Thursday, January 7, 2016

Faffing Around

I have discovered I am the object of some quizzical inquiry in my place of work. It turns out the two regular members of my shift, Nick who is a Conch:
And JW who is also a man of long lineage in Key West:
...have been monitoring me and my use of language. This came up the other day as I was dealing with a recalcitrant Trainee who was having difficulty believing I knew what I was talking about. He was staring at the monitor as I was explaining step by step how to enter certain information into the computer. The police dispatcher on our shift is required to note and type every piece of activity called out by the cops on patrol and if the dispatcher doesn't keep up the flood of information can be overwhelming.
After the Trainee went on break I was sitting there enjoying the silence of not training for a minute when JW started giggling. 
"We were texting, Nick and me and it turns out faffing is a real word, at least in Urban Dictionary," JW said staring into his phone. Cross-room texting is popular in dispatch when I'm training as I spend a lot of time talking and explaining and using examples to keep the Trainee alert, killing other more leisurely conversation that usually fills the room. That Nick and JW were commenting on my vocabulary came as a bit of a surprise.

(This is a former dispatch Trainee I worked with years ago, now a cop on the road:
It turns out I had been indulging my use of language with an old English expression, "For God's sake stop faffing around and enter the call," I'd said in exasperation as the Trainee wondered which way was up. And JW and Nick had caught on and asked themselves if "faffing" really is a word. Apparently it is. BY the way the Trainee got over his nerves, stopped faffing around and got the job done. 
I enjoy the English sense of humor, dry and rather restrained yet biting while understated. Humor is much easier to deploy in a mono-culture because the goal posts are the same. In the US there is always someone ready to be mortally offended by a public display of biting humor. JW and Nick's attention to detail surprised me. 

It turns out my language has been monitored on other occasions too.  In conversation I mentioned someone was a pompous gasbag, and JW later told me he rushed to the dictionary as he heard me say it and later still he was most excited to find the word pompous in a comic he was reading, "...and I knew exactly what they meant!" he told me triumphantly. 
Downside, Hogwarts
I was educated in a British public school at vast expense by my father who did not like me much (I was not biologically his) and who preferred to shuffle me off to a "good school" where I would be away 8 months of the year. Consequently my inability to capitalize on this investment in later years I think deepened the rift between us. I did not go to university, nor did I network, nor did I seek out meaningful employment: I ran away to California. 

So now, after a life spent faffing about I have finally found the source of meaning for all those years under the thumbs of Benedictine monks at Downside School: I am here to expand the vocabulary of my Conch colleagues. But don't imagine it's a one way street as I learn just as much from them about life as they learn obscure language arts from me. I can thus confidently say a meal without a banana is not a Conch meal in certain peoples' homes. JW is learning operatic arias as I forget myself and let loose as I come stumping up the stairs to work unaware he is at the top waiting to be serenaded. It's all a bit of a  trade off.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Endless Upgrades

