Wednesday, October 29, 2014

DayLight Savings Commute

Next Sunday the United States, as usual following the beat of its own distinctive drummer, makes it's delayed switch to winter, known as standard time. My commute will change, and even though I don't like the switch back one hour each Fall, I am trying to see some good in it. I like dark mornings with more sunshine in the evenings. I see no need to bring the curtain crashing down on daylight at six pm just to  create more daylight in the morning.
My commute  might be measured as rather boring when you consider not only the absence of alternative routes, but also indeed the absence of any varied terrain. What I do get is year round riding that is rarely cold, by some people's arctic standards never properly cold and is frequently quite hot especially in summer. That makes it easy to put 15,000 miles a year on my 2007 Bonneville. Frankly I cannot see any reason not to ride a motorcycle at these latitudes, for driving a car is a true boredom exercise.

You can see the boredom in the attitudes and abilities of the people I call caged zombies. They sit in line and play with their phones, they get startled when I pass them, suddenly rearing up their bloated cars on their hind wheels frantically trying to keep up, not that they can't keep up as I only ride five or ten over the limit, but they usually get bored, or I lose them the next time I pass. Very few drivers have trained themselves to observe and evaluate traffic flow, to study and measure closing distances, or to take on a passing maneuver with verve and determination. I know where the passing zones are, I know the sight lines and  I ride the sections in between evaluating the determination of the car in front to maintain what I deem an acceptable speed. The more accomplished "cock blockers" like to slow down where passing is impossible and speed up where passing is possible. I don't play the game, I pass and they usually drop back frightened by their own vision of driving themselves to a ticket at 15mph over. Often when I pass a car they ostentatiously drop back as though to say "I wasn't interested in traveling the speed limit anyway."  Thats how I amuse myself on my unvarying commute. That and taking on the weather, riding in the rain, or the wind or under dark skies, each ride a different variation on the monotone Overseas Highway.
The thing about riding a motorcycle is that you are on an inherently unstable machine, one that gains beauty and poise and even grace when in motion but one one that also does not make any effort to hide the rider from the weather or the consequences of failure to pay attention. Car drivers who never ride motorcycles cannot understand the sensation of flying that comes on a motorbike but they cannot either understand the requirement that a well ridden motorcycle imposes, the discipline of paying attention. I oppose the notion of passive safety when riding as passive tools like bright clothes or automatically flashing headlights induce a sense of entitlement, the expectation that one will be seen and noticed by other road users, and anyone who has driven home in a car and arrives not recalling the journey at all, knows what I mean. It is impossible to ride and not notice the journey on a motorcycle. I am always looking at other drivers, their posture, their use of mirrors, their placement on the roadway, the way their wheels are turning or if I can even make eye contact. 
My colleagues have given up questioning me about why I ride in the rain. I enjoy that as much as anything. and when I say rain I mean downpours on my modest half hour commute in a sub tropical climate where hypothermia could only be contemplated on a much longer ride. My waterproofs by Frogg Toggs do a decent job of keeping me dry enough tom work a shift but I don't keep much in the way of winter riding gear, just a padded jacket by Tourmaster and some heavy pants. Mostly I use a free flowing armored mesh jacket and electric warming gear is unnecessary.  I have some handlebar muffs that cover my hands and help keep them dry and out of the wind when I ride, but this place  is really short sleeve weather year round. I prefer wearing my armored jacket to stop clothes flappng and it's predecessor saved my skin on a fall a few years ago in a badly marked construction area. But I am not one to nag riders about what they wear. I wear a helmet but expect each rider to think for themselves. 
This has not been a great year for riding, and even though I enjoyed our family car trip to New England it did come at the expense of a riding trip this summer. Understaffing at work means lots of overtime, with the same result: less riding. All of which makes me more fanatical about getting on two wheels when I go to work. I love my Labrador but she too tends to limit my rides as she can't come with me and so if it's at all possible I end up making her happy by loading her in the car. I get to listen to the radio more that way as I don't like electronics on my ride. The idea of making phone calls or listening to the radio through my helmet fills me with horror. We live in a world, where listening to the inner voice or enjoying silence is a prospect that seems to terrorize most people. I love the solitude of riding and escaping communication by being on my motorcycle. Sometimes I arrive at work to find texts on my phone from colleagues hoping to communicate before I arrive. I am a rare bird at the police department where among some three dozen civilians (who don't take police vehicles home)  I am one of two riders and the other guy rides half a mile on a scooter to ease his parking woes, not because he is an enthusiast. I cannot conceive why more people aren't unclogging the roads in warm south Florida by riding. I guess they might be were riding not an art rather than viewed as simply a means of locomotion as is a car.
The week of Fantasy Fest I tried to commute by car to avoid drunk drivers but after three consecutive shifts I got fed up. I listened to a lot of Click and Clack on the satellite radio but I missed the buzz of the ride.  In the car I pulled out onto the Overseas Highway from Spanish Main Boulevard and sat in my appointed place behind whichever car I came across. I could pull off a few passes but it is much easier to pass when riding with swifter acceleration and less mass to insert into a line of trundling SUVs. Plus there is something about the car that induces a sheep-like trance on US One. There you are and there you sit. I found myself envying the riders outside, even the Harley Rolling Roadblocks trying to look cool in bandannas at five miles under the speed limit. If I had to drive I would shrivel up and die of boredom.
The time change will also mess up my horizons next week. Five in the afternoon when I ride west to work will be much closer to darkness. Indeed I know from experience that by mid December I will be arriving in Key West at dusk or close to, and my day shift colleagues will spend all daylight hours in the office, emerging like moles to a darkened  world. In the morning though I should start seeing some spectacular sunrises if I'm lucky. Right now its black as pitch until after I get home and get mobbed by my dog who is always ready for a walk at six thirty in the morning. Temperatures are down, humidity is down and she is raring to go in the dark.
The immutable cycle of seasons, as paltry as they may be compared to places where snow falls and winter brings on the possibility of death and frostbite; the changes are felt here too. I like the change but soon enough I am pining for summer's heat and long hours of sunshine, warm waters and easy swimming...permanent summer seems far away when a cold front brings cold feet and icy riding fingers and a desperate search for warm clothes.

