Monday, December 2, 2019


Finding oneself out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday, my first vacation since my hospitalization last year, I had a few goals in mind. One was being able to drive all day, something I hadn't been able to do since getting my driving privileges back along with the use of my legs. Happily, as I do like road trips, I drove all the way to New Orleans and back by myself with no help from my passenger. Which made my wife happy as she likes to "navigate" as she puts it while making a nest in her seat and doing everything from learning Italian to studying potential stopping places on her phone while I tune the radio and enjoy the drive. Our trip around the Gulf Coast also put us in the path of some fairly gnarly temperatures last week which was a useful reminder of why I like the tropics and how I have stayed put in the tropical tip of Florida for two decades.
This series of photographs taken last Friday morning before we left Pensacola had my hands freezing despite the slowly rising sun. If I were to point out it was a balmy 52 degrees that might take away some of the heroic nature of my arctic dog walk along the city waterfront. Like it or not it felt cold to me and the early morning chill was a reminder that when we take to the road in a few years we will need to own some more suitable winter type clothes. I retire in November 2022 and driving out of the Keys at this time of the year one needs to be prepared to encounter frost north of Lake Okeechobee.
As  cities go Pensacola is a pleasant place fueled by a military economy and summer beach visitors, but it offers what many consider to be a southern Alabama culture rather than the sort of Florida immersion a trip down the peninsula yields. Historically Spain ruled over the land we call Florida (the Flowery State - la Florida - the Spaniards called it) and when they yielded the territory as a quit claim against American settler demands, which also happened to involve a brief war with the US, the new territory retained the shape we know today. So even if this part of the coast should ethnically belong to Alabama it came to the United States packaged as part of Florida, a massive insect filled swamp of no use to anyone in those days except renegade Indians and runaway slaves. The Seminoles fought heroically to be left alone in their swamps but like the Spanish were overcome by superior firepower even though no one wanted to live between the largest northern town of Tallahassee and distant Key West where mosquitoes were endemic but bearable despite many yellow fever deaths. So Tallahassee in the dry pine forests became the capital of a territory which was not going to develop its full economic potential until the arrival, after World War Two, of cheap consumer sized air conditioning and the importation of sun loving northerners on the run from their dreary lives Up North.
I needed no air conditioning on my walk which was a reminder how limiting it can be to get used to tropic air temperatures on a sliver of land the size of extreme South Florida. Pensacola, 800 miles from my home felt very alien to me despite the fact I was still in the Sunshine State. Live oaks, spindly frost proof palmetto palms and local foods that resemble New Orleans' finest, gumbos and pecans and not South Florida plantains and black beans. 
Rusty was delighted by the weather despite his entire life spent in and around Miami and Key West. He took long walks with me every day and lazed around in the sun and slept like a dead dog at night, draped wherever he found himself, snoring loudly and without restraint. He got into the spirit of Thanksgiving vacation by doubling his intake of food to compensate for his high energy cold weather output, finishing everything put in front of him and staying by his bowl until he got more. He usually is a rather reserved and picky eater but not when he is dealing with cold crisp weather apparently. He  kept my wife busy filling his bowl. He finds her food preparation superior to mine so I feed him only in moments of dire crisis and he looks at me rather askance when I prepare his dinner.
I pointed out to my wife this may be our last road trip in a car as we hope to hit the road next summer in our van hopefully converted by next July into a home on wheels. Yesterday I began the beginning of the end of my career at Key West PD as on December First I officially retired and started my deferred retirement plan which will see me working up to five more years, the maximum allowed though I hope to be done in three. While I work these next years the city puts my retirement payments into my deferred fund which I take as a lump when I leave and that is in addition to my lifetime monthly payments which I have accrued in the normal way to this point. The idea is to move older employees out of the workforce to allow room for job mobility in state and municipal  employment. Old folks go out with a golden handshake which means youngsters can get promoted into these valuable jobs with defined benefit pension plans. Suits me as I know when I want to go and the time limit is no burden. And a few young Floridians get jobs with proper benefits and job security.
