Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dusk

My wife has gone to California for two weeks, partly for business. I'm at home partly looking after my dog. Partly spending time helping create a website with a lot of words. With no wife and my dog I went out after the heat of day and emptied my head playing with my iPhone.

 

 

 

I don't wear hats but I found one.

 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Key West Heat

I was sitting in the waiting room at the doctor's office reading my Kindle when a couple came in and sat down huffing and puffing. "Hot out there," he groaned. "She agreed. "Too hot for me," he muttered. I said nothing but inside a small voice was gathering strength in my chest wanting to ask in no uncertain terms what the hell he meant? It is but June and there is still a fresh breeze blowing from the east. The damp flat heat of August and Seotember isn't yet upon us.

Why on earth choose to live in Key West if you don't like heat? Makes no sense to me, but I was reading on a web forum recently the complaints of some pantywaist complaining of 106 degrees in Illinois. Around here it's getting into the low 90s, so why people flee the Keys in the summer to stay among relatives Up North I couldn't say. Might as well stay here, enjoy the breeze and the water and the reduced summer population.

I love the flat white heat of summer, with the proviso that air conditioning be available to sleep in. I don't even mind riding in it, walking in it, sweating a little, but I did not find downtown Key West that hot this past week. I got a clean bill of health at my annual check up so maybe that had something to do with it but the day felt good and I was walking with brio.

Living without air conditioning isn't at all impossible but there are certain requirements that have to be met. Buildings need to be built with breezes in mind. Standard closed cubes masquerading as living spaces turn into convection ovens. Cities absorb tons of heat and radiate it back and you can feel the difference between Key West and the canal-lined suburbs.
Seeking Out shade is always a good idea summer or winter. And when you are on vacation you don't have to deal with a lot of the aggravation that comes from working in the heat. Even working in an office has its issues. I can't stand being at my desk when the a/c breaks. I work at night and we have fans and open windows for back up, but sitting in a 24 hour chair sweating is gruesomely uncomfortable. So you get used to a/c and then you get in your car and you go home and a/c is the way of life.

The primary colors of bright summer dun make me feel good, the shifting patterns of shadows on the ground intrigue me.

I am not alone in enjoying riding under the sun!

One gets the distinct impression that making progress on the unbaked sidewalks can be a chore.

And dogs too need shade.

L

Those misting devices make outdoor seating, or phoning bearable.

Or close up in the heat of the noon day sun.

Sloppy Joe's as Hemingway never saw it:

The Bull, nowhere too terribly full this time of day:

Or take your drinks with you.

The family that sweats together stays together:

Duval Street baking gently at lunch time. Suits me.

 

PODCAST NOTE

My podcast schedule is changing slightly. New interviews will post on Wednesday mornings at TravelandSafety Thus this week's new interview with Tim Fargo a traveler who has seen most of the world, built and lost businesses and had great success, will be up on Wednesday. It will be worth the wait. Thank you for your patience. Meanwhile Peter Easton, the human Dynamo, gets a couple of extra days. Cool.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Riding Apologetically

