Monday, August 24, 2015

Slackers, Key West Style

I work with youngsters who are Conchs mostly. A few of us came from Up North but for the most part people who stick at these jobs are people who have roots in town, people with families, homes and history. Its just not that easy to go through a prolonged hiring process to get a city job, especially in dispatch, when you live far away and the process takes numerous tests and interviews spread over several months. Those of us who do survive the process become welded into a tight knit group of people who can do a stressful job reliably and well, and half a dozen of us relish doing it at night. The Slackers in the title does not refer to us, I took it from the movie of the same title which was a character study, more or less, of night clerks "slacking."  
 We get pretty intimate in these dispatching jobs. We learn to have conversations interrupted by calls on the radio or 911 calls and the conversation resumes without a glitch after the activity does down. Sometimes it doesn't die down and the stories get put on hold, perhaps indefinitely. We are used to not being able to finish a thought. So the stories I have gleaned I have heard over months of working with JW, the bald one, and Nick the  one with hair...So they both went to Key West High school and they recognize names all over town. I;m sitting there minding my own business and they start going off on someone arguing family history...wasn't she the one who used to go out with him before he got caught borrowing his brother's car...He used to be married to my cousin's half sister, the one whose brother owned that store. It's like listening to the people in the village where I grew up talking about their neighbors, marking the passage of time by natural disasters (the year the cows stopped milking etc...) and connecting people through marriage jobs and childbirth. 
 They also see people wandering around town all the time. There's that old Haitian lady who walks near 14th/ Apparently she carries her stuff old school style, neatly balanced on her head. JW who is endowed with a colorful way of thinking remarked that passing her on the street makes him fell like he's stepped into the pages of National Geographic, one of those third world countries. I say nothing and think about the women in my village where I grew up, doing just that!
Then there was the case of the convenience store clerk who created a bit of a wave one evening when Nick stopped by to picked up a soda. She was married to someone ..blah ... blah...anyway she is known to the Boys from her past in Key West and she has a reputation a certain class of people. Now Nick would never tell you but he's part Cuban himself so when the clerk gets mad at a Cuban who makes a mistake and accidentally tries to short change her she goes off about "Them Cubans..." Well, Nick says, "That was awkward. I mean what do you say standing in line with a bunch of people...Yeah, I hate those Cubans too....Especially when I am one?"
 JW likes to drink Monster energy drinks and after his break he likes to stop up the street on his way back to work and get afresh ice cold can of high energy sugar water. The trouble is...the clerk at the convenience store has taken a fancy to my married colleague. "Man," he announced in frustration, "I gotta get my Monsters somewhere else, the Lion came onto me again and it makes me uncomfortable," he said, grimacing. Apparently the clerk has a mane of brightly dyed blonde hair so they call him the Lion and he has proclivities that JW is not anxious to participate in. Mind you JW got propositioned in line at Disneyworld last vacation so I suppose he should be used to it. I think his wife thinks its pretty funny. 
My colleagues are anxiously awaiting the opening of Taco Bell which closed in 2009 and has apparently been missed greatly. It is supposed to open today and I have no doubt there will be lines. I am no particular fan but I hope they hire some of the more colorful clerks I hear about from my colleagues. There was one guy at the Burger King who announced himself on the drive through intercomm "Bee Kay- wha-da-doo" and offered to add "chee chee" to your sandwich if you wanted cheese with it. JW had to ask him where he was from ("I knew I was going to regret this" he sighed as he told the story about getting involved in the guy's story). Turns out he speaks French Creole and a few other languages I can't remember." He allowed as the young clerk must be pretty smart, but not smart enough to take his languages somewhere other than Burger King.
I like that side of life in Key West, not least because unlike the village in Italy I grew up in, no one knows me here and I navigate the strange connections as an outsider. And that suits me very much. I like listening to the stories and when JW  tells me he's been reading Game of Thrones I know I'm going to hear something to my advantage. "I don't read a lot" he says but Game of Thrones caught his interest. So how was it I ask, genuinely interested. "Oh man," he says "I'm not liking it as  much as I expected. So when I read the book the characters, I know should be talking with proper English accents. Thing is, in my head they're all speaking Conch. I'm telling you; it just doesn't sound tight." 

