Sunday, August 12, 2018

Key West Night

I woke Rusty up on my only night off this past week and we got to Key West  around 5:30 in the morning. Aside from a few bodies sleeping in awkward spots, like the wall of the library (below) the city was silent and empty. 
Rusty has taken to eating pizza crusts. Perhaps he needs more starch in his diet but he gets down and dirty in Key West, reminding me of the late lamented Cheyenne who was a vacuum cleaner on Greene Street where drunks spill pizza all over the place after they leave the bars. I prefer the lighting effects of black and white at night so I found myself standing around playing with the camera without being in a hurry to keep up with my dog.
This one merited color, a lucky moment of stillness on Fleming Street where the Food Palace hove into view nicely reflected in a puddle that was perfectly smooth. Often the clever pictures require you to be awake, not smart, to snag them. 
I was thinking about the owner of the food store Jimmy Weekley one of two votes opposed to a new park proposed at the south end of Duval Street. On the face of it the proposal to run a dirty seaweed strewn dead end into a park with seating and possibly a food truck (in a town that hates food trucks!) seems like a good idea. A no brainer you might say.  However Weekley and Sam Kaufman were the two city commissioners who voted no to the proposal. The reason as far as I can tell is opposition to the city privatizing the park and allowing the Southernmost House owner to create the park with a million of his own bucks. Key West is having budget problems at the moment thanks to slow Federal reimbursement for hurricane damage and a  million city dollars to create a park seems out of reach. Privatizing a city street seems a dubious precedent to me especially as the neighboring beach is actually public, between Duval and the Beach Cafe. Some citizens complain that several parking spots will be lost as well. That seems less of an issue to me as I'd rather see Duval Street turning into a pedestrian zone anyway. This park thing looks like its leading the city down an awkward path, but they approved it anyway, did the city commission.
The fence around the women's club on Duval continues to provide me cheap amusement. Signs sprout here as long as they are ugly and installed by the owners of the fence...
And this is an empty storefront for a not so recently departed restaurant. Nothing screams welcome to Duval Street like construction crap piled high and dust and filth everywhere. What a mess.
I wish Duval Street were different, thinking back to Pensacola and Palafox Street with local stores, flower planters and clean sidewalks.  Here we are, stake beer and not a power washer in sight. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Bird Life

I used to live with a woman who liked birds. Paradoxically she liked cats too, though as long as I knew her the twain never did meet. I was a man of fixed opinions back then, even more so than now, and  I was firm in my belief that birds aren't dog-like in their affections and that shortcoming made birds uninteresting.  That was in the late 1980s.
Since then much has happened  and  birds have made themselves known to me. I am not, for instance a fan of loose chickens in the streets and suburbs of Key West.  I have found myself forced from time to time to watch chickens in the streets and I have to say they show strong ties,  roosters guarding chickens and their chicks in a tight family unit.
So  in observing these noisy messy birds I am forced to the conclusion that they are more than I used to think they were. Being lose on the streets has allowed them to develop there personalities into something more than lunch.
Out walking the mangroves bird watching is about the only activity that reveals movement among the salt ponds and clumps of evergreen mangroves. My camera and my set  up are not ideal for high speed pursuit of low flying birds but I give it a go anyway. On this one I liked how the wing  tip curled up, a  position that reminded me of making paper aeroplanes as a child where I would try to "improve he delta  wings by creating lift in the tips in the same way.  My paper planes flew more or less badly but I fancied myself a designer.
Every time I see  a picture of an angel in typical fashion I am reminded of an ornithologist who remarked in some otherwise unmemorable article that for angels to have wings in a  human body, like this one at the Key West cemetery...
...sprouting those wings form their shoulders they would require a breastbone sticking out several feet to balance the force of the wings in flight...trust a scientist to muck up popular myth. 
Then there is Fat Albert, human flight tethered to the ground,  flight as servant of humans who seek out drugs and smugglers and all that from the air. Very unromantic.
I cannot identify the birds, Joe perhaps or Angie are their names..? 
Little black specks singing their hearts out, grunting in some cases, and bursting into flight across the mangroves. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Meat And Art

