Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Bahama Village

When my wife was a juvenile probation officer a dozen or more years ago she was warned against working alone in the Village, a warning she steadfastly ignored, riding her purple scooter hither and yon checking up on "her kids" and their welfare. In a world that thrives on making us afraid she was always greeted cheerfully and respectfully by her young charges on the streets.

Bahama Village has survived and sometimes even thrived in a Key West that prides itself on tolerance in a world not given to that most Christian of sentiments. The oldest Jewish synagogue in Florida was founded here; there is a masjid in this tiny out post of civilization, churches are everywhere cheek by jowl praising their many and various gods alongside people like me who see only oblivion ahead...

Bahama Village is a modern monument to community cohesion and the maintenance of identity in the face of the invasion of money that has swept up Key West in one more cycle of boom in this boom and bust town.

The gay community has shrunk somewhat in the face of gentrification and more widespread acceptance across the land. Key West's Cuban community remains numerous and visible. The African American world tucked away west of a Duval Street is not going anywhere.

Key West's connections to the Bahamas are as old and as direct as those to the island if Cuba. The influential Spottswood family, came to Key West but are descended in part from ancestors in the Bahamas.
The name Albury is celebrated in Abaco with a reputation as a world class boatbuilder. And the African American roots extend to the Family Islands just as deeply.

Bahama Village is not strictly speaking a separate entity and it's boundaries are not marked but it is it's own delightful walk in a town filled with picturesque streets.

I walk here by day and by night and I have never been bothered by anyone.

It's like every other part of Key West where change seems constant and inevitable, yet the community behind the shifting businesses and refurbished homes seems constant to an outsider.

The formerly chaotic and open and welcoming Chapman residence is shut down by a series of events reported in the Blue Paper:

Bahama Village will, I trust, abide and he still out and about in his one man lighted musical parade from time to time.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Airborne Stupidity

Stupidity is airborne in Florida, by Diane Roberts.

Diane Roberts: Epidemic freaks me out; what if stupidity is airborne?

I don’t know about you, but this latest epidemic is really freaking me out. The experts say it’s hard to catch — you can’t get it merely by living in the same state as infected people or being exposed to toxic campaign ads.

But what if they’re wrong? What if stupidity is airborne?

Everywhere you look there’s a new outbreak. Rick Scott, asked what the minimum wage should be, said, “How should I know?” Doesn’t “the private sector” decide all that?

Er, pro tip, Mr. Scott? The government sets the minimum wage. It’s written down in a law and stuff. Perhaps one of your staff can explain.

Then there’s Attorney General Pam Bondi, fighting fiercely to protect the God-sanctioned institution of marriage from those sinister gays. She says children should be “born to and raised by the mothers and fathers who produced them in stable and enduring family units.”

Bondi’s been divorced twice herself. Straight divorce, of course, the kind God favors: she’s currently fighting the attempt of a lesbian couple who contracted a civil union in Vermont in 2002 to split legally.

At least we’re clear on where the AG stands on marriage equality, however backward and idiotic. Not the governor. Rick Scott says he:
Supports “traditional” marriage
Is against “discrimination”
Isn’t a scientist.

Contact with extreme stupidity can lead to panic. The mayor and city commission of South Miami, exasperated by the governor’s inability to grasp the obvious and extremely damp reality of global climate change, have voted to secede from the rest of the state.

No matter how often streets in South Florida flood, no matter how much sea water gets into the aquifer, Rick Scott doesn’t get it. Hallandale Beach had to shut down six of its eight wells. The water’s salt.

But at least nobody’s getting gay married in Hallandale Beach.

In 2013, Scott and that gaggle of imbeciles known as the Florida Legislature tossed out the state’s small but significant program to deal with climate change, probably because Charlie Crist championed it.

The state’s surrounded on three sides by ocean; 2.4 million people live within four feet of the local high tide line in Florida. If the sea rises just a few inches — and it will — their houses are gone. People with 30-year mortgages will find themselves under water in a whole new way. And one good hurricane? Bye-bye Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa.

