Saturday, December 19, 2020

Russell Brittain

Earlier this week I posted a picture of a bicycle passing Five Brothers Grocery but here I took a photograph of their particularly explicit mask message. I hope next year by this time, these signs will be  an unhappy memory only. 
Five Brothers also had a small poignant memorial to one of their own, a former Navy firefighter who, though born in Hawaii, grew up in this town. I never met Brittain in person, the man who was new the city sexton when I started working in dispatch. For him in 2004 it was a retirement job organizing the care of the cemetery and when he called about some abuse or another I could hear the passion in his voice when strangers were disrespectful among his family plots.
People visit the cemetery and get stuck after hours when they ignore the  signs about closing times. Other people get cheap thrills wandering the cemetery at night, not knowing Key West has an  informal neighborhood watch system that calls the police department 24 hours for any likelihood of suspicious activity. Under Brittain's leadership the cemetery got a facelift, a new sexton's house at the entrance and a prohibition on scooters in the grounds. Scooters seem to have the ability to provoke bad behavior and he got tired of it and he let the city know.

Cars bicycles and pedestrians are welcome. I have always had a certain fondness for the cemetery and the history it holds and every time I heard his voice on the phone asking for police assistance I sat up a little straighter.  It was painful for me that I was working the day he died and I had to button up my feelings for most of a very long shift. I missed his calls when he retired a few months ago and now I have to think of the neatly mowed cemetery as his legacy.  Life really is short.
I never quite know what I am going to see walking around town, except that it is winter now and therefore the number of middle aged cyclists shoots up. People who wouldn't be seen dead riding a velocipede in their communities Up North decide they will find their lost youth and turn their bicycles into daily riders around town. It is from what I can see a form of behavior modification that is restricted to Key West. Only an iconoclast (Webb Chiles springs to mind) would deliberately prefer a bicycle as a way to get around even outside Key West.
When I lived in Ft Myers we didn't want to get a second car so my wife drove to her teaching job and I bought a bicycle to ride from our North Ft Myers marina, a wooded cove off the turgid brown waters of the river, to my job at West Marine. It wasn't a bad ride, scooting through the neighborhoods around Cape Coral and riding the bridge over the Caloosahatchee River to the store in Ft Myers. Not only did I avoid bridge tolls but by riding with my head down I found a daily fortune in spilled coins on the approaches to the toll booths as drivers fumbled their coin purses. It was all good fun. 
Yet for the six months I worked there a shift did not end with someone wondering about my bicycle commute home. I was just too weird and while I appreciated the concern I could never quite explain that I actually liked my daily ride and looked forward to it at the end of another dreary shift serving the great boating public. I suppose one has to accept that making sensible use of a bicycle is not normal in a world that craves conformity. Hats off to the winter riders.

Friday, December 18, 2020

A Plant Based Lunch

To my eternal shame I have no gardening ability. And frankly no desire to cultivate.
This handicap does not prevent me from enjoying the astonishing array of colors and shapes growing all around us in the Southernmost City.
Walking Southard Street, a burst of color, below:
Puffy clouds, sunshine, warm temperatures a winter privilege.

I was on lunch break, Rusty was  at home, but I had a canine companion keeping me under observation:
Key West is in the details:
The gingerbread style decoration everywhere:
A pleasant way to walk away a half hour outdoors, one half of my lunch break.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Old Town Night

Duval Street...mine, all mine!
Mine and Rusty's of course. At four in the morning no people no cars, just he and I alone. 

A sliver of a moon in a black night sky:
A single lighted window in La Concha. 
St Paul's Church peaking above the leaves. They advertise services on Facebook to avoid gatherings. I miss the noon organ concerts which I have stopped by to listen to as an escape from the bustle of downtown.
And to end, a propos of nothing, here's a gratuitous Florida Keys sunset photograph on which to end. 
Florida Keys Sunset
Blimp Road at dusk.

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.