Sunday, April 5, 2015

Big Pine Ramble, En Fran├žais

Because I work at night my wife the teacher hands off chores to me that I can carry out during office hours before I saddle up and go to work. It's a terrible burden but my Vespa needs the mileage to put the break in period behind me. I have been cruising between 50 and 55 miles per hour with bursts to 60 so I can keep up with most traffic in the Overseas Highway.

Chores done I went for a ride in the Big Pine back country, five miles north to Port Pine Heights, a housing community that failed to fill out as planned. These impressive gates open on mostly empty overgrown lots.

Nevertheless five miles up Key Deer Boulevard from the highway sewers are being planned just like everywhere else. This 200 million dollar project is designed to get everyone flushing their toilets into modern sewage treatment plants. Some people grumble at the cost and would prefer to keep flushing into nearshore waters...The usual environmental shortsightedness that characterizes higher thinking across the Keys.

I was pursuing a geocache when I came across a colorful van in the parking lot at the Jack Watson Trailhead. I went to see what was up.

They were French and seemed floored by my ability to chat in their mother tongue with them. I asked a few polite questions, got monosyllables in reply and gave up the effort, not without securing a photo for my trouble. I'd like to have known more. Oh well.

I didn't find the geocache but I enjoyed playing with my camera. I'm getting more handy with the iPhone, not without some tantrums and irritation, but overall it works well.

As usual I'm no botanist but I enjoyed the macro function of the phone camera.

Have a good Easter Sunday. May your snowbirds go home tomorrow. It's warm enough to swim now, just about.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Bloodline, A Consideration

One thing that bothers me about seeing movies whose locations I know is that I lose the capacity to abandon reality and immerse myself in the fiction. What? There's no bus stop at Alabama Jack' mind screams in protest. But I'll tell you what, Bloodline is one cool TV show. I love it and I accept the fictions the producers have incorporated to make the story work. Watch this TV show and be grateful Netflix got the Florida Keys right.
The story is brought to you by the minds that created the amazing Damages and their backwards-forwards timeline makes its appearance here. This is a thriller that thrills, and as I write I have three episodes left and I am glad to hear season two has been commissioned. The story is set in the Upper Keys, centered on a family guesthouse and the clan whose lives revolve around it. Danny (pictured above) comes home the family black sheep, and his mere presence divides the family. The plot twists I shall not reveal, suffice it to say they will lead you astray all over the place.
The newspaper has been reporting on the externals of the production, stars seen eating locally (movie stars eat?) an actual guesthouse was commandeered for the production, locals play extras to the joy of their friends and the stars tell the locals how much they love the Keys. Predictable stuff.
I've heard from the naysayers too, picking holes in the locations, and all that. Personally I think this show makes even the Upper Keys look good! Which is a drag as it will surely be an enticement for more people to visit. Islamorada and Key Largo can finally get their moment in the sun, not overshadowed by almighty Key West!
A Conch told me how pissed off he was by the show. At one point youngest brother Kevin looks to get a loan from the bank and he tries to jolly the banker, a black woman in an all white show, from Big Zpine by calling her a Conch. "No black woman I know was born in Big Pine" my stubborn Conch told me. Well, I said feebly, they are just locals trying to close a deal. Just because they are in the Keys doesn't make them Conchs he said huffily.
I like this show. I'm not the best person to judge a plot, I have Aspergers and human motivation always seems to escape me, in fiction as it does in life. My poor wife has to put up with me figuring the plot minutes or episodes after she has already done so.
Bloodline is set in the moneyed world of old residents who got their piece of waterfront before modern communications made living in the Keys easy to do. These people have become entrenched in their Upper Keys world and we can marvel at their extraordinary beach, the parkland like garden and museum quality interiors.
But we also get to see the dingy quality of life of those hanging on to the edge of mainstream reality, trailer park life, bar fights, drugs and down at heel marinas. Cultural diversity is represented by Latino supporting characters, not necessarily Cuban either, but this movie is the story of the travails of white privilege in the Upper Keys. Which of itself is not I suppose that far off reality as the moneyed forces realign the local population.
Like they told the paper the Keys are a character in their own right and they make this drama one step above Justified, set in Kentucky, shot in California, or the much enjoyed Dexter set in Miami and shot in Long Beach California. Bloodline is set here, shot here and about here. Enjoy it, I know I am, the naysayers be damned!

