Monday, January 25, 2021

Flowers For Optimism

I got my first vaccination shot on Friday, courtesy of Moderna. I had wondered if the day would ever come given the requirement that I be at work through a pandemic that has raged pretty much out of control all year.  Luckily my bosses have taken this problem seriously with closed doors, mask requirements and my colleagues in dispatch have avoided any infection. I have felt very fortunate, and the vaccination program felt like one more great good fortune, even though my right shoulder aches just a  little bit...
Only three dispatchers including myself participated even as Facebook epidemiologists continue to rant about genetic mutations and other nonsense. I stopped paying attention to Facebook when I read the debates arguing coronavirus  was less fearsome than the annual 'flu.  410,000 deaths later I think it's safe to safe Covid 19 is far more deadly than the annual 'flu season. And then again we have to remind ourselves that surviving coronavirus is not a binary business - death is one outcome but the other outcome of a brush with Covid may involve permanent or long term disability in varying degrees. To think I am vaccinated with a  booster shot promised in three weeks is frankly astonishing considering no one knew of this virus a year ago. 
My wife has rheumatoid arthritis and her specialist has forbidden her from getting the vaccine yet as her immune system needs to be built up first so for myself masks and social distancing won't be changing as  we neither of us want to get infected at this hopefully late stage of the pandemic. Patience is the watchword. just one more lesson of a terrible year. 2020 has taught me a lot about myself, the  history I thought I knew and the ease with which human beings can be fooled into believing arrant nonsense. I always used to ask myself how a people as civilized and educated as the Germans could pile onto the Jews in their midst and torture and kill them by the million. It just seemed too weird and in my head I knew I would never participate in such a crime. I grew up after all in the shadow of that terrible War and every adult I knew had suffered in some way because of it.
Well 2020 showed me a thing or two. I watched as tens of millions of my neighbors bought into the cruel and self serving lies of a man who ran for President to boost his television appeal they tell us. He pitched white supremacy and religious zealotry as the new American virtues and people all over the place lapped it up and apparently still do. Fortunately it takes dexterity and skill and political training to be a successful dictator and President Trump lacked  all the skills necessary to win himself a second term. Luckily too the US military chose not to back a coup and we are now skidding off in a different direction. Most chilling of all for me is how little remorse there is expressed for the events of January 6th and how quickly partisan sniping has returned to take the place of productive political compromise. Any action taken by President Biden is written off as divisive and arbitrary by people who sat on their hands during the assorted Trump emergencies. None of his edicts seemed particularly focused on national unity and now that the other party is in power all they can do is attack the President not with facts or counter arguments but with witless sniping. I have no doubt now that the attacks will be unsupported by facts and that shortfall will not be questioned by President Biden's opponents.  Thoughtful opposition seeking compromise is a lost art.
Through all this madness Key West has soldiered on, a haven of relative peace for those of us lucky to live outside the swirl of violence and ranting that has swept the country. Now that we are settled on a more peaceful national  course I can allow myself to feel lucky to be here, even though the tourist trade is visibly reduced this winter and stores have closed across Lower Duval. One allows oneself to be optimistic that soon the normal tourist trade will resume to everyone's benefit. I am amazed how resilient Key West is in the face of all these disasters. 
After I got my vaccination I took a walk downtown in the sunshine with my camera (Rusty was at home). I enjoyed the warmth and the light and after a while of randomly recording things that caught my eye I found a theme I wanted to follow around Duval Street. I started photographing flowers where I saw them.

