Saturday, June 17, 2017

Anchored Out

During the course of the year my commute home changes only by the degree of light, the amount of sunshine and the weather-consisting of variations between sunshine or rain, wind or suffocating humidity. The sunrise varies obviously by the time of year, summer time and winter time and the position of the sun ion the sky all have their effect. All of which is to say this time of year the sunrises are glowing many colors around the time I leave Big Coppitt around 6:15 in the morning. 
It so happened I was off duty one night when Rusty came and sat on my chest at four o'clock in the morning. He does that when he wants to get my attention to go for his early morning walk, and resistance is futile I'm afraid. I delayed a bit clutching the duvet to my ears but he wore me down and we took off an oh dark 30 stroll around town. I don't fancy going for a walk in the woods in the dark so before dawn we drive to the land of street lights and smelly street corners. It woks for Rusty.
On the way back I was delighted to notice I had reached the Big Coppitt boat ramp at just the right time. The sky was on fire. The anchored out boats were sitting there as always waiting for a new day.
And the water too, in places...
In the distance all around the bay I could see boats at anchor, free parking as it were, taken with the telephoto lense in the morning half light at quite a great distance. 
It was a long way across the bay and you can barely see the white specks at anchor. I quite like my Lumix FZ300 camera. Rain proof and dust proof all built in and rugged and not up to professional specs but entirely good enough for digital posts. 
There are quite a few boats around here including one attached I saw to a rather ingenious home made floating dock:
The launch ramp is free to use by the public which is one thing the Keys do really well which is give easy access to the water.
Big Coppitt is nearby with it's gas stations and convenience stores and bus stops:
And Highway One is right there...
....with parking on the shoulder.
Trailer parking isn't allowed here to enable launching as there isn't much room. I didn't park so much as paused and then I was on my way.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Street Living

There used to be a time, and I'm dating myself here when even the street people managed to bring a little eccentricity to the city of Key West. I well remember one guy with a shock of red hair (hence his nickname) who used to hang out shirtless and one armed on Caroline Street begging beer and waving merrily with his one remaining arm. He got offered a part in Pirates of the Caribbean when the first movie was made, as producers felt he looked just like the sorts of pirate they wanted to depict surrounding Captain Sparrow.
Perhaps I am simply jaded or perhaps the quality of the street residents today are like their housed neighbors becoming less bohemian and more mainstream. Which is not to say there is any shortage of scruffy oiks on bikes or on foot wandering around the warmest city in the mainland USA, but they don't seem to be burdened with too much of that essential spark that lifts them out of the street and into the world of lovable eccentrics.
And yet they gather and when they do the issues with vagrants in Key West become apparent. I hear a lot of complaints from people harassed by the homeless but I have to say they never bother me, or my dog. They smell bad they get drunk they don't add much o he ambiance of Key West.
Key West though adds a lot for people who need help and as it generally costs about five thousand dollars to move in to a rental apartment there are a lot of working poor in the city. They get free bed space at KOTS, the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter on city property on Stock Island. There are showers and a mail drop so working stiffs can have a valid address. Its one part of a network of shelters and transitional housing that this rather small community does offer to people seeking a way off the streets. Granted there is not a lot of available low cost subsidized housing I remain quite impressed by the range of help Key West does offer.
Which leaves us wondering why so many people end up on the streets. And let me note not everyone ou see on the streets is necessarily homeless. Read your hone waiting for the Library to open and you could be mistaken for a residentially challenged member of the community.
The thing is the State of Florida has a rule enacted by the state Supreme Court that local government may not arrest vagrants if they do not offer approved secure sleeping locations. So if the city were to do away with KOTS there would be no recourse for sleepers on the city streets at night. As it is there is no eligibility test for public spaces during the day. You can't ban people from parks and benches for being dirty or smelly or making you feel awkward.
I'm not sure why the street population in Key West seems so much more visible than it does in other Florida cities with similar weather but when I go to the mainland I notice the difference. I'm not sure whether to be annoyed by the homeless or glad that there is at least some effort at tolerance in Key West. In part I don't live in the city so I am somewhat removed from the immediacy of people passing out on my porch or  peeing on my fence as happens. Then again I'm not sure who is simply drunk while behaving abominably and who is homeless...
I think the part that is hard to take is the notion of street living as lifestyle. Personally I'd find spending all day doing nothing and having nothing to spend excruciatingly dull. I am not driven to make vast sums of money but some disposable income adds variety to the daily routine. Living out of a bicycle in public parks would get old fast for me.
So, is a sleeper at Simonton Beach a drunk passed out, a youthful impecunious tourist or a homeless guy living the life...Does it matter?
This one looked like it was a tough night that left him sitting at the monument on Greene and Elizabeth Streets. As much as some people despise the homeless vagrants in Key West I am no great fan of public uncontrolled drunkenness. In this town it's elevated to a lifestyle, as much as street living is. And it ends up being just as messy.
The panhandling zone, a free speech area near the tourist attractions seems to have mercifully been abandoned as a bad idea... This is a photo roma few years ago:
But passing out from alcohol and whatever else remains acceptable on Petronia Street just off Duval. It's the price we pay for a successful tourist economy. And police scoop them up as fast as they can and haul them off to dry out but there are just too many.
So, should we middle class worker bees be envious of the life or resentful of the imposition? Or neither?
We have our escapes, an expensive coffee at Starbucks perhaps, of which there are sadly four in town competing with the tradition of local independent coffee shops. Actually it seems there is plenty of room for both and I like my green tea latte as much as the next yuppie.
And here's another one, better off drinking coffee probably:
So when my wife and I retire with Rusty and take off to enjoy the spaces and cities will we become vagrants too? Will we be carbuncles on the face of settled communities we do not wish to join?
I look forward to finding out in a  few years.(Photo by Pleasure Way of Canada).

