Goodbye, David Clarke

I told myself I wouldn’t write this.  I had already said my goodbyes in a few ways, made my comments, and as is normal these days I made some comments on your facebook feed.

Then I saw this picture of you on a pass through my picture collection.

It must have been what was in the back of my mind when I wrote on facebook that day.  It’s exactly what you’d do.

You’d park yourself in the backyard under my umbrella.  Next to the pool, you would go out there “Not To Smoke” but you would anyway.  You were the only person allowed to smoke on the property but never in the house.

Bringing your cup of tea out there, it became Your Spot.  You could look across the pool at the tropical plantings secure in the knowledge that they were tended to by someone else.  You were taking a break from your duties.  I guess we could call you a Concierge because you were always doing something for someone in some weirdly random way.  I was always surprised to find out some of the things you would do.

My backyard was your refuge from all of those duties.  You came here, occasionally but not frequently enough, to get away from all that happy nonsense of the life you chose during the week we met.

I have known you since, as best as I can tell, February 1987.  We met when I vacationed there and you had just landed from London.  It was a vacation from that life, but you would make it permanent.  A lucky break or three gave you just enough to be able to set roots down and you could live there.  Maybe I have the timing off one way or another but that is my best guess.

We kept in contact excluding a gap in time.  One chance meeting I was walking into the market some time around February 1992 and there you were coming out.

It was like old times.  We did not lose contact again.

You visited us in Philadelphia.  You enjoyed my own neighborhood of Chestnut Hill as much as we did.  I was told it looked just like the English countryside town that you came from.  It was “Very English”.  When you were there, I didn’t tell you that the shop owners took you to heart.  When you left they would occasionally ask when you were coming back.

Later we moved to Wilton Manors, Florida.  It’s a full 190 miles away and a long four hour drive from you in Key West.  I was warned that it was one way in and one out and traffic could completely block.  People could have a 10 hour trip through the keys because “The Sysco Truck broke down” or overturned or some dumb tourist cut in front of it.  All were plausible.  None happened when I went down there.

Just watch your speed driving the Keys.  They will ticket in some places at one MPH over.

My visits were a mirror of yours.  Take over a room, drop the suit cases, and relax before a long wander through town to see how much things changed.  Key West changed completely over the years.  Wilton Manors less so.

Every visit I would spend fixing your computers.  I was happy when you got a Mac because then you wouldn’t get those Windows viruses.  Then the virus writers targeted Mac and you would get them there.  I remember you had a literal stack of machines and every one would end up used up and set under the bed in the spare room waiting for care because Virus.

Stop clicking on links in emails, please.

Well now there are no more links to click.

No more Mangos to duck from the trees.

No more check ins.

Someone else will feed the cat that visits you on your porch for food and sometimes come in for a short visit.

You died suddenly of natural causes on July 29 2017.

I didn’t find out until after I called you and left a message, worried.

Four minutes later someone on your facebook feed confirmed it.

The stories went back and forth.  You never completely hide from friends.  Now it is much easier for friends to talk.  We shared details of how you were planning to come here but kept missing the trip because you were feeling badly, twice in the week before.  Each time this happened I’d implore you to visit the doctor.  You would become more strident about my coming to visit.  I think we know why now.

I had a wonderful chat with your friends, even in your home town.

You were so very proud of that town, Winsford, England.  When I showed you how to virtually walk down the street there you were “gobsmacked”.  So was I.  I would love to see it myself but probably never will get there, just like  at this point I doubt I’ll get back to Key West.

I captured that picture of the big stone church and put it on your computers every time I set one up for you.

In fact there were three computers here for you to look at.  All with the picture of that church in Winsford, England.

We would go through those pictures and virtually visit your town with the old show To The Manor Born on the TV.  We watched that series so many times that we could quote dialog along with Audrey and the Rest.  All those old comedy shows that you’d bring along, some I had seen, some not, and always a very enjoyable time.

