Monthly Archives: February 2020

The Florida Keys

The Florida Keys is an archipelago that descends like stepping stones toward Cuba. I’ve always felt curious about these islands and the viaducts that connect them. So one of my dreams was fulfilled recently when I drove the Overseas Highway (U.S. Highway 1), from Key Largo to Key West.

On our way down the Keys we stopped at Long Key State Park, at Mile Marker 67.5, and hiked the Golden Orb trail. This trail was named after the Golden Orb spider, which at one time covered this island with millions of webs. But on September 10, 2017, Hurricane Irma flooded Long Key with an eight-foot storm surge that wiped out almost all of the arthropods. They’re slowly creeping back, but are still fairly rare.

The Keys were first charted by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513. “Key” comes from the Spanish word cayo, meaning small island.

For centuries after de Leon, you had to have a boat or good swimming arms to reach the Keys. But then the United States took Panama from Columbia, and in 1905 began constructing the Panama Canal. This gave an entrepreneur named Henry Flagler an idea. Flagler was filthy rich, having been the founder of Standard Oil. Key West has a deep-water port, and Flagler decided that if he ran a railroad to Key West, he could take advantage of trade coming through the canal from the West Coast.

A creek on the Golden Orb trail.

Four thousand men battled mosquitoes, crocodiles, and hurricanes for seven years, constructing this railroad. It was hailed as the Eighth Wonder of the World when it finally opened in 1912. One year later, Flagler fell down a flight of stairs and died at age 83.

Long Key is largely undisturbed by humans (unlike me), and provides an opportunity for hikers to see the Keys in their natural state.

The automobile was gaining in popularity around this time, and in 1921 the Miami Motor Club came up with the zany idea of building a highway to Key West, alongside the railroad. They hoped it would attract tourists, revenue, and growth. They were right.

By 1928 a two segment highway had been constructed. The first segment allowed motorists to drive from Key Largo about 35 miles to Lower Matecumbe Key. Then they had to take a 41-mile ferry ride to No Name Key, which I believe was named after Clint Eastwood. From there they could drive about 35 more miles to Key West.

The forest canopy along Long Key’s Golden Orb trail. The Florida Keys is the northern boundary for many tropical trees common to the Caribbean.

Nobody likes having to take a ferry boat. So impatient motorists pressured the government to connect these two highway segments. But who would do the work? Well, let’s step back to 1924. In that year, Congress passed a bill over President Coolidge’s veto, to pay a bonus to World War I veterans, for their war service. But the catch was, they had to wait until 1945 to cash in these bonuses.

Then the Great Depression hit, and in the early 1930s unemployed veterans laid siege upon Washington D.C., demanding early payment of their bonuses. President Hoover had them driven off with bayonets and tear gas, and the bad press this generated helped cost him his reelection bid against Franklin Roosevelt.

Bahia Honda Bridge, and the beach at Bahia Honda State Park, at Mile Marker 36. “Bahia Honda” means Deep Bay in Spanish. This bridge is part of the original railroad, and was very challenging to build back in the early 1900s, due to its more than 5,000 foot length, and the 30 foot deep channel it spans.

Roosevelt knew what to do about the rebellious veterans. He started the New Deal, and put them to work on the Overseas Highway, promising them an early bonus payment upon completion of their work. This shut them up and got them out of Washington.

By 1935, these veterans were hard at work in the Upper Florida Keys, on bridge construction. But on Labor Day, 1935, a monstrous Category 5 hurricane struck. A train was sent to evacuate the veterans, but was too late. 200 of these vets drowned in an 18-foot storm surge. Altogether, 400 to 700 people in the Florida Keys perished from this natural disaster. To this day it remains the most powerful hurricane on record to make a direct hit on the Keys.

The Bahia Honda bridge was originally for trains. But after the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, a highway was built over the top of the trestles.

The hurricane damaged Flagler’s railroad so badly, it was abandoned. So the government decided to abandon the dead veterans’ work and take over the abandoned railroad. They built the middle connection of the Overseas Highway upon the railroad’s bridge trestles. And by 1938, a fully connected highway allowed automobile travel to Key West without requiring a ferry.

These days the Bahia Honda Bridge is deemed too derelict to safely travel over. But you can still walk it for about 100 yards up and get a nice view of Bahia Honda Key. To the left is the new Overseas Highway that replaced the original highway in the 1970s.

