Saturday, January 4, 2020

Red Dawn

The Old Bahia Honda Bridge from West Summerland Key.
 I showed up to walk the dog and with clear skies I was not expecting much in the way of sunrise.
 I was surprised.
 This one got lots of comments on Instagram. The big question: did I enhance it?
 I'm not sure why that matters but what I did when i saw the boat crossing the horizon...
 ...was to zoom in on the boat thus cutting out the orange shades further up in the sky.
 After that excitement some waders caught my eye playing hide and seek among the rocks.

 And of course a few stark reminders of the passage of Hurricane Irma through these parts in  2017.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Downtown With Rik And Rusty

It happens from time to time that I get stopped on the street by someone who reads this page, and I don't suppose I have to mention this happens a lot more often when Rusty is in fact with me. Thus you might say  Rusty gets stopped when I happen to be tagging along. So it was before New Year's Day. I recoiled a bit as more often than not people who come up to you on Key West streets want money or information. My disguise as a tourist with a camera round my neck usually keeps information seekers at bay but it does make me look like prey for the scammers.
Instead it was Rik who was wearing a  jacket, a first hint that maybe he is used to the tropics. We talked for a while as we had a couple of things in common. He lives on a tropical island, a Dutch island as he himself is Dutch and he knows Webb Chiles. Indeed he sails a Pathfinder similar to the boat Chiles used on his well known open boat circumnavigation a few decades ago.
We chatted and he wanted to go for a walk with me so we set a date  via the Internet and I ended up driving into town with Rusty for a walkabout. 
Rik was a toddler when his family moved to Aruba and he has lived there ever since so I called him the Aruban Conch. Describing him as a Conch (pro:"konk") confused him at first. I explained that he is as native to Aruba as someone born in Key West thus he is native to his place of residence: a Conch. This convoluted way of thinking eventually overcame his scruples when I added my own belief that where you graduate high school confirms your roots. Anyone can be born in Key West but how they torture you in high school is how you see the world as an adult. At least that seems to be the case in the US.  Ha, said Rik in his fluent English, I formed my lifetime friendships in kindergarten in Aruba. Yup, I said. You're  a Conch. 
Rik likes to do well by doing good. He works naturally in the internet technology field on his 70 square mile island  20 miles from Venezuela. He consults, he travels, he wants companies and people to do well. He also likes the US a great deal, and when I say the US I mean above all Key West. He vacations every year on this island which I find a little odd considering Aruba is Key West with a Dutch flavor, more or less. But Rik the engineer loves Key West architecture and he wants to build a house in the Key West style in Aruba.
 Image result for aruba classic dutch architecture
daily Telegraph from the web
It's a funny thing. I've never been to the ABC islands in the southern Caribbean, Aruba Bonaire and Curacao all colonized by the Netherlands, all outside the main line of Caribbean islands fought over by the European powers and all three of them are models of clean efficient colorful trade and tourism. Check any picture collection of  these places and you will see classic gabled homes in bright colors, like dolls' houses burnished by the tropical sun. Lovely. And there I was with an Aruban extolling the virtues of Key West architecture. 
We talked of this and that including sustainability and how little use either place makes of solar energy. I am of the opinion that to make solar work you have to create a plan that allows utilities to make money off solar energy. The paradigm in force at the moment creates a drain on utility income every time a new solar panel is installed on a customer's roof and that has to change. I'm not sure how but when Rik told me a similar tale of limited solar deployment on his island even closer to the equator my conviction grew that we are going about solar energy all wrong.
There's a lot to like about Key West and I enjoyed walking around listening to Rik the engineer's considerations about living in a small space. He has dogs but he says he can't walk them on the postage stamp where he lives. That makes it a no go for Rusty and I!
Rusty enjoys his urban exploration but he also loves the mangrove roads along the back country scrub land. I have to confess he seems to perk up too in cooler weather even though he has grown up, not in kindly environments, in South Florida. 
I notice too that  Aruba is south o the hurricane belt, for now. Climate change and sea level rise was on both our minds. Rik says the Netherlands is developing a  fifty year plan to evacuate people at risk and Aruba will have to do the same, as things inevitably change in worlds so close to the sea. In the Keys insistent flooding is not a subject we face up to with much equanimity. 
And just like that Rik the engineer is gone back to Aruba, to his business of helping people and his neglected sailboat which he says he is going to take out more often. There's another thing: I'm not sure how many destinations there are around an island like Aruba...But unlike me Rik has no desire to check out the horizon, he has a home a business a family and an island to call his own. No need to mess all that up. He is content.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