You are and now were more than a friend, you were a big brother from another mother.  You will be missed.

Goodbye David.

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Looking Out At The Everglades at 5 MPH

Of all of the activities that are available to people in an industrialized society, this is one of the more pointless ones.

We built a road through one of the most beautiful places in the world, the Everglades.  But true to form, it is not suitable to task so you end up sitting in traffic.

Actually, through all the years and the many trips, maybe even hundreds of trips, that I have taken to the Florida Keys, this was the first time I had been stopped in traffic at this particular spot.

By “this particular spot” I mean the 20 mile long corridor between the end of the mainland at the split for Card Sound Road in Florida City to the beginning of the Florida Keys at Key Largo.

You see, true to form, they widened the road.  But it is still just two lanes for the majority.  One lane up, one lane down.  Any traffic mishap and you’re stuck until someone figures out a way to unstick it.  It used to be exactly one lane down and back.  It’s a road built on an old railroad causeway after all.  Then it gained a shoulder because if it didn’t have one you would have that same road blocked for hours.

The latest iteration was when the roadbed gained an actual barricade down the middle so that people falling asleep in the middle of the night don’t drift over onto opposing traffic.  Improvements in drainage were made as well as the bridges were raised a bit.  This being Florida, they weren’t allowed to say Global Warming or Climate Change because we have a state government infested with Republicans and other climate change deniers, but things were raised nonetheless – “Just Because”.

However, the passing lanes were retained.

Instead of having two lanes down and two back, there are three separate Passing Zones.  Think of it as a place where the absolute best of driving habits come out to play. 

Mom and Dad in their giant motor homes trailing a regular car behind them can’t maintain the speed limit which is theoretically 55 MPH.  They collect quite a few people behind them.  When the road widens for the passing zone, everyone behind the motor home floors it and tries to pass.  When they all reach the end, everyone tries to merge in front of the motor home.  The motor home slows and creates a new tailback behind it.  Each time this happens it gets a little worse.  You end up with a 20 mile section of road that has a permanent traffic problem on the weekends and holidays. 

You never want to drive to Key West on a Friday on a long weekend.

If it does happen to clear, it will happen again. Either a food truck, a motor home, or just some fool from the Midwest who is driving just a little too slow for everyone’s liking will start it over.

My own personal favorite are those large trucks full of food going to refuel the restaurants.  The trucks are typically governed and under orders not to “maintain traffic speed”, which is good and correct, but the cars stuck behind them will drive like fools anyway to get past them.

Since the entire road from Florida City to Key West is 125 miles, everyone everywhere tries to keep in front of those trucks.  All the food comes in on the same trucks.

So you end up checking the GPS for traffic information, see that the road is lined in red or dark red, and decide whether to head to the Keys or not.

When you get there and look out your window you see scenes of natural beauty unlike anywhere else.  You’ll still be stuck, but it is still a beautiful scene.

Rack Causes Trouble, Ellie Doesn’t Speak Husky

When you have an overeager Puppy, and an middle-aged former shut-in dog, sometimes the signals get crossed.

Rack’s Pack was out that night, wandering around on our route.  We’re forced into a few specific routes because Rack doesn’t handle the noises as well as he will in the future.  When I take him out on The Drive where his nemesis the evil 50 Bus lives, he’ll begin to tow me down the sidewalk as fast as he can to get us out of there.

That’s not the best, so we’re varying the route to stay off The Drive as much as we can.

Back in my neighborhood, only a block or three away, we’re heading back to the house.

Rack is out front, as usual.  I’m trying to convince him that his place is next to me and not stretching his legs and my arms at the same time, but since he needs as much confidence as we can get him, this training will be a bit less intense and I will have to let him get away with murder.

We three notice that he’s perked.   Ears are up, and he is acting like a friend is approaching.  I don’t see anything until they come out from under the big Gumbo Limbo on the dark corner.   It’s Kaya and Cricket and Cricket’s friend.  They’re coming home from a night at the bars.  We must have a dog friendly bar somewhere in town, it doesn’t surprise me.  This is Florida and I’ve heard enough stories of Hemingway Cats in Key West until I’m coughing up furballs.

