Tidbits and Characters

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Greetings From Bahia Honda postcard

Bubba lived in a trailer on the South side of the street, Avenue F on Big Pine Key Florida. He had been in a terrible Motorcycle accident once and was lucky to have survived. I did not know him prior to his accident, but due to his accident he had slurred speech and he sort of dragged his feet along the ground when he walked. He was generally obnoxious to a small degree. He always wore white shrimpers boots. He drove a black Jeep Cherokee with big tires and wheels on it. The Jeep had two flag poles attached to it and he flew two flags, a Conch Republic flag and a Jolly Roger. He used to drive like a maniac on the roads that connect County Road by where the Bougainvillea Villa Liquor store used to be and Wilder Road that runs by Winn Dixie, 15th Street, 16,17th and so forth. Terrible roads, never graded. Something about the Key Deer being protected or something.

Bubba seemed happy in his own sort of way. He was always glad to see you and would blab on. He liked smoking weed. He would always finish up a conversation and bid you farewell by saying, “It ain’t nothing but love” and repeat that a few times, maybe with the word “brother” at the end.

Bubba would occasionally have a prostitute come by his trailer and give him service. One day I was over at his place and he had a pile of Hustler magazines in the living room. He told me that he jacked-off (masturbated) befor she came over so he would not cum as fast on the second go-round. His way of getting more “bang” for the buck. He was clever like that. Money well spent, you could say.

I bought a boat from Bubba once for $20  T., a good buddy of mine, still has it a few streets over. We named the boat the Algae Bloom.  I have no idea how many times we went out in that boat and got annihilated on potato vodka. Bubba cut his hand on something and got what we used to call coral poisoning. Maybe it is was actually Staph, when the discoloration of your skin (the infection) starts creeping up your arm or wherever your injury is, you better run to the hospital. Bubba thought he would be okay. He waited too long. He eventually went up to the hospital and, simply put, he died there.

I went to his funeral at the crematorium on Big Pine. There were only a few people there — his sister and her husband and she had a few pictures of him in his younger days.

Ain’t Nothing but Love, Bubba.

bogie-ch-yacht-club00There once was The Bogie Channel Yacht Club our motto was “Unique is what we seek, Bizarre is what we are.” Roy Boy was the one who came up with the motto. It all started out real well as just about everyone had a boat. The pride of the fleet was the Mistressbelonging to J.W. All the other boats were smaller. All the members were the enthusiastic partying kind. Officers were elected, the Commodore was T.R. the Vice Commodore was E.D. A treasurer was elected and everyone paid their dues. The treasurer was a Big Pine woman, the spouse of an old time resident of Big Pine Key. She was well respected and pretty. Everything was great.

We had a pig roast using a “Cuban Coffin”. Buzzy made the moho marinade and all were welcome for a few bucks a plate. The ready-to-roast pig we got from Rita at Island Jim’s’ Chek Jon prepared the watermelons spiked with vodka (One of the woman, not knowing it was spiked, sliced it up and gave some to all the children). It was a very successful event and the treasury grew. We had intentions to do bigger and better things.

The trouble is that some people are not what they seem to be. One day our pretty treasurer, Jackie, disappeared with the whole treasury. She stole all the dues the members had paid and all the funds the club earned by providing a good time for all. When I suggested that she should be charged with theft, I was told that can’t be done because she is the spouse of one of the Bubbas.

The Bogie Channel Yacht Club never recovered from this financial disaster, there were others that tried to keep it going, but it finally sank. The thief knew us all and she never offered an apology or excuse and I believe she is still an EMT in the Lower Keys. ~imrebaka@gmail.com