New Town

 I had to have an airbag recall worked on at the Ford dealership who unfortunately forgot to order the necessary part for my appointment, so my morning was pretty much wasted. Wasted that is to say except for an extra  dog walk as we waited for the car to be not done. Rusty led me past George Allen, the public housing wedged between George and First Streets.
Conchs moved to New Town in the m id 20th century to enjoy modern benefits seen on the mainland after World War Two.  In these former dairy pastures sprouted suburban tracts with ranchette houses with parking, garages and air conditioning.
 Quite the change from Old Town which sprang up organically around the harbor in the highest part of the island least prone to flooding. Around here flooding is a fact of life such that you can see signs to that effect:
 This is Key West so picket fences are to be found all over town.
 It surprises me that window air conditioning is prevalent in so many large houses.
I walked Rusty enough that he was glad to take a seat for a while on United Street. We had almost reached White Street which was a pretty decent walk considering we were into our third hour...
 The National Weather Service office seen from the back:
And their rather powerful fence all around the building. Pretty handy in the event of a zombie apocalypse but quite attractive seen at a  certain angle with the sun rising behind it:

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Mangrove Art

I read an article in the New Yorker magazine, ostensibly it was the ruminations of an art critic coming to terms with his terminal cancer diagnosis. The article however ended up not being that at all and I found myself immersed in a blow by blow account of an excruciating childhood and upbringing which led to a life of drugs drink and smoking. He did say he attributed his diagnosis to the effects of smoking but considering his advanced age  of 77 he is okay with that. Webb Chiles is 78 and fit and active as ever so one could speculate the art critic is cutting himself short with his life of indulgence. 
It has been 13 months since my own brush with death and this time a year ago I was struggling to hobble for 15 minutes pushing a  walker around the apartment complex pool at Seaside condos in Key West. Snowbirds returning to the Body Zone gym remember me coming to class and sitting through exercises in my walker and they are stunned by my ability to walk squat and lift. I find it hardly surprising as I have been haunting the place in my efforts to get back to normal but my recovery is rare and not usual I'm told. I have no idea, I just know I wanted nothing more to do with the wheelchair and with that haunting thought I exercise like a fiend. I am a convert to taking classes five days a week, spinning, lifting weights and exercising my abdomen in a furious series of sweat inducing classes.
I am surprised that my accident and recovery remains as vivid as ever and one can only assume that is owing to the severity of the crash and its aftermath. I spent a great deal of time flat on my back and pretty much immobile with time to think, of which I do a great deal anyway. And now after a year of recovering the use of my limbs I can say that things are on track. I walk normally, though I still have some numbness in my legs there is no pain to speak of. I can bend squat and climb stairs like nothing ever happened so I am recovered. But in my head recovery continues.
I find myself absenting myself in my head a lot of the time. The after effects of a major trauma are fairly universal and quite well known but when they happen to you they pull you up short. I really don't worry about a  lot of stuff anymore; nowadays life is much more focused on he essentials. I still get upset from time to time about stupid stuff but I find it much easier to let go and forget it. I think a lot of this comes with age to even the slow witted among us like myself, but I feel the Catastrophe gave me a leg up and speeded up the process. For people who learn this lesson early on in life or are taught it by their mentors, my hat is off to them but even at my ripe old age of sixty, it's not too late to learn a useful lesson.
The thing that caught me out when I got back to regular life was that I had changed and no one around me had changed while I was out of circulation! That was a bit of a blow. So as a consequence I had to tamp it all down and turn inward. A friend of mine asked me why I am planning to take off when I retire in 2022, and my short public answer was that I need to challenge myself. That is true and I know that a seriously long difficult journey will put me through another inner transformation so when my wife and I get back, date uncertain, we will have changed again and I hope once again for the better. However I do know Key West is my home, it is the place where I have felt most at home and I am angling to come back after the Journey is done. I'd like to be a retired snowbird.
I've done my time here as a worker and Key West has been good to me, so the prospect of a small slow trawler in a city dock for the winters of my retirement sounds perfect. Summers driving the van to see friends while hurricanes blow also sounds pretty good too. I'd like to take advantage of being in town without obligations, without being attached to a job, without having to show up. I'd like that I think. My wife doesn't sound averse to that either. I have two more Fantasy Fests to survive at the Police Department, two more New Year's Eves and then I hope I shall be free. I feel privileged to be able to permit myself the hope of a period of retirement.
When I was a youngster retiring seemed the most natural thing in the world to the post World War Two generation of Europeans. Somehow we have now moved to a mindset where work has to be of  uncertain duration in one workplace, and full benefits are rare and the whole cradle to grave arc of employment is forgotten. We are told young people want neither security nor longevity. Frankly I don't believe it because the Millennials I work with enjoy the prospect of  their unusually munificent pension and health care as much as any of the previous generations might have done. Somehow we have managed to throw away the promise of social security (in the broad sense) and aging with dignity that was the promise made to the immediate post war generation. I never expected to grow old and find myself adrift in a throw  away work culture that seems alien to me. That happened to the generations preceding me when they watched us Baby Boomers get into the workplace but we were the wild ones, the rebels, the generation that made the rules so I had the perspective of the incoming majority. Not any more, where Baby Boomers are the old timers on the way out (!) and the beliefs I grew up with and lived with are slipping away.  Uncertainty and economic inequality are the watchwords now and I don't much like it. The youngsters like to mislabel me a Socialist but I think of myself as preferring simply a more humane form of capitalism, not  Socialist state ownership of industry.  They can label me what they want but in the end I am lucky to have social security and Medicare and a proper city pension and I always encourage the youngsters to go after the same and damn the labels. We aren't all cut out to be millionaire industrialists and I know I'm not.
But as I look forward to the New Year I am armed with a plan, I hope for the best and now I know that my wife and I can cope with the worst, we can survive and I hope flourish, even if retirement slips out of our grasp. When you have survived the worst everything else is less. Happy 2020 everyone.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Thanks For The Memories

