Hats Do A lot of Talking For Us………

Yesterday, I ran into a frail gentleman in a local eatery, escorted by his wife. He was sporting creased khaki pants, an ironed shirt and clean but worn footwear. He was the picture of gentlemanly conduct, soft spoken and observant as he smiled at the greeter recording his name for a table. He wore a ball cap that proclaimed his status as a World War II veteran, specifically in the European theater. His hat was telling a story even before I spoke to him thanking him for our ability to enjoy lunch on a blistering day in Springfield, Mo. There was a certain reverence about him and I am glad that I was able to enjoy a short conversation with this hero of days gone by. I am not sure why, but as we concluded our conversation he returned my appreciation for my military service, a keen observation as my past was not the topic of conversation. I suppose my query as to his unit in Europe triggered his confirmation as to my status as a veteran. His hat was the catalyst for a couple of vets to share a moment. This happening stimulated this musing about the unspoken words that hats convey.

Back around 2000, then Army chief of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, made the decision to place soldiers in the US Army in black berets as opposed to the more traditional headgear. The General was not a fan of elite units within the Army and sought to water down the significance of the Green Beret for Special Forces troopers and Tan Berets for our Rangers. It is rumored that President Kennedy was stirring under his eternal flame as he was a devout admirer of the Army’s Special Forces trained at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Ft. Bragg, NC. As warriors go, the Green Beret denotes a special kind of warrior that has earned his headgear much as a Seal earns the coveted trident insignia. The decision by Shinseki was subsequently reversed some ten years later. Another coveted hat in the military is the venerable brown campaign hat denoting drill instructors. Folks with a military background all know full well the aura that surrounds this hard earned headgear, specifically the conveyance of expectations that you WILL meet.

A good number of police organizations today wear a campaign hat, particularly state police organizations. Police officers endure many hours of training to earn the hat privilege and generally are considered to be “out” of uniform when they are not wearing their hats while in uniform. There exists much controversy within police ranks relative to the merits or demerits of wearing this headgear, but few can argue the professional bearing conveyed by the presence of a uniformed officer while “under” his hat. Hats that speak are not limited to the uniformed services…

One of my “trophies” is a simple flat brim straw hat that I bought while on an RV trip in Amish country in Ohio. The good Amish people are seldom seen without a covering on their heads, and these utilitarian hats are favored when outdoors working. For most of us, the appearance of one of these hats instantly conveys an impression related to a strong work ethic as well as an appreciation and adherence to Christian principle. You will seldom have occasion to question the Christian ethic of a person under this straw hat.

No treatise on hats would be complete without mentioning the venerable ball cap, which has been around a long time. Today, the brim of the hat conveys many identities, but one needs to be careful here. A flat brimmed cap, in certain colors might signify something entirely different for a flats fisherman as opposed to a young man in the inner city. Ball caps are intended to be utilitarian, but are often used to confirm one’s identification with a particular group or, as in the veteran above, a military past. A worn, red Dekalb seed cap, with sweat stains and an oil mark where it is grabbed each time it is picked up, worn by a denim and flannel clad man wearing dusty boots, is likely indicative of an individual who knows something about the farming industry.

Folks who are around emergency services recognize the venerable hat worn by firemen as a “leatherhead” now replaced by newer composite helmets offering better protection. Still the shape of this headgear immediately identifies someone associated with the fire services. The same can be said of the helmets worn by motorcyclists. If you think a bit, you can identify folks who value freedom and comfort (minimal skull cap helmets) over safety (full face helmets that are hot and confining). I am not moralizing here, merely pointing out the obvious. I have noticed a direct correlation between motorcyclists who wear minimalist helmets and the use of gloves when they ride. Full face guys are more likely to wear gloves than the minimalist riders, and hands are particularly vulnerable in even the most mundane of crashes. Check this out for yourself.

In summary, hats do a lot of talking about the wearer. A ball cap is almost always resting on my head, usually brightly colored denoting some place I’ve travelled to. My propensity to wear a cap is the result of many years wearing a campaign hat and…….honestly….to cover a head that is hair challenged. Removing the cap to sit down for lunch ages me instantly. 🥴

As you move about in the next few days, watch and see if the hats don’t talk to you!

