Sunday, December 8, 2013

Lounging In Key West

Entering Key West these days seems like one passes an endless construction zone. Supposedly it will be done by July, but we have the winter crowds to get through first, and they will do their bit to clog the streets.

I confess it's too cold for me to go swimming anymore unless it were a calm day and a heated swimming pool. Visitors seem to suffer no such compunctions, and beaches will be crowded. Look at them, it gives me goose bumps to think of a beach day in 77 degrees.

Key West doesn't always lend itself to inward contemplation you'd think despite the abundance of yoga spaces, but this is a more reflective town than the image might suggest. Water views will do that to a human.

I walked under the bows of the Fort Myers Beach ferry, impatient passengers waiting to disembark, for their day at the beach.

A local lounger put their impatience to shame with his brown bag dangling by the water's edge. I have no idea what he saw in the turquoise waters beneath his feet.

You don't have to be a local to contemplate your navel in Key West. You can do it on a rented bicycle in a crisply starched t-shirt.

A tour bus driver was taking advantage of a gentle cooling southeast breeze to let him sleep in silent comfort. Not quite silent comfort...

These people, the bus's neighbor, could have learned a lesson or two from the coach driver. Their RV was buttoned up tight in the breeze with a muffler-free generator rattling like the arrival of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Their joy ride indeed, 32 weeks in and blessed with a busted muffler. As these charmers plan to visit all the national parks one can only imagine they will be leaving their mark in those natural, silent spaces with their self propelled jack hammer.

I moved on to lounge elsewhere, lots of quieter spots if you know where to look. No ice storms here.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Surrounded By Ice

It was 75 degrees at the Blue Hole this morning when Cheyenne and I went for our morning walk.
For at least the next week I am back on nights as my Trainee does some specialized training with my boss so I have that to look forward to, and even though she doesn't know it Cheyenne will enjoy a return to our regular schedule. I am glad to train as I want more people to get this great job I have, but it is much more stressful training by day than working by night with my buddies.
I was idly wondering what the forecast this week of night work might look like and I saw a horrible picture. Well bugger. Unless you enjoy snow which I don't, I looked at this and read that four people died of hypothermia in San Francisco. Charleston to Tallahassee is the front line holding out bearable temperatures against a continent of frozen water.
The little strip of orange depicted above looks like this on the ground. Reading, in shorts, on the porch.
We will pay for this sooner or later with a monster hurricane, but for now, I'm basking.

Night Key West In Sepia

My first thought was that it's getting to be time for Christmas decorations and my second thought was that chasing down decorations sounded like a lot of work...and there's still plenty of time for that. So I set my phone camera to sepia and off we went, Cheyenne and I.

Key West in the middle of the night is surprisingly peaceful especially if you are used to seeing it only in the hustle and bustle of daytime hours when visitors are abroad on foot, bicycle and scooter. These two guard kitties didn't dare move till after my attack Labrador had lumbered by.
Classic Key West porches, perfect for sitting out on a mild December night, if only the house itself were inhabited.

Elizabeth Street looking down the hill toward Truman Avenue.

I particularly appreciated the absurdity of this situation, classic Teutonic Yuletide decorations on the porch with the front door wide open to let in a cooling December night breeze.

This house for some reason puts me in mind of homes I've seen in Puerto Rico, doubtless due to the creative use of tiling. In Puerto Rico though, the wall would be much higher with broken glass and barbed wire on top to discourage uninvited visitors. Crime is a real problem on that lovely island.
I always like to see classic Florida louvered windows, relics from the time before cheap sir conditioning became available. And they are as functional as ever. I have slightly more modern versions at my house and they let the breeze circulate while keeping out any stray rain that may be falling.
My wife and I are planning a stay-cation on her Christmas break, taking advantage of whatever few days I have off. The idea is to go out of our way to try some eateries we always want to visit but don't take the time to patronize. Seven Fish is on the list, as seen below, and a review will of course follow.
This trailer park is now closed. The money lenders at the Catholic Church sold it to developers and the residents, the usual clutter of low income inheritors of the Earth per the Sermon on the Mount, have been given vague relocation promises. One has to hope the developers make a real killing because as we know these days massive wealth is a sign of God's favor. The poor will of course eventually get the kingdom of God, per the beatitudes but until then best of luck.
A modest dwelling like this in the heart of Old Town not only will cost more than half a million but it will require substantial operating costs as well. Key West is among the most expensive cities in Florida.
I was not out late at night, so there were a few people around. Bicycles make great urban assault vehicles in a nation dominated by large trucks on city streets. Wisconsinland: Disappearing Landscape laments the loss of open space to the construction of suburban communities that are totally car dependent. Not so Old a Town:

The wall surrounding the land belonging yo the Minor basilica of St Mary's. No plans to sell this lot off to developers!

