Friday, January 31, 2014

Coon Key

Amongst the exciting islands off the coast of Sarasota - such as Bird Key, Island Park, Siesta Key, Bay Island, Longboat Key, City Island, Otter Key, St. Armand's Key and Lido Key - you'll find Coon Key, a spot so small on the causeway you'll miss it if you blink. Most crossing the bridge over from Bird Key think they're actually on St. Armand's at this point, but sometimes it takes an aerial view to get perspective.

There's not a whole lot going on around this island, unless you have a yacht and I presently don't. There's a couple of deluxe resorts and a private harbour for the yacht club, and that's it. But I never met an island I didn't like, and I enjoy loitering around here and gawking at the seabirds and ships.

Confusingly, there's another Coon Key in Florida. The other one's off the coast of Bayport, FL. Can we just have one island per island name? Please? (There are also a screaming blue gazillion Florida islands called "Bird Key", much to my consternation.)

Kill U

Graffiti spotted on Bird Key.

Is this somebody's alma mater? I attended Whassamatta U. myself.

Island Park

Nestled even further back in the labyrinth of the Sarasota bayfront than Marina Jack's is a huge island that is host to a beautiful park. Maps alternatingly refer to this as either "Bayfront Park" and/or "Island Park", but both of these fall short of satisfying my standards for island nomenclature. Don't just name the island after the park; the island was there first, and like Eliot's cats, has a name of its own whether you know it or not.

I find it a most peaceful place to stroll in the mornings with a cigar, but have also given thought to renting a Segway to scoot around its winding paths.

Marina Jack

When you're driving past the bayfront in Sarasota it can be a bit bewildering, what with all the confusing winding areas of harbors filled with boats and ships. But tucked back deep in there is a restaurant, and a damn fine one - Marina Jack's.

It was pouring rain when I stopped in there yesterday, but happily they have parking right up close to the joint in case you're made of sugar and might melt. I had a grouper sandwich (of course) and an Ocean Blue cocktail made with rum, coconut vodka, pineapple juice and blue curacao. Dee-lish.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Once upon a time, we lived in the veritable lap of the Gods, surrounded by architectural beauty and cultural splendor. One could visit places like the Mel-O-Dee restaurant and sip an ice cold Coca Cola from a green glass bottle while chatting with one's fellow lunch counter enthusiasts about chlorophyll toothpaste, the new Stan Freberg record, and other things literary.

But no more.

Like a television show that was cancelled before its plotline was resolved, the old Mel-O-Dee can still be seen on a Sarasota section of the Tamiami Trail, screaming for help in a zombie world that no longer hears it or recognizes it.

This morning I trotted out to the site where the empty building still stands, just waiting for some modern hotshot developer to purchase it, tear it down, and build condos. It's tempting to make some inquiries on the property for a possible location of my coming-soon-any-day-wait-for-it Tiki Bar, the Pulcova Club, but this is high-demand near-the-waterfront and near-the-airport real estate and the soil it stands on is probably worth more than the structure itself. I wonder if it's too late for some enterprising meddlers to have it declared a historical treasure to spare it from the bulldozers?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Whiskey Stump Key

Among Florida's numerous Sanctuary Islands is Whiskey Stump Key, a charming little spot that was once a secret liquor bootlegging outpost. Back in the bad old days of alcohol prohibition, moonshiners would take boats here to deliver the hooch on demand. Prospective customers would row out to the island, leave money and an empty bottle under a tree stump, and later return to find the bottle filled with moonshine. I suppose if you didn't have a boat, however, you were S.O.L.

According to the Audubon Society, "In a quiet stand of cabbage palms on this natural island stands a monument erected in memory of Dr. H.R. Mills, a Tampa pathologist who was the driving force behind the establishment of the Sanctuary and for many years its strongest supporter." I haven't yet made it out to Whiskey Stump Key, but I'm very interested in seeing this statue and, perhaps more importantly, leaving an empty bottle and a twenty just to see what happens, you know, in the interest of research.

Whiskey Stump Key is not to be confused with Whiskey Key (spelled Whisky Key on Topoquest) which is a little further south near Shell Point, the unimaginitively named Tropical Island, and the puzzlingly-named Negro Island. The origin of Whiskey Key's name probably has the same moonshiner basis; perhaps it's the island where they made the stuff before rowing it over to the stump for delivery.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Miami Minister on UFOs in 1951

From the Palm Beach Daily News, March 20, 1951, we find a squib about Rev. Sidney Davis, a minister in Miami who gave a lecture at the Biltmore Hotel about flying saucers. The gist of it is, there are many UFOs that have crashed on Earth, and that alien technology and dead alien corpses have been recovered in secret by government scientists. Heck, sounds like my kinda preacher; sure beats the usual dry and abstract "on the charity of Dorcas" routines.

Sadly, my efforts to learn more about Rev. Davis haven't been successful. A Google search of his name/his church/Miami brings up that newspaper article and nothing else.