Blacky Cruz. People who were here in the ’50s and 60’s may remember on old Conch named Blacky Cruz. Blacky had been a turtle fisherman out of Key West in his youth and after watching the decline of the turtle population he spent his senior years trying to undo some of the damage he had done while a young man.He was given the use of some property and a canal located on Ramrod Key at the NE corner of Niles Channel and US 1. I think the property was owned by the Spotswoods. Blacky built an array of holding tanks, pens and incubators that he used for hatching and raising turtles. The incubators consisted of sand filled boxes mounted on legs. Each had a ramp that ran from the surface of the sand down into a large seawater tank. People who knew of Blacky and his interest in turtles would alert him to the presence of turtle nests and he would travel up and down the Keys collecting eggs from nests. He then buried the eggs in his incubators where they were kept damp until they hatched. When the baby turtles hatched they would dig up through the sand and then, after moving about on the surface of the incubator, they would stumble onto the ramp and slide down into the holding tank.He fed and reared the hatchlings until they were about a year old and then released them into the wild. Since the newly hatched turtles were the most vulnerable to predation he figured that the one year head start he provided through his efforts was serving to promote the recovery of the local turtle population. He was trying to pay back for the impact made by him and his fellow fishermen. It’s hard to know whether his efforts were useful, but he meant well. Today, he would probably get arrested.I remember him too. He certainly knew a lot about sea turtles. There was even tension between him and some of the more educated “experts” of the day. Just because Blacky didn’t have a PhD behind his name, they wouldn’t take him seriously. His practical knowledge was enormous. He also had a permit from the state to do research.  Recently his grandson, who still lives here, gave me a book that Blacky wrote about sea turtles. In it he explained how he got his interest and first hand knowledge of turtles. Someone borrowed the book but I believe the title wasSaga of the sea turtle interesting reading for anyone interested in the history of the old Keys. The turtle pens are still there on Ramrod Key, I see them every day. I have been the caretaker of that property since 1979.
Carol Munder used to drive the Bookmobile for Monroe County in the early 80s. She was our link with the world in the old days. That was before cable or satellite dishes or even the blessed Big Pine Library or Winn Dixie. Carol always seemed to know what books us back-woods Piners wanted and she made sure they were on her truck. I remember waiting for the days for the Bookmobile to arrive so I’d finally have something new to read.
Canals. Someone asked about the digging of the canals. I do not know what year ’61 or ’62 (possibly) I watched some of the digging of the canals in Eden Pines.  I was too young to really remember much but the noise was horrific!  I (fuzzy memory) remember a big wheel about a foot wide with lots of teeth mounted on of a crawler tractor like a Cat D9 or such.  It went in straight lines down both sides (of our lot lines now) and then a big drag line or a big hoe like machine dug up the marl in between the two cuts and dumped it on both sides thus allowing the lots to then be above water level.  Before they did this the land looked just like the wetlands between Eden Pines and Watson’s house (now the Key Deer Refuge).  There were no mangroves just swampy like soil because Donna had washed most mangroves away.
an_bus_school_waitingThe corner of Chapman Lane and US1 was where I use to stand and wait for the school bus. It was in front of the Big Pine Inn when I attended Sugarloaf Elementary and Marathon Jr. High Schools from 1970 to 1974. At that time Everett Hall owned a place on 5th Ave with horse stables and we lived in a travel trailer a little farther down the road where my parents were building a house (still standing today). Our families were the only two on the road. There was a pit with a couple of alligators off the road. At the end of the road were bee hives maintained by some keeper. We came from upstate NY and stayed on Big Pine for the months of Jan, Feb and March. We returned one year and the Big Pine Inn had just recently burned down. I’m guessing that would have been Dec of 1972.
Cudjoe Key is a census-designated place and town in Monroe County, Florida, on an island of the same name in the lower Florida Keys. As of the 2000 census, the town had a total population of 1,695. It was originally called Littleton Island.It has a U.S. Army missile tracking station built during the Cuban missile crisis In 1960. The station flies a white radar aerostat, known locally as “Fat Albert,” that runs a drug interdiction mission for the Drug Enforcement Agency.Possibly named for the Joewood tree (Jacquinia keyensis Mez), a native species which is also known as cudjoewood. A more likely derivation for the name is offered by writer John Viele of Summerland Key. He believes that Cudjoe, which is a very common West African name, was the name of a runaway or freed black who lived on the island at some point prior to Gerdes’ survey in 1849.
Laura and Dirt (circa 1970’s)

I don’t know if anyone still remembers Laura Emery. She had long chestnut brown hair and Bette Davis eyes. She worked at Dick’s Bayside Lounge and she was also my girlfriend. She decided to go back up north, she was from NH, but ended up in Nevada. She got in touch with me a few weeks ago (She found me on Facebook in 2010) and told me that she met a biker guy in Las Vegas, fell in love with him and they got married.

The biker fellow went by the name of “Dirt”, He had a 1956 HD Panhead that was all tricked out and just loved his Harley. So much so that he told Laura, “Honey, if I should die I want to become a part of this motorcycle. Old Dirt had another Harley too, he was biking home one night and was hit from behind by a vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed. Poor old Dirt went to Harley Heaven. Laura was broken up about the death of her beloved husband.

