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Raconteurs, Racketeers and Reprobates

June 23, 2013

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A young man boards the Delta flight to Key West.  He is in high spirits, bolstered by drink.  He announces to the passengers in a thick Russian accent, “I am going to Key West!  I work in cousin’s gift shop on Doo-vul!  I am manager!”   He raises his  drink to toast the plane.  With rents on the main street over $10,000/month, a tacky T-shirt shop selling everything for five dolla with employees incapable of carrying on a conversation with their customers would be a recipe for disaster – but not here.

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Gravity is different in Key West.   People come, looking to escape some mainland demon, like the lady who rolled into town in her German luxury car and gold Rolex in search of her next megayacht boyfriend.  Turns out her only worldly possessions of note were the car and the watch, props in a play whose endgame was to be the eye candy on a big boat’s bow-mounted trophy pad.  Age is the enemy of such women, and the vices of wealthy men are habit forming.  The combination led to a photo shoot – not for the local society pages, but for a mugshot.

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A big black custom SUV roars down the center of Duval, bass hip-hop thumping.  It’s oblivious to the bikes, scooters, pedestrians and pedicabs; they scatter as the truck bears down.  The SUV skids to a halt in front of a Lower Duval bar; a well-dressed man in his late 20’s hops out and enters the bar while the driver keeps the engine running.  Moments later, the well dressed man reappears, clutching a brown paper bag.  He jumps in the truck, and before he can close the door the driver is in motion.  The truck accelerates to double the speed limit, then screeches around a corner, disappearing.

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He was young and handsome, popular with the gay crowd.  Invited to all the social parties, he fit in quickly.  Over time, his predilection for young partners began to creep into view; he’d troll the cruise ship docks looking for a quickie with a willing boy.  His friends questioned his habits; he brushed them aside, changing the subject.  A few weeks later – he was gone.  No explanation, no fowarding address.

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There are those who find the old days of Key West to be interesting; I’m not so sure the present is all that dull.

The Pull.

June 3, 2013

It’s palpable – the pull, that is.

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We live on a speck of limestone, barely visible from space.

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We’re a hundred miles out into the ocean.

We’re surrounded by seawater, by ocean life.

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It’s not possible to live here and not be affected by the pull.  You have to see what’s beyond the horizon, to explore, to seek, to taste and smell  what lies beyond the shore.

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We resisted, initally.  An occasional sunset cruise, and afternoon kayaking.  It was enough – but then again, it wasn’t .

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This time of year, the water is bathtub warm.  It’s a tonic for sore muscles, frayed nerves.  It’s all around – beckoning.

Tubing Pheebs

We have a boat now.  We had to have one; the pull so great as to override common sense and discretion.

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An extravagance or an essential element of life in Key West?

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You decide.

It’s Hurricane Season!

June 2, 2013

Yes, it’s that time of year again.

Starting June 1st, everyone in Key West becomes a weather expert.  We log onto the National Weather Service’s site 2-3 times a day along with a half dozen other weather sources and study the hell out of the data in an effort to make our own predictions about what’s going to happen.

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This year, as in every other damned year since we moved to Key West, the National Hurricane Center is predicting an “active” year.  Upon analyzing the data (and there are reams of it available to analyze), I’ve come to the conclusion this means, yes, we will have weather on days ending in “y”.

But Chuck, how do you live knowing you’re going to be hit by a hurricane?”

We live very well, thank you.

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Hurricanes typically cause damage within a 65 mile radius of the storm’s eye.  The light circle in the grapic above shows the track of every storm over the past one hundred and sixty-one years!  Over this timeframe, we had 74 storms pass within 65 miles of Key West.  Of all the storms which have hit us, only 14 in the past 161 years are Category 3 or higher.  That’s one big storm roughly every 12 years.

But wait – what about you mainlanders?  “I live in the Midwest – we don’t  get hurricanes. ”

Umm…yes, you do.

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Using Columbus as a center, these are the storms which penetrated the heartland of the United States.  According to this graphic, even Grand Rapids, MI has felt the fury of a hurricane.  Granted they’re not as strong as a storm could be in Key West, but the simple fact remains – hurricanes go much further inland than most people realize.

