Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dog in Mangroves

Cool weather is a relative term and when I read of Richard Machida's pathetic excuse for not riding his sidecar combination around Fairbanks, Alaska I could come to only one conclusion: I am not cut out for frontier life. Richard's Page: DNR* (Did Not Ride) Excuses

Cool weather for my dog and I is a day when it may be eighty degrees but the humidity is gone, a gentle breeze blows and Cheyenne perks up. She is no fan of summer heat and she becomes positively puppy-like in the relative cool of a Florida winter. Right now she's in the Florida panhandle with my wife visiting friends for Thanksgiving, a holiday not much respected by 911 operators, and she will be reveling in a proper winter with rumored night temperatures hovering around 50 degrees.

In summer I could never get Cheyenne to even look at a mangrove trail in the back country but for some reason she took off one day on Sugarloaf Key and wanted to check out the countryside. My little heart sang as I love the open spaces and silence of the back country. Cheyenne finds her own pleasures among the mangroves.

It is lovely countryside in its own way, yet no agriculture, no rolling hills and no secluded valleys no isolated country pubs, lacking roadside hedgerows or clumps of colorful flowers...hey wait a minute here. This is all we've got?

Well there are Clyde Butcher's Florida mountains up above rolling over us in the manner of clouds.

This is the nitty gritty of life among the mangroves with mud, salt water and dead wood and rocks and Labradors. Because humans have visited every nook and cranny of this land you will find rotting cans, tires, whole vehicles sometimes, bottles, planks and mattresses and even rotting clothing. There is no undiscovered land in the Florida Keys.

Streets dead end into the mangroves and sometimes the red diamond signs topple over, and because they are left there they succumb to the fecund conditions of growth among the mangroves. It's hot and wet around here in short and stuff grows. Does that look like a happy dog to you?

Abandoned homes. The signs of a stagnant economy are there, but Key West is a place where the very rich come to play and homes that look expensive to you and me mean nothing if they are more than a stone's throw from Duval Street, so they collapse under the weight of tropical damp and heat and sun and neglect. There' shouting available here but ordinary people can't afford it and the one percent aren't interested. Market economic forces at work.

I read in the paper that respected economists (respected witchdoctors you might say) think we may be spending the next several decades in this stagnant economy with high unemployment, sky high among the young, no consumer confidence and no prospects for improvement. More or less where Japan has been for decades. What a prospect.

Cheyenne is a happy girl sniffing the edges of a long line of empty lots for sale. When the middle class thought they were prospering in the era of easy loans these lots represented future retirement homes and they were snapped up. Now? Take your pick at fifty grand a piece or triple that if on a canal. Good luck getting a building permit.

It's my dog that reminds me that all I need in life is a long walk, a full food bowl and a soft couch. Everything else is superfluous.


Friday, November 22, 2013

What A Funny Old Life I Found

My latest visit to my Big Pine hair clipper was of no great note, a quiet afternoon when I expected to be in and out in a jiffy. Instead this little kid was in the chair in front of me and boy was he exacting. He wanted more here and less there and on and on and on. Even his mother got tired of his pretensions. I dread to think what kind of fashion maven he's growing into. On the other hand maybe all modern kids are like that. I hope he tipped well; I did.
I never gave much of a toss about my hair style and even now I tell the cutter to clip round the ears and make me respectable and those are the extent of my instructions. Leave the beard alone I say now after suffering some major clipping. I aspire to look like Rasputin below the chin...but I do have clippers at home to help keep the professional beard rippers at bay.

My boss says I should be going back to night shift in late February- probably- and I miss working nights but we are doing good work training on days in a special new schedule I and my boss dreamed up. Having dreamed it up she anointed me to implement our first training program on the new regime and here I am still working during daylight hours in the 911 center. Belen was waving hi! while her sister-in-law Nelly was looking pensive. Don't be fooled they are tough opinionated Cuban women and they keep me toeing the line obediently.

The advantage of working days is I get to take walks during daylight and maybe do a little light shopping on my lunch breaks. I also get to be in town in the evening after work if I can bring myself not to hurry home to my dog 27 miles away. I saw this realtor's sign and got a kick out of the weed filled landscaping combined with the sign offering the "finest real estate. " Marketing hyperbole as usual, and I'm tired of it all.