Have a good weekend.

SR

Time management….

There is a number out there, known only to God unless, of course, you have made the decision to interfere with the Master’s plan and select a date to exit this world on your own accord. I add this macabre thought in deference to the many members of the blue line that are choosing to deal with their misery through the “final solution”. But that is not why I write. Another visit to a doctor this week, for rather routine age related issues, has reminded me that I really have not done a stellar job of managing my time on earth. I suspect that I am not alone in the realization that misplaced priorities are great time thieves. Let’s have a look at time and priority.

If you are fortunate enough, and I certainly was, to work in pursuit of an occupation that is a passion, it is easy to ignore the possibility that you are missing many of the joys that life in the most prosperous country on earth offers. I am reminded of a story that a great friend tells from the heart. His brother called him one day and begged him to take the next day off and fish with him, a passion that both men enjoyed but often set aside to pursue their jobs. My friend declined, begging off as he had “obligations” at work that were, at that moment in time, far more important than a trip to the river. A day or so later, my friend’s brother was killed in a horrific vehicular accident. My friend solemnly declared that he had no time to fish with his brother, but could take the time to bury him. It is a regret he will carry to his grave. The trick, my dear readers, is to avoid creating regrets by not thinking through your priorities in life.

I have always greatly admired folks who can walk out and safely and competently climb into an airplane and soar above the chaos of earth. I have another friend who is near the end of a glorious career driving triple 7’s (Boeing 777’s) around the world for a living. I have written about him in the past as he is a consummate pilot, able to fly just about anything he can climb into. Amazingly, he truly loves to fly smaller aircraft and does so with the calm deliberation that has marked his career. He helped me realize that I, too, can fly an airplane, encouraging me to pursue this dream to where I am today, a solo “student” pilot who is being throttled back by aggravating and perhaps disqualifying health issues that befall us all at some point in time. The final chapter in my flying career is yet to be written, but misplaced priorities have resulted in me grabbing this passion later in life than I should have. I did not think this through when health was the last thing on my mind. These same aggravations have resulted in my placing my motorcycle helmet on our book case, a trophy reminding me that I returned to this passion later than I should have. Am I wallowing in misery and self pity? Hell no, I have experienced the thrill of flying cross country alone and the feel of wind in my face over the rumble of a motorcycle while driving through the country. I paid closer attention to another passion, fishing. The aforementioned health issues have seriously cut back on the pursuit of this noble sport, but I will continue to fish when arthritis is at bay, until I fall over in a trout stream somewhere and am dragged to the bank by a younger, more able angler. Below is a picture of my training airplane taken a day or so after my cross country solo.

These examples of conceding defeat to the time thief are likely no different for most of my readers. If your passion is golf, are you hitting the course as often as you can? Perhaps you enjoy the shooting sports. Do you make it a point to shoot as often as you possibly can? The list is endless; boating, traveling, gardening, bicycling, scuba diving, floating, well, you get the point here. The maintenance of your family obligations can be greatly enhanced by introducing them to and urging them to participate in your passion, or vice versa.

Here is the take away. At some point your health is going to interfere with your life. Do not be lulled into complacency on this consideration as we are want to do when we are 30 something and can jump over buildings and throw a 800 pound motorcycle around as if it were a sack of potatoes. I would offer a fair challenge: Think about the things in life that provide the most joy and consciously consider this important question. Are there changes you can make in your life that will enhance your opportunities to pursue your passion(s)? Is there a strategy, unique to you, that can be adopted that will limit the distractions that are a part of everyday life? Can you enhance your discretionary time? Are your priorities in order? Most of us are at a time in place in life to begin eliminating additional regret, always a good strategy.

We are all very good about making time for the funeral. The trick is to have an eulogist who can smile and suggest that “he (she) had her priorities in order and lived a full life”. Grab a second cup of coffee and give this some thought…..

Have a great weekend!

SR

Everything Has An origin….