Pictures are from Netflix publicity online.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Key West Landmarks

It begins and ends at Mile Marker Zero. They make a great deal of the U.S. Highway One marker in front of the Monroe County courthouse at Fleming and Whitehead Streets. So here I was the other morning.
After I got off work I figured I had better take a little ride around town, enjoy the night air, chill out physically and mentally as it is cool these days before dawn, and at six o'clock thanks to summertime it's dark and the streets are empty. I figured I could park illegally and capture my sweet running ( for now) 1979 Vespa 200 in a few hot spots.
Everyone knows about the Mile Zero thing. The Angelina guesthouse is perhaps less well known. It is one of a cluster of the less expensive guest houses I recommend when people ask. I got that question the other day at work. It goes like this. A dude calls Key West PD and says he needs to speak to the Lieutenant. Well, my job is to be the gatekeeper and as I told my trainee dispatcher, police officers hate to be ambushed. So I have to find out who he is and what he wants so I can pass a coherent message to the night shift Lieutenant, who does not want to be disturbed by bullshit but expects me to differentiate BS from urgent stuff she needs to know. The dude goes on he is a retired Los Angeles police officer with a bunch of retired buddies looking for recommendations on places to stay when they vacation in Key West next month. Yes, this sort of thing happens in every trade and profession in the Keys as any resident will tell you. No doubt in every resort everywhere. Me? I rely on my wife For teavel advice and she is smart enough to research Trip Advisor, Yelp, Urban Spoon etc... But among the electronically inept, word of mouth from a total stranger works better. I can just imagine the Lieutenant's response had I passed this premium service caller to her cell phone... Luckily the 911 phone was quiet and the trainee had some abbreviations to memorize so I made the department look good and completed the courtesy call. Talk to the Lieutenant indeed!
Everyone has their favorite bar in Key West and I don't. With the passing of a well known Irish place I have promised to stop whining about, I have no idea where to stop off. Some say Shanna Key on Flagler though I have some inbuilt internal resistance as I liked the quiet darkness and serene calm of the place that cannot be forgotten. The Green Partot sells the usual mediocre beer and has interesting music and is properly tropically open air but it's too well known and crowded and claustrophobic sometimes. I like to sit across the street on the deli bench that I have friended on facebook not to support clever advertising but because it is a good spot for sit-down Cuban coffee and people watching.
If you come to Key West you will stop off at the Hemingway House, the best known and best marketed privately owned attraction in the Keys. I have no idea what it is about the man or the myth that makes him so incredibly popular in a nation that prides itself on anti-intellectual illiteracy, but perhaps I have answered my own question. Perhaps he is the right kind of stuff, not for his clipped tedious writing style but because he drank, chased women, killed animals and write about bar brawls while making and enjoying an immodest fortune. And then to prove he didn't have it all he blew his own brains out as an antidote to aging. So people trek to his former home in droves. 6:10am was the perfect time for some private unobserved illegal parking photography.
Ah yes, the Fausto's landmark, not just a grocery store but a social gathering place is how Fausto's styles itself. . The mustachio'ed city commissioner who married into this family has the formula down just right. He sets prices high enough to stay in business, he caters to the high end, gay and harried guest house families with beach food, seaweed treats (erk!) and old fashioned cuts of meat. But it's also a real grocery store, steady and ready to serve people unwilling to drive two miles to Publix in the outer darkness of New Town. Visit Key West and shop Fausto's here and in the less picturesque store on White Street a mile away, to serve those unwilling to travel 12 blocks for groceries...and pretend you are a local with all the glamor (!) and none of the hassles...
To express correct ennui with the whole unseemly tourist thing tell people you are over Duval Street and you never visit, except perhaps to have a beer on the beach at Southernmost, or at best to wander the boutiques in the unhurried Upper Duval area, which is paradoxically at the Southern end of the main drag. Seen here across the handlebars waiting for a green light at Truman Avenue, looking south.
You won't find four speed steel bodied scooters with "antique" tags for rent at Andy's Scooter shop. You don't see me here much during the day, though if you need your scooter repaired and don't want to see Jiri on distant Stock Island, this is where you'll come. If you rent a scooter, the best way to get around town, remember this isn't Disneyworld and bad things happen to people who ride badly. A helicopter flight to Miami to repair your broken head will cost you $30,000 and I'm sure your insurance company will try to reject the charge as they usually do.
Speaking of which buying booze to go will do you no good either but here at Don's Place, on the Thousand block of Truman you have the chance to pick up plenty of second hand smoke when the doors open set seven in the morning, or to buy booze to go at the only drive through window in Key West since The Tunnel closed.
Landmarks in Old Town would be incomplete without a mention of Dions at Truman and White. 24 hour gas compete ting with the Chevron across the street whose secret weapon is car repairs and coffee for those who seek out American brew. Here at Dion's there is a convenience store alongside the gas and in it's way this too is a social hub. To people watch here pull up at the Kerr near the ice machines, get a coffee or a soda, but not alcohol please as this is the real Key West and public drinking is not approved of here. For real.
If you want true local food get some fried chicken, preferably fresh fried, from the chicken counter inside. I like Dions, as do many others which is what made the family monstrous wealthy one fried chicken breast at a time from here to Homestead.
There: not Chamber of Commerce certified. Conchscooter's landmarks. And no I didn't even try to get tickets for Jimmy Buffett's concert the other night. 200 tickets offered to 69,000 people. Humph!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Enjoying A Cold Front

