Thursday, January 31, 2008

6,000 Mile Service

I admit I left home later than the planned 5:30am start, but I can say that I got a gorgeous view of the sunrise over my home waters, a pallid version shown here at Bahia Honda: I was determined to make the ride to Pure Triumph 170 miles north, a fun trip, a relaxing excursion instead of a road pounding punishment. Which meant a stop at Denny's Latin Cafe next to Starbucks on Key Largo. Chorizo and eggs and loud Latin music while I read my daily Citizen. I confess I lingered over the con leche and only eventually got out to bask in the sun's warmth which basking led me to remove the liner from my mesh armored jacket. The roads are straight but South Florida in January is hard to beat.

Even though I left Denny's at 9am I still chose to ride Card Sound Road to Homestead. It's the alternative route that avoids the 18-mile direct route known as "The Stretch." Card Sound adds seven miles and a dollar toll, but its a great ride.

This backroad, photographed in October shortly after I got the Bonneville, winds through tall greenery with sweeping bends, the surface is smooth and police presence is rare so 70 or 75 in a 55 is entirely doable. A refreshing interlude before the hum drum 50 miles of turnpike to Fort Lauderdale, which I took mostly at 80 or 90 miles an hour with one notable burst just clipping 100 on the optimistic speedo. At those speeds the Triumph was perfect, smooth stable and still very responsive. It may be designed as a head-turning tourer but this retro rides the freeway very comfortably.I actually had a good time at Pure Triumph- they took the Bonneville I sat around for a couple of very relaxing hours sprawled on a leather couch reading English motorcycle magazines (Bike isn't too impressed by the Bonneville in hard riding twisties, but they are hooligans anyway) until it was time to fork over $317 and get going again.

My return trip did not go so well. I had wanted to locate Heinz and Frenchie's swing bridge just for fun but neither Google nor Google maps was giving up the secret in my brief search so I got on 595, the freeway spur to get out west and hit Highway 27 south. That was a nasty nightmare thanks to construction with exits closed and traffic backed up in every direction for miles. I hate lane splitting in a state filled with angry armed drivers but it was hot on the engine so I did a little. The Bonneville was running beautifully, I could feel the work they had done. The chain was tighter than I tensioned it 2500 miles ago and that's noted for future reference, plus Jason balanced the carburettors and the motorcycle was much more smooth as a result.All bad things eventually come to an end and the four lanes of Highway 27 soon opened up to me, straight of course, across the edge of the Everglades where development hasn't yet quite reached and sugar cane remains to the north. Highway 27 eventually branches onto Krome Avenue:And the theme of lonely marshy highway continues south: Then we had the second chaotic moment of the day, inbetween the nurseries and market farms and isolated homesteads and gas stations, a wreck. I was stuck at a light thinking about how people around here grow palm trees for sale and what do they do with them when they get this big, and this many, when I realised we were being diverted around a problem up ahead. The diversion led us to the edge of the known world and after we were back on Krome Avenue I stopped to wipe some of the dust off my freshly cleaned Bonneville. The Rescue guy was telling Univision two pick ups hit head on at 1:30pm probably driving too fast. Yeah, no kidding, from my amateurish standpoint I'd say speed was a factor in this vehicle compression. The whole interview scene made me glad my days as a reporter are long over. Talk about trivialization. I mean this is the day Raul Castro outpolled his brother in Santiago de Cuba, and I'm guessing this story came first in Miami's local news. Another reason I don't have TV at home.There is for me something fascinating about the agriculture along Krome Avenue. The state is threatening to widen the highway and if people insist on disassembling their cars like this I suppose the state will have no choice but to do it. I like Krome as it is, a straight shot through the lives of the Mexican and Central American fieldworkers, a place of abundance- of vegetables if not wages, all on display, impossible to avoid unless you stick to the freeways and turnpikes.Also one might miss a hand written sign offering Central American lunches, and this stop was just what I needed to push back the thought of wrecks, fieldwork and a hot sticky helmet. A pupusa or two, a Salvadoran lunch of a thick tortilla filled with cheese or meat grilled till molten and eaten with a mayonnaise-free coleslaw. Salvadorans eat them by stuffing the slaw inside the pupusa, but me, I'm a "gormet" and I like my flavors separate on the fork...a plate for $5 and all the shade I could use. Enough to make a tired motorcyclist feel like a capitalist exploiter of the toiling masses.Onward ever onward and a couple more irritating traffic lights and I'm on the main drag through Homestead, a pretty little town with churches, doctor's offices and restaurants, looking like a palm filled Midwestern burg. I shall have to come up and spend a day here with my camera. Meanwhile its back to Card Sound Road and the Florida Keys. Back where I started, sunup to sundown.I survived, I thrived, on another trip to the crazy mainland.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