As I sit at my desk this morning, I have a commanding view of two stop signs, one regulating traffic from a neighborhood street onto another and the second controlling the flow of traffic from a neighborhood street onto a busy and fast county road that faces the entrance to a busy farm park. I retired from a career where the regulation of vehicular traffic was the focus of my enforcement efforts and I have little patience with folks who don’t make an effort to comply with our motor vehicle laws. These stop signs are an example of how the seeds of civil disobedience are planted in our children. Hear me out before you casually discard the rantings of a frustrated “traffic guy”.

This morning I watched two neighborhood cars drive through these stop signs at speed. There was no effort at a “California Stop” much less an actual attempt to stop as required. This is a very bad habit to develop as eventually these violations are going to get the motorists in trouble. Traffic guys have all worked a number of crashes where folks pull out in front of oncoming traffic after a stop and many more where there was no attempt to stop at all, as was the case this morning. We have also worked a number of crashes, some quite serious, where the violator swears they looked, but did not see the oncoming traffic. Looking and seeing are two entirely different things folks. Just this week, I drove up on a very serious crash at a controlled intersection just outside of Springfield where a motorist failed to stop and drove into the path of an oncoming vehicle. These things happen when you casually disobey the basic rules of the road.

The merits of compliance with traffic law are obvious to virtually everyone who drives today. This important consideration is not why I write. One of the cars that drove through the stop sign today, as if it did not exist, was occupied by children in addition to the driver. These kids were old enough to form impressions based on the behaviors of the “adult” driving the car and are being taught that it is okay to ignore the law in the interest of expediency and time conservation. Driving is a very basic freedom that we enjoy, guaranteeing unheralded mobility in a country where cars are seen as an absolute necessity. I would argue that casually ignoring traffic law is the first step in teaching our children that laws are to be followed only when it is convenient and that casual disobedience is the order of the day. Ignoring the stop signs is the first, baby step in the fine art of civil disobedience. Everything has an origin, and civil disobedience is spawned when laws are broken. I would further suggest the thugs in ANTIFA have little regard for laws of any kind, including traffic law, although they do offer a ridiculous rationale for their ignorance, the hatred of authority.

To the folks who demonstrated their willful noncompliance with the law mandating a stop at a stop sign, think about your answer when the child asks why you didn’t stop as required. If you are able to come up with a good reason as to why you ignored this basic law, please offer it to me in your comments. I suspect that I have heard them all and have yet to hear one that sticks. We should strive to eliminate the necessity of explaining to our children why we break laws.

I was fortunate to enjoy a law enforcement career that encompassed every aspect of policing from criminal investigation to safety education and training. Traffic enforcement is how troopers cut their teeth in the State Patrol and is an aspect where you can make a difference instantly when you flip open your ticket book and begin the process of reminding motorists that someone is always watching you at some point in your public movement.

Take an extra few seconds to teach your children and grandchildren that laws are written to insure our safety. At the end of the day, you will have contributed to their development in a very positive way and will smile at your effort, knowing that you have made a positive contribution to their education and our civil order.

America’s Trial……

In my years on the Patrol, I looked forward to the July 4th holiday with mixed feelings. The revelry and warmth of this summer holiday were tempered by the absolute certainty that either I personally, or one or more of my officers would confront tragedy in some form or another. As we enter this holiday, I appreciate America more than ever, but am concerned with the tone and tenor of our resolve to defend ourselves against our enemies, as they say “foreign and domestic”. The recently concluded trial of Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher is an example of the shifting resolve we face. Below, we have Chief Gallagher.

Combat is not akin to a mean natured dog on your paper route. Those of us who have served in combat know that war is a nasty business that will sear your conscious and awaken you in the middle of the night. There are no easy solutions when your boots are on the ground and a rifle is your best friend. I do not wish the experience on anyone, but also know that it is inevitable if we are to continue to enjoy the life that our fighting men and women have guaranteed by confronting our enemies and killing them when necessary. The line between absolute immorality and morality is drawn somewhere between Me Lai and the actions of Chief Gallagher, with one being clearly out of bounds and the other…well you judge for yourself.

