Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Public Peary Court

What was a few years ago Navy Housing may soon become sort-of-affordable housing is the city commission agrees to put their latest plan up for public vote. The commission meets tonight and considers adding a two part referendum to the March elections. Happily I live in the county so I shan't have to vote but I wonder about this plan.
This was what the place used to look like when it was actual Navy Housing, guard hut and all. The Navy decided a few years ago they would rather have housing completely on base and declared Peary Court surplus to requirements. Then  a funny thing happened, the housing was taken over by a civilian contractor who also rented to civilians at $2,000 a house. The city decided they owed property taxes but lost that argument in court so what was effectively not-Navy-housing was still treated as tax exempt by a court ruling worthy of Alice in Wonderland judgement. The city lost about eleven million dollars in back taxes no longer owed...
Peary Court has always been controversial. I remember walking across it as seen below in this historical picture I found on the web. It was a rather scruff park and a useful short cut to Duval Street from Garrison Bight where I landed my dinghy (I lived on a boat anchored out). You can see one entrance at Eisenhower at the left, a loop road around the baseball diamond and a straight shot to Southard Street and the tall armory building on the right. 
When the Navy declared it wanted the land back from the city's informal use of the property there was an outcry and a former city commissioner locked himself in a trailer with some explosives and demanded the decision be reviewed. He ended up in jail and the transformation of what had been a rather pleasant open space...
...became rather drab but useful housing with proper streets, car ports and all modern conveniences. 
A developer bought the property a couple of years ago for thirty five million dollars and offered to turn the property into a sort of gated community "in the Key West style." That plan went over like a lead balloon with neighbors who protested long enough and loud enough the developers threw up their hands and now the city wants to get a mortgage and buy the exact same property from them for twenty million dollars more! Nice work if you can get it...
The idea would be to use Peary Court as affordable housing which is not a bad idea, depending on how you define "affordable" in this crazy city. In any event the plan requires two votes of approval from city voters to support the plan and then the financing as well.  Honestly I don't know what to think. The price seems outrageous but the outcome could be helpful in a city with no decent housing at a decent price for working stiffs. If this helps who will feel like opposing this fifty five million dollar plan? We shall see no doubt because everyone in Key West has an opinion and has no fear of expressing it if they have a private income and nothing to lose.
And yes, some residents will no doubt not be displaced...