The Overseas Highway starts in Key Largo, at around Mile Marker 113. Mile Markers are used in the Keys to denote addresses. For instance, the first gas station you encounter is a Shell station, with the address 106501 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, FL. This means it’s 106.5 miles from the terminus of the highway in Key West, since Mile Marker 0 is at Key West.

But the Keys extend further west than Key West, speckling the Gulf of Mexico for about 70 more miles out to the Dry Tortugas. However, to get to these islands beyond Mile Marker 0, you must take a boat or plane.

Key West from the end of the White Street pier. A monument at the corner of Whitehead and South St, on Key West, claims to be the southernmost point of the continental United States, but this pier is even further south, by a few hundred feet. The actual southernmost point is probably located on Ballast Key, about 10 miles west of Key West. Key West is 77 miles north of the Tropic of Cancer, and 94 miles from Cuba.

Hurricanes seem to pose the greatest danger to residents of the Florida Keys, and I imagine bankruptcy is a close second. Homes are damned expensive there, so I wonder how many residents have gone bankrupt after their life savings have been blown or washed away?

In 1998, Hurricane Georges battered the Lower Keys, causing widespread damage and flooding. In 2005, the Keys were triple-punched by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. They only brushed these islands, but came close enough to cause extensive damage. And on September 10, 2017, Hurricane Irma made landfall in Cudjoe Key. She destroyed a quarter of the homes on the Keys, and caused major damage to another two-thirds.

The Blue Hole, on Big Pine Key. Looks green to me. This is an abandoned rock quarry that filled with water. Notice the alligator?

Imagine being ordered to leave your home with just a few hours notice to pack whatever you can into your car. And when you return, you don’t know if you’ll find your house intact, in tatters, or in the ocean. Many people retire in the Keys, but the constant worry of hurricanes is not my idea of relaxed living.

An iguana sunning itself on a coral rock, by the beach at Long Key State Park. We were told that Floridians are encouraged to kill iguanas, because they’re an invasive species. But aren’t we humans invasive, too? So since my wife and I were not contemplating suicide, we left the iguanas we encountered, unharmed.

The Keys are flat as pancakes, offering scant high-ground refuge from storm surges. Most Caribbean islands are volcanic, with mountains and hills. But the Keys are made of ancient coral reefs and limestone, which don’t attain high elevations. The highest point in the Florida Keys is just 18 feet above sea level, at Windley Key. That’s not much of a view.

But below sea level the view can be spectacular. The Great Florida Reef is the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States. And it’s the third largest coral barrier reef system in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef, and the Belize Barrier Reef. The best of it is found off the coast of Key Largo. And scuba divers come from across the globe to enjoy it, making Key Largo the Dive Capitol of the World. Yeah, it’s a real dive.

An osprey at Bahia Honda State Park. This bird was a good fisher. We saw it carrying a big, long fish, but unfortunately my camera was not handy at the time. It’s the photo that got away.

We drove the entire length of the Overseas Highway, and spent four days and nights on Little Torch Key, at Mile Marker 28.5. The balmy February weather was a pleasant change from the cooler climate we came from. And most importantly, it wasn’t hurricane season.

With that fact in mind, we were able to relax and enjoy our stay.

Nap time.

The Pros and Cons of Dicks

A dick pic. Benito Mussolini.

This post is about dictators. But the word dictators is polysyllabic and awkward to frequently pronounce, so I’m shortening it to dicks.

I’ve heard talk about President Trump trying to become a dick. How naive. He already is a dick.

Our form of government enables him to be a dick. The U.S. government is structured to be part dictatorship and part democracy. The president of the United States wields enormous power under our laws, that are somewhat dictatorial. That’s any president, and not just Trump.

America’s dick is limited in scope. He doesn’t have total power, because Congress and the Supreme Court can keep him partially in check. And most importantly, he can be held accountable by the people. He can be voted out of office after his first term, and he’s limited to only two terms. So he can only be a partial potentate, and cannot engorge himself with full dick powers.

Some worry that Trump is trying to rig our election system to get reelected, and may also try to get around his term limits. If he succeeds then he would rise to the fullest of dick statures. And when I consider that 90% of Republicans support Trump no matter what he does, I can only conclude that millions of Americans want our country to be ruled by a complete dick.