I am a relatively inexperienced warrior, having spent a year in Vietnam near the end of a war we fought for reasons not clearly understood and that has not been judged kindly by history. I did, however; live with a very experienced warrior in my father, a highly decorated Green Beret Colonel, who saw combat in both Korea and Vietnam. I suspect that dad would be appalled by the trial of Chief Gallagher, even though his actions as portrayed by the prosecutors were “distasteful”. My father and I did not talk much about his participation in combat, but I understood his clear eyed, intrinsic belief that you met a challenge “on terms they (challenger) would understand”. My friends viewed dad with a deep respect as his presence could chill a room instantly. One of my uncles, an Air Force veteran, often referred to dad as “the most dangerous man he had ever known”. There is absolutely no doubt that killing, in combat, was not difficult for my father and folks like Eddie Gallagher. That, readers, is the essence of combat. The Chief stands convicted of posing with the corpse of an enemy combatant, an occurrence that represents the black humor that is often present on the battlefield. This stuff is not for timid, inexperienced warriors. Again, I leave the judgement of his actions to the reader, based on his or her own sensitivities and experience with death. The picture below is of Col. SR Johnson.

Shifting gears just a bit, our televisions have been alive with footage of ANTIFA punks beating the hell out of a journalist attempting to capture the essence of their despicable antics. As a professional police officer for many years, the sight of these masked thugs beating up folks without police interference makes me retch. I would smile broadly if one of the victims in these assaults could somehow secure a baton and beat one of the ANTIFA thugs senseless. We are not going to influence the actions of these idiots by standing by and shaking our heads while we mutter under our breaths. Dad’s wisdom comes into play, meet them on the terms they have established. Chief Gallagher was confronted by an enemy that teaches public beheading of innocent people as a means to shock the world into accepting their way of life. Were his actions any more shocking than the words of one of our greatest warriors, General George Patton, who proclaimed he “would grease the treads of his tanks with the guts of the (German soldiers)” that his troops killed? Was that unbecoming conduct? Hardly.

The point of this all is simple. America must continue to produce warriors that are willing and able to meet our enemies, domestic and foreign, on terms they will understand. There is little if any diplomacy in combat, whether it be in a foreign country or our streets. The diplomacy that does exist must be exercised before the gloves come off and we engage the combatants. Chief Gallagher will write a book, as he should, in hopes of guaranteeing his financial future. His trial was America’s trial and the verdict is in. Combat is a double barreled hell that results in blurred lines between reasonable and unreasonable lines in the sand. The advantage must be given to the warrior.

America is on trial…..are we up to it?

Who You Gonna’ Call……

Policing is not for the faint of heart. A police officer is going to see and hear things that he or she will never un-see or un-hear to the day they exit this world. When the unspeakable happens, the officer will be there, usually among the first to arrive, and will assume his or her sworn responsibility to determine what happened and why. A fact that is under reported is that officers, on any given day, would much prefer to help someone out as opposed to take someone out. With this basic principle in play, we continue to kill and maim our officers at an unprecedented rate, and the day is coming when the unthinkable happens and the folks affected are going to wring their hands and wonder, who are you going to call?

For instance……

When an infant is casually discarded in a plastic bag, only to be discovered by neighborhood children and saved from a slow, agonizing death, who are you gonna’ call to see that justice is served?

When a man makes a mistake(s) behind the wheel, or worse, and loses control of his vehicle killing a number of motorcyclists in a matter of seconds, who are you gonna’ call to sort out the mayhem and bring this incident to a factual conclusion?

When a felon attempts to pass a bad check in a local business and is detected in the act, who are you gonna’ call to sort this crime out?

When a felon must be transported within the criminal justice system, who are you gonna’ call to handle this movement?

When a human being loses all hope of coping with his or her life and calmly sits down with a firearm, or drives his or her vehicle into solid concrete seeking to put an end to their misery, who are you gonna’ call to carefully chronicle this violent and ugly ending?

When a couple chooses to end a disagreement with violence toward one another or worse, ends the disagreement with the finality of death, who are you gonna’ call?

When vehicular traffic is suddenly snarled as a result of outdated engineering and roads that are carrying traffic that far exceeds their capacity, who are you gonna’ call to open it up and get folks moving again?

When a dangerous fugitive from justice is located in a motel room, thought to be armed and known to be violent, who are you gonna’ call to apprehend him?