They are about 50 feet away and Rack is already leaping in air.  There are Parkour acts that aren’t as springy as my dog is.  He will bounce until I reel him in.

The ladies and the husky approach and I notice that Ellie, Bill’s Mixed Breed, has just stepped aside.  It’s probably too intense for her and her middle-aged suburban dog sensibilities.   Rack is running around doing The Play Stance on his front paws.  Kaya is the Momma Dog of the neighborhood.  She doesn’t have puppies, but she’s a good trainer for one.   Kaya has been known to give out Puppy Slaps with her one paw to calm down my errant furry spring when he gets out of control.

Ellie is still watching from the side.

There was a piece of pine bark mulch that caught Kaya’s attention, and she was trying to chew on it like a toy.  Pine Bark Mulch is not the best thing to chew on, so Cricket would get it from her and move it out of range.   With the dynamics of three dogs, and all the movement, the piece of bark kept going back into the reach of Kaya’s mouth.

Things being what they were, Kaya began to guard it while telling Rack to back off by making perfectly clear grumbling noises.  To a Husky it made sense.  To a McNab who was pretending to be a bobble-head and a spring, it was something to be ignored.

Ellie tried to join in on the sniff fest and the general fun, but wasn’t really sure.

You see, Ellie really didn’t speak Husky.

Each time Kaya would grumble, Ellie would growl.  Never mind that Ellie was about 1/2 the size of Kaya, she didn’t like what this big white Husky Girl was saying.  This was a perfectly clear conversation in the language of Dog.

I was watching this whole conversation and noticed the interplay between the three.  Keeping Rack’s leash tight, I mentioned to Bill that he should watch what Ellie was saying – she was unsure of what was up.

It was at this point where the two females did what females do everywhere – they got loud.  Rack backed up immediately, Ellie and Kaya were barking outright at each other, and the party needed to be broken up.

Nobody got nipped, it was very clear what was going on.

Ellie was protecting her pack as best as a Beta Dog could.  She considers Rack “more Alpha” than she is, even if Rack is a paper tiger.  Rack was acting like a black and white goofball who was just bouncing around being a 14 month old puppy.  He precipitated matters by annoying Kaya who just wanted to chew on the mulch.

I explained all of this to our pack and to the ladies and called it a good learning experience for all.

The training will continue.  Kaya is fine.  She’s doing what a well mannered pack animal would do.

Our little pack is still gelling together.   Ellie is protective of we three, plus Rack.  Rack is mellowing.  He’s down to 11 on the volume control, which is down from about a 15.  Puppy energy being what it is at his age, he won’t be this nutty forever. 

We will guide them all to be perfect citizens.  Three miles a day exposure to all sorts of urban realities certainly has helped us all.  The dogs are getting better mannered and even my weight is down a couple pounds – who couldn’t use that?

Welcome to Fort Lauderdale, Here’s Your Coffee

It’s October 2013.  David has arrived for his April 2013 Vacation.

It’s also one of those things.  Schedules change and life gets in the way.  April slid into May and we were not really set  for having visitors in those two months.   Lettie left, Rack arrived…

The Summer is a busy season for the locals in Key West.  All you people coming from other places in the cooler weather thinking that life’s all Margaritaville forget that sometimes you have to pick up the palm fronds, repair fences, and pick up the beer bottles that got left behind.   That job still will happen whether you like to go outside and do it or not.  

My own version of that was the Power Washing of the deck that isn’t quite finished.

Yeah, I’ll get to it.  Chill out and have a glass of iced tea.   Sorry, we don’t generally keep the “hard stuff” in the house.

