Thursday, October 22, 2015

Jury Duty

I took Cheyenne on a short walk in the windy damp dark, jumped in the shower and wrapped myself in waterproofs for the ride into town. The wind was howling but I took the Vespa as the parking situation was going to be tight even for two wheels at the county courthouse and I wanted the least hassles possible. The ride home was dreadfully slow as the wind was so strong my 60mph Vespa couldn't manage more than 45 mph into the gusts. I had to keep pulling over to let cars struggle past.
The pool of people in a small town in a small county who can be called for jury duty is...small so it's not surprising I keep getting called. I think this was my fourth call for the county and I am expecting my second call for the Federal Courts any day now. Because I am naturally curious I should like to serve on a jury and I would enjoy fulfilling my civic obligation. However, because I work for the police defense attorneys will always kick me off with their peremptory challenges. So this process is one that has the effect of showing me the promised land of a New Experience but never allowing me entry, which I find frustrating.
I left in such a hurry I forgot my card but my driver's license got me a slip of paper with "259" scrawled on it. Then it was hurry up and wait in the gleaming halls of justice. Judge Miller swore us in, a room full of 179 candidates they said, for three trials this week. He told us stories about civic duty and the value of service, told us he loves his wife and talked to us like a small town judge might to his neighbors. Maybe you know his wife? She used to work at the Pier House... It was rather sweet in a folksy way. But time was a-wasting and folks around me had little time for civic awareness. Appreciating being American is best left to us immigrants I find. I vote every election and I do not lament jury service. Law enforcement without juries is shambolic in my experience as a former foreigner. This system is much better on the whole and leaving juries to be filled by the apathetic only benefits law breakers.
I got the shortest of short straws: I was not picked for the two morning jury pools, I was not dismissed outright but I was selected for the afternoon pool and required to return in two and a half hours for the afternoon selection when I would I was sure, be rejected as usual. My civic activism was being tested to the limit. Grr. I decided I could moan or make lemonade from my lemons. This was an opportunity to get a day away from 911buddy (which has finally reached the prototype stage and which we are testing madly to make sure the bugs are out) and enjoy the sunshine. So I walked to the oldest house and took a tour, which I had wanted to do for a while, and which photos will appear here next week. Then I walked to Faustos and bought lunch, sushi and green tea as I sorely needed caffeine, and walked to Mallory Square to eat among the tourists and bums.
As for sunshine there wasn't much to be had. The first real cold front of winter was blowing with a vengeance and my lunch was a bit problematic to eat as the gusts grabbed anything not nailed down. Whitecaps frothed the harbor and I was glad not to be bouncing on a boat at anchor. When I was a commercial boat captain these were no-dollar days and I didn't have to be a juror to be away from work.
The Vespa low fuel light was sinking so I buzzed over to the Chevron for a gallon-and-a-half of premium. William was there doing his mechanical job so I spent a little while catching up. We were neighbors in the marina where we lived a dozen years ago and his girlfriend used to work with my wife in the troubled kids school in Key West. That was before the district moved my wife to Marathon, much to her joy, into her perfect job teaching adults. The marina fees are apparently at an all time low as the ownership has changed and while ambitious plans are hatched the place is a little run down. William expects fees to skyrocket in a couple of years but he's not worried, "I'll just move my home," he said. We had time to lament development and growth in Key West. William has held his job at the shop for thirteen years, two years longer than I've been at the police department. He thinks the people in charge want to sanitize Key West into "Naples South" and who can argue with that belief? The evidence is he's probably right and marginal living in Key West is being edged out slowly but firmly. And the city will be the worse for it.
Back at the courthouse we lucky few were called into the court and suffered the interminable prying of voir dire so that six people and an alternate could be seated with the approval of both sides and the rest of us were booted out. When Judge Fowler asked if any of the jurors knew each other one solo voice rang out. Wasn't I surprised to know that I was known. It was Donnie from Big Pine dressed in full Harley Davidson regalia hoping to avoid selection as help is hard to hire and he needed to get back to his shop. We chatted motorcycles while the lawyers deliberated our fate and one other guy who did get on the jury joined in. I had ridden to Orlando to the bike show, Donnie had ridden to Fort Myers for a Harley rally, his first, and the juror with the unpronounceable name ( the clerks and judge kept tripping over it) had ridden to Sturgis this summer so we stood in the hall outside the court room and took our minds off our predicament for a few minutes.
Donnie and I were released and as we got in the elevator he pointed out that he has been called 18 times to the county court juries and three times to the Federal Court. Last time he wore an NRA outfit and wasn't picked so he keeps a closet well stocked with clothing that sends a message. I think a jury could benefit from someone like him but they won't this year and the defense attorneys missed their chance to get me thinking about their case where it matters. Judging a book by its cover is no great thing they tell us; yet even smart people do it all the time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Invasive Species

It doesn't take long for things to go wrong. A powdering of snow in places where you might imagine people are used to such stuff, and almost immediately things change in Key West. An early morning walk for an impatient dog found us, not alone as might appear looking down Simonton Street past the fire station...

