Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Hung Over

The threat of a cold front hangs over the Keys, which is a bit of a joke when the northern half of the entire country is being snowed under this week...However the possibility of rain under cloudy skies and a chance that night time lows today might reach 63 degrees requires some thought. We got sprinkled on yesterday morning as Cheyenne and I admired the ultra low tide at the Ramrod Key pool.

The moon was full when we arrived in the dark but clouds were busy flying across the sky covering the light source and plunging us into darkness. The moon affects the tides to maximum effect when the moon is full or new, roughly (spring tides) and the full moon here drained the bath water from the pool.

I find my life defined by my endless amounts of overtime, my work preparing the podcasts, sleep and lines of traffic clogging the highway. Winter is in full swing yet Key West seems to have priced itself out of the youth market, the winter visitors, lots of them, are older, wealthier as they need to be, and less inclined to be rowdy.

Winter weather in South a Florida has hot weird and I am not the only one to notice. True cold fronts no longer seen to occur, and I can't remember the last time a true cold snap produced 50 daytime degrees. Rain seems year round now, lighter and less frequent in winter but we now get random unpredictable showers in winter where previously rain fell only before the arrival of a cold north wind. Now winter is humid and wet, similar to summer only less so.

I am not sure how I feel about these changes. I don't like the cold but some winter chill seems right and proper. The issue of how much our leaders ignore climate change and pretend it isn't there gets progressively more interesting as the effects become less and less deniable. If I had children I'd be getting worried and vocal.

As it is I have a dog and she reminds me that the here and now is what matters most. It's not raining right now so a walk is possible and the hunt for interesting smells is possible.

Perhaps my judgement is impaired, perhaps I spend too much time at work but sometimes it feels like the whole world is hung over.

Everywhere the trash cans are full, the New Year's celebrations are a memory, represented by empty bottles and cans, bulging plastic bags and a scene something like this:

Cheap gas, another sign of what..? Demand destruction, geo political chess games or some other strange need of the powerful which will only become clear later when the dust has settled and prices go back up to normal peak production levels. Still it's good to be alive in the Keys, even if the planet really should stop over indulging.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Sarcastic Conch Diary

I am not averse to giving space on my page to other people's internet efforts but there is one Key West Blog I find obnoxious not least because of it's rather unsubtle attempt to piggyback on my web page. Key West- The Conch Diary may not be plagiarism but it sure is close as a blog title and the author is no Conch. Those quibbles aside it is not a sterling literary effort ("to revisit a passion we have done") and the author has not yet apparently made the acquaintance of any photographic device to make those white pages more interesting. I like pictures, even of boring old Florida.

Cattle pen, Seminole Reservation, Everglades.
 Koreshan State Park. You want characters? Check out the former Koreshans of Bonita Springs. 
Roadside taco stand, Homestead. No strip malls in sight:

Thus I'd like to imagine that the two Web pages will not ever be confused. Not least because I find the tone of the Conch Diary to be decidedly off putting. It is a page that gleans its sarcasm from putting people down and not in a warmly empathetic way or a self  deprecating way. Let their words speak for themselves and decide for yourself if they sound as entitled  to you as they sound to me, in both content and tone:

An essay titled, obscurely, The Impossible Dream: 