No Name Hike

There is a street on No Name Key called Paradise Road, but its not for everybody: those white signs advise strangers not to trespass, and as you value your life on this remote Key you will be smart and choose not to do just that. If instead you are like me, nosey, you'll park your Bonneville across the road and take a walk in the opposite direction, up an unnamed road winding through the scrub, as far as the eye can see, and even further.My wife and I frequently bring guests to this area to check out the Key deer which lurk around here in relatively large numbers. They like to cross the main road, weirdly enough, at the "Deer Crossing" sign on the street. When we brought Bruce and Celia to this area the deer stayed away so we took a walk instead down this path I had never previously visited. It was most pleasant strolling in the sun, mosquito-free and ambling while talking and peering into the undergrowth checking desultorily for elusive deer. After a while my wife cried uncle, her arm in its brace was giving her fits and that left Bruce and I to trudge on like the intrepid explorers we would like to be. As it was Bruce yielded next, anxious to return to the women resting in the car, so we turned back before the trail was done.

That left me to return alone after Bruce and Celia departed, shoeless, for Santa Fe.
I returned on a blusterous cold morning, strong wind gusts out of the north whipping icy draughts of air across the bridge connecting No Name to Big Pine Key. The bridge anglers looked like Popsicles in the sunshine and I for one couldn't imagine handling cold wet lures in these conditions. I probably looked barking mad enjoying an icy ride in the brilliant sun but there was a destination for me and it was across from Paradise Road.

It was not, I admit it, as much fun striding through the undergrowth alone as it had been listening to my wife and Celia nattering on, or sharing a thought myself with Bruce as I walked, but it was splendid to be out in the sun, shaded from the wind which rattled the trees and bushes alongside the trail. Some of the rattling was a bit creepy as the thatch palms sounded like they were being stomped on by a large sasquatch rather than just the wind, but I got to see a bunch of yellow butterflies and they weren't spooked by the forest noises and made me feel ashamed. I've always been a little creeped out by the woods, its a manifestation of my sensitive nature. Or something.There were signs of life- human life at least, as marked in the mud. When the four of us were walking we saw some tread marks in the muddy spots, which appeared to be bicycle treads but I was pretty sure there some fresh marks and they looked like those left by an all terrain vehicle, and they hadn't been there when we had walked en masse.I might have expected to hear the sound of a motor, or voices or smelled exhaust but the day was unsullied and untrammeled by human intervention- except mine! I walked and I walked, turning corners and forgetting to check how long I'd been gone, but I guesstimated a mile and half walk to the end which came upon me suddenly in the form of a wide open space bathed in sunlight:There was remarkably little trash along the trail anywhere, which one would like to think indicated a high level of consciousness among hikers on No Name Key, but rather I think, speaks to the low volume of traffic around here.

I pressed on across the open space, feeling rather like John Burke and William Willis attempting to reach Australia's northern coast in 1860. I knew it was there and found myself floundering in marshy nastiness as I forced myself into a position to spot Big Spanish Channel. Burke and Willis had a dreadful time on their expedition, finally finding tidal salt water in a most unsatisfactory manner and returned to the interior to their deaths. My discovery was rather more cheerful, perching myself on a discarded refrigerator to take this picture of open water:On my way out of this entanglement of mud, dead twigs and copious cobwebs I found the elusive Key deer. Actually she found me, and started back into the bushes with a most un-deer like thundering crack of breaking tree limbs. Then she paused to take in some refreshment and I nailed her:Returning to the theme of human intervention this area was where Alpha 66 trained for the Bay of Pigs and I wondered if they might have been doing their military shenanigans right here. It had always struck me as preposterous to think that the counter revolutionaries could train in these flat lands for an invasion of a mountainous island like Cuba, but funnily enough I was reminded of a spot on the north coast of that island where my wife and I were blown in my sailboat by a storm on a trip from Mexico to Key West. The dogs didn't much enjoy it but I took them for "walks" through the mangroves in areas that looked just like this:Those prickly nematodes sticking up out of the mud were just like those of the black mangroves in the offshore islands of Cuba. Well, its a tenuous connection but it seemed significant while I was there, in the middle of nowhere in No Name Key.

