Sunday, June 15, 2014

From The Archives

Last year's King and Queen of Fantasy Fest enjoying the public fruits of the most successful Aids Help fundraising of the previous year: walking in the Masquerade March, as the local's parade is now known.

It's June but before you know it we will be butting up against the next go round as explained here: Official Fantasy Fest Website - Key West, Florida. Last year the endless road work caught flak:

Already I hear comments relating yo future deadlines saying stuff like " the time it's Fantasy Fest." For some people the whole event has clipped away from its roots in good natured fun and it has become a public irritation. One cannot disagree entirely with that assessment but too many people make too much money off it to imagine it will be abolished.

I find Fantasy Fest to be a car wreck, the sort of thing one cannot avoid watching but in which one does not wish to participate.

There are other more wholesome holidays, of a more traditional nature that are celebrated in Key West.

I am glad I have a couple of coconut palms at our new house. Fresh coconuts are a pleasant by product of life in the Keys; they aren't native trees and they produce excessive amounts of foliage, but the nuts taste good. And there are enough to spare it seems:

Richard in frigid Alaska had to moan about a shortage of sunsets. There's only one a day in Key West like anywhere else so I had been rationing them, thus I hope this sunrise will do:

Can't leave Cheyenne out:

The backwoods delights of the Keys:

And the urban:

The white boots of commercial fishing:

The fiddle faddle needed to take care of charters:

Life in Key West, hanging out together and watching:



I note in passing my nephews have decided to adapt their farming lives to the latest trend in bed and breakfast travel by opening what Italians call an agri-turismo Turing the farm into a bed and breakfast type arrangement. which boggles my mind just a bit. When I was a child we had no paced streets, never mind swimming pools and now these youngsters take pizza delivery for granted. Today they are opening their new enterprise in what has become these days a fashionable corner of Italy, all the rage they say, is Umbria, a region that has existed as long as I can remember, in the shadow if Tuscany.

I was there last September

Watching the work of transforming the place from farm to residence with my sister.


I wish I could be there now. But it will be there next year too.

Less farming, more tourism. I suppose that was why I emigrated so many years ago.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Southern Sausage

On night shift a lunch break found me in the scary food aisle at Winn Dixie. Officer Sealey agreed to take me on a ride along if I agreed to sample his childhood foods. I had previously introduced him to curry, an experience he has yet to forget and he wanted to reciprocate. I carried a jar of pickled sausages tucked away in his patrol car as we ventured forth to check his beat.

Darnell grew up in Key West and joined the department a year after I did. He's settling down, a first time home buyer, considering selling his crotch rocket for a more "sensible" motorcycle, he is a mainstay of night shift. He has worked as a detective, he knows everyone and he is one of those officers whose radio traffic is sketchy but whose response times are uncannily swift when needed. I am always reassured to see him on the night's roster.

He did try to get me to taste pickled pigs feet but when I declined, adamantly, he admitted he didn't actually eat them either! I held the jar with a smile but I tasted the sausage...

I am not cut out to be a police officer, as I greatly enjoy the anonymity of dispatching, out of sight and taking abuse over the phone. Officers think we are crazy, hunkered down in a room all night, never getting to hear the end of the story. I think they are crazy as officers instinctively run to the scene of the problem, not away from it. And simply walking through a supermarket with an armed uniformed officer draws far too many stares for my comfort level. Nevertheless the sausages were excellent, indigestible perhaps but they tasted good and spicy with their vinegar infused outer coating. I recommend them. But only eat one, as the second one will hurt later...I know.