I do this thing weekends when I work where I take my lunch break inordinately early, change into a  t-shirt and shorts and run out of the police station as though my hair is on fire. Saturdays the circus starts around 8:20 and Sundays around 9:50 as I drive a couple of miles up the Boulevard to get to the gym in time for the start of the bicycle spinning classes with John at Bodyzone
This exercise program during work caused so much upset on the other shift that I have cut back my overtime hours to avoid annoying the dispatchers who despite needing help, complained when I first signed out for ninety minutes to complete the classes and then I came back and signed back in forfeiting my paid lunch break and the overtime for an hour and a half...No one had done this before and they didn't like it. Then I tried fitting the exercise program into a  60 minute lunch break and that went over badly enough they disrupted my start time by deliberately leaving their desks to make me late for class as only one dispatcher can get up at a time lest we miss a 911 call obviously. I don't need the overtime that badly so I just go in after class if I go in at all.
So whey does my obsession with exercise cause so much angst? A colleague on my regular shift prompted me to spend some time thinking about this when he asked me about the intensity of my class schedule. I'm not sure he understood but I told him I am anxious not to get back in a wheelchair and that is the long and the short of it. I exercise to remain upright. I don't exercise to influence or annoy others nor to prove I am better than them or to rub their noses in their armchair bound work stations. I used to do Broga as a way to compensate for my job sitting down but I never had to do it during work as I was on night shift and no one knew what I did by day. Now I work days and my quirks are visible and apparently irritating to some for which I am sorry. But unrepentant.
Honestly I have never enjoyed going to the gym, unlike my wife who makes of exercise an obsession. And nowadays even though I go four or five days a week and I do find some pleasure in the people I exercise with, the reality is that my appearance in the gym is mandated by my desire to keep walking. Puzzled at first my day shift coworker gets it after I explained it to him. 
It might seem obvious that being in a wheelchair sucks but I remember when I lived in California and the language had to be changed. Being in a wheelchair was no longer "being confined" it was now merely an alternative means of locomotion, almost a choice if you weren't going to be too fussy. I can tell you having to be in a wheelchair is no barrel of laughs, at least it wasn't for me. I foudn it confining.
The wheelchair itself is crude and uncomfortable as delivered at the hospital and I spent some time looking for better, i.e: vastly more expensive alternatives should it become a permanent part of my life. Modern technology offers interesting electric motors and i was glad to see if I forked over a few thousand I could get a chair with the wheels slanted inwards to make them easier to roll. Vertical wheels are extremely hard to roll when you have to bend your arms over them to grab the   push rim. More often I would just grab the unsanitary tire and push that to get better and more effective purchase.
The social aspects of being in a  wheelchair aren't much better either. Watching your wife labor to get the contraption out of the trunk  and force it open for you as you totter beside the car holding onto the rain gutter on the roof with the tips of your straining fingers isn't much fun. At first after I came out of the hospital I couldn't stand so I had to train my long suffering wife how to position the chair exactly at the right angle with the BRAKES ON before I could slide myself into from the car seat or the edge of the bed or wherever I was. Learning to transfer to a wheelchair is the first step to semi-autonomy when you can't walk. When I could do that without a  board and with fear of falling I felt like I had made improvements worth noting in my life.
The other social aspect of rolling around in a chair is a severe lack of independence. NEVER touch a chair unless asked to by the occupant, it's absolutely the worst thing you can do, worse than being rude and staring which happens a lot when you perambulate at waist height. I hated being stared at but having someone hold the handles was the worst. I wished I'd had this solution when I read about it online. Perfect!.