I found out what Waste Management does when they come across a recycling bin filled with trash. They put a polite note on the bin and try to educate the owner. Fat chance. I saw my friends Robert and Dolly had bought a big blue recycling bin for use in their home in the county and I decided to do the same so now we have a 45 Gallon bin and we seem to be filling it easily for weekly pick up. Our trash output is minuscule by comparison.

I love these old fashioned signs "Tag Applied For" like they are fooling anyone. If you don't have a tag it can't be on the road if it is supposed to have one and if you really have applied for a tag they will pass it over the counter to you when you pay for it.

Here's another one. I'm a non smoker but anyone who thinks a Key Lime Pie flavored cigar sounds good should be one too. Grotesque.

We saw two movies at the Key West Film festival and they were both monumental downers. In Big Sur Jack Kerouac went through a ghastly depression and all the interesting people he knew in his life were kept at arm's length making the movie a depressive monologue under the dripping redwoods and above crashing ocean waves all under foggy skies. The last time I rode Big Sur it was summer and I froze my ass off from Carpinteria to Carmel even though my Yamaha 650 Maxim was equipped with a full Vetter fairing, so my love affair with Big Sur is a mixed memory. Oh and monstrously priced hamburgers at the Nepenthe restaurant. No wonder Kerouac was depressed. We walked out before the end, else we'd have slit our wrists.

Then we went back to the Tropic Cinema to see August: Osage County a two hour epic of women screaming at each other and everyone incestuously chewing each other to pieces in a giant old suffocating farmhouse, set in Armpit Oklahoma. All I could tell my wife as we left the screening at the end was that my family wasn't as bad but they were real while those harridans on screen were at least fictional.

I really like my old age in this crazy town a mixture of culture, madness, sunlight and heat. What a brew.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Work, Sleep, And Frozen Food

Today's essay is in a small way a response to those who wonder out loud about the Key West that works. Like the dude who cleans the sidewalks and opens the huge metal doors so the visitors can get inside El Meson de Pepe and have a slice of Key West's famous Cuban culture.
A while ago I learned this new word called "journaling" which I thought meant hoarding newspapers like people do in their over stuffed homes. But no, it means keeping a diary it turns out. Maybe this dude was writing in his journal, or in modern-speak where nouns magically become verbs he would be "journaling." or sketching. Whatever he was doing he was shirtless on the street in November and comfortable. How d'you like them seasons now?
Cheyenne breakfasted al fresco and you should have seen the pissed off rooster who discovered he had overlooked lunch. Cheyenne was a good neighbor much to my surprise and left the chickens a hefty slice. Cheynne is the first dog to own me who seems to recognize the limits of her appetite. Feed her too much and she stops eating when she's full. Most dogs I know would eat till they burst.
Sweeping is a big job in a city filled with trees. If you look at the old pictures of Key West you'll see far fewer leaf dropping trees than in today's tourist town. Around here leaves fall year round so the gentle screech of incessant leaf blowing fills the morning air. Some few sensitive souls are learning to go old fashioned and use brooms. Old tech trumps new more often than you'd think.
I don't think much of leaf blowing at the best of times but coming into the city recently I saw a golf course employee on Stock Island assiduously blowing the asphalt paths on the golf course. Do golfers really get upset if they to roll their motorized carts over dead leaves? What a very odd pastime golf is, thus Mark Twain was correct once again.
The bums taking advantage of outdoor seating provided by Sippin' were vocal about Cheyenne sitting in a puddle. What does the good book say? Take the log from your own eye before removing the splinter from your neighbor's. I figured they would do better to take their own ablutions in a puddle than not at all, and not at all was the aroma they wafted.
Pretty in pink, we took a call about a woman in pink the day before I took this picture. That one was lying in a homeowner's driveway and the poor lady caller freaked out because she almost ran over the passed out woman. We sent cops as we always do and I guess they moved her on. The cops I dispatch are men and women of infinite patience and no matter how many times that scenario is repeated they just keep doing what they do and never lose their minds as I would, dealing with the same people over and over.
I watched the five dollar store clerks arrive on Front Street to open their businesses, stepping over and around the sleepers on the street. It's how the day begins in Key West's busiest neighborhood.
They wash the sidewalks and public works sweeps clean Duval Street, making everything ready for Cheyenne to strut her grand entrance.
I was quite surprised to notice a man sleeping in a Toyota Yaris on Duval Street. Actually it was a double take that confirmed the gray figure curled up on a gray damp morning. I figured a tired drunk tourist. A couple of days later I saw the Yaris in front of the Grand Café so I revised my guess to a tired employee of some establishment on the 300 block. I liked the flag, patriotic law breaking!
The use of "our" is never a good sign to me on a menu. Silly words like our and over used nonsense like signature and the terrible gourmet and I steer clear.
"Our" is usually theirs, and "they" deliver by the ton.
They all do it. Boxes of frozen seafood. In this maritime town. And if they don't go cheap with frozen food we whine about the prices of proper local fresh seafood. Who would be a restaurateur? Like Trobaritz I incline more and more to home dining even though I'm not a vegan like she is. Home cooking comes from sure sources with no unnecessary salt sugar and fat.
Two of them were cleaning a bar, getting ready for the day. One worked and this one supervised.
This is where Cheyenne first met snow, and she pretty much ignored it.
I know it was just a pile of unneeded ice from some establishment that didn't have a use for this stuff so dumped a small pile of slush where my dog found it. Any idea how much energy was expended making this pile of melting snow? What a world we live in where we can freeze nature and toss it away with nary a thought of the cost.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Cuban Migrants

