Saturday, December 24, 2016

December On Duval

A few pictures of the main drag in Key West, the lower end of Duval Street. Pictures without words I think for the holiday. Warm sunny winter days make a pleasant contrast to the cold Up North.


 Everyone photographs Sloppy Joe's the Key West icon.

 And Rick's one of the other bars...
 Out of business. Yours for $30,000 a month or more.
 The Duval Shuffle with nowhere to sit to discourage the bums (who sit on the sidewalk anyway).
 Shorty's a cross between a convenience store, a market and a bar.
 The flag in the service of commerce.
 Everyone sits on the ground as there are no better choices.
 And then around the corner on Front Street I saw his relic of a bygone scooter era, a tiny Honda Spree, apparently in perfect working order. Ideal for Santa's elves.
Merry Christmas to all.

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Night Out

This chain restaurant has been surviving on the seven hundred block of Duval and that had me surprised so we went for dinner last week. It was actually pretty good.
They have downstairs seating but we went upstairs and sat inside though they do have outside seating. My wife suggested next time we might like to overlook the street for people watching. Worth the wait for an open table.
We were going to a play and thus had a bit of a deadline. We shared a plate of mussels which came oddly enough sprinkled  with parmesan. That was a first: shell fish and cheese. Not bad.
 We then shared a plate of hogfish which was excellent. 
 The interior is busy.
 Service was good and we enjiyed the food.
 We will be back.
We stopped for cookies for dessert up Duval Street. They were actually pretty good even though they supposedly weigh half a pound and were far too big. We took them home and finished them with a glass of wine.
 The giant Mattheessen's cookies came with us to a performance of "It's Only A Play" at the Waterfront Playhouse. Great fun and a fine way to spend two hours.
A walk back down Duval to the car watching the street performers and artists...
 And noting that Mr Cheapee's On caroline Street has shut its doors forever. Another long time place  gone.
All change in Key West, always.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sunset Sailing

The plan was to wander Mallory Square at sunset and see what pictures my new telephoto lense could pick up. In the event there was neither sun nor sunset and I never got closer o Mallory Square than than the Westin docks.
 However with a fresh north breeze blowing across flat harbor waters there were sails up and boats out and about. The Sebago catamaran "cattle boat" so called as it packs dozens of visitors and serves drinks from a bar on deck. Raucous times I'm told.
The harbor was the scene of one expertly handled J105 (Johnson 10.5 meters long or 34 feet) sailboat tacking back and forth across the north wind. 
There was also the ferry from Sunset Key, the palm covered island in the background. Years ago I applied for the job as it is secure year round employment with benefits. I wasn't suitable for the job though as I think I was rather too eccentric to be in essence a water valet to the obnoxiously wealthy.
The J105 has a good reputation in sailing circles and is much admired among amateur racers for its speed and handling qualities and it was putting on a good show in front of Christmas Tree Island. Almost made me wish I was onboard...
There is a rather grotesque disconnect between the vast cruise ships and their segregated onboard life tied up to our rather mundane municipal existence alongside. I watched a small child bouncing on some sort of  elasticated rope on the top deck, oblivious to his surroundings beyond the ship. I think that's part of the sense of aggravation that cruise ships inspire in city residents, as they are not part of Key West in any real sense, not even as true visitors.
I stood at the railing at the end of the Westin and looked over at Mallory Square with the cold front building behind...It looked awfully crowded. Better go to work. So I did.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Wishes and Fishes