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we took a road trip from Key West (KW) to Charleston, SC. The idea sounded romantic– to revisit a passion we have done in New England and Europe. The plan was to leave KW and pause in Melbourne, FL, where we have a friend who keeps his boat in a cozy marina. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Florida geography, it takes approximately 10-11 hours to drive from KW to the Georgia border. The trip from Key West to Melbourne took 6 hours. Not too bad. We stayed two days and left for Savannah, GA, on the third day. It began to rain just inside the Georgia border (prophetic) and increased in volume as we drove north. Thirty miles from Savannah a tire blew out on the interstate.
It was dark, so it was difficult to give the road service “good old boy” precise directions. After two tries and threatening to give up, he found us, towed the car to a covered location and changed the tire. It poured the rest of the next day, so a walking tour of Savannah was impossible. While there we had to buy a new tire ($450.000) and then struck out for Thanksgiving in Charleston. The four days we spent there were fabulous. We left on the fifth day, with the plan to visit St. Augustine, and then go across to the west coast of Florida to explore Cedar Key and then work our way home.
A few miles from Cedar Key lights began to flash on the instrument panel, the cumulative message for which is “stop the car, call a tow truck and find a dealer.” We were in central Florida and finally found a mechanic in New Port Richie that could work on the car. He recommend we rent a car and stay at a little town named Safety Harbor for the three days it would take to repair the car. We did. It was mildly quaint, friendly and a one trick pony. A few bars and restuarants, but little else—except another fountain of youth finally found by another Spaniard. Yawn.
Three days later the horror began. We decided to take the “scenic route” to Alligator Alley (US 75), a road that crosses the Everglades and positions one to aim for Key West. To get to Alligator Alley, we took US Route 41 South—which was obscene.  Imagine 100 miles of continuous strip malls, traffic lights, traffic jams and kitchy retail outlets. We could have been in any state but Vermont. Forget character–just BBQ joints, strip clubs (full nudity), pawn shops and “no credit required” used car lots. Zero interesting or scenic drive. Then it edged up on rush hour and we found ourselves on US 75S in Miami with no movement because we encountered a major accident that had turned it into a parking lot. It took 1 hour to travel 2 miles. As a result, we arrived in KW 5 hours after our ETA. Tired and exasperated.
The largest lesson learned is that much of Florida is so tacky and congested that people from other states should be thankful you lost the idiots who moved there.
But here’s the point—there are so few quaint, small towns left in Florida, Key West should be granted secession—or at least “possession” status.
Here’s why:
  • Our strip mall is only 1.5 miles long.
  • The restuarants are diverse, not chain and they are highly rated.
  • Key West is quaint because we have the largest collection of authentic Victorian wood houses.
  • Characters are many, alive and well.
  • A traffic jam is 2 minutes.
  • It is easy to make friends with active, interesting people.
  • People are so friendly in stark contrast to the constipated cruise ship people and tourists from the NE.
  • The weather is not just good, it’s spectacular.
  • And finally, while there a few precious gem cities, Florida became like every place else in the US.
And by the way the car was an antique Jaguar convertible. Our bad. NEVER AGAIN!
It seems to me if you are enough of a big shot to drive a car which needs $450 tires you are also big enough to change them when they go flat. But apparently these charmers not only can't do the basics they put down the "good old boy" truck driver who came out in the rain to help them. Then they put down the rest of Florida. Now I'm not going to say Highway 41 is a great scenic highway but if you are stupid enough to drive it without researching it first don't publish your snotty attitude where anyone who has traveled the back roads of Florida will read it. Apparently the classic Jaguar snobs have never heard of the Florida where cowboys roam, where the coolest freshwater springs bubble up and where small town America is alive and well. You won't find Labelle on Highway 41.
I'm not saying I want to live in Arcadia or Brooksville but I'm not ready to say everyone that lives there is an idiot. I like living in the Keys, anyone who reads my blog knows how grateful I am for my life here, warts and all, but I don't think Key West has any special dispensation when it comes to idiots. And some of them publish blogs...
I like the back roads of Florida and I enjoy exploring them. Sure, they are flat and tend to be straight but if that comes as a surprise to you, the idiocy is on you. Florida is a large state and with a population well above 22 million there are bound to be societal short comings. The weather is the glue that binds us together here and sunshine attracts scam artists as well as arthritics, scientists and low functioning adults. 
That we seem to manage to elect public leaders with no respect for public policy doesn't help but despite that Florida has an astonishing network of state parks, thriving agriculture and enough eccentrics with money that the state is dotted with monuments to human ingenuity. But you have to know where they are and go looking for them. Cruising the strip malls will garner you a view of ...strip malls. Duh!
In the end I guess it's foolish of me to take offense when someone who clearly has no sense of adventure, no ability to look after themselves on the road and no ability to see the subtle beauties of an easily stereotyped state speaks up. Let me say this in defense of Florida, if you need rocks and mountains and sweeping panoramas presented in front of you to be able to see beauty, stay away from Florida, including Key West where, believe me, idiocy is not hard to find if you are allergic to idiots. 
I don't think snobbery does Key West any honor either. Rant over. I like Florida. So sue me.

Monday, January 5, 2015

January Is Almost Over

Every night at work we change over the call out board which lists all the agency personnel that are on call for assorted potential emergencies. The list of detectives on call, Internet support staff and fire investigators and the like are posted on the wall so we know who to call out  at a moment's notice. It's a comforting routine that marks the half way point of our twelve hour night shift and on Sunday nights all the shifts change so it takes a few extra minutes to sort out the letters and numbers of new names and new phones for the week ahead.
Last night Kristi announced in a world weary voice: "The year is going by so fast, we're almost through January already." Which I thought was anticipating a bit as January is hardly over but I did agree that New Year's felt like it was long since history, all the fuss and crowds forgotten, our eyes now on the rest of the month, three weeks of the dead of winter at 80 daily degrees. As Kristi is half my age I pointed out to her that the older you get the faster it goes which gave her pause. But she's right, before we know it April will be here, winter residents will be packing up, my wife will be anticipating the end of the school year and swimming season will be back.

