Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Secret Everglades And Holey Land

I like to study maps which makes me a nerd UNLESS I act on that studying, which makes me an explorer. Which explains how it was that I got to drive across the Everglades, not on Tamiami Trail, nor yet on Alligator Alley, but instead of all that asphalt end ease I took my car and my wife and my dog here:

On the Seminole Reservation at the western end the dirt road is called Huff Bridge and there is a street sign, but that's all. It doesn't have a sign saying "Highway 27- 25 miles" and twenty of them are dirt. Highway 27 goes south and intersects I-75, the Florida Turnpike and Krome Avenue. Highway 27 is a useful road to know, and this dirt road knows it.

What a great road, flat straight and reasonably smooth at speeds close to fifty miles per hour.
I learned years ago when riding in Africa, particularly in Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon, that keeping up a steady speed around fifty smooths out the "washboard" bumps that stretch across the roadway. It was slightly surreal buzzing smoothly along in the relative luxury of our two wheel drive, air conditioned Fusion sedan while outside the ninety degree wilderness sped by like a movie.
You can see this bridge in Google maps so I knew we were on the right path, as though there was a choice...
I'll tell you what, this road was a thin gray line on my phone GPS! Ain't technology great? In the days I'd have taken off after checking my map and doing my best. Nowadays you can take a quick check of your phone. Weird.
The Rotenburger wildlife area came up first. It was simply a sign by the side of the road, one at each end and that was that.
I think this Canal is labeled Dade County #5, but all I can imagine is that it was cut as part of the grand reclamation scheme designed to drain the Everglades. Nowadays the theory is the Everglades need to be restored, too little too late as usual. The state and the Feds have agreed to restore desperately needed wetlands but as for as usual.
Along this section at the top of the levee that contained the canal the bulrushes grew thick and quite tall.
There was no civilization apparent, as the miles rolled by, Cheyenne asleep in the back, WLRN on the radio playing Saturday afternoon NPR. Then a pump station appeared:

And we drove right through the installation.

We drove to the end of the canal into a paved turn out so I could take a picture...

And so at last we came to Holey Land, a space much beloved by off road riders in South Florida. The odd name comes from craters in the land. They are said to have been caused by military shelling during exercises, but I rather suspect the holes are geologic in this rather odd wet landscape. As we stent off toad riders we left.

This was just a reconnaissance and I had been up all night working and had spent the day at the Seminole a Reservation so I was ready to put feet up at the dog friendly La Quinta in Fort Lauderdale. Stopping was not on the program this day.

We met one solitary vehicle on our 25 mile exploration, a 45 minute journey. The pick up truck was ahead if us and pulled over yo let us by. I slowed massively to reduce the dust cloud and then took off again after we passed him, stationary at the side of the road going in our same direction. I guess we were in a hurry, oddly enough in such a lonely place.

About twenty miles in and five from Highway 27 we reached pavement. I love pavement and now that my street is torn up for sewer installation I miss clean smooth, dust-free asphalt. We turned off to check a recreation area. "I suppose we should now we're here," my reluctant wife mumbled.

Groups of people were hanging round, presumably urban dwellers learning the joys of nature (and how to kill it) in the more or less wild.

The open space was named for Harold A Campbell a water district employee killed in a vehicle accident on Highway 27 in 2006. A kind thought no doubt.

I don't know if they think of him but they seemed yo enjoy coming out here five miles from Highway 27.

These cheerful fishermen walked out into the cleansing ponds to try their luck.

Cheyenne wandered off for a cooling dip and I worried about alligators but I figured modern society being what it is if there were any chance of gators in the water the place would be plastered with warning signs. We did fine.

And plodded back to the patiently waiting wife in the car. She was not thrilled by this deviation from the drive to the hotel.
Civilization was represented by the appearance of Highway 27, a four lane road that cuts across the Everglades from Lake Okeechobee to Miami.
The turn off to take the dyke road to the Seminole Reservation isn't marked but it can be found at the southernmost edge of Palm Beach county. Driving north on 27 make a u-turn after you leave Broward County and pass the Palm Beach County sign and this will be the westbound entrance to the mysterious road, five miles paved, twenty not paved.

It was an easy straight drive to La Quinta.

Where Cheyenne had fun going on a hunt.

