Thursday, June 11, 2015

Boca Chica Beach

I took Cheyenne and the iPhone to the beach. I guess I was thinking mostly about what I would write tomorrow, so today is pictures without words. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Night Shopping In Key West

Supposing you were out and about in Key West one night, admiring public Art as you do, and you came over all funny and needed refreshment. What to do?
Sometimes it is more pleasant to enjoy public monuments in the early hours when the crowds are slack and you can gain a proper appreciation of otherwise unremarkable places thrust by chance into the lists of desirable places. If for instance admiring Mile Zero of the Overseas Highway you were overcome by a need for beer, or soda, or chocolate or Funyuns what would you do?
Key Lime Pie at three in the morning? Oh no! What to do?
Sometimes people feel like they might get lucky long after the sun has gone down and that would be the perfect time to buy a lottery ticket, what the more skeptical among us view as a tax on the mathematically impaired. However hope springs eternal and this being America when  you gotta go, you gotta go and there are 24 hour places to shop in this strange small town.
Locals used to call this the Arab Store (as in Aay-Rabb) for the very good reason that the owners were from Bangladesh; I know, I used to chat with them from time to time. The fact that Bangladesh is only about one third the distance from Saudi Arabia as the US would no doubt explain this misplaced nickname for Far Eastern operators of this shop...that or pure ignorance. Someone else owns it but I expect it will be the Aay-rab store for a long time to come!
This next one, further up Caroline from Duval Street used to be known as Maun's ("mor-n's") because the Maun family, well placed in the hierarchy of St Mary's Catholic Church, used to operate it. Now it's known rather blandly as The New Market. It is across the street from Harpoon Harry's and is equipped with a bum magnet for some reason.
Charlie's Grocery on William Street is a funny old place, not open 24 hours as you can see but interesting in its own way if you aren't in desperate need of junk food at an ungodly hour of the night. Come by during the day to catch up on your Bollywood soap operas inside the cement block building. I don't know how these people make a living but they do and quite well it seems, for this lot sell nothing spectacularly interesting as far as I can tell but they plug along.
Similarly here, not far up Windsor from Charlie's at the corner of the cemetery, another  almost identical inconvenience store, wrapped in brick this time. I have no idea why people walk, jog and trot around this town clutching bottles of excessively heavy, rapidly warming bottled water as they go. If drinking water carefully packaged in a throw away plastic bottle is essential for you, then you can find fresh icy cold ones everywhere in Key West. 
The nexus of all convenience stores is here at Truman and White Streets, with regular gasoline sold at nearly $2.90 a gallon, and Citgo sells Dion's Fried Chicken Done Right (Link) all night long. Connoisseurs tell me the coffee at the Chevron is better but here you have the makings of a hot time in the old town at night. By the way alcohol sales stop at four am and cannot resume before 7 am according to some arcane accounting of the law which I suppose wants to give your liver a brief rest in the 24 hours of the day. Makes no sense to me but there we are.
The Lime Tree Food Store on Flagler wedged between Bertha and Josephine Streets, it's much smaller than it looks outside though it is equipped with a vast parking lot. I don't know why but it strikes me as rather seedy and I'd rather get my soda at the Gas station on North Roosevelt a couple of minutes away on First Street.
Further up Flagler we have Habana Plaza wrecked by Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and restored into a vaguely Art Deco style of building with the rather picturesque portico which these days mostly serves a temporary city hall filled with city workers waiting for the White Street school renewal project to be finished. In the middle of all the city offices there is a convenience store, Atlantic Grocery, so named for no visible reason that I can think of. There's a Cuban coffee shop next door operated not for tourists necessarily so if you get your bottled water and your  con leche here you are a bit off the beaten track. A bit.
On your way out of town on Flagler Avenue the Mobil Station has Dion's chicken (the chicken is available all the way up to and into Homestead on the mainland). Not open 24 hours, not on my usual path, but here and useful nonetheless.
The main road into Key West, North Roosevelt Boulevard, "the Boulevard" as it's known informally, is stacked with mainstream America neon, chain stores, large parking lots and all the paraphernalia of multi- lane traffic. There are Circle K stores and Shell gas stations aplenty and they are what you'd expect. This one is a 24 hour place at Kennedy Drive:
The only 24 hour bona fide grocery in Key West is Winn Dixie in Overseas Market, as Fausto's and the two Publix markets close each evening. Across from Winn Dixie one of the many national chain pharmacies has all night neon:
Here's a thing, my Cuban acquaintances swear by the coffee and food in the little Cuban kitchen in the Shell gas station at First Street, but it's not  24 hours. I frequently stop at the Circle K across the street on my way to work or during my lunch break if I want a Coke Zero to drink at the waterfront. Or if my gas guzzling two stroke Vespa needs a refill in its  tiny tank.
I hope this incomplete tour dispels the notion still fondly held by some visitors that visiting Key West rates in the adventure stakes with driving across the Gobi Desert or hiking the Karakorum Mountains. Just to complete the picture there are 24 hour gas stations all the way up the Keys very dozen or two miles, Stock Island, Big Coppitt, Big Pine, Marathon and on and on. Stock Island has a Tom Thumb in addition to the Chevron gas station.
 It's a speck of light in a very dark world at three in the morning and people were still out shopping.