Monday, November 16, 2015

Waterfront Amphiteater

Sometimes the gods curse you by giving you a gift and I think Truman Waterfront has become the cursed gift that keeps on giving. There are small countries around the world that decide they need more space so they reclaim land to make themselves bigger. Monaco has piled up rubble to extend its waterfront land and Dubai has piled up sand to create fantasies of buildings in the Persian Gulf. Key West got 34 acres of prime waterfront land free gratis and for nothing from the US Navy, who swept it clean, dismantled their installations and told the city: have at it! I took this picture in 2008 and were you to go back today you'd not see much different. Truman Waterfront is the gift, like I say, that keeps on giving...headaches.
Don't get me wrong, there have been plans, suggestions hopes and dreams as you might expect from a community in ferment like Key West where every fly-by-night wants to claim residence in the town where every visitor leaves their heart etc...etc...They want a park, a farmer's market, an old folks' home, a marina, tennis courts, parking, a restaurant and an amphitheater! Sound luscious doesn't it? Music under the stars whose silver light is reflected off the waters of Key West harbor. I remember the Christmas concerts at Fort Zachary back when winter meant cold fronts and it was quite pleasant huddled under a blanket in the accidental amphitheater of the fort's parade ground. Jimmy Buffett likes the idea.
There have been some rather tart comments in the Citizen's Voice that if Buffett wants a four million dollar music venue could write a check for the city so I looked him up. Gossips who specialize in this sort of thing suggest he is sitting on four hundred million dollars putting him in the top five wealthiest singers in the US. Considering Key West gave him his start and it's the city that nurtures his image you'd think it would be easy. But I suspect my ideal of a community that generates a sense of community is out of the grasp of people who attribute their success to themselves alone. I expect if there is a stage built at Truman Waterfront it will be named for a soft drink or an airline or some other banality. Perhaps the Spottswoods will step in and take a share of the ticket prices and name it for one more illustrious family ancestor the plebs in Key West must learn to love, perforce.
When Cheyenne was more active I enjoyed walking her here, untrammeled open space that I feared would soon disappear under a tidal wave of cement and asphalt. I need not have worried. She I suspect will be long gone before these scenes of open space, here photographed last week, will disappear and be transformed into usefulness and income producing busyness. Right now the power boats are in town churning up the harbor waters in a gladiatorial contest that makes no sense to me. They buzz up and down the waterfront in straight lines making noise like a thousand badly tuned motorcycles and burning enough fuel to keep me in Bonneville commutes for years and despite the apparent simplicity of the concept they do manage to kill themselves from time to time. If I die on my bike don't for pity's sake mourn me, I died enjoying myself, perhaps in a way you don't understand, but that I do very much. When the last couple of power racers died on the water there was talk of lawsuits and revenge and anger and sadness in a very public way. Which I find odd. But Key West attracts odd people who do odd things to no public acclaim at all and that's what I like. If every oddly attired believer in oddities needed a parade Duval Street would be clogged year round with odd parades...Oh it is, you say?
In my capacity as a 911 operator I get peculiar phone calls from time to time and I don't mean run-of-the-mill gruesome stuff about violence and stupidity, but truly weird calls from people who somehow reach adulthood without all their cards in the deck. But when a call starts with the words: "I know this may sound crazy..." I usually sigh and want to tell them I've heard it all. And I suppose it points to my hubris after a decade of listening to the gross side of human nature that I think I have. But last week I really did hear something new and it wasn't the call from the guy who thinks he has goldfish swimming in his stomach. She was earnest and sincere and lived far away and admitted she had never been to Key West and knew no one in this town and...she knew I'd think she was crazy, so I sighed. But for all she sounded reasonable she was as mad as the proverbial hatter, driven insane by who knows what. She had had a dream that something terrible was going to happen in Key West and the voices took over and told her to warn us. Do you think I'm crazy? She asked. Well I said I'm a police dispatcher and I deal with facts not dreams and voices. She had no specifics at all, no place to look, no idea of what who where when etc...My litany of well rehearsed questions produced nothing. Yup she was right, I thought she was nuts and as she severed the connection I knew not what to think. And I tell you we send officers out on the slimmest of evidence. I read about failed dispatchers who argue with callers and read the law to callers. Me? Give me an address and a possible violation and I put in a call: Cover Your Ass we call it.
In a town where chickens run loose and the dress code requires only the merest hint of decency, it's hard to argue who is crazy. But I hung up the phone and I wondered about the collective madness of a society where we make no provision for the least among us. I wondered about the rest of her life and the fortitude it took to find our number from Missouri and go call me and warn me about her dreams of disaster that focused on the rather abstract fact that the voices and dreams told her Key West was fucked six different ways from Sunday. She said fuck over and over again like she was exorcising herself. I hope to god she has someone to look after her and change her clothes and feed her and ease her mental strait jacket. But I kind of doubt it. Not my problem, right?
Then the woman called who had persuaded her friend to go to the ER with her because of his suppurating leg. Now he won't see the doctor she said, he's walking away down College Road. Is he an adult I asked? Because adults have a right to refuse medical care. Assisted suicide is illegal but refusing medical care gets the state's seal of approval, don't you know. Did she want to meet a police officer I asked? Oh no she said she didn't want to get involved. I love that reply when people call the Big Deal Agency That Arrests People. They don't want to make a big deal of it they say recoiling in horror, or they don't want to get involved, or they are too busy to spend more time with me on the phone or to direct the officer etc... I just agree and put in a call for service. I Cover My Ass, the act that keeps me out of the bad press. The suppurating leg was nowhere to be found according to the officer I sent to look for him. I hoped he hadn't gone into the mangroves to lick his wound and die like an abandoned cat. But in a country where a doctor visit can sic a collections agency on you sometimes people choose to rely on hope and prayer for a cure.
I don't suppose the future of Truman Waterfront will come easily. We all have our self interests to nurture, our own problems to cure, our legacies to ensure. We have no public money for lunatic asylums, free internet service, living wages or health care. But for a sports stadium or an amphitheater perhaps we do. Indeed I'll bet we do, and the justification will be there large as life and for the collective good of course. We shall trip over the dispossessed to get there, worry about bums taking over the new park, argue over who gets the money from the marina, but progress will not be denied. Eventually.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Small Motorcycles