I have been seeing some spectacular sunrises this week, portents of rain to come later. I had a dog walking friend say she wanted to accompany Rusty and I to see this scene and of course when the time came (6:30 am) she was a no show. I realize I am an unusual character inasmuch as I work all night, I walk far and wide after my shift and I love doing it, even though I am working too much and I am 60 years old. It's hard to describe as a friend someone who isn't motivated to get out of bed for this sunrise. Luckily I prefer being alone with Rusty when the shared activity is exploring the mangroves during a walk. People tend  to get in the way.
I posted this picture on Instagram and expected to get all kinds of earache about safety and so forth but perhaps my curmudgeonly attitude toward interfering in other people's lives kept the critics quiet. Or perhaps it is the notion gaining traction that if have nothing nice to say, say nothing. The man with two children on the Honda Metropolitan scooter reminded me of my Italian youth when children, myself included routinely rode with their families by standing at the front holding onto the handlebars as can barely be seen below:  
There are places in life that catch up to you an change you. It's been three years now and i still go to Sean's broga studio a minimum of three times a week, often more. Strength based yoga has nothing to do with eastern mysticism and everything to do with lifting and pushing and stretching using your body weight. An hour of that and I am reduced to a pile of sweat and my legs tremble and my heart pounds. 150  squats and 60 push ups in between downward dogs and planks and assorted postures is  quite usual. I wobble toward the end of each hour, losing form along with the will to live. But the effect has been dramatic. I am amazed at my consistency and I find myself holding poses longer and doing harder and harder tests of strength and managing to carry them out. I decided if I was going to live past sixty I'd better do something to delay the onset of creaking old age. Broga is my answer, much to my own surprise.
But there again every Wednesday they sell food at the Sugarloaf Lodge at Mile Marker 18 on the Highway. I confess it was an impulse purchase but Tennessee Steve's ribs are worth the price of admission, $25 for a full rack and half for half, and I enjoyed them with his peculiarly peppery acidic sauce. I got to thinking about how food is an expression of culture and  how meat is such an ambivalent product in a  world where animals aren't raised with a sense of gratitude and respect for their lives. It is odd that we are glutted with calories and yet the producers of food are constantly seeking unhealthful ways to produce more at lower cost. 
At the same time I value the diversity of food we get in the United States where so many people bring the food they knew in their countries of origin. I enjoy the ribs but I also remember Nepalese dumplings in Columbus Ohio and  actual Belgian waffles by a Belgian immigrant in Cincinnati...we are so lucky to be able to taste the cuisine of the world right here at home.
My wife is ready to visit the dentist but the dentist is not yet ready  to see her. She asked me to stop by and see if there was any progress on restoring the office.
"None that I can see" was my report. The tourist literature stresses the return to normal of life in the Keys since Hurricane Irma last September. However there are significant gaps in the restoration of services. One of two gas stations on Summerland is closed and restoration is moving glacially so Dion's Fried Chicken won't be available for months to come no doubt. The other gas station has a frayed tarp for a roof and no shelter over the pumps which only dispense regular gasoline.
You get used to these gaps in daily life and I find that disturbing. It's been 11 months since we got creamed.
I guess I have been spending a lot of time thinking about how to enjoy these last three years in the Keys. Daily life is circumscribed by too much work, slow commutes and daily routines but at the same time Key West made one list of top arts centers in the US, according to the National Center for Arts Research. I should be enjoying this town more.

"In this report, we highlight and celebrate communities of every size and in every region that have cultivated higher levels of arts activity per person living in the community.  We use the term “vibrancy” in keeping with Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word to mean “pulsating with life, vigor, or activity."
Top 10 Arts-Vibrant Small Communities
(Micropolitan Areas)
Rank

Region
2016 Population
1
Edwards, CO
West
53,989
2
Jackson, WY-ID
West
34,151
3
Summit Park, UT
West
40,307
4
Hood River, OR
West
23,232
5
Durango, CO
West
55,623
6
Key West, FL
South
79,077
7
Bennington, VT
Northeast
36,191
8
Oneonta, NY
Northeast
60,097
9
Juneau, AK
West
32,468
10
Fredericksburg, TX
South
26,521

In case there was any doubt Rusty gave the ribs his seal of approval, or at last he seemed to by inhaling his share of meat. I don't think the art displays museums and live theater will do much for him. But I'm pretty sure he's glad I'm not a vegetarian. The question is: is it worth leaving him at home to see a play or should I stay home and entertain him? I guess we'll find out this winter. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

