Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Round And Round And Round She Goes, Where She'll Stop Nobody Knows

No, the Burger King in North Miami isn't about to compete with the Seminole and Miccosukee Indian casinos. Damn! Now that would make life exciting, wouldn't it? The North Miami Casino! No more property taxes!

The real story is that this was at the grand re-opening of the Burger King which Magic Johnson had recently purchased and renovated. There was no gambling involved. It was just a gimmick for giving out stuff to the kids. I got a really cool black T-shirt! Scroll down and see me in my T-shirt and see Magic Johnson posing with some of the locals.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

If Only It Had Been Built With Dade County Pine

I recently had the house repainted and that also required replacing some termite damaged wood around the eaves. Years ago, before my house was constructed back in 1949, a favored wood in south Florida was Dade county pine. Found only in the very southern end of the state of Florida this species of pine is extremely hard. It was cut a milled while still green so it wouldn't wear out the saw blades so rapidly, and then when it was nailed in place, also while still green, the wood would shrink a bit as it dried, tightening its grip around the nails. This resulted in a very hurricane proof structure.

The other big advantage of Dade County pine is that termites have way too much sense to try to eat the stuff. I have no idea if they like the flavor or not, but they tend to go after wood that's easy to chew. This wood isn't! Instead they find houses like mine and have a feast. Every eight to ten years the exterminator comes and tents the house, filling it with poison gas to kill all the termites. A few weeks after that happened I had Roy Taylor and his crew over to replace any damaged wood and paint the house. In this photograph one of them is nailing some new wood into place. Now I'm termite free and the house looks great again.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Mornings Are Different

Most mornings find me hunched over a cup of coffee, cigarette in hand, Miami Herald in front of me, trying to catch up on the news. Some days it works. I get to read the paper undisturbed. Some days I'm joined by one (or two) of 3 or 4 guys in my age range. One of them rides his bike over there and always buys a New York Times. He thinks that the Miami Herald is way too liberal, so we have a bit of leeway for getting into a good discussion. One of the other guys is from Austria and has a bit of an accent. He's either going to or coming from the tennis courts, or complaining that it's too windy to play, or it's supposed to rain. He lives for his tennis. Still, he's a good conversationalist and very up on international current events, as well as the history behind them. The third gentleman has a sign shop towards the other end of the strip mall. I've never been there.

Only the bike rider, a health nut in his 70's, doesn't smoke, but he puts up with us if we sit downwind. The Austrian doesn't stop smoking. Puts one out, lights the next! I guess that I really don't smoke that much because it's such a hassle to roll one each time. It also seems to solve the problem of others bumming a smoke when you then hand them the tobacco pouch. There is one pretty blonde lady, however, who occasionally asks me to roll one for her. Maybe its the pheremones in my saliva? Maybe some day I'll get lucky enough to find out. :-)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Love At First Whiff ~ A Dancing Dog Relaxes

If I'm already at Starbucks when Gloria arrrives this little dog leaps out of her purse. She bounds across the patio until she's maybe ten feet away, and then gets up on her hind legs to strut the rest of the way. Sometimes she does a few piroettes to get my attention, and then she needs help to get in my lap. We sniff one anothers' noses and I get my face licked. That dog is in love! Other times the dog is there first and yips with joy until I kneel down, tickle her chin, and ask her permission to go get some coffee. She gets this really sad look on that cute little face until a come back outside a few minutes later.

What I really love are the photographs of the two of us. We both have mops of unruly and unkempt hair, and some white whiskers on our chins. For the last few weeks nobody has seen Gloria or her dog, though, or knows where they might have gone.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

It Was Supposed To Have Been a Golf Course

For a few brief years people were expecting a golf course where there was only a mangrove swamp east of Biscane Blvd. and south of 163rd St., just to the north of North Miami. The area was known as the Graves Tract. When local civic activists discovered that the land was about to be sold to some developers who planned on building hi-rise condos on the site they succeeded in rallying the citizens of North Miami to save the Graves Tract and the scenic Oleta River which winds its way through it to Biscayne Bay. The city passed a bond issue to raise part of the $12,000,000 to buy the land, lobbied the state to come up with the rest, and annexed it into the city. The state built the North Campus of Florida International University on their parcel, an area that had already been filled in.