The term "cold front" has different connotations depending where you live. Around here a gentle north breeze, temperatures in the mid 70s and no humidity indicate an end of winter cold front that is quite delightful.  
I had hoped it was cool enough that my dog might be energized but in  her new slower paced old age we walked half the bridge and went home to sleep. I had some homework to do so after lunch I worked and she napped because a girl can get tired after a morning spent sleeping. 
She was ready to jump up when I called her out for a walk and she trotted downstairs and stood expectantly next to the car. I found myself in the same position, expectant on the No Name Bridge which is getting some cement repairs. Of all the thousands of bridges around the country that need maintenance this bridge to almost nowhere is getting an elaborate make over for which I am grateful. I also enjoyed observing the dunderheaded behavior of one more over sized pick up driver. The sign says "keep left" which on my planet is an indication that after the light goes green you take the left lane, the one unencumbered by large obvious cones. This bright spark decided to block the oncoming lane as he waited for the light to change. Luckily no one approached and his knuckleheaded nonsense had no consequences.
Cheyenne likes this walk on No Name Key but I doubt we will be back until the rains return because she went hunting for drinking water and found none at her dried up pool and she came back through the woods muddy and disappointed.
A nice couple in a car pulled  up as I was studying my latest issue of Rider magazine and asked about the trail. I wasn't sure what to tell them as these woods hold few surprises; no hills rivers lakes or views, what you see is what you get.  They walked and I did not see them again. Maybe the ghosts of the Bay of Pigs fighters who trained here rose from the undergrowth and got them. Or maybe Cheyenne and I left before they returned.
It was a busy afternoon on No Name Key Tuesday. Cars were coming and going like they didn't get the message that winter is over and its time to go North again. Then I heard the bizarre sound of an infantry platoon marching up the road, boots crucnhing in perfect cadence. I hardly dared look up.
He strode by pounding the gravel to the inevitable dead end a hundred yards to the right. All side roads in the Keys end in water or mangroves often with red diamond shaped signs that indicate the land has run out. You can see tentative drivers driving ever more slowly as reality sinks in and they face the prospect of making a u-turn in a street far narrower than they are used to maneuvering at home. I guess this guy just had to make a smart about face.
Marching dude crunched his way back. I don't know if he was exercising or looking for a destination and got lost but he was striding along with his ear buds in place...he put me in mind of Dominique Pinon in the French thriller Diva which I note is only available on disc on Netflix. Hmm, that's one of those flicks that is long overdue for another viewing.
He disappeared, all sinews braced, and I hung out with my dozing dog long enough he had vanished by the time I drove past No Name Pub toward my date with destiny, food shopping at Winn Dixie.
Just to confirm the point that I am all wrong about it being time to leave, a boat arrived  and edged its way into the development of houses nestled behind a barricade of No Trespassing signs.
None of this excitement got a reaction out of my dog. Indeed by the time I had to leave in order to be at home cooking dinner by the time my wife got back from work, Cheyenne was still grumpy about being woken up and asked politely to get in the car. She got up as I approached her, then when I turned my back to lead her to the car she flopped down again, her way of asking for more time. Headline: wife trumps dog - Shock! Horror!
I had a late shift at work and the moon was shining bright on the world when I left home. I wanted to turn off the Vespa headlights and ride in the dark but that seemed a tad foolhardy on the Overseas Highway. Besides, the theme of the day continued and even at one in the morning there seemed to be far too much traffic on the Highway! 
I took the picture for the scooter tag game I'm playing on ADVrider. I liked how it came out.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April 1