I realized earlier this year that I have been riding two wheeled contraptions for 45 years. It seems like an appallingly long time now that I pause to look back, and I can hardly recognize myself as the eager 12 year old presented with a Vespa 50 and given the freedom of the surrounding country roads even though I was two years too young to be legal in Italy and equipped with no gear whatsoever. But my Vespa was simply a bicycle with a motor and I negotiated gravel roads at 25  miles per hour like I was born to it. Which I probably was as my mother propelled me into a life of motorcycles.
 I have always enjoyed traveling by motorcycle. When I was a youngster I learned to appreciate that a motorcycle served a dual purpose: One the one hand it replaced a car as a fun and potentially exciting way to get around and b) learning to ride an inherently unstable contraption, and to ride it well was going to be a challenge and a sport. All for many more miles per gallon than you could squeeze out of a car in the 1970s though fuel efficiency has improved since then. at least in cars. I can't say I get many more miles per gallon out of modern motorcycles but I am still riding for fun. 
 I started out before the Internet of course and I grew into motorcycling in a rather isolated way as I lived in the country and I relied on magazines to bring the world of bikes into my life. In Italy there was but one magazine devoted to motorcycles and in its many glossy pages I read about cornering techniques, how to cope with road hazards and how to use a motorcycle to travel. Compared to today it was all extremely rudimentary, which is to say we did the same things that people do today for instance to get ready for a trip but our equipment was less specialized and less robust. Our motorcycles needed attention every three thousand miles at most so a long trip required routine maintenenace to be planned along the way,and oil changes were part of the long distance experience. Luggage was far less robust, waterproof or elegant in those days. This from the Internet, Europe 1977, but I traveled like this all over Europe and North Africa:
Mountains in Southern Spain
I have always valued the saddlebags I adapted to my machines as they make the motorcycle useful and windshields  help to make long distance riding bearable, if not comfortable. The notion that a motorcycle might be solely used for amusement never made sense to someone like myself who only ever had one bike at a time and that machine served for all journeys, long or short. In this way I found I was gaining riding experience without even realizing it. I rode in snow to go to technical college in South London one dreadful winter. I rode in the rain with waterproofs that weren't. I used the old trick of newspaper padded under my clothes and my boots wrapped in plastic bags to make me fell like I was "protected" against the elements. What a joke!
I fell off a few times and my protective gear was as protective as newspaper so my jeans got torn and my knees got scraped and I just lived with it. The ride was the thing. The odd part was that when I was told later in life to read books on proficient motorcycling (Hough's comes to mind) I was amazed to learn I had been employing his recommended techniques for years. I knew more than I realized I knew... In England I had taken advanced rider training and that contributed enormously to my understanding of best lane placement and looking ahead and staying alert. After all these years I still ride a motorcycle using my eyes and ears, without electronics on my handlebars or in my helmet. If I need a map I stop and look or stick a piece of paper map on my fuel tank. My concentration is all on the road.
 I love the Internet, don't get me wrong, it is a fantastic tool, a superb resource and often it is also used as a sounding board for people seeking help. The qualities that make the information superhighway so useful also have the unfortunate tendency to reinforce prejudice and strongly held opinion, often with no factual back up. I thus find myself an outlier in the world of motorcycling. Because I have ridden for years and because I ride every day and because my motorcycle is a tool not a statement I have difficulty fitting into an online world where identities are masked and experience is unverified and opinions are strong. 
I am astonished frequently by banter that turns nasty, and from people who seem to take greater satisfaction fiddling with their machines than riding them, and passing judgement all the time.  To me riding is an act of joy, its the place I feel most free to be alone, off the phone and lost in my thoughts. To be able to get around faster and more efficiently than cars is one thing but to gain pleasure and a sense of accomplishment doing that seems like a cherry on the icing. This in a world where driving is viewed more and more as a chore, not an act of liberation. Imagine self driving motorcycles being offered the way they propose with cars! What would be the point?
The American Motorcyclists Association a national group that does the arduous task of herding hedgehogs and lobbying for all groups of riders is proposing a national discussing California's lead and suggesting that lane splitting might be a good idea. LINK I have done it in Europe and California and the ability to get moving through slow traffic and then find parking at your destination makes motorcycling a great alternative to other transportation choices. Yet, instead of seeing everyone lobbying for motorcycles to make room on the roads car drivers, slumped in their boxes grind their teeth. Makes no sense to me, one less car is good for everybody you'd think.
I doubt lane splitting, like legal marijuana will ever come to the Sunshine State. I have no interest in weed but lane splitting is smart and effective. But this is a state that breeds intolerance on the roads. People speed up when you go to pass them, a violation of the rules of the road, they sit in the passing lane LINK and they speed when it suits them, especially to stop you merging into traffic. They don't look down the road and plan their maneuvers or anticipate their own changes of lane or direction. They sit in their cars like lumps and drink their coffee and send their texts. No wonder they hate driving, its a whole lot like riding an uncomfortable couch.  Besides which most people have little or no training on, say, how to use the confounding turning lane in the middle of alternating traffic flow. I meet lots of car drivers offended by my brisk steady 10 -15 mph over the speed limit on open highways but I know how to lose most of them - pass the car in front. Not many people know how to confidently and safely pass traffic on two lane roads. Instead of offering driver training, the solution is to reduce the places where passing is legal. 
 