When justice is served and an individual on probation violates the court imposed terms of that probation, resulting in a warrant being issued for his arrest, who are you gonna’ call to bring the individual back to face the judge?

When the neighbors complain of a foul odor emanating from the house next door, who are you gonna’ call to make entry and sort out the horrible mess that is moldering in a back bedroom?

When a school bus stops to discharge a couple of students at a neighborhood stop and is passed by a truck hauling a farm implement with insufficient clearance to make the illegal pass, resulting in the decapitation of three children sitting in the back of the bus, who are you gonna’ call to lend dignity to this horrifying result?

When your neighbor is killed in a single car accident and you slowly pull into your driveway, exit your car, square your hat up and walk not into your house but the house next door to notify the young, now widow, that her husband is not coming home, who are you gonna’ call to to save you the discomfort?

Some of the events noted above are current events, some are from my personal catalogue of events that I will never unsee.

The point is this. In a free and open society, bad people and sociopaths operate with little fear of folks who are not sworn to stand between them and the society we enjoy. Today, any action by a police officer is sure to be captured by a camera, which builds just a smidgeon of hesitancy into the officers response to an event in front of him or her. If it is a deadly force incident, there will be the usual and proper multi layer review of the officer’s actions that will not satisfy those who have an inherently biased view of the police. The police are an essential part of the society we live in, indispensable if we are not to descend into absolute chaos, and yet police killings continue with each occurrence marked by the ritualistic reviews in the press and moments of reflection on the part of folks who knew or associated with the dead officer. Officers are being killed simply because they are officers, in many cases posing little threat to the killer. Lost in this sometimes deadly business is the fact that our officers are involved in hundreds of humanitarian, warm, and gracious acts of kindness to those we protect for every violent interaction. That is also our sworn responsibility.

My family is a police family. I have a daughter who is a trooper and a nephew that is a state wildlife officer in Florida. I am proud of their commitment and participation in this noble occupation, but would not recommend it today. Police agencies across the country are not enjoying the robust numbers of candidates that once upon a time were attracted to this business. An officer is not only threatened with increasing levels of violence but is under immense pressure by posturing politicians who are crafting ridiculous rules of engagement sure to result in more death and injury to our officers. The changing times have not been kind to this profession.

That being said, I ask again, who are you gonna’ call when things turn ugly?

God bless our Centurions.

Day 10 In The Keys……

Experience is a wonderful teacher and we have enough time on the ground in the mystical Keys to offer a few more random thoughts for those who have always wanted to see this part of Florida. Let’s jump right in and talk about what we have discovered thus far.

As I mentioned before, the atmosphere is distinctly laid back, with the beauty of the seas all around. The coastal waters will stimulate your senses with a palette of color, sounds and smells. Navigation in these waters requires either a great deal of experience or the services of one who has that experience. You can be miles off shore and find yourself either aground or running in 3′ of water, and the changes occur rapidly. We have enjoyed the skills of Billy Thompson, seen in the photograph, who is a Fish and Wildlife officer stationed here and also my nephew. In a sense, running down here is akin to the upper reaches of Truman Lake where knowledge of the channels and bars is necessary to prevent an embarrassing day ending experience. We fished in 100′ of water and as much as 600′ of water all within an hour or two of the marina. Unless sunbathing in an anchored boat, fishing here is work, skipping a dead Ballyhoo (baitfish) across the surface behind a trolling, rocking boat. The breeze while trolling is most welcome. Predictably, the equipment is very stout and heavy. The fishing has not been excellent, however; day to day we have boated enough Dolphin and Mahi to keep the skillet hot. These fish, fresh from the water and dropped into a smoking hot cast iron skillet after a dusting of Bill’s excellent blackening mix makes the entire trip worthwhile.

