Friday, November 6, 2015

DuPont Lane

First published January 7th 2010 I was put in mind of DuPont Lane recently when I had a Trainee in dispatch who had never heard of the lane and thus had no idea who it was named after. And now it's 2015 and I haven't been back to take pictures so here we are.

DuPont Lane

Key West managed somehow to elect a black Sheriff in 1889 and his name was Charles Fletcher Dupont, the son of freed slaves. He has a lane named for him east of Duval off Petronia Street.
DuPont wasn't the first black Sheriff of Monroe County, that was James A Roberts who was appointed in 1877 and the first lawman killed in the line of duty in the county was also black as it happens, a Sheriff's deputy called Frank Adams was shot to death while trying to effect an arrest in the city in 1902. You'll hear his name come up at the head of the mercifully short roll of officers who have died every time there is a memorial service in their memory.
The entrance to this very short lane is marked by this rather startlingly imposing wrought iron fence. The lane itself is short, but half a block long though unusually for these kinds of streets in Key West it has an ample turn around at the dead end. It is lined with plush mansions:

And at the dead end it makes a sharp turn into this tunnel like walkway.
The fence is so high that I felt like I was in a cave looking out at the sky:
And seeing hurricane shutters still up, blocking out the sparkling winter sun:

These are my favorite Key West colors, white and green and sky blue:
A carpenter was busy improving some already magnificent home, his workshop was outdoors though his concession to the season was a sweat shirt:
"Good fences make good neighbors" is an ironic quotation frequently attributed to the poet Robert Frost (whom the hospitality industry make great play of as a winter visitor to Key West) and on DuPont Lane they do certainly make the little street rather more blank and uninteresting than others of it's type.This example of over sized, protective picket fence was staffed by two extremely yappy little dogs who stuck their obnoxious snouts between the pickets and dared Cheyenne to approach. She ignored them, reminding me once again that the prejudice against silent, easy going big dogs, and in favor of noisy small brats is arbitrary and misplaced.
This picture I took looking east along Petronia toward Simonton, a much more varied neighborhood street than DuPont.
And this night picture of DuPont I used in my post New Year's Eve essay contrasting the peace and quiet of the lane to the trashed nature of Duval street the morning after.
There is a very complete article with photos at this website if you want to see and learn more about Charles DuPont:

Thursday, November 5, 2015

415 Grinnell Street

I've heard it said of other towns that it's impossible to figure how there can be empty lots where real estate is so outrageously expensive but this hole in Old Town is soon to be filled.
This is a pretty neighborhood block wedged between the Key West Bight (known to tourists as the historic seaport or some such) and Eaton Street, lined with trees not yet massacred by the city tree commission.
The other houses on the street are pretty enough. I mean to say they are not noticeably prettier than other streets in this part of town, but they are what you would expect to see if you were strolling Old Town seeking out pristine Key West beauty. 
And now we face the fly in the ointment. According to the Keep Old Town Old (KOTO) page on Facebook the fine folks at the Historic Architecture Review Commission think this carbuncle fits in perfectly with the rest of the block. How did they reach this unfortunate conclusion? Beats  me.
Soon this odd collection of fences and gates will disappear and  be replaced by the ticky tacky box shown above on the right. 
 There is a death wish in this town for anything beautiful, or restrained or worthy. Perhaps I exaggerate but on my gad days I wonder how Key West has survived this long.
The vandals are definitely at the gates and the new city commissioners look as disconnected as the people they replaced.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Still Waters of Stock Island

After the hurly burly of a couple of nights dispatching Fantasy Fest I figured I'd earned a quiet midnight walk if not on, at least near, water. So I went to Stock Island.

It was silent as even Hogfish was starting to shut down and the further I walked the quieter it got on the waterfront.

It's less than a hundred yards long this little lane but it is lovely. It's neat and tidy yet not at all sterile. There are woodshops and artists studios, floating homes and sailing boats that look too tangled with the land to sail again.