My life, the well regulated life of  a middle aged man alternating between work and home is nowhere near as colorful as the young Conchs I live around. However I did see Papa Smurf the other day in the check out line at the supermarket. 
He said nothing but he looked like he was going fishing. I wonder what he caught? A tall story perhaps.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday At The Beach

I was astonished to see no one at Veterans Memorial Park last week well after sunrise. In winter this spot, at the south end of the Seven Mile Bridge is packed, and photographers  often show up to watch the sun show up over Marathon. 
I woke up late, still fighting pneumonia and Cheyenne and I were alone, with the usual epidemic of abandoned footwear. I don't know how people lose their shoes all the time. Mind you, reading the Key West Yard Sale Facebook page you'd be even more astonished how many people manage to lose their dogs. 
 We got back to the car animal and footwear intact.
Another beautiful day in the making, not too hot around 90 degrees with a cool breeze to mitigate the humidity. I know its been the hottest summer on record and I know the west is in major drought and burning up but in the Keys the summer has been perfect. All I have to do is shake off my endless bloody pneumonia.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Stock Island

I made an effort to get out of the house with Cheyenne as I was feeling  better  and the walls of the house were closing in. My pneumonia is a lot better but I am still coughing and spluttering and not feeling myself. Cheyenne doesn't seem to mind as long as she gets her morning walk. Afternoons are just too hot for her to want to go outside, so we make the most of mornings.
Stock Island is supposed to be getting a  makeover soon with new marinas combining with hotels to change this place from being the light industrial support for Key West, home to the workforce and commercial fishing and become a part of the hospitality industry cash cow. For now the splendid sunrises are the property of trailer dwellers and people cluttering up Boca Chica Bay on their boats. Unfortunately it seems these may soon enough become the good old days.
Not everything about working class Stock Island is romantic. Trash collections seems rather haphazard sometimes, which is one reason Cheyenne loves walking here. Every street holds the potential for Labrador treasure.
Much of Stock Island is affordable housing, at least by local standards. It's the part of the Lower Keys that puts me in mind of how Key West must have been "back in the day" that awful phrase used to signify the unknowable and thus impossibly desirable. I thought Key West was too remote and too rough  in 1981 before the great land grab really got underway. I was young and the bright lights of California beckoned, a place where things happened. Key West then appeals more now, paradoxically.
Stock Island is where you park your scooter with all keys present and leave a twelve pack of soda on the foot boards and no one touches it.
Besides Cheyenne's tastes run to rain water, slightly fermented. Weird dog.
There is a relatively new coffee shop on the main drag, Maloney Avenue. As far as I know Maloney Avenue is named for the railroad doctor John Maloney who, with Henry Flagler's help opened a hospital in Key West as well as running the city pharmacy. Then for some reason they named the main street through Stock Island after him. This is where they have benches and umbrellas to enable patrons to enjoy the riviera-like atmosphere of downtown Stock Island. I'm told the food is quite good.
And if you have a few million to spare and plans for upscale housing this is where you can come and start the redevelopment ball rolling earnest.
I don't suppose chickens will be tourist attractions in the developed future of Stock Island. But who knows?
Looking north with the Overseas Highway in the distance. Down here, a different world, perhaps better, less frenetic, perhaps not, perhaps just crowded and messy and holding its breath.

A  housekeeping note or two:

My podcasts are still going strong and doing quite well according to my Producer at travel and safety. This week I interview a new arrival in the U.S. from Morocco... a long cultural journey. 

Also sometime this month I posted my 4,000th essay on this blog which started in June 2007. My postings have been a bit random lately as I have been struggling to overcome my walking pneumonia. Google rates my page, which I consistently decline to advertise as ranking somewhere around 1.1 million around the world in the number of views which figure I find astonishing. I suppose after eight years of daily photo essays one shouldn't be surprised. Thank you for reading.

My wife and I mark our 21st wedding anniversary today. We had a bit of difficulty remembering exactly what day it was in 1994 but in the end we settled on the 21st of August. Not bad. That it has lasted this long is quite surprising too, honestly. We've had some adventures, none quite like the one we are currently engaged in, creating a  start up company but that too is keeping our interest and building our stress. Better to have been out sailing...or drying out on a beach in Costa Rica:
Or transiting the Panama Canal in 1999.
Who knows what the future will bring?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Danny Who?

Here's a thought: it's been ten years since Wilma blew into town and flooded Key West just months after Katrina wrecked New Orleans. No one across the U.S. noticed Key West go under water as the Crescent City's drama made everyone question their survival rating. It was my second season dispatching, I was hired right before the awful 2004 summer season of constant hurricanes and a year later I was taking calls from people whose homes were collapsing and whose streets were flooding. But, unlike New Orleans Key West did not see a break down in social order. I remember bums collecting supplies floating out of Kmart and putting them up on ledges out of reach of the flood waters. People got stuck on their roofs, cars floated away, but no one drowned and vigilantes didn't strut around waving guns. It was no fun but it wasn't distopia. I felt good about Key West. From NOAA this image of North Roosevelt; Hurricane Wilma sucked:

With Tropical Storm Danny churning around in the South Atlantic and predicted to become a Category Two storm before reaching the Caribbean this might be a good time to remember a great many people who live in the Keys have yet to enjoy their first hurricane experience. Key Haven wasn't spared by Wilma:

When the National Hurricane Center announced the Pacific El NiƱo promised us a lighter than usual season they did point out that "it only takes one." So could Tropical Storm Danny be the one? It's a bit early to say, let's face it.