In the Florida Keys you need never run out of ice cold expensive tap water in a bottle or your choice of gas, ethanol free gas or diesel. These islands are really very civilized, at all hours of the day or night.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Flora & Flipp

Riding up Fleming Street last night I saw the still empty store front of the building at 811 which has never seen a business appear after the last one closed in September 2009. The newspaper reported the guy who became famous for running aground a very large sailboat bought the store and since then nothing has happened. I miss it. It was a nice place to stop while cycling home from my job working in the sun captaining boats at the Westin (then Hyatt). I remember the owner being a really sweet woman and of course she endeared herself to me by keeping a bowl out for passing dogs, including mine when I wasn't working. There are certain experiences that embed themselves and I still think about the place as it was, when I go by and see it forlorn and empty. Especially considering how much Key West is being occupied (temporarily I hope) by vapid national chains.

From the Key West Citizen, this rather splendid article (Link) from Sunday September 13th 2009:

Neighborhood institution to close
Flora Flipp's has been a grocery store since the 1920s
Since the 1920s, people in one Old Town neighborhood have been coming to 811 Fleming St. for cold beverages, sandwiches and friendly conversation.
Some form of grocery or convenience store has existed there under various names over the years, including Flora Flipp on Fleming for the past 14 years. Now the future of the building is uncertain as its owner, 76-year-old Nancy Larsen, plans to close up shop at the end of the month.
"I felt it was time to retire," Larsen said. She bought the store in 1994 with her husband, Ron, who died in 2006.
The building, which has a one-bedroom apartment above the store, was purchased earlier this year by Peter Halmos for $545,000. Larsen said she doesn't know what he plans to do with the building. Halmos could not be reached for comment.
Larsen admits she wasn't sure about moving to Key West and becoming a business owner in 1995. She didn't even know how to use a cash register.
"Ron had been 'downsized' as they called it back then," recalled Larsen, who had taken a job selling automobiles to help support them. "He was desperate to move to Key West; I was desperate for income."
Larsen said the store was Ron's baby, and he was thrilled to be in Key West -- though she wouldn't agree to live on a boat.
The store was called Flora & Fiona's when the Larsens took over.
"I figured I would be Flora, but Ron didn't want to be Fiona," she said, laughing. So "Fiona" became "Flipp" simply because it had a nice ring to it.
Larsen said she was grateful that one of the employees agreed to stay on and show her how to work everything and make all the sandwiches on the menu.
"I walked in and said, 'I don't know how to do all this,' " Larsen said. "She said, 'Well, you own the place, so you better learn.'
"She kind of showed me the ropes here. I called the con leche machine the electric chair. I was scared of it."
Larsen and her husband ran the store side by side until he passed away three years ago.
"It made a hole in my heart and a hole in the store when he died," she said.
She has been operating the store seven days a week by herself since then.
"I think it helped me," she said. "It gave me something to do. ... My grandmother said hard work never hurt anybody."
Larsen said she likes to be busy. She shakes her head at her young friends who complain about being busy at work.
"I don't understand people today," she said chuckling.
The store is modest by all accounts and has been lovingly described as "shabby chic" by tourists who amble in for a soda, candy bar or suntan lotion, Larsen said. The building itself has been around since at least 1899, according to city maps from that year. The old-fashioned counter looks decades old, and the rows of shelves behind the register likely date to when the building housed a pharmacy in the 1940s.
"We had a very good time," Larsen said of her tenure at the store. "Everyone knows a store like this is not a big moneymaker, but we've enjoyed it very much and we've lived comfortably."
Flora & Flipp is kind of like the "Cheers" of convenience stores -- Larsen seems to know everyone's name.
It's clear after spending some time in the store that her regular customers adore her. She asks with genuine care about their children, inquires how work's going and keeps dog treats under the counter for their four-legged friends.
"It's almost like I've been adopted -- like I'm a surrogate mother," she said.
Timmy Viers, owner of Timmy Tuxedo's across the street, said he's going to be bored once the store closes. He likes to watch the people coming and going from the store from his doorway and stops in to visit with Larsen almost daily.
"I'm going to miss her, of course. And I'm really going to miss the store because it's entertaining," he said. "A real cast of characters have come through this place."
Viers remembers when the store was known as Bina's Grocery in the 1970s and '80s. In those days, shrimpers lined up outside the store to buy beer after work. Owners Albina and Jesus Romo sold cigarettes by the cigarette.
"This is a great little store," Viers said. "It's an institution."
Customer Sheila Mullins agreed. She's been coming to the store since 1976. Located just a block from her house, she said the store has been like a pantry for her over the years. She can remember running over for eggs and bread all the time. She still comes in for coffee and a newspaper most mornings.
"This is the social heart of the neighborhood," Mullins said, explaining how the store often serves as a gathering place for people to share information. "It's going to be a different neighborhood without it."
She jokingly asked Larsen whether she could come over for her famous "very cheesy" three-cheese sandwich once the store is closed.
Larsen said the best part about owning Flora & Flipp is the people she's met. Thousands of Key West travelers from all over the world have stopped in over the years, with many returning to see Larsen on subsequent visits.
One customer from Hershey, Pa., brings her a giant Hershey's Kiss each time he comes to Key West. She gets a real kick out of people coming back to see her.
"I could never go work at a computer. I think that's why I was so successful selling automobiles, because I like people -- well, most of them," she said with a twinkle in her eye.
Larsen said she plans to stick around Key West for a while to decide what's next for her. Her first priority is making a trip back to her native Minnesota to meet her first great-grandchild.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A New Week, A New Walk