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Why do we worry about hurricanes?  They’re big business if you’re in the media industry.  This is a scene from Hurricane Isaac last year.  The reporter and his subject are wearing storm gear – the Southermost Point marker (several tons of concrete, BTW) is secured for the storm whilst the bro behind the camera looks like he just walked out of Costco up in Miami.  The storm?  Well, we’ve had much more severe weather events in April up north.

Do you evacuate?  The answer for most is – no.  Tourists are sent home during a weather event, and the locals (after the hatches are battened), pull out their favorite libation and have a party in the deserted streets of Key West.  Seriously.  It’s what we do.

The only thing we worry about is flooding.

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Ironically, this photo taken by Darren Paugh, is but a week old.  A few inches of rain at high tide turn our low lying streets into canals.  Winds tear down branches; floods destroy property.  Our most costly storm was Wilma in 2005, as she sucked up Gulf waters and deposited them 6 feet deep on our streets.

Storm prediction/watching is a bit of a sport here, athough deep inside we worry about that late season monster storm which will hit us sooner or later. In the meantime, we enjoy the island as it is and always has been since the beginning of storm records – Old Town Key West.

To Dig or Not to Dig…

May 29, 2013

Key West has more than its fair share of controversy.  The latest involves a referendum to be voted on this October to determine if there is voter support for widening the ship channel.

Proponents claim our tourism industry is in jepoardy if we don’t widen the channel to allow “supercruisers” into our tiny port.  Without a wide channel, they argue the ships will go elsewhere, thus threatening our very way of life.  They say it’s absolutely essential.

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Nevermind cruise ship traffic has declined for four years straight.

Nevermind our tourism receipts are up over the same period of cruise ship decline.

Nevermind the City Of Key West has a balanced budget, and has an 89 day cash reserve.

Nevermind the City saw the decline and was able to offset cruise ship revenue by raising parking fees a…wait for it….25 cents an hour downtown.

Nevermind the watersports industry depends on a healthy reeef for snorkeling, eco tours, etc.

Nevermind the charterboat industry relies on a healthy ecosystem for its fisheries.

Nevermind the Environmental Protection Agency has very, very, strict rules about damaging reefs and reef populations.  A US Navy ship ran aground on a reef in the Phillipines recently; rather than damage the reef the Navy determined it to scrap the ship and cut it up on the spot.

Why are we even considering digging up the reef?

Well…I have my suspicions.  A very small group of commercial property owners and business operators dominate Lower Duval.  This is the part of town locals tend to avoid – and is the primary domain of daily visitors brought to our tiny island via cruise ship.  Without the means to travel much more than a few blocks, they are a captive crowd. They are plied with loud bars and tacky T-shirt shops selling trinkets from China.  A widened channel serves to line the pockets of some already very wealthy people – and all they have to do is hold onto their already lucrative properties and businesses while the charterboat, watersport and adventure tour industries suffer from the environmental impact.

It’s simple, really.  We need less of this

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And more of this

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And this.

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The opposition is COUNTING on a low turnout at the pools this October – Let’s prove them wrong.

Yep. I’m Crazy.

May 28, 2013

You may be right
I may be crazy
But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for
Turn out the light
Don’t try to save me
You may be wrong for all I know
But you may be right

-Billy Joel, “You May Be Right”

“Don’t do it.”

“You’re CRAZY!”

These were the words of trusted confidants when the desire to buy a boat hit me.  Not just any boat, mind you, but a wooden boat.

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The tropics are hell on impervious stuff like stainless and fiberglass; the idea of opting for something as transient as a wooden hulled boat was marine suicide, according to my old salt friends.

Waitaminit.

I ride a 28 year old motorcycle.

I drive a 54 year old truck.

I live inna 114 year old house.

So – a 48 year old boat is pretty new, yes?

There’s background to this story:

My wife is a fair weather boater.  To get her out on the water, the ride had to be glass-smooth.  The waves inside the reef are anything but.