Thew newspaper says the developers of the funky little hostel known as the Seashell on South Street may be around for a few months more as it's replacement is taking its time getting off the design board. So much the better as far as I'm concerned as Key West can still use a few lower priced places to stay. 
716 South Street, Key West
But of course a developer's life is never done so we find out now that some two dozen people living on their boats in Oceanside Marina on Stock Island are getting the boot. Liveaboards as they are known are favored in some marinas and hated in others and thus are banned. The argument in favor is that people living on their boats give life to the sterile docks and act as eyes and ears to protect the property 24 hours a day. Opponents say they clutter up the docks with their overflow belongings and tax the facilities like the showers and toilets and so forth. Also the unstated objection is they are scruffy sailors and bring down the tone for the gold plated fishing and motor boat weekend hobbyists.
So with plans to add a hotel to the already established condos developer Singh has decided living on your boat is out. A few weeks from now they will be gone and gentrification on Stock Island takes another step forward. The state legislature is also moving to outlaw anchoring permanently in certain favored spots. The Federal government is responsible for navigation which cannot be banned but camping on the water is going to get tricky as time passes.  And as anyone will tell you lots of Key West's low income workers live on the fringes in boats or in trailer parks. Both sources of housing are threatened on Stock Island as upscale comes to Key West's  suburb. 
I think the problem lies not just in the insatiable need for more generated by bored developers who need challenges (not necessarily money) and its just too bad our culture doesn't value development of housing for poor people as a noble endeavor. The Chamber of Commerce, the business people's union, has made that very clear with negative comments about wage levels in Key West already. Nobody is going to sing Pritam Singh's praises for duplicating Ed Swift's low income housing at Meridian West. And it's too bad because Key West is pretty much full with a few new high end developments coming, Conchs hunkered down in New Town and holding onto their piece of Paradise while wealthy outsiders barter increasingly outlandish prices for small homes in Old Town and then wonder why service sucks in their winter home. It's because wages are low and housing is awful:
I tried to explain to one transplant how the system works but she stubbornly told me she understood while expressing frustration with the weird way things work at her new job. I am sympathetic, I really am, but you only grasp the essential madness of working for a living in Key West when you understand that no one expects you to still be in the job in six months time. Most people give up, exhausted by the lack of common courtesy in the workplace, tired of bosses expecting the one soul who shows up on time regularly to take up all the slack, sleepy from too many jobs and too high a cost of living. Only a resilient few stick it out so you have to prove to your colleagues that you are one of the few and until then you are essentially a ghost. The notion of commuting by bicycle year round is alluring but everything else about working in Paradise sucks. 
I am lucky in that my job pays a living wage with great hours (for me, I love night shift) and superb benefits and bosses that appreciate me, so I can say working in Key West is great. But for a lot of people working with grumpy stand offish colleagues, getting paid half what they made Up North and living in a trailer does not add up to much. And now the living conditions here are taking another spiral south with the departure soon of the "The Fun Island," as gentrification continues in Marathon, second city in the Keys at Mile Marker 50.
Entrance to Knights Key Campground
These pictures I got online as I have never had reason to visit the trailer park but it's there just south of the Highway at the entrance to the Seven Mile Bridge and soon it will be gone. Oh well get used to "improvements" here as well thanks to the indefatigable Singh.
He it was brought Tranquility Bay to Marathon and now there are two name brand chain motels doing fire sale business in Marathon, with apparently more upscale building to come. Just like this no doubt "in the Key West style..." However Tranquility Bay pictured below, like Truman Annex or Parrot Bay in Key West is only the Key West style from the exterior shots. What gave Key West style was something entirely different, they were people who marched unmolested to the tune of their own drummers. Not angry people or fearful people, but frequently they were people damaged by life Up North who too refuge at the end of the road, and the Southernmost City made room for them. They drank and partied and made a living and lived with marginal material goods in homes no one else wanted. They were outcasts happy in their marginal lives and now they are gone for the most part and those of us who were happier in their orbit than in the orbit of the thoughtless rich find ourselves suspended between a past we were not damaged enough to participate in, and a future we want no part of. Even if we could afford it.  
I keep hoping something will stop the inevitable march into the Stepford future that looms large and I have time to sit on the sidelines and watch and hope. But were I to win the lottery, even if I played it, the future mapped out for Key West and the Lower Keys involves fewer cookie ladies and more name brand dressers from lives spent earnestly Up North.

Consider this interesting list of 20 cool small towns around the US. The list is rather more dynamic than you might expect as its for younger people rather than the dullards who read Forbes but it becomes clear a few towns into the list why Key West won't come close to qualifying: ecology, industry, education, are substituted for with an urban vision that encompasses more modern concepts than unfocused mass tourism and the wealthy at any price. Check out the list:

My future Key West when I am an old geezer will need innovative energy solutions, clever affordable housing in a  climate where tiny homes would work nicely, and locally grown art and literate people with lifestyle dictated by something other than fashion. It's possible even if our current crop of urban weed wackers have no clue at the moment.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Weather When It was Cold

From November 24th 2007, only weeks into the life of this blog, this meditation on the weather of the Keys. In those days, when my Bonneville was new and shiny winter meant a few days every now and again of cold crisp air, brisk breezes which seemed appropriate now that we have a very mild January cold front striking the Keys with daytime lows very near 70 degrees (locally considered to be sort of zero). I don't like the cold but the absence of any weather even approaching the 50s for years now has me wondering what's going on.