The still waters of the harbor reflect the lights ashore of the marinas, the old power station, the commercial fish docks that typify this island, the light industrial heart powering genteel Key West next door.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has a boat docked in bright colors across the way.

I love the shadows cast by the few lights left burning among the trees. Somebody once asked if I am afraid walking alone at night and I have to say I rarely feel fear on these kinds of walks in cities but in the Keys I never feel any fear at all on the streets. I have never felt threatened in Key West. Perhaps I am lucky or oblivious or I myself am threatening but I walk where I want when I want without a care.

Because I know something about sailing I was amused to see this innovative piece of sailing hardware in use as a docking device. Carbospars AeroRigs are designed to allow sailboats to deal with less rigging to sail more easily:

...not to be used at a dock as a guide rail. I think this is quite slick stuck on a dock post:

To give you an idea of the still waters in the harbor this immensely complicated rig on a commercial fishing boat reflected in the water:

One guy passed me on the dock and perhaps he was struggling with his loophole level as he stared straight head and said not a word as he stepped carefully down the wooden Boardwalk.

Safe Harbor to me represents the good old days of mythical memory, the period called "in the day" that phrase I find so annoying. Nicer than in the day and yet not too nice. Perfect.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Waterfront Brewery

A little Fantasy Fest content might slip into the pictures because my wife and I came here before walking down to Duval before the Grand Parade last weekend. Mind you swimsuits aren't unusual along the city waterfront.

The Key West Bight waterfront is owned by the city, it's one of those smart moves which pays dividends over the years and deserves to be emulated by sitting commission members. The land around the waterfront belongs to the city which leases it to the businesses. There is a public commission which overseas the property and which like every other transparent public entity, the Aqueduct and Keys a Energy included, comes in for rumbles of popular discontent. However, give them credit as the Bight is a pleasant place to walk and thus far is free of national chain domination.
The brewery is open to the water, the interior as you will see is sharp bright and modern and in our case service was perfect: prompt polite and friendly but not intrusive. So much so I didn't get the hist's name but he directed me to exactly the beer I wanted. They have half a dozen brews with only a couple of India Pale Ales so it is possible to try beers that aren't just bitter. My wife had a cider that was tart and refreshing and tasted of apples. We also got to see a growler you can buy and fill with beer to go. I wasn't going to carry that around with me but it's a thought for the future.
We ordered off the appetizer list, and if we couldn't finish it wasn't because flavor was lacking...there was a lot of food. The bruschetta was surprisingly good, a fish I don't often order but I was curious. The tomatoes were diced the balsamic was sweet and the mozzarella didn't taste mass produced. I assume it must be but it was good. I liked the mussels okay but the fish dip was the star, packed with and just enough binder to hold it together. I couldn't stop eating it.
Tim, one of the bosses came by (I did say this was Fantasy Fest weekend didn't I?) and we were glad to tell him things were peachy, because they were. The Waterfront Brewery is part of a local network of relatively new eateries across Old Town including the Porch which has got rather too popular, Yogi Berra style. The cocktail bar next door is not my cup of tea; Two Cents on Appelrouth Lane lost me with high prices poor service and a hipster vibe when it opened, and Kojin noodles, much adored by many, is undercut in my opinion by Sister Noodle in New Town. Badboy Burrito my longtime favorite has slipped too since I visited it at its new location at the Bottlecap, so all in all I wasn't expecting much here. I was surprise do andvpleased. I hope they keep it up.
There are of course the ubiquitous televisions everywhere but from the restaurant side of the divide they aren't as obnoxious. Plus you get to sit like an adult with your feet on the floor at the lower tables.
The building is vast (lots of lovely floor rent for my employer the City) and it's used to full advantage offering pool and shuffleboard as well as a couple of video game machines. Eventually I suppose it will become well used and beery but right now you could eat dinner off the floor or any piece of furniture. Which would be an odd thing to do but I like the sharp bright air of cleanliness. I don't suppose Hemingway would approve but he's dead and I'm not (yet) so I'll take it as it is.
I told you the place is huge and I didn't even look at the rooftop terrace...
This used to be the Waterfront Market, organic long before Publix figured people didn't want pesticides with their lettuce. It closed blaming the city for unreasonable rents and with went a hang out for water rats, a juice bar with WiFi, decent sandwiches at the counter and some fine people watching opportunities. Here are a couple of pictures I took "back in the day" when this building was still a market:

Like the old juice bar gallery, which is still three, inaccessible and unused, the front porch overlooking Caroline Street is there but nicer and more inviting.
And Rick Worth's art still decorates thevoutsidevof the building. Mutatis mutandis (at last I have found somewhere to use that absurd phrase) the Waterfront building still serves the community. And that I like.
I hope success doesn't spoil the place because I am still looking, not very energetically, for a replacement for Finnegan's Wake, the much lamented Irish pub of yore.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Fantasy Fest Hangover

The party is over for another year and as the tourists stream out of the island (the peninsula actually) they leave behind a small local headache and a few too many people who can't hold their drink completely successfully.

The money came, it changed hands, cabs weren't easily available for a couple of days and now we settle in for a few quiet weeks before heavy snows send pale, tan-free people south for "season."

I like the empty streets, the predawn darkness, the shadows and light, the warmth of the night air which would seem like summer Up North.

The body painting is done, respectability is back in style, except Key West really doesn't have a dress code in daily life. This is a town that lives in pursuit of transient cash no matter how you dress. So this is a town that revels in the money, in the goatish garishness of nudity for one whole week. Except for a few holier-than-thou protestors who somehow believe revulsion is a dish best served naked. I have heard comments about a woman, not unattractive, in a tiny thong cozying up to a bar, much to the horror of other, more respectable patrons who recoil at the woman's intimate touch with the seat. Bleach! They cry in terror of the microbes borne by her butt. Fair enough I suppose were the bar not the Chart Room. I've been there twice, once drunk on a pub crawl and once sober and I don't think I shall go back. The Chart Room is a tiny corner of a big mainstream resort at the end of Duval Street. It is a true dive bar and as such it's patrons go there to have a naughty little frisson while playing the daredevil. When I went there drunk I ate, God help me, free hot dogs popcorn and peanuts and perhaps the Dark and Stormies I used to wash them down neutralized the food that sat out in an environment which in my memory is more insalubrious that a neatly washed visitor's backside. People sit on those bar stools fully clothed that you wouldn't want sitting on your couch. Fantasy Fest does that, it brings out the disapproval pucker factor.
Clean up is a daily effort by the unsung heroes in the city's Community Services division. Cheyenne did her bit to help.
"Back in the day" is one of those phrases much over used and comes with a tin badge of honor alongside the orb of years served on the rock (”I remember in 1976...") and the scepter of memories of places mythical in memory (”...oh, too bad you don't remember the Copa Club...") with hints of delights lost in the mists of time. To hear it now Fantasy Fest was wittier and more clever and less driven by public nudity but the stories I have heard from those who were there tell another tale. We all know Key West is harder to live in and is pricing itself out of the market as a home to young free spirits. It has perforce to cater to the middle aged successful people who to get money have had to live a life of nose to the grindstone in places where I would shudder to live. They've eaten snow, social disapproval and repression. They've lived lives in places where non conformity is expressed by going under dressed to church, so when they get a week off at Halloween they don't stay home to trick or treat with their clothes on. Thus they come here, like the poseur loud "bikers" and the penis power boaters and the traffic jamming bicycle riders and every single group we can love to hate. Go away we say, we want Old Key West back.
Caroline Street will be sparkling clean soon. Awesome!
