Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Bahama Village At Night

The rain stopped, the roads were dry and I had to take my lunch break before two o'clock as the rest of the night there would only be two dispatchers and we can't leave our desks when just two of us are running the room. I wasn't sure what to do with my break so I figured a walk was in order. I rode down to the Village to get some peace and quiet.
Triumph Bonneville, Bahama Village
I've been riding the Bonneville exclusively lately as the winds have been honking and riding the Vespa in a strong headwind is a pain, and I have been happily trundling about with my saddlebags in place after my trip to Orlando last month. As rain has been dropping in on us unexpectedly at all hours the saddlebags, which are water tight, have been quite handy to store stuff out of the elements. So they stay on for now, especially as lane splitting in Florida isn't an issue.
Bahama Village, Key West
Bahama Village has traditionally been set aside for Key West's African American community which kept the white part of town close to the harbor on the northwest corner of the city. Development being what it is downtown anywhere is  priceless these days and Bahama Village is desirable for anyone who feels the need to be in the heart of downtown. Yet the community hangs on in the midst of the developmental ferment.
Bahama Village, Key West
Some people make Bahama Village sound like a ghetto, fearful of the danger perceived on these streets. I find that attitude to be at best odd and at worst offensive, but we live in a  time when racism is denied though its worst traits are often displayed unconsciously. Perhaps I live some unusually sheltered existence but I have never been accosted threatened insulted or annoyed in Bahama Village. I wander around the entire city at will at all hours and frankly the fuss some people make about being in the Village after dark shocks me.
Bahama Village, Key West
Many years ago my wife was a brand new juvenile probation officer in Key West and their office was on Villa Mill off United Street. We were living on our boat and my wife scooted to work every day on her purple Honda Elite. Her supervisor gave her a number of cases in the Village and warned her darkly to take a police escort to check on her charges. After a career as a California public defender dealing with murderers and all the rest, my wife shrugged the warning off and became a frequent sight buzzing around town, including the dreaded Village on her purple Honda. And to this day she meets former students and probationers who greet her cheerfully with nary a shiv or a rude word among them. People really do need to rein in their prejudices.
Bahama Village, Key West
Personally I enjoy the architecture and at night there's no one around, the pools of light make things look slightly more mysterious than bright sunlight and I get to own the place for a very little while. I can walk head in air and act eccentric and there's no one to see. Even the neon at Blue Heaven was turned off:
Bahama Village, Key West
I have been watching Black Sails on Netflix and though I enjoyed the first season I think they have talked me out of a third season. Season Two shows off the most neurotic talkative pirates the world has ever heard of. All they do for hour upon endless hour is talk like the cast not of a pirate show but a soap opera melodrama. My exercise routine is taking a hit as a result. The show is shot in South Africa and the scenery is spectacular and believable as 18th century Bahamas but these bloody pirates never stop talking and hardly do any sailing or fighting. And the ships are incredibly realistic (that's where they do a lot of their talking. Though the captain's cabin is far, far too large and luxurious). The language is also grossly anachronistic which I try to overlook but a pirate talking to his wench about their relationship sounds totally daft. And her telling him she knows what he is feeling is equally ridiculous. And then they throw in a few too many "fucks" to sound like hard core tough guys. And they talk about pieces of eight as gold coins, and value them in dollars even before the US existed and the amateur historian in me gets turned off even more. Too bad because it looked like a fun series spoiled by too much chatter and anachronism.
Bahama Village, Key West
And back to Bahama Village where I spent some time loitering unmolested except by the sight of these ugly plastic signs:
Bahama Village, Key West
And magnificent hurricane fences.
Bahama Village, Key West

Bahama Village, Key West
The bike rack looked like a chaotic jumble but in point of fact a sober bicycle rider could extract her or his ride quite easily though from this angle it looks impossible:
Bahama Village, Key West
The fact that Key West has tons of free parking for two wheelers is one big mark in its favor in the transportation stakes. The odd mysterious half lit view is another.
Bahama Village, Key West
More highly sought after plastic advertising banners  enhancing this rather cruddy old wooden structure. Copious amounts of garbage at the base are a fact of life in a  tourist town not remotely connected to the concept of recycling.
Bahama Village, Key West
There was a county-wide forum on climate change recently and what to do about it.  I wonder what they will think to do. None of the pictures in this essay were taken at more than say 3 feet above current sea level.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas In Key West