The perpetrator was never found. Dirt’s Harley was a total loss. Laura had Dirt cremated and afterward all she had left was just a couple handfuls of Dirt.

She remembered her husbands wish, and asked one of Dirt’s biker friends to remove the gas tank from the ’56 Panhead. She never told me how it was done, however, she took Dirt’s ashes and poured them into the Harley’s frame. She has learned to ride that bike since then and she said that she is happy to have Dirt between her thighs again.

If you all think that this is a tall tale I would be more than happy to give you Laura’s address. imrebaka@gmail.com

Luther. He wasn’t here long enough, but left the Keys a more beautiful place. The first I saw of Luther was when he was in black-face playing guitar at Boondocks when that place was still a happening. Only Luther could get away with painting his face black and nobody said a word. You couldn’t go to any fundraiser that he wouldn’t be there. I got to spend a great day with him at Geiger Key when that place was still a happening. He had cancer. He lived on a sailboat. He was worried that he wouldn’t be able to do it much longer. It was his life. We talked about all the characters he played on Biz Baz. He was so full of life even though he knew he was dying. I was so blessed to spend 4 hours hanging with him. I had tears in my eyes the whole time from laughing so much. If you get to heaven by doing good in the world Luther will meet us at the gate. To those who had the opportunity to meet Luther we were truly blessed. Another Keys character resting in peace. Fair winds and smooth sailing to you, Sailor.
Doctors Arm got its name from pirates who used to anchor in Pine Channel. The story goes that a pirate anchored there with recently gotten loot and prisoners from a  raid. One of the captives was a doctor named Armondo Guessipie. Some of the crew were hurt in the raid hence the need for an anchored rest. When the pirate captain found out one of the captives was a doctor he ordered him to tend to his wounded. The doctor refused. The captain was so furious he marooned the doctor to the island. The crew named it Doctors Armondi Island. Over the years and centuries it was shortened to just doctors arm . The original real estate developer of that part of Big Pine in the 1940s (Tom Denali) heard the story of the pirate and decided it was a great name for a subdivision. That is the true story of how doctors arm got its name.
easton-lemonadeEaston’s lemonade stand. It was actually at the end of the road out on No Name Key in the 60s. I thought we would be there all of an hour, if that. Boy, was I wrong! It turned out to be quite a capital venture, especially with the arrival of our snowbirds. The little entre-manure, as he called himself, also charged $1 for photos and $5 for directions, usually to The No Name Pub. He made a killing and invested quite wisely, always paying himself 15% first. That grew with interest like nobody’s business. He additionally got the Monte’s to hire him to deliver The Barometer along with The Rubber Biscuit. Dominoes and Pizza Works used him too. He’d weasel in at Winn-Dixie and bag for tips. He acquired number skills through building his home and as a night auditor at Sunshine Key. Most impressive was learning to drive by spraying mosquitoes for Monroe County! All at a young age. It was truly a blast being with him and watching him operate. The greatest was when he’d turn on the mosquito truck light on the Bogey Channel Bridge and tell people to “Make sure you clean up all your shit!” It was cool that his mom let us get away with “murder”.
Eden Pines. I remember Eden Pines looking very white with the new dirt and you could see from one end of it all the way down to where our boating exit is because there was only one house built that I remember and that was white and way in the back.  Sometimes when they hit an extra hard layer of rock the excavators had to use little chunks of dynamite to break it up and then they could spread it over the soon to be lots.  That’s all I can remember. We had some pictures, but when some kids set our little house on fire down here one summer they all went up in smoke.  Maybe in the Keys History section you can find more?
How the Keys got their names:  http://keys.fiu.edu/gazetteer/index.html
an_indian32Indian Sam The Shaman and Outboard Boat Engine Mechanic. I was thinking about my 28 H.P. Commercial grade long shaft Evinrude outboard boat engine.  