There wasn't much left to do but walk out the way I had come in as there appeared to be no north-bound trails heading back to the main road. Once again I plunged into the shade of the overhead branches and as I walked a strong scent of honeysuckle drifted across the trail. I found clumps of yellow flowers on the trees and as I am not a botanist I have no idea what they might be, but they smelled excellent:
I found this overhanging branch up a side trail that curved around some trees and pretty much dead ended into a large pool of very stagnant water. I, being neither Burke nor Willis, and not therefore desperate, chose not to attempt to ford it and retreated with my footwear in good order. The walk back to the Bonneville seemed much shorter, but it always does when you are returning on a hitherto unknown path.

It was time for a sit down and a large cup of tea with my novel. Days off are just great.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bruce Loves Celia

When Bruce and Celia came back to the Keys for a weekend visit they were most keen to sink their fangs into a cheese toast once again at the Five Brothers Deli on Ramrod Key. I was attempting to record the immortal moment on my Nikon and got a pretty poor shot of Celia. Bruce started laughing, pointing out how she looked like someone caught on a security camera; with that thought in mind I present the image here, as unflattering as it may be hoping earnestly Bruce gets into trouble:Bruce and Celia are easy guests and fell comfortably under the spell my wife's latest incarnation, that of tour guide. So off we went at breakneck speed revisiting Bruce and Celia's old haunts from when they lived on their sailboat in Key West. First the Arts and Crafts Fair on Whitehead Street:
Which was where my wife snagged a couple of earrings and a picture frame and Celia bartered her life for a watch band. As Celia wandered from booth to booth it was Bruce's turn to look gormless.We tromped across town and tried the new Indian place on Duval, lacking in ambiance perhaps but the food met our standards. We skipped across the street from India Cafe and laid into the almost thirty flavors offered by Flamingo Crossing. Celia looks a good deal less gormless when she's lapping up a chocolate laden cone, than she does when impersonating someone caught on a security camera.Then with sunset rapidly approaching we took off for the southernmost point-the one at Fort Zachary is as good as any other point:
Our little tour of the Fort inspired me to wander off and take a few pictures for a future diary entry. The entourage apparently didn't miss me: Then we dragged B and C to Seven Fish which dinner went across a treat and from there to the Waterfront Playhouse for a drop of play acting by pros of a Saturday night. Tuesdays with Morrie was the offering and I found myself a tad disturbed to realise I had most of Morrie's life lesson already worked out on my own. It was an affecting performance.

Sunday was another round robin of activities culinary and cultural thanks to the tour director herself who had been planning for this weekend for some considerable time. After a late start (B and C spent too many pre-retirement years getting up early for work) we went for a walk on No Name Key which will inspire another future entry: Then we repaired to Stock Island for lunch at Hog fish where we took a drive and admired the state of deshabille of this island nearest Key West. Bruce depressed me as he checked out the impending development: he decided immediately the City of Key West will be annexing Stock Island and I suppose he's right, only I fear annexation as it would make my job harder. It's all about me, face it. From there we lined up in a howling north wind to partake of a fundraiser for the Monroe Association of Retarded Citizens, known as the Marc House. The event was held at the Pier House in lovely waterfront sunshine chilled by the blisteringly cold wind:A dozen chefs cooked like crazy for us and we ate and voted and ate some more. Robert, occasionally mentioned in this blog was among those standing around in the cold. "Oh Robert," Celia said as I introduced him. "You really do exist!" And so, here he is stuffing his face on a chocolate burrito from Finnegan's Wake:I quizzed our guests and we got enough votes to bring the tour to a close with an unplanned trip to the Tropic Cinema:Where we were met by a warming cup of Zabar's coffee in the lobby (Bruce is the one with the hat, shading him from...the indoor sun?) followed by a showing of Atonement, a film Celia fondly expected to be a nice heart warming chick flick.Not exactly; this was a British take on love and misery and death, a suitable follow up to the saccharine story of Tuesdays with Morrie. From there home to bed, cowering under the blankets as the persistent north wind howled and temperatures plunged to around 64 degrees.

