Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dogs In Key West

I have been thinking more than usual about my relationship with Cheyenne, in the confusing days of our move from house to house. But living with Cheyenne has a broader impact on my life than simply watching her stress out, alongside my wife and I, as we upended our lives. Dogs are everywhere in the Keys and in Key West the fond belief is that the city is dog friendly.
There are plenty of people who leave their dogs on chains in the yard, Stock Island is full of them, and dogs abandoned outdoors all night plague neighborhoods everywhere. Barking is an incessant problem, and if you live on a speck of dirt not ringing to the sound of unloved and  undisciplined companion animals then you are lucky. Not every dog owner understands dogs are social animals anxious to live in the family and eager to get orders from the leader of the pack, consequently there are far too many yards occupied by dogs half forgotten serving life sentences behind bars barking desperately for attention. Cheyenne is not one of them, though she was in a previous life.
The SPCA does a great job of keeping unwanted animals and they are building a new hurricane resistant facility on College Road, but they still have to deal with peculiar attitudes toward the value of unwanted pets. I have posted this previously but it bears repeating...

During my young adult years I was even more restless than I am now, living on boats, traveling by motorcycle always unsure where I was going to be living next year so I never had a dog. Thus my first encounter with the world of coping with pets in Key West came after we sailed for a couple of years from California to Key West with two large dogs. Seen here ready to go ashore to greet coconut collectors in the Kuna Yala region of Panama's Caribbean coast:
That was a fun trip of course but it was tough traveling with dogs and many a day I wished I could see just a little less of all those countries twice a day every day on foot. But there we were,  with two hairy monsters who demanded to be walked and tired out every day. They were not natural sailors but they got to see more of Central America and the Caribbean than most humans you know.  The ease and simplicity of life ashore  in Key West with immediate access to places to walk was seductive. But I did wonder how we would cope with two energetic dogs in a place lacking the sort of forested trails we were used to hiking for hours on weekends in the cool, foggy Santa Cruz mountains, or the endless beaches and jungles of central America... we managed, as it happened, but the keys seemed too small to hold our hounds.
Even so for a dog walker like me who wants to offer my animal variety and stimulation it can be rather a chore trying to figure where to walk her every day. It has crossed my mind that housing a cat might be easier.
I like cats but my wife is allergic to them so we have never had a cat in our lives, which means about life with cats in the Keys I can't say much. I can say that I read lots of comments in the paper about cats versus wildlife, or chickens and the ever-fresh indoor/outdoor debate and all the usual neighborhood drama as found anywhere where people live cheek by jowl. Some people don't like cats, or prefer birds, and there are some who dislike dogs (inconceivable!) but usually it's the owners they don't much like, people whose dogs bark all the time and who walk their animals without plastic bags in their pockets. There's a lot to be said about the silence and dignity of native residents:
As odd as it may sound my biggest sacrifice for my dog is the requirement for me to drive a car much more than I otherwise would. Kind folk suggest a sidecar as a way to transport my dog but that would spoil my pleasure in two wheels and Cheyenne is not fond of open windows or open roofs in her cars. Besides often I leave Cheyenne in the car while I am busy so with a dog that shares my life car driving is for me, inevitable. And for one who would rather ride, and lives in the ideal climate that is a sacrifice.
As to whether or not Key West is unusually dog friendly I'm not sure. The State of Florida does allow dogs in outdoor public eating areas under certain complex rules but the old Key West where bars and restaurants winked and welcomed pets is long gone. On the other hand, compared to California where pets seem to be banned in every public space, Florida is very dog friendly. State parks welcome pets, except in buildings or on beaches (thank owners who can't pick up after their animals) so Fort Zachary is available and even though the Bahia Honda rangers will give you and your dog the stink eye at the gate you can walk your dog there too, just not on the beaches. If you have your own boat you can take your dog to Fort Jefferson National Park to run round the outside but not inside the fort. No dogs on the ferry.
I don't know if there is any correlation between the loneliness of emigration from a familiar place to a strange new town, but everyone seems to have pets in the Keys. And merchants recognize the potential so there are lots of events and parties and contests to keep pet owners happy, socialized and spending money.
As for walks...I see a lot of dog owners walking in the same place at the same time each day. My dog stands around and acts bored if she isn't in the mood to walk where I take her. Over the past five years I have come to understand that she does not find walks in the woods terribly interesting. It always seems to happen to me but my dogs prefer the smells and stimulation of the that's where Cheyenne goes when I have business in Key West. I prefer walking the back country, just as I prefer to live on a canal in the suburbs to life crowded on a city street. My Labrador would prefer city life, poor thing.
Finding somewhere to live is another issue. My own experience renting our new place in Cudjoe, 23 miles from Key West has illustrated the difficulty of succeeding when seeking a home in a  very tight renter's market. We had several advantages, inasmuch as we were already here and could meet landlords that same day; we had the five grand needed to move in and we did not need to ask for favors paying the first last and deposit...We have long track records in our jobs and I am sure my job with the police gave me added respectability in our search. Ten years as a teacher with tenure looks good on the spouse's resume too. Having a dog was not a problem for our landlord...we were lucky.
I have discovered the term "large dog" is a way of discriminating against breeds perceived to be aggressive. So if you have to find a place to live having a friendly breed can't hurt! I did notice a lot more insistence on "No Pets" in the city. It's not impossible to find pet friendly landlords but having a pet is decidedly one strike against you in Key Weśt particularly. Some people turn to boat living to control their environment and that could work. I am not a believer in the need for a large yard to exercise a dog. Dogs need social interaction to be happy and walks are our time to bond. Having a yard is nice but one benefit of dog ownership for lazy old me is having an excuse to be outdoors...
There must be lots of pets in the a Keys because there are tons of vets. Marathon has a 24 hour hospital and pet stores are everywhere. National name brand stores are in Miami but there is absolutely no need to drive that far for a pet. Sometimes people wonder out loud about the basics of Keys life so, as obvious as it sounds let me say out loud that all foods, facilities and amenities that are available elsewhere are found in the Keys. There are also lots of dog parks as these islands though apparently remote are entirely integrated with the mainland desire to spend billions on the comfort of companion animals. As for buying a pet, well, that is beyond my understanding as other people discard pets like they are used tissues. You can rescue any brand or model of dog you care to mention and they are hopelessly grateful for the chance to please you after a spell on death row.