And through it all I ride, and keep on riding every chance I get.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Not Voyaging

Sitting on a bench at Truman Waterfront's Inner Mole on a midnight lunch break I was enjoying the silence of a still night. The northeast wind was not strong enough to ruffle these protected waters, but it was  a cooling draught after a long hot summer. It was certainly short sleeve weather  in the mid 70s, but this latest cold front marks the transition between summer and winter, a drop off in humidity even though temperatures will slowly climb back up near 90 degrees between periodic  cold fronts.
I looked across the Navy Basin at the cruise ship dock known as the Outer Mole, home to visiting Navy ships but more usually where many of the city's cruise ship visitors dock and whose passengers are transported to town in a lucrative half million dollar annual contract by the Conch Train. I was thinking about how desolate the dock looked, the shapeless little sheds and awnings strewn about waiting for the next bunch of impatient IDs to descend off the ship, arrivals from some possibly exotic destination - Miami? Galveston? Charlotte Amalie? or Cozumel perhaps. Bright eyed and bushy tailed they descend not just onto the mole but into the city itself eager for experience as long as it is in a controlled and secure environment. Key West offers that in spades, English language , US dollar, and health department approved food, all under a hot almost tropical sun  feeding exotic greenery and mushrooming odd people they like to think, Bohemians flourishing in an endless summer.  
I remember decades ago looking at Key West that way, a veil gradually shredded by acquaintance though one likes to imagine that the 1980s. pre-internet and modern road really did foster a more exotic and off beat little town. These days I struggle not to submit to the prevailing view that money and an influx of people not driven by a desire to flee average mores in a median life style are transforming the  Southernmost City. Certainly Miami has changed, it's still a  sinkhole of a city but its nothing like the southern backwater it was back then. I wonder how  rare and odd Key West looks to the voyagers off their ships five days each week. Do they see what I saw in 1981? All indicators are they do, and I wondered as I sat there how they felt about getting back on the cruise ship and leaving.
I've done a lot of traveling over the years and I wonder about that when I crawl onto an airliner  or drive through a  toll booth or buy a rail ticket. Do the people left behind, the people that make the journey possible, do they regret not leaving with you? Do the ground crews at the airport, the baggage people for instance, do they check your ticket and wonder about your destination? Do the people who wave the paddles at the jet and line it up on the taxi way, do they watch the silver tube wistfully as it waddles off to gain elegance and speed in the sky, flying who knows where, far away? Or do they give it not a thought and resume pining for their homes and their routines and their own close familiar neighborhoods?
In a life dedicated to wanderlust, now within a stone's throw of my sixth decade of life (where did it all go, so fast?) I watch the planes take off, I saw the crowds driving North out of Fantasy Fest land and I felt not one whit of regret that I wasn't going with them. They earn more money, they have bigger homes they can go shopping round the corner from home. They also perhaps have more interesting roads to motorcycle than I do, but even Paradise has it's limitations.
Even with my extra busy schedule and the overtime I still get time to myself, time to pause and to think and to revel in the sun. I commute half an hour on the Bonneville, I have  a boat at my dock, even though the weather for boating has been foul! None of those things, aside from friends and family and funny colleagues at work, none of those things await me anymore far away. Thanks for visiting, spend more money, enjoy your journey.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Lost Fantasy Fest