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Not Downtown

I haven't lived in Key West since 2004 and I haven't wanted to either. In the bad old days people thought I was weird for enjoying life 25 miles from Duval Street. Yet I still enjoy living in the  island suburbs. I was reminded of this fact of my life when I got a call at work from a city resident whose car was towed for parking on the street long enough it was considered abandoned. But it was in front of my house the Old Town resident wailed. City ordinance was all I could tell him, thinking about my ample off street parking at my suburban home.
Once you acknowledge that working nights makes a huge difference my own preference for living out here starts to make sense. My commute to Key West works in the opposite direction of the heaviest traffic as everyone else is coming or going the "other way round" to me. Plus I need to sleep when most people are awake and MAKING NOISE! Out here the homes are mostly empty as are the streets and there are no bars or other source of confusion.  I sleep well with heavy black out curtains on the windows.
My wife works as a teacher in Marathon at Mile Marker 50, and her commute is as easy as mine because fewer people drive to Marathon from Big Pine and that section of road is almost entirely 55mph and includes the Seven Mile Bridge which my wife enjoys commuting over. She does not tire of the views.
It used to be that many of the workers in Key West could afford to live in the city and enjoyed their non existent or abbreviated commutes. Riding a bike to work or driving five minutes was the norm. Then the money started to flow as the 2008 economic crisis did very little harm to property values in our year -round summer climate and people realised this was not just a great vacation but a sound investment. Which has had the effect of wrecking the year  round rental market in Key West and has created astronomical house prices. This house below isn't cheap.
Consider they are asking three quarters of a million for this rather unattractive solidly built (I hope) box. However beauty is more than skin deep. It's brand new and fully equipped with the sort of appliances and facilities most Americans take for granted in middle class America. Proper air conditioning, full sized bathrooms and faultless plumbing. Plus you get four bedrooms and three bathrooms and off street parking. You get some kind of yard and space between your place and the neighbors and a dock on a canal behind the house.
In Key West opposite the cemetery this cottage with one small parking space and a pool costs a million bucks. But  you could walk a mile or so to Ricks and Sloppy Joes or spend ten bucks on a cab....
Living on a  canal a forty minute drive from downtown Key West appeals to people who want a vacation home with easy access to fishing, not much crime and peace and quiet, and they are building to accommodate the preference:
Then if you are someone who likes to have toys, like boats trailers RVs or motorcycles or you name it, the suburbs allow you to have enough land to park the stuff near, around or under your home.
Permits to build are not easy to get and there can be a wait before permission is granted. Some people want to design and build their own, some people buy land as an investment and look to the day their bushes become stilt homes to retire in.
It's amazing how much energy and ingenuity goes into the Florida Keys lifestyle. Boat lifts to keep boats safe and clean during hurricane season...
...and for people who visit say three months a year these elaborate pieces of machinery are a godsend. Once installed their use is free. Better than renting a  storage space.
No need to go to Mallory Square to see  a sunset out here if your deck faces the correct direction.
I think one of the hardest things to bend your mind around in thinking about when considering not living in Key West is how do you give up the romance of the Conch Cottage, the tight little neighborhood, the social aspects of walking to Fausto's for groceries or cycling to a movie or a play, being part of a tight knit community. 
While all of that goes by the wayside when you live in the suburbs, for a working stiff there is the decompression value of the commute (especially by motorcycle) the fully functional homes, the ease of parking etc...And maybe you need to live in the close quarters of Old Town and discover you like living cheek by jowl and paying an exceptionally high rent (no pets) to taste the experience.
But I have never regretted my preference for living out in the boonies, too far for friends to casually drop in, too huge a drive they say(really!) to come out for a party, too isolated from the drunks and street people and sirens, too bland and suburban for a romantic Key West lifestyle.
Rusty does all right out here too. Occasional street walks and lots of wooded mangrove walks, and lots of room to stretch out indoors in the cool dry air of the central air conditioning...
Suburban living in the Keys. Most people never think of it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Electric Life