I don't  think most of it is willful stupidity or mean spirited but the numerous distractions in cars, the lack of advanced training or the belief that training can help allied  with the sheer boredom of driving that discourages paying attention lead to situations where people are doing inexplicably stupid things from not thinking about driving or from feeling the need to drink or text or change the radio station. On a motorcycle no matter what your cargo the awareness of vulnerability and mortality is never far away. Not paying attention is not an option.
So the novice riders put their faith in passive safety devices. After all they work in cars. Airbags, seat belts and strong passenger cages are superb at saving lives. I've seen cars flattened from which people crawled out alive. On a motorcycle the same does not apply. Unfortunately wearing brightly colored clothes, using automatic headlight flashers and having advanced braking systems will not save you if you go down and hit something hard or get run over. What saves riders is the ability to anticipate and concentrate. Those skills will make for better car drivers as well. Watching the car in front, the unconscious positioning, the turn of the driver's head can give you an idea of what the vehicle will do next. When driving a car one doesn't have to bother to notice. I think the need for concentration and obsessive use of massive uncomfortable protective gear cuts back on the desire of many riders to actually ride. LIke sailing, its putting in your time that makes better able to cope out there. Sitting at home reading Proficient Motorcycling or going online doesn't make you a better rider.
So when I read angry blog posts from novice riders getting mad at unruly motorcyclists for making "us all look bad" I wonder what the value of the Internet really is. The fact is we people who choose to ride already look bad. We dress weird, we deliberately choose danger over comfort and the movies portray us as gangsters. Its all stupid stereotyping but going out onto the road and asking car drivers to be nice to us is absurd and unrealistic. You are asking people who are barely conscious, who count the cup holders before they settle on a new vehicle, who use GPS to drive highway one so helpless are they on this one and only road, to do your rebel ass a favor. Unlikely I say. Don't be riude to them or anyone else but don;t surrender your freedom to their limitations.
I ride because I enjoy it. Getting on the road isn't a chore to me. Asking people who find driving a chore and who do it because they have to, to make an extra effort to notice me and respect my space on the road is a waste of time. When I ride I suit myself, and as long as I don't require anyone to swerve or brake when they encounter me on the road I've done my bit to let them enjoy a soul deadening drive uninterrupted by conscious thought or decision making. For my part I choose to view cars as obstacles to be enjoyed, I measure them up, check their speed, their ability to keep up, their lane positioning and if they look like an obstacle I dispatch them in one quick, swift, professionally executed pass. If I get busted for riding well by an officer who can't tell the difference I pay the fine. If I go down my wife knows what my final instructions are if I end up in a coma or burnt half alive. I am a realist.
I don't ride a motorcycle to pretend I am in an SUV lumbering down the road as though no one has the right to go faster, to pay closer attention, to impose their skill limitations on my limitations. I don't have a cup holder on my bike, or a radio in my helmet. I don't cruise, I make progress. This is how I was taught to ride: Making Progress With British Motorcycle Police and I don't propose to apologize for paying attention, and enjoying my ride. It's not a matter of being rude to other road users or being reckless or making a mess of anyone's day. It's a matter of being mindful and improving your skills and not having to apologize for being skilled and attentive.
When I'm on the road I ask you to do the same and if you can't, please just main speed and heading and let me do the rest. 
Thank you.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Cruising Toward Darkness

