Thursday, September 1, 2011

Riding Downtown

I am sure the question has to arise: why ride a motorcycle in a town so perfectly adapted to small bore scooters? Because some of us choose to live outside the city, or because simply put, motorcycles are fun.

In point of fact the fun of riding Duval and surrounding streets is somewhat limited. The parking question explains some of the appeal, as parking is free and is usually easy enough to find for a two wheeler.

But the stop and go nature of traffic and the crowds of pedestrians stepping off sidewalks at random make downtown less appealing to ride.

Key West is noticeably hotter than surrounding islands and I notice the heat increase when I am riding my motorcycle into town which makes protective gear problematic this time of over heated year.

Florida law does not require adults over 21 with medical insurance to ride with helmets and many take advantage of the law. I'd rather have a national health care plan and a helmet law like Canada but from time to time I too will ride around town helmet-less, and enjoy it.

Cycling is a good way to go too, and cyclists get away with a little bit of lane splitting which is not allowed for powered two wheelers. That would get more people riding if they could filter to the front of traffic, but such progress will never happen in Florida. So we take what breaks we can get and are glad it doesn't snow down here.

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Ferry Terminal

Henry Morrison Flagler brought the railroad to Key West and they gave him this monument at Grinnell and Trumbo Road.

A 'bight' in nautical lingo signifies an indentation in a coastline that isn't deep enough to be a bay but is protected enough to allow boats to anchor there.

The ferry terminal is at the east end of the Bight, across the water from the coastguard station.

The interior of the terminal, closed when I was there for this early morning visit, is quite modern with shops and stuff to amuse people waiting for the ferry to Fort Myers.

The ferry terminal is also the terminus of the boardwalk that snakes its way around the bight all the way to the Galleon Resort on Front Street.

The centenary of the arrival of the East Coast Extension will doubtless be celebrated with jamborees and festivities next January and doubtless I shall have more to say, as wordy as I am, but for the time being all is quiet on the Flagler front in Key West. There is one ferry arrival each day and they tromp up here to get into the building.

The coastguard station across the water is on land created by Flagler's engineers who ran the railroad tracks across the reclaimed dirt and built ferry docks at the train terminal over there. Passengers disembarked to ride the boats to Havana, freight cars rolled directly onto the ships, and on the return journey brought tropical fruit for rich people in New York to enjoy in winter.

Ferry terminals and ports are serious business these days. Even in Key West there is all manner of Federally Mandated Security. Terrorism is reduced to 'terror,' a state of mind we are supposed to wallow in all the time apparently.

Not being authorized to do anything I just kept walking my dog until I could see the Tank Island Whore, as she used to be fondly known by those who objected to the conversion of unused Tank Island into the suburban paradise of Sunset Key.

Without the old landing craft trudging back and forth the millionaires and movie stars of Sunset Key would be stuck with all sorts of trash, and no deliveries of good things to eat or sit on. The landing craft are docked in what used to be called The Toxic Triangle. Boaters lived here for free in waters fouled by the effluents expelled by the old Steam Plant Electricity Generating Station. Now converted into luxury apartments currently on sale at a fifty percent discount. That still means one point six mill to you hopeful plebs out there.

Arriving by ferry means sweating one's way into town in a manner both uncomfortable and not at ball suave, therefore one suffered the use of Paradise Porters who will guard luggage and deliver it. A brilliant concept conveniently located in the parking garage on Caroline at Grinnell.

A neighbor was fascinated by my Labrador refreshing herself in a puddle. He called his wife to then balcony to look.

That pink tongue is mine, all mine and don't you forget it.

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Water And Pilings

To look at a sailboat tied up at the dock is to see the inherent contradiction in travel by boat. A fellow traveler once remarked to me that visiting the world from the deck of your own boat is like just dipping your toe into the life and culture of the countries you visit. There was a lot of truth in her criticism of how I was traveling at the time, but for a misanthrope like myself travel by sailboat has it's compensations.

One arrives in a new place yet one always has one's own home to retreat to when the culture clashes become too much. One can travel inland for a while but the fact that the boat, alone and vulnerable at the coast is your everything limits the travelers' ability to immerse themselves in the life of the place they are visiting. One foot on the boat, one foot on the beach, always, when traveling by boat. It's not like hitchhiking by truck and bus through a colorful new landscape with your life on your back and no retreat from the world around you. Ah youth! Pass the bottle.

In Key West my wife and I found life on our boat, after we arrived from San Francisco to have the same social limitations when we decided to stop in Key West. Our catamaran was tied to the dock but our putative friends immersed in the culture of the land viewed us as transient, able to slip our lines and leave at a moment's notice. In their eyes we still had only one foot on the beach and the effort of friendship would likely be wasted on two obvious drifters.