There are a ton of these bright green buzz bombs beetling around town these days. Zapp they are called and that's what they are doing, offering competition to traditional gas powered scooters.
Apparently you can buy these machines too and own them for yourself. Like this white one showing no signs of being a rental:
 A very modern digital instrument cluster:
 Top quality electrical components:
I find it encouraging that electric motors and batteries are slowly coming of age. Zero Motorcycles builds machines I could use to commute if I had longer legs and wanted to spend $16,000 for a machine with a hundred mile range. For urban use these scooters seem ideal:
 A cable snaking out of the apartment is all it takes. Brilliant!
Tesla is also making electric cars viable while encouraging the construction of the charging infrastructure.  Rider magazine organized a tour of California using n electric Zero motorcycle over several days. So we are getting that much closer to making electric vehicles viable as all rounders. I've heard it said there may soon be batteries that fast charge making refueling almost like pumping a tank full of gas. That will be an interesting change.
I grew up with internal combustion and I like it. I see the rounded shapes and smooth compound curves of a scooter and I like what I see. Yes I now they need gas and oil and so forth but they deliver so much and with so little effort. I am glad I grew up in the era of gasoline. 
 And for some what the factory sells isn't enough and suddenly a vehicle is a form of self expression.
We will all adapt I am sure and welcome electric motors into our lives. The sooner the better probably.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Clewiston Inn

I was looking through some pictures in my Google cloud account, as you do sometimes, thinking about the past when I came across some pictures of a 2013 visit we made to Clewiston. It was a road trip and we stopped at the Inn for lunch. I used to make it a point to stop here when I was traveling across Florida in the 90s when I had friends on the opposite coast.
It was January 2013 according to the photo captions so Christmas was brightening up the interior of the hotel which was built in 1938 and had been owned by Big Sugar, because Clewiston is a town built on the sugar harvest.
It was very atmospheric but lunch was just mediocre. My wife was not sure we would stop again and I was rather bummed out because I like these kinds of places -who doesn't?
There was an air of microwaved lack of care about our meal. We gt back on the road after we walked Cheyenne around the hotel. Not a fascinating neighborhood.
I got to wondering about the place especially after our last drive across the state when we didn't stop and I saw no sign of restaurant life at the Inn.Upon investigation I discovered the restaurant and bar had closed a year after our last visit and now the hotel seems to be ready for some attention. Reviews on the hotel website seemed rather despairing. This one was from April of this year:

Breakfast was abominable. We were also disappointed that the hotel's once famous restaurant was closed. The tables were now covered with linens. We are have traveled all over the US, Canada and 18 other countries for more than 40 years. This breakfast was so bad, plain white bread, packaged muffins, that all we took was a container of yogurt and a banana. You would be better advised to just have a high class coffee and tea bar instead and not even advertise a breakfast. We went across the street to the cafe. The owners there were glad to get our business and said this was routine. But they were also sad, as were other locals we talked to, that this once grand hotel--a Florida icon and a cherished local landmark--has been allowed to disintegrate under its current ownership. Locals told us it used to be a source of pride for the community and is now an emblem of heartbreak instead. You are missing an opportunity to showcase a beautiful location (next to that wonderful city park, etc.) and historic building. We chose this hotel because we were curious about the history of the building (we love staying at old lodges, etc.) But peeking around the darkened public rooms and seeing unused furniture stacked up was so sad.

On the other hand there were those who loved it, perhaps with less picky detail:
Our room was very comfortable and nice. We appreciated the "classic" style of the room design. Loved the views of the surrounding parks and trees out of our windows.

I have no idea what to think except I am sorry the restaurant and bar are closed. Clewiston has a few chain eateries and also some Mexican places as farm labor is a prominent part of the population these days.
If one were to live by platitudes one might argue that times change and places do too and this decline is not surprising given the remote location and agricultural nature of the town which has also had difficulty with a receding lake coast line during the drought years making bass fishing difficult. Yet I would like to think there is still room for and an appreciation of the past past as an expression of the present. Granted people winter in trailer parks and fast food is our standard but I wish this old place could come back.

I feel lucky to have the memories that I have of it, not tennis or resort stays, just atmospheric meals on linen table cloths with proper service as an alternative to road food served in Styrofoam across the counter as per usual.