The city contracted with a company called Munisport to build a golf course on part of the property. Munisport promised to save the city millions by operating a garbage dump there for several years to build up the elevation of the land. Of course that polluted the ground water and the golf course never progressed beyond about 6 holes before the Environmental Protection Agency shut things down. The city was stuck with paying off the bond issue. Monitoring wells were installed to keep track of the pollution. Finally, after close to thirty years the city got the all clear. The land was safe to use.

The golf course was a dead issue. Munisport was just memories. Instead, another developer came along with a really brilliant idea: Hi-Rise Condominiums! Well, what did you expect? What's really amazing is that while $12,000,000 seemed like a major fortune a few decades ago, today it'll barely buy a couple of penthouse condos. Small change! Maybe half of the mangrove swamp is now a protected preserve. Along Biscayne Blvd. in front of where the condos are being built are some new shops and a Publix supermarket. That's where I'm sitting while waiting for Mary to finish her grocery shopping.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Rising Tide Of Foam In Front Of The Starbucks Coffee Shop

When they built this strip mall a couple of years ago they also built this nice fountain right on the corner, in front of the Starbucks Coffee Shop that I frequent the most. I'm really kind of amazed (and dissapointed?) that it took the current generation of neighborhood kids that long to discover what happens when you dump a box of laundry detergent into a fountain, with all the running, splashing, aerated water!

Back in 1976, the Bicentennial Year commemorating two hundred years since our country's founding, the City of North Miami built and dedicated a Bicentenial Fountain in the heart of downtown North Miami. I don't think that it took but a couple of weeks before soap suds were spilling out into the intesection of West Dixie Highway, N.E. 6th Ave., and 125th Street. Almost as quickly as the city employees would clean up the mess, drain and refill the pool with clean water, and get the pump turned on, some enterprising youngster would blow his lunch money on another box of Tide. After a year or so of municipal frustration the fountain was turned off, but the monument remains. And the kids? The current crop doesn't have the slightest clue what "bicentennial" means.

A few years ago the city built another fountain as part of the front of our new art museum. I think that the salvation of that fountain is the fact that the new police station is right next door to the art museum, probably less than fifty feet away. On the other hand the art museum fountain is only about one hundred feet away from the new downtown Starbucks Coffee Shop. Some people frequent both and just might have noticed that big mess of suds, walk the block to the President Supermarket, and check out the price of Tide.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Fuji 200 or Kodak Gold 200 Film? ...And Why

I was already planning on writing about why I like using Fuji 200 or Kodak Gold 200 but strange things are happening! I received an Email from Jairy C. Hunter of Charleston, SC this morning asking that exact same question. Here's my reply to the Email:

Hey Jairy,

Odd that you picked that as a question today because I was thinking about writing about that in the blog - which film and why. The recent color stuff has all been on Fuji 200 or Kodacolor Gold 200, bought mostly on sale at K-Mart or Walgreens, hopefully a 4 roll pack of 24's for $5.99 or $6.99.

In the beginning we were doing scans off the 4x6 prints, but more recently I've been getting a disc burned when the film is souped. The local Walgreens is my "custom pro lab"...LOL. My friend Todd Frederick is much better at playing computer jock with Photoshop than I'll ever be so he takes it from there, determining final color balance. I'm half color blind anyway.

Pro color negative films generaly have less contrast and the colors aren't as "punchy". Also they're designed for daylight and electronic flash. The amateur films seem to handle mixed light sources much better. Tungsten, sodium vapor street lights, all kinds of flourescents, daylight, electronic flash, and mixtures of them because most people don't even realize that there's any difference.

So that's the secret - cheap Kodak or Fuji ISO 200 film, which I usually rate at about 125, but sometimes in long scale situations the shadows are borderline underexposed. The color balance that Todd comes up with, whether off a scanned print or Walgreens CD pretty much matches the print that the Fuji machine produces.

Actually, I'm thinking about just running your querry with this letter as the text with the Walgreens picture on the blog. [and I did]



Wednesday, February 21, 2007

That Old Leica M2 Camera

For the past couple of years, since I've mostly been walking around with the 15mm Heliar lens with its 110 degree angle of view I've been using it on a lightweight Voigtlander Bessa L but every once in awhile I have a partial roll in one of my Leica camera bodies that I want to finish. I stick a thread mount to Leica M adapter on the Heliar and I'm good to go. This was one of those days.