To Snow Or Not

There was a question, perhaps rhetorical, about the possibility of familiarity breeding contempt when it comes to the bright colors bathed in constant sunshine that is the lot of a Florida Keys resident. The short answer is, no it never gets boring, and no, I never take it for granted. Every day is a fresh reminder of one of the chief pleasures of living at 24 degrees north latitude.Yesterday I was training a new dispatcher in the arcane science of the police intranet system that connects law enforcement agencies across the country. We spoke briefly to Nome PD where daylight is down to 9 hours a day, ("It's not that dark, we are below the Arctic Circle," their dispatcher told us slightly defensively), and I'm not sure if my trainee was more impressed by the secure law enforcement network or the notion of policing snowdrifts.
Its getting to be that time of year when it starts freezing Up North and so we have to start policing bad parking, bad public drinking and bad bums begging for money at the tops of their voices on street corners in the Southernmost City. The trick to enjoying life in the Keys is to leave behind as much baggage as you can, and to learn as fast as you can to take things as they are. especially if you come from some button down community Up North where skittles are lined up, i-s are dotted and t-s are crossed. In Key West things just don't work that way. The confrontation brews when people who are used to order and cleanliness come up against chaos and small town clubbiness.
So snowbirds flutter into town each Fall and discover that things haven't changed since last year. Andthey sure as hell haven't changed either, so disorganized parking, public displays of begging (beggars like warm winters too!) and apparent municipal indifference set them off. What to do? Why, call the police!

Its hard to explain to well dressed people why its okay for smelly people to occupy city parks during the day, but the Supreme Court has outlawed discrimination on the basis of hygiene so its hard to get police officers to arrest people for being dressed in cerements. Impossible in fact, and this state of affairs hasn't changed since the last time the snowbirds were cluttering up the streets and restaurants. The Citizens' Voice Column in the paper is filling up again with quality of life complaints which are rather dull compared to the throat clutching verbal wrestling that locals indulge in while the more strait jacketed winter residents are away.

These unrelated photographs illustrate the beauty of Winter in the Keys, sunlight takes on a crisp white light, and the brisk cold fronts sweep away the dusty summer particles rendering colors that much sharper. My Bonneville is running equally crisply and is a joy to point down the highway. I've passed the 25-hundred mile mark since October 10th and I'm starting to find my way with more instinct and habit than previously. The Vespa is soon to go back on the "for sale" circuit now that we have those lovely wealthy snowbirds in town, and curiously, I find myself missing the Vespa less and less. The Bonneville is proving to be an easy fun ride in the flatlands of the Keys. In some ways it takes less skill to ride the Bonneville, as the twin cylinder takes anything in its stride, head winds, moonstruck tourists, lumberingheffalumps (SUVs) and juvenile testosterone cases. And snowbirds.
Staring at the Straits of Florida south of Sugarloaf Key has its compensations, on a golden winter evening, but there are occasions when a visit to the movies makes sense too. Last Monday it was the turn of Into The Wild an adventure film about a young man taking things to extremes until they get completely out of hand. Only then does he figure out the meaning of life; when its too late. This young man, according to the movie, made a solo kayak trip down the Colorado river, through the Grand Canyon all the way to the Sea of Cortez. He hitch hiked, made friends, disappeared, regrouped, worked and lazed away sunny desert days. But he did just have to go to Alaska, the borne from which some travelers fail to return.It was a fine movie, absorbing, demanding attention and posing difficult questions about age, impetuosity and the meaning of being alive. I couldn't get over the notion that the true test of one's mettle has to be found in the snowdrifts of the frozen north. One sun's oneself in a pansy hammock under coconut palms in the tropics while heroes forge themselves in blizzards and drizzle and cold slippery roads Up North.

By those restricted standards I am glad to be a pansy. I lived for a great deal too many years in the cold confines of Northern California to enjoy the notion of rain and cold. I just don't like it, and no amount of hairpins or mountains or spectacular views across death defying valleys compensates me for the cold in my fingers, the slush on my boots, and the depressing need to take the car on exceptionally horrendous winter days. Sitting by the fire sucks when compared to stretching out on the deck under the illusory cold embrace of a winter full moon.So, no, the winter landscapes never dull or fade or crumble into rust. The moon last night was round and red as it sank into the Gulf of Mexico on my early ride in to work. Today it was cold and steely and threw out shards of ice across the ruffled lagoons in the Saddlebunch Keys. Tomorrow I hope for more crisp and clear and sun, but if not it makes no matter because sooner rather than later sub tropical nature will reassert itself and the sun will shine.