I hate the new Seven Fish building on Truman. A friend ate there and described an experience akin to dining in the Hall of the Mountain King with noise reverberating around the room. I miss the intimate old Seven Fish on Olivia, now a boarded up empty building.
I find sometimes a successful restaurant can overdo the expansion and even  though I have no desire to eat in an airport waiting lounge Seven Fish has always been a good place to go if you could get a table.
The problem of seating availability is solved, but at what price? I guess efficiency trumps charm in our modern world.
The old Seven Fish was the modest  white building behind my motorcycle in the picture above. I wish they could have moved into a building more in keeping with the Old Town style with lots of room to work but a design that looked less garish, less suited to Miami Beach. 
Life is like that, things are going well and sometimes we make changes that derail our plans and a derailed plan can set our teeth on edge. I wish them well and I am sure the cooking will be up to their usual high standards but I liked the small intimate space that must have been inconvenient to work in. In a town where everyone knows everything and nothing is off the beaten path, Seven Fish was. Now it's not.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

South Roosevelt Improvements

The state Department of Transportation is eyeing South Roosevelt Boulevard for improvements. Why? Who knows...they could put money into repaving US ONe which is torn up by dozens of overnight trucks hauling supplies to the Keys each and every day, or they could leave well enough alone, but no, the state wants to improve South Roosevelt, properly known as State Road A1A.
And there are turn outs for traffic to cross to the airport and hotels:

As it stands South Roosevelt is a scenic four lane street with pedestrian crossings near the hotels and a thirty mile an hour speed limit not always observed. 
There is a wide sidewalk on the ocean side which is popular with people exercising on foot or by bicycle. So why does the state want to make changes? No one who uses this street has any idea at all. 
There is talk or reducing the travel lanes to two, thus increasing the possibility of road rage and congestion, while at the same time adding more bike paths and a median with a  turning lane. A turning lane? Why do we need a turning lane? There's nowhere to turn!
On the inland side there is the bridle path which is a walking trail and where parking is forbidden though you can drive there if you want to. On the seaward side there is nowhere to go either of course...So turning lanes make even less sense than you might imagine...
If you are coming from out of town and heading west and you want to park along the seawall facing in the opposite direction a u-turn across double yellow line sis not technically legal. What I do is turn into the Bridle Path and face back out and rive straight across the four traffic lanes when clear and then I park facing the way I came. Done and dusted.
I can see no sensible reason to change the layout of South Roosevelt. It's not a fast route anywhere as it takes the long way round and if you are in a hurry take the North Roosevelt route which the state has improved greatly with its long drawn out work to limit flooding and to coordinate traffic  lights. South Roosevelt is the scenic route and ends up in  a rather ugly way at Bertha Street, a canyon between condos:
Clearly re-paving would be a charitable act for the drivers around here but redesigning the whole street seems like a make work project for bored engineers.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Midnight Shift

The big question was: what will Tommy do? The Tommy in question is a police officer who works night shift and survives, flourishes perhaps, thanks to copious cups of Cuban coffee. Between calls you were sure to find Tommy propping up the counter at Sandy's Cuban Cafe on White Street. Then came the devastating news, rippling through the police station. All eyes were on Tommy when he was told.
"WHAT?" The cri de coeur echoed through the halls of the police station. It was true: Sandy's will no longer be open twenty four hours a day. Sandy's now closes at midnight and doesn't reopen until five in the morning. For those crucial five hours each night the overnight institution is dark. I am not a fixture at Sandy's on night shift though we have been known to send a dispatcher down Virginia Street to collect life giving caffeine on those  tedious nights when the clock stands still. Now that option (with cheese bread on the side) is no longer available to us.
I was lunching at Roostica yesterday with some friends and on our way to the now-iconic Italian-American eatery on Stock Island we passed a new outlet just around the corner. Croissants de France? I was so shocked I failed to point my camera, so here is their website picture just to prove the truth of what I say:
 