Naples, too. Rick Scott owns an $11 million mansion there, right on the beach, one foot above sea level. When the Tampa Bay Times asked if he was worried, Scott said, “No. I’m not a scientist, but I can tell you what, we’re going to make sure we continue to make the right investments in the state to take care of our environment.”

Nope, definitely not a scientist, though he finally met some scientists who wanted to talk about climate change. Of the half-hour he granted them, he spent 15 minutes asking what kind of jobs their students get after graduation.

South Floridians blame North Florida for this infestation of ignorance, and given that the state capital is represented in Congress by a man of awe-inspiring, even proud, stupidity, I take their point. Steve Southerland don’t hold with that global warming and anyway, Jesus’ll fix it.

Southerland’s district has a lot of Gulf coastline and the state’s most productive estuary. Nevertheless, he wants to gut the Clean Water Act. He represents a lot of impoverished people, but wants to cut food stamps. He voted against the Violence Against Women Act, claiming, “it came straight from the Senate, was thrown on the floor,” and he didn’t have time to read it.

Two weeks elapsed between passage of the Senate bill and its appearance in the House. Maybe there were too many big words?

I should point out that Rep. Southerland is an undertaker by profession. He actually profits from death.

Speaking of death, Rick Scott now declares he’ll Protect Us From Ebola. Word is there are four, four!, people in the state whom the Centers for Disease Control say may have been somewhere near Ebola-land.

Of course, you have a better chance of being eaten by a panther, throwing a touchdown pass in the FSU-Florida game, or marrying Donald Trump than catching Ebola. But don’t let knowledge and reason stand in the way of a good, dim-witted panic, y’all. No doubt Pam Bondi will insist she’s cracking down on Ebola mills, Steve Southerland will suggest we build a wall around Africa, and the Republican National Committee will buy up airtime to explain how the whole thing is all Charlie Crist’s fault.

Meanwhile, the sea rises. And rises. And rises.

Diane Roberts lives in Tallahassee and has been heard on NPR. Column courtesy of Context Florida and Eye On Miami.

Saturday, November 1, 2014


...all except the bit about the soap in the mouth. I was a very well spoken child usually. And I do need roads like these from time to time: 

Hobson's Choice

I rode out to Higgs Beach at my three in the morning lunch break and went for a walk. At 75 degrees the air felt brisk, there was almost no traffic so I was flying at the speed limit, alone. 
Its a conundrum: how did I get to be so old? I never expected to reach my 57th birthday but yesterday I did, in remarkably decent health, still able to ride my bike without back pain and feeling half my age. I must have inherited better genes than I ever had any right to expect.
I was working last night, luckily a night blessed with a moment of inactivity and to my surprise a dozen police officers appeared in dispatch like a Christmas choir ready to sing carols, they serenaded me with the proper old familiar verse. Then we had cake, traded war stories and made merciless fun of each other in ways that officers do when out of sight and allowing their hair to drop just a little bit. It was very moving. It is a strange and difficult profession they have chosen, protecting and serving people who demand a lot of one and expect a great deal of serving as well. I couldn't do it and I am entirely happy handcuff-and-gun-free behind my civilian desk out of sight and out of mind.