We were in the place but not of the place, connected by a few lines, and an electrical cord that became an umbilical, feeding us energy to power the comforts of life ashore in a tiny fiberglass shell. The boat that had been a spacious floating tent for ourselves and our dogs in Central America became a place of confinement in Key West. Tourists looked at us from behind the safety of a restaurant menu and a confirmed flight home. We were colorful but shifty. I craved respectability.

In sailing as in every other activity driven social grouping (motorcycling comes to mind) there are those who do and those who criticize. I had for years viewed those active sailors who criticized sailors for living on their boats as being rather unfair to us liveaboards, but life aboard in Key West opened my eyes to that point of view. I found life on my boat in a town filled with drifters and grifters to be the life of the marginal dweller. We sailed not much at all and groped through our daily lives using our travel machine as a tent. It was dismal.

In 2002 we took off for one last go, sailing one idyllic spring through the Bahamas living at anchor, swimming and beach combing alone when we felt like it and in company when we didn't because there are always places where sailors gather in those islands. It was too much for Emma, at the last stages of a long life filled with more adventure and travel than any rescued yellow Labrador might expect. She had visited thirteen countries and 23 US states, and finally she fell ill as though to tell us it was time to put down roots until she was ready to die. We sold the boat, the dog died in a house and we were on land.

When I walk the docks in Key West I see the youngsters in their dinghies making plans, buying stuff, making deals and they look right through me, the old dude with a camera wishing he was them. Actually I was them and glad I did it too and probably I overdid it as is my way because I am content now away from the life aboard a boat drifting on the margins. Sometimes though I do want to walk away, step off land and push off from the pilings of a routine life. However next time I do it I will go sailing, to see over the horizon, not to sit still in one place and drift in circles around an anchor. I'm doing that now, and it's much more comfortable in a house than in a boat.

Believe me, I know.

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Keys Pix 9

Colorful Key West.

Besides it's hard to get a parking ticket with a bicycle. The white car with the flashing yellow lights was on parking patrol.

This piece of iron is welded to a tree in front of Fast Buck's 'At Home' store on Caroline. It's hard to miss and I don't think many passersby do miss it.

This overwrought Chinese scooter boasts 'hydraulic suspension.' Wow! That's been a round a while. I'm glad they've joined the party. I dread the day China figures out how to build and market machinery was well as the West does. That will be the end of Empire in my mind.

So many dog owners walk in fear and dread of their hound meeting another dog. I feel bad for their eager pooches looking to enjoy a brief encounter, and wonder at the stupidity of human kind. It's obvious to the least observant Cheyenne is a happy dog. He made laugh as he fumbled desperately with the lock trying to get out of the way of my slavering carefully leashed hound. Nice back dude!

Key West, picturesque, shady and like I said at the start...

...full of color. It will stay this way all winter.

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The Dump

One of the features of living in a county a hundred miles long and a mile wide is that every government service has to be offered in triplicate, at least. Schools, policing, vehicle registration and not least, dumps are scattered up and down the Keys.

The one closest to my home is on Cudjoe Key and it is typical of them all I have no doubt. These are trash hauling trailers at the entrance.

I use bins at home for single stream recycling so what they do when you go to the office I wouldn't know. It's an intriguing question though.

This is where I bring my motorcycle oil after I've change it. It couldn't be simpler: just put the burnt oil container on the gravel filled box and leave it for staff to deal with. Brilliant!

I was hauling the rubbish from my porch remodel in my little utility trailer.

Stop on the scales.

Then find a spot to back up and unload your rubbish.

The dump is actually very organized as there are places set aside for specific items, for instance appliances and metals go round the building in the rear. There is always an employee on hand to ask.

I emptied the netting and rotten trim and worn out patio furniture and waved it all goodbye in the mirrors. It seemed a pungent place to say farewell.

Trash is hauled to the Pompano landfill one hundred and fifty miles away in the huge more-or-less covered trailers, up Highway One so these places are technically known as transfer stations.

The city's old waste to energy plant was decommissioned in favor of trash hauling and as only six percent of the waste stream is recycled the county's 75,000 permanent residents pay a pretty sum to deal with waste.

My load cost me $9.60 which seemed entirely reasonable at six cents a pound. It was worth it not to dump it in the mangroves as some of my neighbors do. One man's trash is another bird's treasure:

Four miles home and the job was done.

Irony of ironies.

Who dreams up the placement of these signs?

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