I had Friday night off, one night away from the endless overtime so my wife and I abandoned Cheyenne at home (snoring heavily) as you do, and we went to the Waterfront Playhouse to see "Noises Off" a comedy that I had never got to see in all the years it has been around. For me it was two and a half hours of endless laughter; I was the guy you don't want to sit next to, wheezing and crying as the slapstick, jokes and absurd situations piled up on each other. The story is simple enough: a provincial English theater troupe is putting on a play and we the audience get to see a rehearsal and two performances, one from the back of the stage as the cast attack each other in between appearances on stage and the final act from the front as the performance falls totally apart in mid performance. I loved it, a perfect break from endless work. My wife is not a devotee of slapstick and farce so her enjoyment was rather more restrained but she put up with me collapsing with mirth for two hours so she gets the good sport award.
Yesterday morning Cheyenne treated me  to some comedy when she went for a drink in the mangroves and got stuck. She has done this before so this time I took a moment to take her picture sticking out of a muddy Gambusia ditch pawing ineffectually and noisily while determined to not bark to alert me to her plight. The ditches were built as mosquito control devices as they were stocked with gambusia, little fish that eat mosquito larvae. Nowadays they are a nuisance if you are an elderly Labrador who prefers to drink muddy water as opposed to the fresh clean, filtered water at home. She got  a thorough bath when she got home, too, and she knew she needed it. 
Winter seems to have abandoned the Keys forever. We have had one brief spell of weather in the mid 50s and the forecast for the foreseeable future is 80 degrees by day and 70 by night, give or take. Perfect motorcycling weather and there are lots of SUV drivers riding bikes this winter. Like this charming person who used a perfectly good out-of-the-way free parking spot in Old Town to park his motorcycle which could have been parked at any number of official free motorcycle spots nearby. Why use a car spot? Because you are thinking like a car driver. Sigh. Plus he parked it all the way forward making it appear empty in a crowded lot so a distracted car driver might swing rapidly into the spot and tap your expensive toy. People who ride and are forced to use car spaces park their motorcycles at the entrance to the space to make sure passing cars know the space is occupied.
I parked my modern scooter in a car space momentarily. Playing scooter tag I needed to park next to an antique vehicle on my way to work. I knew I would find one in the Southard Street and Fleming Street corridor and here it was. Some elderly truck with an antique tag. Good enough.
Then I was left to puzzle what should I set as the next tag. I was recently stymied by a northern rider who wanted a scooter parked next to a frozen body of water and when I complained I couldn't get my Vespa next to the freezer I got no sympathy. Eventually someone broke the tag free of course but it was not me. So I decided to park next to a tree with greenery and this potted palm near Solares Hill did the trick. One northern rider promised to go out and look for a pine tree when conditions moderate but I'm hearing massive snow storms are on track to ravish the lovers of seasons Up North. 
Seasons? I've got two seasons, warm and muggy and warm and dry and that's plenty. Soon it will be summer and Kristi will be a year older. Bummer.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2015 Key West And A New Project

There came a time last year when I realised I needed to do more, to seek new boundaries, to cross old thresholds. I thought long and hard about ending the blog but I find that it actually feeds the part of me I want to expand, and I like using my camera to see the world through my own particular lense. To go out, take a picture to express a thought is something I have grown so used to doing it would seem odd not to be able to do that. My phone is my camera; it just happens to make phone calls as well. I come home and download my pictures to Picasa and the thought encapsulated in the photo is still there, in the pixels, like a prehistoric insect trapped forever in amber. I download the picture to Blogsy, my favorite app, and the words flow, inspired by the thought originally captured in my telephone. The amber melts and the words suggested by the picture are left on the electronic page.
It wasn't always so - once upon a time I was a youngster with a Vespa and my camera was a microphone. I was divorced and alone in California and in my early 20s. I heard the local radio station was seeking volunteers so in between learning to sail (great stuff) and trying hang gliding (awful) and scuba diving (too complicated) I added writing the news to the list of activities I took up to keep loneliness at bay. It clicked. But it was a career choice in decline. Everyone fancies themselves a reporter so wages were low especially  since  broadcasting was just then deregulated and news gathering became an expensive option usually dropped by newly freed station mangers. The public airwaves no longer required federally mandated news readers. My low wages were made easier to bear by living on a boat and riding the Vespa, the same scooter I rode across the country in 1981. I got to talk to all sorts of people about everything and I got a reputation for fairness which allowed me to hunt down and meet the rare conservative public figures in coastal California in the 80s. They called it the People's Republic of Santa Cruz in imitation of Berkeley in whose far vaster shadow we languished. I talked to anyone about anything no matter their politics, and the radio station was filled with politics.
So now, three decades on the wheel turns full circle. The world is now electronic, reel-to-reel editing with a razor blade is a lost art (I had a very good ear for it and could edit interviews faster than most) and radio itself is being transformed into podcasts. So it is that this producer in Brooklyn wants me to interview people for a series of podcasts, an idea he had to sell to me as podcasts are an alien concept to me. The subject, for which I am apparently uniquely qualified thanks to my history and my present job, is travel and safety. The project is underway, interviewees have been contacted and the modern equivalent of reel-to-reel tape will be turning soon. Podcasts are just another form of communication, in the end. So here goes...
Here's the thing: I hope you will listen when the podcasts start in a matter of weeks and give valuable feedback for us, which the producer says is invaluable for growth. I hope that after seven years of following along you will be encouraged to take a hand in directing my future path. It is a brave new world out there and I plan to take it by the balls, even without a razor blade and a reel-to-reel tape deck. Thank you in advance.

