Jewfish Creek Bridge, The Video

Once upon a time, I made my trip to the Florida Keys.

There is a very stark break between the mainland and the Everglades in Florida City.  Everything simply “Stops”.

You get past that and there are a very few businesses way off in the middle of nowhere.  A cement factory and a quarry come to mind.  A marina is just on the other side of the Monroe county line.  But until you get to Key Largo, there’s practically nothing but grass and nature.

And this one massive scar through the landscape called US1.

Granted it is a scar, but you actually need it there to get to the Keys.

I am sure some people who are more ecologically aware would say that it does not belong there, nor do we in an ecological niche like those beautiful little jewels, but there are also people that would argue that nobody should live below the I-4 line where the land ceases to be land but more like a swamp.

Like I said, I’m not that ecologically aware.  My own feeling is don’t expand it, and contract development in the keys where possible.  But no draconian solutions, please.  They are beautiful and we can enjoy them if we play nice with nature.

Just before you go onto the island that Key Largo is on, there’s one big deep water gap.  A “Cut” so the larger boats can go into or out of the Florida Bay.  That is at what is now the Jewfish Creek bridge.

I realize I am being a small bit imprecise, but grant me that.

Since the old drawbridge was replaced years ago, they built an improved structure and then the bridge we have now.

The bridge itself is kind of minimalistic, maybe a bit stark, and painted in aqua blue, which is befitting of a place as knock down beautiful as the keys.

One of my earlier trips I took a picture and wrote about it.  For some strange reason in all the 8 or more years that I have been writing, that particular article gets read frequently.

What I did was revisit it.  I was down there for my birthday, a few days later.  Knowing that I was going there,  I brought my little video camera for the trip.  Hopefully this video will satisfy the area’s fans.

Hopefully my color commentary won’t offend too much and that my very shaky hand is not too awful.  But for now, I present the video.  For your pleasure or disdain.

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.

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,
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.

Lunch at Snappers – Picture

So tell me, when you live in Paradise and want to get away for the day, where do you go?

In our case, we hopped in the car and drove down to the Keys.

Yes, for lunch.

100 miles one way.

Sure it sounds a bit over-the-top, but we needed the escape a week ago.

And look at the view!

We got to sit at a table, getting the tropical breezes off of the ocean in Key Largo, having a really nice lunch with a bottle of Pear Cider.

I have a feeling that we’ll head down to Snappers in Key Largo once again.   Nice people, good food, and a complete change from the usual up here on our little island in the city.

The thing about the Keys is that if you fly in, you’re there.   If you drive in, you seem to go through stages.

The Mainland in South Florida has “this look”.  Everything is low slung.  Shopping centers and homes aren’t usually over one floor, although for some crazy reason this is changing.  Big buildings can be built like bunkers with thick walls.  Overhangs are bolted down for a reason – they fly away.

Then all the sudden the sprawl… stops.

You hit the road through to the top of the Keys – it’s grass and flat as a table top.  One lane each direction, so you’re going to have to be patient.   It’s about 12 miles of this.   Little bridges over little lakes.   More grass.   Signs saying “Crocodile Crossing”.  Lake Surprise.

Then the bridge over Jewfish Creek and you’re in Key Largo.

Now everything has it’s own look.

Shops have a more island look to them.   Pastel colors, heavily pitched roofs, and lots of metal on them.   After all, you don’t want them to peel apart shingle by shingle.   Tiles on the roofs, thick concrete block and stucco walls.

Palm trees greet you.  It’s a Gilligan’s Island look to things.   Strange posts that say Vacuum Sewer, so you expect to hear a sucking sound but don’t get too close.

It’s a world designed to be washed over and drained.

Something that we’re lucky enough to just pop down on a weekend and dip a toe into.

Speed Kills Key Deer – Picture

Recently I drove to Key West to perform an act of mercy.   I went down there to rescue an Executive Client I have and restored four PCs.  He got hit by a virus that popped up a window demanding that he buy their “product” not once but twice.  I managed to save his data and got all four PCs up to date and running smoothly.

In Home PC Service…

Anyway… on the drive back, I headed through the City of Big Pine.  As you cross onto the island you see this series of signs.  It used to be more than just this, there used to be a series of speed limit signs saying that they ticket for 1MPH over the limit, its expensive, had a traffic information radio station broadcasting why, and so forth.

The Key Deer are a little bit of a thing.  They’re deer that are the size of a dog.  I’ve never actually seen one, although I’ve been seen by them, and I am fine with that.  If it means they’re safe, the better for them.  Now the road is fenced in and there must be less pressure on the little things.  The settled area looks like any other in the Keys – strip malls on US1, homes behind it, water that is bluer than the sky, low trees.  Once you get out of the settled area, the fence starts and continues until you pass out of Big Pine.  Each road that leads out from US1 out of the settled area has grates that are designed to make it difficult for the deer to put their feet on it with little bumps on each ridge.  Seems to work, although I’d hate to breakdown in that area.

Driving the Jeep through there, I’d note the signs, slow to 44mph during the day, and watch intently hoping to see one of the little guys first hand.  Maybe Next Time, I’d tell myself and plan to actually visit Big Pine on the next trip so I could see them.

Who knows if there will be a next time for me in Key West, but I do hope that the Key Deer will continue.  A one of a kind creature in a one of a kind ecosystem, they deserve to survive.

An Angel at Sunset Picture

It is probably bad form of me to post this, but it does give you an idea of what goes on in Key West at Sunset.

