Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fog!

I came out of work yesterday morning and there it was: dripping and damp. Yuck! I grew up in places where fog represents cold and bone chilling damp, fogged up visors and all the hassle of no visibility, wet roads and numb fingers. I was ready to wail all the way home.

But you know what? Key West holds up its end of the deal. Fog in 70 degrees is no big deal true enough, but my visor got mucked up, moisture inside and out, and my glasses got damp too, but this was more like a nice damp sauna, not an ice cave. And Key West looked different.

I am not a great fan of the gray tendrils, the soft focus stuff because I like the primary colors of bright tropical sunshine...but even the boring modern parts of Key West, the bits that matter to locals, look somehow more gentle under the influence of moisture suspended in air.

A cab driver washing his ride in the fog, on Stock Island. I was getting gas, around $2:75 a gallon. Demand destruction is doing odd things to the price of oil, at least temporarily.

Then I was home and looking for my snoring dog. Blimp Road I said, I want to check out the fog on the water. We drove off for Cheyenne's morning walk. The houseboat planted off the launch ramp wasn't going anywhere. The islands usually seen on the horizon were long gone into the pea-souper.
In an effort to create destinations worth visiting I have decided to try geocaching as mentioned by the Fairbanks Blog, my inspiration. After daylight resumed and I could blunder through mangroves I could actually see, I found it, though I was half eaten by no see 'ums. All in a days nerdy hunt. No caches were hurt in this safari, though I was scratching my arms there for a few minutes. I am lucky in that insect bites don't do that much harm to me. I itch a little but that's soon forgotten and I get no welts, but I did get the geocache!

Yea, fog. We get that once a year in the Keys...no problem!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Ah Yes, Christmas

The clock on top of Old City Hall showed five minutes before seven and the bell chimed the seven o'clock hour on Christmas morning. Confusing to a precision freak like me. My cell phone confirmed the bell was right and the hands were wrong.
Christmas is over for another year  -phew!- and we all survived the holiday. Now we prepare for New Year's Eve which in Key West is an opportunity to drink - no, really - and turn Duval Street into one long party zone. I work, naturally and I have yet to see Sushi drop in her show at the Bourbon, or the Conch shell at Sloppy Joe's of Evalena Worthington at her bar Schooner Wharf. So many midnights to mark, yet so much 911 dispatching to do.
The decorations are still up, and this is about as close to icicles as I want to get thanks, so we get to enjoy the festive decorations a while longer. More than that we have to now keep our Christmas promises to be nice to each other and all that sentimental stuff.
Sentiment is all well and good but coming to work last night on a cool breezy winter evening and looking for hot Cuban coffee to warm the cockles of my heart I found Sandy's was closed. The 24 hour coffee shop, the only one in town, was closed. They do this to me every year and every year I forget. I had reason to speak with a Sheriff's deputy at the jail and I mention Sandy's was closed and he lamented moodily with me about this crisis of caffeine. Well: I guess the Christmas spirit didn't last long, not for shift workers.
A shop inducing customers to buy had what I thought was a slightly incongruous display of Christmas yule themed decorations alongside summer t-shirts on display. People in Key West  don't usually own or wear parkas, snow boots or astronaut style mittens. 
More icicles:
Cheyenne found a tray of cat food for the stray cats lurking downtown. She marched in on a gaggle of chickens having Christmas breakfast and I let her snag a bit then dragged her off up the street. Actually she had had breakfast at home and soggy cat food was a token of her hunting prowess and not exactly desirable prey, so she came willingly. Some hungry creature would appreciate the food more than she did.
Note to self: remind my wife we need to see this. One of the best parts of winter in Key West is live theater and as long a sit isn't goofy musicals in drag I love to go. I've seen some really great dramatic productions here and at the Red Barn and I always look forward to more. Comedy works too, I'm just not able to stay awake through thinly veiled plot excuses for song and dance. . 
Mallory Square with flags half raised, presumably in honor of the recent law enforcement dead in Florida. A brisk cold north  wind was raking the square at 7:30 and we were alone except for another dog walker crossing our path briefly.
I have less than brilliant memories of cold nights and cold mornings on my boat at anchor out there. Heating a boat at anchor consumes massive amounts of energy and frequently, in a relatively mild climate like this one, hot tea and a blanket replaces central heat. There is a commonly touted solution among boaters of heating a  clay flowerpot on the stove top to radiate heat. I tried that and thought it was a waste of time and propane gas. If you leave the stove burning you end up gassing yourself to death. I definitely went the tea-and-blanket route on cold southern mornings at anchor. I wished them luck and turned back to Duval Street.
Some days you see the big picture and then turn your back and see the little picture, like grass growing on the skyline of a brick building at Mallory Square. When I realized it was El Meson de Pepe, it got me thinking about the end of the Cuban embargo which seems to be in sight at last, despite the last old timer hold outs scattered across south Florida with their political lackeys.
I had a discussion about Cuba post embargo with a European friend who imagines, in a rather European way that Americans who love their cars will want to drive down to Stock Island and take a European style hydrofoil ferry to Mariel. I figure they would rather fly to Miami and tkae  a 30 minute flight to Havana...which is when an American friend of mine piped up pointing out the Jose Marti airport in Havana is a tin shed and the toilets are old fashioned European style holes-in-the-ground...
...not ready for prime time as she put it! Indeed I expect Cuba will have some catching up to do before Americans will feel safe visiting godless communists on their island. I hold out hope trade will require truck bearing ferries between here and there,  high speed ferries with room for private vehicles. 
Meanwhile change keeps moving forward and Red Fish Blue Fish has gone (no loss) and something new will appear on Front Street no doubt.
The Bull was looking solid and festive, not that Cheyenne cared as she looked for something to eat.
I didn't care either. I had pancakes and mimosas at home for Christmas breakfast (not everything about this holiday needs to be abolished) followed by bed, sleep and work. Back to The Usual.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Keys Christmas Card