That's what all those visitors and snowbirds come here for after all, not to mention the twittering year round residents, who came for the weather and stay for it too, no matter how unwilling they may be to admit they revere it. The Weather.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Riding High

My recent foray (link) into the roads around Orlando on a rented Indian Chief have not quite had the intended effect of damping my desire for a longer motorcycle ride. It's a desire I have been suppressing for a while as I have been getting involved in more longer term projects, and the banked fires of traveling are finding their way out from under the ashes piled up around them.
Indian Chief Vintage, Okeechobee, Florida
The three day trip to AIMExpo last Fall was excellent and I got some good riding in, darkness through the South Florida sugar cane fields was fun, flying through the warm Florida night...Twisting up Highway 17, a surprisingly fun motorcycle highway through the orange groves, getting up in the morning to a motorcycle not a car in the hotel parking lot all added up to "a trip."
Florida Orange Groves
These reminiscences were dredged up by a photo I found in my files from May 2008, my year-old Bonneville on a side road near Alva, Florida on my meandering way home from a conference trip to Clearwater north of Tampa. I like central Florida, a land of small towns, long straight roads unfortunately, but also woods, fields and unlikely back roads. It's a place that gives you space to think. 
Triumph Bonneville, Florida
Besides. it's nice to come home to the Keys and water and sky and familiar curves and passing zones and bridges and views and mangroves and even if it is a commute it is a good place to ride if you have done a lot of twisted mountain riding in your life.
Florida Sunset
An 80 degree evening in January in the Northern Hemisphere is not to be sniffed at if you dislike the cold. The road goes straight forward and straight back. Long may the road go, and long may I be on it.
Triumph Bonneville, US 1
I have been gearing up for the post-holiday busyness of being busy and Key West is busy. Lots of cars and people and sunshine shortly to be replaced by a couple of cool nights. I passed  a Tennessee- tagged SUV filled with eager faces looking forward to a  tropical vacation...and I hoped they felt a 63 degree night might qualify.  
Overseas Highway Mile Marker 14, Florida Keys
It has been a long time since the Lower Keys say a 50 degree day,a very long time indeed. I actually wouldn't mind a cold snap if only to remind me how much I enjoy the heat. I might sing a different tune if it got so cold I couldn't enjoy the ride.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Starting A New Year

The whole New Year-old year thing doesn't really do much for me but this year, continuing my streak of bad bio rhythms I spent  New Year's Eve under the covers battling a fever. I missed out, not on a party, but a substantial overtime check for working overtime on a  city holiday. My shift was to start at eleven so I had the evening to have dinner at home with my wife and then I had a chance to make a fat check after she went to bed... Instead I had her waiting on me and my friends at work getting through a tough night without my help. Bugger.
Triumph Bonneville, Key West
But now I am well and truly recovered, my Bonneville is running nicely and on my way into work last night I got to stop for a moment and see part of a rather feeble sunset at Smathers Beach.
Triumph Bonneville, Key West
It was great to be out in the cool evening air, cool by local standards that is, lacking humidity even if it was around 80 degrees. The traffic on Highway One wasn't awful and I made good enough time to be able to stop for a couple of minutes before plunging into training with my new Trainee. For only the second time in eleven years that I have worked at police dispatch we have no openings...11 dispatchers, three trainees and one administrator. We are full! Hooray, and I hope it lasts.
Bonneville, Key West
My wife and I were talking about the new year and we have decided we need to make some changes. 2015 was filled with work and no play which makes for dull people. I am seriously missing my walks with my dog, but after she suffered so badly on the trip to Orlando I am now convinced she is happy with her routines at home. We figure that she's good as far north as Fort Lauderdale or Fort Myers, four or five hours in the car ona  direct trip, but no further. Her world is closing in, but she remains happy if not terribly mobile and for that I am grateful. A pain free old age is fine thing for her even if she can't walk with me anymore.
South Roosevelt Boulevard, Key West
The first step to enjoying daily life more is to take time on my commute to pause and sniff the salt air. Very good it was too.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year

2015 was a stark mixture of hope and frustration for me. 2016 will no doubt present its challenges. For now I am in bed with a fever of 102 wondering why I forgot to get a flu shot this year. Frankly I am glad the holidays are over and the daily routine can resume. Onwards and upwards!
Vespa, Sandy's Cafe,Key West