Christmas is that time of year when it gets  cold, people get stressed and the more we chunter on about it the less that elusive Christmas spirit seems to be abroad. I evade the crass commercial aspects of the season by not listening to commercial radio or watching television and not darkening the doors of stores where the gruesome sounds of caroling are turned into muzak. So I take my pleasure in not being too terribly cold and checking out the lights. Herewith a completely random sample from a shirt sleeved tour of the town last week on a 3 am lunch break.
Christmas In Key West
I have great difficulty separating Christmas from commercialism which is why among other reasons I prefer Thanksgiving which holiday is totally North American (tip of the hand to early bird Canada) and gift free, focusing on the get together not the shopping. Black Friday is of course off my radar, what can I say, I don't celebrate my birthday either. 
Christmas In Key West
The lights though I like. They are, I accept, a nod to the pagan origins of the Christmas scene, the lights created by humans to keep the winter solstice at bay, which has a rather hollow ring in the tropics where we have plenty of daylight and sunlight in the coldest months but still... no one wants to ignore Christmas. The sun is lower in the sky, it is cooler and that's as wintry as I like to get, 
Christmas In Key West
Businesses seem compelled to stick up a  few lights or wreaths in acknowledgement of good cheer though not all displays are created equal and the ironist in me rather enjoys the brighter display of the business sign over the rather coy Festivus pole in the background filling in for a robust sub-arctic fir tree in the background.
Christmas In Key West
The Western Union struggling to stay afloat thanks to the kindness of strangers gets a bushy tree and lots of lights. Will this display bring in the money to restore the square rigger?  Generosity is the slogan of course at Christmas.
Christmas In Key West
Further up the waterfront the city puts out a bunch of lobster traps, perhaps my favorite rendition of a Yule bush with suitably lit anchors:
Christmas In Key West
The wreath thing beats me I have to say. They are a bit  like the Easter Bunny, which is nothing to do with Easter of course and all to do with Spring fertility. Somehow German traditions and Scandinavian habits seem to have become the norm and wreaths, which are a symbol of death and mourning to me, becoming Christmas ornaments. 
Christmas In Key West
I like the lights especially as they simply  represent the icicles of the winter and light up the characteristic Conch homes in a way that makes December the prettiest month. I know Conchs who have grown up and crave a cold winter day so much that it doesn't feel like Christmas when it's 80 degrees. As they say, if it wasn't for these lights you wouldn't know it was Christmas. Just another blanking hot day in Key West. Personally I'm fine with that,  I like heat.
Christmas In Key West

Christmas In Key West
This house cracked me up, the one with Santa in the window dropping down the chimney in some sort of movie projector film. I stood in the middle of Fleming Street watching this ridiculous film loop while laughing like a drain. I think one day I might actually want one of these hings. Santa appears behind a flickering fire with a sack on his back. he puts it down and pulls out a bunch of packages. He looks out the window, waves (I waved back I was so entranced) hoists his sack and buggers off. Great stuff and then the loop starts again of course. 
Christmas In Key West
From the ridiculous to he sublime and for those hardy souls who like a home made Christmas this display in an art store further up Fleming.
Christmas In Key West
Impressive stuff. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Little Nostalgia At KUSP FM

