Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Webb Chiles.

I am not very good at accepting praise and the words Webb has written about me embarrass me but here they are. He is very kind. 

I never did ask myself Why Me? Which perhaps reflects a lack of self awareness on my part more than anything else! These days I walk Rusty as much as I can; I spend what feels a disproportionate amount of time in the gym(!) and find time to sleep before going to work for a few hours.

The thing Webb doesn’t know is how his writing about sailing exposed a young would be sailor to the emotions of being on the water alone and perhaps not doing that well. Webb suffered every kind of set back and you can read what I read as his books are online ready for your electronic reader. Most travelers wrote travelogues but Webb was his own man and his own writer and he told it like it was. That made him stick in my mind. 

Thank you Webb for being the original example that cane to my aid in a difficult moment.  

Winter Oddities

There have been some weird contortions in Key West lately and I don't know quite what to think. The tourist people have done a bang up job advertising Key West this winter, as usual and the throngs are thronging merrily even as I get reports of weather not too bad Up North. This year we have cable TV at our loaner apartment and I have once again developed a perfect loathing for the art of advertising on the small screen. In between all the money spent by the pharma industry and insurance companies (imagine that!) one catches a glimpse from time to time of those splendid islands in the Gulf Stream, not the Bahamas, and I immediately want to visit them until I remember I live here. No wonder the hordes are hoarding us on these warm winter, sun filled days.
And the Tourism Development Council (TDC) comes in for a fair bit of criticism for effective advertising which is rather an odd approach to a successful organization. They are doing what they are very well paid to do. Of course I understand the irritation of my year round neighbors who get fed up with being swamped by visitors but my reflections on this my page were prompted by a  rather sensible comment I saw in the delicious anonymous comments section of the newspaper, known as The Citizens' Voice:
“Those complaining don’t understand the TDC. The tourist experience determines the level of return customers. Yes, the TDC budget is as large as the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, but they must continually attract new visitors, mostly from overseas where people only know what the advertising shows them.”
There you have it I guess, despite our crappy attitude toward visitors they insist on loving us to death.
And on the subject of tourists and poor treatment of same there are the so-called cosmetic shops that line Duval Street and whose behavior is so uniformly awful the lethargic city commission has been moved to action. This after years and years of dismal treatment of customers by these stores. And before I join the legions criticizing the commission we should remember the problem has been tackled by the Code Compliance department to no effect and now citizens are protesting in front of the shops lawfully much to the annoyance of the shopkeepers who expect the police to shut down free speech. I heard one officer patiently explaining to a shopkeeper that expressing an opinion on a sidewalk is not illegal and if you have a beef with it you need to go through the civil courts. Sound advice that probably fell on deaf ears. None are as deaf as the heads filled with righteous indignation.
What tends to happen is this, as reported in the paper. Store employees are described as aggressive salespeople offering creams and potions to make the customer look more beautiful and younger and all that stuff, normal enough so far. The problems arise in the billing when acts of gross over billing have been reported on credit cards to the tune of hundreds of dollars. Apparently customers who may be distracted, or older, or not self assured are viewed as potential victims and sold grossly over priced products with no chance of a refund. These cases have been reported in the newspaper which, once publicized have a tendency to be resolved amicably. However people are annoyed enough they have taken to protesting. And now the city commission is also acting invoking a  state law to rein in these errant shopkeepers. 
And that's where things went a little odd. I was surprised to see Commissioner Sam Kaufman veered off course and voted "no" to cleaning up these cosmetic stores. Kaufman is normally a solid citizen supporting all things good and decent in Key West and it brought me up with a jerk to see him supporting these cruel overcharges by unscrupulous merchants. The reason? Most of the stores are owned by Israelis and he thinks clamping down on bad  shop keeping practices might smack of antisemitism. No, he really said that in a public meeting as reported by the newspaper. 
Well, I was pleased to see a really crisp clear refutation of such a position also in the Citizens' Voice as follows:
“How egregious does the behavior of cosmetic shop employees have to be for City Commissioner Kaufman to support the new ordinance protecting the public? Assault? Battery? Implied in his comment, ‘sensing a lot of categorization’ is the specter of antisemitism. I regret that he was not asked if he would have voted ‘no’ to the ordinance if the shop owners were Russian or French. Using antisemitism as a reason to not protect the public is doing a disservice to the Jewish community and dilutes this painful practice when it does occur. We know what happens when ‘wolf’ is cried unnecessarily.”
Anyway  there is life beyond the storm in the teacup at City Hall and the shopkeepers will have to sharpen up as the ordinance passed overwhelmingly. Meanwhile I was out with dog and camera again looking at the world through the lense of my big camera. The old Flagler bridges built in 1912  make for lovely walking cycling and fishing routes and the state has done a lovely job of refurbishing them as you can see in the second picture from the top where Rusty was prancing off ahead of me. That they were once railroad bridges is not obvious anymore. And what's even more surprising they are refurbishing more and more of them. Some have been gated off as they are unsafe and awaiting work but there is an effort underway to create a continuous centennial bike path through the Keys. Another tourist attraction to advertise on the TV!
Personally I don't see the fun of cycling the Keys especially if you happen to have the wind in your face but tons of people do it and love it. The big scare is the Seven Mile Bridge which is intimidating for some car drivers and motorcycle riders with agoraphobia issues. The state has got a huge bridge repair job underway on the old railroad bridge alongside the 1982 new bridge but as far as I can tell it will only go to Pigeon Key about half way though I'd love to see the old seven mile bridge opened all the way with a gorgeous 70 foot arch in the middle to accommodate sailboats similar to the arch on the new bridge.
This was a view I caught looking south at about Mile Marker 13 in the Saddlebunch Keys between Big Coppitt and Baby's Coffee. I got it by trying a bunch of  filters on my camera as I sat in my rolling walker on the Flagler Bridge. Rusty was skipping around playing his own private games on the bridge.
So, yes some of the views in the Lower Keys are splendid and doubtless pleasant to enjoy on a bicycle and heaven knows lots of winter visitors do it. For some reason pulling over in the car and stopping just about anywhere isn't so popular so we get stuck behind people trying to drive and take photographs at the same time so naturally the driving suffers. Much better pull over and enjoy the view. It works for me. But as we have established I've not got much in common with the winter crowd. Keep a low profile and wait for Easter...and take lots of pictures!

