Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Lake Okeechobee Sunset

My wife had an appointment with her arthritis doctor in Miami on Friday and I was off the weekend following so instead of going home we went vanning. As with anything you have to cut your clothes according to your cloth and because we live in southernmost Florida our road trips inevitably start out by pointing north. In my role as driver/navigator I decided to head up the east shore of Lake Okeechobee. The plan was vague to start with except that I didn't want too tick to the coasts where winter crowds gather  and I wanted to avoid the coastal Freeways, I-95 and I-75 or the Turnpike up the middle. Highway 27 was the choice then. 
Central Florida
To drive enough to see a sunset over the lake you have to drone through Everglades marshlands, sugar cane flatlands, the stark poverty of the south shore of the lake and back into agricultural fields that butt up the levee that keeps the lake surrounded. By the time we had passed through Pahokee an African American town of low net worth, in Palm Beach county as far from Royal Palm Beach as you can imagine, I was forming a definite plan.
Custom Coach Creations DeLand
Many years ago I sailed from Fort Myers to Stuart up the Caloosahatchee River, across Lake Okeechobee and down the St Lucie canal to the east coast. When I say "sailed" I mean I motored endlessly struggling to stay awake and steer a straight course down narrow waterways. The lake was arelif allowing some actual sailing and self steering always with the ever present need to reach Port Mayaca before dark as there is nowhere to anchor on the totally exposed lake if you don't lock through onto the canal before dark.  I recalled from that trip 30 years ago a park like area overlooking the lake and if we arrived before sunset we get a view. I have driven Highway 98 several times but never paid much attention to stopping here. All that changed on this trip. 

As we drove over the St Lucie Canal on the high bridge you can see in the picture above, I looked down and saw a grassy rest area at the start of the road that leads east to Indiantown and Stuart. Aha I thought to myself, that might be where we spend the night. Meanwhile I took the Promaster on a lumpy road that deteriorated into gravel and then grass where many cars were parked their occupants mingling and sharing Covid while picnicking, playing soccer, fishing and lighting campfires. I figured we might as well socially isolate on the levee road and along it I drove right up to the gate. Turning around was tight but front wheel drive gives the 21 foot van a tight turning radius and with a little backing and forthing I managed to turn without sliding down the slopes on either side.
I wanted to have the sliding door open facing east so we could have dinner overlooking the water and my original idea was to back up the one lane road but I saw how firm the grass was supporting big trucks at the water's edge so I kew we would be fine all the way at the top of the levee. And so it was. Lyne peeled away after five minutes on the 60 degree 20 mile per hour winds but Rusty and I persisted, passing a couple of bicycles, masked and racing the setting sun back to their car. 
It was cold and windy but the sunset was lovely and as darkness fell all we could see was the lights at the lock and the dancing flames of a campfire. The van is well insulated and surprisingly warm on such a cold Florida night, down to 55 degrees and expected to drop to 41.
We had a simple dinner, a frozen lean cuisine and salad which kept the chores to a minimum and watched the sun go down. We have enough battery power we can run appliances and lights and charge electronics without counting the cost. It makes it feel like home inside the camper.
And out there in the distance the grass was getting blown and the chill was creeping up on us. Time to find  a quiet spot to sleep and I knew just where that was.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

White Street

 Sometimes you see stuff as you walk and you wonder. Did an airplane lose a propeller or was it something more banal?

I saw two Vespas parked in front of the cottage  and apparently they look good. So here they are. My on remaining scooter, a 2004 Vespa is in the shop being set up for sale and then for the first time in a  long time I shall no longer have anything to ride. I am enjoying the change at the moment.
A military cemetery not made much of a fuss of in Key West:
Not sure what this is except it was a bt of color and had a sympathetic look in it's eye:

No Vacancy managed with a block of wood. I think it indicated that at that moment there was a vacancy.