Key West is looking good this time of year, lots of sunshine, flame trees blooming orange, puddles of water from recent rains, not too many people in town. It adds up to the beginning of summer before the families get out of school and start their vacations.
This trailer got my attention. The mixture of physical exertion eastern spiritual stuff and hard core fossil fuel burning madness in one set of pictures overwhelmed me. Then I saw the red square of a parking violation. The city doesn't like trailers parked on city streets so they threaten scofflaws with tows. Holy Yoga!
Don's Place on Truman opens for business at seven in the morning. They also allow smoking as they only serve drinks. I cannot imagine what that must taste like after a night's work. Cheyenne got offered a cookie by the dude who staffs the window.  She didn't  waste any time vacuuming it up. She is a pig in a fur coat.
I looked in the mirror outside the gym... I thought the sunglasses on my forehead gave me a particularly debonair look.
Cheyenne took her Zen moment to plunk down in a puddle and drink her bath water. Very refreshing I'm sure.
I came upon this guy waving a scimitar round his head. I think he was trying to sheathe it in its scabbard but for a moment I couldn't figure out what the hell he was doing. His headgear made him resemble the Turkish soldiers in the movie Lawrence of Arabia and the sword just one more weird prop in a town filled with them. I said good morning as we strolled by and he struggled to come up with a suitable rejoinder. Decidedly non compos mentis.
Cheyenne swerved across Virginia Street giving me an opportunity to admire two potentially charming motorcycles currently being allowed to sink under the weight of rust and neglect. The Harley has a spectacularly worn rear tire while the Honda 750, a true classic is rotting away from simple neglect. I wonder what their sad stories are. Better I don't know.
One Human Packer. My Take On Packer Street in 2009. Packer Street is named for a New England family of merchants who moved to Key West and J Wills Burke in his book Streets of Key West speculates they may have been called Parker but their New England accents may have led Conchs to "rename" them as it were.
I like these porch columns on this house. They remind me of California bungalow architecture. How they landed up on Virginia Street in Key West I don't know.
Key West really can be a pretty town in the early morning sun, fresh from a rainfall. 
Fresh Podcast on my other website: Travel And Safety This week GarytheTourist, famous commenter here on this blog, photographer and family traveler. Check him out. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Summer Clouds