(Note to the poor unfortunate NSA agents who drew the short straw and got stuck with the job of monitoring me and reading everything I write: do a hillbilly a favor and pull up your files on Rev. Davis for me, okay? That would be most appreciated. Besides, you kinda owe me since you've downloaded all my books without paying.)

The Banyan Tree

Since shacking up down here, I've become enamored of those crazy huge trees with a complex web of exposed roots that seem to illogically and impossibly emanate from tree branches, creating Dali-esque crutches and props for them.

They're called Banyan Trees, and they're actually, like lichen, a combination of two different life forms together - the weird extremities are actually what's called Strangler Figs, which are an epiphyte ("air plant") that attaches itself to any given tree and eventually just takes over. I'm perenially interested in life forms like this, such as dodder, Japanese knotweed, bamboo, and the Armillaria fungus.

There are numerous Banyan/Strangler Figs around St. Armand's Key, Siesta Key, Longboat Key, and Sarasota, and I've heard it said that these all spread from thirteen starts that Thomas Edison gifted to John Ringling from Edison's collection on his estate in Ft. Myers. (Newspaper clipping image below from the Lewiston Journal, April 9, 1984.)

Mayport Ferry

When I looked at the Google Map for directions on how to get to Amelia Island from Jacksonville, it showed Highway A1A as a straight line extended across the water. I made the logical presumption that I was seeing the depiction of a bridge or causeway.

So you can imagine when I showed up to Mayport, FL, I was rather pissed off to find that A1A stops dead in its tracks at the water's edge and that you have to drive your car onto a gigantic ferry that takes you across to Fort George Island and beyond on the other side. Then I found out it costs money. And they want exact change. And they don't take plastic. And they only run at very specific times. Furthermore, the palpable Department of Homeland Security presence in the area (because of the adjacent naval base) made the whole place a total drag to be around.

So be warned, kids. Don't do like I done did. Go to Amelia Island the long way 'round.

LeBarge Tropical Cruises

A couple months ago I saw a dazzlingly lit cruise ship go by as I sat watching the sunset on the rocky beach at the dead-end of Shell Road on Siesta Key. I was particularly struck by the fact that it had palm trees on its deck, and made a mental note to seek and find this exciting vessel one day.

Then, day before yesterday, I was loitering around the Sarasota Bayfront with a cigar in one hand and a Starbucks in the other, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but the ship. Interzone has a way of leading you to where you need to be. Now that I know where to find LeBarge Tropical Cruises, you can bet I'll be enlisting their boatly services soon.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Columbia Restaurant

You're probably too young to remember this, but in 1905 the greatest restaurant in the solar system - Columbia Restaurant - was founded in Ybor City. Today it has numerous branch locations around Florida, including St. Augustine, Tampa and Clearwater, but the one nearest and dearest to my heart is on St. Armand's Key. This was the first Columbia's I experienced, so I suppose I've been imprinted on this one.

(Yes, I am a habitual indiscriminate adder of apostrophe-S to places whose names lack them, at will. Sue me.)

If I could choose only one thing to eat for the rest of my life, dear reader, it would be Columbia's Steak Palomilla - and I think it might take a billion years before I began to get bored with it. Maybe two. It's a very holy thing, and words cannot convey the alchemical magic that occurs in this dish, so I won't even try. I'll just say that even if you don't take seriously any other opinion proferred herein on this blog about matters culinary, listen to me on this one. Columbia's is the alpha and omega of Florida foodiedom.

And then there's the drinks. I usually have a pitcher of Mojito or Sangria but sometimes indulge in random stabs like the Absinthe Sazerac (pictured above.) The server sets up a folding table beside you and mixes your drinks (as well as your salads) tableside while you watch. I still remember years ago, watching in awe the first time I ate here, as our server Cecilia squeezed the limes and poured the rum and conjured up a pitcher of Mojito that was more than the sum of its parts. You never forget your first time.

Did I mention that their black bean soup, covered in fresh cut onions, is worthy of being a meal all to itself?

And that their Crema Catalana dessert takes Creme Brulee to a whole new level?

Or that they have their own line of cigars, the mere mention of which has me twitching and jonesing even now? Must cut this short now and step out for a puff by the pool...

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Little Blue Heron

Spotted this lovely Little Blue Heron last week while traisping around the southern edge of Longboat Key.


The Nazi U-boat submarine U-2513 was commissioned on October 12, 1944, as the war was winding down. Its captain surrendered to the allies on May 8, 1945 and it was taken to Oslo, then Ireland, then turned over to the United States where it actually become part of the U.S. Navy fleet.

On November 21, 1946, President Harry S. Truman took a tour of the U-2513 and became the first American President to travel on a submarine. It dove went 440 feet below the surface with the President on board.

The U-boat served the U.S. Navy well, with activity in Florida, New Hampshire, and Virginia.

But then in 1949, something odd happened. The submarine was taken out of service and sat idle in Portsmouth, even though it was still a perfectly fit vessel. In 1951, the Chief of Naval Operations ordered that the boat be sent to Florida - and sunk. And the order came down to specifically junk it in the remotest location of the Florida Keys - a spot northwest of the Dry Tortugas (Coordinates: 24°52.015′N 83°18.594′W).