The building on the corner of White and Truman has these lovely and unusual columns so before I crossed the street I took a couple of pictures:

Monday, January 18, 2021

Duval, Mariel And The Conch Republic

Duval Street well before dawm silent empty and wet with rain. St Paul's Church:

La Concha Hotel a big block of windows, despised by some as architecturally inadequate but which often gives me a perspective to play with:
Pools of light:

A model of the great Mariel boatlift from Cuba which imported tens of thousands of refugees including people freed from prison to muddle up the US authorities. It was quite a time of confusion in Key West.
Mariel is a Cuban harbor where the refugees or emigrants or whatever you want to call them were embarked on any US boats that showed up to collect them and take them away.  Cuban Americans got busy when the government in Cuba said those who wanted to leave could leave and 125,000 people suddenly popped across the water. It's a piece of immigration history worth knowing.
I remember a few years ago, probably quite a few now, some Cuban border guards patrolling Havana Harbor got the idea they could buzz across to key West as they figured they had enough fuel and a GPS, which was a bit of an oversight by their bosses. They came across and landed at a hotel dock at the north end of Duval as I recall and went for a walk. They were surprised to see so little life at four o'clock in the morning in Key West, a city they had only ever heard rumors of, but they managed to locate a Spanish speaking bum on the street who flagged down a police car and interpreted their plea for asylum. In those days any Cuban who set foot in the US got to stay, so they did. The Coastguard returned their boat to Havana as it belonged to the Cuban government.
After a Federal Court ruled that the wet foot dry foot policy of the US government did not include refugees who clung to pilings the then Secretary of the Conch Republic, the late Peter Anderson a master of publicity decided to claim bridge pilings along the Old US Highway for the Conch Republic. His reasoning was that if they weren't US territory when a Cuban refugee claimed to have set foot in the US their ownership was up for grabs and he planted the flag of the Conch Republic on the unconsidered trifles of not-properly-land. The publicity was embarrassing enough that the policy was reversed and the old pilings reverted t US sovereignty for the purposes of the wet-foot dry-foot refugee status. 
Nowadays the US government returns almost all refugees and the change in policy that had been accompanied by more open travel between the countries, has at least led to a drop in refugee landings and therefore one has to believe fewer disappearances at sea of those who fail to make the hundred mile crossing.
It's been a good time for me to walk and keep in touch with downtown Key West when most people are asleep. I get a chance to look around, Rusty gets a chance to sniff around and I get to wonder how odd and random life is much of the time. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021


Florida Keys
I find my fascination with Old Bahia Honda on West Summerland Key always manages to pay off, for me and for Rusty. Last Tuesday I was off work and we took a ride over rather late in the morning as I had managed somehow to sleep in. Rusty often wakes me around 5 in the morning on my days off and work days I get up at 4:30. To drift into the totally empty parking lot at seven thirty was a luxury, but I was sorry to have missed the sunrise as the sky was filled with moisture.

I'm not sure how but I captured a mood that I really enjoyed, a broodiness sin the sky, the promise of rain that never materialized, a dawn that was hidden behind heavy cloud cover. The light was odd and rendered everything as though I were painting not photographing. The modern mirrorless camera helps because the photograph is reproduced electronically in the viewfinder and the picture becomes exactly what you see so all I had to do was play around with the light settings to capture the golden glow of the morning.
I took a lot of pictures, of the sea. the low tide that produced rock formations, birds boats and of course Rusty. These pictures captured my mood when I put the camera down after an hour's walk and sat next to Rusty and looked out to sea. 
Tuesday was in the middle of the tumult that came after the attempted coup in Washington and everything civilized seemed to be teetering in the balance, so to be here and to observe the things that don't change seemed like a very good idea indeed.

I watched the 34 foot Morgan sailing by on a modest north wind, which as it blew past me off the land gave the sailboats flat waters and an easy ride. Dragging his dinghy in the water means he probably stopped at Bahia Honda State Park and went ashore and plans a similar stop ahead. In a van you don't need to accommodate a dinghy on board or to two it behind.  I like that.
I cranked up the contrast a bit to find all the elements in the clouds and bring out a little drama in the sky. I have to say I prefer the smoother calmer pictures of the clouds, more suited to the day.