I looked across the parking lot as I came out of Wallgreens and noticed this van. Even though I'd been to both my neurologist and my family doctor within the last few weeks I had some time to kill so what the hell! I went in and got checked out again. All my vital signs were normal, they made the usual remarks about my mop of thick hardly grey hair, assured me that if only I gave up smoking I'd live forever, and sent me on my way.

I managed to shoot a few frames inside too, while I was being checked out. The Leica M2 worked flawlessly. I'm always amazed at the build quality of those things. I first saw it at Brownes Photo Center way back when it was located at N.W. 79th St. and 22nd Ave. An Associated Press photographer was buying it to use at the Mexico City Olympics, and it was maybe ten years old at that time. A few years later he traded it in and a woman who shot for the paper bought it to cover the Democratic and Republican conventions which were both held at the Miami Beach convention center. She dropped it and delaminated the main prism in the finder. The finder was black! You couldn't see a thing through it, but the rest of that old Leica M2 functioned great. I bought it really cheap! I stuck it on a Visoflex II, a reflex housing that converted a Leica camera into a single lens reflex for close-up and telephoto work.

After a few years it was in need of a tune-up, and while it was getting cleaned and lubed I had the finder fixed. Since then it's seen continual use photographing everything from President Jimmy Carter to my kids playing at the park. This day it was sporting a lens not even dreamed of back when I bought it. What I did discover though, is that the Leica M2, being a much heavier camera than the Bessa L, is not as easy to hold out there at arm's length! One handed winding and release is no problem. The fifty year old camera will probably still be taking pictures fifty years from now, as good as new. I hope that nurse was right about my living forever. I'd love to be the one still using it on its one hundred year anniversary.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Catch A Ride To The End Of The Highway..........SCOTT GALVIN

For somebody with political ambitions you might figure that getting elected president is "the end of the highway" but my friend Scott Galvin is quite content at this point to be running for re-election for his seat on the North Miami City Council. Elections are coming up in May and his campaign is just starting to shape up, but it's time to get out there, be visible, get on TV, whatever it takes to make himself appear invinceable and unbeatable. It's a lot easier to just be riding back into office with no competition than it is to mount a full campaign. Scare off the competition! Nip it in the bud.

So Magic Johnson was in town for the grand reopening of the Burger King he'd purchased and the TV cameras and radio and newspaper reporters were on hand. That's Scott in the white shirt and blue tie, complete with a big (but sincere) grin on his face as he stands just to the right of Magic in this picture. Time to start getting his face out there and his name in the paper. Not to mention being featured in The Price of Silver!

There are a few other shots from the event, along with more information about it if you scroll down a bit. If you live in North Miami Scott Galvin would appreciate your vote. Thanks.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Musical Tastes, Sunny Faces

I was at the grand re-opening of Magic Johnson's newly purchased and renovated Burger King here in North Miami and the event was being covered by a couple of TV crews and WEDR-FM radio's 99 JAMZ van, which was also supplying a bit of music for the occasion. I liked the way they'd gone to all the trouble to paint the van to go so nicely with the T-shirt that they'd given me. Even more striking was just how much the rays of the sun in the picture resembled my hair and my beard radiating out from my face.

The cheerful look on my face was due to my eager anticipation of some good loud rap and hip hop music, but what with the mayor and half of city hall over there that never materialized. Oh, the music was there alright, but the decibles weren't. Actually I had a pretty good time!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Long Day's Night - After The Camera Show

Photo Copyright (C)2007 James Mitchell

For years I've been going to the annual camera show at the North Miami Armory. It's more like a photographic flea market, really. Everything from beat up old lens hoods to filters that fit God only knows what lens, junker cameras only good for parts or props to pristine examples of rare Leica models complete with original box, intruction book and papers. Dozens of dealers set up on tables in rows throughout the armory. Two things set this show apart from past ones for me.

The first thing was that they moved it from the armory six blocks west of my house to one on 28th St. and 7th Ave. just north of downtown Miami. It was no longer just a pleasant walk to check it out. The other difference is that my friend James Mitchell was in Miami on a business trip. He'd been wanting to come to one of these shows for a long time. Now he could!

