Saturday, January 31, 2015

Backspace

I confess it will be a struggle for me to be cheerful about a place that replaces Finnegan's Wake, what used to be the quintessential dark cool pub. It was the place I liked to go by myself or with a friend, the food was good and utterly unlike anything else in town. It was a better pub than any I've seen in the US, so that was that when they closed.
I don't eat out much at the moment so it's no loss to the restaurant to say I miss the past. I need to make this a final look back and when I am back drinking alcohol and buying sugar fat and salt and I actually have time to do something other than work and prepare podcasts (!) I will enjoy checking this place out. I am not alone.
I suspect this new clean fresh space will do fine without me for a while. Led by experienced owners, retaining the old chef (Colcannon anyone?) and a strong Facebook following already...no problem. And cooking the pest Lionfish gives us a clue that they know what's going on in the Keys.
Up the street on Caroline Braza Lena the Brazilian barbecue dining room is still flying the sign outside while inside the place is upside down. The sign in the window said they'd be back after renovations. Mind you they've been closed forever.
I used to like this place from time to time not for the full on huge meat meals in the restaurant but for a mixed grill on a plate washed down with a Brazilian beer. So much for that. I'm not doing so well am I, if I ever get to eat out again.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wrapping Up For Winter

"Hmm," I said to my fellow dispatchers last night as we settled in for another night of jollity at work, "it says here people are digging out from under several  feet of snow today in New England." In Key West it's brisk enough to require wool hats and sweaters to fend off hypothermia.
"Sucks to be them," Nick and Kristi replied in unison. With temperatures under 70 degrees all week taking a hot shower has become something of a trial here in Key West, so a quick scan of the online news between 911 calls is a good way to stay abreast of true suffering. Around here true suffering is when you have to wear a  fleece with your shorts as you check out breakfast at Pepe's.
I overheard a woman (not pictured) telling some people she'd just met in Key West how she and her husband were sick of Illinois winters but he has a good job etc...etc...And that sort of talk puzzles me. 
Aren't those the people that like seasons? I saw this guy dressed like half the Michelin man wearing socks too so you know it's cold. I thought of Shannon who got a deal on some kind of huge puffy parka when she worked in a clothing store. It's her standard outfit she says when temperatures plummet.
You know its cold around here when Cheyenne puts in two solid hours hiking around downtown and she tries top delay the return trip  by pretending to be exhausted. She gets lots of sympathy from snowbirds, poor old thing, and they cluck and pet her and she takes her tribute. I read my book on my phone until Princess is ready to move on.
And its not just sympathetic snowbirds who make a fuss of my dog. Homeless dudes sometimes find comfort in her soft fur and compliant attitude.  That cold north wind is evidenced by the hoody.
And so we see why exactly the absence of seasons is just perfect as we look across  brightly sunlit Mallory Square as the hardy Northerners admire the monument to the USS Maine as though drenched in summer heat while the flags flap sturdily in the northeast breeze blowing across the city.
This cold snap is supposed to persist into the weekend when daytime highs will revert to 80 degrees and nighttime lows will be around 70 degrees. Can't come too soon for me though I'm sure Cheyenne would disagree.