Rusty is I think getting a  little middle aged. I think he may be older than suspected as he has some gray hairs on his muzzle and his walks have become a little less frenzied. My wife too has noticed he tends to stroll rather more than dash about. Nowadays he sniffs and smells and walks in small circles. Not that he is old as he is as energetic as ever when he wants to be and also just as limber but he takes longer to recover after a long run . His middle age has created a more thoughtful companion eager to spend more time just hanging out, a dog being and not so much doing which is fine by me. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Still Life on Southard Street

 A lunch break saw me walking around under rather bleak skies, a promise of a cold front to come no doubt. I had to look to see things to photograph and I found a few in the heart of Old Town.

I suspect we will be dealing with Covid for much of 2021, not a situation that fills one with joy but I feel compelled not to allow it to get me down. I keep going out with my camera to see what I can see around town. In the middle of the day I am inclined to avoid Duval Street as crowds of visitors I find treat masks with disdain. I try to stay to areas where locals travel, keeping their distance and properly masked. Having come this far virus free I'd like to continue to keep my family that way.

I find the large trees offer patterns and lines that intrigue me and I sometimes wonder, after I have finished, what I must look like to a  passerby, a tree inspector perhaps. 
The Old Harris School still stands empty and rather forlorn giving me an opportunity to photograph what might be mistaken for a castle or a stately home were I able to travel. It is merely a former school filled with memories for people who grew up here. Now it is empty and seeking new owners with a great deal of money. The land is being used as a paid parking lot which seems undignified.
Textures and light. I miss the bright sharp winter sunlight of which we have not had enough this year. 
Even my wife and my shift colleague have noticed that our days off are plagued with rain overcast and clouds. As soon as I am securely buttoned up at work the sun comes out...
A line if bright rainbow scooters, the excellent PGO Buddy made in Taiwan and that seem to run for ever.
It was a day for contrasts of shadow, me keeping my hand in:

Friday, January 15, 2021

A Cuban Lunch

I had not eaten a Cuban sandwich in a long time. I debated the exact amount of time with my wife and we couldn't decide if it had been one year or three and decided it was most likely two. Let's face it: a sandwich filled with meat cheese mayonnaise and lots of salt is not a health conscious choice so abstinence is not all bad. But once you have that flavor on your mind it's hard to dismiss it. 
Florida Keys
It happened that I was on foot on White Street and looking for lunch. I thought about the new sandwich shop at the other end of the street, Ingrid's Kitchen offering Czech food to rave reviews. However I had to be at this end of the street in not much time. I tried the Polish Market next to the gas station but Covid has shut their kitchen temporarily according to the babushka at the counter. So at that point I fell back, not unwillingly on the old stand by and they did not disappoint.  
Wild Chickens of Key West
Sandy's had had a falling out with the employees who moved everything but the store up the street and opened a rival coffeeshop in a flurry of lawsuits and accusations over naming rights. Fernandy's came and went and the original Sandy's is still here and still delicious. A large café con leche and a heap of meat and cheese and calories and I was set to head across the street and deal with the title transfer on my scooter.
I like Sandy's and when I worked night shift at the police station three blocks away a strong Cuban coffee in the middle of the night was just the ticket sometimes. At the moment I work days and they are no longer a twenty four hour operation but every time I drive by that's what I think about, coffee and darkness.
The Harvey Government Center where I was bound was harboring the usual collection of dubious characters:
These guys failed to make the deadline for my chicken essay earlier this week so here they are parading around the grounds of the old school building at Truman and White. It's where we pay taxes, renew registration if we miss the mailing deadline and buy assorted permits. It's organized, the staff are very helpful and everyone wears a damned mask without arguing about it. I am so tired of mask protestors; if I'd wanted to deal with kindergarteners I'd have had my own.
Stuffed with food and one hundred dollar bills I waved good bye to the Suzuki Burgman 200 and while I was at it I also waved good bye to Sandy's for a while. You just can't eat there every day you know. I mean you could but there would be consequences...