Sunday, June 8, 2014

From The Archives: Cudjoe And The Fort

To mark our safe landing on Cudjoe I have dug up these old pictures of the blimp on Cudjoe Key.
The  blimp known as Fat Albert has always been a mysterious object hovering over the Lower Keys, run by the Air Force and supposedly seeking out air and sea traffic in the Florida Straits. Last year budget cuts threatened its future until the weather people at NOAA offered to pay for it. After that offer was made nothing more was heard and there it is still, checking for I-don't-know-what.
There is a surf shop in Key West which is odd as there is no surf thanks to the reef and shallow surrounding waters.
 On windy days there is windsurfing though.
 I found these pictures of the early days of what has become a familiar sight at key west Bight.

Big sandwiches and small prices. How could this not succeed? Except that there are more coffee shops than you can count...
I took this picture of these colorful houses on Big Coppitt alongside the highway because they were at the heart of a controversy reported in the paper. Habitat for Humanity organized the construction and the neighbors did a great job of trying to stop those people from getting a  foothold. Poverty makes no friends. However the homes are still there, looking fine and I wonder what the fuss was all about. Especially as Big Coppitt is hardly a manicured community. 
 The constant in my essays, here seen putting my wife's exercise mat to good use:
 Really good use:
These two Labradors worry people sometimes and they call the police to "do something." Oddly enough they are very happy and as far as I know they do return to earth when they feel like it. It is disconcerting though to look up and see them peering down.

 They may not be your mother but they have high expectations of you:
Here follow some pictures of Fort Jefferson, seventy miles west of Key West with a rather pleasant campground on the island.
 Millions of bricks...
...and during the day, people. Then the ferry takes them home and the island is occupied by campers and boaters.
 A good place to wake up and brew up.
And a fine spot to get a private sunset.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Rain Clouds

The weather has sucked lately, and when I say that, it would have been great for field crops or aquifers if we had any, but for people looking for fun in the sun it has been feeling like Seattle around here. That is to say, if it ever got much over eighty degrees in Seattle on an overcast day.
I enjoy the wild overhead sky sculptures created by summer thunder, but I am a fussy bastard and I like the rain and thunder and cloudiness to do their thing and then bugger off. As it is it feels like its been an endless week of mostly overcast skies with a brief sunny break on Thursday.
Traffic has continued intense on the highway at all hours and even on this walk three cycling old timers pedaled by with looks of grim determination. They more closely resembled the snowbirds we are used to seeing in winter. This time of year is when everybody is supposed to bugger off and instead it seems things have changed and year round crowds are the new norm.
I read a report issued by the Social Security Administration on the median wage which they calculate in some abstruse way, multiplying numbers and dividing them to come up with Half Of Americans Made Less Than $27,000 Last Year - Business Insider. Whether it's half or one third of people with jobs (never mind those who disappeared from the official unemployment numbers), it gets even more surprising to see how many people visit the Keys. My wife and I are planning a road trip next month, to visit friends perhaps to pick up my antique Vespa now almost restored, and I wonder at how lucky we are.
I love looking out at the flat water in these light conditions. I am hoping Robert will be ready to go boating soon. I feel we have been away from the water too long and he has very kindly offered to get the neglected Yamaha sea worthy. It's a great moving gift.
So much drama for an all too brief hour long walk.
Cheyenne enjoyed the gray drizzle-filled days even though it wasn't as cool as she might have liked. And even though she doesn't much like the rain we took advantage to get out in it.
I wonder how annoying it must be to vacation in the land of perpetual sunshine and then see this. Now that's unfortunate.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Art Imitates Life In Key West