Therefore we both spent some time pondering what it would mean not to have to "go home." I wonder how Rusty who craves stability will find life on the road, while my wife and I both have a history of traveling and know better what to expect.  I am glad my wife is there to not only feed Rusty but to keep me towing the line so we can retire with dignity and a measure of security in an insecure world. She the teacher is doing the same deferred retirement plan with a lump sum and permanent monthly payments.
It's a mixture of feelings for me, thinking about being away from the ease and warmth of a life in the Keys and Pensacola was a reminder how small and privileged is the tiny area is in which I live frost free. No one would accuse the Florida Panhandle of being plagued with bad weather but my wife and I were talking seriously about heat options for the van after a couple of nights of 45 degree lows. We both understand how lucky we are to have time to wander and be paid to do it. I hope we can stay below the snowline.
The fact of the matter for me is that out of season travel is frequently more rewarding than joining the larger summer crowds. Time seems like an ever more precious resource and the days of vacation flew by which made me think even harder about the luxury of not having to be anywhere. A longer stay in Pensacola would have been easy especially after my head cold had dissipated and I had caught up on my rest.There were places to go and things to see. A few nights of 45 degrees were followed by war summery days and pleasant warm nights. Winter comes in short bursts around here.
I was reading a story in the Washington Post which rather provocatively asked why some people have the urge to wander. My own plans to emigrate were roundly criticized when I was a youngster by family members whose idea of a journey was a morning drive in the car. Fortunately a half century later science comes to my rescue to tell me I must have a particular gene to blame for my anti-social nomad-ism. Its called DRD4-7R and it plays  some weird trick on dopamine levels which are to blame for every human aberration we are told. Including the desire to travel.
The gene supposedly increases one's tolerance for risk and seeks out a reward of constant stream of new sensation to satisfy a curiosity gone wild. Something like that. I don't actually think of myself particularly as a risk taker but I do have an active curiosity which pushes me to go further afield than anybody else in my family. Al three of my sisters have stayed close to home and only I have chosen not to, so I can only suppose the special gene is all mine. 
Staying put in the Keys for two decades has been pretty easy  as it's not a hard place to live once the decent job and a place to live fall into your lap. My excursions Up North are a reminder of how mild traffic problems on Highway One really are and even though costs are high, the ability to not drive much and not to need much in the way of clothes year round should help a little. It's different enough to feel sometimes like life in the Keys is itself a journey...
There is beauty everywhere and some people can't wait for winter snowfalls and skiing and all that Nordic toughness wrapped in puffy jackets and heavy duty boots. To live without seasons is a positive hardship and some days I too wouldn't mind some temperate mist and a rolling green valley or two wedged between mountains.
I wonder if when I find myself on those long sweeping endlessly straight highways wedged between Alaskan pine forests, if by then I will regret leaving the tropical fastness of the Lower Keys. 
I wonder if the memory of salt water swimming from April to November will haunt me as I stand beside a glacial stream watching steam rise off the cold water into warmer sunlit air. Will the sight of a brown bear in the Pacific Northwest make me pine for the alligators of the southern mangroves? Will an early snowfall help me remember what it was like to live without a thought for changing seasons in distant plains? I expect not, and I trust I shall enjoy the change but I shall always enjoy revisiting my memories of life at the Southernmost City, a place that feels like home and to which I intend to return. A boat in a marina would be an affordable retirement home with the option to drive away from hurricanes!
I shall pursue the changing colors of Fall leaves, I shall look for my breath on a cold still morning, I will seek out tropical heat from time to time even where English is not spoken. I might as well take advantage of being a polyglot.
I shall try to follow Rusty's example and take things as they come and where he shows the sort of restraint we could all use, enjoying life despite an awful start I shall try to do the same whether we are in New Orleans or Namibia or  Puerto Navarino and  no matter how bad the day may be going. I shall probably fail but my dog will be there to remind me to enjoy the day and frost is a first world problem.
My answer to the hard questions of the road will be the same as Rusty's: try sunbathing till it passes. Good boy.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Rain Downtown