I have had a hard time this past year watching the chaos  get worse, seeing the effects of national mismanagement and indifference combined with increasing deaths.  I expect most of us  in the first world want a return to normal easy living, surrounded by annoying technology and pricked by the irritations that come with failed expectations. They will be a relief after this deluge of bad news and national drama day after day. I have felt fortunate that I can get out and walk Rusty away from people, in the mangroves with my camera, in weather that is never too cold or life threatening or even uncomfortably cold. I am lucky my wife doesn't mind communicating electronically with her web of friends; I am lucky my colleagues take mask wearing and distancing seriously, I am lucky to have a job that keeps paying me regularly even if I am expected to show up in an office instead of working from home.
So to go for a walk and find sunshine and flowers in all these strange places makes me feel even luckier. I was approached by one guy wearing a  Monroe County employee t-shirt and he said "For every picture you take you have to take five chickens home!" I really enjoy being mistaken for a  tourist but I liked his line so much I admitted to him I wasn't actually a visitor ( I don't think he believed me! Even better!) and I told him I liked his line so much I was going to use it even though I have heard it deployed many times before.
I recall a joke circulating last year: CAN WE ALL AGREE THAT IN 2015 NOT A SINGLE PERSON GOT THE ANSWER CORRECT TO "WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF FIVE YEARS FROM  NOW?" Not a joke that would get much traction in the hallowed halls of psychic readings I dare say.
You could offer me a crystal meditation but I would move along and take a another peek through the viewfinder of my camera. Give me flowers, give me quiet, give me  a break from the noise please. Last year I wanted the superpower of seeing into the future, to figure out where we would all be six months into the pandemic from hell and this year I find myself in the same spot. This year I'd like to think we will be putting away masks and no gatherings  and no eating at restaurants, those of us who have stuck to the protocols against all Facebook-epidemiologist advice. The flowers tell me nothing except that they will abide, no matter what happens to me and the virus and my neighbors in our frenzied world.
Looking for depictions of flowers in the window at CVS on Duval I got struck down by an attack of whimsy. I saw the twelve inch surfboard and I knew that I had to spend $15 to get it. I see all those young people in Vans living Instagram's Van Life with their kayaks, bicycles, surfboards, skateboards and skis. My wife and I like to keep our crap to a  minimum and we had made a pact to not take anything that won't fit inside. Now however I determined on the spur of the moment we have to be hip too and we can show the youngsters a trick or two.  Now I proudly carry my own surfboard on the back of my Van and even though it may be too small to actually ride it expresses my desire to live the life of freedom in the great outdoors. Some thing similar to: "as seen on Instagram hash tag van life".
And there is another blow coming for the eccentrics of Key West inasmuch as the city commission is moving ahead with a  new law that will probably take effect next month forbidding the public feeding of wild chickens. I'm not a great fan of wild chickens as they are noisy and they scratch landscaping all over the sidewalks but tourists love them and this is the town that sold it's soul to tourism. Now we are moving into the world of upscale tourism and the chickens are becoming off limits to their passionate devotees. I don't suppose they will suffer pangs of hunger as tourists are constantly dropping food all over town more as a result of inebriation and carelessness rather than a desire to feed wildlife, and besides Key West has a healthy insect population to feed them. Too healthy for many new arrivals from Up North. The joke is that you can identify the new arrivals in Florida by their shame and embarrassment when buying roach motels at Publix.
By contrast with all the weighty stuff flying around wherein you hear people mutter "constitution" and "martial law" and "impeachment" to get back to some local irritations can be quite a relief. The Key West Citizen, the newspaper that refuses to die has come out once again with an interesting story on the chamber of commerce in Key West. Apparently the chamber has found itself on the wrong side of several local issues annoying citizens  and the mayor who won her race with an overwhelming positive vote. It was none too smart therefore of the chamber to endorse one of her opponents who managed to get a meager 20 percent of the vote...The newspaper goes on to list a whole bunch of stuff that has seen the business organization butt heads with city residents: cruise ships, environmental protections and so forth all mixed in with some office drama exposed which makes for some riveting gossip. This from a news paper I am always too ready to fear may soon be extinct. 
Sunny days cool breezes fewer tourists and flowers to take your mind off things. It could be worse.
The Conch Republic is a state of mind and we've had our revolution thanks.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

West Summerland Key

 Some more of my pictures from a walk at Old Bahia Honda. No words needed this Sunday.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Evening Photos

In our effort to combine Layne's medical visit for proposed shoulder surgery with a van trip we took a hotel the last night to let her recover from their intrusions and I was delegated to pick up dinner from PF Changs, a dinner that was not that great in the end but it did get me a rather enjoyable walk. 
Google maps said the Hampton Inn was almost a mile from the restaurant so I set off with my indefatigable companion and my camera while I left the internal combustion parked. To her credit Layne did not give me her look when I suggested a walk but instead provided me with a cloth bag to store the loot.
The light was lovely and the air was cool and fresh. 
I am no one's idea of an urban stealth guerilla, I lack most of the attributes of one used to fending for himself  in the big city but...
...I do enjoy admiring the landscape, the architecture, the lines the colors and the shapes. I walk like little-Johnny-head-in-air.
My dog paves the way and keeps me grounded as I look around at a world far different to the easy streets of Key West, my home.
Florida's colorful saltire in the evening sun. I calculated thirty minutes there and thirty more to stroll back and I would be tucked up with Mongolian beef before dark with my wife.
When Rusty and I walk it is more of a stroll, or an amble, while he sniffs and I photograph. A sunset fountain:

We walked through an underpass next to the main road and on the way back some asshole fired off a series of backfires under the bridge and they reverberated. Poor Rusty who has been the object of angry farmers with guns  got an attack of PTSD but luckily he comes to me when he is afraid and I tried to comfort him. His tail didn't go back up more than a block down the street and he was still anxious until we got inside the hotel. He is a tough little urchin but fireworks and bangs freak him out. Life in the fields of Homestead was not easy for him.