At the time I was needing an engine for my 28′ Soverel Sailboat. It was the weekend on Big Pine and in meandering around from yard sale to yard sale I came across her. There she was leaning sultry as if wearing a red dress against a support column under the house on stilts, all crusty looking, ye gads!, I thought as I lifted up her engine cover and took a look. I grabbed her by the fly wheel and turned it. Plop, plop, she had compression. I asked the Lady of the house how much? She says how about $100? I said how about $50? She looked around to see if her husband was near. She said o.k., but hurry it up before He comes downstairs. So I handed her $50 and backed my pick up truck up towards the engine. I laid the little jewel down gently, but quickly, in the bed and sped off. “Ella” lacked a wiring harness so I bought her one from my friend Jack Tatum. Then took the old girl home, put her in a bucket of water and hooked up some fresh gas and a hot battery. I hit the button and the old battleaxe roared. The next week I went and purchased a new water pump impeller and a set of spark plugs for her, my treat. Then I gently lowered her into the motor well of the Soverel that sat just in front of the stern and center of the boat. It was more engine then she needed. a tight squeeze.. a snuggy she. It turned out I motor sailed the “Calypso Dancer” 4 times across the Gulfstream with nary a cough or sputter, although I did cut the shit out of my finger once on the fly wheel while the engine was running. Those spinning teeth make quick work of flesh. For first aid I had a rag and some duct tape to wrap around my finger. Ouchie! So now on about Indian Sam. His nickname or birth name was Coyote and he claimed to be an Apache Shaman and healer. He had a business card he would hand out that read “Native healer and Boat Engine Mechanic”. He would burn sage, chant and dance around your ill engine. Sam had a one candle or a two candle service/ceremony for outboard engines. If you had an engine that was running rough he would perform the $35 one candle ceremony for you. If the engine continued to act up after words, burning of the sage and candles he would say, “Well, you need the two candle ceremony which will run an additional $70.” He was very convincing in telling you spirits can enter into machinery causing them to run poorly. The last time I actually saw Indian Sam was up at the Winn Dixie at the far entrance, he had just recently come from the hospital recovering from open heart surgery. I thought it odd him being a healer and all. We went treasure hunting once on Little Pine Island with my metal detector. We found nothing. He told me how they hunted wild pigs on Little Pine. They would take a stake, drive it in the ground then take some stainless steel leader, put a big hook on the end and fasten the other end to the stake and then put a big chunk of meat on the hook. Mr. or Ms. Piggy would come along and swallow the whole affair, getting hooked internally. I can only imagine the scene of the pig trying to get away as the men came out of the bushes to club the pig to death–some leash. Indian Sam, another piece of work, having lived on Big Pine.
Key West. In the early 1980s there used to be an old bum in a wheelchair living in an old camper shell on blocks on the lane across from us when we lived in Old Town. His name was Benny (Feldman, I think) He smoked fat cigars and drank beer for a living. He used to own a house on Fleming St near White St, but it burned up, probably from him falling asleep while smoking his fat cigars. He lived in the burned out Conch house for a few years until the City threw him out because the house was unsafe. That’s when he moved to the box near the back of (what is now) Strunk Hardware.  He was always getting hassled in his box so my neighbor on the lane, Francis Smart, found an old camper shell and placed it in his driveway on cement blocks and Benny moved in. There were just enough blocks so Benny could get in and out of the camper shell with little trouble. He lived in that shell for five or six years with only a gallon milk jug for a bathroom that really stank. He was in his seventies at the time. I used to come home and I’d sit with Benny and talk about everything before going across the lane to my house. We’d drink tall Bush beers.One night when I came home, there was Benny in his wheelchair and Francis was on the ground trying to remove Benny’s socks. He hadn’t had the socks off or bathed in years. When Francis finally got them off he had to spray Benny’s disgusting feet with insecticide because there were whole families of ants living in his socks and feeding on Benny’s feet. It was one of the most disgusting things I can remember.
Marathon, Florida Keys.  According to an article in the Key West Morning Star newspaper of Jan. 20, 2000 by Charlie Ramos, it was Joseph R. Parrott, Flagler’s next in command and Chief Engineering Advisor, who gave a pep talk to 2500 workers at Knight’s Key in 1908. Knowing that the 7 mile bridge task was still ahead, as well as the deep waters of Bahia Honda, he announced that, because of Flagler’s advanced age and deep desire to see the project completed before he died, that more teams and more money would be spent to complete these last links to Key West.  He said, “Gentlemen, we are from this day forward engaged in a ‘Marathon’, a marathon to make sure that Mr. Flagler’s wish becomes an accomplished fact.”  So in 1908 the area east of Knight’s Key on Key Vaca became known as Marathon, and in the spirit of speeding the construction supplies were branded, “To Maratho
The name Marathon came about by the railroad workers who were working night and day to complete the railway. Due to the unrelenting pace and struggle to complete the project, the popular exclamation, “This is getting to be a real Marathon”, is how the name originated.