Driving South Roosevelt this morning I spotted a car parked in the road - hard to miss actually!- and a crowd of people watching a boat maneuvering just off the seawall. It was a US Customs boat covered by a Coastguard Rigid Inflatable Boat and between them they seemed to be talking to a small outboard powered launch with two people in it. It's not uncommon for migrants to land in the Keys especially after a spell of settled weather. Last week at work we got calls from people on the beach who thought they were the first joggers to spot an abandoned Cuban chug (as the home made boats are called) washed up on the beach overnight. The migrants turned themselves in whe. They had landed and were doubtless already being processed at the Krome Detention Center outside Homestead prior to getting their eight thousand dollar welcome to the US check and the freedom to settle in their new country. These two off the beach this morning weren't so lucky as they never made it to the sand.

Stopping wasn't feasible for me as parking on a four lane state road isn't exactly my style and my lovely Android camera is rotten when it comes to telephotoing so the pictures aren't much but I thought you might care to see how they protect our shoreline from those pesky Cuban émigrés seeking a better life. I figured this might have been a Cuban landing owing to the large crowd of people waiting and watching. Frequently Cubans who have already made it to the US pay smugglers to bring their relatives over at about ten grand a head, but these two made it across themselves apparently and were stopped just feet from a new life.
The thing is, people who are smuggled aren't supposed to get to stay if caught, but if you get across the water on your own, by raft or home made boat you get to stay if you mange to physically land on US dirt. If you get caught before then, our mariners are required by our heartless politicians to take you back to Cuba and a hot time in jail. It's called the "wet foot - dry foot policy." Really - that's the official title dreamed up by our NSA powered elected leaders (brought to you by the richest people in the world who wouldn't be caught dead on a raft in the Gulf Stream). So when law enforcement finds a clump of immigrants standing at the southern tip of Duval Street with no boat the migrants say "our raft drifted away" thus proving they weren't smuggled. The obverse of this official Cuban migrant policy is that if you are a Black Haitian on a raft you don't get any kind of a migrant policy: you get sent home pronto. May the power of the Miami Cuban Voting Bloc never grow less. They are also the people who benefit from the crazy Cuban Embargo that allows contact with Cuba to pass only through their wallets.

I felt bad for the two would- arrivals still on the water a few feet from US dirt where we fat Americans were playing at removing a few excess calories. Those were my thoughts as I sailed by carrying my dog in luxury back to her middle class home firmly in the US.

Post Scriptum: The last I heard they actually made it to shore where the Border Patrol met with them and released them to live in the US. All's well that ends well.

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.