That was fun while it lasted, now the solstice is over and the sun is resuming its  decline toward the equator and beyond. So the days are going to get shorter. And here's the thing, the closer you get to the equator the less difference between night and day you get. Keeping this line of thought north of the equator the further north you go the more extreme the day and night difference becomes as the season change. Around here the biggest difference comes with the time change so from now until November 1st we will hold the line with lighter evenings. But after Fantasy Fest I'll be going home in the dark once again.
I'm not sure why I stopped yesterday morning on my way home but the sky was looking the right shade of blue, I had a marked police car in front of me so spirited riding in a 45 mph zone was not on the cards so I stopped and let the line of cars tail off into the dawn like school children trotting off to the play ground. 
 there are people who try to measure our lives by numbers, and they tell us there are 42  bridges between Key West and Florida City but what is this, though not a bridge? With water lapping either side of the Overseas Highway it is I suppose, a causeway but it feels like a bridge.
I ride with my helmet open much of the time, I had a tall windshield shipped from Parabellum to replace my very old one that developed a fatal crack owing to my inattention. The result is I can crouch slightly and keep my windshield open. It is getting that warm.
I like commuting on two wheels I'm surprised I don't see more people doing it in this climate. After all these years I still enjoy the ride. I think back to commuting in California and I think I was like most people, when I figured out the best route, based on whatever criteria mattered, I stuck to it. Rarely would I deviate or make the ride an adventure. Having only one road seems less of a disadvantage looked at that way.
My commute is easy, no cross traffic to speak of, no traffic lights or animals, no pedestrians few cyclists in the roadway, long sight lines, predictable road surface and absurdly slow speed limits for one paying attention.
 And I like the view from the road.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Come On Down Y'All!

If you were thinking about taking a vacation in the Fabulous Florida Keys it seems as though the sooner the better because prices look set to keep going up.  Apparently  room prices have shot up in the past five years and hoteliers are saying publicly they think they can keep raising their rates. Certainly one feels that the Lower Keys have seen more than their fair share of tourists this past year but in a world where increasing "numbers" are the only desired way forward this has to be viewed as a Good Thing.
Certainly it doesn't feel as crowded in town anymore. Last winter making a left turn at an intersection felt either like you were going to put down roots before you could make the turn. And to think all those people were ready to pay abnormally high prices to stay here! But you can see why a small town with interesting architecture and prosperous flower beds might appeal, not to mention the bars and associated booze, the relatively clear waters and permanent sunshine, even if the beaches are at best modest.
After all I have been walking around Key West for far too long, even if I am rarely seen in a bar, or in one of the numerous churches, and I still take pleasure in the views. I am waiting for the house below to get air conditioning but so far so good. I confess I would have great difficulty staying up all night at work had I not a dark air conditioned cave to go home to each morning. And a portly snoring dog to serenade me to sleep.
I think about those massive increases in tourist numbers and then I pause to contemplate the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the expected opening to Cuban tourism. I wonder who imagines that mass tourism in Cuba will happen any time soon, as people in this country are notoriously unprepared to rough it on vacation. Of course a few hundred thousand will find electricity-free Cuba to be fascinating and a few more will invade the tourist enclaves like Varadero Beach, but I doubt those people clogging the hotels and guest houses of safe secure Key West will suddenly up sticks and bugger off to Cuba for a change. Look how nervous people are of visiting Mexico since drug gangs started taking their rivalries public, even though most of the country is as it ever was. I doubt Communist Cuba will sneak ferry loads of Americans from visiting this town.
Then there is the snowbird phenomenon to consider. House prices are going back up and here these empty building sit apparently even the secure garage is too full to accommodate the overflow automobile left in town to enjoy the bracing summer salt air  humidity. These are boom times for Key West tourism and I hope the city takes advantage to set thw town up in case of lean times ahead for whatever reason.
Winter crowds get tedious especially as the summer influx of family fun seekers make this town a year round destination these days. But I don't get the animosity toward visitors if one chooses to live in a town that lives off tourism. It would be like going to work and hating your job...oh wait...Joking aside I feel lucky to live where many people want to simply visit and apparently they are willing to pay what it takes to do that. Good job for all of us.