We drove down to Key West where the pace quickened a bit and the traffic was brutal. If you make Key West a priority, be ready to walk a lot and pay a hefty toll to park somewhere close to the action. It was as expected. Duvall Street, in the heart of the historic downtown was a collection of small shops selling just about anything from t-shirts to the tools necessary to enjoy your favorite herbal concoction. In between hordes of tourists, locals sauntered by, often barefoot on bicycles, drifting in and out of traffic on very narrow streets. There are a number of historically interesting places, including Mr. Truman’s summer home and Mr. Hemingway’s house. I liked the old Coast Guard Headquarters building where a museum, named after the treasure hunter, Mel Fisher, was located. Apparently, Mel Fisher was renowned in his area of expertise, as was another Mel Fisher that I worked for several years ago. A nasty thunderstorm interrupted our visit downtown, forcing us to take refuge in Garbo’s, a small eatery that is highly rated in Key West. We enjoyed a respectable lunch while we drip dried to the delight of Tazzy who cannot get enough water! We can say that we have been to Key West but are not in a hurry to return, as opposed to the destinations in the western and mountain reaches of America. If you want a colorful and rich experience visiting the old south, I can absolutely recommend Charleston, S.C., where the charm is palpable, or the “forgotten coast” of Florida’s panhandle, a subject of past blogs. This leads to another perspective.

Generally speaking, the Keys do not remotely approach the Florida panhandle in terms of seafood. It was disappointing to see a Rinehardt or US Foods truck backed up to these restaurants unloading the same frozen foods and staples that we enjoy at Red Lobster in the heart of the Ozarks. The seafood in the Apalachicola area is absolutely superior to the touristy foods in the Keys, with the exception of a select few eateries that require the services of Trip Advisor to locate, well off the beaten path. I will suggest the folks in the Keys do not approach the reverence in seafood that Kansas City and St. Louis do in terms of barbecue. Only a very few eateries that we have visited merit a second visit.

There are a number of RV parks spaced along Highway 1. Most are fairly average, often crowded and not as well manicured as Grassy Key Park, the location we have managed to luck into. I talked a bit about this park in an earlier piece, and RV enthusiasts among my readers would do well to remember this park. It is adult oriented, although kids are in residence, very neat and managed for the comfort of it’s patrons. It is ideally located in the center of the Keys, has a nice Marina and the salt water pool is a great place to burn the uncomfortable afternoon heat. You must be willing (and able) to rely solely on your RV, as there are no shower houses or restrooms beyond what you towed or drove in. This should not be a problem for 99% of the hard core RV’ers out there.

A note or two about the necessities of everyday living. There are the normal drug stores, markets and enough medical services to be stabilized should you develop a suspicious chest pain after eating a meal of frozen, farmed shrimp from Thailand. There are a number of stop and robs offering fuel at mainland prices and plenty of ice to keep your cooler at peak efficiency. You can buy your fishing permit online with ease, and the out of state saltwater licenses are reasonable (10 days, 30 bucks).

I suppose that Missouri with it’s show me philosophy, will always be where my heart is and I am sure that among my readers there are a number of folks that absolutely loved the Florida Keys. We have at least two more adventures on out list while we are here, the turtle hospital and hand feeding the Tarpon at an establishment called Robbies. Pure tourist stuff, but hopefully educational. I am glad we came, and we will be back…….to the forgotten coast!

The Keys……….

An Ozarkian’s Impression Of The Florida Keys…..

My heritage is southern in nature, with most of my family still residing in South Carolina and northern Florida. This past week or so, Sharon and I have enjoyed a jaunt through northern Florida and are now taking up RV residence in Grassy Key RV Park, on Grassy Key, very near Marathon Fl. In many ways, the Keys remind me of a boyhood in the lowlands of South Carolina, where heat and humidity this time of the year are to be expected. In this writing, I am offering a glimpse into our first impressions as we begin week two on Grassy Key.

The ocean, whether it be the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic, each within a few feet of each other in this part of the world, is compelling. The color and clarity of the water is beautiful and, well, immense. I have exactly one fishing trip under my belt, having travelled some 15-20 miles offshore to an area of huge, floating grass beds where our efforts were rewarded with a single barracuda with a terrible attitude. My sister, her husband and a carefree nephew well versed in the art of fishing this water were the guides and despite the dearth of fish, we had a great time. The ocean currents around the Keys are something to behold and until this trip, I was oblivious to them. When it takes a half pound of lead to hold a bait on the bottom in 100′ of water, you are fighting major current. (We did a little bottom fishing on the way back in.). The gear is big compared to the stuff I am used to when jerking crappie or teasing trout back in Missouri. I sat out yesterdays trip, and the gang tied into several nice Mahi, which were expertly blackened and served under a nice Mango salsa that brother-in-law whipped up last night. Predictably, fishing is a huge part of the Keys experience.