The Hurricane Season peaked and began to ebb.  Now the cooler parts of the day are absolutely perfect.   You have arrived for our Secret Season.   Snowbirds haven’t yet fled the frozen tundra of the North.  They’re still bragging about their Fall Colors, and this would have been the week to take the roof off of the Jeep and drive up the Delaware River to the Water Gap and have a picnic on the little park by the water.

But you’re here now, let’s settle in and have a chat.  Talk about times gone by.  Brother-From-Another-Mother, we’ve known each other since the mid ’80s.  I was on vacation, you stayed there ever since.

It’s good having you here.  I roasted for you this morning a special “Half-Caff” blend.  Estate Grown Guatemalan Regular and Decaf in equal parts to a Full City Roast.  Enjoy that, no I don’t need the jar back, and we can “Do Lunch” later.

You’re leaving after a long weekend?  Sorry to hear that, we’ll have to make it count.

It All Comes In On The Same Truck – Picture

Driving to Key West from The Mainland one thing becomes abundantly clear:

There is one way in,
and
There is one way out.

The Florida Keys are an amazing place, unlike anywhere else on earth.  One of a kind ecosystems, their own species of animals and plants, and a culture all its own.  

Only around 100,000 people live on this ribbon of 120 miles of coral rock, swamp, salt ponds, and punishingly blue water.

Lucky them.

You know you are in for an experience once you leave the sprawl of South Dade beyond when Florida City fades in the rear view mirror and the sign looms overhead saying Welcome to the Keys.

If you are lucky, traffic moves smoothly and the sun is shining.  The Seven Mile Bridge is a strip of concrete that separates the Middle Keys from the Lower Keys.   A gap between the two groups of footprints in the water that is best seen from a convertible car or a motorcycle, right at sunset, with the breezes flowing past you.

But, it does rain in Florida.  When it does, that four hour jaunt through a truly amazing landscape of deep azure blue waters and mangrove green becomes a study of license plates, brake lights, and all too common billboards.

While they didn’t pave paradise to put up a parking lot, they sure did try to put up signs to entice you to buy the latest crap that they can have shipped in from the mainland at inflated prices.

Oh sure, you’ll stop off because being stuck behind the truck that brings in tomorrow’s dinner for what could be a 12 hour journey is an experience that would try anyone’s patience.

That truck came from Miami right about the same time you did, and you will be following it for the next couple hours.  May as well have a grouper sandwich on a dock somewhere.   The fish will swim right up to you thinking you have something for them to eat.  Like their uncle that was too slow to swim out of the net to become what you have in your hands right now.  Uncle Fish morsels fall into the water and into waiting mouths while you wait for Monroe County Sheriff to clear the accident 10 miles down US1 down in Big Pine or Marathon or some other coral rock speckled with life. 

But at that moment, your reality spins down to an excellent meal, hopefully with an excellent glass of beer or iced tea, in the sun, while you feed a fish its distant cousin.

Circle of life.  Future Food eating Food that came in on the truck yesterday that just had a fender bender on a scrawny ribbon of concrete and asphalt, 120 miles long, leading from reality to a place called the Florida Keys.

Sticker Shock for a Key Wester

David’s gone now.  He came up from Key West for a long weekend and I dropped him off at the airport so he could catch a shuttle to go home for a while.

On the way down we were talking about the festival over the weekend.   He knows the people who ran the Key West visitor’s booth there.  He was talking about how the guy was complaining about the location of the booth and making generic comments about things.

Being someone who lived in Key West since the 80s, David may not be a Conch, but more of a Naturalized Citizen.  You don’t live in a place without it affecting you, and you affecting it. 

I’ve been in South Florida now for 7 years, I can understand.  At this point I’d say that I’m quite settled in.  Doing work in shorts and a T Shirt feels normal now even if I do look killer in my grey suit!

David did have an interesting comment about things here.   Every time he’d be out in a shop he would be in shock over the prices.  Now, South Florida isn’t exactly a cheap place to live, but in comparison it certainly is.  In fact that’s one thing that they don’t tell you at that tourist booth.  Key West is an expensive vacation and an expensive place to live.