Fantasy Fest in Key West is  a pain, from the perspective of one who has no interest in wearing a costume or bringing out his inner female by  cross dressing for a night.  On the other hand the ability of my neighbors and their friends to fill a town with people who revel in throwing off the restraints of moderation is in equal parts repulsive and fascinating. Fantasy Fest is, in short a like/hate relationship for me. I like getting the chance to walk Duval Street and check out the madness, partly because I don't have to deal with the crazies when I go home and partly because it is just one week out of 52. How often do you get to see a man strutting around main street wearing a three foot long palm penis? Hate because I'm not sure Michael Beaudet's display is something one can entirely  like...

Living as I do out of town most of the hassle of Fantasy Fest comes from seeing my main road clogged with people falling over themselves to get to a town where they figure anything goes for once in their lives (it doesn't  really). I don't have to live with the down side of loud parties at all hours in rental homes, drunks in the street passing out on sidewalks and porches. I don't have to listen to couples fighting or sliding to the ground in garbage strewn streets. I don't make enough money in overtime to make the pain of the intoxicated crowds worthwhile. But walking across the parking lot to work one gets  a break in the routine when meeting this apparition:
So when the opportunity arises, for an hour or two one can admire the effrontery and stupidity from the sidelines. Yes, it's tasteless, but sometimes in the middle of the dreck there is something that makes you laugh or tickles your imagination. Besides even if I were to decree an end to Fantasy Fest by powers not yet granted to me I doubt the bad taste money making would stop. Fantasy Fest was dreamed up as a way to encourage people to come to town, and it still is today no matter what they tell you about it's charity work or other good deeds. So between my shifts at work Cheyenne and I ventured forth from time to time in the dark after the bars had closed, long after the strutting in front of Rick's  was over for the night. A different world, and thus Labrador friendly:
This year my modest outings were curtailed, the Pet Parade which I stuck high on my calendar got washed out, as was my sole opportunity to wander downtown and just look at the madness on Duval.  And I forgot the Kids Party at Bayview Park on Sunday. Rats! The ambivalence of my feelings about Fantasy Fest stem in large part from the ambivalence in Key West. It's fashionable to hate the holiday as a tasteless intrusion into city life, a nasty but necessary financial boost in a tourist town slumped in ultra low tourist season; that yes, but a pleasant outing? Never ! Shudder! And yet I find amusement in it.
Snotty  locals like to mock the visitors who come and do here what they can't do at home: let their hair down, get drunk in public and be a little bit shameless. I feel bad for them inasmuch as they clearly live the kinds of lives of quiet desperation the poet wrote about, the life that doesn't gain any relief except far from home, far from neighbors and judgement and negativity. And then in Key West the demand is for only beautiful young people to reveal themselves, to take a chance (no chance at all really) and the judging and grimacing starts up again on the shapeless pasty middle aged white people from Up North. An acquaintance watching the crowds pressing against the barricades alongside the grand parade shook her head recalling all the "perverts" in town. She looked slightly concerned when I shrugged and said I thought they were just seeking out some fun. Despite her disapproval I do think the term pervert is a bit silly. Pervert? With a smile like that? Come on...
Wit and charm and youth and a sensible publicity agent are the tools the outside world, the  Up North world, uses to keep people in their place. Key West used to pride itself on creating a small space in what is actually a very conservative insular little town,a space for outsiders who needed relief from conformity. Fantasy Fest isn't the greatest representation of what Key West has to offer, not by a long shot, but it is  a representation of what a lot of people crave in their gray monotonous lives, and it's too bad they have to come here to be able to  feed that inner demon once a year in a glorious farcical display of general bad taste and titillation. Bacchanalia, Saturnalia, Fantasy Fest. Two made respectable by the passage of time; the third despised by those among us too fearful to do what the momentarily brave from elsewhere manage to do: mask and make themselves vulnerable on the streets. In almost perfect safety too.  Not bad for a small town filled with opinions, most of them negative.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Don's Place

It's the season for weirdness, Fantasy Fest, All Hallow's Eve  and the Day of the Dead all rolled into a week more or less. So finding a rather large peculiar cat on a porch shouldn't surprise anyone. I just can't imagine coming home to this thing on my porch.