Every day I am grateful for Cheyenne even though she has her quirks, God knows, and I am willing to ride less and walk more to keep her happy. It's just as well as undeniably dog ownership does make life more complicated as well as more rewarding. I am beyond reproach when spotted walking neighborhoods, like a suspicious person were it not for the presence of my lumbering dog. A man alone is odd; a dog walker is normal, laudable even.
So even though Cheyenne has a mind of her own, and frequently keeps me off the Bonneville, I spent a great deal of time reassuring her during the move that she was coming with us. She seems to have learned to relax in our new home, as spotted by my wife after I left for work:

Shih Tzu Rescue
Florida Keys SPCA
Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida
-Help Animals- and -Pet Shelters- with a free click!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Finnegan's Wake Is Closing

I am heartbroken.  June 19th will be Finnegan's Wake's last day of operations, confirmed by a confoundedly cheerful employee I spoke to on the phone. I am bereft. I was there just recently having a long lunch with George who kindly posed in his dapper sun hat outside the place.
In many respects Finnegan's Wake represents, or represented, the best type of pub from the British Isles, in my opinion. We in the Colonies have retained a largely fictionalized  version of the infamous British pub, once a place where people went to sip (warm) beer and chat with neighbors while their Labrador curled up at their feet. Nowadays pubs tend to be more like bars with entertainment, and less like country clubs. Finnegan's Wake did yield to the times inasmuch as a few television screens popped up on the walls but the atmosphere was how I liked it, quiet, dark and friendly. With an excellent, dare I say unrivaled, range of draught beers from Ireland and Britain.     
I have to say the food at Finnegan's Wake has been excellent too, notwithstanding the reputation, largely undeserved, of  modern food from that part of the world. Finnegan's Wake is not the only game in town so it seems I shall have to break the fondest habit of this lifetime and try -gasp- somewhere different when I want a quiet pint. Hmm. I have to say I was also delighted that my favorite, now also defunct  food blogger liked the place: Prissy In Paradise.