The solution?

The Lyman brothers built an amazing boat for nearly a century – a boat which tamed the short chop of Lake Erie with ease.  Our wave forms here in the Keys are virtually identical, based on firsthand experience in both places.

When I was a kid, Pop had a Lyman. It rode like glass in the roughest of waters.  I know why, but ut would take 16 pages of blog to explain – so I won’t.  Suffice it to say when the Pheebs announced she wanted a boat – there was but one marque to choose from.

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A Lyman, a 25′ Sleeper, to be precise. To be certain, I took her out on our maiden voyage while there was a small craft advisory.

She fell asleep on the engine cover.

Yes, a wood boat is much work.  So is a 114 year old house in Old Town.  Both have their benefits, however.  In the case of the boat, it’s the ability to place three generations of family on the same boat for the first time in four decades.

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To be able to do this is an achievement in itself.  We’ve had many adventures on our 1965 Lyman already, and we look forward to many, many more.

So – if you see us out and about, please smile and wave.

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For you know we’ve taken the road less traveled, and it has indeed made all the difference.

Backcountry

May 27, 2013

We live on very small island.  We’re surrounded by water – 100 miles out in the ocean.  A geological quirk, this.  An oolite limestone shelf forms a ridge, of which a tiny speck otherwise known as Key West emerges above sea level. it’s possible to voyage several miles in any direction and still be in shallow water.

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We call the region north of the Keys backcountry, and it’s as wild and desolate st Lower Duval is raucous and rowdy.  When we tire of the bustle of Old Town, we hop in our boat and head out to the backcountry for solitude.

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The channels between flats are well marked, yet an experienced eye can detect the subtle differences in color which separate placid cruising from running aground.  Add a fishing pole and some friends, and dinner is a likely outcome of a day’s adventure.

When we run out of bait and tire of casting, we head to a bend in the rivers of tidal current which flush the backountry clean, twice daily.

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If you look closely at the horizon, you’ll see Key West.  It’s a good four miles away in this shot, yet we’re standing in a foot of water on a coral sand bottom.  Water temperatures in the backountry are in the mid 80’s this time of year; lounging in crystal clear water a tonic for frayed nerves.

There’s life out here – lots of it.  On our last trip, we saw dolphin, shark, stingray, turtle, tarpon, heron, cormorant and schools of tasty fish.  Filleted and grilled withing hours of capture – there’s no better meal after a day on the water.

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It’s the best way to spend a lazy day when you’re livin’ on Key West time.

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Water Under the Transom

May 26, 2013

Yes, there has been quite a bit since the last set of posts.  Both daughters graduated, one engaged.

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We both live and work in Key West, the Pheebs and I.  It’s one thing to live here and have a job which takes you all over hell’s half acre, another altogether to spend 100% of your time in this place where gravity is slightly different.  It has changed us – the Pheebs and I.

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This is not a bad thing, mind you.  It’s just different, as Key West is different than living just about anywhere else on the planet.

I didn’t write for a long time.  The process of adjusting to this new way of life absorbed much energy.  Besides – I felt I had little to say.

Why go back to posting?  Simple answer, this.

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For the benefit of a single person, a Miss Sunah Kim.  She’s the sister of my friend Chinui Kim.  Chinui and Sunah came to Key West recently to investigate the opening of a Korean restaurant.  Sunah prepared some absolutely amazing dishes for the Pheebs and me while Chinui scouted locations.    It turns out Sunah was quite smitten with the colors and fragrances of Key West.  According to a mutual friend, it’s all she can think about.

She’s a very nice person – kind and gentle and caring.  She loves flowers and classical music; a good thing as she went to Germany to become a trained classical organist.  I had no idea there was such a thing.

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Sunah has vowed to learn English to the point where she may come here to stay.  I figure a series of posts on the place she’s fallen in love with may help speed her on her way.

The posts will feature fewer photos, and will run between 250-350 words to keep them manageable.  More about life – less about surroundings.  People, too – at least those willing to participate.

Trust you will enjoy the ride,

Chuck.