Due to the sunken ship's extreme depth and remote location, few divers have ever attempted to visit it.

Four Points Sheraton Tallahassee

I develop fixations on certain buildings that call to me for whatever reason; sometimes I manage to go back and figure out what it is about the edifice that restimulates unexplained feelings but mostly I don't bother. The building and I just nod at each other as we pass, and we go about our business.

This building in Louisville is one example, and displayed here is another - the Four Points Sheraton hotel in Tallahassee. Though it's certainly a cool building, there's no real reason for me to perk up and stand at attention when seeing it. But I do.

It was even cooler back in the day, in its original incarnation as a Holiday Inn. You can see a snippet of film footage of it in its glory days here, and a photo of it halfway through its transformation here.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

"Help People Who Need Help"

So there I was, strolling around the San Marco district of Jacksonville enjoying a Tatuaje 10th Anniversary Miami Special cigar (and thanks to the awesome power of Twitter, I can look back and discern that the exact day was September 22, 2013, because the file clerk in my head tends to vividly recall things in terms of what cigars I enjoyed that day, thanks to the even awesomer power of para-mnemonic synapse-twinning whole-track flashbulb-memory.)

Anyway. I saw this crudely-crayonned sign taped to a telephone pole, but taped to the very bottom of the pole as if a child had put it there. But the sign was clearly made by an adult, though trying to ape that childlike style that adults so often attempt but almost always ends in a boatload of fail. But there it is, your honor.

Oh yeah, and there's a playing card with a photo of a cat sleeping in a hammock.

What does it mean?

Spaghetti the Clown

You just never know what you're going to encounter walking the streets of Interzone. I rounded a corner on St. Armand's Key recently and came face to red-nosed face with none other than Spaghetti the Clown. He was performing some sort of routine in which he would hurl stuff up in the air via a rope, and then catch it again via the rope. Sounds boring when I tell it that way - and in fact you know it sort of is - but I had to admit there was serious hand-to-eye coordination going on here. He may be a clown but he gots mad skillz.

I did a little Googling when I got home, though, and learned that this is no mere clown-come-lately: his real name is Marcelo Perez Trascasa, and he's apparently quite a beloved fixture in Florida's formidable circus scene. Though I am a coulrophobe at heart, I found Spaghetti's act much easier to confront than Grandma the Clown, to say nothing of Grillo the Clown.

The Everglades Pizza

I'm boring as hell when it comes to pizza; pepperoni's good enough for me. If I'm feeling frisky, maybe Canadian bacon. But I admit I am tempted to head down to Evan's Neighborhood Pizza in Ft. Myers and score me one of their "Everglades Pizzas" that contain frog, alligator, swamp cabbage, and python.

According to WPXI:

Daniell estimates he has sold about 150 of the pizzas the last two years. That's not too bad considering the price, a medium 14-inch Everglades pie goes for $45. That's because python meat can cost about $66 per pound. Daniell reportedly has considered creating a "roadkill" pizza, which would include raccoon, armadillo and possum but has had trouble finding a supplier for the specialty meats.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Palm Island Chupacabra Sculpture

So maybe it's not a Chupacabra and maybe it's a rabbit and maybe it's something else entirely, but this bizarre sculpture in somebody's front yard on Palm Island never fails to catch my eye.

I don't even know what's it's sculpted from - it looks sort of like fungus-encrusted tree stump and sort of like papier-mache. One of these days I'm going to have to just knock on their door and ask.

Islands Without Names

Sitting recently on the patio at one of my new favorite restaurants, the Casey Key Fish House, I stared out at the island you see pictured above. Curious about what it was, I made a mental note to look for it on the map when I got home. It shouldn't have surprised me to find that Google Maps listed no name for this island - they don't know the names of most of the islands out there. But when I went to Flash Earth - which usually is an excellent resource for determining the nomenclature of even some of the tiniest sandbars - I got nothing.

This will not do.

As I've ranted elsewhere in this venue, I simply cannot abide unnamed islands. Most of the thousands of Florida islands, if you believe the maps, aren't named - but way back in the days of old when ships were bold just like the men who sailed them, I am certain that every freakin' teensy-tiny key, isle, islet, atoll, archipelago and half-sunken sandbar had some sort of name assigned to it. Sailors had their own names for them which varied from man to man, and locals had their own names for them too. And if you want to go all the way back, the indigenous tribes who were here first undoubtedly had a name for each of them. It's up to someone to slog through the dusty old records of the past, glean this data, and drag it back to present time.

And of course, that someone is probably going to have to be me.

Raccoons of Lido Key

Last week while sitting in my car on the southern end of Lido Key plotting my next move, several different raccoons scampered out of the woodwork. They're apparently quite familiar with the ways of humans - most of whom have probably been feeding the raccoons - because the moment they heard the sound of my car windows rolling down, they came a-runnin'. I had to quickly roll the windows back up or they most certainly would have climbed in to greet me.