Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Southard Street

Winter sunlight produces glorious colors on clear sunny afternoons in Key West. I was drawn out of the police station by the quality of the light which my new (used) LX100ii reproduces beautifully for me.

Key West really is pretty and I know how lucky I am to have these streets to wander at will. You can see why people want to make second homes in the city just by virtue of the winter light alone. 

I got yelled at pretty loudly Monday by a caller who was outraged the city is trying to enforce a mask wearing ordinance over the instructions from the governor not allowing fines for ordinance violations. The caller was spluttering into the phone by rights violations and how we all have to obey the law as though I personally were responsible for the decision making process. I am used to that sort of attitude on the phone about any discomfort callers are feeling there and then in their lives and I did what I do whoch was to offer to send help. I actually thought the caller might stroke out on the phone with me he was so far off the chain and my offer to send an ambulance took him by surprise. I suppose he expected me to join in with his street cursing festival which would have done neither of us any good.  

The offer of an ambulance had the effect, to my surprise of calming him down and he started asking me in a rational voice why the city thought it could break the law as laid down by the governor. It wasn't the time or place for a civics lesson but I explained we have had some rather prominent local cases of severe Covid infections and everyone is freaked out and officers are simply asking people to comply. Rarely are they writing fines for non-compliant people and only violent refuseniks may be arrested, we are just trying to protect a small town with lots of visitors and not many hospital beds with ventilators. Well, he said I'm going to another town that does follow the governor, he huffed down the phone and hung up after saying he wasn't mad at me personally. 
Florida Keys
A pity really, as I walked and took these pictures while wearing my mask and I promise you once the epidemic is past I will be delighted not to wear the wretched thing. But to enjoy this beauty around me with a  mask is far better than giving yourself a bad case of the jitters and trying to find a prettier sandbox to play in, even without a mask.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Dog Lessons

Key West Party
I love Key West before dawn and I always have even before the pandemic introduced us to the curse of mandated social distance. In the old days when people mortgaged their homes for play money, when debt was good and on offer free with your morning cereal the bars of key West used to stay open and busy until four am, the maximum permitted hour to sell alcohol. They struggled to push patrons out the door back to their expensive fully booked hotel rooms. Duval Street looked like the victim of an explosion in a brewery after the patrons wandered off dropping their drinks as they went.
Key West By Night
It was my time to walk the streets, after the bars finally closed and before the commuters showed up around six in the morning and Cheyenne and I took to crisscrossing the city while everyone else slept. Rusty likes to do the same only he likes his routines and only enjoys walking certain areas over and over again which I do find repetitive but also challenging. Luckily the end of the year is producing some of the old drunken derring-do to give city clean up crews at least a little work. 
Activities galore but in case there were any doubt there is a no trespassing sign to discourage the residentially challenged from finding refuge under the counter. The city has a 24 hour shelter on Stock Island, air conditioned dormitories with showers lockers and a mail address used by the working poor, people without the five thousand dollar deposit needed to move into a  modest  living situation. Some homeless do live at the shelter now known as "Cornerstone" but others prefer the freedom of the open road and take up lodging more or less secluded around town  in spots they hope won't generate complaints.
Key West means so much to so many and in all different ways. I used to wonder why people who said they wanted to live here didn't do so. That was when I discovered some people don't need plans, they need fantasies and this peculiar place fulfills a need to dream. Others try to make a go of it and confuse vacation time with work time. If you want a job here all you have to do is show up consistently and don't trip over your own tongue. The difficulty is that you will probably need three jobs to sustain life which leaves no time or energy to even pretend you are on vacation here. Its a timeless problem, once solved by cadging a life in Key West, but nowadays the wealthy don't tolerate weirdos and hippies and charming drunks so the barefoot in paradise fantasy has definitely sailed away.
Coronavirus has done profound but probably not lasting damage to the party forever image promoted by business interests. It can be awkward living in Key West and being seen to be a feckless stoned public nuisance and its  a stereotype that I must admit does irk me. There is so much more to key West than bars on Duval but my wretched dog loves this part of town. If I take him to my favorite walking streets, Southard and Fleming, he walks a block and then goes back to the car and sits by his door waiting for me to transport him to the real event.
My morning start to the sound of clacking nails on the tiles in the bedroom. Then I hear a Carolina Dog doing its yawn, his way of attracting my attention. He walks back and forth for a while then goes into the kitchen by the cookie jar than comes back to the bedroom and clicks and clacks his way round my side of the bed. If its before four am I tell him to bugger off but if its after four I stagger off to stick my head in the basin and wake up. He gets a chicken strip from the jar and takes it through his dog door to the deck. If  I am too slow he starts the yawning routine again until I meet him at the top of the stairs.
Key West by Night
When the car gets over forty miles per hour he curls up on the back seat and I close his window and we make tracks for one of three spots in the city. His routines don't vary which is why he finds van life rather exhausting. We go to the parking lot at the fire station on Simonton Street, or in front of the Waterfront Brewery, or Eaton at Duval next to Wendy's and then I follow him. 
Rusty's Key West is a place of wonder, after four years of crisscrossing Old Town he never fails to find spots of interest. 
The pandemic has reduced the circle of all our lives, some more others less. For Rusty life continues pretty much unaltered which may be an indication of the limitations of dog life. He seems to hold no resentment. Indeed he is an example to follow, as he exhibits no pride, seeks out no confrontation and avoids those we used to describe as "vexatious to the spirit." The few people I do meet on the street ignore us or occasionally seek out the comforting touch of a warm dog and if he judges them bearable he lets them approach otherwise he skips away and I follow his example. (Me skipping is a sight to be seen). The best thing about the silent lonely walks in the dark is learning to follow his example. If I have to be awake I might as well learn something, even if it is just from my dog.
A gratuitous Rusty photo which Webb Chiles says are never gratuitous but then Rusty is perfect and I'm not...obviously. I posted this on Instagram titled Rusty in Garlands.
Carolina Dog, Key West