There is a vocal angry group of people born and raised in Key West who have fought loud and long to end Fantasy Fest as we know and hate it. You can appreciate their point of view, seeing their town turned into Sodom for a week each year. But these are the same people who couldn't make money from this town before the gay community flocked down to the Navy town going bankrupt (again) and made it a haven for queers. Let's not forget that in those dark days being "queer" was cause for death threats, beatings, ridicule, loss of work and total ostracism for a "lifestyle choice." In making their own fatal choice to vacate Old Town and use the gay money to build ranchette housing in New Town with car ports, proper air conditioning, wide streets, real yards and new schools, the Conchs ceded control of the jewel that was and largely still is, Old Town. The dreaded queers cleaned up the old buildings, created demand for art and modern cuisine, bars, recreation and freedom. Nowadays you can be "openly gay" most places in the U.S. and if you can't or won't afford Key West you aren't limited to the Castro or Provincetown to be yourself. But you are limited to Key West to be able to walk down the main drag as-good-as-nude with a drink in hand in late October, and not only will you not freeze your tits off but people will line up to take your picture. A Canadian friend of mine wrote to me in seeing my pictures on this page, to the effect that all those puritans need somewhere to blow off steam. Key West will happily take their money for a week of private parties which cater to all tastes and a public daily party that requires no taste at all.
Relations between men and women in the U.S. are not as harmonious as they might be and as long as one major party has carte blanche to demonize women and sexuality it seems we are stuck in this mode for a while to come. In the same way that sex and violence are paired as equally disturbing sources of public art, so tits and cash are inextricably linked to Fantasy Fest. I'm sure I don't know what the childlike obsession with naked women's breasts is in this culture, but people will pay to see them. Men constantly call the police complaining that the "adult clubs" in town take their money but only let them look. To touch for money is illegal but to over charge for looking is entirely legal. To charge hundreds or thousands of dollars to stare at a Completely Naked East European woman sounds like worst business model ever but they do it in droves: they pay to stare. And somehow that is less creepy than people frolicking down Duval Street in their birthday suits.
Fantasy Fest won't change anyone's problems and these days cash seems to flow into town in a continuos year round flood so the original reason for the festival "back in the day" is no longer as pressing. But money still talks louder than the protestations of Conchs who hate the degradation. For me, a human being congenitally driven to reject any form of dressing up, or fakery, Fantasy Fest is a chance to wonder as I wander. I always feel a little bad for the people driving away, their inhibitions at the wheel, their liberated dreams chained back up and tamped down for one more year. Perhaps they don't want to dress in tutus every damned day but in Key West if you wake up with a hankering to cross dress you can do just that and totter to the grocery store pretty much any day of the week. Perhaps just bring able to would be enough if they could dream of doing that at home. Instead they wait all year for this blessed week.
To me life at the end of the road has value because there is a level of public indifference, which translates to a form of tolerance for the off beat. Yes I know it was more pronounced "back in the day" but it was also more necessary. Besides which this is what we have, here, now, today. Fantasy Fest, as annoying as it is should be a reminder of that truth. Men can wear tutus, women can paint their breasts and nudity this time of year doesn't lead to frostbite. Which, even if like me you don't give a fig for public drunkeness or gross bad taste, all means something good, something subversive, is still alive and kicking in Key West.
(Cheyenne kept circling the raised bed and wouldn't let go. the spirit of mutual tolerance I lifted her up and she immediately rooted around for something abandoned in the pea rock. It sounded like it tasted good).
This is still a town that doesn't need bumper stickers telling us to keep Key West weird. It's organic even if cash driven. Not all naked bodies will inspire us to new heights of erotic fervor, but that should be okay too. If public nudity is to be reserved for the beautiful only the whole notion of weirdness is undermined. Then Fantasy Fest really does become Harry Bethel's worst nightmare, pure unadulterated public lasciviousness. And this year somehow we seemed to have had a less gross spectacle than the desperate public sexual frenzy of recent years. If this delicate balancing act can be preserved Key West can stay livable for those with money, tolerant of those lacking social skills, and an occasional relief valve for those who can't or don't live here but need to let it out occasionally while far from the respectable dull place they call home.

I'm glad we get a little quiet time now before snow drives snowbirds south for the winter.