So it's time to take stock and try to figure out what's going on here. Sandy's closing seems significant to me inasmuch as I think the traffic for the coffee shop has dried up. That says to me that the essential Bohemian nature of Key West especially the night denizens aren't there anymore.  I don't hang out in bars but I'm getting the impression not many other people do either, at least not into the early hours. The city requires bars to close by 4 am but they may close earlier if they choose or if they lack customers. Sandy's is a natural stop off on the way home, a sandwich, a coffee or a plate of Mexican food to go. Not anymore, between midnight and five. 
Furthermore there used to be people out and about at night, youngsters drinking and having fun, middle aged people trying to keep up and needing coffee to get recharged. Apparently not anymore. Key West is changing and as money rules the roost old age and social sedation take precedence. I can't say I like it but there it is.
Check out this place, further up White Street whose photo I took from their website . I have heard blasphemous suggestions that they may be better than Sandy's and maybe they are. But they aren't open at night so Tommy the night shift caffeine addict gets no relief here. Perhaps there is no need to have a coffee shop open at night, Denny's the last resort on Duval will have to do, or the new Sunshine Grill on White Street which they say is open all night. Maybe, just maybe all is not lost... 
And then there is the rather tasty Croissants de France selling pastries and European coffee in the land of the Stock Island Nike. White rubber boots are known that way around here as they are the preferred and identifying footwear of the commercial fishermen who work the docks of the fleet in Stock Island. It's hard to imagine they will be lining up to buy babas and cafe au au lait so if I'm right who are the customers envisioned by the upscale coffee shop? 
The conclusion is inescapable and it has to come back to gentrification. Stock Island is about to be transformed by a  wave of development that will eliminate the squalid but affordable trailers, that will replace Haitians and Cubans with people with money and a need for a winter home. 
My wife and I went to the theater Friday night. We looked around and listened as our neighbors in the aisles reconnected after a  long summer away with tales of the weather Up North a subject not as fascinating as they think it is. We sat and thumbed our programs and allowed the extremely loud chirps of delight to swirl around our heads. It was a good play well done and funny enough to laugh. We went on Friday to save ten bucks which is an offer they make at the Waterfront Playhouse. My wife the teacher is also eligible for discounts as a worthy worker...During the intermission we took the air outside the theater...
 ...and my wife looked around, the social butterfly, and remarked with astonishment that there was not one person there that she knew. I said and I admit I was slightly grumpy that we  were the token help, employed peasants to lend credibility to the notion that live theater is for locals too. In a sea of designer labels and artificial tans we were the scruffy oiks being shoved aside by the busy New Yorkers. 
The anonymous complaint column in the newspaper has started going off again on the subject of parking always a winter favorite when the snowbirds re-discover that unlike "at home" here they have to walk a bit to find their car on the street. Poor dears. Complaints about mature trees being decimated have been published all summer long so I am going to continue photographing them as long as they survive. Why trees need to be cut down I'm not sure but I guess if you aren't here in the summer the beneficial effect of their shade isn't immediately apparent.
Above I noticed a commuter of the new class, helmet, trouser clips -  reflective, and clothing worthy of an appearance in court. An old Key West joke: "What do you call the guy in the suit?" Answer: "Defendant." Very droll. Below we see the more usual business attire in Key West, get the job done even if it means getting your hands dirty. Or it could be a  customer.
On our way home from the theater I mentioned to my wife that I have never felt so comfortable anywhere as living in the Keys. I still feel that way even though I am starting to feel a bit endangered. I am by no means a Bohemian or an artist or a free loader, I work for the police and show up on time at work. Yet I don't subscribe to a lot of mainstream lifestyle choices so I am not fashionable dressed nor culturally up to speed all the time. Consequently I find visits to places like shopping malls a trial and sitting through small talk in gatherings wears me out. In the Keys I get away with being off kilter and no one minds, actually some people lie it. A friend of mine said the other day that I am his first eccentric friend. That he is 50 years of age and he meant it affectionately didn't stop me from freaking out for a bit. But then commonsense reasserted itself.  I guess I can live with that if he can live with me. 
I feel like a child stamping his foot while announcing that no I will not grow up and take my medicine. And no I won't accept the transformation of my last comfortable habitat without bitching and moaning. I have to keep on keeping on, working nights, suffering the loss of caffeine, putting up with snowbirds and their pretensions but I don't have to be happy about it. Eccentric is as eccentric does.