I was 46 when I started in the summer of 2004 hardly expecting to make a career in an environment so alien to me but somehow I fit in and through the lense of taking 911 calls night after night I have come to see a different kind of Key West. It is unfortunately true that working with the police tends to give most humans a rather jaundiced view of their neighbors, who may not be criminals but who do not always act with a full appreciation of all the possible consequences. In Key West a great deal of police activity involves cleaning up after the stupid element, not the criminal one.
But from time to time tempers flare and what may simply be a bar fight can end up in something more serious. So for me a break walking around a beach, smelling the sea air and enjoying a breeze is one way to remind myself how lucky I am to have this job in this town. It is odd to be in Key West where nonconformity is the image and a lackadaisical approach to employment is par for the course, to find myself working to a strict schedule where absence or tardiness is not tolerated, where speed and accuracy are paramount and where occasionally it is actually  a matter of life or death how I do my job. 
But then there is the time away, the time to sit on the deck and read, take the boat out on the water, go swimming, and wonder about the meaning of life. The older I get the more evanescent it seems, and meaningless too. I used to think as a child that death would provide the explanations that at last i would know what it was all about. Now it seems to be about getting to the finish line in the least worst shape possible and to have a few laughs along the way. I never claimed I was ambitious.
This past year I meant to make the effort to go swimming off  Higgs beach, just once perhaps but at least once. I have never done it and now winter is upon us and I suspect only outsiders will find the waters warm enough to frolic in. Next year...next summer...out on the swimming pier I will go.
Some people define themselves as motorcyclists, but I consider myself someone who rides, and would rather do that than drive. I have been doing it almost daily it seems since the summer of 1970 when my mother bought me a Vespa 50 and I explored the hills around my home in a way and to an extent never previously permitted by my bicycle. Riding as exploration has been the thread through the years of my life. I took up  sailing figuring a boat could be a cheap place to live and when I went sailing up and down California I went exploring. Always exploring.
Even in Key West I will ride the long way round, up South Roosevelt, round the triangle at the entrance to the city and back down North Roosevelt, a ten minute brisk ride when a cut across six blocks would have done just as well. For me it is always the journey not the destination. Always is, still, after all these years. I still get a thrill out of my commute, wondering what obstacles will be set in my way, yesterday's drunk driver may be this morning slow dump truck or some crazily speeding kid from the Navy Base. I find my challenges where I can and Highway One is not, of itself very challenging, while its users tend to be.
I cannot imagine another thirty years of life, I expect I am in the final third. However in defiance of all the platitudes about seizing the day that plague the social media I have actually done just that much of the time, marched to the sound of my own internal drummer and not paid too much attention to the dictates of peer pressure or fashion. I am 57 years old and content. So far so good. And I never did waste time muttering this stuff to myself:
I just got on with it. What choice did I have? Hobson's, which is to say no choice.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Loss Of Daylight