I was lucky as i was wearing a helmet which saved my life and I had been active doing Broga, the only form of exercise I tolerated before I got run down. Broga saved my spine so I had every chance of learning to walk again after my leg muscles came back. At the time I wondered why my legs wouldn't move but atrophy sets in after just a  few days in bed. Then I wondered how I was ever going to walk again as I just couldn't get my legs to obey and that felt very very weird. My legs were numb too as the nerves grew back and as I struggled to practice stair climbing, on cement stairs with strong metal hand rails ( I sought them out around Key West) I couldn't feel my feet so I had no idea if they were on the step. I got in the habit of kicking my feet forward after I lifted them to make sure they were properly on the next step. I must have looked very odd. Luckily I still had a lot of upper body strength from Broga.
Even today with some residual numbness in my thighs walking is a conscious act. I never get up and walk without thinking about putting one foot in front of the other. But dammit I am walking! That's a good thing. I can even climb up and down stairs if i forget something and have to go up again. I don't care much about handrails. I carry boxes on stairs and I dodge Rusty whose approach to stair climbing is to treat it as a dangerous act to be completed as fast as possible and damn any pedestrians in the way. Even cripples.
 I remember pissing off some anonymous critic in Miami when I was rolling through the UM facility on my way to an outpatient check up and all these irritating ambulatory people were crowding the elevators like they feared getting left behind or something. All I had to do was roll past to the surgeon's ground floor office but I couldn't get through and no one seemed to see me down there. So I yelled "Make way for the cripple!" and people scattered from the path of the fat old maniac in the chair. From the rear of the crowd a voice called "You aren't a cripple, you're handicapped!" I cackled. because whatever I was no one offered to swap places.
I don't ride anymore. Traffic is dismal and distracted rivers are everywhere and I fear another wreck would wear out my wife and induce compassion fatigue at work where the authorities have been amazingly kind and generous to me. It would be a churlish thing to get knocked down again and expect them all to come through for me with sick leave donations and money to help my recovery, not to mention Cigna forking over for months of recovery treatments. So now I spend as much time as I can with my dog and camera, and make plans with my wife for a worthwhile future and a retirement filled with challenges. I lived through an unlivable hurricane in 2017 and a an accident in 2018 that should have killed me dead instead of only managing a near death. Retirement sitting in a chair seems a response loaded with ingratitude after surviving that lot . 
Looking forward to 2020 I hope we can all figure out how to live together and wouldn't it be nice if we learned to make America even more great by dint of believing in ourselves and our capacity to build and create and take care of what needs to be taken care of instead of always seeking the lowest common denominator in everything. If you do have your own immobility to cope with just bear in mind my recovery wasn't a miracle: it was earned every day at the gym and it goes on being earned no excuses. Do the same whatever your challenge is in life. And don't be afraid to ask for help.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Duval Winter

It is very good for me to see people enjoying the iconic sights of Duval.  A healthy reminder as we close the year that I am lucky to live here.
A tiny bar. How often do you get to see that? You will if you stroll the 100 block of Duval. You might stop your rented bicycle and snap a picture. A fine souvenir. 
A blur of summer dresses in December... window shopping like it was July. Thats the big attraction.
One serious shortcoming is the lack of seating and that is attributable to the homeless population that used to monopolize benches. Naturally they don't mind squatting on the slightly unsanitary sidewalks while the rest of us have to seek a rest where we can. I'm not sure how can the step are but they feel more like seats so we adapt!
Riding into the sunset. Take a Conch Train Tour which is ninety minutes of history and geography and will set you up to enjoy what you might prefer about this town be it drinking or history or art. Then take a bike and ride into the sunset. Or do as I da and walk the dawn away.
More of the same I trust in the new year.