Her reward for her patience while we went exploring.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ruminations On The Denizens Of Mallory Square

I think being homeless and choosing to hang on the streets has got to be the most boring life. That doesn't include those of the altered mental state, or the traumatically brain scrambled veterans, the addicts and drug worn wrecks, the emotional cripples, the spiraling impoverished. They are just the debris of a society where one percent of the population takes home ninety five percent of the income. Recently I read the Republican majority in Congress cut 80 billion dollars a year from the food stamp program. A good tax saving move right? Sure, until you remember if you even know, that the Federal Reserve creates 85 billion dollars a month out of fresh air just to keep the big banks and their clients solvent. Where all this will end no one knows but perhaps this guy reading a paperback at Mallory Square knows something we don't know:

Key West is such a mishmash of people that I am hard pressed sometimes to remember that everywhere isn't like this. Just the other day I watched some tourists stare in astonishment at a local residentially challenged man on the sidewalk enjoying the music at Willie T's. I wondered where they were from that they had never seen a homeless dude free to wander the sidewalks. I don't recall what these visitors in Mallory Square were puzzled by, take your pick.

The things that make Key West a good place to live are for the most part on display and free for all. An ocean view and a seawall to sit on for instance. It's true that the cost of living here tends to be higher but you don't have to sit on a bar stool drinking expensive alcohol to enjoy this town.

The homeless problem in Key West is causing a lot of discussion especially as the city has caved on the lawsuit brought against it by the owners of an expensive condominium complex near the free homeless shelter. The mayor wants to create a new shelter that won't simply house people but that will rehab them which seems like a long shot to me as rehabilitation isn't on the agenda of the hard core true street bums. People seeking help can find it already at the various NGOs around town.

Florida law requires jurisdictions to offer a free safe place to sleep before they can enact laws against public camping, hence the creation of the homeless safe zone. The problem is this fundamental law isn't mentioned by people who want the homeless "gone." These are the same profound thinkers who argue that when the homeless are shipped to the county hurricane shelter in Miami before a storm they should be forced to stay on the mainland after the storm is over. As though Miami wants our street people.

Mallory Square exemplifies this Key West duality. Oddly enough the center of tourism and a main hang out for street people is named for Stephen Mallory a Florida Senator from Key West whose principal claim to fame is his service to the Confederacy as Secretary of the Navy in the devastating 19th century effort to promote human slavery. Weird but true, we celebrate a Key West attorney in the name of this place who turned against his country. Yet Stephen Mallory if you read about his fascinating life, in his own way exemplifies this duality of which I speak, a reluctant secessionist and capable naval administrator in the service of slavery in which he didn't really seem to believe. Interesting indeed.

The paradox of cash generating Key West intersecting homeless Key West is made all the more...paradoxical by the fact that the simple act of the sun setting has become central to the tourist experience in Key West. Get this, the sunset celebration at Mallory Square has become an actual business with its own website History of Sunset Celebration in Key West. I like the story of Tennessee Williams raising a toast to a superb performance by the setting sun putting on an act for the viewers at the water's edge. It's silly enough which makes it even more amusing that that little effort by a writer living out his own sunset years pickled in alcohol has been transmogrified into the dust catcher sales event of the day in a city where anything to make a buck is the way of life.

And up against the chamber of commerce's drive to lower salaries and gentrify the city with more wealthy non working people, this hardy band of do nothings lounge around dirty and smelly and apparently unmovable in the face of societal rejection. Don't get me wrong they aggravate me because I am a worker bee paying taxes etc.. But the reason I am a dispatcher and not a cop is that I have this dreadful ability to see both sides of a coin and I get paralyzed by the view. I don't want to talk to these people, I don't want to know them by name like the cops do, I don't want to arrest them or handle their grubby identity papers. I run them to check for warrants for the officers but I am separated by the radio from the reality of their street lives. Yet I admire their resilience.

They are like the roosters and chickens, a source of wonderment for outsiders yet like the chickens the homeless make a mess of where they live, and like the homeless I could do without them and the chickens both...

Fishing is another great low cost sport with the chance of taking home some protein. My boss is in love with a Canadian who has the misfortune to make an excellent living in the oil fields of Alberta's very frozen North. He recently came back to Key West on vacation and went out for the first time on a boat for five hours to catch fish. "He's got Keys disease ..." My boss laughed noting he did not want to go back to the tundra. "He wants to fish everyday," she said. But Jessica and I know the reality of living here and though it should be one of fishing all day every day that's the pleasure reserved for tourists.