Among all the jugglers, fire eaters and singers that have rolled downhill to a stop at the end of US1 in Key West, there’s an island of quiet.   I was having trouble hearing what my friend and host had to say until I reached this bit of performance art.  Here, a woman dressed as an angel stands on a small pedestal.  She moves only very slowly.  When she moves, it is with an ethereal calm and grace.  One would expect that of an angel, and she did it well.

The little girl in the foreground was as entranced as I and the others were.  While she stood there watching the feathered apparition, the angel reached out, slowly to the child.  The child was too confused to touch her hand until someone said she could.  The look of awe was apparent on her face as she reached out and – gave the angel a dollar bill.

I guess even Angels Have to Eat.

If You Take a Picture Please Leave A Tip

To be fair, the sign was for the left of this scene but it fits in well.

In Key West there’s a grand old tradition of going down to “Zero Duval Street” and saying thank you by watching the sunset. 

This was not exactly the right time for the picture for a sunset, I should have come back about an hour later, but this works in its own way.  Sunset Key is a little ways off shore to the west of Key West and serves as the plate that the poached egg of the sun will settle into.   The Sunset Festival happens every day and where you have people you have street performers.  This view excluded the buskers and the rest.  There was just a very helpful family sitting by the little dock watching the water and the fish therein. 

When Nature puts on a show, all you need to do is to wait for it. 

Saving your bike in Key West

I always had a bike when I was growing up.  I was taught by Mom and Dad that when we were through with them, put them away.  Usually that meant open the garage door, roll it in and squeeze the bike into a hole in the “treasures” that were stored in there. 

The garage was a treasure trove of trash and old things we couldn’t bear to get rid of.  Things put there when I was a toddler were still in there when we moved out of the house when I was in college, never touched.   It was safe.  Even when the house got broken into, the garage was untouched because it was too much of a mess.   I never conceived of having to do anything more to keep anything safe.

Every time I pass by this building in Key West I’m stopped by it.  The place needs a coat of paint or three.  It has some serious weather damage and wood that needs to be replaced.  I’m sure if it ever got looked at it “wouldn’t be up to code”.  Knowing Sgt Gary Blocker, and Kim on Code Enforcement here in Wilton Manors, I’m sure of it. 

That doesn’t mean that the building is unsafe although it may.  It has been there through countless Hurricanes, Tropical Storms, Thunderstorms and invasions of snowbirds and it still stands.   It looks like it is still inhabited although you can’t prove it by me.

One other thought.  That bike.  There’s a bike on the second floor balcony that is chained up on the outside of the railing and it has been there for at least five years.  It may be moved off the balcony and used to “go home” at the end of a work day.  My own personal fantasy is that the building is a secret art studio where the next century’s treasures of the Louvre Museum are being created and the artist is watching everyone watch his house for inspiration as they scratch their heads about how bikes grow on trees … or balconies.

I’ve been told that Key West is a fairly safe place in most areas during the day in Old Town where this place is.  Just don’t leave anything out that isn’t tied down.  The folks on the job in Police Work call it “Opportunistic Crime”.  Bikes are a prime target anywhere, most folks don’t have a safe and cluttered garage in a place as congested as Key West to hide their treasure trove.  I’ve been told that if I don’t have a lock on a bike in Key West, don’t stop anywhere.  I don’t know if it is quite that bad, but it does lend itself toward individualistic and quirky solutions.

Like planting a bike on a building.

I’m sure that the next time I drive the 200 miles to Key West to rescue someone’s computer network in what the owner described as “Executive Level Service”, the bike will be there.  I hope so.  Quirky is good. 

Hopefully whoever owns that place won’t “clean it up” too much.  Part of the charm of Old Town Key West is the wonderfully scruffy look that the place can have.  Duval Street looks like Disney partnered with TGI Fridays and what was born was the result.  Leave the tourist traps behind and the crowds thin out rapidly and you get to see the charm that was everywhere and is slowly being gentrified away. 

You may even see a bike growing on a balcony.

Entering the Keys on US1 – Picture

Every so often you get to step outside of your comfort zone and do something Different.

How often do you actually get to drive a car through a UN World Heritage Site?

The view you get here is when you’re driving South to Key West on US1 the Overseas Highway.  Despite the fact that its bogged down with far too many people that are doing just the same thing it is an amazing drive.  At this point, the border of Monroe County is just ahead of the car, the entry sign is just on the right hand of the frame and those buildings are in The Keys.

The road itself is not my favorite.  Its suffering wear and tear of too many cars, washboarded in spots, potholes to the last surface below it worn in others.  Driving a Jeep Wrangler you get used to a ride that is not exactly soft.  But from this spot, it is another 115 or so miles to my destination and each of them bears watching for diverse hazards.  There are many stretches of bad road, construction and a road bed that is too narrow for the use it’s been given.  There are also crocodiles, key deer, and pelicans.  The pelicans are the only thing I’ve seen close up, and just barely missed having the inside of my car painted by one on the Seven Mile Bridge.

The picture above is much nicer than the one on street view in Google Earth.  That one when I look at it as of this writing is during construction, but it is linked below.  It is an older picture on Google Earth, and the view is much improved since the road construction has moved South.

You can zoom out and see for yourself how much further I had that day.  It may be a somewhat ugly strip of asphalt but look left or right and you are in an unparalleled one of a kind slice of beauty.  The people in the Keys can paint their buildings pastels, put up signs proclaiming that they’re in paradise and try to sell it to you as you drive past with the kids screaming to buy shells, but they have nothing on the natural beauty there.  The road is a mess, it is 106 miles from Key Largo to Key West plus the 16 mile causeway back to the Mainland, but the land it traverses is well worth looking at.