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Little Things

My friend Mandy the artist living in the middle of the country got an eviction notice last week putting herself and her roommate in the street in a few weeks. The text messages developed a slightly frantic note as she started to contemplate a summer road trip to take advantage of her rootless state. Then suddenly a new living situation made itself available to the two roommates and all is settled. A new home, a fresh start and more adventures in a new town. Stress equals opportunity I keep reminding the artist.
Part of her frustration was with the cost of housing. Her roommate has a family able to help Mandy's friend to buy a house but the costs of housing in St Louis are astronomical especially in relation to wages. Well, I thought to myself, fancy that. We moan with a clearly defined sense of superiority in Key West convinced things couldn't be worse and no one else has it so bad and Mandy's momentary housing blip put that problem into perspective. Two women with two dogs need housing and for that to happen they had to move out of the city. Not at all unlike the blessed Florida Keys. 
I thought to myself how impossible it must be if housing everywhere is out of reach, the insulation of living in the Conch Republic was breached and I had to contemplate that conundrum for a while. It was bad enough hearing on the news the stories of families used to being sustained by Federal jobs that are no longer paying because the politicians fight over the budget. Their situation was all over the news last week and I could only ponder what a pain that must be, to have  a job and not get paid or to be eligible for unemployment as you are essentially not working at all. I am so thankful to live in Key West under the city's employment umbrella.
Life in Key West has gone all weird too, as winter closes it's grip on the state Up North and everyone, and I mean everyone shows up in the Keys to enjoy perfect winter weather. You can hardly blame them but it is a bit breathtaking how badly the standard of driving has fallen as visitors get lost and dither and back track and do sudden unexpected things without turn signals. The recent holidays have seen some berk piss in the elevator in my apartment complex twice. Someone suggested it might have been a dog, a suggestion I take offense at, but nevertheless I pointed out the dog must be choosing to get drunk and forget himself on the very nights humans were doing the same thing. Yes and my slippers on my still swollen feet  had to go into the laundry right away. I don't mean to whine but mistaking the elevator for a pissoir seems a bit much. Luckily I live for the moment on the first floor. Luckily there is an elevator at all as I am still having trouble with stairs.
So I take myself off with the camera reminding myself life is good even though everything seems so crowded. Oh and wait a minute a sudden downpour reminds me I haven't been keeping an eye on the weather and the recent heavy humidity was, as usual, a warning of a cold front to come.  It came and Rusty and I sat on the deck and watched the heavy cold water drops splat in the parking lot. So much for a sunset walk I thought...
But no, these are the Florida Keys and my wife was in Miami, I was off work and the sun came back out  in time for Rusty and I to go exploring together. I can't walk far or fast with my rolling walker but my dog is a good boy and he puts up with my limitations. He trots off and keeps an eye on me, he comes when I call and I wear myself out in proportion to him wearing himself out though he walks four times as far and twice as fast. 
We went exploring the Torch Keys together stopping here and there to check out trails we hadn't walked together in months. I struggled a bit with the walker, taking short steps and lifting it over branches and clumps of grass while he disappeared in the brush.
The great thing about the walker is not only does it have a cup holder I can use to hold my phone while I listen to the radio but it also has a box I can put things in, a bit like Pooh Bear with his empty hunny pot.
Look at these pictures illuminated by the sun getting close to the horizon...
This was what I wanted when we left the house. Rich full colors, long shadows, no one around and I hoped for a few birds flying overhead, making a splash in the water or crowding on tree branches for me to watch. No such luck so I was forced to sit in my walker and meditate. 
I think that's part of what I enjoy about life in the Keys, so remote yet so not remote. Every time a shipping company includes the continental US in its range of delivery that includes us. Cool.  At the same time we seem so remote from all those kerfuffles I was mentioning earlier, like the political squabbles, and mainland arguments that sometimes seem as remote as if we really were in the Caribbean.