World's Best Commute

I have decided I am going senile in my old age. I am really enjoying living with a  plastic Japanese scooter, and this coming from a man who has ridden classic Italian Vespas since 1970 when my mother bought me my first ride. Of  course I mixed those up with lots of normal machines with awkward luggage, gearboxes and classic motorcycle styling. I've put 6,000 miles on it since I bought the Burgman 200 on the Ides of March this year. Almost all those  miles were commuting and it has proved to be a sterling ride. It can outpace most cars at the traffic light derby, it returns at least 75 mpg and is entirely comfortable in and out of the rain. Color me astonished, I had no idea these homely banana boats were so useful.
The best part is that this scooter is totally under rated as its only 200 cc and typically first owners "move up" abandoning these modest scooters hardly used and traded back onto the sales floor usually on sale for around three grand on Cycle Trader. The underseat storage is so vast I have no need of extra luggage in daily use, the stock windshield works fine for me and the glove box comes with a 12 volt plug to charge my everything electronic. The scooter has modern ABS brakes and a low seat height with tons of room to move your feet from stretched out to scrunched up. Fantastic, yet none of that means anything if it were boring to ride but in that department the Suzuki is light  and easy to push round the few corners I encounter in South Florida, and cruises smoothly at 65 mph with no effort at all. I love this unassuming machine and I am planning  a long ride on it before the summer is out to see if it has the potential for touring that I think it has. More on that plan next week.
Meanwhile in the real world it is motorcycle enough that car drivers leave me alone and if they don't it will run up to 75 mph easily with a few more miles per hour if needed to get away from them. And traffic on the Overseas Highway has been thick all summer long. I'm hoping schools opening soon will get vacationers to return Up North for a while before winter comes and they all bounce back. But for now every ride seems to be a line of cars tonking slowly along the highway.
But the views are excellent. Some days I pass the traffic queues if it seems worthwhile, some days I troll along behind them at ten under the speed limit (variously 45 and 55 mph) and others days I pull over and snap a few pictures to remind myself where I live. Some few occasions I get to ride all by myself on an empty ribbon of road. I imagine myself coasting across the country on my Baby Burgman. There is a 400 cc version of this scooter and the mighty 650 Executive which any rider would tell you are more suitable scooters but for me the Burgman 200 is perfect, small light and simple. At home around town in narrow scooter parking as it is on the open road.
I pass by Fat Albert and the drug interception blimp gives me an idea which way the wind is blowing. When you are pushing a 200 cc engine a following wind helps..! 
Summer is the season of sudden rain which Rusty hates when we are out walking. He hears the thunder and starts looking around for the car. Me? I stare at the clouds and see faces and patterns and swirls and all manner of wonders in the skies above. Summer really is a  great time of year. The winds have been cool and dry lately and going swimming in the canal behind my house feels on the brisk side of warm. It's all relative and for round here the water has been chilled by rain and wind. It's actually quite nice. But indoors the air conditioning keeps things cool and dry and serene.
It's dark when I leave home in the morning and those 23 miles from the police station separate from last night's 911 nonsense. Take the dog for a walk and I am ready to sleep the sleep of the just. 
Damn! Summer's going to be over soon but happily I will  hardly notice down here in the land of year round scooting. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Rusty

My happy confident dog.
 When I got him in February 2016  he was a nervous wreck after life on the streets of Homestead.
 The perfect companion
 He comes when called and explores while I am playing with the camera.
 My brown bundle of joy.
There is no better company.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Key West And I