None of which means a thing when the decision has been made to close. Who knows why, but one has to accept it's time is up. Another thing I don't know is why the apostrophe. I hadn't actually noticed it but years ago reading Joy Williams' superb Guide To The Florida Keys she made some tart remark about the addition of the apostrophe to what might otherwise be taken as a reference to James  Joyce's seminal work. I really don't give a toss about that. I do give a toss about bangers and mash and proper draught beer that doesn't taste like the battery acid flavored modern craft IPA beers that young people love (and are also available at Finnegan's for the perverse). All that matters is that  after June 19th it's all over. Change sucks. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Crack Of Dawn

It's been too long but I got downtown for a dog walk and a few other chores. We made the most of a cloudy morning and Cheyenne took full advantage of her reward. She's been patient these past weeks as our routine has been twisted out of recognition.
Stay away from the streets and when you come back things are trudging on as always. Your absence does not stop or change the stream of daily activities. I'm not sure if that is disturbing or reassuring. But it's a reminder that the world we see through our eyes, is not the reality of the world seen through other eyes.
Key West is real enough, but what that reality might be I doubt any one of us can say with any certainty. Or at least we can believe we are certainly right, but this ever so desirable island remains a different reality for every pair of eyes that views it and tries to understand and in the end, judge it. Check out the comment I got from Ralph Alan reproduced below. I think it's one, among several reasons why I keep blogging. Key West inspires a sense of ownership among people. You'll often hear people say they came for a vacation and never left, or came back as soon as they could or have kept Key West in their hearts ever since. Those memories never die. Check it out:
Mike, Boy have you got it all wrong, do you ever talk to any real locals? Even an “old timer” like me who used to live through the full on winter and then through the rest of the year we really enjoyed the good times when we were left alone over the summer. The only people who were not happy were outsiders who were not from here, we enjoyed the peace and quiet times for many, many generations. Long before Bill Conckle and Tony Falcone ever visited the island and rented the empty space in the Kress building, my other half worked at Swift’s, which later was renamed Photosonics after Paul Levy a Jamaican gentleman rented the place from Ed Swift with the help of funding from his brother Desmond Levy. At the time Swift’s was across the street from the LaConcha hotel. A few years later Ed Swift raised the rent and I built out a new store for Paul Levy right next to LaConcha which Paul rented from “Chet” (Len Chetkin) who owned Carpet & Casuals and was the Stepfather, of the Freebarry.
Over the years I have come to understand that I grew up in a place much like Key West, an isolated mountain community where everyone knew everyone and us kids grew up with "nothing to do" and in a state of total physical freedom. So when I came to Key West when I was a young adult I wanted something completely different. I wanted to be at the center of the known universe, so I settled in California surrounded by Art and Culture and political debate, where reality was freshly imagined by strangers every day. I wanted to get lost in a world where no one knew my name and everyone was so busy rearranging their own realities my past mattered not one jot. Californians are navel gazers par excellence and no one ever asked "where are you from?" which is the perennial opener in conversations on bar stools across the Southernmost City.
I wish I knew how to be a better blogger for these entrancing islands. They will mold themselves to whatever reality you choose to impose on them for however long you choose to impose on them. They can be a vast open air party zone all alcohol and fancy dress or gatherings of dinner guests, endless fishing, whatever your tropical dream is from wherever you sit and wonder. For my wife the islands have been a reprieve from endless arthritis. For me who hates the cold I freely admit I would not be here were these the Aleutian Islands. But there is more than just the weather to enjoy.
I am no great drinker, I loathe parties and social gatherings among strangers which makes it sound paradoxical that I like to here when you think you know Key West as just a party town. The side of life here that appeals to me is that there are no obligations, such that when I travel among people who feel they owe society a nod of respect, in their dress or maintenance of worldly possessions, I feel out of place. I am not very knowledgeable about fashion but I know when I am out of place among the well dressed.
I can sit on the steps of a bar on Duval, out of the rain my back to the shuttered doors, my dog resting at my side and I can watch the world go by for twenty minutes and I too can be a bum for those few minutes.
I used to wonder at people who view Key West as one giant drinking hole. Over the years I have come to accept that my reality is a good deal different. I love the history, the combination of small town ease and winter cultural events, the long hot summers in the water contrasted with the road trips in the US and abroad to different worlds. To me it seems like a horrible waste to come to Key West just to sit at a bar and drink. Road trips yes, but I like coming home to the diversity of my small town.
Cheyenne would I am sure rather live further North, but this is her reality too. If it were just a matter of staying warm we could be living on mainland Florida which would probably work better for a furry Labrador, but it's the way of life, as expensive as it is, that keeps us here. No malls, no freeways, and despite the encroaching chain stores, there is still a sense of place. It is eroding, no doubt, but erosion over time is universal. People who say Key West was different, better, thirty years ago could say the same about anyplace USA.
My reality is always going to be wrong, simply because it is my reality. But The Keys can still be a blank slate for those determined to make their own mark on it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