For instance I can't stand free range chickens, they are noisy and messy kicking dirt everywhere and the insects they eat could as well be eaten by quiet dignified native birds like the gentle stepping ibis. But the chamber sells them as a tourist attraction claiming they are descended from Cuban fighting roosters. Which is nonsense as roosters don't breed and if you check art work by people like Mario Sanchez depicting the early part of last century you won't see roosters included in his ultra-realistic street scenes. My skepticism notwithstanding tourists love to point cameras at the feathered rats.

If you take Mallory Square at face value it's a hell of a place to walk or bike or even, yes indeed, watch the sunset. It's a great open space in a city deprived of enough land to have expansive spaces.

Mallory Square's problem is that it carries the burden of too many expectations, mine and yours included. These guys look scary to middle class America, a class of humans seemingly scared by their own shadows these days, but Key West's homeless folk are not to be feared. They are humans and they bully the weak and have expectations of their own, principally focused on free food and hand outs and preying on guilt and fear. I look them in the eye and say good morning and move on. I give them money if they have the balls to ask because I don't think its easy to ask for charity, god knows I have a problem even asking for help sometimes, but they don't hurt people. They live hopeless lives of fear themselves, and they know in a dispute they start out with no credibility and no hope of being heard.

I enjoy hearing from the mystical thinkers who claim the US is a country "based on Judeo Christian principles" though what a Judeo Christian principle is exactly I know not and explanations make no sense to me Judeo-Christian seems to me is is a way of trying not to alienate Jews when you want everyone to live as Jesus taught. Yet when you go back to the Sermon on the Mount squaring the beatitudes with the way we think of and treat the homeless in our midst you know there is nothing Christian about public pronouncements on this subject. The money changers would run Jesus out of town on a rail today.

I figure the best way to deal with this problem is to ramp up social services to deal with them professionally. The peanut gallery says lefties like me should take a homeless dude home to solve the problem. I say the Judeo Christians should do just that in a Biblically inspired way but it's apparent none of us want to deal with them personally so I guess the government is the last resort if we want to reclaim our public spaces. And I can only think some government agency other than 911 would be more apposite and able to do the job right especially as most of the homeless have mental issues. Mojitos at El Meson would taste better bum free in my opinion. And you can check out Pepe's Menu here.

I guess I'm not the only one pushed into a contemplative mood by the complexities of Mallory Square:

And some of us see ghosts where none appear to the rest of us. Perhaps alcohol had unbalanced him or the weight of a life too hard to manage. I didn't want to get involved in his madness thank you. Do you?

Ah youth, all possibilities lie ahead, answers come easily and questions rarely are open ended.

Above the woman's head in the picture below you can see the landing craft that services Sunset Key, home to the extremely wealthy, vacation destination to members of the President's Cabinet, the powerful people who prefer not to see the wreckage of their policies on their doorstep. It says a lot to me that they prefer to separate themselves from us when they vacation. President Truman used to walk around town exercising his legs, accompanied by a bodyguard who stood back as the President shook the hands of ordinary people on the street exercising their right to meet their elected leader whether they agreed with his policies or not.

I don't like the way things are going but I don't have answers, just queries. I wonder why fear is such a pervasive sentiment in a country that became great by believing in itself, that burst with childish confidence that carried the world with it. Nowadays we export manufacturing and good jobs, we allow appalling wealth inequality and pretend climate change isn't happening. In the bad old days we'd have rolled up our sleeves and debated solutions and worked to make things better for future generations. Now we leave it all up to China of all places. I'm relieved I have no children so the future for me is rather short term.

Nowadays we tell ourselves we can't afford to take care of each other, the homeless and the poor and gays are immoral in their own ways and foreigners hate our freedom. Weird that because it's our own National Security Agency the one we pay for, that is illegally wire tapping all our lives, and the people who expose those taps are labeled traitors by our embarrassed leaders. It's our corporations that deny us health care coverage which many freedom hating foreigners take for granted in their second rate countries. We prate about the second amendment and forget the fourth and sixth because they aren't as sexy and simple as guns.

I like to think we will find our way back to a land of lawful optimism and seek measured solutions but for now I guess we are doomed to lurch from crisis to crisis until enough of us get sick of it and demand sensible change from people we've elected who aren't radicals of left or right. Perhaps the crashing sound of unbearable debt will bring us back to our senses but who knows...