For the matter of that I couldn't ever picture myself at Don's Place an infamous dive on Truman Avenue. Bars are not my scene and this place is way out of my league, a smoker's haven, loud and open 21 hours out of the day. I am a rank amateur. Conversation is complicated because of the noise but I suppose that at say 7am, when they open, the sounds might be muted. A colleague of mine used to come here after our night shift and drink beer before walking home. I would much rather sit on my couch at home and imitate a potato with  Yuengling. Not only would I not have to make conversation, I would also not smell like a bonfire.
I met Rick from Boston here and we met at Don's  Place at my suggestion so I am grateful to him for putting up with my inane desire to see new things. He was in town for Fantasy Fest (!) and the subsequent Meeting of the Minds though he had never seen the Masquerade March before so we went to check it out.
One thing I must say about Don's Place is that the bar tender was superhuman. Usually when I go to bars I get roundly ignored, my mellifluous mid-Atlantic tones fail to garner attention from the pourer of drinks.   This guy was a demon and even though I was merely drinking diet Coke (work: the curse of the drinking classes) he was on me like a fly on the proverbial. Indeed even in the picture he was moving faster than my camera shutter could capture him.
Just to increase my feeling of being at home I was showered by bits of plastic foam which gave my drinking an otherwise unexpected air of jollity. Time to go. On the way to the Local's Parade I spotted a reminder of the true meaning of Fantasy Fest; making money... 
Conversely Fantasy Fest is the time of year when meeting random zombies towing drinks is  a normal street scene. 
I'm not sure if Rick was as taken with the madness but I had fun. Even at Don's Place.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fantasy Fest 2014, Local's Parade 2

Frances Street at the start of my favorite Fantasy Fest event (the kink fest at the Island House For Men is not on my radar).

A mobile bar complete with unbearably loud music all powered by a  a generator. Too bad they only dispensed gnats piss- Bud and Lite. Much appreciated nonetheless:
Hot cats:
 The effect was spoiled by the hairy legs. Just my opinion.
Fantasy Fest is all smoke and mirrors. I mean, who knew you  could buy a tattoo design top?

My mirror image when I'm out riding, chaps an old helmet and a big smile. Not forgetting the Yuengling...
Kids..? Not alone apparently. One would like to think they will grow up with a well balanced view of life. In all its variety. 
 Free range roosters or what:

I cannot imagine how this Monty Python character was planning to walk 12 blocks to Duval dressed like this:

This dude was  slugging a bottle of white wine, thank heavens for modern screw tops, but he advised his ex-wife, the head on the pole, was not partaking and did not approve. He was clearly working out some issues this Fantasy Fest.
 Really, who says Fantasy Fest is for adults only?
 Aside from the hat and the codpiece this dude, below was all paint and a smile.

 Couldn't not have an Ebola dude in all this chaos, now could we?


I tried to imagine Cheyenne a) wearing a  grass skirt and b) posing with me (also in  a grass skirt). My imagination failed me on all counts.

I saw this woman standing and  staring into the distance down Frances Street as I walked back to my Bonneville. She looked sad waiting for someone who had missed the parade and would never come. She told me she was actually holding the parking space for a friend and she laughed when I told her my thoughts. She liked my picture of her:
 I liked this lot, below, late to the party yet cheerful. Distracted possibly by their message.
I repaired to Sandys for a large con leche and some cheese bread. A funny thing happened an old Cuban dude was in line in front pf me and asked in Spanish if I wanted coffee, so I replied yes in Spanish, si for those of you language impaired, thinking he was asking about my intended purchase. Not at all. He whipped out a large plastic cup and a small plastic thimble and poured me a buchi from his colada. Serious caffeiene for a long night ahead. 
I got my con leche and sandwich and rode off to one more intense night in dispatch. I miss the long quiet nights of summer.