I bought my first motorcycle in the Fall of 1975 when I was weeks away from turning 18. I was in Italy and I had previously passed my British motorcycle test which allowed me to ride a full sized motorcycle at 17 so when a  friend told me this fire engine red MV Agusta was for sale I was ready to buy and ride. Looking back I wonder at myself, because I added some plastic saddle bags and  backpack and took off across Europe on it to see my family in England. Just like that. The bike did fine, and remarkably enough so did my 18 year old spine riding long days on the cafe racer.
So when I read about what  bike do you need to travel I am firmly in the camp that whatever you have will do. Naturally there are some that carry more stuff or have more comfortable seats and as always cost a lot more. But Modern motorcycles are amazing, reliable and requiring little maintenance, well built and well equipped compared to the tractors we rode  40 years ago. And as if to cheer me up a whole bunch of new small motorcycles are coming onto the market to cheer American riders up. BMW  has shocked everyone with this 310 to be shown off at the big motorbike show EICMA in Milan this week:
The BMW is supposedly part of a drive by European and US manufacturers to penetrate the Indian market, which is huge with a burgeoning middle class and a population moving from scooters to motorcycles. They have tons of models as do other south east Asian and Latin American countries that we never see. However in order to generate brand loyalty and create exciting new models foreigners have to get over a massive import tax on foreign machines levied by the Indian Government. So they build their Indian market bikes in India. Triumph had plans to do the same and scrapped their proposed 350 single. KTM from Austria has a joint venture in India building a 200cc single and a 390cc version has made it to the States:
In order to seduce Indian youth the bikes are modern looking with all modern conveniences but for the US market some people think old fashioned looking small bikes will tug at heart strings, like Genuine's new 400 which looks like small Triumph Bonneville single with twin exhausts. I like the looks of it though spoked wheels and tires with tubes are a drag in this day and age when you repair a flat roadside if it's tubeless.
I owned Yamaha's SR500 in 1979 and riode it around West Africa for half a year and had a grand old time. They still make it in Japan where it's restricted to 400cc capacity to allow younger riders to buy it and it is apparently popular. They've sold a few since they re-introduced it last year in the US despite the lack of electric start and a price tag of fully  six thousand dollars.  I want one tubed tires and all!
Goodness there are a lot of smaller motorcycles appearing in the US and now Sym , known for it's scooters is going to be offering a rather attractive 300cc motorcycle. They haven't given any detials but it's supposed to be a more capable motorcycle than their 150cc Wolf. With 300 cc engines motorcycles should be able to get up to around 80 miles per hour and thus make them able to ride comfortably with traffic on freeways. The Sym looks good too with solid wheels and tubeless tires. Extra points for that!
SYM Wolf 300 Classic
Suzuki brought a well built 250 single to the US market a few years ago, rather ahead of the popularity curve and it is still offered for sale here. I liked it a lot when it first appeared as it enjoys all the usual benefits of economy and simplicity but it never generated much after market accessories, not even a luggage rack which I think is a shame.
Suzuki also brought this 250 to the US to not very glowing reviews. Its a water cooled twin with not terribly exciting performance though it does enjoy the robotic looks that are supposedly popular in this day and age. Personally I think its a look only its mother could love but I am old and form another era.
Honda has been having success with a 300cc scooter but their new range of motorcycles between 300cc and 500cc offered as standards like this 300 and as boy racer bikes too are proving popular as well. I look back at my early motorcycles and it seems a shame to me that these bikes will be reserved for short hops and Sunday rides and maybe the odd commute when they could do so much more for so little money. Scooter riders argue that scooters are more practical but  luggage and a windshield can make these motorcycles just as capable of hauling home the groceries. Plus you get a machine that will take you anywhere and offer spirited riding with a gearbox and excellent fuel economy.

If you want a really old bike the modernized Royal Enfield from India is as close as it gets alongside the more reliable Yamaha SR400. I think the Enfields are cute but they suffer from poor reliability and high maintenance requirements. I looked at how long it takes to do an oil change on these beats and they have multiple steps opening various parts of the engine for what should be a simple operation. The old foges that buy these tend to tinker more than ride. But they look and sound pretty for more than six grand.
Last among the new small bikes is the one that has been there forever. The Ninja 300 twin was sold for years and years as  a 250, capable of racing on the track or traveling to Alaska, and commuting at speeds close to a hundred miles an hour. The new 300cc is better than ever they say and still winning converts. Just another splendid choice in a whole new array of motor y les in the US. IT's a good time to be riding.
After I sold the MV Agusta I bought a Moto Morini 350 in 1977 and that year I rode it across North Africa and Spain to England with adapted luggage, no spare parts, no proper riding clothing, tubed tires and not a lot of money. No internet either for advice or to hear from people advising against my hare brained plans. I had a blast camping as I went on my little v-twin cafe racer. It didn't seem so little at the time and I rode it at similar speeds to those I ride today on my 900cc Bonneville.
I can't say I wish I were young again because I like myself at my age. But I hope youngsters will take advantage of these great bikes in this modern age to have adventures and do what they can with what they have and not worry  about size; it really doesn't matter. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Roberts Lane

I first published this essay March 17th, 2009 and there is no Cheyenne in the pictures because I didn't get to rescue her until December of that year...so while I was here she was being run off her feet by the family that eventually abandoned her for being too old. I wonder what they would think of her now?