You need to be careful or enjoy the guidance of experienced Key travelers when dining out in the keys. A lot of the seafood in the trendy places is thawed just before preparation, that is, it is not freshly caught. Thankfully the family knows where the “locals” dine and we have been treated to some wonderful table fare. Sharon and I often rely on Trip Advisor for tips on diners and dives and found a little hole in the wall named the Twisted Shrimp where we enjoyed a very honest lunch of fried shrimp and dirty rice served on paper. It was wonderful and reasonable, attributes that do not abound here. Tourists are easily amused by the many flashier eateries that exist here that know how to exact a heavy toll on your wallet. This is to be expected.

The Keys are old. There are long expanses of mangrove undergrowth and barren sand between the better known and very commercial settlements like Key Largo and Islamorada. There are fabulous beach homes scattered about and any number of mostly dated motels and “resorts”. Advertising and clever photography can turn pretty average into glamorous, similar to the magic that real estate sales people rely on to turn pretty average into fantastic. We have not made it to Key West just yet, but have received much unsolicited advice about the merits of visiting this universally known area. The absence of a Wal-Mart is both refreshing and disconcerting! The Walton clan has not, as of yet, penetrated this market. We located a dated K-Mart and a really nice Bass-Pro, that surprised us with a great inventory, very nice clothing and reasonable pricing. Naturally, it is salt water oriented, but an exceptionally nice store, worth your time as you pass through.

The RV parks can be dated and a bit seedy. Not so, Grassy Key RV Park. This is a crisp, immaculate, small and convenient park, located adjacent to Highway 1, the traffic artery of the keys. The landscaping is beautiful, the small salt-water pool just right, and it has it’s own little harbor for those needing to tie up for a few days. A word of advice is in order here. “Jack” the proprietor is a rules guy, good for the type of patron he attracts. He is security oriented, with numerous cameras, some infra-red, throughout the park, and believes strongly in the adage there is a place for everything and everything in it’s place. I like the guy, in spite of his stiff demeanor and, thus far, we love this location. RV’ers know that parks come in all shapes and sizes, and we would strongly recommend this location to our RV friends.

There are only a couple of troopers assigned to the Keys. Most of the law enforcement work is done by the sheriffs in this part of the country, and their presence is felt. The sheriff leaves patrol cars, sans officers, at various locations along Highway 1 to deter speeding, usually parked in the shade of a roadside tree. I am sure this is effective as a very large percentage of drivers are from out of state and are not alert to this effective ruse. One of my nephews is a Florida Wildlife officer, assigned to the Keys, and has been instrumental in helping me to understand the law enforcement scheme here. His agency is not restricted to just wildlife enforcement but is involved in virtually every aspect of law enforcement activity. He leads an exciting life!

I should mention the rain and thunderstorms down here. It is amazing to watch a thunderstorm build, blow up and die without moving more than a mile. I am told the evening rain and storms are normal and they can be impressive. We are used to fronts and squall lines in the midwest, not the case over the keys. The lightening is spectacular, the storms hard hitting and the necessity to keep a close watch on the weather around you is paramount, especially if offshore or sloppy with your RV awnings! We were able to roll our Airstream awning in just ahead of a storm a night or two ago. As I write, I am watching one of these “shake and bake” storms form up not far from here. They are beautiful as you watch them develop just off shore.

There is a magic attraction to the Florida Keys, fed by the likes of Bogie and Bacall that need to be experienced by everyone at least once. If you like boats this is a must stop for you, as the Keys are to boats what salsa is to chips. The locals are very laid back, the pace is slow and, if you are careful, the seafood good and beer cold. Bring plenty of SPF 500 and absorb the local flavor. This is a great venue for the wedding of a niece next week, our draw to the Keys in the summer heat. Timing is everything and if you are diligent, you can catch this experience somewhere between the heat of summer and the crush of tourists during the winter.

The Keys………