I am reaching that stage in life when the world I knew and grew up in is slowly crumbling. Change is inevitable of course, we know and understand that platitude, but it gets to be a little odd when you realize you are the one at the center of a world where the familiar is dying away.  First movie stars die, that's a bit of a shock especially when youngsters around you have no idea who Peter O'Toole or Paul Newman were. Then institutions that have been the bedrock of some important part of your life suddenly face dissolution...well that's when you understand finally that you are become your parents, the people who mumbled miserably about change and nostalgia and the Past. In the photo below I am not to be found, I was probably buzzing around Santa Cruz on my Vespa trailing a microphone and looking for someone to interview, but I recognize the faces and the names that go with them. KUSP was my life in California in the mid 80s.
This photograph of me hunched over a piece of paper editing my script, preparing to make a call or edit some tape who knows- was taken in the newsroom at the community radio station where I volunteered and then got a job. I had no idea I had any aptitude for the radio which I had always loved to listen to, but KUSP gave me a job and an education. 
Community Radio is a purely American phenomenon, imitated but never replicated in other parts of the world. In a country where government broadcasting is unknown and government funding amounts to pennies per capita the only other answer to get public funds is to ask...the public and as you can see below it was typical on air fundraising in the KUSP studio. Notice the walls covered in indexed discs and CDs as  music was a huge part of the local programming. 
The station was founded in 1972 and the second station manager was the bearded youth seen below. Lance was a remarkable man and still is no doubt, able to bridge the divide between the non conformist youth at the station and the money bags in the middle class business district side of town. It was his diplomacy and passion for local radio that made KUSP the flourishing enterprise it was in the 1980s. It never recovered when he departed to manage larger non profits in the county in the late 80s, and the radio station now is on the brink of bankruptcy and seems likely to vaporize.
For me it was  a place to learn how to live ( I wasn't very good at that in thse days, more so even than today) and my news director Marcia came down from Oregon to teach us how to do the news and she taught me too. It was halcyon time for me chasing news, selling stories to NPR and any other network that would pay me gas money.
The little hippy station that started out life a decade earlier on the harbor front broadcasting from high atop O'Neill's surf shop, was sending stories to the network while bringing NPR and Garrison Keillor to Monterey Bay audiences.
I was at the leading edge of the proliferation of NPR at the station that loved it's local eclectic music programming on 8th Avenue within sight of the Pacific Ocean. Not everyone was  happy with that and as happened at many community stations there was a tussle between the folk, acoustic, modern and Gamelan music crowd and the Serious News People. I sat on the fence because I liked the music and for me it was just one more thing to learn. I had no TV and in between movies I learned about the blues, modern jazz, Celtic music and interviews with performers I'd never have heard otherwise. I went with engineer Larry Blood to live broadcasts from various festivals and froze my ass on cold summer California nights watching the Montery Jazz Festival or the Cabrillo Music Festival listening to sounds I could barely decipher.
It was a time of social ferment as Santa Cruz politics landed firmly in the hands of young university radicals and the old conservative families lost power to the university campus they brought to town in the 1960s. The idea was to give the seaside town a year-round economy by inviting the University of California to build a campus in the redwoods. They succeeded and got themselves Berkeley South, a campus of radical left wing politics...which was great for a cub reporter at the local radio station. There was always stuff to report and people to interview in town and on campus and there were four local radio stations competing. We were a forest of microphones at public events. I had a blast.
On the musical side KUSP had world class musicians volunteering and old radio hands like Genial Johnny Simmons who  spent his working life behind the microphone and knew everything there was to know about music, music history, news and programming. He was Lance's right hand man and as program director struggled to keep the balance between satellite and local programming. I was in awe of him. He used to make these cards for his radio show, the Lost Highway:
And there I was, the local voice of the often despised satellite news shows, riding around town on my Vespa waving my microphone in the face of any who would listen. Looking back it was all seat of the pants stuff and if you tuned in at six after All Things Considered which started at 4:30, you never knew what the hell we would use to fill our half hour of local news. I spent my days madly cutting tape and splicing together my scripts with sound bites and background sounds as taught to me by my editors at NPR and it was all done as fast as possible to meet the inevitable daily deadline.
It would be impossible to list the people who made KUSP such a cultural ferment in those years, Peter Feistman was one, a stately German refuge from World War Two and his canary yellow E-type Jaguar, playing classical music immediately after the news:
The beards and bell bottoms of the annual live auction, a community affair at the Old Cooper House, a 19th century courthouse damaged by the 1989 earthquake and wrecked by city indifference. Much laughter, in jokes and weird stuff for sale at those auctions. Laura, Corky and Michael (not me!) grinning madly: 

KUSP had  dozens of volunteers and lots of meetings as a result. It was a kind of pirate ship, democracy in the wild, opinions, votes and discussions all the time. It was exhausting and exciting and we felt we had a real voice in our community filled with opinions and strong beliefs. Slowly the NPR satellite programming gained ascendancy and local music was moved to accommodate an increasing array of canned programs, as the radio chased the dream of a professional on air sound. Dan Garr head on in the picture below in all his hairy glory  I knew as a passionate music programmer and a sailor more avid than I. He died a few years ago and that marks another bourne in my own march towards extinction. These days its not just movie stars who fade, it's people we knew...
I returned to Santa Cruz after a few years in Florida and got a seat on the board of directors at the station but it was clear to me I never would fit back in and the leaders of the new direction had no place for me, now oddly an old timer and representative of a past no longer remembered fondly. My wife and I suggested buying a permanent home for the station in a lull in the spiraling housing costs but that was dismissed as impractical and the massive rent continued to be paid along with an impractical (in my opinion) remodel of the rented premises...We suggested  taking over an AM frequency that was coming available to center satellite programming there and open up a space for local music on stereo FM...to no avail. We quit and ultimately returned to Florida determined to find a city we could live in with warm weather for my wife's arthritis. I even offered to take up doing local news to give KUSP an edge over the rival station in Pacific Grove KAZU which was ascendant... that was a non starter. Happily we came back to Key West, and my wife's joints loved the weather, we liked our friends and our jobs and our warm Florida Ocean. And so it goes.
In those early days KUSP was built by hand, witness Bruce Larsen lending his carpentry skills to the new enterprise at the move to new spacious quarters on 8th Avenue. Nowadays KUSP has something like three quarters of a million in debt and is restructuring which means no more NPR, and hope listeners flock to local music and keep the old dear alive. I wonder though what the likelihood is that a community station with an eclectic bent will survive in a town that likes to parade its eccentric nature but that has yielded on all fronts to gentrification.  Santa Cruz lost the battle to stay weird in my opinion when Silicon Valley executives figured they could telecommute over the Santa Cruz Mountains and live by the ocean. They came in droves with a lot of money and the usual rear guard attempt by artists and hippies to defend their turf lost out to box stores and chains and all the usual stories of change making a place "better."
This isn't a unique or even I dare say rare story in 21st century America, but it is my story. I came to the US from a world where opportunities like these were not available, not even imagined, and I took every advantage I could of living in the Golden State, by the ocean, under the redwoods surrounded by people of greater intellect, great artistry and by far greater commitment to ideals that I sometimes found arbitrary or silly. I never did learn to believe that things happen for a reason, or that chanting or drum playing would liberate my inner self. But I did like being around people who did, they taught me a lot about myself and life. It was an exceptional moment to be where I was and I think many of us have gone through simlar experiences with similar memories.
I wish I could wave  a magic wand and make it all good, and giver KUSP the future it deserves, even as a vanity project, or simply to show the soulless University bureaucrats at KAZU that community radio is best. Maybe I just want KUSP to thrive to remind myself when I go back to Santa Cruz that I once had a very small part to play at 88.9fm and I am a better human being for it.