It's the little things that please me some days. A ride to work yesterday got me thinking about the week of rain and gray skies we've been heaving, strong winds and sudden downpours. Then, as soon as it's my weekend to work there are the blue skies and puffy white clouds. 
 We  swam in our canal and chatted with a neighbor who told us of suddenly getting drenched last night in Key West. "One thunderclap," he said and the heavens opened. Everyone at the High School graduation at Tommy Roberts stadium got soaked, totally and instantly. Ah, I thought to myself as I floated on my back and stared at the sky, summer is here.
 I stopped at Sugarloaf School for a minute to enjoy the sky, a collection of white puffy piles of cloud and wisps of cloud hanging like veils.
Some rain sprinkled as I got back on the Vespa and, mindful of my six pm start time, made tracks toward Key West 17 miles away. I watch the windshields of oncoming traffic if I have any concern that I should stop and put on my Frogg Toggs. If I see the oncoming cars clearing their windshields with their wipers I figure the rain is likely to be getting heavier.  If its daytime and I'm in Flatistan the rai ahead is often quite obvious. Yesterday evening it was clear rain was not likely.

Further up the road I couldn't resist stopping and taking a souvenir of the ride, in to work with me.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

God Of Love On A Vespa

It takes grit to make a movie when you are a regular dude, even a student of the dark art, with a thesis to complete. And some help from your Mom doesn't hurt. Then once you get accolades and recognition your oeuvre sinks out of sight never to be seen again. You are a regular dude with a movie off the screen. Except nowadays there is iTunes of course and thank heavens for people like me, Netflix discs. Which offers you a shot at watching these short gems on their Oscar winning collection of short films. I think I might also have to check Netflix for the other offerings by this beguiling movie maker.


I enjoyed God Of Love not least because it opened with a scene bound to steal my heart, a ride across Pennsylvania (a small piece) on a rented machine!

The New York Post liked the movie apparently:

The live-action short "God of Love" got turned down by the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals, but director Luke Matheny, who cast himself in the lead role of a hipster Cupid, eventually hit the bull’s-eye.

The 35-year-old Brooklyn resident will be attending Oscar night at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, where his 19-minute comedy is one of five nominees for Best Live Action Short.

Made for $25,000, Matheny’s thesis film in NYU’s graduate film program has already won a student Academy Award and honors at a number of other film festivals, including Woodstock and the prestigious Telluride festival in Colorado.

Matheny, who’s made several earlier student films, says he’s a jazz fan, so he decided to make his character a lounge singer who receives a gift of passion-inducing darts that he uses to woo his best friend’s girl.

Darts were chosen because they were potentially less lethal than Cupid’s usual arrows, "but I practiced a lot because I didn’t want to kill anybody."

The club scenes were shot at a Red Hook boite called Hello Brooklyn. He also shot at a restaurant in Bed-Stuy, as well as streets in Brooklyn, Manhattan and at movie palace in Jersey City.

"We were running around a lot during the 10-day shoot, plus the opening and closing scenes of me on a rented Vespa, which were shot a couple of weeks later in Pennsylvania," he recalls.

Because he’s in virtually every shot in the movie, Matheny says everything was planned out extensively in advance with his cinematographer and assistant director. But they didn’t anticipate problems when he shot a scene at an ice-skating rink that was available for only two hours.

"I had been practicing skating, but on the day of the shoot the ice was melting and it was very hard to skate," Matheny says.

The Delaware native majored in journalism at Northwestern University and worked as a reporter and copy editor for a variety of trade magazines and Web sites in Chicago. After shooting a film with some friends in 2001 in Paris "as a lark," he moved to New York in 2004 and enrolled at NYU as a graduate student in the film program, from which he graduated last year.

Matheny’s shorts have been paid for "with grants, savings and my mother," he says. "I pick up free-lance film work here and there — my last job was doing a web commercial for an organic soup."

But "God of Love" has opened doors for Matheny, who is now writing "Ron Quixote," a feature-length comedy he wants to star in and direct.

Matheny has a Hollywood agent now, and he was approached at the annual luncheon for Oscar nominees by screenwriter Michael Arndt ("Little Miss Sunshine"), "who told me he watched the short with [Pixar honcho] John Lasseter and how much they enjoyed it."

Another fan is director Danny Boyle, who chose "God of Love" to appear on the DVD release of "127 Hours," out March 1. (The short is currently in theaters and will be available on iTunes Feb. 22.)

"I got a call one day from Fox Home Video and they told me he likes to put short films he enjoys on his DVDs," Matheny says. "Actually, I think [‘127 Hours’ star] James Franco might have had something to do with it. He’s also in the grad program at NYU, a couple of years behind me."


New York always looks great in the movies and I see a lot of Woody Allen in the shots of the city, but it doesn't make me want to live there. A proper visit would be great but I like seeing it in the movies. Thank you Netflix for letting me find this one.