Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ride The Bus

I would quote Jimmy Buffet's thing about changes in latitude, changes in attitude but he would end up suing me, something he appears to have developed a taste for, so instead I feel compelled to paraphrase Lewis Carroll about it being time to sit and talk of many things of ships and shoes and sealing wax of cabbages and kings. Or alternatively of transit versus motorcycles.Gas prices have dropped a few cents around here from $4.30 to just under four dollars for a gallon of regular, yet the cost of gas remains an issue of course, and I live at Mile Marker 27 and my job is at Mile Marker 2 so my commute is a fifty mile round trip, which at 43 miles per gallon equals what it equals. As I'm a modern man with too much time on my hands I get to thinking about what if... we, because my wife works at Mile Marker 5, tried commuting by Key West Transit? So, as an experiment yesterday afternoon I rode the Marathon to Key West shuttle, to go into town to meet my wife at her work. It's a long walk to the bus stop on the highway, three quarters of a mile up my street from my house and even with the pleasant ocean breeze its still 95 degrees out on the asphalt:

At the end of the street I trudged past my local gas station doing land sale business with all the mini lobster season hopefuls. Mini lobster season is two mid week days of mayhem for amateur lobster killers before commercial hunters swing into action. The county gets flooded with boaters from all over Florida filling hotels and getting wild on the water. They need fuel for their adventures and apparently four dollars isn't enough to put them off:

I am not particularly fond of lobster and neither is my wife after I told her they would outlive us if left alone to do their boring lobster thing. My sensibilities gather no adherents among these desperate hunter-gatherers who seem to go demented at the prospect of lobster suffocating slowly in their boats.

The Lower Keys Shuttle as the inter city bus service is known, has ramped up its schedule since I first rode it a few years ago, and by all accounts it continues to grow in popularity. The schedule is available online at keywestcity.com if you want to ponder your three dollar trip between Marathon and Key West. I left my house at 2:45 and waited for about ten minutes in the companionable shade of a sea grape bush across from the Looe Key resort on Ramrod Key, with another dude who got there before me:

The mosquitoes were not very busy which was as well as i had forgotten to apply repellent and the breeze was wonderfully cooling. I decided to ride the bus in the spirit of declining resources and excessive carbon footprints and so forth and I do wonder from time to time how we will cope when the air conditioning bill gets to be too high. Life in the keys would not probably be as bad as in a lot of other places because even on these torrid summer afternoons we do get some movement of air. On the other hand keeping my books and clothes mold free is also nice so even though our electricity bill has, for the first time, passed the $200 mark for the past month, we have turned the thermostat up, not off.

No such problems on the bus which is more like a refrigerated truck than a public tropical bus:

The ride itself is just another bus ride though I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of Highway One as a cosseted passenger. The sweat congealed rapidly on me as I watched the world go by outside our tinted windows. There were perhaps a dozen people on the bus riding quietly even though some of them were youngsters. I saw one gangsta type with a bandanna and a defiant East L.A. look to him but he was a polite as could be- the Keys seem to produce all sorts of wanna be pirates who are just nice and suburban beneath their disguises.

Waiting for the bus can be hot work though, as I noted in Summerland Key:There are a few stops along the way with benches and shelters and solar equipped illuminated advertising, but mostly the stops are poles along the highway. The ride to Stock Island's College Road took about 40 minutes, ten minutes longer than a ride on my Bonneville might have taken, and I spent the time finishing Carl Hiassen's novel Flush, set in the Keys and a fun read:The driver was a barrel of laughs, actually he just drove like the silent connsumate professional he was, though I liked his Keys look, of the understated fishing guide school of dress:I pulled the pinger after we passed the dump on College road and the bus came to a creaking halt:From there it was a short walk past sunset marina to the Sheriff's Administration and Jail complex where my wife works as the Juvenile Jail teacher. This stop is also the pick up point for people who live at the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (K.O.T.S) which offer air conditioned dormitories showers lockers and an address for the working poor of the area. Anyone is welcomed and not everyone actually rides the bus to work. Some hang out and wait for the Safe Zone, as it is also known, to re-open in the evening:

I found the experience to be a positive one overall however I do see some issues, not least the fact that bicycles are not allowed on the buses, this despite the fact they carry the usual racks on the front. Apparently too many people wanted to take bikes so they banned them all. As usual helping discourage people from riding is more important than seeking solutions...My answer to that would be the purchase of a folding bike to get me to work from the last stop at Searstown, 2 miles form the police station. The cost is not negligible, a per ride fare of $3 or a monthly pass at $50 and a weekly pass somewhere in between. Compared to riding the Bonneville I might save $15 a month and lose the flexibility (and fun!) of the motorcycle. The schedule works well in the afternoon for my ride to work but in the morning I'd have to wait an hour for the seven o'clock bus that leaves from Searstown which would get me home by 8am. Currently I'm tucked up in bed and snoring before 7 am...

For now I'm going to keep riding but I'm going to use the bus for one way trips because its too easy and too convenient. The ride would make an amusing and inexpensive sight seeing tour through the Lower Keys for an intrepid and adventurous visitor.Here's where I ended my trip, my book finished, cool refreshed and ready to help my wife move her boxes around her office. A highly satisfactory journey with a tiny carbon footprint, I think.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

July Dawn

This is the time of year my ride home crosses paths with the rising of the sun over the Florida Keys and what a daily spectacle it is.I usually leave the office a few minutes before six, and the fresh warm air outside the frigid Police Station is a pleasant contrast, however by the time I've stowed my stuff on the motorcycle and I'm rolling up North Roosevelt Boulevard I have adapted to the outside temperature, hovering around 80 degrees, and it starts to feel on the cool side of pleasant, even in July. By the time I'm on Big Coppitt Key at Mile Marker Ten the night sky is starting to show signs of sunlight and the houses on the eastern shore of the island are starting to appear out of the gloom:Across Shark Channel the sunrise is doing its thing, clearly visible from the boat ramp where I parked:Being so close to the water puts me in mind of the times when we lived on a sailboat and woke up in the morning on board with that cool damp breeze blowing through the cabin.Standing at the boat ramp the waves, thrown up by the breeze splashed against the cement wall sounding just like waves hitting the hull of the boat. Sometimes I get a hankering to be back on the water.Back on land commuters are starting to increase in the direction of Key West after six in the morning. Most are smart enough to have their lights on, some think they are visible in the half light as they rush headlong to work without lights:I took photographs on two recent mornings, one while riding the Bonneville:Then I found a nail in the rear tire, so while I waited to see if the tire would go flat (not so far!) I borrowed the wife's Vespa, which is always an alternative blast on two wheels. I may have sold the GTS 250 but I still enjoy a romp with her 150cc:I parked the ET4 on the bicycle path that winds along the Saddlebunch Keys to take the time to play with a few cloud formations in the dawn's early light:
While I am not as susceptible to mosquitoes as many people, eventually they manage to annoy me enough to force me to move along. This is the time of year when they are out in abundance and though I don't get welts or rashes from their bites they do manage to annoy me by hovering all over my face. Which is another way of saying it was time to go home to bed:
The sky washes out into a white blur from behind the Bonneville windshield. Its always worth stopping for a moment on our headlong flights into a new day, to enjoy the view.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Moonlit Bayview Park