Roberts Lane

I parked the Bonneville in a motorcycle spot on Frances Street planning to stroll over to Nassau Lane to take some pictures. Imagine my surprise when it occurred to me I had already done that, and in fact using the "search" function at the top of the page I found the essay posted last December 18th 2008. Well bugger, I thought. This blog really has been going on too long. It was with some trepidation I went to Roberts Lane for a back up plan and honestly I couldn't remember for the life of me if I had taken pictures there or only thought about it. So I took some more.Fortunately the same "search"function revealed no previous entries by this name so here we are, off Frances Street between Southard and Angela, a stone's throw from the cemetery. Indeed Google Maps shows Roberts almost connecting with Catholic Lane, though in fact they don't seem to join without crossing private property...I could hear sounds of construction coming from the house though I was discouraged from approaching as I overheard a most unusual conversation, as I stood on tip toe, out of sight) I hoped!). One male voice said: " I don't see why they'd come after me.I never killed anyone." Which is quite devastating as the opening gambit in any conversation when followed up by the next statement to his companion in physical labor: "It wasn't like I killed anyone,"he went on: "I was just the book keeper to the mob." Which had me interested. It didn't seem like he was in the witness protection program, though why would he be laboring instead of living off his ill gotten gains? Maybe rebuilding a home on Roberts Lane is deep cover? Like the sailors in HMS Pinafore I with caution feeling, softly stole away...to enjoy some of the architectural gems of this tiny lane:It is traditional in Key west to paint the eaves over the porches in this or similar shade of blue. supposedly it keeps away insects, and more esoterically, spirits as well.I am a big fan, as are insurance companies, of metal roofs which provide the strongest hurricane protection and I particularly enjoy the old style metal roof, almost scalloped looking like this:Roberts Lane is also filled with Art which gave my wander an added fillip:Roberts Lane has a little intrigue of it's own in J Wills Burke's book Streets of Key West where he discusses a Roberts Lane off Caroline Street. From what I can gather that would be the alley way alongside Los Cubanitos Marine hardware store which never had a name as far as I knew but on Google maps it shows as Roberto Lane which may be what Burke is referring to in some geographic cosmic mix up. Or not.Burke's Roberts referred to any one of three historical figures, a "colored Sheriff" or a "colored businessman" weirdly enough a friend of Stephen Mallory, Secretary of the Confederate Navy. Ina any event the lane is here and not there nowadays. Very pretty it is too, off Frances Street:And there on Frances runs the dreaded Conch Train blathering its endless repetitive spiel at 5 miles per hour (8km/h): One needs the Conch Train as a reminder that this is Key West, not Paradise.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Streaks of Light

Many years ago a woman I lived with in Florida remarked to me that in winter the texture of the light changes in South Florida. And she was right and I have not forgotten. It does. 
 I suppose the bald fact of the matter is obvious, as the sun falls lower and lower in its arc across the sky the angle at which the sun's rays strike also changes and the sun is no longer directly overhead. The Tropic of Capricorn is only sixty miles south of here so in June the sun is almost directly overhead which makes for a hot drenched sensation to the light. By now the sun is sensibly much closer to the southern horizon and mornings are arriving earlier and with angled light at a time when I can still be awake if Cheyenne needs a walk.
Above the temple of the spirit, the Minor Basilica of St Mary Star of the Sea and below the other kind of temple, Old Town Fitness. The sun shines equally on both. I love the texture of the non native coconut palms and the shiny quality they get from the sun. They wave all day around my house and though they are a pain with huge numbers of fronds falling off all the time, and dropping coconuts, which do taste good,  I know exactly why tyey are seen everywhere in the Keys. They look lovely.
Bright white winter sunshine makes the most banal apartment complex  glow.  There is a freshness in the early morning air that elsewhere might hint at autumn, but around here with no signs of  yellowing leaves or frost or anything, it looks more like a developing spring day.
Cheyenne is learning to appreciate the coolness of the winter mornings and she seems to be more inclined to be awake when I get home from a night at work. The fact that I arrive home around 6:30 in full daylight also helps her wake up, I think.
I rarely walk with money in my pocket. I carry plastic bags and my iPhone, but if I carried money I'd end up with a huge cup of con leche and a cholesterol sandwich from Sandy's...Cuban coffee and eggy bacon Cuban bread are irresistible to me.
Tell me this cottage with the royal palms, with the shadows, with Virginia Street disappearing into the distance... this is Key West as we want to imagine it will be in a hundred years even if the ocean rises three feet in the interim. 
All this head-in-air looking at shadows and sun beams was provoked by the ride into town at seven in the morning and those big empty thunderheads in the sky.