Saturday, January 31, 2009

Still Digging

I made a total mess of the first attempt at gardening.

It is true that we have harvested a few modest tomatoes and our cilantro has grown strong and stout but that was because they were potted in full sunshine. Actually the tomatoes could have done better but they have at least produced something. The vegetable beds less so, before I moved them into full sunshine also:

I decided late last year that we should be growing vegetables as part of the not completely serious Dig For Victory revival spurred by the economic slump. There has of course been a determined move by some forward looking people to support local agriculture and diversity in plantings which gained momentum when petroleum prices skyrocketed to $147 a barrel last summer, in 2008. My idea was, in less visionary style, to get some practice growing stuff before it becomes absolutely necessary. With everyone skirting the notion that this recession might very well turn into a depression I figured it would be smart to spend a couple of hundred dollars on lumber and make some plywood and plank vegetable beds. So I did, and this is what they look like in their new full sun location:The thing was I had no idea how much sun they should get and it turns out that in winter the sun moves way to the south, even here, and they weren't getting enough sun at all closer in to my house on stilts. The situation is exacerbated by my splendid trees that surround my home and the next result was small plants and seeds that sprouted okay but then withered as they tried fruitlessly to get sunshine....This, the fourth of my beds, I left in its shady place while I brace to select some of the plants to save and others to discard after much sunless effort on their part:The business of moving these beds from their sunless location under the house was fairly hard labor. I shovelled the dirt into the wheelbarrow. Lack of sun also caused the dirt in the beds to stay rather more damp than I had planned and thus I think I was also over-watering them which didn't help. Anyway I shoveled the dirt into the wheel barrow and some trash cans and hauled the empty frames to their new locations. One started here in full shade:And clearly it was too shady because the spinach and lettuce just went all spindly on me as they sought sunlight. I guess South Florida winter sun looks feeble to me, comparatively, but it is as strong as summer sun in northern latitudes...My potted fruit trees, key lime, lemon, mango, avocado and pomegranate all seem to be benefiting from their move into full sunlight as well and the strawberries have finally produced a flower or two. And I hold high hopes for the pineapples as well enjoying some late evening rays alongside the pomegranate tree:Now I'm going to have to regulate the watering a bit and make sure they get enough. Then I will have to see whether or not I might have to move the beds again (oof!) back under some partial shade under the full grown coconut trees for the summer. Perhaps, I hope faintly, full summer sun won't be excessive...? I need this time to experiment clearly because knowledge as the saying goes comes with experience...I did have a couple of small successes with jackfruit seeds which I got from a fruit that I bought at Fairchild gardens in Miami. I put the seeds in water and of five, two sprouted, and this one is the strongest of the two:I have seen a couple of homes in the area with vegetable beds appearing, though not all are bursting with life as it were: Though one up the street near my house is looking excellent, grown by a surer hand than mine:

An interesting by product of all this industry was when one of my neighbors stopped by to chat about my growing efforts. Interesting because I have noted that I live on the second most unfriendly street in the Lower Keys. Gardening, not motorcycling it turns out, is the great leveller.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Carey Lane

Carey Lane according to some people (not me!) is also known as Thompson Alley (not Thompson Lane which exists in various truncated segments around the city). J Burke Wills noticed, as did I that Carey lane appears to be an extension of Angela Street which runs alongside the cemetery north of Margaret:Wills suggests the lane may have been named for George Carey an English sailor known for his preference for silk top hats, perhaps a pleasure derived from operating a haberdasher's downtown. There was also apparently a female Carey called Alicia who was known for her ice cream in the late 19th century. In any event Carey Lane is a well tended dead end close to the main entrance to the cemetery. The city has been busy tending to the curbs and sidewalks in this area, as evidenced at the entrance to the lane:The homes on the half block are pretty and well maintained and made a quite delightful, albeit brief stroll on a windy winter afternoon:

A Scooter in Turkey has made me self conscious about taking pleasure in photographing bougainvillea, but life is nothing if it is not lived dangerously:Carey Lane enjoys fewer grumpy signs than other parts of the city, but I did find one:It was a beautiful winter's afternoon in Key West. The sun had finally made an appearance after a gray start to the day with heavy clouds. The east wind had picked up and the trees were rustling and shaking. Temperatures were perfect with no humidity at all and as I strolled I looked in the window and saw the awful god of television sending messages to his entranced acolytes gathered in a dark room. Further up the street there was a dude sitting on his steps reading the paper and I couldn't resist making a comment about the foolishness of being indoors on such an evening. I think he considered me intrusive so I went back to minding my own business:The irony for me lay in the fact that the TV home had a splendid porch with comfortable wicker chairs, while the paper reader was scrunched up on his steps, lacking as he did all outdoor amenity. And on the subject of "none of my business" I had to ponder the weirdness of importing Spanish Moss to Key West. This stuff is to be found in abundance north of Lake Okeechobee in the pine forests Up North but in the sub tropics, 60 miles north of the Tropic of Cancer it seems you need to tie it to the tree to make it look as though it has taken root, as it were:It may just have been the day, the perfect weather, the fact that I continue to be gainfully employed in these difficult times, I don't know; but I really liked Carey Lane.And that main thoroughfare called Margaret Street wasn't looking at all bad in the brilliant sunshine. There I was in shorts and short sleeves and people in Oklahoma are buried under an ice storm. Oklahoma is definitely not OK at the moment, no matter what their license plates say.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

BMW Versus Bonneville

I like riding my Bonneville, but when the opportunity arose to give Bruce's BMW a go, it was quite the eye opener, and quite a change from my more sedate 865cc twin.My Bonneville is styled to look like a motorcycle from thirty years ago, though inside it has an engine that is modern in all respects, double overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, unit construction with a five speed gearbox and a modern low maintenance o-ring final drive chain. The engine puts out 60 true horsepower with minimal vibrations, no oil leaks and a solid history of reliable performance. New Bonnevilles have been around since 2000, the original appeared in 1959, more or less.Bruce's GS 800 is the epitome of all things modern in motorcycling, a water cooled parallel twin, slightly smaller in capacity than my Bonneville but it's an engine that produces 75 horsepower, far more than the 60 attributed to the Triumph. The GS800 has been a much anticipated ride in the US, as it is a new model for this country, and the motorcycle press has been gushing about it.The larger GS1200 produced by BMW has been an enormous success, more than 100,000 built so far in various air cooled capacities, combining road going qualities with the ability to take to dirt tracks when desired. However the 800 is a hundred or more pounds lighter, similar to the Bonneville at around 500 (225kg) and with a slightly lower seat height, low enough I could tip toe when astride the 800. Bruce finds it tall enough that when he has attached all the bags he finds it easier to step on the foot rests to get on and off the beast:The BMW is not styled to appeal to the nostalgic motorcyclist, as the engine is purposeful, painted black and a snake's nest of hoses pipes and wires, quite unlike the clean look of the air cooled Bonneville:It is what is expected of the modern motorcycle. Furthermore it operates with a mass of electronic doo-hickery that appeals to me not one bit. Of course fuel injection is the order of the day (as it is on the latest generation of Bonnevilles for clean air purposes) but Bruce the engineer tells me owners have reported numerous failures of electronic parts including the complex ignition systems that killed off my 250cc Vespa GTS. There is something perverse about the perceived need to create a complex ignition system to defy thievery that ends up denying access to the legitimate owners. The Bonneville lacks all sophistication.The BMW has three disc brakes where the Bonneville has two, and the BMW's two front discs managed to let Bruce down:One of Bruce's front disc calipers fell apart while underway, jammed the front wheel and brought him abruptly to the ground. That was a problem apparently known to BMW for they changed the length of the bolts while Bruce convalesced with a temporarily mangled foot. None deterred he loves the bike with it's accessory travel gear, sophisticated hard luggage:And electric plugs for heated clothing and electronic navigation capable of finding it's way to the southernmost point in the US for example:Bruce's GPS was also capable of leading him to Starbucks on Duval but it took my own internal compass to get us to Sandy's for a fish sandwich and a cafe con leche for lunch, and prices that would make Starbucks blush: Bruce loves his gadgetry, and laughs at my preference for the old fangled ways. I enjoy using my paper maps and I like the serendipity that comes with not always knowing where you are going. He even pulled out his in-car GPS when we drove one evening to a restaurant near my home (he trailered the BMW from Santa Fe across the snowy high plains). He is so dependant on electrons I think sometimes he forgets he can look out of the window, not just for the beauty but to figure out where he is going.
I enjoyed riding the BMW, with all its acceleration and perfectly balanced ride. I didn't like standing on tippy toe when stationary and the shaped saddle is hard to get used to after the freedom the Bonneville allows to slide back and forth as one wishes. The gearbox is smooth though the plethora of six speeds is more than I need. For people like us who travel mostly at 80 mph (130kph) or less there is more pleasure in acceleration than absolute speeds and the BMW can pass much quicker than the Bonneville.In terms of performance the motorcycles are a reasonable match, even on the gravel where the Bonneville kept up just fine at slow speeds with the more off road GS. A Bonneville Scrambler would be more indicated for serious frequent fire road rides but I have always preferred true road bikes, especially as we don't have fire roads in the Keys. Bruce's GPS didn't locate the pleasures of the dirt roads on Sugarloaf Key but with my head to guide us once again, we took a ride a couple of miles through the mangroves enjoying the winter evening together out of sight of all landmarks visible to GPS:Both motorcycles come with a long list of accessories from historically reputable factories so you can make what you want of the basic machine. I bought the Bonneville in 2007 for $8,000 and I believe the price has risen even in these deflationary times to something over $10,000. Bruce bought the GS with a lot of accessories, bags and the like, last year for $15,000 but he did get a lot more machine with its superior suspension and slightly higher fuel mileage and its off road pedigree. To my surprise I am entirely content with my symbol of 1970s motorcycling in modern guise. But I am a Luddite and entirely content also to live my simple electron free lifestyle.Besides, 60hp, in these islands in the twilight of my years is plenty thank you. And with 22,000 miles on the clock (35,000 km) the Bonneville has lots of life left, as I hope do I.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Packer Street