After we'd gone around looking at all the tables, admiring things we couldn't afford and/or didn't need, we went out for a late lunch and came back to my house. I figured that while James was checking his Email I'd grab a few winks on the sofa, but it seems James shot a few frames of me while I dozed. Today he Emailed me this photo shortly after he got back to Washington. Thanks, James!

And what did I buy at the show? I picked up a few fabric neck straps for a buck apiece because Todd asked me to look for some for him. There was one dealer with tons of darkroom odds and ends. He had several items I would have grabbed had the prices been in line with reality, but no way will I pay more for a used item than I can easily get it for brand new.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Magic Johnson Arriving To Check Out His Burger King

Here's Magic Johnson arriving for the grand-reopening of his Burger King in North Miami. (Scroll down for more pix and the story.)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Havin' It My Way? It's Magic!

There's a Burger King a few blocks away, about half way between my house and North Miami Senior High, that had been poorly maintained by the previous franchisee and then it closed down. I guess it was shuttered up for a couple of years until Magic Johnson bought the franchise. He soon had the place renovated and looking spiffy once again.

The occasion for these photographs was the Grand Reopening a few weeks ago. I figured that it'd be a good opportunity for me to get in a picture or two with Magic and see a bunch of people I know. It seems that half of City Hall was over there at one point or another. Oddly enough it didn't seem to attract much in the way of teenagers from the high school, but then most of the happening was while school was still in session.

They gave out T-shirts. The guys got black ones printed "Meet Me At Burger King. It's Going Down." The chicks got red ones saying "Have It Your Way". It was a warm Florida day with the temperature in the upper 80's, but I put on the T over my fishing shirt anyway, to stay in the spirit of things. Rahema Golding is a city employee. She either had more sense than I had or was afraid that she'd mess up her 'do putting on her shirt, so she just held it up in front of her and gave me that self-concious but shy little smile of hers. It's girls like her that make me wish I was thirty years younger!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Crossroads, Where Cultures Have Mingled For Five Hundred Years

Across U.S. Route 1 from Starbucks is an oak grove along the banks of the north branch of Arch Creek. It was settled by the Tequesta Indians thousands of years ago, and it was one of the places visited by Spanish explorers in the 1500's. The area is now protected as a park. Half of it is a North Miami park while the other half is a state park, a strange way of doing it but it worked! It's not covered by condos which otherwise would have been its fate. Very few people today know anything about the history of the area, and they probably don't much care either.

The creek was a good source of fresh water, and there was a small settlement there in the 1800's with some of the land cleared for farming. Old Dixie Highway, the original U.S. 1, was just to the west of today's U.S. 1. It was a narrow two lane road winding through the woods and going over Natural Bridge. The bridge over the creek was created by water eroding its way through the rock. Today cars go zipping by here at fifty miles per hour along a divided six lane highway on a new bridge. The Tequestas are long gone but the sound of Spanish has returned again, joined by Russian, French, German, Kreyole, Yiddish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and half a dozen other languages besides English.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

What Would You Do If I Sang Out Of Tune...

Actually, it wasn't my singing that concerned me that morning. I've never been able to carry a tune. I was here because I felt out of tune. Time to see the doctor. The place looks a bit ominous under the leaden skies, the near side in shadow from the light of the early morning sun coming from behind. Even the parking lot looked darker than usual, still wet from the last light shower which left a few tiny puddles behind as it moved off towards the east.

This little medical building is where Larry has his office. On my right is a McDonalds, and I was tempted to run in for a quick breakfast but I had the first appointment, and that was just a few minutes away. A few posts down are some photos of me in the office, but I decided an outside shot would be good to have also.

From high school until about twenty years ago I had the same doctor, but he retired. I tried the doctor that took over his practice but it wasn't a comfortable fit. Then for a few years I went to Claudia's doctor, then he too retired. Why choose this doctor? His office is around the corner from Vivette's house. She and I were together for about ten years and I was at her house much more than mine. I met him, I liked him, we hit it off. Now I'm at the age where most of the doctors I know are about my age, with many younger.

