors were primed and food was cooking for the American Indian Arts Celebration put on by the Seminole Museum which we visited just a few weeks ago when my wife learned of this weekend get together. Key West Diary: Ah Tah Thi Ki Museum .

We made our entrance even as the wild animal dude was showing off his rattlesnake buddy. The rope muscle is apparently as venomous as God made him but they think they are good buddies so no one is biting anyone. He said, but I was as grossed out as the young scouts were, including the one wearing the pink underwear on his or her head.

Linus the blonde skunk was next. I didn't know there were blonde skunks either...and we learned how skunks target you when they defend themselves and so forth. It was a great presentation. You missed something interesting informative and entertaining under the ninety degree sky.

His audience was all there for the Okalee Village Critter Show, from the Hollywood Seminole reservation. Seminole Tribe of Florida - Tourism And Enterprises, Seminole Okalee Indian Village

Black Jack was the black vulture on display,

...and then Sable the red tailed hawk, an interesting bird. Light colored underneath to blend with the sky and dark on top to blend with the ground beneath. Capable of flight at hundreds of miles an hour and a hard core predator. Many oohs and aahs from the crowd. Life's tough for these birds. One in five live long enough to leave the nest, one in 300 die of old age. This guy is past his sell by date but he lives in captivity.

Then the gator wrestling with Edward Osceola watched over by a grim looking Otter John. Apparently being on land makes alligators feel vulnerable (!) and they get a bit agitated. No problem for a man called Osceola. A bit of a problem for me as the show was hidden in the shade, out of the direct burning heat of the noonday sunlight. Camera settings were impossible to manage.

Say what you will I don't trust alligators, perhaps because I don't understand them, but I do know they catch food for consumption later so hunger is not why they hunt. I like to observe them from a distance thanks. Not so this dude.

Being a 911 dispatcher is said to be a stressful occupation. Check this out for stress:

Surviving an encounter with an alligator apparently brings out the bear in Seminoles. The bear dance, accompanied by pounding drum beats and guttural Mongolian throat songs, or some such.

Apparently it's a way for young Seminoles to feel each other up, a courting ritual disguised as an expression of animal empathy. Public dances for white people's appreciation are apparently toned down but the women volunteers invited to dance with the Seminole men got into the spirit of being a stomping bear.

Huh? We both noticed the Muslim woman getting into the multi-cultural spirit grinning like nobody's business, as she went round clawing in the air and pawing at the Indians. Kudos for breaking down barriers I say.

Then there was the all-important shopping.

We got Christmas gifts for my sisters who grew up on stories of Indians and I wanted a gross alligator claw back scratcher. My wife balked but it was recently my birthday and we both got into the event as seniors (urgh!) and I got my way spending six whole dollars for the object. "I don't want to know how you got these things," I said. He grinned.

This lot showed up from Andros in the Bahamas. It's the one among the Family Islands I haven't visited and want to. I'm told Andros which supplies the capital Nassau with fresh water is quite intriguing and under inhabited, a bit like my neighbor Big Pine Key with reticent residents, piney woods and watery channels. I still want to sail there. I remember hearing the radio crackling with messages from the village of Morgan's Bluff, as in those days they didn't have phones and used marine radio to communicate. They sounded isolated and romantic and piratical and I've never yet got to see the place! We bought some stuff as a stop gap instead.

No, we didn't eat alligator this time.

We had beef stew in brown gravy over rice and agreed the cabbage was first rate. "I think I may have to rethink cooking cabbage," my wife said. She does great Brussels sprouts but hates cabbage. Some Jew. I love cabbage. Some goy. Great things may come from this Indian experience...perhaps more cabbage for me!

It was close to ninety degrees, hot humid and close. They were quite heroic in their hot open air kitchen.

There was a lot of food for ten modest dollars, rich and heavy and delicious. "I will never be hungry again," I said as my dog watched my every move with great care.

She got a taste, I can't imagine denying her a chance to sample all those lovely smells that had got her interest. I am not one of those humans who expresses his self control through denial of his dog's base desires. I imagine interrupting Cheyenne's sniffing of an interesting smell in the same way I get frustrated when someone interrupts me reading a book. I anthropomorphize and I know it.

I have a confession. She got away from me while I was fiddling with my camera and started snuffling under a vendor's table earlier in the day. "I got those cookies from Subway in Okeechobee!" the poor woman wailed, a farm town 90 minutes away, whose bounty was now in my Labrador's mouth. I was mortified. I searched out every vendor, scoured their offerings and rounded up a mixed bag of cookies. I think she was surprised when I came back with two ice cold bottles of water and a dozen mixed cookies. I didn't blame Cheyenne for being a dog, it was my fault and I fixed it, as best I could.

A nice place to spend a Saturday together. Come early avoid the crowds. Sadly I have to admit my wife was right to keep me out of bed and get me on the road before the sun came up; it was worth it!


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Parrot Heads Meet In Key West

They call it Meeting of the Minds or MOM and people who like Tropical Rock music show up in a Key West, the place where their former idol Jimmy Buffett go his start and they hang out and have mild mannered middle aged adult fun. After the madness of Fantasy Fest the Parrot Heads are a nice mild tonic in a town that is rather exhausted and jaded by the nudity and noise of the October celebration. This is police work writ small.

Silly headgear is a hallmark of the Parrot Heads and should evince no surprise when on Duval this weekend. I am not a fan of headgear silly or otherwise but this is harmless stuff.

As usual I had to get to work and when I was on Duval things had barely got started. I shouldn't have even surprised to see people anxiously lining up for the distant evening entertainment. Parrot Heads are a devoted lot.

Fantasy Fest makes me wince sometimes though I see the point, where this lot just make me smile. It seems silly but aside from raising money for charity Parrot Heads are cheerful,harmless and relatively low key. They don't make much noise unless you are close by Casa Marina resort where they roost, they drink but they aren't rowdy and it seems to me they could teach a lesson or two to people who come to Ksy west and make proper fools of themselves.

More than you ever wanted to know about Parrothead - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

After all how cam one get behind a bunch of people who think lager is the be all and end all for a party? Fizzy beer? Really...

Yes but look at the smiles. This is an invasion Key West can live with, easily this weekend.