The difficulty when facing the potential approach of a storm is that everyone has an opinion and those with no experience can be led to worry or worse can be persuaded to behave with a bravado that usually evaporates when it's too late. I've sat out a dozen storms but my job requires me to stay and facing 130 mile-per-hour winds from inside the police station is one thing. My wife the teacher evacuates the minute they close the schools. She leaves with Cheyenne and a tank full of gas before last minute traffic clogs the overseas Highway. The question is: what to do and when? The old timers, real and pretend, like to pontificate and act all certain. Me? Not got a clue. Sometimes people like to measure wind speeds as though the approach of a mere Category One is nothing to worry about. Maybe, but wind speed changes on a whim. It's all very mathematical but the Saffir-Simpson scale is just an attempt to measure the nature of Nature.

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 rating based on a hurricane's sustained wind speed. This scale estimates potential property damage. Hurricanes reaching Category 3 and higher are considered major hurricanes because of their potential for significant loss of life and damage. Category 1 and 2 storms are still dangerous, however, and require preventative measures. In the western North Pacific, the term "super typhoon" is used for tropical cyclones with sustained winds exceeding 150 mph.

CategorySustained WindsTypes of Damage Due to Hurricane Winds
174-95 mph
64-82 kt
119-153 km/h
Very dangerous winds will produce some damage: Well-constructed frame homes could have damage to roof, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters. Large branches of trees will snap and shallowly rooted trees may be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days.
296-110 mph
83-95 kt
154-177 km/h
Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage:Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks.
111-129 mph
96-112 kt
178-208 km/h
Devastating damage will occur: Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.
130-156 mph
113-136 kt
209-251 km/h
Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
157 mph or higher
137 kt or higher
252 km/h or higher
Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.


So, there's a week to see what's what....

And you may care to check out The Hebert Box if you live in Florida! Good Luck!


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Housing: Affordable And Not

Clearly I am getting to feel better as I have started to take a fresh interest in the pages of the daily paper, and I am well enough nowadays to stagger downstairs to pick up the neatly folded newsprint tossed in my driveway. Oh dear what do we find? More stories about the abominable state of housing in the Southernmost City. And judging by a couple of stories on the front page tonight's city commission meeting could make things, at best, no better, and  at worst, no worse. 
The first chunk of housing involves a development on Caroline Street with expensive town homes under construction (see above from the front page of yesterday's paper). The question there is whether or not the homes should be permitted to rent for less than 28 days at a time. The city limits short term rentals, the idea being to preserve residential neighborhoods rather than turning them all into party central for a week at a  time...However in neither case are these multi million dollar homes going to be rented as workforce housing, it seems to me. The question is more one of helping to encourage sales to people who one day might like to live in Key West  but want to buy these town homes to use as rentals in the meantime which does the housing market no particular good. This issue highlights the difficulty of home ownership in Key West that is often masked by ridiculous prices combined with lack of amenity. You buy a home and end up with your neighbors being vacationers up till all hours splashing in the pool, playing music and being rowdy after a night's drinking on Duval Yay! That's what Key West is all about! When you've paid through the nose for your home this sort of behavior can render you pretty testy
The other housing development planned for the city is a collection of ten manufactured homes to be built on stilts on Flagler Avenue at 11th Street on a piece of land essentially cleared by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Apparently one city commissioner of glorious but short memory wanted a city park but developers have been arguing over the parcel and now it seems these manufactured homes will sell for $800,000 apiece with a chunk of the land remaining undeveloped and "preserved." These three bedroom wonders don't exactly qualify as worker housing either at those prices. The best part is the city gets a whole $15,000 tribute for affordable housing funding from each home. As you might imagine around here  $150,000 won't go far to assuage the need for affordable homes. The best part about this development for me is the security wall and electronic fence that is planned to keep the ravening hordes of homeless at bay. The Catholic Soup Kitchen is next door...The Enclave will be a secure fortress, safe from the poor.
If there were any doubts about Key West's commitment to affordable housing, let them be dispelled at once. Even in my feverish state this appears just to be more lopsided fuzzy thinking from a leadership class that has not one spark of thoughtful creativity.