Tuesday 20 FEB 2018 – Outside of No Name Harbor, Biscayne Bay, FL
We are anchored again at the southwest tip of Key Biscayne just outside of No Name Harbor at Bill Baggs State Park. I was going to complain that the Park should have been named after Billy Bragg, the lefty folk musician slash labor activist slash Woodie Guthrie of England, whose similar sounding name was one that, at least, I knew. But William “Bill” Calhoun Baggs was too remarkable. In the 1950’s and 60’s Baggs was a Miami activist-journalist who used his position as editor at the Miami News to advocate for the civil rights of African Americans and to oppose the Vietnam War. So, nevermind let’s go with Baggs.
This morning Glenn concedes to go with me to the beach. As soon as he agrees, I rush to put on a suit hoping his mood won’t change. He’s not the beach fan that I am. He’s just interested in seeing the 7th best (sometimes 9th best) beach in the country, an honor “Dr. Beach” has bestowed on the Cape Florida beach. (How do people get these jobs?) Our walk takes us through the park’s dense coastal vegetation on paved paths which turn into sandy lines that cut through the wide brush-filled berm. On the other side is a narrow strip of uninhabited white sand. Turning south we see a light house and a wider expanse of beach with people on it. We walk. I kick through the ankle-height water. Sometimes my kicks are a little harder than needed because it gets the cool water splashing onto my legs, which feels good after our sweaty walk. Glenn keeps his shoes and socks on, shoobie style. I avert my eyes from my right, downward side to not wonder about his sanity. When we reach the area with beach chairs and people, I take off my few extra things and head straight into the water. The waves are very low here because there’s a sand bar that sits in the ocean directly in front of this beach. I only stay in long enough to cool off diving under once or twice. That’s all I need. I am reborn.
Strolling back toward a path where we see people emerging, we spot a building. I venture a guess that there may be showers, having read that they exist somewhere in this park. Instead we find an open air restaurant. It looks good and we’re getting hungry. I order fried sardines and Glenn gets an enchilado. Neither of us gets quite what we thought we’d get. My sardines are not so fresh and Glenn’s is a stew, but it’s still enjoyable to be eating out for lunch on a veranda watching raccoons entertain gullible families.
So, is it great? Sure, but 7th or 9th best? Oh, I don’t know. Glenn and I agree that the beaches of Assateague Island are better, but they are not on Dr. Beach’s list at all. How much can we trust this list that doesn’t include these?
Wednesday 21 FEB 2018 – Outside of No Name Harbor, Biscayne Bay, FL
In case you are trying to get to the beach in Key Biscayne, the city (or village as they call it), here’s some advice: don’t bother. There’s one public access point in the north east part of town. This path, voted into existence in 2014, runs alongside an exclusive aqua-colored glass condo tower and is so small you could easily miss it. The rest of the access to the public beach has been completely blocked through end-to-end private lot ownership. Of course, this privatization grants certain people greater access to something that belongs to all people, but there are other problems too. For instance, now the city doesn’t have to maintain the infrastructure. “Great,” think the certain, “we only pay for what we use and our taxes will be lower.” This place makes me miss the Jersey shore. The sand and water aren’t as good, but the atmosphere is.
UPDATE: I think I found a few other ways to get to the beach. Coming soon: A treasure map.
Thursday 22 FEB 2018 – Outside of No Name Harbor, Biscayne Bay, FL
One of the things I wanted to do when we pointed the boat back toward Biscayne Bay last Saturday was visit South Beach. We ran out of time and will last time. This time we make it. We are driven by Gustavo, an out of work Argentinian film editor who wants to move to LA or NYC. He drops us off at South Pointe Park, which is good as we wouldn’t have known this spot. It’s like starting at ground zero. From here we move northward on Ocean Drive visiting the touristic area. I won’t bore you with the details. Instead, I’ll just mention a few things that, in retrospect, surprised me. First, I expected more outrageousness. I thought there would be sexy bodies with a lot of cosmetic surgery in skimpy clothing. I thought there would be a more visible and extreme homosexual scene. And I thought there would be more outsidery outcasts. Why did I think this? I’m not sure, but it wasn’t here. Second, don’t kill me, the architecture was disappointing. It was lovely and well maintained and all that, but the Deco stuff really is just applied decoration that, for me, had a one-liner quality. As in, once you see one building, as charming as the others are, you don’t need to see them because they are the same over and over again. Also, while the scale of the city was very pleasant, the whole area felt owned by corporations, not individuals, you know? The restaurants, wow there were a lot, were all quite similar and uninteresting and the same can be said for all of the shops. So, while it was all manicured, it felt curated for, well, me, but that’s not why I travel.