How could I not love Christmas in the Keys? Lying on the deck in shirtsleeves scratching Cheyenne's tummy, looking up at a cloudless sky?
Happy Christmas to you all.



For The Rest Of Us

I am one of those people who grew up in Christmas filled with tension. So when my wife told me she was Jewish I counted that as a plus. Knishes I learned about later and count them as a bonus for marrying a Jew, but Christmas is a holiday viewed from afar for me. That Christmas can be celebrated on palms and look absurd is a plus, so I there's more to like about Christmas in Key West.
My holidays I count Thanksgiving and Independence Day at the top of the list. The problem with Christmas is the expectations gap - it's a consumer holiday and if you fall short in consumption you feel like you are letting your family down with all the negative consequences. Christmas freaks me out.
Of course with my literal mindset I find it impossible to reconcile reality with myth. I slept through the Greek mythology classes, and I'm guessing most Americans did too as my wife expressed astonishment when she found out I knew the story of Prometheus and fire. But Christmas is not a discussion of facts about the Roman Census and history. It's a winter holiday (holy day).
It's the darkest time of year in the Northern Hemisphere so thinking of antipodeans enjoying an Australian beach on Christmas Day sounds crazy, so everyone yields to the King Wenceslaus image of cold and snow, Yule logs and all those pagan myths jumbled into the Nativity story in ways that make my autistic mind scream in confusion. Then I see everyone being stressed out at the happiest time of the year...
So what is Christmas? The way I figure it Christmas is whatever you want it to be. For me it's festive lights, friends round for dinner, a moment of no demands and no expectations.
The city looks prettier than usual and the wreaths on Truman, the lights here at Key West Bight they are all part if it. Good will would be nice but it seems in short supply when it's local equivalent -money - is scarce too. That's where the stress comes in.
I like a nice solid Christmas made up of absences: absence of gifts, absence of disagreements, absence of those people described so nicely in the Desiderata of our youth as "vexatious to the spirit." That's my Christmas and I wish you the same, in abundance.
I guess all that makes me a Festivus kind of guy. Happy Festivus everyone!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Lane Splitting For Motorcycles

From 2011 I have reproduced this essay from a  vacation my wife and I took in Italy to visit my family. We decided to spend three days seeing the sights in Rome and rented a three wheeled Piaggio scooter for the purpose. I wrote this essay on the joys of what Europeans call filtering, which is how two wheelers pick their way through traffic. To American eyes the practice is dangerous and unfair as it allows motorcycles to get in front of the sacrosanct line thus shriveling the manliness of the SUV drivers and their cup holders. In fact the California Highway patrol did a study which found that lane splitting as is permitted in California is safer for motorcyclists and keeps traffic moving safely. California permits motorcycles to share lanes with slow moving traffic, not exactly European filtering a shown below, but it is a practice that encourages traffic to keep moving and keeps motorcycles from being rear ended in stationary traffic by inattentive drivers - a bigger problem than you might think.
Meanwhile there is a move, following publication of the California report to allow lane sharing (not cross traffic filtering!) across the US. I of course signed the petition on the ADVrider.com forum and thought this view of chaos in Rome might be timely.  





Lane Splitting Or Death




"If you catch me sitting in a line of cars you need to pinch me" I called out to my wife. She was riding pillion on the 250cc Piaggio MP3 scooter we had rented for two days to explore Rome and it's suburbs, but I was not pulling my weight in the Roman traffic. Too much Florida was still coursing through my tropical veins and I was acting polite where Rome's car drivers expected me to cut and thrust my way through traffic. Showing cages mercy was just confusing them as they expect scooters to rip them to shreds in the congestion. No more sitting passively waiting for a green light dammit! We're not in Key West anymore. Check this street scene out, scooters and a car approaching a light:



Car slows for the traffic signal but the scooters move in and surround the hapless driver. I took this sequence of pictures from the top deck of a tour bus, by the way.


Then the light changes and the scooters swarm ahead.


What's interesting about this technique is that cars yield to scooters, they expect the mad rush and they defer to scooter riders in a way SUV toting Americans would never do. And the scooters actually treat the Rome traffic like it was an amusing obstacle course. Pedestrians and scooters dodge between the lines:


Over the lines into oncoming traffic :


Weaving between cars stopped at lights:


And between lanes of cars:


Traffic can be horrendous too so riding a scooter is a job for people who need to stay mobile, and not just scooting enthusiasts:


Our Mp3 rented for €65 or $100 a day is a great tool to slice and dice Rome traffic.


If only I can get used to being thoroughly rude on two wheels. That I can do, I just have to get back in the Italian riding groove of my youth and that takes a couple of days.