Saturday, November 27, 2004

Things to do in Key West

My top 10 outdoor things to do in Key West:
  1. Spending the day at the Dry Tortugas National Park
  2. Kayak fishing for bonefish, permit, & tarpon
  3. Camping at Bahia Honda State Park
  4. Kayaking the mangroves and backcountry islands
  5. Snorkeling for lobster...yum!
  6. Looking for sea treasures on my favorite isolated beaches
  7. Going out on a Key West sunset sail
  8. Riding my bike around the beautiful neighborhoods of Old Town
  9. Learning about the plants and creatures in our eco-system.
  10. Relaxing & swimming at my favorite beach.
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Sunday, November 21, 2004

Things to do in Key West Florida

So often I am asked about things to do in Key West Florida. Being an island closer to Cuba than Florida mainland, Key West has it's own unique culture, recreation, and community.
Certainly fishing in Key West is at the top of many people's activity list. Flats fishing, deep sea fishing, and reef fishing in the island chain is incredible. Just the other day, while fishing with one of Key West's better flats guides and a good friend, we were amazed by the huge Permit working the turtle grass shallows in search of a crab dinner. Despite our best efforts, crouching and whispering as we poled in closer, the fish became aware of our presence and moved away.
It was frustrating, but being surrounded by the beauty of a Key West sunset, the water changing colors with the sky, it was hard to wish for things any different.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Snorkel Key West? This week?

With the wind blowing for the past few days, it's been nearly impossible to enjoy the water. Small craft advisories have been up, and most sane people have avoided going out to sea. But last night a friend told me of a company still running people out to the reef for snorkeling. I don't care how much you want to do some Key West snorkeling, when the reef has two to three foot of chop and nearly zero visibility (due to the winds) I don't think it's in anyone's interest (alright, maybe the owner's) to bring novices out their.
Fortunately, the wind's are due to lie down...just in time for the powerboat races that occur each year at this time. The whole event is sort of surreal. Key West is normally pretty laid back. To see these overpower and roaring machines racing into the harbor at over 100 miles per hour while being chased by a swarm of helicopters can rattle the sedate nerves of a local. The winner is usually the boat that didn't break down. One has to wonder if these boats cause damage to the marine life. Last year, turtles were seen in the area (like there aren't always turtles in the area) and they delayed the race.

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Sunday, November 14, 2004

Key West Workers Growing Scarce

The Sunday paper arrived and along with it's news, the feeling of unease about my future in Key West. It usually stems from the real estate section, now the thickest of the paper. A one bedroom one bath conch cottage, about 750 square feet, is no less than $750,000. A local realtor, Regina Corcoran, writes the most arrogant column about the local market, completely ignoring the fact that the product she is selling is in big trouble. The Key West real estate boom is a disaster for the tiny island. Where are the people supposed to live that work here? This is not a place you can truck them in everyday. We are an island, ninety miles from mainland Florida and all of the Keys are facing the same problem.
I was attracted to Key West because it seemed to be an island of independents, certainly not all of them honorable, but definitely writing the script according to their experiences. Maybe I'm naive, but it seemed many Key Westers had come to the island by shrugging off the work & consumer mentality. Consumerism was the last thing on people's minds. Yes, there were many hard working families trying to make a better life for themselves. But they were not so driven that they couldn't enjoy life in the process. And they still lived at island speed. They lived here because island life made sense to them, maybe in their blood. The manana attitude was the norm.
I bought my bike, a Conch Cruiser with fat tires and a basket assembled from many other bike's parts, for thirty dollars on the beach and have had it for six years. In my neighborhood, parking was abundant since most people didn't have a car. With an island 2 miles by 4 miles, and no need to rush, why not ride the bike. But today is different. There is no parking spots open nearly every day and Elizabeth Street looks like a new car showroom. These are the cars of the snowbirds and those that sold some of their real estate. There is a project being built called Watermark. It promises a "decadent" and "luxurious" Key West residence with concierge service and "splendid" service. Ridiculous. Enjoying island life shouldn't require a servant. You need a t-shirt and flip flops. Wear some buttons if you want to dress up, but if Key West attracted you because of it's funky laid back attitude then how does a decadent and luxurious experience help. Just ask the Bahamians that have lived here for two hundred years.
My old apartment down the street, on of four in a large house, was bought by a speculator two years ago and renovated into a one-family McMansion. It was bought for 1.2 million, and is on the market for 2.75 million. Across the street, the same realtor is advertising a five apartment building that is "ripe for condo conversion". Rest well tonight tenants.
So, the Sunday morning depression sets in. Where will we live? Clearly we can't afford to buy a place. The clock on our Key West days is ticking. Just another working couple forced to leave. All the while, the mayor Jimmy Weakly, is oblivious to the magnitude of the problem. Or maybe he thinks that the Czech workforce that lives eight to a bedroom can replace all of us. But they can't. Some jobs actually require an education and mastery of the english language. Police, nurses, teachers, are finding it impossible to afford to live here. The police dept. operates with a double digit shortage of cops. They blame housing as the issue.
This rant of mine was sparked by the morning headline of a hotel conversion. Developers have bought another hotel and are converting it into .58 units of luxury condominiums. Tourist businesses are worried about their future. But in me, it reminds me of the rental apartments in Key West that are being bought to evict, renovate, and re-sell as a condominium for +$500,000. Or some four-apartment houses are being bought up and converted to single-family mansions. The process is rampant causing the housing shortage for the workers to increase.
An announcement to those that think you can buy your way into an interesting community: You can't. The currency you should spend is good personality and island sensibility. That is the barrier to entry. When the Key West housing bubble bursts or one hurricane hit's, you should remember that.