Larry and I are about the same age. I have hair, he doesn't. I'm tall, he's not. It doesn't bother him when I question his decisions, tell him what I read in a medical journal, or inquire about some new medicine that he didn't prescribe. He's cool when I tell him that the medicine is "just what the doctor ordered" but I find I'm getting less side effects with a sightly smaller dose while the stuff is still doing what it's supposed to do. Then I'll get the usual lecture about my borderline bad cholesterol (but the good cholesterol is OK), and even though my lungs are clear and my heart sounds great I should give up smoking. So I go outside, light up, and head back across the parking lot for an Egg McMuffin and another cup of coffee. Then I feel better!

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Perspective Of Solitude

I started the blog simply to document my life and my photography, but to some extent it's morphed mostly into a collection of environmental self-portraits. The majority of them are taken with that fantastic little 15mm Heliar lens with its 110 degree angle of coverage. In my earlier work I made an attemp to keep the camera level to minimize the distortion but lately I've been shooting from various viewpoints with a tilted camera, and that causes the sharply converging lines and the appearance of the buildings leaning in impossible directions.

Now I can achieve effects that I could only imagine forty years ago when I bought a 19mm Canon lens for my Leicas, the widest rectilinear lens then available. Over the years I've tried using fish-eye lenses but the curved rendition always looked too artificial, too impossible. With this lens the rendition is more like an odd cockeyed view of reality rather than the unreality of fish-eye lenses.

So here I am on the terrace outside of Starbucks, my coffee cup on the left, one umbrella appearing to shade the cup while the other seems to be over my head. They're really perhaps ten feet behind me. In the far distance, but only another ten feet in reality, two college students sit by themselves studying. The illusion of distance caused by the wide angle perspective accentuates the feeling of apartness, increasing the space seperating those of us sitting there. Everybody is alone.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Another Slant On Life

I love the perspective I get from the use of extreme wide angle lenses. Walls and buildings at crazy angles appear to be falling over while strong diagonals define the composition. Most times I attempt to keep the camera level but sometimes it's fun to have the camera itself at an angle. It creates an interest and a tension that would otherwise be lacking.

A couple of years ago I'd see this couple at Starbucks just about everyday, always together. He was in his wheelchair and seemed to get around just fine. We had a nodding relationship where we'd exchange a few pleasantries about the weather or the election or such, but by and large they kept to themselves. I never did find out their names although I suppose I might have asked. Nor did I ever find out if they worked together, were just good friends, or had a romantic relationship, perhaps even a marriage. They were as much a regular fixture there as I was. Then one day I realized that it had been at least a week since I'd last seen them. I haven't seen them since. I'll probably never see them again. There's a Zen saying to the effect that people are like little birds who come and visit your windowsill and then they're gone.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Way Others See Me

I've been walking around this town about forever it seems, always carrying a camera or two, and often taking pictures like it's as normal a thing to do as scratching an itch. I guess that sets people at ease, and I usually won't miss a beat in the conversation. On the rare occasion when I'm taking photos of somebody new, and they ask why, my standard reply is something like "Taking pictures? Who's taking pictures? There's no camera here. I'm not taking pictures! Do YOU see a camera? It's all your imagination..." Anyway, it seems to work and I keep right on snapping away.

For several years my carry-everyplace camera was the little Leica CL. That's the one in front of my face. After I bought the Bessa L with that ultra-wide 15mm lens gradually I started to carry that everyplace and eventually stopped taking the Leica CL every time I went out. I loved the way I could get in the pictures myself while operating the camera in one outstretched hand. Either hand will do. Well, on this particular day I got the brilliant idea of taking both cameras with me. I wanted to get a shot of myself shooting with the CL. I was actually chatting with someone on the patio at Starbucks while photographing myself with the Bessa and photographing them with the CL.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Rainy Daze

We'd had day after day of rain. Not heavy downpours, but enough to keep the grass growing during the unseasonably warm and wet winter, even leaving a puddle or two on the street. I'd planned on mowing that morning but the sky was leaden with more rain and the already wet grass is difficult to mow, constantly clogging the mower. I decided it could wait.

The sign on the fence is to announce that I'm participating in a city program to fix up houses at no cost to the homeowners if you jump through the right hoops (or even know that the hoops are there). I think it's using state grant money, but I can get rotten wood replaced and get the house pressure cleaned, sealed, and two coats of first quality paint put on at essentially no cost to me as long as I stay there for seven more years as my primary residence and don't sell it. If I sell before the time is up it's pro-rated and due at closing. At this point I'd just had the house tented for termites, a Florida ritual every eight or ten years. A similar program will let me get the roof reshingled. It doesn't leak but the tabs on a number of shingles got broken off from hurricane winds in the last few years. It seems like there are a lot of programs that you suddenly qualify for once you can claim that Social Security is your main source of income.