Photographs that are not mine own are to be seen on the KUSP Forward page on Facebook and I am sure they will be scrutinized massively by those who remember, putting names to faces and and admiring the views from the antenna atop Mount Toro (the photos were provided by Don Mussel engineer extraordinaire so they tend to have a somewhat engineering bent...).

For my own part I surprise myself when I think back to KUSP and find myself dispatching police in Key West but its not such a stretch I suppose. I find I am more at ease on the police radio, so much so I know my on-air quips annoy the supervisors sometimes but I am a good dispatcher and a sense of humor in the dark midnight hours can be forgiven if I am on point when the shit hits the fan. I miss community radio, but I prefer the pay and benefits and the company in dispatch at night is surprisingly cheerful for a bunch of youngsters who are nowhere near being KUSP- style hippies! I keep my politics to myself as much as I am able but Key West still manages to surprise sometimes with it's determination not to conform. And I am no longer the autistic obsessive I was in the 1980s, I hope, and knowing I have that inbuilt tendency it is easier to control in public view. There is nothing to be nostalgic about here, nothing happens for a reason but the reasons have happened and so far so good. The present is good because of the past.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The People of Duval

This essay first appeared here in August 2013 when I was training a new dispatcher during the day. I was getting up with an alarm clock and working Monday through Friday which I did not enjoy at all. But I did get out into town more often in sunlight. I liked the color and vibrancy of these summer pictures, so just because we have been rained up mercilesly lately they make a nice contrast for me, and most likely would for anyone under snow. In December.

I have said the streets of Key West tend to empty out in August after family summer vacations end, but that is not to say Duval Street is completely empty.
By winter standards when most people see this famous street these crowds are pretty thin. People have time and space to check street side menus and coming attraction boards:
Lunchtime in the Bull has seating to spare...
...and there's plenty of room on the sun drenched Conch Tour Trains:
I was intrigued by this couple taking their pictures with their backs to the iconic landmark. I actually posted this picture on Facebook where GarytheTourist immediately noted the irony.
I hear people say it's "too hot to ride" a phrase that fills me with wonder. Sometimes it's too hot to ridecomfortably but that is an entirely different thing.
Key West is where people ride two wheels to get around, usually rented wheels, bicycles or scooters, and they go home and resume maneuvering their tanks around town and forget the joy of freedom.
I have had a Young Person explain the concept of Coyote Ugly bars which started in New York where being rude is de rigeur because Coyote Ugly was where the schtick was for employees to be rude to patrons. It's surviving in Key West where it adds nothing much to my quality of life. Nor does it detract either.
People watching; I do it walking while some do it seated.
Water adventures on a 90 degree afternoon sound good.
Not too many people to watch just now.
Lots of time to pause and catch up. 23,000 people on a four mile island have lots to talk about.
Have you noticed how people attract people? One stops to look, which doubles and two are stationary then four and pretty soon Conchscooter is at the back craning to see what's what.
This is a permanent display offering raffle tickets for a classic car or a Harley Davidson I believe in an effort to somehow reduce drunk driving. The offer is real, one of my colleagues was once the proud winner of the motorcycle.
Sun worship has its side effects. I'm not sure the picture captures the full leathery effect. He looked like a turtle without its shell, God knows what it feels like to have skin like parchment.
Studying the map, rubbing over-heated feet, a typical day's walk on Duval in August.
I went back to work.