Bruce and I have a lot of laughs together and its a shame he is allergic to mosquitoes, sunshine and humidity, which makes living in South Florida impossible for him. When they were looking for somewhere to retire to, Celia's desire to live in Santa Fe met the bill, a place that has never made it onto my radar screen, though now I'm curious about the town. Not least since Bruce was complaining bitterly about the cold. His theory is that 64 degrees in the Keys is colder than 20 degrees in Santa Fe which sounds like rubbish to me. Celia has a clearer take on the subject: "Bruce is full of crap. Its his job." And he is too. He talks about having to shovel snow when he gets home and chip dog shit that freezes in the yard after they let the dogs out, and Celia tells stories about how she couldn't drive their two-wheel drive car for a month last year after they got snowed in. These two lived most of their lives in California like me and they like me, never had to own a snow shovel. Now they own two and I've never even seen a snow shovel other than this example, a joke under a neighbor's house:Its weird to me, to want to retire to a place that freezes regularly, that is colder than hell and that exists around 7,000 feet above sea level. "Its dry" Bruce says mouthing off all the time about how humidity is bad for him. It must be true even if he is full of crap, they seem to be thriving on a diet of New Mexico. Which is all very well, but it's Key West that has chickens in the streets, not snow: and Celia is so sweet and innocent she actually clucks at the chickens and finds them charming. She should have taken a couple home with her, they'd probably be smarter company than Bruce who forgot his shoes on my porch.How do you take off for a day of travel across country without your shoes? Only God and Bruce know the answer to that. I'm sure he'll make up some totally unbelievable crap about why they got left behind probably because its not cold enough in Santa Fe to require footwear. He really does believe his own crap where I refuse to no matter how funny it may be.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Shadows and Fog

I awoke to a strange dark world yesterday, dark because it was 4am but strange because it was damp and muffled- by fog! I've seen fog in the keys before and I dare say its happened before I came here and likely will again, but its not "normal" in the sense that one expects to see fog around these parts.
I got on my bicycle for my customary early morning ride and found my darkened street rather creepy, tendrils of damp floating everywhere and the nearly full moon darkened by the cover overhead. Highway One was barely illuminated by the outside lights at the gas station at the end of my street and a couple of cars floated by, like electric eels in dark waters, a cone of light appearing out of the fog and disappearing back into the murky depths.

I left home a few minutes early muffled in my waterproofs, my high beam blazing a path in front of the Bonneville. I was brought up to drive with the low beam in fog but I experimented as I rode up my street towards the highway, and found the moisture wasn't thick enough that it refracted the light of the high beam, so I hit fifth gear on high beam. Highway One seemed empty, no cars in front and none behind and I was enveloped in damp darkness. As I came over the 40-foot high Niles Channel bridge, Summerland Key appeared plunged into a power cut- I could see no lights anywhere ahead. I cruised down the bridge at a comfortable 55 mph, my headlight cutting a bright path, and yet I could see no lights anywhere, until I came off the bridge and was in their midst, where they glowed like faint fireflies. Further down the highway I stopped to take a quick picture of the Sheriff's substation on Cudjoe Key, normally a beacon of civilization in the dark of Mile Marker 21:
The morning at work was dull and quiet, the naughty citizens of Key West were either under wraps waiting for the foul weather to pass, or their vigilant neighbors were being a good deal less vigilant in the damp conditions prevailing, because we got few calls in police dispatch. Outside, the parking lot looked cold and uninviting despite an ambient temperature reading near 75 degrees:I took a ride downtown during my lunch break with a detour by the beach. The conditions were very weird for someone who, like me, spent years in the West. The weather reminded me of nothing quite so much as the sort of marine inversion type of low cloud "fog" that builds up along that coast in the warm months. In California the low lying clouds are formed every summer day by hot desert air meeting cold ocean air, unlike here in Key West where a lump of cold air from Up North had temporarily mixed with the warm air of the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Stream to the south. The air was still and the sailboat races that were called off on Monday due to hairy conditions were becalmed on the horizon south of Key West yesterday by the sudden absence of breezes:

I rode back to the office from my lunch break, enjoying the cool foggy air with weak sunshine warming my face, rather like outdoor air conditioning. I could have been in Santa Cruz, however later the sun came out properly, Key West style and bathed the parking lot in rays that promised a warm, though not hot, ride home:I don't miss the cold and damp of coastal California and today was an unexpected reminder of what I lived through for 20 otherwise happy summers. I've always told my California friends a nice winter day in Key West is like a perfect summer day in Santa Cruz. Yesterday it was mimicking California a little too perfectly for my taste.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bonneville In The Keys

A splendid January afternoon developed yesterday, with a high around 85 and a fair bit of humidity, presaging I think another front later this week. I took advantage of the conditions to take the camera for a little ride. First to Ramrod Key's informal park on the north shore of the island, known locally as "The Pool" where folks come to swim in the summer and play with their dogs and if they are still in High School with each other:Then there is the ride south (or west depending on your perspective) towards Key West:With a stop at Mile Marker 25 to lament the passing of Fishcutters, my wife's favorite place to buy fish raw for the grill or in a sandwich for an easy dinner:From there, following the rough path I commute each workday I ended up in 20 minutes or so on Stock Island, Mile Marker 5 which is also undergoing transformation from a place to house workers in trailers to a place to develop and make pretty. There's a long row to hoe on Shrimp Road judging by the trash currently in place:I used to bring my own sailboat down here for haul outs (what landlubbers call "dry docking") and I wondered where we would do it if everything got built up. There are still a couple of places, insalubrious yet evocative for a former dock rat:Some people mark their turf with dead cars and rusty appliances. Others make their Stock Island pieces of the American Dream beautiful with paint, plants and paraphernalia and just for contrast dangle banal, pointless No Trespassing signs that spoil the cared for, homey, effect. Anyone plan on trespassing this fence?
North Stock Island, technically incorporated into the City of Key West currently houses the delightful garbage transfer station next to Mount Trashmore, home to a stranded whale:One day I'm going to spend some time documenting Stock island before it all disappears but yesterday I had a date with myself at the Tropic to revisit the movie Juno so I had to ride on down the road. I paused for refreshment at the Inn on North Roosevelt where Merril's Cafe offers an excellent blackened snapper sandwich for eleven bucks and lots of iced tea from wait staff with a sense of humor. I like the foliage too, and the shade and the peace and quiet of no TVs or canned music.
Enough words, time to ride down to Mile Marker 2 and Garrison Bight where I chatted briefly with a former boat captain colleague who reminisced happily about the fun we had sailing tourists around the harbor. He had to go to catch up to an angry wife, he said, shrugging at some domestic dispute. I kept taking pictures: Then I headed downtown with a plan to photograph at least one tourist attraction, something I don't often do, as there are lots of Internet pictures of all the attractions that draw people to Key West. This one's pretty obvious on Olivia Street, and I don't mean the Bonneville:Then down to Fort Street for a picture of a less well known "attraction." They are actually on the Navy Base and were used to store ammunition. Some say they were missile silos, but whatever they were, nowadays they keep goats on them to crop the abundant grasses that grow all over:Then its time to park in my favorite spot downtown, on Eaton Street just up from the Tropic Cinema:After a good laugh at the movies I set off for the south side of the island pausing at Casa Marina to read a few chapters from my book at the new-ish pocket park on the water: Then to Higgs beach by the West Martello Tower, Napoleonic home to the garden club:And finally out of town by way of South Roosevelt Boulevard where I pause east of the airport, past the relatively tight bend called Deadman's Curve for a last picture looking north towards the triangle where Key West ends and Stock Island begins:And so home, and pretty soon to bed like Peter Rabbit, with my supper, to get properly refreshed for two consecutive days at work.

I like the sub tropics very much, not a snowbank in sight.