Sunday, March 18, 2018

Key West

I posted this picture on Instagram describing it, accurately I think as a saw tooth home. The additions get their roofs shaped to a point to add to the water catchment properties from the days when the city (before World War Two) relied on rain for it's water.
I saw this electric bike in a box and it caused me to recognize that electric bicycles are everywhere in Key West these days and they look very good indeed. Many of them you can hardly tell as the days of clunky motors and huge batteries are fading fast. I see people speeding down North Roosevelt in the face of a strong headwind and I hope they know how lucky they are. It's not an easy ride under pedal power, cycling to Stock Island against an east wind. I predict these will soon replace scooters almost entirely around town.
I saw this display on a porch and the caption "winter gardening" sprang into my head. The weather this past week has been cold at night, less than 60 degrees (15 Canadian) but sunny and crips by day.
 I am always aware of the dog.
Bikers biking in cold Keys weather. Lots of leather and bandanas but no helmets, ideal for warmth of course.
 No idea where this is from but it struck me as funny:
My beloved in the alley behind the Chevron gas station.
The reason for the lovely walk in the first place.

Saturday, March 17, 2018


I wasn't even thinking about airplane crashes or anything when I took this photos, idly watching my dog running through the mangroves and chasing his nose. The plane below reminded me of the blind horse at the Sheriff's  zoo at the jail, the one with the hood over its head. It was found starving when Dade county deputies raided a home and it was rescued and brought to Key West for a new life.
I am always surprised by how much activity there is at the airport with airliners coming and going and  lots of private planes.
Standing at the Hawk Missile farm at the end of Government Road you can see the planes lined up at the airport across the Salt Ponds: 
It was not a brilliant day for photography, leaden skies and not much definition.
And then the helicopter, that miracle of flight, like a bumblebee. It looked out of place hovering daintily before picking a precise spot to land.
Years ago I pondered briefly the idea of learning to fly. In the end it seemed impractical and somehow unnatural. I decided I preferred to sail.
I still like to look from time to time, and wonder where they came from and where they go so fast.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Things Go Wrong

I don't know what is going on but the newspaper has had stuff to report lately. Just yesterday a small plane with two adults and child on board had engine failure shortly after take off and according to the news the pilot tried to ditch in the ocean near Key West airport. He failed and somehow landed on a  tiny street near the airport almost blowing up the car rental fuel pumps. Amazingly enough the plane landed upright, stopped a few feet short of incineration and everyone walked away from this:
Two military flyers weren't so lucky earlier in the week when the fliers ejected as they tried to land at Boca Chica Naval Base on a training flight. They died at the hospital. It's hard to imagine what could have gone wrong with those sleek fast darts in the sky. I watch them circling while I travel on Highway One approaching Key West and I always feel glad to be firmly on the ground. Yet I never think of them actually failing and killing their young strapping occupants. Death in combat maybe, death in is that possible? According to CNN the witness who took this picture of the recovery saw the plane explode. I can't imagine what that felt like.
Barbie Wilson took this photo after winessing the crash. She said she saw it roll, explode and go down.
Then there was the fire at Rockland Key, Mile Marker 9. It was  a home being rebuilt after Hurricane Irma damaged it. The fire was complete and spectacular  and the home was destroyed, helped aong by the strong winds we've been having all week.
Image result for rockland key, florida fire
We got lots of calls where I work for the Key West police but it was a Monroe County fire and they were on scene. It was apparently quite the blaze and there were lots of 911 calls. Then on my way into work yesterday I came across a vehicle crash, and not your average Spring Break madness either. I was the only caller according to my colleagues at Monroe County dispatch. I drove past a steaming white van nose first in the mangroves, the driver slumped over the wheel. After I called I walked over and the driver came out. She was all bundled up against the cold and told me she had fallen asleep. She was not wealthy looking as you might imagine. I figured she was another of those who work two or three jobs to survive in these absurd islands. I left when the deputy arrived. And I took no pictures. Great photographer I am!
Image result for footbridge collapse miami
And then in Miami yesterday a new footbridge designed to get university students safely across SW 8th Street (Calle Ocho) collapsed suddenly and crushed five cars and some pedestrians. They were saying up to a dozen people may have died. 
I have no idea what to make of it all. I am alive and well and feeling lucky. It's been cold enough all week I've driven the car to work.  That and all the bizarre distracted driving I'm seeing around Spring Break. This weekend I'm off to the mainland to get away from it all. Another whole weekend off! I can hardly believe it after all the overtime I've had to do. Lovely.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Everglades 2009

From the archives, in this case September 2009, a report on a  trip I took on my much loved Triumph Bonneville 865, drowned last September by Hurricane Irma.