Here's to 2015: Fresh challenges!




Saturday, January 3, 2015

Summerland Walk And A Cache

It was a morning of colors, and even though the days are supposedly getting longer...I still get to see the sun come up, often in a blast of reds and orange and even a little pink. Sunrises are often spectacular in the Keys.
Cheyenne was full of beans as we checked the canal front on Summerland Key.  
This picture put me in mind of those photos I've seen  of fishing villages in cold wet places like Norway or the Faroe Islands or someplace equally inhospitable to cold weather weaklings like me. It's actually a back street on Summerland Key.
 When I see fishing boats I wonder about the people who use them and whether they envy their counterparts in other parts of the world. I've seen people earning a living from the sea in many disparate places, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Pacific and so forth.
I find the thought of wrestling crab in the Bering Sea awful but I wonder if these folks consider themselves lucky to be in this relatively benign climate? Perhaps I am over thinking the whole thing. Or do fishermen in the cold damp Pacific Northwest pull in their lines wishing they lived and worked around palms in 80 degree winters? I would so I am just projecting I guess. 
 I don't like to chase fish but I like to eat it.
 The colors of commercial fishing:
 These beauties would be worth five bucks apiece to tourists with straws  in Old Town Key West,
Try telling a hungry Labrador what no trespassing means when there are powerful scents wafting on the early morning breeze.
She is as stubborn as a mule is my Cheyenne. The chickens and roosters made an enormous racket and looked at her as though she were planning to spit them and roast them. She instead ignored them. I tugged on the leash ineffectually.
While my dog prowled looking for interesting things I remembered there was a geocache hidden away somewhere here. I have so far found two others, one on Blimp Road and one in Ft Myers (which I forgot to log).
Summerland Palm was the name of the hidden logbook and I set my GPS in motion. I am new obviously but one of the ideas is not to let people who don't chase these objects know about your hunt and you'd think walking a dog would be the perfect cover.
Not really. The compass in my phone (there's an app for this you know) pointed doggedly in one direction and my dog pointed doggedly of course, in the other. Did I mention she is stubborn?  I got the job doine and now I've found three (and logged two...). I rather like geocaching, it gives you something to do when out and about and they are everywhere.
Across the street the Mobil station was ready for another day of selling gas at less than three bucks a gallon. Not forgetting they are a Dion's dealer, and my dog loves their chicken, source of all good smells. Time to go home to bed.  Summerland Key -source of temptation.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Duval Street Crowds

There are lots of people in town, and quite a few with cameras. Here in the street in front of Willie T's:
Margaritaville full of people having fun, quite a few in silly pork pie hats:
Some with odd matching back packs, probably Europeans:
Nice of them to wait for the light  before crossing. Wish all visitors were this considerate:
The sidewalks were clumped with people ambling up and down:
I like cell phones even though everyone makes too much of them:
I call them zombies but its rather unfair. What else can you do as you herd your family up and down Duval Street looking at dust catchers and remembering the lost excitement of your youth?
Bicycling shorts and a hat fit for the Queen Mother's garden party. I know nothing about fashion but it did seem a striking combination to me.
The certainty of youth:
I like that Key West still manages to attract young people. A bigger higher education presence would be nice.
A parade of pedicabs to round out the crowd theme of the New Year's arrival in Key West.