When you discover how complex it is to make drinkable coffee out of an inedible berry you ask yourself who figured this stuff out? What pushed a human to cook the berries and wash them and all that stuff, to produce liquid mud? Weird. On the other hand I wonder who first looked at a perfectly serviceable sausage and then thought to dunk it in a vat of vinegar. Inspired choice, stranger.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Odd Choices

Seen through a rain spattered windshield Key West's main road, US Highway 1 lightly disguised as "The Boulevard" barely hints at the singular style of architecture downtown. The apparently endless collection of dreary chain motels, fast food outlets and familar nationwide stores seen on the mainland is duplicated on the landward side of what was once a causeway curving out to sea. This unremarkable scene should come as no surprise to the first time driver through the Keys as urban planning is nowhere to be seen along the entire chain of 108 miles of bridges, towns, villages, convenience stores and tacky roadside signage. That De Moya Group was chuntering about in the rain this week desperately trying to meet next month's impossible deadline comes as no surprise either, to the cynical observer of the stop and go style of construction along these two tortured miles of critical highway. The stop style of work got so bad the State was called in to ask the contractor why they had torn up the street and buggered off to more lucrative the grand scheme of things Key West's modest forty million dollar road wreckage was small beer to a company with connections yielding work in the hundreds of millions. And now, thanks to months of stalling they are working day and night, rain or shine, trying to catch up and get their incentive bonus. None of which seems to guarantee a flood-free roadway as was the original intent of this prolonged torture.

Word filtered out last week, to avid readers of the daily paper that developer Pritam Singh had offered to buy the long defunct restaurant on Stock Island from the hapless county commissioners who own what used to be called Hickory House and should long since have been renamed White Elephant.

They were nicknamed the Gang of Three, the majority of the five member board who took decisions incomprehensible to rational thinkers who subsequently voted them out of office en masse. This was their nadir, spending more than three million dollars to buy a restaurant, pleasant enough in its day, for three times it's rational value, to someone's private benefit. Best of all the idiots had no idea whatsoever what to do with the thing, so there it sits crumbling into Cow Key Channel.

In a brilliant bid, low enough to cause those who remember to gnash their tax funded teeth, yet high enough to be tempting to end a hopeless saga, Singh has offered $2.1 million to take the disaster off the county's hands. It's enough to help fund the gorgeous new fire station just up the street. Perhaps these commissioners can help put this idiocy behind us all. I am told a similar plan spending five million dollars to buy a waterfront wreck in the Upper Keys may actually have been a Good Idea. Color me sceptical...

It's not just the Board Of County Commissioners, the School Board have done their best to enliven the leaden atmosphere this week, by extending the Superintendent's contract by two more years. Which decision came as a complete surprise (Sunshine Violations anyone? ...anyone?) as the contract has thirteen months to go, and best of all there is the minor matter of an election scheduled for this Fall. Even the newspaper was forced to point out this could have been an end run around the will of the voters

Best of all school scores took a dive in the latest report so once again we see the top dog getting rewarded for poor performance. One has to hope the voters are paying attention again, but this maneuver is hard to miss and impossible to defend. Change is good we remind ourselves.

I saw this surprisingly international sentiment on a scooter reminding us that every now and again a truly decent politician does manage to climb to the top. And for the less dedicated, similar sentiments are available in exchange for filthy lucre. Nelson "Madiba" Mandela Bumper Sticker available singly. Hmm.

Meanwhile the Key West City Commission is inching towards a most excellent decision in the field of ambulance service. American Medical Response lost the last bid as they wanted better than $600,000 compensation off the top to cover medically indigent transport. A ride to the hospital across the hour lies of Key West is about the most expensive cab ride you can imagine, somewhere around twelve hundred dollars I"m told. As an aside a helicopter ride to Miami, 45 minutes in the air is about 500 bucks a minute. Don't get sick if you aren't a one percenter.

The current ambulance service has had enough of Key West and is only continuing month to month service to help the city find time to figure out its new options. A consultant has told the city in no uncertain terms that creating its own service as part of the fire department is the only way to go and the commissioners seem to agree. There are naysayers in the newspaper who fear the city won't be able to collect enough to cover the bills, which seems unlikely to me but even were that case the cost will be far less than paying a private company to haul the sick across town.