Riding The Everglades

This is the southernmost road across Florida, Highway 41, also known as Tamiami Trail.For some people the name inspires romantic visions of some native culture, though actually all it means is Tampa to Miami Trail. Oh well. It remains my favorite way to cross the state and plans to enlarge it have fallen away as the economy imploded. The views are typical of the Everglades either side of the two lane highway:
A wealthy land baron on Florida's west coast, by the inspired name of Barron Gift Collier got busy in 1923 building paved roads in southwest Florida, in the area known today as...Collier county. He also decided to connect Tampa to Miami, a job as you can see in this picture from the Pompano Beach Historical society, that had nothing to recommend it:I think of these poor, nameless sods every time I ride the trail and wonder how they coped in the muck of the middle of Florida. It must have been ghastly even for our ancestors who were, we are told, much tougher than us. It's about 60 miles from the Krome Avenue intersection to Carnestown (a solitary gas station) at the intersection of Highway 29 which heads north towards Lake Okeechobee. And it all looks pretty much like this, wet prairie and clumps of cypress trees:It isn't what Hollywood depicts the Everglades to be: a foggy, Spanish moss infested jungle with huge ferns and crazy old hermits living in huts and eating human flesh. The Everglades is a swamp filled with sunshine and heat and teeming with life. And yes there are alligators though I did not get to see one this trip. I will return to Loop Road to take some pictures of them, I'm sure this winter. Meanwhile I took off north on Highway 29 for twenty miles to the intersection of the other east-west road crossing through the Everglades:There is an intersection here which will get you onto Alligator Alley for free, avoiding the $2.50 toll that is charged upon entry at each end of the cross-Everglades section of the highway. Alligator Alley is part of I-75 from Fort Lauderdale to Naples.
Beyond the Bonneville lies Florida Highway 29 that runs another 20 miles north to Immokalee (pro: im-mock-a-lee with the emphasis on mock), a lilting name for a not particularly scenic town that makes it's living from agriculture and tomatoes in particular.Some people prefer Alligator Alley to Tamiami Trail because it feels less closed in and the views are somewhat more expansive. Still, hill country this is not.

I had decided on this trip that as far as I was able I would ride the back roads and a glance at Google maps for south Florida shows a spider web of very straight lines across miles and miles of open countryside.
I was relieved to get off Highway 29 as I found it to be littered with law enforcement including a rather sneaky Dodge SUV parked on the shoulder with radar. 60 miles an hour suddenly seemed a very reasonable speed on the dead straight road. I ducked off onto these agricultural roads as soon as I decently could.
I have long harbored a fantasy that one day God would dump a huge pile of granite in South Florida, just south of Lake Okeechobee, and humans would build three roads up it and down it. Two narrow winding ones for motorcycles and one wide one through the pine forests for cars filled with car-sick prone families. And then, when I got the urge to leave the Keys for a day I could ride up and down twisting mountains roads to my heart's content. Instead the heat of a burning hot 100 degree (38C) September day produces mirages on the highway which appears to submerge beneath flooding Everglades waters:
I wondered what, if anything, might be left of the Devil's Garden and as far as I can tell it's a creek of some sort.Apparently the Devil's Garden was a slough in the Everglades with lots of hammocks (dry areas of land) of cypress trees that was complicated to navigate and thus seemed devilish to the early explorers. Now it looks like this:And it is to be found at this junction. Which is where two dead straight roads join:
I find these views amazing, perhaps because I have spent too much of my life admiring mountain ranges and open ocean.
This is not a spot where I would like to live even though there are spreading oak trees in the vicinity to break up the monotony of cypress trees and grass:
Devil's Garden is not a flourishing center of commerce or industry as far as I could tell:
So I kept on riding, heading for my target for the day, the Clewiston Inn on the south shore of Lake Okeechobee, where I found a well air conditioned dining room brimming with (unsweetened) ice tea, filled with ice cubes, which I sucked down like a desert traveler deprived of water, while I checked the day's news in the Key West Citizen, published three hundred miles to the south and none the worse for having traveled here in my saddlebag:Pot roast, macaroni and cheese and fried okra set me up for the ride home, across more prairies, more wide open spaces, more silence that closed in whenever I stopped and turned off the engine. I also came across this phenomenon which one doesn't see in the Keys:
And somehow, while I was riding at speeds more than twice as fast as the posted 45 mph (70km/h) limit I spotted a black lump in the road. I stopped and went back to give him a lift to the safety of the grass at the side.He stretched his neck and his feet in an effort to get away from my invasive hand. He didn't seem to much enjoy his first ever flight, which lasted all of ten seconds and ended when I gently landed him in safety twenty feet away. I got back on the Bonneville as a large truck came by, filling the empty space where the tortoise had been, and I promptly hit a pot hole with my front wheel jarring my tongue and compressing my spine for a moment.
The Everglades are special we are told, but for someone riding a motorcycle one needs to have a particular outlook to enjoy these roads. At least, having read this you can't say I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Overseas Highway