Mosquitoes


The news has been loud and insistent: dangerous mosquitoes to be loosed on the Florida Keys. The Mosquito Control District, a public agency in Monroe County has been the object of controversy locally with dictatorial leadership, high salaries and not a lot of public input. New leadership has righted the problems as far as one can see from the outside, and then this. More controversy.
If you live in Monroe County you get used to insects, just as anyone who lives in Florida jokes about newcomers embarrassed to buy cockroach killing powders. After you've lived here a while lizards on the walls are just one more arrow in your insect repellent quiver. Some people bitch about Mosquito Control and some outsiders find the idea of a Mosquito Control District quaint. Both are wrong. Mosquitoes, not flies are God's mistake. In the background of my picture below you can see the Bat Tower on Sugarloaf Key, another failed attempt to get rid of excess mosquitoes organically. The bats  left and the mosquitoes stayed behind.
Mosquitoes sting, perhaps not as much as no see 'ums, but they do sting as they inject anti-coagulant to suck your blood. They spread disease and they have always been a problem for humans. More people throughout history have died from yellow fever than any other single cause. In the past they vaporized diesel fuel and DDT and sprayed that lethal mixture. From the Florida State Archive this picture of lethal smoke being spread near Tampa in 1950:
Happily in these enlightened times the District sprays little pellets of bacillus thuringiensis to render mosquitoes impotent and reduce the population. But the climate is changing, mosquitoes are spreading and the threat of diseases previously eradicated is looming.
So the question is, should a British company currently lab testing genetically modified mosquitoes in Marathon be allowed to let them loose in the Lower Keys? The answer obviously is no. On the other hand maybe the answer isn't so obvious. I should no longer be surprised by the inability of most people to connect dots but then something comes up and there I am again, surprised! The fact is there are too many people on the planet. A population of seven billion and riding us double the population of when I was born half a century ago. Back then mosquito control was smudge pots and gambusia channels cut in the rock and filled with larvae eating fish...
But in those distant days people lived with a great deal more discomfort than we are prepared to do today. In 1902 William Krome, Flagler's chief railroad engineer is seen here prospecting for a rail route through the Everglades. Check out his defenses against mosquitoes, from the fascinating website devoted to the Keys and the past:
Critics sit snug in this First World orderly environment of clean potable running water, reliable electricity and abundant air conditioning and sufficient resources to eat too much every single day and wonder why we should be the butt of an experiment that they fear may end up poisoning them. I am no fan of GMO foods nor of irradiated foods nor of the Monsanto corporation that seeks to wreck heritage plant sources to create secure patentable profits from genetic coding. I understand all that and I oppose it. I also oppose population growth at unsustainable rates and I acknowledge my part in creating what now appears to be runaway clubs the change. But...the question remains, what do we do with this over populated world. Do we say fuck and let the brown and black people in the Third World die, or go blind from preventable diseases and vitamin deficiency? Do we not have a responsibility to share our wealth? The Ebola outbreak scared us rigid and highlighted the stupidity of cutting public health funding but now we say no to trying to find a way to fight back against yellow fever and dengue? I have read on Facebook, that endless source of lies and confusion how some entitled White residents here feel we don't need to get involved as we aren't at risk for a disease some mopes have never even heard of. I've had dengue and I've seen people die of dengue because they were brown and poor and forgotten by God. Never heard of breakbone fever ( so called because that's what it feels like, believe me)? How soon we forget.
So sure, if it strengthens your convictions call it messing with God's creation ( who apparently created genes for no good reason), call it the new apocalypse, but maybe, in a world where snit bionics are everywhere and losing effectiveness, where vaccination is viewed as witchcraft (the bad kind) maybe we cannot reason our way to splicing genes in a lab to re-eradicate dengue fever. Too bad I guess.
But if like me you look at your dog and wonder how she is descended from wolves and bred to be specifically a Labrador and you think of Gregor Mendel, so then you have to ask yourself, what kind of a leap are we looking at here? Sure I would like to live in a world where we weren't consuming every finite resource so voraciously, I wish there were fewer of us on the planet, but just like you I am not ready to slit my own throat to reduce overpopulation. Just like those powerless endlessly exploited Africans and Latin American peasants and all those others among God's creatures born with an inherent fear of the after life and a determination to live at all costs. Just like the pesky ubiquitous mosquito. I want to live well.





 Ins and Outs of Genetically Altered Mosquitoes

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hudson River Valley 2010

This nostalgic look back over the years, born of necessity got me remembering my Iron Butt trip of October 2010, 35 hours continuous riding to New York's Binghamton a distance of 1500 miles followed by a ride across the Catskills and a night alongside the famed Hudson River. The next day I rode south to meet the equally famed Jack riepe in Pennsylvania. Great memories, and I think I included this essay in this collective look back because I miss taking a long trip or two on my motorbike.