As a dispatcher I cannot wait for the change, as having fire and rescue consolidated will make my job easier, not by much but every little bit helps. The citizens of Key West though, should be begging for this change. If they don't believe me they should check the response times of Fire engines compared to the response times of ambulances. The fire department will also pay paramedics more than the eleven bucks an hour by the glorious free enterprise service. I cannot believe how dedicated their employees are on such meager pay, less than half what I earn and you don't want me standing over you with a scalpel as you start circling the drain. I like living in the county but Key West will have the best emergency response team anywhere after these changes are made. The sooner the better.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Gary And The Crepe

I thought mine was a brilliant idea, and as usual seeking out new things to try and Gary visiting from Nashville was nothing loathe so we arranged to meet at a place called the Key West Pub. This corner spot on the 1100 block of Duval has been a lot of things a piano bar, a southern restaurant and now a sandwich shop apparently.

I looked at the outside menu and saw a list of these sandwiches that have become absurdly popular and frankly I'm not sure why. Sliders I told Gary who hadn't previously met them, are small hamburger buns thus tripling the amount of bread you eat. Besides a menu that advises anything cooked " perfection," annoys me as it implies that getting food done right is above and beyond what a customer might otherwise expect. If you aren't cooking things properly all the time don't draw attention to yourself.

We were looking for something other than fresh buns, as though stale buns might be an option, secret recipes, and signature dishes and luckily I spotted another yellow building over Gary's shoulder. Banana Café French Bistro Key West, has been on Duval Street for donkey's years, in one location or another. This spot has held up well, you can eat upstairs on the terrace or down in the airy sunny dining room. I chose indoor seating...

...but we ended up perched perfectly between indoor shade and outdoor airiness. Iced tea and conversation flowed. Gary visits the Galleon for a few weeks every year and does those things most residents forget to carry out in the daily ebb and flow of life, which is take Key West at face value. As he says Nashville is a great place to live only lacking an ocean. And I have to confess I haven't been doing a good job of enjoying the water myself, so Gary has me there. He looked pleased about that even as I explained my boat should be seaworthy soon and I will be boating once again.

As we waited for our tomato and basil soup I imparted a swimming secret after Gary confessed he got a pair of rubber gardening shoes suspiciously resembling my Crocs. He said they are brown in color and surprisingly comfortable (he could have asked me and spared himself years of self denial) and I told him to try swimming in them. He looked surprised but agreed to the experiment. Swimming in Crocs is excellent as they provide just enough effort-free vertical flotation to prevent drowning.

We ordered crêpes which French menu Gary finessed by pointing, thus letting us pretend for a moment we were in Martinique under a properly tropical Francophone sun. My cream sauce and peppercorns hid a robust fully cooked hamburger after I advised the server I prefer my meat properly dead, not bloody and wriggling the way the French devour it. Gary had a Norwegian crepe filled with smoked salmon which he pronounced toothsome.

Then we sat back with strong iced tea and discussed local politics, Gary's interest always piqued by the way Key West seems to dis-function . I have opinions to spare so that was okay. I brought up the Facebook stuff that has been bugging me and he had wise advice on that front, roughly to the notion that electronically speaking we are pretty much screwed when it comes to privacy, and not to set too much stock by social media as a source of serious communication.

Lamenting the state of the world I advanced my increasing dissatisfaction with the state of national politics but he brought me up short arguing that you only get to bitch if you vote. If that's an inflexible rule I shall have to make my mark in a couple of years. On the other hand with two daughters in college the future Gary sees belongs to the next generation and he wisely figures they will carve their own way forward as suits them and their time. When we were young the old folks thought we were jumping off a cliff. Perhaps we were...well anyway here we are now.

So then we pulled ourselves together, swept aside the crumbs and stepped out into the heat of a proper June afternoon. Martinique it's not, luckily for us, but the sun felt tropical enough.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Supporting Highway One

Permit me to be astonished but the work alongside Highway One never seems to end. They dig up alongside the road and put down pipes. Then they fill it all in and pave it and put down grass sod. Then we wait a while before they dig it all up again and bugger about in the mud a bit longer, then they abandon them mess for a while then they pave the bike path again and on it goes. Why? Beats me.
The county was given an immutable deadline by the state to get sewers put in across the Keys, which deadline has shifted a bit owing to a lack of funds to support the 200 million dollar project, nevertheless after two decades of dawdling things have got serious and every single home faces disrupted roadways as they relentlessly dig and spread gray mud and dust absolutely everywhere. Had they agreed to do them twenty years ago the money would have flowed like water but these days the State and Feds are not so much into financial largesse so its a matter of squeezing cash from a very reluctant Congressional turnip. Still the work goes on bit by bit, irritating delay followed by irritating traffic delay