I know I am not alone when I say that the Overseas Highway this winter has been a perfect hell to drive. And I am not sure why as visitor numbers are down according to the keepers of statistics. Despite the lower than usual occupancy for the busiest time of year the single road through the Keys has seen the normal number (I guess) of minor and major wrecks, a few fatalities and endless slow moving lines for no visible reason whatsoever. It drives me crazy.
 I have come to the conclusion that no matter what the speed limit drivers in the Keys will proceed at ten miles an hour under in any and all circumstances. And that doesn't necessarily mean they are paying attention, keeping in their lanes or even enjoying the views of which there are several.Most likely they are playing with their infernal cell phones  and I am forced to believe a few of them must be drunk. They are after all in the land of "island time." That cutsey phrase drives me crazy.
The problems is that fact, unavoidable, that Highway One, known properly as the Oversea Highway (usually spoken as the Overseas Highway, the name I give it out of an uncharacteristic) desire to conform), is the only way to get from one end to the other of the islands. That means that if I am late to work and you are just starting your vacation we are likely to have different driving styles. I loath island time because it doesn't really exist. I'd like visitors in their expensive homes and hotel suites to accept that island time extends to their privileged bubbles. No room service? Island time! Sloppy boat ride crew? Island time! Restaurant out of your favorite food? Never mind, island time!
 In point of fact it's only island time when looking for an excuse to behave badly, like getting drunk in the middle of the day, but when services are required everyone expects services to be provided shipshape and Bristol fashion and promptly in a very first world fashion. I feel like answering 9111 Island Time! We'll get there when we get there, mon, and see what happens (after I get fired). So as a result in winter I start my commute at least ten minutes earlier than I do in summer. Often it still only takes 30 minutes but I can never be sure...island time is not what my colleagues want to hear when I am en route to relieve them!
The other stress is the passing game. Not many Americans have training or confidence to pass on a two lane highway. Those of us that can and do strike irritation into the hearts of those exposed as less than entirely skillful. I enjoy passing, it relieves the monotony of the same old drive day after day, and even though it may not save me much time in the grand scheme of things I enjoy exercising the skill. Safely. I don't pass at any cost and I prefer to fail to pass than have a close call, but when I pull out I pass as fast as possible and dick back into my lane without delay.
Some days it feels better to sit back and enjoy the scenery and that's another way to vary the drive. I guess my plea to visitors is look at the speed limit sign and now that in Florida you can drive five miles per hour over the posted limit and not get a ticket. Don't drive dangerously, pay attention and my basic rule is keep up with the vehicle in front. Even that simple desire is so often thwarted as visitors take it upon themselves to keep everybody five or ten below the limit. For those that know not how to pass the rage they feel could induce a coronary. I pass when able.
It's a wide well built road, flat, mostly straight, beautifully marked with  few cross streets of any size with any traffic, almost no pedestrians and occasional bicycles too dense to ride the bike paths, so you'd think we could drive 65 the whole way. Not a bit of it, but if we are held down to 55 ad 45 I wish everyone could keep their focus on driving and keep up with the vehicle in front. That is all and take your island time and shove where you like, just not in my face. I'm not retired yet!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Miami Life

If you view Florida through the distorting lense of stereotyping you see a state with no appreciation for its past, a state filled with newcomers who cannot be expected to care for anything other than year round sunshine and a chance to make a shady fortune off speculative land deals, wit no hint of historic preservation.
 And yet the reality I see is hardly that. Certainly there has been wholesale environmental and historic destruction and appalling land grabbing. On the other hand some winter residents bring with them an appreciation for what has value and quality and Florida benefits. 
 I was privileged to see one such place this past weekend when I took my wife to the airport and we stayed overnight in the city which allowed us to lunch with friends and hang out at their gazebo in the grounds of this little compound where they rent an apartment.
The coral building material, the Mediterranean tile and the details are a reminder of how Florida used to build, with care and style and it is lovely.
 Can you imagine sitting out with orchids as luscious and lustrous as this by your ear? 
 I was entranced.
Rusty enjoyed sitting out as he always does. He slept well that night, lots of walks, new  experiences and stimulation made for a tired dog.
 He  got lots of praise for being no trouble at all. He was just himself, friendly but not intrusive.
  I took a couple of black and white pictures for fun.
The interior is classic old Florida with tiled floors, coral stone work illuminated by that particular light. 
The nice old Florida still exists and sometimes one is lucky enough to come across it.