Meanwhile I plan to enjoy the sunsets and my dog and my motorcycle and the absence of snow and the people around me who wonder what the next act of the drama will be. I like to think Key West will remain south of reality whatever that happens to be and sunsets will continue as usual whether or not paupers or princes are at Mallory Square to watch.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Pink Crocs

Readership numbers have climbed significantly so I feel the need to explain why I wear pink Crocs when out walking. Years ago my wife offered to buy me a new set of shoes and asked what color I wanted I said whatever and ignored her pretty much. As one does. She came back from the flea market with a pink pair and asked how I felt about that. Fine I said. And I was. And then when I discovered a lot of people were afraid to talk to me in weird pink shoes it got better. I figure if they put people off only boring people would be put off by them so it was a wining choice all round. Then, get this, the Birkenstock store offered me all the pink Crocs in men's size 12 I could handle as they couldn't sell them....I was hooked on pink. Today I was downtown so I stopped by the shop and they had four pairs sold to me for $17:50 each. I loaded up two shopping bags and gloated all the way back to my wife'a car.

I wear these things and thus I wear them out but I figure I'm good for 18 months, possibly two years with this haul. They are great for walking Cheyenne through mud or puddles, salt water or even on the streets and they are excellent boat shoes. They look odd and they scream something extra odd in pink but they work for me. They should for you too as daily footwear.

Onlywood Restaurant, Key West

George is going back to Prague to enjoy an icy Czech winter soon so we decided to have dinner together one last time before he retreats to the frozen wastes of Central Europe. I mean you have to admire a man's eccentricity, where most people would enjoy winter in the Southernmost City, this particular one turns his back on his second home in Old Town and girds his loins for a winter even he describes as likely to be harsh. Ten degrees Fahrenheit anybody?

That or a shirt sleeve winter enjoying dinners al fresco under the cerulean winter sky particular to Key West. I will be delighted to keep the home fires burning for him.

The menu page from the website italian pizza restaurant should be legible. Basically you get appetizers, pasta pizza and meat chicken and fish dishes. If you are used to Italian American food this style may come as a surprise.

The bruschetta was my choice. I wanted to see how this proper Italian restaurant would handle this American favorite. The waiter was glad to hear me pronounce it properly, with a "k" sound, not a "ch" sound as English speakers tend to do. I did not explain my secret ancestry.

George chose a bottle red which was produced in my hidden corner of Italy, much to my surprise. Our Brands -Vitiano - Winebow, Vitiano is from Montecchio in the province of Terni. It was robust and went well with dinner. I had pesto pasta with shrimp, an odd combination I've not had before but George a fan of this restaurant, assured me it works. It did too, I woofed it.

George had a four pork pizza and he generously offered me a slice. I liked it a lot. The crust was properly thin but it wasn't dry and crisp, it retained a suppleness you'd be surprised to see in a crust so thin. It was also not greasy, which is a quality I enjoyed a lot. I am not a fan of overloaded pizza, or crust filled with melted cheese as modern chains advertise.

I ordered an American coffee to refresh me for the ride home and I got a soup tureen full. The spoon in the picture is a full sized implement...I rather suspect Americano coffee here is made with something stronger than the soft gentle coffee many Americans prefer. "Soup" (brodo) my buddy Giovanni calls it.

We sat inside as the evening was rather humid once again. Cold fronts are coming fast and thick, bringing strong winds and momentary drops in temperature but soon temperatures seem to go back up. We still await the strong front to break the back of Fall.

The interior of the place is nicely done. We ate unfashionably early but by the time we had drifted through the meal two hours later the place was filling up.

And they do actually have a real live wood burning pizza oven. It does a nice job.
A life time lived in the Czech Republic has given George a rather formal outlook. Damned if he wasn't busy making more reservations. I am rather less organized and actually reserving a table seems a highly unlikely activity in Key a West. I am going to try to be more prepared in future. Davide the owner was very accommodating.
I did finally break my silence, "Oh" he exclaimed, "you're Italian!" " You never said anything," the waiter laughed. We exchanged pleasantries and off we went,

...into the warm November night. I wish George and his family well this winter, and look forward to seeing him when he gets back. If he survives the snow.