I don’t knock Republicans for this. I’ve heard good things about dicks. There are pros and cons to everything, and an argument can be made for having a total dick in the Oval Office.

On the other hand, I think we need to know what we’re getting ourselves into on this road we’re traveling down. So lets explore the pros and cons of dicks.

THE PROS

  • Pro #1: Dicks are fun and thrilling. They’re often witty, charming, and charismatic. Their winsome personalities mesmerize their followers, who then stroke their dicks with lavish praise. This leads to blind shows of support, and allows their dicks to rise in power, and stand erect with pride before the adoring masses.
  • Pro #2: Dicks get ‘er done. Nobody can oppose the stiff determination of a dick. This allows them to zip along with their policies, and fly past the judicial and legislative constraints that inhibit democracies.
  • Pro #3: Dicks fight crime. They can order judges to come down hard on criminal defendants, and disregard their uppity demands for rights, during trials. It’s only natural that when a dick stands up to crime, the penal system swells with the “bad blood” of society.
  • Pro #4: Dicks eliminate corruption. Conduct like bribery and influence peddling, that are illegal in democracies, are made legal by dicks. And because they are legal, they cannot be exposed as corrupt.
  • Pro #5: Dicks bring experience to government. Cabinet heads who are willing to suck up to the dick that appointed them can keep their posts for a long time. And after decades of dick service, they come to an intimate understanding of their jobs.
  • Pro #6: Dicks have stable governments. They often remain in office for dozens of years. Once a dick penetrates the highest office of the land, its hard to make him pull out.

THE CONS

  • Con #1: The primary goal of dicks is to thrust themselves into power and keep thrusting. Dicks will do anything to become dicks and remain dicks, no matter how much they screw up the country, and no matter how often they fuck people over.
  • Con #2: Dicks fight wannabe dicks. There can be only one dick in place at a time, and that one dick is always on the lookout for dissenters and challengers. Anyone with the balls to display even the slightest sign of uprising will be quickly kicked down with violent force.
  • Con #3: Dicks spread the disease of hatred. They infect the citizens they’re screwing over, with fear and bigotry toward groups of innocent people, such as minorities. They blame these groups for everyone’s problems and, with orgiastic frenzy, direct campaigns of domination and sadistic violence against them.
  • Con #4: Dicks are bad for international relationships. Leaders of nations that support human rights see how dicks are raping their own nations and robbing their own people of dignity. So they push the dicks aside and won’t play with them. The only leaders that will play with dicks, are other dicks. But even then these relationships are untrustworthy and tenuous, because after all, these dicks are dicks, and dicks will always behave like dicks.
  • Con #5: Dicks are bad for the economy. When they first come to power they inject the economy with a steamy mix of excitement and confidence, and the Gross Domestic Product grows bigger and bigger. But economic miscarriages of justice ensue. Only a tiny class of very rich people is born, while everyone else gets pissed on. When people realize this, they lose their enthusiasm to be productive, abort their efforts, and the economy collapses.
  • Con #6: Dicks die. No matter how big and powerful a dick grows, eventually he will shrivel up and die. Initially this may bring relief to those being fucked until raw and bleeding. But citizens become dependent upon their dicks to maintain order. The power vacuum that ensues when a dick dies can lead to a period of chaos, until a new dick rises and inserts himself into position.

This could be our last President’s Day if Trump is reelected. That’s a pro, since President’s Day is the most boring holiday on the calendar. After this we’ll have Dick’s Day instead. Dick’s Day can be very exciting, though less and less for me, the older I get.

If you agree more with the pros than the cons of having a total dick in office, or worry more about the cons than the pros, then check out my countdown calendar in the sidebar. Meanwhile, have a happy, final President’s Day!

Green Unicorns

My wife and I recently traveled to Florida to hunt unicorns. We figured the definitive place to stalk these creatures was at that one-horned appendage hanging off the southeast corner of our continent.

And we were right. We found plenty of unicorns in the Sunshine state, of many strange and different varieties. And the most unusual was a green scaly beast called a “gator”.

We hired a man with an airboat to take us into the Everglades, as I wasn’t too keen on hiking in with waders. He called himself Captain Bocephus, and he claimed to know where all the gators were hiding. And he was right. Cap’n Bo knew how to scare up a passel of ‘em.

My wife scanning the swampland for alligators.