Sliding Down The Hudson

To wake up in Kingston near the Hudson River had never been a particular ambition of mine but I had long been interested in seeing this part of the world. The Bonneville was covered in raindrops after a night that had promised violent thunderstorms had petered out into a light shower. It was cold again- I could see my breath as I walked across the parking lot at eight in the morning to eat a bacon and egg breakfast.The roads in this part of the world are rough, ice heaves, pot holes the size of a car wheel, asphalt badly laid in patch work quilts and manholes everywhere all lead to a bouncy kind of a ride. That and the gloom of gray skies and dilapidated brick buildings lead a southern rider used to morning sunshine to look for beauty elsewhere.Nature provides what human civilization frequently cannot. I was back out in the land of roads that snake up and down and sideways, and trees that change color violently alongside those roads.Finally I got to see the famous river. I have read about it's role in the revolutionary era, I have read books on travel by sail that have involved journeys up the river to the Erie Canal that connects the Hudson to the Great Lakes. I even used to listen to Daniel Pinkwater, NPR story teller talk about his life in Dutchess County, up the Hudson Valley. The river itself was subdued, dark and still and silent, like a shiny dark smear across the mountains and red leaves of the adjacent land mass.I have no doubt the sky promising more rain had an effect but the river seemed brooding and almost menacing as it pushed its way through the mountain defiles.It was quite spectacular. I know I was out of season but I was the only dork with a camera I saw all day on this remarkable road.To see a plan for a pizza parlor in a building as ornate as this leads me to wonder if the inhabitants have a strong grasp of the nature of the place in which they live. Perhaps living with history doesn't leave it's mark on the people who deal with it daily. I guess pizza has to be sold somewhere.Newburgh, New York is a very old burg and pretty tired too. It has declined horribly since George Washington camped here and nearly lost his army to a mutiny. I followed some stupid detour marked off Highway 9W and the detour ended abruptly in the middle of the city. I stood astride the Bonneville and wondered where I was. It didn't look promising and from where I was standing it looked like a giant crack house but perhaps I was exaggerating. The photo below shows Lower Broadway, the widest street in New York state and Newburgh went into the history books as one of the first cities to choose a city manager form of government and the first in the country to fluoridate it's water. Now it just looks like a shit hole of 30,000 lost souls. I kept riding back to the river while hoping for no flat tires to impede my way.Winding roads came back into view as Highway 9W (what the W stands for I couldn't say- not west, for we were heading south, but perhaps it was the western branch of Highway 9?) climbed to a scenic vista point.
Very scenic it was too, on my (west) side...
...and the east side of the river wasn't bad looking either.I was looking forward to the rest of the ride downriver toward West Point, but first I had a job to do.Behind the parapet was a place to pee, of that I was pretty certain and so it was I clambered over the wall in all my riding gear, looking for all the world like a knight what has lost his horse. I found a spot that has to rate as the most scenic outhouse in America that morning. I wondered about tipping over the edge but I reckoned my body armor wouldn't do much to stop me splattering on the rocks below so I kept myself inboard and finished my work of art by peeing copiously on my boot. Cumbersome riding gear makes all other aspects of daily living very difficult.Graffiti is everywhere in public places. Many of the granite stone decorations have been covered with inconspicuous gray paint to try to hide the worst of the offenders. This lost soul, an e-harmony reject according to a friend of mine, had used a finger to express his longing in wet cement, quite indelibly:Not a very discriminating aspirant I thought to myself, pausing to wonder what he might do with the rest of the woman.Lacking all appropriate decals and permits and post 9-11 forms of peaceable intent I rode on by content to know that I had been there.I had a brief phone conversation with Jack riepe, a man of limited social skills who was wetting his pants waiting to meet me in Pennsylvania not too many miles south. Knowing I lacked all forms of electronic gimcrackery he told me to take Highway 6 to Highway 33 to Highway 22 to Highway 209 to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Following his instructions I crested a rise away from the river and found myself staring at... I don't know quite what. New York State I guess.The roads were tremendous fun twisting and swooping across the countryside and I was enjoying the sense of freedom from responsibility only a motorcycle can give. Here I was, all alone with a tank of gas and no one to say boo to me, free to go and stop and start as I wished. Great roads they were too. Did I mention that?I reached the outer darkness of the edge of the Empire State, a place called Port Jervis, a place where the Upper Delaware River separates New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Port Jervis's claim to fame is this railroad turntable. It's called a port because of river and canal traffic in the area during the several hundred years of it's existence, though nowadays it's connected by rail to New York City.