This peculiar place, below, was one of several strip clubs. I liked the lighting.
Temperatures predicted to fall to around 55 degrees.
The sign would be a lot funnier if they trusted their customers and left out the bit about kidding.  A joke is funny when not offered with a nudge and a wink. But there again the place is closed after a year ow9ing to the owner's sudden death according to the Business Journal. Apparently investors were already suing the place after it cost eight million dollars and four years to open the restaurant and bar. Much drama apparently but the funny parking signs are still in place so there is that.
Hormone Replacement Therapy and Rejuvenation is yours for $300 a month they advertise. It is a medical center they say. Caveat emptor. 

A properly crowded evening commute, not like the pantywaist traffic snarls in the Florida Keys:

Friday, January 22, 2021

Indian Rocks Beach

You might suppose a town with the word "beach" in it's title might be validated by the presence of some waterfront and that is indeed the case. However this town also has a stoutly proclaimed policy of No Dogs On The Beach which meant I was not going where Rusty could not follow. The water I saw in Indian Rocks beach was the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.
You can't blame municipalities for banning dogs on beaches, Key West does the same, owing to the lack of discipline of people who leave dog eggs in the sand for the unsuspecting to squish between their toes, and as much as I love dogs walking in their shit has never appealed to me. So I was limited to a glimpse to stay in solidarity with my dog. Gulf coast beaches are really quite splendid even without your dog.
We had time on our hands before our appointment in Tampa and I suggested we make a detour to the gulf and check out the beach scene. In January one can hardly expect it to be anything less than  a zoo on the beach in Florida but 2021 is shaping up to enjoy its own peculiarities and one of them is far fewer people. As  a result we found parking absurdly easily and of traffic jams we saw none at all. Weird.

International travel is pretty much banned at the moment and  of Canadian vehicles in Florida this year I have spotted but one Quebecois tag on a vehicle all winter long. The virus has done a great job of wrecking the winter economy.  
Indian Rocks Beach is a tiny town wedged in the huge urban agglomeration that is the triangle comprising St Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater and there are many small communities here to choose among. In some ways they remind me of what Key West was or what a mainlander's idea might be of the Key West style so sought after in Florida. 
I find it rather ironic that he pursuit of the laid back in Key West has led so many people there and thus raised prices beyond any notion of laid back, so now we seek the laid back in these backwaters. I quite liked  Indian Rocks Beach based on a  walk, a roadside lunch and a rather pleasant sunny winter day. 
There was lots of boat traffic and avian traffic as well, birds and boats coming and going. 
Rusty was not allowed on the beach and on the waterway he had no desire to visit the floating docks which were bouncing a  bit in the wakes of various boats going up down the waterway.
Some people found their own piece of heaven on the water...
The architecture of the place was quite mixed with apartment complexes and high rises and funky little homes all mixed together. I could see spending a  retirement winter here, parking the van and living large for a while in a 600 square foot mansion...
I don't suppose one should judge the crowds based on this year's attendance but the museums restaurants and theaters of downtown St Petersburg are a short van ride away when the virus is finally vanquished. 
I'm not sure I'm ready to curl up in the sun and wait for the Grim Reaper but when that time comes I could do worse than follow the pelicans' example.
Indian Rocks Beach has a ritzy fire department showing off some public art. I thought it might have been parts of the Twin Towers or something but there was nothing to indicate that. Key West Fire has a piece of Twin Towers metal planted in front of the firehouse as part of the national memorial so I was looking for the same here.
The other side of the architecture on display, the small cottage with a large lush yard; very attractive.
I found an empty street  with empty parking spaces right alongside the waterway. I was surprised and took one. I guess I set a bad example because other cars soon joined in and parked in the warming winter sunshine.
Front seats swiveled we set our lunch on our front tables and with the side door open Rusty...
...took his ease. 
Not exactly on the cutting edge but a pleasant stop and a place worth returning to for more exploration, especially when masks and distancing are no longer required.