Actually, he called them out, making a crying “Owww, Owww, Owww” noise, that he claimed was the sound of a baby alligator in distress. Apparently, female alligators have powerful maternal instincts, and quickly come to the call of baby alligators in need of rescue.

This is a relatively small specimen. The average adult American alligator weighs 790 pounds, and is 13 feet long. You can guestimate the head-to-tail length by measuring the distance from the nostrils to the eyeballs. The distance in inches is the length in feet. I recommend wearing a suit of armor while measuring. The longest gator ever recorded was found in Louisiana, and measured 19.2 feet.

Males are attracted by this call, also. But not for the purpose of protecting the babies. They want to eat them.

Alligators belong to the crocodilian family, whose species are commonly known as alligators, crocodiles, gharials, and caimans. I asked this crocodilian, “Hey, are you a caiman?” He replied, “Yeah, I’m alright. Thanks, man.”

I’d never seen an alligator in the wilds before, so you can imagine my horripilation when these giant water lizards swam up to edge of the low-decked airboat, within feet of my feet.

I guess I shouldn’t have been scared. Hell, this bird wasn’t. Since 2010, there have been only eight recorded fatal alligator attacks in the United States. Two fatalities involved women who were walking their dogs. Apparently, dogs make good alligator bait. One man was killed and eaten while burglarizing homes. And another man taunted an alligator, then jumped in the water to swim while ignoring alligator warning signs, and the pleas of friends not to swim. The gator grabbed this stupid fucker and drowned him. Darwin won again.

But Cap’n Bo reassured that they were more afraid of us than we were of them. And that in all his years of commanding an airboat, no alligator had ever jumped onto the deck. Yet. Even though they easily could, I thought I heard him utter as an aside.

This guy came so close, and seemed so docile, I felt an urge to reach out and stroke its back and rub its scales. But much as I wanted to pet the saurian beast, I suspected it might prefer my arm more as a meal than as a masseur.

It was uncanny how many gators were attracted to the airboat. Cap’n Bo would shut off the engine in the midst of a swampy canal, and then scan for alligators, while making his baby gator distress calls. And he always spotted them before my wife and I could see them. They’d be making a beeline straight for the boat, their heads forming a V-shaped wake. And they were possessed with an eagerness that belied hunger, and the expectancy of a dinner of fine delicacies.

One of the swampy canals Cap’n Bo motored us through, in search of alligators.

“I don’t feed ‘em, of course,” Cap’n Bo emphasized. “Why, if I were to be caught feeding ‘em, I’d be fined bigtime, my boat would be confiscated, and I’d lose my license.”

Alligators will eat anything, according to Cap’n Bo. But mainly they eat frogs, fish, snakes, turtles, muskrats, birds, dogs, panthers, deer, black bears, and each other. Sometimes they even eat rocks. These provide ballast in their bellies, for stable floating.

And yet those gators would vigorously bump the boat with their noses, acting as if they wanted something. Could a baby alligator distress call be that compelling to these mammoth killers?

Nobody knows just how long alligators live, but some estimates go over a hundred years. The oldest known alligator in captivity is 83 years old.

If so, the mothering instinct of an alligator is not to be underestimated. Like grizzly bears, don’t come between a female alligator and her offspring. She has a heart as big as a tree stump, and jaws powerful enough to give you four stumps.

Female alligators protect their young for about a year. They mate in April and May, although sometimes the males have difficulty “getting it up.” This is known as a reptile dysfunction. Females build nests in the summer, when they lay their eggs. If the incubation temperature of an egg goes above 86 degrees, the offspring will be a male. Lower temperatures produce females. About five females are hatched, for every male.

If not, then Captain Bocephus is a big fat liar, who secretly feeds these swamp lizards, so he can show them off to tourists. But no matter. We were impressed either way.

Alligators are found as far north as the Carolinas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, and as far west as East Texas. Louisiana has the most gators, with Florida a close second, accommodating more than a million gators apiece. Southern Florida is the only area where both alligators and crocodiles live side-by-side.

As the tenebrous fingers of twilight grasped our swampy surroundings, Cap’n Bo fired up the fan and motored us out onto an open grassy area. He pointed the airboat toward the setting sun, where we watched a ball of fire sink into the Everglades. It was romantic.

Sunset over the Everglades.