From The Archives:

Some random Key West pictures from summer a few years ago. Seems suitable for a quiet, no word Sunday.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

My Czech Friend, A Jawa 350 Hack


Years ago when I was a youngster riding exotic Italian motorcycles in England there were quite a few cheap East European imports, MZ two strokes from East Germany and Jawa motorcycles from Czechoslovakia. The Berlin Wall came down and all the economic advantages of Communist imports evaporated with the countries they came from. Except...MZ came back as a German brand with modern machines and were even imported briefly to he US. Jawa on the other hand is still going strong with a niche market in England, much the way the Indian brand Royal Enfield is creating its own niche in the First World. Of course a two stroke 350cc twin is not going to set the US on fire  but when I saw this picture on Real Classics I was reminded once again how nostalgic I am getting about motorcycles in my old age. A Jawa 350 is good for 80 miles per hour flat out, but with a sidecar, I wonder if it will cruise at 60? Cheyenne and I aren't lightweights either...

Classic Motorcycle News
If you desire three wheels on your wagon and are seeking traditional style, then F2 Motorcycles have just the job: their new Jawa Retro Sidecar Combination. This uses the current Jawa 350 Retro two-stroke motorcycle matched with a purpose-designed all-steel sidecar. The sidecar is mounted high and with very little axle lead, a set-up much loved back in the golden days of the sidecar. Back then bikes were relatively slow, so lightweight, low speed steering was more important than high speed straight line stability. Modern sidecars tend to be mounted lower and much further forward, but F2 wanted to recreate the feel as well as the look of yesteryear's outfits.

The outfit as pictured costs  6200 pounds in England, almost ten grand in the US, though I have noticed over the years that prices tend to be equal in each market so I'd like to think that in the US if this delight ever came here -not likely!- it might cost $6200. That would be interesting... And if you are in the tiny minority that might agree check this page out: Jawa UK

My buddy Jiri, he who keeps my two wheelers  running at his shop on Stock Island grew up near Brno in Czechoslovakia under Soviet rule and he longed for the bikes I was able to see and ride in the West. Nowadays he likes to ride on the track at Homestead  and elsewhere and his engine of choice is a four cylinder Japanese classic style. He is not fond of two strokes, so while he thinks my preference for the twin cylinder Bonneville is eccentric, my desire for a two stroke Vespa fills him with horror. I call it my Trabant, the infamous two stroke East German car, the greatest wheels a Communist citizen could aspire to in the years before 1989. 

So, yes, my desire for Jawa 350 Retro is  nothing more than a fantasy. but for those too young to remember two stroke touring bikes, simplicity was their virtue, and the older I get the more simplicity seems desirable. Hence my desire for my two stroke Vespa, which I hope will become real in a  few short weeks.