Hunter S Thompson lived among it's ten thousand inhabitants as does Larry who joined me in admiring the turntable. We talked of weather and Florida where his son lives though he needs mountains and forests to keep him happy. Larry is a widower raising his youngest kids alone now that his wife has been dead from cancer these past two years. He was out walking his dogs and we talked politics, marvelling at the corruption of modern life and both of us lamenting President Obama's mediocrity after a promising start.He suggested a side road after I had finished my lunch- a banana- and whether or not I found the one he meant I did get to take an uphill climb to a park on a high knob of land, called Elks-Brox park named for a man called Brox and the club known as Elks.I scared a couple of kids in a souped up car driving the park noisily but after they left I was alone at the vista point above the woods.A view of the turntable from up on high:And Matamoras, Pennsylvania across the river.I stopped for gas in the town and asked the attendant if this was Pennsylvania as I had seen no signs when I crossed the bridge, and he said, yeah, I guess there is no welcome mat. So I said, I guess if they didn't bother to signpost it perhaps there's not much to see here? He laughed, I guess he was confident that his home state was famous enough without no stinkin' signs. riepe's directions ran me south through the Poconos National Park, a winding 45 mile per hour road.More excellent scenery.I felt pretty certain I wasn't in Florida right now.
At the south end of the park I came round a corner and saw a delightful Italian restaurant by the side of the road with outdoor tables, umbrellas and everything. Upon mature reflection I decided it was time to stop for some caffeine and quiet contemplation. I stopped up the road, pulled a U-turn and headed for a rest. As I pulled into the parking lot the camber drained down to the left away from the road so I went to make a turn to have the bike end up pointing out at the highway and as I turned at walking pace in the picture below, the bike rolled over the mud under the leaves and slipped on the greasy muck. In a flash I was on hands and knees, pinned to the ground under the bike with stabbing pains from my right ankle.Some very kind diners stepped out and stood over me. Can we help? they asked politely. Lift the back of the bike I muttered. They released my foot and I had the bike up and on the stand before my sprained ankle started to hurt properly. I had scratches on the windshield and a broken turn signal lense.And the main right foot peg snapped off in the graceful slow fall. I called riepe who was delighted to be able to get involved in offering the hapless visitor some help. He lives to serve others, even if he takes any opportunity to gloat. "It takes a Triumph rider to run over his own foot," he said later in the day, offering me his spare cane to hobble around as my ankle went through it's most painful, swollen phase. Meanwhile I ate a grilled cheese sandwich to settle my adrenaline with several cups of hot sweet coffee. riepe called back, "Hermy's Triumph has the parts. We can collect them tomorrow." Shit, now I had to be grateful to the old toad, I thought, as I switched out the passenger peg in place of the broken one and continued on my way, nearly falling a second time by putting the front wheel into a monstrous deep pot hole at an intersection.For some weeks riepe had mentioned meeting in the rest area off the Turnpike at Allentown. I had checked the location on google street view and had a pretty good idea where I was going. riepe took no chances: he turned up in stiffie's car. When I arrived he was busy talking to someone, making connections as usual, as he waved me off. I moped for a while wishing my wife was there to cheer me up as I hobbled on my ankle.
It was like meeting a long lost brother. We drank whiskey together that evening under Leslie's watchful eye as riepe eyed my ankle and cackled. "you ran over your own foot," he chortled. That was just the kind of sympathy noises I was looking for. This was going to be a nice stay. Of course riepe has his own noisy take on everything. http://jackriepe.blogspot.com/ It's all lies but read it anyway.