Cost of living reflects that it is a rock in a wet place.  Stuck 120 miles out in the ocean, Key West has to have everything trucked in from the mainland.  That expense is reflected in everything from food to lodging.  Even water is pricey, having been sent down a tube from Miami.

Saying “They don’t tell you that to get a drink you need a Mortgage”, I got a chuckle while sitting at the light at Sunrise and NE 4th.  Ten Dollar beers are not unheard of, if not commonplace in Key West. 

I guess they have to send it down on the back of a Marlin.

Since you could describe Key West, like the bumper stickers say, a cute drinking town with a fishing problem, those Ten Dollar Longnecks are a pricey annoyance.

One of the first things I do is figure out what his schedule is when he arrives, then I drag him out to the shops.   This time I was lucky, he realized that I was right.  He would pick himself up and walk out to the Publix or any of the local shops and “have a poke around town”.

When he’d get back, I’d hear more about those Ten Dollar Longnecks.

Maybe he’s not the one that gets the sticker shock, so much as I am.  After a 200 mile drive, Key West could be a very expensive place to relax whether beer is involved or not… and that just isn’t the kind of thing that they will tell you at a Travel Booth at a street festival.

Dancing at the Museum in Key West – Picture

Right off of the water, next to where the Angels land and the Fire Jugglers try not to burn the five year old children from Ohio, there’s a little museum.  The building itself isn’t all that small, and coming from a big city in the North, it only seems like it is a small museum.  On the other hand, there is a wonderful collection of Public Art there.

In Key West, which is a small city, on a small island, on a small planet, there is Public Art. 

There are traditions of public art in many large cities.  If you have a collection of people that crowd into a small place you create the economies of scale that result by simply not having enough space.  Key West should be one of those places.  When you have that situation, you can make certain assumptions.  The assumption is that people have a higher standard of living when there are artistic expressions easily visible.  Think of Paris with the Place de la Concorde, Philadelphia with art literally everywhere in Center City, Chicago on the loop with the Bean off of the Chicago River and the Calder Mobile.  These things happened because there was a conscious decision that there is more to life than concrete and commercial space.

In Philadelphia, there is actually a requirement that a certain percentage of the value of the building is spent during construction or re-construction on public art.  The result is a massive collection of art.  Walking through Center City Philadelphia is like walking through a giant museum of modern art.  Then they take the stuff they can’t leave outside and put it in a big barn of a building on top of a hill and let some guy run up the steps.

I think his last name is Balboa.

The next best use for those steps is for tired inline skaters to congregate before their next 9 mile run, trust me!

When ever I go somewhere, I consciously or subconsciously look for public art.  I have found that the quality of life in that city is directly proportional to how many “Pretty Pictures” you can spot by driving down their main street.  Compare “this” city with “that one” and you’ll realize which one has a better art scene.  I’d expect Austin Texas to be a better place to live in than say … Brownsville.

Last trip to Key West was a Working Vacation.  I spent 3 days in a Conch House in New Town doing Virus Remediation and got all the machines back up and running.  When that happened, we took a walk down to see the sunset and I noticed that building.

You see, in Key West I didn’t notice much public art that really wasn’t more like a shop display.  When I got to this spot I stopped.  Stuck to my tracks, I thought “This is it, I’m home”.  Sure, its naked women dancing outside the Children’s Museum, and had some real warm flesh and blood women been doing that, there would have been a bit of a “discussion” happening, but there it was, public art in a small city of 30,000. 

I can’t really call myself an Art Lover.  I have been to the Louvre, seen Mona Lisa, the Bayeux Tapestries, visited the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Rodin Museum on The Parkway in Philadelphia, but I hadn’t realized how much I missed it until I got to see these beautiful pink ladies, prancing in an expression of joy.

At least that was how I saw it.  After looking at the picture above, I’m smiling and thinking the same that I did then.