A few days later the weather dried up, I mowed the lawn, the house was pressure cleaned, the rotted wood around the eaves and soffit removed, and some of it was replaced as some other guys rolled on the first coat of paint. Then the rains returned. The entire job was supposed to be completed this week. Oh well, maybe next week.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Matters Of The Heart

They always lead you into the examination room like 15 minutes before they know the doc will be ready to see you so you can get properly chilled. It's always cold. The nurse had weighed me (I'd lost 2 pounds), said my pulse and blood pressure were at the low end of the normal range for a guy my age, and with a "The doctor will be right in to see you" left me to sit and stare at the walls for 15 minutes. It was time for my quarterly check-up!

Larry came in after awhile looking at the charts in his hand and we exchanged the usual pleasantries. He sniffed the air near me and said "you're still smoking, aren't you? You need to stop, it's not good for you!" He asked if I had started the anti-depressants again because I didn't appear depressed. We joked about the last time he'd asked that, maybe a year ago, and I replied that maybe it was because a good looking 24 year old had told me how much she liked older men and we'd been seeing one another for awhile. Then we joked about whether my unruly mop of hair was due to dating young chicks (I don't usually do that) or my pack a day habit. He'd told me to "Enjoy the ride! It won't last!" He was right, but it was a fun few weeks.

I told him about Dawn and how she was only about ten years younger, not forty. Still, Dawn seems quite capable of keeping my depression at bay. A quick vision check, and after listening to my heart and lungs he pronounced me in great health. Everything was within specs and sounded clear, heart and lungs both. We could put off extensive "blood work" until the next go 'round. I told him about my new grandaughter and we said our goodbyes. It was nice and warm out in the parking lot.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Day To Forget...

I wasn't looking for a cat a few years ago but Melissa, a friend of a friend was looking for a place to stay for a few months, and she had an elderly but loving cat. We worked out an arrangement which seemed good at the time. She'd "keep house", do all the cooking, and kick in some money towards expenses. The cat would have a place to live and I'd get to enjoy the culinary expertise of a real honest to goodness gourmet chef, which is what my new room mate did for a living.

Every night after we were all asleep Baby, the cat, would quietly get up off of her bed and come in to my room. Then she'd curl up on my pillow next to my head and fall back asleep. Needless to say this didn't go over too well with the woman, and when she moved on to other pastures she said that maybe I should just keep Baby. "She loves you more than she loves me!" Every few months I get a "how's Baby doing?" call.

A few days ago Baby started acting strange. On the one hand she seemed a bit lethargic, but on the other hand she seemed to crave more pettting and attention than usual. Then she started staying out all night. She'd be mewing for food as soon as she heard me up and about, but she was out all night. Her walk became a bit unsteady and I made an appointment with the vet for this morning, explaining to the office that was dependant on my finding Baby either last night or this morning. Claudia borrowed a cat carrier for me to use and it was by the front door all ready for Baby. Last night she didn't show but early this morning I heard her on the back porch. There was no sign of her when I got up an hour or so later. For some reason I opened the porch door and looked out at the yard. Baby was laying on her side in the grass about ten feet away, motionless. She didn't react to either my presence or my calling her name. Baby had died. It was just as well that I got to sit alone tonight, sipping my coffee, thinking about the good times I'd had with Baby, the fun times. Thinking about what I'd tell Melissa the next time she called...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Disaster Of Vigilance

Here we are at the board table in the back of the North Miami City Council chambers some twenty minutes after the Disaster Preparedness Board meeting was scheduled to begin. I don't think that it helps much that the meeting is scheduled mid afternoon on a weekday. That makes it kind of hard to get members to show up.