Packer Street is your basic utilitarian residential street, but because this is Key West it's more than that, it is in some mysterious way photogenic. I wanted to photograph a street because it feels like for too long I've been traveling one way and another and this blog has degenerated into an anywhere-but-Key-West diary. So I figured, a quick stop on Watson Street before I go to work and bob's your uncle. Instead I overshot Watson and ended upon Packer and was forced to admit even the most unpromising streets have too much stuff to photograph. There's a pretty decent restaurant:

My wife and I ate there shortly after "The Good Life" opened and we enjoyed sitting out on the porch. They have one of those eclectic American Grille menus with startling variations on old favorites:

Aside from this place the end of Packer Street that pops out into Truman Avenue dead ends into a popular Japanese restaurant which is a useful landmark to find Packer. My wife has eaten there and likes it, though I am reluctant to spend lots of money to eat bites of raw fish, so she goes with friends.The entrance to Packer off Truman is bracketed by another sturdy landmark in this middle area of Old Town, and across from Kyushu lies this:I am not overly fond of these streets south of Truman Avenue and I'm not sure why. Partly I think it's because they lack sidewalks and my sense of order is offended, not least because of all the cars jammed up against the edges make the place look untidy and crowded:

The reality is that Packer Street is, relatively speaking, a wide avenue compared to a lot of the lanes and alleys around town. Some of the main streets themselves aren't as broad as Packer and still traffic gets jammed here. Pedestrians don't though:

Packer Street has the usual mix of homes typical of any residential neighborhood in Key West:

House prices in Key West remain stubbornly high in the city (houses not on canals in the Lower Keys are dropping a bit) though bank foreclosures are supposedly working their way onto auction blocks. I see no reductions in prices among the desirable properties, the mansions the Conch cottage restorations and the like. Condos are coming down a bit and I've seen some of the South Roosevelt condos below $300,000 but among all the many homes for sale prices seem surprisingly strong. Better ask these people and not me:

I caught this yard filled with projects, which looked much more interesting to me than the neatly groomed snowbird residences further up the street. I particularly liked the upturned boat, a reminder that we are less than a mile from tidal waters, no matter how landlocked this street looks:

As usual I have no idea what this bush might be called but it looked pretty (as did the Honda which I identified as possibly a 700 Nighthawk):Talk about utilitarian this next machine is the epitome of utility, a Honda Elite scooter, parked in front of a home.The scooter is actually a mobile ad for the pepper store though it was painted by the inimitable, the late Captain Outrageous:Another landmark, immobile on Packer Street, is the old fire station now in the process of being converted to a fire museum:The cement structure in the foreground is a very rare watering trough used by the horses that pulled the fire engines back in the day. Nowadays the fire department has three modern stations strategically located around town, but when we get a 911 call from the "fire station on Grinnell" (usually long time Key West residents identify this location that way) we have to remember they mean the old fire station which is the museum here. And near there was my Bonneville, a study in green and white:They are a civic lot on Packer Street because it seems Tuesday is pick up day for recycling and every home appeared to have a bin at the curb next to the trash.The city commission last week back pedaled on mandatory recycling and now the city is limiting itself to encouraging people (and more to the point businesses) to recycle. It seems there may still be a plan to hire a recycling coordinator to increase the city's miserable recycling rate but the city is also showing a widening budget deficit so one has to wonder where the money will come from to gently encourage the citizens to recycle. Currently the city is projecting a 1.2 million dollar shortfall in a $38 million budget. And then by June, the end of the fiscal year things will surely be worse. Oh well, at least we have free sunshine. Packer Street mysteriously attractive in it's way.