Friday 23 FEB 2018 – Nixon Beach, Biscayne Bay, FL
Laundry! That is all.
Saturday 24 FEB 2018 – Nixon Beach, Biscayne Bay, FL
Since we have been back in Biscayne Bay, I have been bugging Glenn to take me to Stiltsville because a week or two ago we only saw it from a long distance. Getting there is not hard, but the area is so full of shoals he will only go through the marked channel. In preparation I watch the PBS documentary that Carl linked getting more familiar on the history. Back in the heyday there were a number of larger buildings that served as social clubs which hosted some wild behavior. I already knew about the gambling and drinking, but the more surprising bits were about the – ahem – sexual behavior. I look across the bay at the seven barren houses that remain and squint my eyes trying to imagine a raucous scene out of such a pious domestic one.
To start we sail southwest into the wind. We notice the breeze building significantly. By the time we take down the sails, start the engine, and turn into the channel with the houses, the gusts are up to 30kts. I stand on the tip of the bow now, camera around my neck, left arm wrapped around the furled jib, right arm clicking pictures as we bounce heavily on the waves coming at us. The houses are a little leaner and more run down than I expect but still so otherworldly. Their wobbly bodies tiptoe delicately through the shallow waters like aging herons. It’s bewildering that such a slight amount of material can withstand the brutal forces of yearly gales and hurricanes. But I do wonder about their life spans now that I see their wrinkles and imperfections close up. We don’t last long before the winds turn us back.
Perhaps one of the most troubling aspects of Stiltsville, as brought up in the film, is their ownership, and in turn preservation, status. No longer privately held since 1999, the National Park Service was seemingly going to let the houses simply fall into disrepair. However, a group of interested private parties who valued Stiltsville’s existence and history, formed a trust to try to prevent this from happening. In other words, because this country continues to not fully invest in communal ownership schemes, our public holdings often have to be scaffolded by well-intentioned, but often poor, private interest groups. Of course this practice potentially bankrupts our future generations by not holding our heritage in trust for them, but maybe this is a small matter nowadays.
Stiltsville, a little closer this time
We return to the anchorage in front of Nixon Beach. The weather is hot, so there are a lot of motor boats that pull in to fill up the bay today. Many people seem to come anchor here to drink and play loud music. Plus, starting at 1PM there’s a big house party at a house very near to us. I learn a few new sexual terms from the lyrics in the music they play.
Ava’s ghostly shenanigans
Sunday 25 FEB 2018 – Outside of No Name Harbor, Biscayne Bay, FL
The bay is much quieter this morning. Surprisingly, there are very few boats that stay overnight. It seems like many of the boats around here are not a means of travel, but mobile living rooms that get deployed to new locations for having parties with new backdrops. Who am I to knock it? Maybe it’s fun. I just don’t get the going home part. Drinking alcohol and dancing can be done anywhere, but being rocked to sleep on a boat… is… lovely…
This morning we fuel up and head back to the anchorage outside of No Name staging for a crossing later in the week to The Bahamas. As we drive I yell to Glenn, “Palazzo, Palazzo, Museum, Hacienda, Palazzo, Rancho, Museum, Jumble, Palazzo!” There are the six prominent styles of the houses one will find on the Key Biscayne coast: Palazzo, Hacienda, Rancho, Modern Art Museum, Plantation, Jaunty Jumble. The houses are all huge and completely uninterested in forming a cohesive fabric. Instead, everybody has exercises the right to their “own” expression.
Monday 26 FEB 2018 – Outside of No Name Harbor, Biscayne Bay, FL
I’m up at 5:05AM. This hour is now typical. The first thing I do is the first thing I always do, even when living on land. I read the newspaper. It’s a bad habit, but my addiction is strong. Plus, when I try and stay away my curiosity always gets the best of me, and that’s more depressing. This morning Glenn gets up early too and we hang out in bed reading our independently biased fake news sources. It’s been a rough year for the country world politically. This is why my habit is bad, because it dampens my spirit even before I’ve stepped out of bed. This morning is yet another assault from Trump. It doesn’t matter what. It’s always the same, always disheartening.
“Why is the boat moving so much?” I ask Glenn when I notice the harried motion that has now beset us but am too lazy to seek an actual answer.
“I guess there are a lot boats moving around us,” he responds not wanting to go vertical either.
“Really?” I say, meaning no, that’s not it.
“Or, maybe the winds have shifted.”
“I hope so,” I say.