I am about to become a vampire. The prospect is not alluring but until Daylight Savings Time becomes year round we are stuck with these stupid Fall and Spring changes. Looking at the sunrise this week I spent altogether too much time calculating what the time will be next week when the sun rises or sets. It seems impossible but as I arrive at work at quarter to six in the evening it will be getting dark. Conversely my ride home in the morning will be a ride into the rising sun, instead of the pitch black adventure I enjoy so much now. 

The season has changed in the Keys, at 24 degrees North Latitude. It is no longer summer, it is now winter, after three small cold fronts blew through and swept away the heavy blanket of summer humidity. Leaves don't turn yellow and fall around here...not even in the Fall. It doesn't get permanently cold in the winter, a cold front may drop temperatures to the sixties fifties or even occasionally the upper 40s in a numbingly cold spell, but a few days later the temperatures are back up in the eighties and gray overcast blows away yielding to crisp white winter sunshine. I hope that's how its going to work because the latest cold front is supposed to drop nightt time lows to the mid 60s this weekend...
I like the change of seasons even though I have to put up with endless nagging from people who are hardy enough to enjoy snowmobiles and ice fishing and catastrophic weather that requires heavy winter clothing. Human blood really does thin, and for people used to 90 degrees and humidity 65  degrees and dry air can feel Arctic  cold on the skin of a lightly dressed motorcyclist. I have a mesh armored jacket for summer use but on those cold winter days  (cold to me) I have a padded waterproof jacket heavy enough to make me fell like the Michelin man while keeping me warm on my forty minute commute.
Cheyenne has perked up and is now anxious to take long, lung filling walks in the cooler air which is all very well but her renewed winter energy clashes a bit with my heavy work schedule. I am sleeping later and later as my hours of overtime get longer and longer. None of which makes the shift to a shorter day any the more palatable. However I was not the one who misplaced a pair of apparently serviceable sneakers in a parking lot on West Summerland Key. Their presence is just another mystery in the odd arc of inexplicable nonsense that peppers life in the Keys:
I was born on Halloween, and as much as I appreciate the effort people take to dress up and celebrate that insignificant fact I am not one to join in. Aside from the fact I work tonight I abhor costumes and dressing up and struggling to find someone I want to be other than myself. On the other hand some communities in Florida get their knickers in a  twist over Halloween saying its some sort of Pagan anti-Christian ritual that should be banned from schools. There are some profoundly stupid people we are obliged to share the planet with, and they bug me far more than these silly skeletons and gore and cobwebs. If this is Paganism, count me in.  
With the Fantasy Fest shambles behind us the Keys have emptied for a few more weeks until holidays and snow bring down another wave of winter residents who would rather see this, than snow fields:
Fantasy Fest this year stirred up some Conch frenzy and civic leaders are girding up their loins to join a struggle with the merchant interests to tone down the nudity and sexual excess of Fantasy Fest week. I will watch the debate with some keen interest as the whole sordid business of adult rated parading about is all done in the service of Mammon and the forces of enlightenment are going to have to persuade the people who make money off the event to give up that income. Should be interesting.
Supporters of changes to Fantasy Fest rules argue that tourism is pretty much year round nowadays and there is no need to keep up this nudity fest which was originally designed as a costume fair to attract visitors to a dead tourist town in the heat of the Fall. Fantasy fest was conceived as a risque street parade, though one fueled by wit and satire and politics and friendship.That it has deteriorated, some say, into a sorry display of witless flesh requires correction. 
The debate leaves me indifferent. To me the opposition to Fantasy Fest comes in the form of ageism and to some degree hypocrisy, in that the air brushed quality of the event has slipped away. It is no longer much populated by young hard bodies fresh from the pages of fashion magazines and I have the feeling that if Duval Street were packed with sexually desirable young people the calls for morality and decorum would be largely muted. It may be in fact another form of gentrification. 
So, the sun sets on another summer, season of warm waters and swimming and  sudden thunderstorms and hurricanes (thanks, but no thanks this year -so far!). Winter cold fronts, crisp nights, and early sunsets. 
I think I can manage that.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

DayLight Savings Commute

Next Sunday the United States, as usual following the beat of its own distinctive drummer, makes it's delayed switch to winter, known as standard time. My commute will change, and even though I don't like the switch back one hour each Fall, I am trying to see some good in it. I like dark mornings with more sunshine in the evenings. I see no need to bring the curtain crashing down on daylight at six pm just to  create more daylight in the morning.
My commute  might be measured as rather boring when you consider not only the absence of alternative routes, but also indeed the absence of any varied terrain. What I do get is year round riding that is rarely cold, by some people's arctic standards never properly cold and is frequently quite hot especially in summer. That makes it easy to put 15,000 miles a year on my 2007 Bonneville. Frankly I cannot see any reason not to ride a motorcycle at these latitudes, for driving a car is a true boredom exercise.

