Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Motorcycling After All These Years

I have ridden motorcycles all my life. My mother loved them and before she died, somewhat prematurely at the age of 49, younger than I am now. She bought me my first, a bright orange Vespa 50 in 1970. Since then the longest I went without a motorcycle was during a few years of being owned by a couple of dogs, which was ironically enough a time of upheaval in our lives. We were traveling by boat for part of it so not having a motorcycle was hardly an issue. Having dogs was, but they came everywhere with us, sailing doggedly to Panama from California and back north to Key West.
I like riding my Bonneville up and down Highway One. I've ridden the road for thousands of miles and I find it endlessly enjoyable, the variations in the colors, the clouds piled up and visible for miles, the glint of the sun on water and boats that come and go. My Triumph has just passed the 16,000 miles (25,000 km) mark and the engine seems looser and faster than ever perhaps because unbeknownst to me Pure Triumph removed the air injection system! I just noticed that the Trumpet has more get up and go than ever which must be due to the removal of the air injection system. Now the fuel/air mixture is as it should be for the benefit of the engine, if not the environment. Weirdly enough my fuel consumption has improved by about ten percent which might offset some of the negative environmental effect of the AI removal.I took the saddlebags off for Tropical Storm Fay thinking perhaps that a slimmer profile might make the machine more manageable and less bulky to park in some out of the way spot during the storm, and I like the slimmer profile and I'm seeing if I can cope with reduced storage space for my commuting needs. One day I was dawdling along the road, the only road and I met one guy fighting the heat with his lightweight packing. I think he looked jealous when he saw my ride:It was hot, hovering around 90 degrees (32C) up to perhaps 95 (35C) with lots of humidity. My wife found me pottering around under the house polishing the Bonneville, vigorously scrubbing the rust spots on my mirror stems and started panting just watching me. "Aren't you hot?" she asked. I just shook my head and she retreated upstairs pursued by the mosquitoes that don't seem to like my blood. I seem perfectly adapted to life in the Keys, immune to heat and mossies. I like the look of Mangrove Mama's on Sugarloaf Key, especially with a motorcycle, a Harley, out front white and shining in the heat:Further up the road is the only traffic light between Stock Island and Big Pine Key. They put it in to help school traffic at Sugarloaf Middle School on Crane Avenue. We asked the state to have it blink yellow at non peak hours, but that request went nowhere so all day and all night it sits and changes and ignores motorcycles. Need to turn left onto the highway? Too bad.Sugarloaf School, next to the light takes kids from kindergarten through 8th grade (about 14 years old I think) and also provides an elevated haven for cars when a storm threatens. In order to reduce flooding the school was built up a bit, especially as parts of Sugarloaf Key seem more like water than dirt. The thing is when a storm threatens , people in the area who remember getting wrecked by Hurricane Wilma (a recurring theme in the Keys) bring their cars to the school for safety and park up here. They did it for Fay and then more recently for Ike. I would bring the Bonneville here if I lived on Sugarloaf. In fact I saw a couple of Harleys up here during Gustav, or Ike, or Fay or one of those storms:
On a less tragic note this is rainy season and we are getting cloud bursts from time to time and with very little warning. The stretch of highway from Mangrove Mama's at Mile Marker 20 to Big Coppitt at Mile Marker 9 doesn't have much cover. There are park benches at Bay Point, behind Baby's Coffee to shelter under and put on one's waterproofs but I have lately been noticing this solitary gazebo along the bike trail near Mile Marker 14. I have no idea why people in Authority decided to build it. If it's part of the bike trail system they need to work on paving more of that. In the meantime there is this: On some mornings when I'm heading home absolutely exhausted I've given consideration to the idea of laying down in here for a nap; as though I were a homeless dude. I haven't given in yet but some days it seems I am sleepy enough it might be safer to stop and snooze rather than keep on riding...

There's a sign at the entrance to Big Coppitt that I thought related to the new sewer system we've been promised. It didn't seem very clear to me, as it's described as the Main Force Project which sounds sinister and conspiracy related. I expect a military checkpoint to appear soon. I wonder what main force means? So far it just seems to mean they have to tear up the highway and make it rough. The Bonneville flies over it all, indifferent as long as I wash off the road dirt:They have been murmuring about sewering the Keys since I first came in 1981, but the plans never got off the ground. In the bad old days there was money for public works but now that the costs of sewering has become astronomical the State is all tuckered out financially speaking. Selling bonds in a state like Florida is akin to auctioning off your first born so we are under a state imposed mandate to have all homes connected to proper modern sewers by 2010 and no one has a clue how to pay for it. So, I hear you wondering what does happen to the sewage generated by 75,000 permanent residents. Well that's an interesting question. 25,000 people in Key West have a tertiary system already installed, that cost years of torn up streets but it's done and makes sewage potable so clean is the system (no one actually drinks it, don't worry). The rest of us, 50,000 people plus visitors use septic tanks which, built into porous rock are not the best filters in the world. And our county leaders furrow their brows and wonder why the reef is deteriorating. You would too were you eating so much crap. It pains me to think this could have been done and paid for twenty years ago when the reef was much more vital.The exclusive, gated, private community of Shark Key pictured above from outside the gates, wants to have Keys taxpayers pay to sewer their private island too. Given the total lack of backbone among our leaders doubtless I will end up paying for their crap as well as mine. Individual hook ups may cost each of us directly more than $10,000 depending on which alarmist you listen to. They think to relieve the pain by saying they will add a monthly assessment to each home until the bill is paid.

Enough of sewers. I don't even know how I got on the subject. Pornography; there's something vaguely related to sewers. We have several stores that deal in the stuff in Key West and I am too weedy to go into any of them. But I got close, in a manner of speaking. When I was riding the bus on my most recent excursion there was a guy sitting upfront and I couldn't help but notice he looked like the assassin from the French movie Diva (which I highly recommend though it has nothing to do with the Keys). He was short stocky and his head was shaved. He sat silently in the bus staring ahead listening to his earpiece. In the movie it was a Walkman apparatus playing French accordion music. In this case the earpiece must have been connected to the ubiquitous Ipod. He sat still and silent until we reached this spot, at about Mile Marker 8.

He nodded solemnly to the driver as he descended from the bus and said not a word. He walked up to his job, a little figure dressed in black hugging the shade as he went. Before the bus had pulled back into the four lane traffic I saw the door swing closed behind him, sucking him into it's vortex of novelties and toys and DVDs. I'm told that porn shops do well near military bases and this one has done fine for several years. It used to be a welcome center and that closed. Then it was a restaurant and that closed. Now it's Island Spice and it even advertises on a large expensive billboard just up the road. There's money in them thar DVDs close to Boca Chica Naval Air Station.

Some people find the Overseas Highway endless and boring but for me every mile is different, every corner has something to see. It must be because I ride a motorcycle; I have too much time to think.