Monday, December 14, 2020

Little Hamaca Park

A few pictures from a lovely winter morning at the park in the middle of New Town.














Sunday, December 13, 2020

Paging Dr Gorgas

New Year's Eve is getting closer and Key West has set a deadline of 10pm to close down festivities that night before midnight. The city has imposed a curfew for the New Year's weekend from ten at night till 6 in the morning. The holiday is curtailed.
Key West
The city is trying to find a balance between encouraging safe behavior and allowing business to function and all I can think is I'm glad I don't find myself in the position of being in charge. This isn't an easy year to be a leader. It's not easy  to know how to cope with a politicized pandemic that keeps hurting people and killing a proportion of those infected. Do we shut down? How do we shut down? What then? Will the vaccine work? Will it allow us to get back to that normal we crave so much? And in the midst of the uncertainty the unqualified throw strong loud firm opinions. You have to die someday was one of the least encouraging. Being a sheep or being seen  as a fear filled weakling is the sort of playground taunt that leaves me puzzled, not offended. But here we are, no New Year's party to speak of this year and a lot of of people are upset with the Key West city commission and the mayor for imposing a curfew to stop the partying all through the entire New Year's Eve weekend.
I have been reading a book written by a Trinidadian historian C.L.R. James first published in 1938 and called "The Black Jacobins," a history of the creation of Haiti by slave revolt. Not only does the history throw light onto a piece of Caribbean history not usually explored but it also illuminates the motivations of other cultures in that rather bleak period. I had no idea that abolishing the slave trade was a political maneuver by the British to wreck the French economy. Apparently 400,000 Africans forced to work in Haiti were producing vast wealth for the French motherland and the British were upset. I was taught in school that William Wilberforce was an abolitionist by moral imperative, whereas James suggests he was put up to his crusade by the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston to mess up the French and their monopoly on their own imperial trade links.
Who knows what the truth was, but the economic imperative of slavery is unarguable so the notion of wrecking an economy by abolition seems to carry more weight to the common sense mind than a sudden vision of social injustice forcing a country to unravel its economic underpinnings. I feel rather the same way about the pandemic. Morality versus economy, a dilemma though in a rather less stark way than the brutal ownership of human beings as slaves.  We still have to face the moral question of how to save lives and prevent disease, while still keeping our economy going.
Stores downtown are closing and shops catering to the defunct cruise ship trade more so by far. The government has permitted the ships to travel again but the first cruise ended in disaster when passengers came down with coronavirus and the cruise line had a struggle to get a country in the Caribbean to agree to disembark the infected ship. In the same way on land at home people can be allowed to undertake activities but the question fundamentally is do people of their own volition want to take the risk of infection to keep the economy strong? It's all very well saying businesses should be open but how many customers want to risk getting infected to go to the gym or the movies or to sit in a restaurant? Will enough customers run the risk of infection to keep the business profitable? And what happens in the hospitals when this risky behavior leads to infection which requires stays of several weeks in hospitals which may not have enough beds? How important is that trip to the restaurant to the diner or to the economy?