Myrna, the lady with the red hair, chairs the board. She's one of those people that are involved with several city boards and is active in the North Miami Chamber of Commerce and the Mayor's Economic Task Force as well. She and I arrived with time to spare. I brought my cup of Starbucks coffee with me. Now there's a new Starbucks right across the street from city hall. Life is good...LOL

Anyway, what we're supposed to be talking about is things like hurricane preparedness, how to best evacuate people from near coastal and low lying flood prone areas of the city, getting Florida Power & Light to upgrade their tree trimming schedule so we're less likely to lose power due to downed wires, that sort of thing. FP&L just agreed to a more agressive trimming schedule, not all we asked for but much better than what was happening in the past. I brought up the elevator situation in city hall. There is a back-up generator but only one elevator. Elevators have been known to break. I must be the only one left in town that remembers when they built the building, four stories plus basement, back in the 1960's. Only the first two floors were finished and being used in the beginning. A second elevator shaft was incorporated into the building so a second elevator could be added later, but never was. I brought it up at the meeting, and even city staff seemed unaware that the second shaft was there hidden behind walls on every floor.

Well, now every nook and cranny in the building is full of occupied offices, all five floors, and I pointed out that someone in a wheelchair wouldn't be all that easy to get up from the basement or down from the fourth floor in case of an emergency. For that matter, the existing elevator is too small for the paramedics to get a gurney into it. Our city hall doesn't conform to our current building code! Hopefully now something will get done about it. After it's been "studied", "researched", and gone through a comittee or three of course. I've brought this up a time or two in the past, but nobody seems to remember a thing about it. Welcome to government...

Monday, February 05, 2007

I HATE Shopping!

This was shortly before not last Christmas, but the Christmas before. The roads were full of winter tourists (this is Miami) and the parking lots were crowded enough that I'd just pull into the first empty slot and hike to the mall or where ever. Otherwise it was drive around and around trying to beat somebody else to a space that would turn out to have a single motorcycle parked smack dab in the middle!

When I was a little kid growing up in New Bedford, Massachusetts during and right after World War II Saturday shopping was a weekly ritual. My mom and I would take the bus downtown and back, although sometimes in nice weather we'd walk the mile or so as long as my mom didn't have too much to carry. A couple of boring hours would be spent in the beauty pahlah (nobody there pronounces their "R's"). It was before the days of television. If I was lucky there'd be another kid there. On rare occasions we'd visit one of the five-and-tens, Woolworth or Kresge, and I'd have a new toy to play with. Mostly it was just tagging along to a couple of departent stores, visiting the milliner (ladies hat shop) perhaps, a shoe store and a dress shop or two. Just thrilling, absolutely thrilling for a pre-shool little boy.

The whole experience is so different now. Malls have replaced downtowns, about every store is part of a national chain, and credit cards rule the world. Everybody has a car. Sometimes I think that buses exist only to keep the bus drivers employed. Back then most people I knew didn't have but one telephone in the entire house, if they were lucky enough to have one at all. Now it seems that every kid in middle school has a cell. They don't talk to one another in groups. They talk to one another via phone. Here I am trying to figure out what to buy for whom, and I can't wait to get out of there!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Last Full Service Gas Station

I've been buying gas here probably for over 25 years. It's on the corner next to the little strip of shops where Claudia had her antique shop. It used to be a Mobil station, and it's still the kind of place where you can get an oil change or a tail light bulb replaced. If it's a major repair he'll tell you whether or not he thinks he can do it. What's unique is that it's still the kind of place where they'll pump the gas for you.

You never know exactly what brand you're buying. Like many of us customers he "shops price" too and buys from the cheapest supplier. He also has a large selection of strange cigarette brands mostly from Colombia, like a lot of the shops do around North Miami. Instead of several dollars a pack they range from maybe $1.30 to $2.00.

I usually buy gas when I take Mary grocery shopping since it's conveniently located between the Publix supermarket and the Walgreens drugstore. One day a couple of years ago when I was alone he asked where "the old lady was" with a touch of concern in his voice. "Is she OK"? I assured him that she was fine and I'd spoken to her that morning. Then he wanted to know if she was my mother or perhaps my aunt. I explained that no, we weren't related in any way, but that I'd known her for over twenty-five years, and her eyesight was failing so she could no longer drive. Since she had no relatives down here (and she never had any children) I took her shopping and to the doctor. I told him that taking cabs was more than she could afford and waiting for a bus in the Florida sun (or rain) was no fun.