The church was declared a "minor basilica" by the Vatican and this title is bandied about like a temporal badge of distinction by the spiritually inspired church. I don't think Pope Francis' devotion to the poor gets much traction here where community leaders get on their knees and hobnob with God's representatives on earth, probably not about hiring standards and rates of pay. On Stock Island though the church operates a much needed soup kitchen and food bank that keep the working poor nourished and grateful enough not to demand living wages.

More urban loveliness:

It's the season of goodwill and this is my favorite house decoration, near the cemetery.

It's a reminder that everyone is supposed to be nice for a few weeks. That includes the old biddy who stopped as I was taking the picture and observed Cheyenne resting comfortably in the gutter and started to give me the third degree about torturing my dog. I felt like John Cleese and the Norwegian Blue...she's just resting I insisted to the gaunt Miss Marple eyeing me like I was a child molester. She's...heavy she said. So am I, I replied but she's an elderly Labrador and I have no excuse. Lucky for me it was the Christmas season else she'd probably have brained me and stolen my dog to save her from further abuse. Had she had half the brains of Cleese's parrot I'd have told her in no uncertain terms to go and save a dog from the pound and to bugger off and leave us alone. As it is even I am infected by the Christmas Spirit and I just walked off without further ado. Ho ho bloody ho.


Friday, December 6, 2013

A Day In the Sun, A Road Closed

Stepping onto the porch yesterday it was obvious it was going to be a lovely day. So when my wife, returning from her latest out of town conference texted ahead to me to get a couple of dinner ingredients I took the Vespa and did that which one often does when looking for an excuse to burn some dead dinosaurs. I went off track.

Life, they tell us is a series of compromises, and for many riders across temperate lands this is the time of year to put away two wheeled machines and confront ice and snow from the cabin of a cage. For me that day never comes in the Fabulous Florida Keys. However even this paradise has it's serpent: viz, there is but one road. Northern riders who get out their machines in Spring can look forward to months of varied rides up hill and down dale. All I get in Spring is the same road, a little warmer and a little wetter as summer is rainy season here.

My plan then, was to ride to Winn Dixie, the Big Pine supermarket situated about five miles from my house. As I rode I figured it was too lovely a day to just go food shopping so I passed the aptly name Key Deer shopping center and kept riding north.

I could have veered north for five miles to take a ride to Port Pine Heights or No Name Key, both streets without outlets of course, wind prettily among the pines where I like to walk Cheyenne on the trails:

But I was pretty sure there was a good chance I would find a pleasant ocean view or two if I went up my only main road option. I was correct, and I stopped a few miles past Big Pine at the bridge connecting Bahia Honda and Ohio Keys. Looking north:
The view to the south was equally flat despite the fact that this side of the road is the open waters of the Straits of Florida, a place often filled with ocean waves and surf and suchlike commotions. Unlike yesterday:

The old Flagler railroad has been transformed into a rather dashing paved fishing pier, pedestrian path and a bicycle route, all in one. A more forward looking state might have done as much the length of the Keys but the Sunshine State prefers to let such things deteriorate and cut income with endless sales tax loopholes.

You stand behind the white line to fish, while between the lines travel the bicycles and pedestrians in determined fashion. I love the bike pictogram with a cyclist riding properly attired in a Chinese conical hat.

After the Great Hurricane of 1935 the railroad, already losing money for lack of commercial traffic, folded and stayed closed until the state bought the rights to the rail bed and converted it all to a highway. Imagine modern tea party protests at such a waste of public monies! Yet what we take for granted today in public works were built one day in the past with tax money, in an era when this country functioned as a community. They took the rails and welded them into hand rails. Below you can see the original rusty rails now replaced by the bright modern aluminum hand rails.

The modern Overseas Highway was completed in 1982 and as I recall it reduced the drive from Key West to Homestead from five hours to two, while offering many splendid views alongside lanes wide enough to easily accommodate two trucks. The old road bridges had been so narrow, large vehicles meeting on them had to stop and struggle to pass.

Earlier this week a distracted truck driver drove his semi into the back of another eighteen wheeler stopped for construction on a bridge north of Marathon. The eighteen wheeler thus rear ended was pushed forward into the back of another semi stopped in front of him. The mess was so complicated that after they flew the culprit to Miami by helicopter, not, we are told, in danger of losing his life, the highway was closed in both directions for eight hours. Yup, eight hours on the only road into or out of town. Had you travel plans that day you would have been screwed. Welcome to my world, snow free but remember that stuff I mentioned about serpents in Paradise?