Buttonwood trees reaching for the clear blue sky. Somewhere out there a Chinese spacecraft is sitting on the dark side of the moon, a portent of China's dominance to come, but for me a reminder of Pink Floyd's 1973 album. I am old.
We sat, watched a few cars roll by as the work day ended and I rolled the expedition up with perfect timing arriving back at base just as the sun disappeared and took the day with it. I am so glad I didn't die last August. A day of small things like this one was well worth living for and I look forward to more of them! 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Old Town Early

I had noticed a certain excitement in my dog the day before when we drove downtown and he had his head out the window so next morning early I brought him down, actually New Year's Day and let him loose. The courthouse in the dark at 6:15 am:
 Burning the midnight oil, as it were:
 I wish they would fix the sign, it looks so much better when it reads "Strand."
 Cheap living:
Look at that dog keeping an eye on things. Rusty and he exchanged not one bark oddly enough. I guess we passed the sniff test.
 These residentially challenged half wits were talking loudly and what they said was pretty funny as I stumped by pushing my rolling walker. One guy announced he had lost his sunglasses on the steps "back there." He needed a new pair obviously. Another guy said he needed a pair too. He was planning on stealing a pair later when the stores opened. And n he wasn't going to steal two pairs to help the other guy out. That would be too obvious. Yes I think it must be a real pain to operate a store downtown with these bozos planning their lives around your opening hours. Clumsy isn't in it.
CVS which replaced the lamented Fast Buck Freddie's is still showing off the work of artists in it's window . in this case the dioramas of one Devries Wray. Very nice too.
 New Year's Eve is over but the crowds as seen on Instagram were enormous.
Part of me was quite relieved Rusty needed us at home. He has a bad history with being shot at while a stray in Homestead and fireworks, not thunder, freak him out. So we felt obliged to abandon plans to see Sushi drop in her shoe at midnight. Mind you I feel claustrophobic just looking at the crowd: 
By the time we got downtown things were back to normal for the hour of day, quiet empty streets.
 Just like the old days before my wreck:
I have started a gym program three days a week to build up my strength which I am combining with my physical therapy and also a chiropractic massage therapist so I am hoping to be completely back to normal before too long. I am tired of not feeling whole.
 We walked for just over an hour and I confess I was tired at the end of it and glad to sink into the air conditioned comfort of the car back at the courthouse.
But Rusty too was pretty tired by the end of it. We walked pretty constantly and he was showing signs of being ready to go home after I gave him some water and he sank onto the back seat of the car.
Signs of the night before were visible on the streets:
 Good morning.
Hot sticky dog, perfectly behaved. He only crosses the street after he checks for traffic. He amazes me.
Today is the 6th of January, the holiday of 12th night in the Christian calendar where traditionally it marks the end of the Christmas season with the arrival of the three wise men. In Italy when I was a child the Nordic version of Christmas which has taken over the planet Christian or not was not properly celebrated and we got gifts (when I was in Italy) on this night. They were delivered by the Christmas Witch known as La Befana. Read the links for details if you are curious but what is more relevant is that by twelfth night you'd better have your Christmas decorations put away or face massive quantities of bad luck. Like maybe breaking your pelvis? Which wasn't what happened to me as I'm married to a Jew and we don't decorate, thanks to Hanukkah which holiday we do mark. 
Appelrouth Lane connecting Duval to Whitehead Streets looks very 19th century in sepia coloring. This was where Rusty first got chased by a broody hen when I first walked him downtown three years ago. That was an experience he never forgot apparently and he still steers clear of chickens where he meets them. I do nothing to discourage him as I find it handy to know he won't chase and kill chickens at random. If one day we go to Mexico that sort of behavior would end up being expensive for a couple of gringos with a livestock killing dog. 
 Man and chicken. A study:
Our first walk together downtown in a long time. We must do this again soon. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Dawn At Boca Chica