This is the time of year I love our local paper more than usual. We are privileged to have a real daily paper in such a small town, locally owned and published daily.

Sure the Citizen pisses me off from time to time but mostly by sins of omission which I have come to accept as necessary considering the power structure in this small community.

But April 1 has become a day I look forward to, no longer impelled myself to figure out a joke story. I bow to the masters.

Don't you wish you had a daily like this thrown in your drive at three in the morning every day?


Wal-Mart Is Announced

To accentuate the exotic nature of Life in the Keys much is made in the tourist literature that Havana, capital of the Godless Communists is closer to Key West than the nearest Wal-Mart, leading light of the slave wage mentality of God Centered Capitalism. That edge-of-the-known-world status is now slipping away into the realm of The Good Old Days.

This huge project is grounded in irony, not least the fact that Wal-Mart representatives have chosen to present themselves for questioning to members of the Key West Business Guild, known in local shorthand as the "Gay Chamber Of Commerce." Yes, Toto we are decidedly not in Indiana here and now! And no, this is not an April Fool's story if the newspaper is to be believed. Malls across America are dying but the Keys always ready to march to the beat of a different drummer are ready to expand the ugly shopping center concept.

Wal-Mart has been rumored to be in the works for a long time, I wrote about it years ago to much vituperation. But here we are, late but on track. The former porn shop off the Overseas Highway will now be part of the new mall which will, we are told, require a traffic light and extra lanes improve the quality of life in the Lower Keys.

There is plenty of debate about the future of the Keys, and now that this is out in the open it will get louder for a while I'm sure. Wal-Mart combined with online ordering won't help small town retailing, and my wife who hates Wal-Mart's wage policies happily depends on Amazon who are if anything worse In the happy realm of unpaid overtime and worker abuse. Shopping locally requires dealing with local workers who are also paid poorly in an economy geared always more strictly to serve the wealthy. Resentment is expressed through indifferent service. Community leaders follow instead of leading so the spiral tightens.

It is at this point one is supposed to offer a solution, a magical machine from the wings bearing a god ready to alter the plot and restore balance. But the deus ex macchina in this situation doesn't exist. Last Stand, Reef Relief and Glee are all Eco- organizations who depend on local wealth for their place in the sun. Don't expect resistance from the lap dogs of the elite. None of us who work to keep a fingernail hold on these rocks resist. You just ride the wave of money drenching the Keys and hope it's not your day to be washed off and stranded by the tide of poverty in the cold suburbia Up North. Let those with clout debate the merit of limitless development, let the historians note the failure of unbridled growth to create general prosperity...For those of us living on the margins it's enough not to be washed away today. Tomorrow? Who knows...