Thursday, January 22, 2015

The First Train

The newspaper reported the  first train actually arrived in Key West yesterday 103 years ago. It was not the first train that history records because Henry Flagler wasn't on that train. It was just a bunch of worker bees testing the Lower Keys track for the first time. They left from somewhere around here, near Bahia Honda.
From the Keys Chambers of Commerce I found this photograph of what was I suspect the Seven Mile Bridge, much more famous and thus tends to overshadow the more interesting structure of the Bahia Honda bridge. In any even this is what the original Railway that Went to Sea looked like.
Nowadays the old bridges are being allowed to collapse by the great state of Florida which never saw the potential for bicycle of pedestrain footpaths across the Keys.
The Bahia Honda Bridge forced Flagler's engineers to build two ramps to get the rail line across the relatively short body of water known as "Deep Bay" in Spanish. The mounds of dirt at each end have created the highest barely natural hillocks in the Keys.
I love climbing this modest hill and getting to look down on the waters of the Keys spread out below me. It's the only place you can do this unencumbered, though of course you can pay a fee and get into the state park at the other end of the bridge... Cheyenne isn't used to bridges and this is another warm winter we are getting through. 80 degrees is a lot for a  furry elderly Labrador.
She enjoyed exploring all over the place, in the salt water and out and crashing through the bushes so she had reason to be a bit tired while I read a couple of chapters in my phone Kindle.  Below I took this picture from one of my earlier essays on Bahia Honda. The picture shows the highway that was built over the railroad in 1938. There was less lush vegetation in the Keys in those days.
The bridge in the park has been refurbished and is now a viewing platform:
Back on the west end I stood on the end of the bridge and looked down at the translucent waters, and my shadow bobbing on the bottom. Cheyenne was busy chasing iguanas of food wrappers or something.
On the other side of the Bahia Honda, Deep Bay the new highway bridge cuts a more direct path between two points, though it cannot be described as beautiful by any stretch. And funnily enough it is already getting some work done on its cement pilings. Flagler's bridges are ignored and stand solidly where they were built.
It's an amazing spot up here, free of warning signs guard rails or any interference from the nanny state.
 The old above, the new below:

Ever since I moved from Ramrod Key to Cudjoe Key and thus escaped the ravages of the iguanas on my plants I have developed a less adversarial attitude to these rather gross dinosaurs.
Ah yes the view from just a few feet up in the air...
 I wonder if that first train crew appreciated the view as much as they did the actual feat of getting a  train to drive across the ocean.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Still too cold to swim, 65 degree air temperature  livens up the Labrador.

Here at West Summerland Key last weekend. 
 She walked a fair bit hunting for crispy abandoned bait fish.  I took pictures.
 This dawn was Monday looking east at Cudjoe Key.

 Sugarloaf Key KOA. This scene, frequently photographed puts me in mind of old fashioned fish Florida camps. The reality is a bit more crowded.

 Anglers with their backs turned to the dawn. I keep Cheyenne on a leash around these people as she tends to home in on their bait buckets.
 This guy welcomed her and laughed as she sniffed his paraphernalia.
Time for breakfast for her and  bed for me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dog Walk Haiku

 Cheyenne's hot walk  done
 She pants a moist summer wind
 Stationary walk.
Actually it wasn't a walk, just a chance to lay in the grass, an afternoon activity my Labrador seems to enjoy more and more as the years go by.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Key West And Cuba

The newspaper said the new openness to Cuba isn't affecting the Keys. Golly, that was a quick conclusion. Aside from the fact no one really knows exactly what restrictions are in place, and more importantly the punishment for violations is undefined, it seems a bit early to conclude that the path to openness is going to bypass sleepy old Key West.
The Republicans who now control Congress are led by loud voices who favor the embargo so we know that isn't going to be repealed. Which leaves the Communist Kenyan in the White House to do the sensible thing and repeal what he can. At long last. I am betting Cuban cigars those phallic symbols of repressed Middle American desire, will start to appear in small quantities at high prices on Duval Street alongside legally imported Havana Club Rum, which I have tasted while traveling in the Free World and not found to be particularly delicious. Already the Botanical Gardens are stepping up the number of "cultural exchange" visits they organize to Cuba. I am sure they will see more "gardeners" like me who can barely tell poison wood from lignum vitae rushing to learn about Cuban flora on the forbidden isle.
I know what a gumbo limbo is (see above) but I am no botanist, or gardener even. I think for a while the repressed opening to Cuba will produce some excitement but gradually Cuba will become just one more destination in Latin America and tours will show off Hemingway's haunts and Meyer Lansky's sleeze and all will be normal in the world of tourism. President Obama will fade into history as just one more hidebound ineffectual president, rather than be the object of gross bizarre and downright mendacious conspiracy theories and The Ted Cruz/Marco Rubio traveling circus will no doubt move on to more important matters like intruding government into people's sex lives, as the young bucks in Congress grow and hopefully wiser. Cuba will still be there.
And so will Key West. And this is when it will get interesting, in a few years, when the choice is a cruise to Cuba and or Key West, arrive by plane or boat...a vacation in the safety of the familiar, or an adventure across the water. And I believe there will be room for both destinations without one taking from the other. The politicians and their posturing will fade into the background where they belong, and the vacation choice will be driven by other considerations.
Cuba will never cease to be exotic, offering vibrant culture, mountains, jungles, rivers, beaches and warmer winter weather on the south shore, the true Caribbean Sea beaches, than Key West. But Key West has familiarity, safety, and it's own peculiar charming character that Cuba can't compete with in any way. Plus those drivers of the winter economy aren't going to flock to Cuba to buy winter homes! some might but Key West isn't going to be denuded of snowbirds...and in summer there will always be families more comfortable on a Key West beach than in Varadero.
In the end though it's the people who make the choice of where to visit and one thing about Key West that stands head and shoulders above every other destination is the combination of the exotic and the safe. One thing that I have noticed about this funny little town at the end of the road is that it attracts people who crave that combination of safety amid the exotic. Among people I have spoken to the slight shabbiness of Key West is part of the attraction, were the town crisp and clean and organized it would lose its safe edginess. If you seek true adventure, the kind with an uncertain outcome, Cuba beckons already.
For those of us that live around here, I guess nothing much will change in the short term. In the long term perhaps we will get ourselves interesting vacations close by. Cool. No one loses. Except the posturing politicians of all stripes. And who cares about that.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Night At The Theater