Better learn to keep hurricane supplies in your home year round because you can't eat the gorgeous views.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Good Citizen

I am one of those increasingly rare people who take pleasure from holding newsprint in their hands, and though an electronic subscription to the Key West Citizen costs half a paper one, I prefer to pay $102 a year for the plastic wrapped bundle that lands in my driveway before dawn. However I do believe there is trouble brewing for the hometown paper and I'm not happy. Beyond the fact that I like holding a paper I believe a community cannot be worth living in unless it has hometown journalism of which to boast. I suppose that marks me as a bit old fashioned but I remain unconvinced that electronic faffing can yet compete with career journalism. In short Key West would be less without

I hear a lot of criticism of the Key West Citizen and a lot of talk of "mullet wrapper" news, yet among the critics I talk to I am the only one that actually reads the daily paper. In the communications center at the police department where I work I am the only dispatcher who reads the paper. My colleagues, all younger than me, push the paper aside when I offer them a free read. So I end up not knowing who Duck Dynasty is or what the Cyrus singer did but I do know who the city commissioners are, and I do have some idea of the debate of the day in my city where I work and shop. It used to be that civic knowledge was believed to create better citizens but today I don't have a clue. Key West in the 21st century isn't the Athens of 26 centuries ago. Maybe ignorance finally is bliss, at least for the next generations.

When my wife taught high school students in a special ed class the Citizen delivered daily papers free and the kids lapped them up. When I was the same age in an English boarding school we got free papers in the common room but I paid for my own paper (I was a young conservative! I was at the bottom of the learning curve, what can I say?) and I suppose that is where my love of newspapers was nourished. I grew up watching my father harrumph over the paper news every morning and they say readers are trained by their parents. Apparently I was.

In the old days when papers were locally owned and published my first purchase when I stopped in a town to eat or sleep was to buy the local paper. Nowadays the corporate take over of America has wrecked the newspaper market as effectively as Walmart has wrecked community shopping. And newspapers have to figure out their internet future which is a huge headache. New Orleans' fabled Times-Picayune went to three day a week publishing to cut costs. This following epic reporting during and after Hurricane Katrina. What do papers have to do to succeed?

I'd like to think staying local will keep papers healthy and The Citizen has done that quite well till now. The departure of Editor Tom Tuell in September after twelve years at the helm worried me as change never seems to be for the better. The problem with Key West is that it's a bloody expensive place to retire and accumulated wisdom drains away from this city as artisans, professionals and community leaders who aren't millionaires go out to pasture. Key West's loss is Appalachia's gain historically speaking as people who worked here seem to like to retire in Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia, more affordable communities that benefit from the retirees' civic mindedness.
The first and harshest sign of change was the closure of Solares Hill, historically a vigorous pre-internet voice questioning the perceived wisdom, it used to be the city' bi-weekly voice that carried forward community consciousness about the "good old days" and connected them to the evolving and always ethical present, as was. Indeed, such was the vigor of the press in those days The Citizen took observer status as Solares Hill and The Blue Paper wrestled Key West's demons in the ring of public opinion. David Ethridge is gone to his reward and Dennis Reeves Cooper has yielded Key West The News to Internet status under new leaders. Wherein he offered his own recollections last September as the final edition of Solares Hill rolled out:The Blue Paper | THE DAY THE BLUE PAPER ALMOST TOOK OVER SOLARES HILL.

I noticed the Citizen's decline when the letters section was demoted to Sundays only. Granted a lot of Tuell era letter writers were a conclave of right wing nutters, Cuban exiles, land use freaks and anti-Communist conspiracy theorists but they were local voices and the Citizen was an equal opportunity page for self expression. I got a few letters published but I preferred to read what my neighbors were thinking and reserve my long windedness for mine own page. That's all gone. Mandy Miles' inoffensively cheerful Tan Lines column, was relegated to the editorial page and lost its particular title for a while. Then it came back to the front page title free. The new editor seemed keen to make changes without taking the pulse of the readership first which deepened my gloom about the paper's future. I also noticed the lack of local coverage of the effects of the shut down of the Federal government. I saw no local stories about how federal workers were coping, closures of parks and the like. One might ascribe that to political motivations I suppose, but it just looked to me like sloppy journalism of the big national story. Maybe I missed it? How do I sell the paper to my colleagues now? I don't. I read the paper at home and mull it over and wonder what narrow vision one has of a world without local news.

I keep reading, wondering what I am missing more than ever. Key West is a difficult town to write about honestly because it is small, the people in charge have long memories and a death grip on ways to earn a living here. I know the Citizen which is actually family owned walks that fine line every day but I keep hoping there is a fiery, smart, diplomatic and cheerful editor out there somewhere to take the paper, with all its faults, back to Tuell-land. The more time passes the more this reader misses his steady hand on the tiller of hard pressed local printed news.

More of Mandy Miles' Tan Lines: Only in Key West

The Blue Paper | Key West The Newspaper