I was one of those children  given a free sugar cube with pink fluid on it, free by the National Health Service, with the promise I would never get polio and I never did. A friend of mine, a couple of years older was among the last Americans to have polio and he still suffers from the side effects that are expected in older people who once had polio as children. He has worn special orthopedic shoes and limped all his life: I haven't.
On the other side of the coin my mother, a woman in many respects ahead of her time, refused the offer of a thalidomide drug used to reduce the pain of morning sickness. Had she take it I might have been born with foreshortened arms or legs like contemporaries I met at school, because the drug had a defect.
I can see problems ahead on the vaccine front in a world not used to easily preventable yet fatal diseases. Yellow fever used to sweep Key West in the 19th century and no one knew why until the mosquito was found to be the cause. The discovery was made during the Panama Canal construction period where workers were killed by the dozen by the fever. You may have heard of the former Walter Reed Naval Hospital in Washington but you may not know it is named for the scientist who figured out definitively that mosquitoes were the cause of the deadly epidemics. Army surgeon Walter Reed heard of research done by a Cuban doctor Carlos Finlay who first proposed such a possibility and Walter Reed tested and confirmed the hypothesis. His research was used by US Army Surgeon Dr William Gorgas stationed in Havana who was so successful at wiping out yellow fever by wrecking mosquito breeding grounds he went to Panama to help build the canal disease-free and he succeeded brilliantly.
Nowadays yellow fever is unheard of in Key West and when occasional West Nile fever crops up it is dealt with rapidly and effectively as the source is known to be the same mosquito, and where  Dr Gorgas led the way a hundred years ago in vector control of the mosquito we follow today. Should you choose to visit a country with potential for yellow fever you will be required to get an easy inexpensive vaccination for travel. Yes indeed, governments have been requiring certain vaccinations for travel for decades, long before the conspiracy theories about Covid 19 started cropping up among the uninformed. I had a vaccination card tucked into my passport when I rode my motorcycle through Africa in the 1980s and thought nothing of it. Except I was glad to be vaccinated. 
Malaria, yellow fever, whooping cough, polio, smallpox, all consigned to the history books, just as bankruptcy and almost annihilation that have almost wiped out Key West in the past and periods of poverty pretty much forgotten today. There are lots of hard times we choose not to study and remember in the flush of our self absorbed certainty about modern life. I don't like hard times for anyone but I don't think coronavirus is going to do any worse for this city than any of the previous plagues did in the long run. I just wish more people knew their history and faced our current problems with less yelling and more thoughtful, planned reactions. Wear a mask, wash your hands, stay as isolated as possible and get this chore finished. And live.
As it is the city is doing it's best and I am glad to see how serious mask wearing has become and how determined the city is to keep us alive until we can come out the other side of this chaos. Being angry because a street party is half cancelled seems a rather petulant reaction in the face of so much death, disability and pain. But I have come to expect no better from people who should know better. The mayor is a brave woman and more should be thanking her for giving it everything she's got on this one, even if like me you don't always agree with her publicly held positions. She has our backs here and we should have the good grace to be grateful. 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Life On Mars