San Francisco has Golden Gate Park and New York has Central Park, thus Key West has Bayview Park. That would be a city block devoted to open space, greenery and sporting activities. Compared to the larger cities a block may not seem like much but in Key West it's plenty to be going on with. Bayview Park aspires to the classical roots of public spaces designed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, formality, high minded statuary and nobility of purpose are the watchwords like this formal entryway across from the Police Station: In Bayview Park we find a massive stone monument, a block of immutable rock, commemorating the sacrifice made by New Yorkers preserving the Southernmost City for the Union in 1862, and at the opposite corner Jose Marti, Cuba's revolutionary hero is celebrated in marble in a style typical of 19th century statuary. And at the opposite corner of the park a Czech artist Emil Adamec has erected two statues, a male and female torso expressing he says a gateway between Havana and Key West two cities divided by political barriers.
Bayview Park is a magnet for the dispossessed in Key West, so much so the city administration has removed the park benches, (a couple firmly planted in cement are beyond the Public Work's Department grasp) making it unnecessarily complex for anyone not equipped with their own chairs to enjoy the park. From time to time the city holds public gatherings here but the bandstand is mute most of the time, the lawns, especially this time of year are not enjoyed by anyone much. Dogs are prohibited which doesn't mean they don't get to visit the park if they have daring owners, but mostly I see people playing tennis here standing on the courts in the sun knocking that fuzzy little ball back and forth. There is even a pro instructor even to help the amateurs on their way, so there is no excuse for an attitude like mine except sheer bloody-mindedness.I think they forced me to chase too many balls during my youthful imprisonment in boarding schools. There is basketball, softball and a set of slides for the toddlers. The softball field looked particularly ghostly in the moonlight Saturday night on my lunch break. In the distance, rising up like a fortress one sees the Harvey Government Center illuminated against possible softball ambushes from the darkened park lands where I lurked:For everyone there is something in Bayview Park including public restrooms, facilities not to be under valued in a city where the complaint is frequently;y heard that there aren't enough. Even if in this instance Key West seems to favor the institutional-correctional look for its loos:The restrooms are another reason Bayview tends to get a disproportionate number of residentially challenged hanging around. A few years ago the Salvation Army got permission to install a shower trailer in the Police Station parking lot but even since those facilities were dismantled the park provides determined homeless people a place to lay down:And you thought bleachers are meant to seat people watching softball? Key West, home to multi-purpose facilities. Even in the muggy night air the aluminum benches looked less than homey to me. Homes alongside the park tend to have the characteristic Key West look to them, old, handsome and frequently just a little run down. At four in he morning they can look vaguely sinister:
Or warm and welcoming:
Or massive and well used:
Bayview Park lacks waterfront views, it has no distinguishing features and aside from its monumental monuments it has no structures of historical value. Its just a park and one that tends to get overlooked. I'm as bad as anyone on this, I ride down Truman occasionally into or out of town and fail to really appreciate the simplicity of trees and grass:

And yet my hour long ramble ended all too soon, a couple of dozen photos in the bag, the moon still sinking slowly towards the west and the pool between the Park and the Police Station still as a mirror, in the peace and quiet of the city, slumbering at last:I like working nights for a lot of reasons but having middle of the night lunch breaks is my secret perk.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

TGIF

I had a totally crap Friday, actually, and most of it was my fault which didn't make it any better. My wife had made an appointment to see her rheumatologist in Miami the same day I finally got an appointment to get the Bonneville it's 12,000 mile warranty service. I tried to get it into the shop in June and couldn't get an appointment so now it has 14,000 miles on the clock. I also tried to persuade my wife I should ride to Fort Lauderdale, but I couldn't come up with a reason why it would somehow be better if I were to ride the Bonneville and have her go alone in the car. I really enjoy the ride and going for a service is a great excuse to get on the road. We did the sensible thing and I loaded the motorcycle into our trailer and off we went, together. We left the house at 5 am, I dropped my wife off at the doctor's in south Miami at 8:30 and i arrived at Pure Triumph an hour later. I waited for the shop to open and was first at the service desk to sign the paperwork and get back on the road to south Miami to pick up my wife. Things went a bit wrong and I was told the motorcycle might not be ready by closing time even though I had booked ahead with that stipulation. 170 miles each way adds up to a lot of mileage for a return trip. I got a bit snotty I'm afraid and the owner ended up promising the bike would be done before closing. I left angry that I'd had to make a scene. I hate drama and being the cause of it makes me hate myself.

I picked up my wife at the doctors' without a hitch which was good, because she told me she had left her cell phone at home so I had no way to get in touch with her when we separated. That's a sign of the times. When we're without a cellphone we feel crippled. I hate technology.

Then we did the mainland shopping routine. Target, Macy's, Linens and Things,The Container Store, Costco and some other places I can't remember and at every single one, our credit card transaction needed voice confirmation. Man I was mad. We interrupted an attempted fraud last month and this was our new card and apparently they were keeping a close eye on us. Grrrr. I spent a lot too much time fiddling at the check-out in all these places, waiting for approval, suffering the glowering of other customers wondering who were the dorks holding them up.