Gray skies over that most famous of Key West landmarks:
This idiocy really annoys me with its cloying sentimentality. I shall never be  a salesman even if my very life deepened on it. 
A street washed and ready; fit for a bicycle:
Gross cigarette butt.
Happily Rusty thought better of it. Smart dog. no intervention needed from me.
Kosher Kalories.
More clean streets for cyclists, this time at the north end of Duval.
Cleaning Mallory Square for the day's crop of visitors.
Rain started as we got back into the car.
My car comes fully equipped:

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Avian Mallory Square

Pigeon Rebels
Odd Bird Out
Calling In The Sunrise
This was under consideration for construction to build a new  restaurant. The bid was  rejected. 
I was hoping for some interesting drams to see this winter. The Playhouse's first offering i sa  production of Hair. Disappointment.
Mallory Square Abstract:
Tift's Alley named for the most famous and successful 19th century wrecker, Asa Tift.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Rusty Downtown

Young Rusty is doing very well these days. He had an attack of tonsillitis earlier this month and a quick visit to the vet got him some pills and eye cream to clean up a related eye infection. He was pretty sorry for himself for a while there, sleeping and not eating but after a day of treatment he was back to his usual self. 
I saw a face in this door at the Shipwreck Historium (below). Perhaps you can see it  too?
This sign still cracks me up. I have posted it previously. If your bicycle smokes don't bother bringing it around here.
An abstract picture I saw around the entrance to Mallory Square. Lovely sidewalk decorations not yet desecrated by scratching chickens.

Rusty on guard at the entrance to the Mel Fisher museum. That or Rusty resting and watching the world go by from the top of the steps. 

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Still Flooded Mangroves

I have seen more dirt lately but these ultra high tides have dragged on far too long.
Rusty makes a splendid reflection model standing up to his ankles in high tide but for me its a matter of wading in Crocs and enjoying wet muddy feet whether I like it or not.
Birds are starting to migrate back to the Keys as winter sets in Up North. You might think a  red flame of a leaf could indicate a new season but Fall comes and goes around here with not much change in color, and only a  slight drop in temperature.
Winter is supposed to blow clouds away and they are supposed to be replaced by blue skies but this winter the heavy rain clouds are holding on giving color and texture to the skies.
With darkness falling around six o'clock in the evening thunderheads just make everything that much darker that much sooner.

A few clouds do make things more interesting overhead!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Duval Before People

A rooster wandering by himself on Fitzgerald Street is  a tropical vibe if ever there was one and the fact he started heading towards my dog full of menace was enough to ensure we doubled back and took the other entrance to Kino Plaza. Rusty lives in fear of wild chickens. 
I have been noticing this art in public places more frequently lately perhaps because I walk with my head down? There are several poems at strategic spots and this one is near Captain Tony's on Greene Street. 

Kirby Congdonb. 1924, is the author of numerous collections of poetry, short stories, essays, letters, plays, sculptured constructions and music composition. A graduate of Columbia University, he has been active in the independent literary scene for over six decades. He has been the poetry editor for the Key West literary magazine, Cayo, the publisher of the litmag Magazine and was a regular contributor to The Small Press Review and The Key West Citizen. Congdon’s work is collected by the Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas. He was one of the featured poets at the 2009 Key West Literary Seminar which included seven Pulitzer Prize winners and seven poet laureates – Billy Collins, Maxine Kumin, Robert Pinsky, Rita Dove and Paul Muldoon, among them. In 2011, he contributed a visual poem to All Insignificant Things Must Disappear, a group exhibition of work by internationally renowned artists at Trinity Museum in New York. In 2014, at the age of ninety, Congdon had a first showing of ethereal landscapes which he feels are his best work, created sixty-four years ago.  Also in 2014, he was the featured poet at the Frank O’Hara Poetry Festival in New York where he opened the event with his poem “Discus Thrower.”  Congdon is the first Poet Laureate of Key West, Florida.  He continues to write and compose music.

I rather like walking downtown before the people get there and this time of year it's quite cool too which is a bonus after a very long hot summer. I like the heat usually but if it was long and hot for me then you know it was pretty unbearable.
I don't know what got into me photographing bars downtown but there they are for a change.
Those are the oldies and now there is another hopeful trying out a location that lately hasn't managed to hold any one business for long: 
I walk around and see all sorts of new businesses all the time. This one below got an irritated note from someone who said the name high up violates some code or something. I cannot imagine the patience it requires to navigate all the requirements.
A new day, a fresh start may wash away all your woes. Or not. It looks pretty though.