I feel vindicated after I read that Elon Musk is planning to move to Mars. It sounds like a joke but the second richest American says he plans to go into space in a few years and establish a colony on Mars. The bit that ticks me off is that NASA needs five billion dollars to get the project going and a man worth 127 billion can't write a check to help purchase his post apocalyptic  extra terrestrial home. Of course had I asked for a government grant to buy my more modest van retirement home I'd have been sent home with a  flea in my ear.
On the other hand if Musk manages to get his world wide satellite internet link going I will be grateful enough to overlook his dependence on my tax dollars to launch his interplanetary plans for himself. I'm not interested in living or dying on another planet and I'd rather see us figure out how to preserve this one but if I can live and travel in my modest little van with an internet link on the roof I'd be ready to sell out to Musk. Bought cheap you say? I agree but a $300 Earthlink dish will keep the photos coming to Blogspot so there is that.
Mars travel boggles my mind but the idea that the wealthy might want to retire there to escape the climate change problems barreling down on us has been in my mind for a long time. It seems that the tiny amount of oxygen in Mars' atmosphere can be increased by separating molecules in deposits of water already found on the red planet and better yet underground brine offers even easier oxygen extraction according to people who understand the chemistry so the possibility of creating a breathable atmosphere is suddenly real. I wonder why we don't focus first on making home base properly sustainable before we go charging off millions of space miles to interfere with the ecology of a completely separate globe. I suppose feeding people, sorting out water treatment and preventing the destruction of rainforests is boring stuff compared to creating an artificial tightly regulated monochrome society on a  distant planet. It's like the dystopian movies are suddenly coming true.
Red mangrove roots growing, spreading and doing their inexorable thing:
I like my place on earth, listening to the sounds of the wind, watching the sky change color, looking forward to a life separated from technology just a little bit. Which is the paradox of looking forward to a secure internet connection while living with cold running water and a porta potty.  We are allw eird in our own way.
I think life in a red desert inside a biosphere bubble would be bizarre and sterile for me. Compare the surface of Mars as they describe it to us compared to the quiet joy of a lonely walk through the red mangroves of the Florida Keys. No contest.
On a note closer to home my retirement plans living in a  van with a small footprint and hopefully with Internet access(!) seem to do well by myself and my family based on our vacation experiences. My wife says everything has to be done one step at a time, just like boat travel.    Washing clothes, a simple enough chore, can take all day, from finding the laundry to using the public machines, to putting everything away in the small van lockers.  And yet the pleasure gained from being footloose, having time to spend on a simple chore, not having to consider this a waste of time on a day off...sheer delight, right here on Earth..
Rusty finds van life exhausting. He eats well and sleeps deeply spending his days alert and absorbing all the details of a life lived without routines. I suppose in a  way all three of us experience the tedium of daily living as a fresh new experience when on the road. He is certainly learning to adapt to uncertainty, though when we get home he runs up the stairs wagging his tail happily.
Astronomy is brilliant and landing on the moon was mind blowing but just last week the great radio telescope in Puerto Rico collapsed under the weight of its own neglect. The corrosion of things here at home seems pervasive as the private sector launches more rockets further away to create colonies of people living it up far from climate change. I feel lucky to be closing in on the end of my life and able to imagine a last adventure or two before the final curtain descends on my short span. I get the feeling if the leaders of our age put their heads together the entire planet could be a better place to live for many more people. But all signs say that continues to be a pipedream.
I cherish each day, dawn to dusk, early dog walks to sitting out with Rusty after the day is done. I can see the stars, the moon, even Mars if I look hard enough and I wonder how it is the world  is changing without me. I watched in awe as the astronauts who fired my imagination, the men of the Right Stuff, the pilots who flew to the moon, showed us the perils of the adventure of space travel. Now those pioneers are replaced by businessmen who want to fulfill a whim, a fantasy of space travel and settlement. I find it rather depressing, exchanging Buzz Aldrin for Elon Musk. 
Still, the world moves on, one step forward two steps back shedding us little people as it goes. Better make our own plans to enjoy this sphere while we can and let the future madness take care of itself.