Port Pine Heights. I lived on Big Pine around 1964. I lived in Port Pine Heights. My stepfather dug some of the canals in Port Pine. He drove a dragline and dug out for the canals. He took some off the stuff he dug up and made the end of Port Pine bigger. He also took some and dumped it to bring up the elevation in some places. They had to use dynamite to get the coral rock to bust up so they could dig it. I have heard that the Kyle brothers name is not what it used to be. I used to wash the crane and bulldozer and dump truck. I made money and would go to Marathon and go to the movies. When I lived there no one told anyone else what to do. Live and let live was the motto. The way you talk it sounds like it’s not the paradise it was at one time. By the way, there were no iguanas on Big Pine in 1964. I used to walk all around the area and I never saw one the whole time we lived there. I saw some rattle snakes and alligators. Mosquitoes were so thick that you could not look out the glass for them covering it. I slept by a window and you could hear them buzzing. When I lived there it was a little wilder then, but I still love my memories of Big Pine Key and Port Pine Heights. When I lived there the main road was almost empty; no stores except one little one ran by some older people (Jens). We used to ride our bikes from Port Pine to the store.
Tina and Harvey. Gosh, what can one say about Tina and Harvey? Homeless a lot of the time, actually they were a good looking couple. Often Harvey would be about with either his banjo or guitar in tow and you might see Tina off on the side of the shopping plaza getting out of a strange car. They were madly in love with each other, but they used to brutalize one another occasionally, maybe it was a clinging or dependency, I don’t know. Harvey used to work at the No Name Pub making pizza. He suggested the Ham and Pineapple. They both were among the members of the Big Pine Key Raging Alcoholics Club. I guess Harvey’s main claim to fame, in my mind, besides being able to play a tune was getting a ride in the Medical Evacuation Helicopter up to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami when he got clocked by a car on his bicycle while he was three sheets to the wind–such trauma, but a couple of weeks later he was back on the local scene sporting a bandage wrapped around his head. I guess Tina was a bit of a whore, they really were a handsome couple. Harvey was such a gregarious guy. They are both dead now, God love them. Did Harvey go first or was it Tina? Either case, I suspect the other one died likely of a broken heart. Odd how I think back and in retrospect I really did like them both, for what that is worth. Thinking of you Harvey and Tina!
Street Address Madness. Along the Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys, house numbers indicate their distance from Mile Marker 0 in Key West. The mileage is found by dividing the house number by one thousand. For example, 77220 Overseas Highway is 77.2 miles from Mile Marker 0.If on a street that intersects the highway are given in tenths of a mile from the highway in whole numbers. If you are .355 miles from the highway you are 335.In the City of Marathon, 2350 Overseas Highway is halfway between 23rd and 24th Streets. No correlation to Mile marker 0  whatsoever. Marathon uses the grid system. So 2401 thru 2499 Overseas Highway will be between 24th St and 25th Street and so on. 100 addresses between each cross street.
bank-duval-front00The Great KW Bank Robbery. Back then in the 1960s (1965?) there was a robbery at the First National Bank on the corner of Front and Duval Streets in Key West. It was considered by many to have been one of the biggest hauls ever taken from an American bank. The job took place over a three-day weekend. The thieves silenced the alarm and went through the roof and into the safe deposit box vault. They broke into more than eighty of the largest boxes and absconded with the contents. The owners of those boxes, a list which read like a who’s who of South Florida, were among the most affluent people in the area at the time; the biggest land and business owners, the politicians, the purported gangsters and bolita kings – in short, everyone in the Keys with real money.No one ever found the thieves; all they left behind were some candy wrappers. There were rumors of an inside job. How did they know just which boxes to open, how (if) the roof was wired, but no charges were filed.Six months later, $500,000 in bearer bonds, supposedly from one of the boxes, showed up in Switzerland. That is all that was ever heard of the loot; the jewelry, cash, negotiables. The perpetrators disappeared without another trace.  This cannot take its place among the great heists of all time, because no actual value could be placed on it due to the obvious reluctance of those box owners to reveal to anyone just what, or how much they had contained, or where they got it, but speculation at the time put the total at many millions of dollars.

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