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Friday, November 12, 2004

Key West blog comments welcome.

Now, before I get too far down the blogging trail, I want to take suggestions on what this newbie should do to the blog. If you have an idea about something to add to the blog to make it a better blog, other than a better pilot at the helm, then please comment and let me know. I am going to continue to write about Key West and it's ways. In the future, I am dedicating myself to also reporting on breaking news on the least at the speed of the "coconut telegraph".
So feel free to comment on what this blog needs. I'm still trying to add the tarter sauce.
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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Flats fishing in Key West Florida

Windy days like today keep flats fisherman off the water. The normally glass-like nearshore waters of the Florida Keys can become broiling with chop and muddied. Searching for those inshore species like the bonefish, permit, and tarpon, that forage in those shallows, is pointless.
All one can do is think back to last day it was calm, maybe a week ago, when the water seemed invisible across the streches of turtle grass and sand. A ripple and a swirl ahead foretold of the crescent-tailed permit. Pointing the rod in the direction of the fish, your buddy/guide on the poling platform confirms your read. Make one noise, move too quickly, or fumble with the rod, and the permit will notice, leaving you exasperated and respectful. With a held breadth and a jump of the heart, you make your best attempt at casting, hurling a small blue crab to the toughest fish in shallow water. Fortunately, just as the crab hits the water, the permit has his tail out of the water and is preoccupied and unaware of the splash. All he sees is a crab frantically trying to get to the bottom. Gulp! The fish turns, drawing the line tight, and immediately sensing trouble, explodes in a burst of speed and reel screaming noise. Before you can comment to your buddy, the fish is 100 yards away.
Even if you miss, and the fish has spooked (which I should add is still considered a "good" day of permit fishing), you are surrounded by a true backcountry: expanses of gin-clear water dotted with mangrove islands and not another boat, structure, or person within the horizon. Only pelicans and egrets are above the waterline.
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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The famous Key West sunset. See it from Mallory Square, or see it from a sunset sailboat, either way, they are usually spectacular.
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Sun is shining...the weather is sweet.

Oh what a splendid day. After seeing the weather channel for the rest of the country (read: cold!) I've woken with an appreciation of Key West's perfect weather. Today is seventy five degrees heading to eighty with a nice breeze from the North. We have opened up all of the french doors and windows to let the freshly mopped floors dry. Outside, the overgrown tropical foliage shades the house and paints the sky with a hundred shades of green. The orchids seem happy dappled in sunlight.

From today's local press, a selection from The Citizen's Voice (our local rant):

"Gas has come down at most stations in Key Largo 2 to 3 cents a gallon, yet Key
West has gone up 7 to 19 cents a gallon. What is up with that?"

"I rode my boat where Houseboat Row used to be on South Roosevelt Blvd and I was stunned at how crystal clear and beautiful the water is there. It's all because the derelict boats had to leave."
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Monday, November 08, 2004

Coconuts...for the holiday.

Being an island that is quite a few miles offshore of the mainland, Key West doesn't have the best selection for really good holiday gifts. Sure, you can get some great local crafts and fishing gear. But if you want to buy someone a new gadget, or maybe some bling, something within this decades style, then you have to look elsewhere. Fortunately, the internet has bridged this gap for many residents. No more excuses about filling the stocking with coconuts.
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Skip & Go Naked