Good Saturday morning. A few pictures from earlier this week at Boca Chica Beach. 
 There were quite a few cars parked whose occupants weren't yet stirring. 
 So Rusty and I wandered, he with his nose and me with my camera as usual.
 I covered myself with the green can of Deep Woods Off because this place is alive with bugs.
 The breeze was excellent and I was happy to stay as long as Rusty wanted.  
 I was glad to have made it back, my first visit since the accident. 
 Another old walk revisited. 

Friday, January 4, 2019

Stock Island Brunch

It is the opinion of my wife that the brunch served at Stock Island's Perry Hotel is well worth it if you like seafood. She took on board quantities of shrimp, raw tuna oysters and ceviche as well as a couple of vodka drinks for her fifty bucks and she came  away happy.

It's quite the hotel is the Perry located on Shrimp Road a street noted for it's light industrial grime and dust, now gradually being overcome by the Village Marina a modern facility with all conveniences including a dog park. 

As you can see the Perry Hotel is quite the facility, modern bright and genteel, one of a number of hotels and clubs that are sprouting on Stock Island between the trailer parks and plumbers and auto body repair shops. This is clearly the future.

Do not wear red pants if you come to brunch here lest you be mistaken for the staff, who flit about replenishing the cakes and breads and hot eggs and bacon and sausages and gravy along with the fist and dessert cakes and so forth. 

Modern industrial chic is the theme and you can sit outside if you make a reservation two weeks in advance. This place, properly known as Matt's Stock Island Kitchen at the Perry Hotel, is popular. 

I opted for the alcohol free menu with no small plates for $39 and I had all the food I needed. Drinking in the middle of the day makes me sleepy and these days as my bones continue to heal I have little resistance to start with so I drove and drank their excellent coffee, strong but not bitter. Better yet they imitate IHOP and put a thermos of the stuff on your table. Excellent.

I thought the pork belly taco looked a bit robust but my wife pronounced it excellent. I had bacon which was not properly crisp in the American style so I wished I'd had more sausages which were perfect. The scrambled eggs were fine but I didn't spot the hot sauces on their own table, not on mine. 

The grilled chicken small plate was okay as was the quiche which tasted she said more like a souffle. In the end the bisque and the taco were her favorites and I thought the French toast looked pretty good as it was whisked by to another table.

I love gooey cakes for my sweet tooth so I followed my traditional breakfast plate with a few of those and a not tart enough lemon tart. 

We will go back and I think next time I'd like to explore the offerings a bit more thoroughly. The trouble with the buffet is you only know what you liked after you've had it. Which makes selecting food complicated. In many respects I prefer ordering a dish and eating it but I am not the one pressing for the brunch outings in my family. 

If gentrification is inevitable and I think it very much is on Stock Island it may as well come this way so we plebs will get some small reason to stick our noses under the tent flap.