It was lucky for our evening out that my wife had bought our tickets ahead of Friday night's performance at the Red Barn Theater. We enjoy live plays but sometimes there is an enormous mental block that makes the effort not worth the candle and a night in, with the dog and Netflix seems infinitely preferable to a thirty minute drive to arrive and then be crushed by a throng of eager theater goers.

That said The Last Night of Ballyhoo was entirely worthwhile. It was written by the author of the better known Driving Miss Daisy and also deals with being Jewish in the South, this time in Atlanta in 1939. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, funny and poignant by turns, especially as the play opened a window on a time and a place and a culture not well known to us. The cast was splendid and I found myself absorbed by the story. A great night out.

After the play we strolled Duval looking for a drink for my wife ( I was driving) before heading back to the car a few blocks away on Eaton Street. Our friends were hungry and took off on Caroline Street after hasty adieus so we had time to wander. After we nearly tripped over a party of drunken revelers and were momentarily blocked by a man the worse for wear who mistook a tree for his wife and refused to let "her" go, we decided that Friday night on Duval Street really wasn't our scene and we turned and took the short route back to our car.

That took us past the old abandoned theater on Eaton, said to be haunted. Haunted no more, for now it is to become home to Key West's fourth theater company, if you include the peripatetic fringe group of no fixed abode which performs in found spaces. These fine people with powerful bios listed, are working to organize the space and with two weeks to go they will have their work cut out. I look forward to seeing what they can do with "original Key West" plays.

I will enjoy this long dormant space coming back to life, like Rumpelstiltskin after a very long sleep.

It was a pleasant night for a shirt sleeved walk, a cool north breeze prompting my wife to complain she was almost cold which goes a long way to explaining why we live here...

...that and the 19th century architecture rendered mysterious by the night.

We paused by Hilltop Laundry to remember our adventures bringing our clothes ashore from the boat, hauling sail bags filled with salt encrusted rags accompanied by our two dogs when we lived anchored in the harbor. The good old days tinged with the unhappy reality that living like that may be no longer possible nor desirable at our advanced ages.

Bollocks. If I wanted to I would go back to anchoring out. But driving home to be greeted by a happy dog and a glass of wine and a comfortable couch in a home battered by winds, yet planted entirely stationary was an entirely worthwhile place to be. Besides it's much easier to drive to the theater on the highway than get in a dinghy, cross a dark wet windy harbor covered in spray and outboard smoke and be forced to do it all in reverse hours later, just to get into a rocking pitching bed. Good old days indeed!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Value Added Key West

What a strange winter we are having. Out and about it suddenly starts to rain, at random out of a cloudy sky. Days are hot and frequently muggy with all the moisture in the air. Nights are cool and breezy and pleasant. The cold fronts we were used to have faded from memory, just as four dollar a gallon gas has faded, replaced by fuel hovering between $2:30 and $2:80 a gallon, if you know where to look. It all seems to mitigate against the humble bicycle:

But the town is packed with snow refugees, people who now find themselves living in the path of powerful winter storms and they ride bicycles not as gas savers but as temporarily liberated souls, bohemians in a place south of reality. No kidding "south of reality" like this one bed, one bath = $715,000. But it is a pretty little eyebrow home in the part of town least likely to flood in a storm.

Like the French Quarter in New Orleans, this part of town tends to stay driest when hurricanes push water into Key West. And an eyebrow home is a historic though useless architectural feature, I'm told. The idea was to draw the roof down over the upper windows to allow them to remain open in rainy weather. Instead of ventilating the house they ended up trapping hot air under the eaves. Central air is the answer. And not all small cottages are actually tiny. Some got extended out back over the centuries as circumstances allowed:

Some elements of local architecture haven't been updated yet:

There are odd spaces, dirt unused, which is odd in a town where everything costs so much.

And with it come odd little signs, "please use the little path" made me smile. I chose not to but the sheer good manners made me want to.

Key West, possibly made worth while by Cuban cuisine (and soon it seems Cuban rum and cigars) and pink taxis:

And ancient cultural symbols mostly forgotten in the rush to pursue the latest fad.

Key West: since 1828.