Found a great bar that no one knows about. It's on the other side of Key West from me, about a four mile drive. Hidden in the back of a local timeshare, right on the docks, is pavillion with two walls. The rest is open to the docks it faces. The name is something like Mambos, or Gumbo, or may it was Mumbo and the timeshare is Coconut Mallory.
My old crowd was there and everyone was enjoying it. Fishing captains told dubious stories, pool and poker were boldly challenged, and the drinks were cheap and plentiful. A friend brought a cooler of her favorite party drink, the Skip & Go-Naked. Here is the recipe, if my memory (still a bit foggy) serves me:
  • 1 large bottle of the cheapest vodka you can find
  • 1 case of Old Milwalkee Beer
  • 1 can of frozen juice concentrate
I'm ashamed to say that it tastes better than it reads.
And now, from the local paper, today's selected comment from the Citizen's Voice:
"There is a city commissioner who is also the attorney for Historic Tours of America? This is an egregious conflict of interest. I will be calling the FBI as soon as I get home this afternoon. It is time for an honest government in Key West and Monroe County that represents everyone, not just the special interests.?

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Saturday, November 06, 2004

You scratched my anchor!

The Outer Mole has reopened to cruise ships this week and the schedule looks packed. They'll be five arriving on Tuesday to the harbor in Key West. The t-shirt shops are going wild with glee.
That joy, however, isn't being felt by a tug boat operator that pushed a barge into a cruise ship yesterday. The cruise ship was docked as the tug lost control of the barge and cut a 10 foot gash in the port side of the steamer. Fortunately, it was above the water line. I don't think the buffet was affected.

Some anglers who have been out on the flats doing some Key West fishing have been hooking into one of autumn's great fish, the permit. These beautiful silver fish forage the shallows, routing out crabs and shrimp from the turtle grass. Hooking into one of these is no easy task. The permit seems to sense when your looking for it, and quickly moves away. Stealthy approaches and perfect casts need to mixed in with some good fortune.

And in today's local paper, from the Citizen's Voice:

Don't you think it's kind of funny that if you call up for a cab, they show up faster than the police?

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Friday, November 05, 2004

Jimmy Buffett plays Key West

Once again Jimmy Buffett played a concert in Key West and I didn't see it, thus, continuing my lifetime streak of never seeing the man. It's the Parrothead Convention this weekend: the annual migration of 3000 of Jimmy Buffett's most loyal fans. They are a colorful group with a drunken devotion to the man they believe exemplifies the island-dropout lifestyle. They yearn for the "simple life", and rebel against consumerism by buying tropical prints. I'm not so much a big fan of Buffett, but more like an islander starved for Big-Time entertainment. Big acts don't bother coming to Key West because of the small crowds and remote location. Buffett reportedly played for nearly two hours sending the devoted into nirvana.

A cold front arrived on the island this afternoon and brought with it some welcomed cooler temperatures. Tomorrow will be a great time for Key West kayaking. If I paddle, I'll report the trip here at

And in today's Citizen's Voice from our local paper:

I'm a cab driver and I was just wondering why the Bone Island Shuttle cut me off today to pick up someone on Smathers Beach that wasn't on his regular scheduled stop. He almost caused me to have a severe wreck.

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Thursday, November 04, 2004

Entire island of Key West up for sale

Riding my bike this afternoon to the public library, I couldn't help but notice the real estate for-sale signs sprouting up everywhere. It seems like half of Old Town is for sale. It may be true. And once a property sells it is not uncommon for a new for-sale sign to be hung. It's a bit strange to live in a neighborhood and have every other house up for sale.
So many of the buyers and sellers are local realtors, grown rich from commissions from northerners buying a second or third vacation home. It seems everyone has forgotten that it still is a market, and will one day not rise or, dare I say, fall. Someone will be left holding the bag, and I won't be suprised if it's my neighbor that bought a 600 square foot condo for $480,000. What's going to change it?
What changes market direction? Usually it's something that is outside of people's thinking, but here is the short list: Hurricanes, Cuba changes, sky-rocketing wage costs and inflation, tsunami, global warming, polluted waters, reefs in trouble. Either way, I think this current buy-buy-buy mentality is missing the point of island life. So much for the famous Florida Keys bumper sticker "Slow Down This Ain't The Mainland".

From today's Citizen's Voice:

It's sunset in my marina, and the conchs start to sound. That can only mean one thing: the Snow Parasites are back. Are you ready to wait in traffic, lose your seat and wait for hours to eat in your favorite restaurant? After what we have dealt with this last hurricane season, this year is going to be harder than others to let what we work so hard for be taken away for six months.

For the person who asked about the 1993 TV show 'Key West', go to . It's a site about the show with a lot of info. I wish they would put it on a DVD box set.

I was an extra in 'Key West', the TV show. I played a dancer at the strip club.

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Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Citizen's Voice - Key West's bitch session.

