Saturday, June 13, 2015

Ducati Scrambler

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I did the geek thing and while I was leaving Salute on the Beach I crossed paths with a brand new model of a brand new motorcycle, a Ducati designed to take a slice of the market so ably created by the Triumph Bonneville. The Ducati Scrambler 800 is both more powerful and lighter than my Bonneville and it is a pretty machine.
Ducati built a range of single cylinder motorcycles in the 1970's which were quite popular at the time. I never owned one because they had a tremendous reputation for vibrating and being an uncomfortable ride. I, even then, had my sights set on touring by motorcycle and my machines might have been equally uncomfortable but they didn't vibrate like these machines, which now look to my elderly eye quite lovely and desirable!. 
But, just like my Bonneville which is a picture of an elderly Triumph but not a real one these modern Ducatis are said to be fast and easy to ride and great fun.
I was hoping for some low down on these very new machines but the owner, from Czech originally could only tell me it was his second ever motorcycle and he liked it. Being the nerd I am I think I knew more about his ride than he did! Nice guy he even incautiously offered me a ride but I declined because...that isn't done! The last time I loaned someone my bike they crashed it so don't even ask.
I was on my way to work so I had to book on my old Vespa. I had been at Salute saying good bye to a dear friend whose mother is not well and who unfortunately lives in Illinois. It happens a lot in Key West, people who are permanent fixtures have family or other obligations Up North and off they go.
Nan, dressed in white, was quite tearful as this was not an easy departure. Her friends crowded round as one does and I expect each of us was secretly glad it wasn't our turn to slip off the island and go north.
This was the view from her front yard and she won't be replicating it in Illinois on the banks of the Mississippi. She told me she spent every waking moment she could sitting out here taking it all in one more time. "I wish I canceled my cable long ago, not last week." It gave me renewed appreciation for my deck, that conversation. I went out last night and stood in the breeze watching the thunderheads crackle, thinking of Nan.
I hope her departure will be temporary, I know she misses this place already. We keep hanging on. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Happy Birthday Key West Diary!

Conchscooter As Businessman.

I confess, I have been very busy and not touring downtown Key West. My wife and I are starting a business which I hope will be ready for actual live sales in a month or so, long overdue from our initial start up date last winter but these things take time and we are trying to get it right along with our partner the hard working engineer. In addition to our day jobs much waking time is spent contemplating the numerous details that go into preparing for a launch. I cannot be more specific until our lawyer clears our patent and says its okay, because we live in a world dominated by laws (what a pain!) and the people who maintain them (thank God for them). My partner initially was questioning the value of a patent but after a year of grinding at the engineering wheel on my idea he has come around to the belief that supporting intellectual property  rights is good - in a big way. Trade mark- check, patent- check. Anyway I apologize for being a bit mysterious but I feel I have not been as on the ball with my blog, now 8 years old, as I should have been. Last year I was worried that the demands on my time might have impaired my ability to keep rolling out daily posts but so far, partly because the business start was delayed my blog hasn't suffered too much. Tomorrow is the eighth anniversary of my First Blog Post and I wish I had had more time to mark the occasion. So for the time being rest assured nothing much will change here and I shall do my best to bring my idea to market soon while keeping up daily posts about nothing very much except life in Key West. Much of which at the moment must continue to be obscured until my product is ready for nationwide roll out. Which will be a huge relief, as I am not patient by nature. You might even want to buy it if your extended family lives far apart. Indeed I rather suspect you will want to buy it.

Anyway this essay owes it's existence to photographs found elsewhere and attributed in the text. I was prompted to write this rather confessional post when I noticed Doug Bennett's post a couple of weeks ago about the new Starbucks in town, a store I hadn't noticed even as I have scooted by and that realization confirmed to me my head has been elsewhere lately. At first glance I find its presence rather annoying but discussing it with a friend I came to the conclusion that this chain coffee shop, if such we must  have in this deteriorating downtown, may actually prove to be useful. 

I used to enjoy sitting in the window at Starbucks under the La Concha hotel on Duval but a recent renovation has moved the Starbucks to the side of the hotel so the only people watching available now is at the dingy side of Fleming Street. This place offers greater potential. Don't get me wrong, I do like my con leche  and colada from Sandy's and Jeana's and elsewhere but sometimes a seat and a table and air conditioning are nice even if you don't want alcohol. This might do:

Both pictures are from Doug Bennett's blog: " This Week On The Island" and I am very glad he took the time to get them! This next one has gone, no more Burger Fi which is too bad. I got here just once and I liked it but something must have gone wrong because it's gone.

And now the new place, not so new as it's been open a month I believe, and it's thanks to the  Lost Souls blog that I noticed the Facebook Page whose photos I reproduce Here Below:

Joe's Place is open on Caroline Street at the spot previously occupied by JDL's Big Ten and previously JT's, both sports bars so I suppose televisions can only be expected in this new incarnation. The food menu seems okay, pretty standard stuff rendered I hope in above average form and the place seems to be doing well for which I am grateful. I too mourn the loss of Finnegan's Wake, and McConnell's on Duval is a sort-of substitute but I wouldn't mind a totally non Irish Pub replacement for my modest drinking needs if one were available. The Porch worked for a while but it's notoriety got the better of it and I am not nearly hip enough to darken it's doors again. Plus it's bloody noisy and has no food at all. Joe's Place might possibly be quirky and enjoyable even for a curmudgeon like me, with pleasant outside seating (dogs..?).

I shall have to give it a try at some point. However they aren't pushing their beer list so I am skeptical so far. I have managed to glean that Guiness and some craft beers are on tap so that's better than nothing but McConnell's has draft Smithwicks which is an attraction.

Perhaps before too long my business will be in the ether, my sales manager currently very enthusiastic will be even more so when he has a product to sell and I shall get to sneak away to see what is happening downtown in Key West. That would be nice. Here's to entrepreneurship and whoever told you it was easy told you a big fat lie.



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.
amswary@keysnews.com

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.