You can see the boredom in the attitudes and abilities of the people I call caged zombies. They sit in line and play with their phones, they get startled when I pass them, suddenly rearing up their bloated cars on their hind wheels frantically trying to keep up, not that they can't keep up as I only ride five or ten over the limit, but they usually get bored, or I lose them the next time I pass. Very few drivers have trained themselves to observe and evaluate traffic flow, to study and measure closing distances, or to take on a passing maneuver with verve and determination. I know where the passing zones are, I know the sight lines and  I ride the sections in between evaluating the determination of the car in front to maintain what I deem an acceptable speed. The more accomplished "cock blockers" like to slow down where passing is impossible and speed up where passing is possible. I don't play the game, I pass and they usually drop back frightened by their own vision of driving themselves to a ticket at 15mph over. Often when I pass a car they ostentatiously drop back as though to say "I wasn't interested in traveling the speed limit anyway."  Thats how I amuse myself on my unvarying commute. That and taking on the weather, riding in the rain, or the wind or under dark skies, each ride a different variation on the monotone Overseas Highway.
The thing about riding a motorcycle is that you are on an inherently unstable machine, one that gains beauty and poise and even grace when in motion but one one that also does not make any effort to hide the rider from the weather or the consequences of failure to pay attention. Car drivers who never ride motorcycles cannot understand the sensation of flying that comes on a motorbike but they cannot either understand the requirement that a well ridden motorcycle imposes, the discipline of paying attention. I oppose the notion of passive safety when riding as passive tools like bright clothes or automatically flashing headlights induce a sense of entitlement, the expectation that one will be seen and noticed by other road users, and anyone who has driven home in a car and arrives not recalling the journey at all, knows what I mean. It is impossible to ride and not notice the journey on a motorcycle. I am always looking at other drivers, their posture, their use of mirrors, their placement on the roadway, the way their wheels are turning or if I can even make eye contact. 
My colleagues have given up questioning me about why I ride in the rain. I enjoy that as much as anything. and when I say rain I mean downpours on my modest half hour commute in a sub tropical climate where hypothermia could only be contemplated on a much longer ride. My waterproofs by Frogg Toggs do a decent job of keeping me dry enough tom work a shift but I don't keep much in the way of winter riding gear, just a padded jacket by Tourmaster and some heavy pants. Mostly I use a free flowing armored mesh jacket and electric warming gear is unnecessary.  I have some handlebar muffs that cover my hands and help keep them dry and out of the wind when I ride, but this place  is really short sleeve weather year round. I prefer wearing my armored jacket to stop clothes flappng and it's predecessor saved my skin on a fall a few years ago in a badly marked construction area. But I am not one to nag riders about what they wear. I wear a helmet but expect each rider to think for themselves. 
This has not been a great year for riding, and even though I enjoyed our family car trip to New England it did come at the expense of a riding trip this summer. Understaffing at work means lots of overtime, with the same result: less riding. All of which makes me more fanatical about getting on two wheels when I go to work. I love my Labrador but she too tends to limit my rides as she can't come with me and so if it's at all possible I end up making her happy by loading her in the car. I get to listen to the radio more that way as I don't like electronics on my ride. The idea of making phone calls or listening to the radio through my helmet fills me with horror. We live in a world, where listening to the inner voice or enjoying silence is a prospect that seems to terrorize most people. I love the solitude of riding and escaping communication by being on my motorcycle. Sometimes I arrive at work to find texts on my phone from colleagues hoping to communicate before I arrive. I am a rare bird at the police department where among some three dozen civilians (who don't take police vehicles home)  I am one of two riders and the other guy rides half a mile on a scooter to ease his parking woes, not because he is an enthusiast. I cannot conceive why more people aren't unclogging the roads in warm south Florida by riding. I guess they might be were riding not an art rather than viewed as simply a means of locomotion as is a car.
The week of Fantasy Fest I tried to commute by car to avoid drunk drivers but after three consecutive shifts I got fed up. I listened to a lot of Click and Clack on the satellite radio but I missed the buzz of the ride.  In the car I pulled out onto the Overseas Highway from Spanish Main Boulevard and sat in my appointed place behind whichever car I came across. I could pull off a few passes but it is much easier to pass when riding with swifter acceleration and less mass to insert into a line of trundling SUVs. Plus there is something about the car that induces a sheep-like trance on US One. There you are and there you sit. I found myself envying the riders outside, even the Harley Rolling Roadblocks trying to look cool in bandannas at five miles under the speed limit. If I had to drive I would shrivel up and die of boredom.
The time change will also mess up my horizons next week. Five in the afternoon when I ride west to work will be much closer to darkness. Indeed I know from experience that by mid December I will be arriving in Key West at dusk or close to, and my day shift colleagues will spend all daylight hours in the office, emerging like moles to a darkened  world. In the morning though I should start seeing some spectacular sunrises if I'm lucky. Right now its black as pitch until after I get home and get mobbed by my dog who is always ready for a walk at six thirty in the morning. Temperatures are down, humidity is down and she is raring to go in the dark.
The immutable cycle of seasons, as paltry as they may be compared to places where snow falls and winter brings on the possibility of death and frostbite; the changes are felt here too. I like the change but soon enough I am pining for summer's heat and long hours of sunshine, warm waters and easy swimming...permanent summer seems far away when a cold front brings cold feet and icy riding fingers and a desperate search for warm clothes.

And through it all I ride, and keep on riding every chance I get.