As Hunter S. Thompson said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro" (or something like that). Sometimes I call this place Key Weird. Then again sometimes I call it Key Wasted, Key Greed, and Key Shitfaced. But when it gets strange, I call it Key Weird. Someone once said to me "now and then, it's o.k. to have your own little freak show". This place revels in the off-beat.
A wonderful reflection of the communities character and almost as enjoyable as a fresh grouper fillet is the daily installment of Key West's bitch-session, The Citizen's Voice. This is a column on page two of our local paper The Citizen.
The paper describes it this way: Citizen's Voice is a forum for you to tell us what's on you mind.
Every day, fifteen or so quotes are published from calls and e-mails to the paper's Voice Line. They range from well thought out observations to neighborhood squabbles. Some comments are so inane it's a wonder that the commenter could operate the phone.
Each day I and going to try to pick out a nugget, the best quote or two of the day, and share it with Key West Chronicle readers. Spelling errors in the column are quite common and will not be corrected.

In today's Citizen's Voice:
"A huge motor home with a trailer hauling a golf cart was parked in the free residential parking on United St. At Duval with the generator running. The ticket on the windshield was for $175. They're from South Carolina, will they pay? Why were they allowed to take up the parking spot for two days?"

"I think it is a shame that our government wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars and diverted Homeland Security personnel to the prosecution of two average Key West citizens who had the gumption to organize a sail boat race to Cuba. Trading with a terrorist country? Come on, get real."

"To all the tourists who came for Fantasy Fest, thank you for leaving your money and not your trash."

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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Key West's affordable housing dilemma

Morning of election day on the island. The local paper, The Citizen, reports that eighty percent of locals will vote. For a town as apathetic as Key West, I'm amazed at the turnout. Kerry has the local majority, although except for his stance on stem cells, I don't see the attraction. To be honest, both candidates are milking different sides of the same cow. We are the cow. I'm already wearing my "Zippy the Pinhead for president shirt". "Am I elected yet?"

The local politicians are totally missing the scope of the big problem that they'll face in they win. The entire community of Key West is rapidly changing. For years, property values rose by very small degrees and from low prices. Maybe it was the unusual island life with heat, humidity, mosquito's, and distance from the mainland that kept prices modest. Or maybe the idea that hurricanes would roar across the low-lying island and destroy what was invested. But today that is over with. One cannot buy a home in Old-Town for less than one-half million dollars. That home would be a tiny (under 1000 square feet) cottage sandwiched between neighbors. Want something bigger? Try a million bucks.

The result is feeding upon itself. Ever richer buyers hear of Key West's hot real estate market, meet up with brokers who, as if they could, guarantee that their investment will continue to climb, and buy up everything. A lot of people who have no idea of island life are buying up the homes. Neighborhoods are changing. It used to be that the price of admission to the island was whether you fit in to Key West, not whether you had a bank full of cash.

So the island is losing it's laid-back charm, it's fishing-town feel, and it's live and let live attitude. That's happened to plenty of cool and hip places. Visit NY's Soho and find a neighborhood devoid of the artists that revived the place. But for Key West this can be devastating. In this process of "here comes the neighborhood", the workforce of the island is unable to find affordable housing. Wages in Key West, like the rest of Florida, are typically low. Workers are steadily leaving the Keys leaving employers with permanent Help Wanted ads in the paper. The tourist economy probably needs five-thousand workers for it to function. In the near future, businesses will struggle to survive as the largest component of their costs, labor, becomes a rare, and therefore more expensive, commodity. Without some serious effort by local legislators and those up in Tallahassee, the local economy is doomed.

And why did this happen? It wasn't just the low interest rates. Or that American's tired of the stock market, or that bank have gotten very free with their lending. What is destroying the communities and the future economy of the Keys? It's ROGO: the rate of growth ordinance. In response to the Keys being designated as an area of critical concern, the state created this ordinance to control the number of building permits that can be issued in the county. Obtaining a new building permit is nearly impossible without a large pile of cash and years of patience. As a result, with less supply available, the demand has artificially driven up the price of homes. Actually, it's caused a bit of a feeding frenzy. Bull markets don't end at a point of fair valuation. They usually go well beyond that before correcting. The sad and funny thing is that ROGO does nothing for the environment. It doesn't clean anything up, and it doesn't encourage people to come up with new and innovative ways to build without ruining the environment. All it's done is cause sky-rocketing inflation in the county. The affordable housing issue could be fixed easily. The solution is to build. There is plenty of room. But the powers at be are big property owners. Nothing has made them happier than to see their pockets swell. Can't blame them, but they don't seem to appreciate the scale of the problem that a worker shortage creates. Say goodbye to the tourist economy. The new owners of Key West, the uber-wealthy, are on the way to creating another Aspen.
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