One  day I will inventory  every single convenience store in the city of Key West. Until then I will marvel how many of them there are and how do they all stay in business? Which is something that could also be said of coffee shops. This one, pictured below, was where I used to get coffee when I was living on my boat and doing laundry in Habana Plaza at the only public, air conditioned laundry (they claimed.) in the city. Back then it was an old dude serving Cuban coffee; now according to Yelp reviewers its not:
It's exactly what you'd expect from a Conch coffee place. There is a window and a lady behind the window. You place your order. There are chairs provided for you to sit and wait. Maybe there's an old guy reading the paper, or a lady on her way to work. Everyone is happy, but quiet, as it is still morning, and not time for a lot of talking just yet.
I took a picture really early in the morning after work as I needed the photo for an online scooter tag effort.
 If you want a local "cuban" coffee shop, than this is the spot where you can find the locals. It is in the corner spot of the little strip mall, and you can see the local cuban men sitting outside of this spot every morning talking, and laughing about current events, the old ways, and etc... 

This spot is locally know for their "Cafe Con Leche" and a few other items.

A Key West coffee shop without con leche would be odd;  some of them call it a latte,.Why this reviewer puts inverted commas around the word "cuban" I couldn't say. It's Cuban and so is the food. Key West's ethnic food. And gossip.
Word of mouth was that Chef was a movie wiorth seeing. Held over they said at the Tropic Cinema, because apparently people wanted to see Jon Favreau's funky little movie about a food truck.
My wife told me later that one of her friends had warned us off saying it was most likely too sentimental for hard core movie goers like us (or me more likely). I liked the movie, even though the plot was as thin and translucent as rice paper, a shortcoming made up for by the brazen good will and charm of all concerned. The Chef in question gets into a Twitter war with a food critic, he loses his job and gets a food truck. On the way he builds a relationship with his unfortunately named son Percy and his ex-wife a  Cuban fire cracker with a heart of gold. Cuban sandwiches and fried plantains save his career, his family, his friendships in linear and predictable fashion. You really should go and check it out, because not every movie this year will feature a road trip in a Grumman bread truck.
Tropic Cinema is a beacon of light in Key West, not that the city is a cultural black hole or anything like that. But the Tropic, like the daily paper is a stand out physical survivor in a world gone digital. I mean if you wait a while Chef will appear on Netflix on disc or streaming so technically you could just stay home. But with a theater like this why would you?
So, how cool is it to live close by  real Cuban coffee and real Cuban sandwiches mixed in with real Cuban gossip, m'bubba, while at the same time  having a first rate actual live action movie theater thriving in town which allows you to go and see a movie about a Cuban food truck. Actually it turned out to be a pain in the ass as I had to sit through two hours of delicious food prep only to get up and go to work. I am quite proud of myself for not breaking down and ordering a Cuban and a con leche for a midnight meal from Sandy's that night. 
 I really like this picture of Cheyenne settling in to the new home while I'm at work. So I'm posting it again.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

How Key West Works

I keep circling the Pez Garden when I am down by Mallory Square wondering if I could ever undertake to photograph the three dozen heads parked in there. I keep coming to the conclusion that would be boring so I am toying with some crazy idea about incorporating pictures of the heads with their related bits of historic Key West. Sounds like work so don't hold me to it. 
Trash has been a hot topic lately. The city cut pick up this year to once weekly instead of twice. Half the city had a coronary on the spot arguing loudly that weekly pick up would leave piles of rotting garbage on the streets and in people's yards... and as loudly as the other lot argued that never happened the battle lines are drawn. Most recently a majority of the City Commission voted to reverse the \once a week pick up and return to twice a week. That decision gave the other side an instant coronary as they said the once a week pick up encouraged city resident to recycle and the city's recycling rate tripled from seven percent of the waste stream to 21%. Not that anyone in charge cares. 
I titled this essay about work because if you go out early enough you will see people doing the stage management that makes the tourist experience possible. Cardboard boxes litter Duval Street and its offshoots before eight in the morning. Here seen on Caroline Street:
The amount of stuff packed into recyclable cardboard boxes boggles the mind. cardboard I do see flattened and packaged for reuse. 