In these pictures we see the random placement of brightly colored earth movers along the Overseas Highway. At least they would move earth were they ever set in motion. They are busy building a seawall of some sort to sustain a sewer pipe they laid across the seabed across Niles Channel connecting Summerland Key to Ramrod Key. The idea is to put a pump station on Cudjoe Key and push all the effluent to a treatment plant so finally after decades of abuse the reef gets a reprieve and hopefully clearer water so the coral could thrive once again. Homeowners will end up amortizing the cost over 20 years with payments added to property taxes over that period. The cost per lot is supposed to be between 4500 and 7500 dollars depending on who you talk to. But the work must be done.

Cheyenne as usual managed to lead me astray on the simplest of walks. I stopped the car on the way home to get a picture of a disheveled sailboat I had wanted to photograph for some time. I hate seeing a boat with sails flopping and basically abandoned on the water.

Meanwhile Cheyenne went wandering off into the bushes alongside Niles Channel to do some of her own inimitable exploring, perhaps chasing large land crabs, through as rule she couldn't care less about wildlife. In any event I followed her down the embankment and came across what seemed to me to be seawalls from an earlier era. Henry Flagler built the railroad here around 1910 and the State of Florida, in an act of public works that is inconceivable today bought the rail bed in 1938 after a hurricane knocked the system out of action, and thus created the tenuous overseas roadway. So who planted these vertical planks I couldn't say but they strongly resembled in smaller version the vertical steel planks being inserted into the ground nearby...

As one more sign of modern decay the old Flagler bridge rebuilt apparently in 1943 during the war when the military needed to spend money for the War Effort, is being allowed to tumble into decay. Sad but inevitable. Quite a few of these bridges have been saved and some are part of the Heritage Bike Trail. Not this section which was split in the middle to allow taller boats under the modern 40-foot Niles Channel Bridge. Slow decay is our future if we are on the sidelines.

The good news is that decay is not part of the plan for those bits of our infrastructure that we are actually using. Flagler's bridges may be slipping away here and there but all this sewage madness, long overdue, is a project that is, one hopes, going to give the reef a chance. Every time I squeeze by more of those bloody orange barrels, the people with gulags, the dust that cakes my car, I remember what it's for, the biggest environmental project of my lifetime. Too bad the seas are acidifying and rising, but my waste will no longer be a part of the problem, and that has to count for something, I hope.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Big Pine Key

There was a cheerful comment I noticed a while back referring to our new home on Cudjoe to the effect that there might be new places to explore...I have been mulling that over and I am not sure that is at all the case!

These days I don't get to ride over the Niles Channel Bridge at dawn anymore as I live a few miles shy of the bridge coming from Key West. the interest of keeping my Very Important Dog happy I can drive over the bridge after I pick her up to take her to her old haunts. God knows she's been through enough change lately so I like to take her to her old familiar places.

It's getting light noticeably earlier in the morning and by 6:45 it's full daylight.

Eden Pines is tucked away off Key Deer Boulevard and for some reason Cheyenne loves walking here. It's a slow drive to Highway One from here which puts an earnest commuter more than an hour from Key West so  for worker bees this serene backwater is too far to drive every day.  
 The Key Deer are doing well this year, they are everywhere plump and sleek...
 ...though some are more reluctant to face the cameras than others:
 Mirror still canals...
 ...and empty streets. Just as I like it.

I could not resist this picture of Cheyenne caught at exactly the wrong moment. Luckily she's a dog and will never know I posted her looking daft.

Walk successfully completed. Now I'm free to go home to bed. Maybe tomorrow we'll find somewhere new, but Cheyenne is a terrible creature of habit.