Then, with the car groaning under the weight of all the packages we rumbled north back to Pure Triumph in Fort Lauderdale, a place that was giving me a knot in my stomach. That pissed me off too, because I like the shop, I like hanging around the Triumphs and Ducatis on the rare occasions I'm in Fort Lauderdale, and now I was so grumpy at them I didn't want to see them ever again. Grrr.

Instead they were very polite and explained the misunderstanding to me and presented me with a gleaming, purring Bonneville. I felt like a total worm because my determination to get the bike back the same day had put the mechanics back on their backed up schedule and on and on. They agreed not to promise a same day turn around on major services in the future, and I agreed not to expect that on the next one at 26,000 miles... Then came time to pay and the credit card fiasco intervened again and we were on the phone and couldn't get approval for the bill. This one was better for me because I got to wander around as we waited, and apologized profusely to everyone while admiring the bikes on display.

It turned out the credit company called my wife's cell phone early in the day to make sure the transactions were legitimate but as she had forgotten the damned thing at home... they had to hand process each cursed transaction. Bad for them, crazy making for us. They take fraud seriously, so should we all.
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Then I got to drive home, I was the frustrated motorcyclist behind the wheel, who in truth was so completely knackered at this point he was secretly glad to be hunkered down, all air conditioned, with satellite radio to lull the wife to sleep while he drove. However the Maxima was getting crap mileage towing the 500 pound Bonneville and I watched in astonishment as the gauge plummeted all day. As we were cruising south, homeward, on the Turnpike looking forward to Mexican food in Homestead my wife announced brightly: " What's happened to the gas gauge?" We were so far out of fuel it was off the scale. We slowed down and tottered down the turnpike looking for a gas station and of course there were none. "I feel like a teenager again" my wife said brightly. "Our credit card doesn't work and we're running on fumes." I felt like an idiot as I haven't run out of gas ever, in the past thirty years. Will this nightmare never end? I asked myself as we pulled into a gas station that finally appeared next to the highway. That was when I had the bright idea of refilling the Triumph while it was still on the trailer and the nozzle was at an angle such that the gasoline blew back. A lot of mid grade 89 octane blew all over me at $4.28 a gallon. My wife ran and bought a jug of water as my whole face was burning and I was blinded and spitting gasoline in agony. Thank God It's Friday indeed!
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Its the blessing and the curse of living in the Keys- the ability to drive north and have the whole world of big city shopping at your fingertips. Some days the adventure is just too much.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Flat Waters

It's that time of year: flat water time in the Keys, also known simply as "summer." This picture I took from my street over the mangrove flats west of Ramrod Key, completely protected waters:
Thursday afternoon I needed to get out of the house, so in addition to going to the Post Office and the bank on Big Pine Key I took a ride north towards Bahia Honda. Even though I know this road quite well enough I just wanted to see what might appear in the lense of the camera. Flat water it turned out; the waters between the mangrove islands was looking as they should in summer, all flat and mirror-like. The effect wasn't even spoiled by the hazy skies covered by indeterminate cirrus clouds. I rode and I photographed.

That last picture I took of the Bonneville in a parking area on the south end of the Bahia Honda bridge. I went just to poke around and lo and behold I found yet another little piece of Keys back country previously unknown to me. I've been by here a million times too...

It was just another of those little parking areas off the highway, one of the nice features of riding through Monroe county, come as you are and park where you feel like, trash cans provided:Apparently other people have already discovered this small corner of wilderness:I'm sure i don't know what he found to dive on, and swimming with a regulation dive flag indicates he knows the rules, I just wondered if he was doing some reconnaissance for next week's mini lobster season, the annual summer massacre of lobster by amateur hunters, that precedes the official commercial lobster season. The area in back of the parking lot was easily accessible to divers or walkers:

And then home to a quick swim in Newfound Harbor followed by grilled chicken from the barbecue, braised spinach and the satisfaction of a small summer ride on my Bonneville:

Ten miles there, ten miles back.