Skiers rejoice! I believe that might be a little premature but summer is over so naturally some thoughts turn to places where winter is a trifle less rugged. These would be the non-skiers, normal people who think that if God had intended for us to schuss down hills we'd come equipped with planks for feet.

So a good few of these premature snowbirds seem to have landed in Key West already. I know because I met them. Cheyenne and I were shambling around at random in the manner of a quick round of Calvinball, as you do, when we crossed paths with not one, which could be labeled an outlier, but with lots of these nattily dressed, efficiently striding people.

They were up well before dawn bright eyed and bushy tailed and crisply dressed in what are no doubt highly fashionable duds. They strode, they trotted, they marched, they saluted us. I felt much like I did after Wilma, standing in the church parking lot, dressed like a rather tired scarecrow being handed boxes of supplies by impeccably uniformed members of the National Guard.

In the same way one gets to feel a mixture of awe and resentment at these busy people who show up and take over like relief workers after a natural disaster. Last week we were ambling at our own pace on empty streets, this week strolling feels inefficient and inadequate. It's odd how winter residents stand out so much even as they desperately want to fit in. It's the duality of life in the Lower Keys.

The funny part is that the snowbirds bring money and that is supposed to make it better, easier to accept the crowding, sensible to rationalize the bad manners. My neighbors visiting from some place in New Jersey where apparently one would not want to retire, cornered me with complaints about the Brazilian peppers in my landlord's yard. She has allergies don't you know, and these plants are an invasive species so she expected my landlord to have them yanked out by the roots. I called my landlord in Miami and dutifully reported the whiny woman's demands. Well, he said she knew they were there when she moved in. I said to the neighbor cut back as much as you want and stepped out of the race to the bottom. They cut as much as they wanted, the landlord isn't out any money and I got on with minding my own business, ignoring the shattered stumps and leafless skeletons that no longer provide cover from the part-time invasive species next door. They come to the Keys to kill the spirit that attracted them here in the first place. We do things do much more efficiently at home you know? Do it at home I say, leave things be down here, in this untidy backwater.

Like the chain store that advertises its charity as an inducement to buy, snowbirds point out they sustain the economy, as though we the indentured servants should be grateful for the script they give us to spend at the company store. Talking with a charming old queer who's lived in Old Town since 1986 he was lamenting how the cruise ships have homogenized Duval Street with trashy t-shirt stores and chain outlets to make the adventure travelers feel safe and comfortable. "I love the architecture and the flora of this island" he said, "but they have run off the eccentrics and weirdos who used to escape to Key West to get away from America proper." He seemed slightly sad in his defiance and his determination to hang on and remain himself outside the mainstream. I wished I were more eccentric to keep him better company.

The trees are bending in the winds that have been howling and the skies have been gray so long one wonders if the sun has forgotten us. And yet there is the certainty that that things will return to normal before too long, blue skies, flat waters and eventually the furnace heat of summer will come back to drive away all thoughts of self improvement and civic order that come down briefly with the first snowstorms Up North.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

La Cruzada, Homestead

Homestead is the last town in Florida before you reach the Keys. Actually it's not but Florida City which is the last town is indistinguishable for casual travelers from Homestead as the two towns are conjoined twins. The fact is indisputable in my world that Honestead puts out some excellent Mexican food. La Cruzada gets top billing in Trip Advisor but I'm not sure about this place.

I was on a motorcycle ride with Jiri and as he was new to Mainland Florida, he doesn't get out much for fun, he was ready for adventure. Jamaican, I said, sure he said, but it was Sunday and Yardie Spice was closed so we resorted to electronics to figure our next move.

Not to put too fine a point on it, we were the only...non native Spanish speakers. That promised well. It was a bustling joint. We checked the menu.
We ordered some guacamole to start and this towering pile of green stuff. It was pretty good too, full of flavor, not creamy but almost crunchy with onions and tomatoes. The chips however weren't as crisp as I'd like. I was surprised, because this place seemed like it wouldn't keep chips sitting on a shelf. We were motorcycling men so we weren't fussy. We ate.

Do you only drink Diet Coke Jiri asked. No I said, my wife makes me drink water at home but I'm on the road and I need caffeine. I had had two cups of tea at the hotel but that was six hours ago in Sebring, before we explored Lake Okeechibee. He took my picture and posed me with a sombrero. Without my position.

This restaurant had an odd menu, coming to it as I do from a California-Mexican background. Lupita's ('s+) in Key West fills that bill nicely. This place has some odd food offerings so I ordered these two to-go to share at home with my wife.