Cheyenne finds them fascinating these packages lined up for busy fausto's workers on Fleming Street:
Key West is among the most expensive Florida cities, especially when you measure average income as a ratio of real estate costs. To come to key West and "get a job" is not a solution to your living needs. Most people have two or three jobs. I get decent city medical benefits and a defined benefit pension plan, the city is solvent as is the state of Florida miraculously, unlike states Up North, but most workers around here get neither. I also get overtime and unlike Walmart, the city pays me handsomely for my extra work. Thank you Key West.
It's not uncommon to hold down two or three positions, almost full time, maybe full time, maybe not. It must be hell hiring help in Key West. Young people come for the fun and working doesn't necessarily compute, so flaking is  common. One way to keep a job and even get promoted is to simply show up. I have heard legions of stories of reliable people showing up for their second shift and getting the Keys with brief instructions to open the store in the morning. It sounds cute but remember you are going to be working with these people. Can you handle it? 
The advertising slogans make me laugh "youth through opulence" sounds like a slogan for someone other than I want to hang out with. "Tap All Potential" is a rather banal real estate page ( I had hoped for some type of extravagant mystical self improvement nonsense). On the other hand if you choose to live in Key West you get a lot for your money...check this blurb out:
Discover a city where real estate titles date back to the Kings of Spain.
Stroll the palm-lined streets and discover gingerbread mansions, tin-roofed conch houses, the John Audubon House and Ernest Hemingway's home.
Walk in the footsteps of Thomas Edison, Lou Gehrig, Harry Truman, and Tennessee Williams.

And Kenny Chesney the singer gets amention for his three minute residence on Caroline Street as I recall. 
You may walk in the footsteps of giants of art and culture but you end up in a small town  with a lot of garbage cans. And remember every bottle of beer wine and liquor  you drain in Key west does not get recycled: it goes into the Pompano beach landfill two hundred miles north of here. Bars and restaurants do not recycle as a general rule, thougha  few stalwarts do break with tradition and collect glass. And if you want a  job check out the drug store at the old Strand Theater. They seem to be hiring!
Jimmy Buffett's story of  how he got his start in Key West is a Walter Mitty dream, yet it was a True Story! There are times and places and people willing to grab the chance and Key West has been that place over the centuries. In talking with one dedicated Parrothead I understand that Jimmy Buffett started the whole thing but the gatherings and fund raising and relatively innocent fun at casa marina every year carry on more despite him than because of him these days. I have  no strong feelings one way or the other, except that I prefer reality to day dreams. Mostly.
See? I told you they recycle cardboard! The green cans with the yellow lids are the old recycling containers and were replaced by the blue ones on the grounds that a lot of people thought the green and yellow ones were ugly, and thus a deterrent to recycling. I continue to be astonished by what matters to my neighbors on this small vulnerable planet.
Watching the garbage truck maneuvering on Rose Lane between Duval and Simonton I was reminded of my years driving trucks in San Francisco. Just as narrow but also steep with cable cars and bicycle messengers mixed in. Those were exciting and exhausting times in my life until my wife agreed to take off sailing. Then things got really exciting.
I watched the early risers wander through the debris of the night before with eyes only for each other and stood in front of the Bull apparently planning the next night out. I hope they tip generously as Florida has some truly antiquated laws about employee compensation and tipping. I think its $3:02 and I'll bet no one offers to pay them more. Mind you the work must pay because people line up to do it.
Remember that job at the pharmacy? A two bedroom apartment in a converted Victorian on Simonton Street for $1900. Hope you don't have a car or need parking and make a little extra for utilities. The balance between work and cost of living is somewhat skewed.

And don't forget when you live here it isn't all fun and games; there are rules.
And there are mysteries. there is a candy store and in it there are frozen bracelets which sound uncomfortable at best and kinky at worst. 
And then there are cruise ships. Whether they bring work or pollution or both or whatever I don't know. But they come and keep coming.
Maybe you could get a job tying up cruise ships? No wait a minute, Curt does that and also sells conch fritters and lives on a boat anchored far out in the harbor. Two jobs and no hot running water. That's life in Key West.