I have been reassessing my relationship with the digital world lately and I have come to the conclusion that I am no friend of Facebook, an account I keep for the occasional contact with my family and a handful of friends. Facebook is a useful research tool at a time when pages like this very one are falling out of favor and Twitter, Facebook and all the youthful replacements have taken the venerable blog page's place.  To have a Facebook account is to be able to send an occasional note to a family member to say you know they are there. But  as a forum for conversation or as an exchange of ideas Facebook is not for me.
Twitter is more of the same only worse, especially since the number of characters was doubled. Now the vitriol is verbose. Where the struggle to express a  coherent thought in 140 characters had a certain elegance modern Twitter has descended into a  drawn out shouting match. That is no more for me than Facebook is but I have a Twitter account to follow and read from time to time but infrequently.
I like Instagram though I find the service to be annoying in that I get tons of pictures from a  few accounts based on my likes where I have much more wide ranging interests than Instagram seems to be able to accommodate easily. At least it is pictures not words so I can enjoy looking around and seeking out geographic locations that interest me....distant islands, off the beaten path places and so forth.  So I enjoy using Instagram and wish it had a broader base of pictures for me to look at.... My Instagram pictures are at  https://www.instagram.com/michaelconchscooter predictably enough. 
This page has always been my diary a record of things I see and want to remember, a journal for the digital age. I have kept it up since June 2007, an age in Internet terms, but it has been easy and fun mostly. Because I have done it for me and not for money and because I want a space to store my pictures for my own pleasure this page has been good for me. It is not going to compete with Facebook or Instagram for anyone's attention and that suits me just fine. We had  lunch with friends last week and I was struck by their surviving  dog sitting bolt upright next to a statue as though the porcelain dog was sitting in for the dead sibling. People like to tell us dogs have no feelings but they do. I've seen them. I am more than a meal and walking ticket for Rusty.
He makes eye contact with me across the room all the time. We have our bond. I look back at this page over the years and I see dogs past and present and I am glad for this place to store my memories.
My time in Key West is drawing inexorably to a  close. I am planning on retiring from the police department November 1st 2021 and as far away as that seems, just over three years, my wife and I are planning for our combined retirement that year.  Indeed sitting still these years is very hard for me to do. I have no desire to grow old in one place, to buy a cemetery plot in the expectation of dying where I stand now, to plan out a nursing home for my old age. I have some traveling to do before then.
But already I am withdrawing from Key West. It is commonplace to hear people say a community has changed and they feel alienated from it, but in my case I feel I have changed. I never expected to be 60 years of age but here I am still eager to live and to see and to experience and I need more than Key West. I am surprised to find my interest in politics waning. My political positions have not changed but with time comes wisdom and I am pretty certain the next generation will have things in hand, and I also feel pretty certain the institutions of government will outlast the peculiarly self centered administration of Donald Trump. I don't need to be on the barricades to defend my beliefs. 
Key West has changed in my twenty years here and from my perspective some things are better and others are worse. The thing I miss most is the tolerance that came to the fore in the years when outsiders took over Key West and made it a haven for eccentrics and outcasts of the generation of the 1980s. Over the course of it's history Key West has been a refuge for all sorts of rogues and loners but it has now been discovered by ordinary people who aren't put off by it's isolation because it is no longer isolated. Electricity and communications are reliable and this is a town on the mainland map of overnight deliveries - UPS overnight is commonplace. You can be a millionaire, you can run a business, you can live in Key West and import your mainstream entitled attitude with you. After all if you paid an exorbitant amount for your little house in Paradise you should be able to tell people around you how to behave. Shouldn't you?
And with that demand for conformity the beauty of key West is kicked to the curb. Even if I weren't beset by wanderlust I would be planning my escape. As it is I have to stay at work to earn my pension but I am champing at the bit to get going with the last phase of my life. It will come soon enough but in the meantime I have to bear myself in patience. I go to work. I walk my dog. I see my friends. I wait for liberation day.
I am finding myself less and less interested in Key West. How people keep coming back on vacation to visit just one place I'm not sure. I rather envy them because I am more convinced than ever that vacationing is how best to enjoy this town.  I keep wanting to see what else is over the horizon but clearly I am in a minority when it comes to rehashing the familiar versus exploring the new and unknown. I live a life circumscribed by work, overtime and filling un-staffed shifts. These days I see my overtime boosting my pension and earning me greater credit for the moment when I stop working and that's what keeps me going back to work almost every night. I have little time and less energy to spend downtown. Each winter I tell myself I need to take advantage of living here but it doesn't always come true.  Live theater, music and museums...what are they? What a waste of my time it is not to be exploring downtown while I can. I should be playing tourist in my own town but in my free time I need to sleep. Absurd but true.
Walking Rusty is my entertainment, exercise class is my social hour when I sweat mercilessly, my camera is my favorite tool, alongside my Suzuki scooter and my dog leash (which I rarely have to deploy as I wander open spaces alone and far from the madding crowd).  This is my life. My diary will reflect this. And when we are in our van pointing at the horizon this page will become a reflection of that reality, at home and abroad.