The next time I stopped there with Mary she wanted three packs of cigarettes and she handed him him a five dollar bill expecting a few cents change. Instead he handed her five packs. A buck a pack including 7% tax! He and his daughter and father always ask how "the old lady" is doing. When she's not with me he asks if she needs cigarettes and gives them to me for the same low price. On more than one occasion he's remarked how nice it is of me to take her shopping when we're not even related. He's pretty nice himself!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

...On The Highway To Hell ~ Another Trip

As young toy monkeys go Monkette is the adventurous sort. When Monkey flew out to San Francisco last year at the invitation of my friend Todd Frederick THAT was an adventure for sure. He's 62 years old and has done very little travelling. Seeing the sights in San Francisco, going to the San Francisco Zoo to see the gorillas, looking at the Golden Gate Bridge, are all things that most toy monkeys only dream of doing. No, Todd made sure that the trip was that once in a lifetime experience that Monkey would always remember!

He even got his ear pierced and now wears a gold earing! But the biggest suprise was when I met him at the Post Office here in North Miami (he travels via Priority Mail). I opened his box and discovered him locked in an amorous embrace with this little hussy, Monkette. Oh, well. They both seemed to enjoy one another's company. Todd told me that she was free to decide if she wanted to make the move permanent, although she'd also be welcome back if the Miami life was too unexciting for her tastes. I assured her that no, it wasn't really a requirement to learn Spanish or Kreyole to survive here. My ex, Claudia, told Monkette how she copes with store clerks that just assume that everybody speaks Spanish ~ you just answer them in German like you just assume that everyone speaks German. Monkette caught on quickly and now replies with a high pitched chatter that nobody can comprehend. Works like a charm!

On one of our frequent jaunts to show her around town we stopped off at an Independance Day celebration by city hall. She met a bunch of city officials, had a great time, and got an American flag out of the deal. In this photo we were already stuffed full of hot dogs and bananas and heading back to the house. She couldn't wait to tell Monkey about all the fun she'd had! Still, while she seems content to live with Monkey, I never hear any mention of wedding plans. They keep trying to explain to me that it's a cultural thing, that monkeys aren't really sinning when they "live in sin" so it isn't really sin, that they won't go to hell after all. Sounds good to me!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Every week I take Mary to the supermarket. This shot was about 18 months ago. She had to give up driving a couple of years ago. Her cataracts were getting too bad, her vision failing, and she decided she'd be a lot less dangerous to others if she just sold her car and started bumming rides. She's 84 now.

When she first retired and closed her antique shop about twenty years ago she sold her house and moved back to Pittsburgh, PA where she still has family, but after freezing for a couple of winters she came back to Florida and lives in a rental trailer with her little dog and way too many cats. Last week she told me that she decided to move back to Pittsburgh again. Now I'm going to have to plan trips to pick up groceries! I've really gotten used to just picking up what I need while she's doing her shopping.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Black Magic Women ~ The Pharmacy

Not all that long ago a person would become a pharmacist and they'd own their own drugstore, complete with lunch counter/soda fountain and a huge selection of magazines, comic books, and out of town newspapers. Now it seems like all the drugstores in Florida are either owned by CVS or Walgreens and all the pharmacists are on salary. It seems that there's always at least one drugstore nearby that's open twenty-four hours a day seven days a week, and rather than compounding your 'script from chemicals, like in the old days, they're just counting pills and typing a label.

If they know you they'll remark "Oh, the Suchandsuch you've been taking didn't work? Well I hear that this new stuff has less side effects anyway!" but it's$3.60 a tablet and the other was only $1.20. They never tell you that it'd be cheaper to buy the 50mg pill and simply break it into two 25mg pieces. The pill is already scored to break in two. No, the whole process, the entire industry, is based on Black Magic to guarantee that a fool and his money are soon parted.

So why is it that when I was a kid coming in to get some magic new drug the pharmacist would tell me to get a Coke or maybe read a comic book because he "needed a few minutes". Now you give them the prescription and get your head chewed off for not calling it in first, especially a refill, and they tell you to "stop back in a couple of hours. It should be ready then". It won't be, but that's a ploy to get you to aimlessly wander the aisles for another half an hour and find a bunch of junk that you neither needed nor had any intention of buying today. When your prescription is finally ready they look at your basket full of "not neededs" and say "Oh, I can ring that up for you here so you don't have to go through that big line by the door!" and they make you feel like they did you a big favor.