The sandwich was basically cubed potatoes with some cheese and the chili flavor outside was basically undetectable. Odd but not terrible. The pambazo was the oddest taco we'd either of us had. Not terribly flavorful which is odd for Mexican food. As my wife put it we had an underwhelming dinner. Disappointing.

Back to lunch. Jiri had a burrito, I had a meal and tried to share my rice and beans and he enjoyed a few. I found them good, creamy flavorful beans and properly cooked rice as Mexicans would like it. My chimichanga had very dry meat cooked in small pieces, lots of meat wrapped in a solid tortilla and fried. The choice of sauces and salsas was a nice touch.

Then it was time to hit the road. Jiri liked his lunch and I was glad to introduce the concept of Homestead as eatery to him. Next time we will do milkshakes at La Michoacana, the ice cream store across the street. Rice milk for a Czech motorcycle mechanic? Why not?

And there I saw Homestead's new city hall rising out of the dust. Fancy! For a town that seems to barely manage it's social obligations this Taj Mahal is a surprising extravagance. I expect to see Romans in togas walking this forum some time in the future. I hope Homestead's taxpayers appreciate it.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Stock Island Sense

It was one of those mornings when Cheyenne greeted me on the deck ready to go. We went and ended up on Stock Island where she made a new acquaintance. A rather self possessed small dog came trotting up to say hello and didn't get much back from my great silent Labrador... 
 No Parking in large white letters the plywood said. The requirement seemed rather urgent but I wasn't sure why.
 There was not a huge amount of activity that early. My Labrador and I were alone.
The shades of blue of the American Dream. An elderly truck, a trailer and Old Glory, under a clear blue sky.
 I wodmered if perhaps the drawers might fly open springing surprise children on the street:
 There seemed to be an air of anticipation, as though waiting for the restaurant.
 The symmetry of coconut palms:
 The lot look so sterile and empty I figured no one lived here anymore.
 This machine was parked on the street as though awaiting an enthusiastic buyer:
Two women enjoying a pause in the morning said hello to Cheyenne. She thought them fascinating to an embarrassing degree. 
 Old Glory again, this time not on a trailer but at the Fortress Temple, lying above the fortifications.
 The future and the past on the street together:
 "Please don't spend your time pointlessly in this place." Nice and blunt.
 I thought this car belonged more properly as a tourist attraction in Havana:
Cayo del Mar means Island of the Sea. As close as this lot will come to the sea is the boat parked in front of the apartment complex.
Stock Island, the other Key West.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hogs Breath Saloon

 I did go to Hog's Breath once to see some stage performances and it was quite good fun.  However i do very poorly at Key West visitors' favorite endeavors: bar hopping and fishing.
I don't much like crowds or noise, I am sports illiterate and have no idea how to make small talk so bars are  just places where beer and stuff costs more. I'm not sure I have this right so perhaps one day I shall steel myself to see why it is millions of people want to come to key West to see this.  
The nerd in me is alive and well so when I see a sign about the past I stop and look and think. Immigrants at work, check that out!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Mallory Square

In 12 hours Mallory Square will be teeming with people there to watch the sun go down.  For me and my dog it's a breezy walk on the waterfront.
The USS Maine memorial is a reminder of a different time and a different world, a small semi-circle as a reminder of the event that shook the world of it's day: the Spanish American War changed the lives of people living under Spanish rule in islands across the globe. And here in Key West's most tourist-driven spot is the best memorial to that strange and still not completely understood incident. Here's the link: USS Maine.
It really is packed with people at night around here and walking in the early hours reminded me that these barricades are for a reason and I haven't got down to Mallory, except to walk my dog, in far too long.
Looking out across Key West harbor:
Following where Cheyenne leads:
Stephen Mallory's claim to fame was as Secretary to the Confederate Navy. 
Hon. John A. Gurley, Ohio - NARA - 528705.jpg
Born in Trinidad, a British Colony, in 1812, his family came to Key West in 1820 where eventually after getting an education Up North he became a noted attorney in maritime law. He held local offices including Inspector of Customs and fought in one of the Seminole Wars and eventually was elected US Senator in 1850. He served until the Civil War when he switched sides and  thanks to his maritime knowledge he was appointed Secretary of the Navy for the Confederates, also representing Florida as a senior member of the rebel Cabinet.  He was paroled on charges of treason and returned to Florida where he died, still opposing black voting rights, supporting flogging on ships and praying to a Catholic God who apparently supported these high, humane ideals. He is buried in Pensacola yet his name lives on here in this eccentric town where the Federal Secretary of the Navy has been consigned to oblivion. I love Key West's skewed view of just about everything. Perhaps we should bring back public flogging in his square to honor his memory?
And then through the parking lot toward Wall Street through flocks of cackling chickens.
Another fine day brewing on Mallory Square.