Finally, through the wind-chilled dusk, and clouds of gnats and skeeters, we raced over reeds toward the shoreline dock. Our paid hours were up, and it was time for us landlubbers to return to our element.

We’d had a successful day of unicorn hunting. But we knew we could bag more, in the fantastic flatlands of Florida. We just needed some sleep.

Ain’t it cute? We fell in love with alligators during our boat ride. It’s nice to know they’ve been around for 37 million years. Crocodilians and birds are the only animals left on earth that descended from dinosaurs. With the possible exception of unicorns.

Some Cranky Tattoo Questions

Cranky Pants has submitted a Unicorn Beam, for our consideration. She’s emailed three pictures of tattoos on her arms, along with some questions about her tattoos.

The first picture has two quotes. On her left arm is tattooed the quote “A work in progress”, and on her right arm is the quote “Hope is a good thing”, as you can see, below:

These are stenciled, unfinished tattooes, so I guess they’ll look more artistic after she’s endured more torture from her ink specialist.

The “A work in progress” quote relates to a tattoo on the other side of her left arm, which you can see in the following picture:

The “Hope is a good thing” quote is actually a partial quote from Cranky’s favorite movie ever. It relates to the tattoo on the other side of her right arm, which you can see in the following picture:

Cranky’s questions are as follows:

What do the quotes say?
My answer: Well, that’s obvious, Cranky. We know how to read. And we can translate them for Carolyn.

What do they mean?
My answer: Umm, that’s not so obvious. This will require some navel-gazing and postulation.

Do you know where (or what movie) the “Hope is a good thing” quote comes from?
My answer: Hmmm. Hmmm. Some hummingbird movie, I guess.

So this is our homework. These are our questions. Cranky wants to know. Or at least, she wants to know if we know. I’ve provided my responses, so now it’s your turn. Put on your thinking cap and give her some good, well-thought-out, smartass answers.
And you might include warnings about the dangers of tattoos, and why it’s never a good idea to get tattooed, and that you’re stuck with it forever, and all that jazz. But really, it’s too late. The poor lady has already been tagged with permanent ink.

How To Catch a Unicorn

Unicorns come in many shapes and sizes, and are never what we expect.


I’ve had the good fortune of catching a few unicorns in my life. It hasn’t been easy, and I’ve had to climb a long learning curve. But I’ve gained much experience, and now I’d like to pass along some of the lessons I’ve learned from my many years on the hunting trail.

First, you must always remember that there’s no sure-fire formula for catching a unicorn. Unicorns are intelligent and elusive creatures. They quickly figure out your hunting techniques, and so after you’ve caught one or two, they’ll never let you catch another again. At least not with the same techniques. Unless you wait a long time, and rely on their forgetfulness, for unicorns can be forgetful.

But if you’re impatient like me, then your best bet is to constantly change your hunting methods. Don’t rely on a single formula for very long.

I use bows and arrows, carbine rifles, snares, lassos, pit traps, gentle persuasion, and hand grenades. I hunt upwind, downwind, crosswind, and sometimes I shoot the bastards by helicopter. I’ve chased them down on foot, horseback, and motorcycle. And I’ve flushed them out of cover utilizing battue, hound dogs, and mating calls.

There’s no one simple formula that reliably catches unicorns for very long. You’ve got to mix it up, constantly using your thinker to devise new plans.

Of course you know from my blog page WHAT’S A UNICORN?, that I define a unicorn as anything that’s unique, whether it be a unique thought, experience, or life situation. Unicorns feed our hearts, minds, and souls with variety and life, and dispel the hunger of boredom.

That’s why the same hunting technique stops working after awhile. It becomes too predictable. Uniqueness is anything but predictable. Uniqueness must have variety.

So if you want to kill your boredom by catching unicorns, keep trying new and different things. Open your mind and let them out. Have some courage and reject convention. Step out of the box and skewer it with a unicorn horn.

Keep at it and you’ll find one just around the corner. Perhaps not the next corner, but somewhere down the line. As long as you don’t give up, then when you least expect it, a one-horned beast will spring out at you, frothing and snorting.

It will be a fearful sight. Steel yourself. Try not to turn and run. Avoid the danger of the pointy horn, so that neither you nor anyone else gets hurt. Then grab that fucker by the mane, and swing yourself up on its back.

And go for the ride of your life.