Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Working Scooters

So, there flew the gauntlet, right off the page of Skootin Old Skool, in remarking on a recent post in A Scooter in Turkey, which looked at working scooters,and very picturesque they are too. The Seattle based Old Skool Orin said something to the effect that there is nowhere in the US that would see such examples of working scooters. I felt this was a challenge that needed to be answered.Key West is full of working scooters, like the examples above,one ridden by a man who anywhere else in the US wouldn't be seen dead scooting to the office, and below that a little Yamaha Jazz, worse for wear but fully functional and obviously used as a daily rider. This gent casually skipped off the scooter, not even bothering to park it properly and sauntered off into Albertson's grocery store:And Key Plaza, in New Town, has set aside lots of scooter only parking for customers. This sun worn sign shows the parking has been around for a while:As has this daily rider with his 250cc Honda Nighthawk complete with saddlebags, drum brakes and flowing beard:Because this is America a lot of what one sees here doesn't look as exotic as one might find in Turkey, in the mysterious and seductive Levant, but the same principles apply. A Tomos two stroke moped might be hard to find on US city streets if one isn't in Key West, where this Slovenian work horse finds favor with the large Slavic migrant population:Baskets are a feature of mopeds, scooters and bicycles that are used around town to haul anything and everything. Imagine my chagrin when I spotted a man riding away from Home Depot with four bags of potting soil wedged on his scooter between his legs...and my camera was not to hand! He elicited no attention as that sort of scooter transport is normal around here. Saddlebags show up all over the place too, on motorcycles......and Yamaha's ugliest scooter ever, the 250cc Morphous which a lot of people thought looked really cool, before they stopped importing it:On the more traditional front we can see Honda Elites in various cubic capacities, this one, possibly a 125cc on the Boulevard with two riders, most likely snowbirds (the matching helmets are the giveaway, a not very local touch) out shopping:In Florida helmets are optional for riders over 21 years of age with medical insurance, and the state also issues motorcycle tags with the notation "under 21" for youngsters. I didn't see the tag on these two joyriders on North Roosevelt Boulevard ("The Boulevard") but I expect they are over 21:And when one is driving down the street in a car one shouldn't be surprised if one is accosted by a wizened man old enough to be one's grandfather puttering along on a scooter:It may not be Turkey but I don't think there are too many men like him riding scooters around their home towns. As for actual working scooters deliveries are frequently made on two wheels around town. These vehicles typically use ice chests:Or my favorite 50cc ride, the Honda Metropolitan (known, confusingly enough in Canada as a Jazz):And then there is the factory designed delivery vehicle from TGB, which comes in two models, a 50cc (pictured here at Jenna's deli) or the 150cc 4 stroke, both with built in delivery boxes on the back. I fancy the 150 as a touring vehicle if I get the urge to see America slowly, as I did in 1981 on my Vespa 200:Aside from getting 100 miles per gallon (40 kilometers to the liter), scooters also offer the bonus of easy parking which in Key West's congested Old Town gets critical in winter when tourist season is at it's height. The city offers lots of parking spots for two wheelers, though scooter riders do get creative as well, while some riders just dump their vehicles in automobile spots treating them as though they were cars: Chinese scooters have made huge inroads into the Key West with their low prices but Kymcos, Yamahas and Hondas still compete. There are a few Italians, some Aprilias a very few Vespas and Victor the Honda dealer on Southard Street is now also a Genuine dealer so a few of those have showed up. Of classics there aren't too many. This sad Vespa sidecar doesn't run and the Sebago employee who staffs it on Duval street told me that if it were running it would be complex and expensive to park it as an advertising tool. I have no idea why but it is something very bureaucratic so he is reduced to pushing it home, ignominiously at day's end:I also came across this delightful Honda CB125 on the Boulevard at Napa Auto parts. It had just shy of 7,000 miles (12,000 kms) on the clock and it looked great:On the subject of classics this home in New Town has been slowly working on restoring a couple of Honda Fours from the 1970's here flanked by an older model Yamaha Zuma one of the most popular scooters in town, now also available as a 125cc:The Chinese scooters like to look cool by using Italian names like this Taiwan Golden Bee, fast motorcycles in Italian:Or this TGB model called the Key West, named for the town that lives and breathes scooters:Then again the fashionable home will want to have a scooter that matches the front door. Cool huh?And if you live in the city you will start to recognize vehicles and their parking spots. I like this Harley Road King on White Street:Or there's this one, a BMW 650 Dakar that I've seen around town ridden by a guy who may even be older then me.I saw the bike at Jiri's motorcycle shop on Stock Island and he said the owner rides all the time, a bit like me I suppose:My own Bonneville I photographed at an uncharacteristic distance, at the Big Pine Shopping Center. The Triumph usually looms so large in my life I thought it looked funny dwarfed by the vast expanses of cement in the rear of the shopping center:For those not equipped with their own working scooters rentals are widely available. These of course are usually enjoyed by tourists so they are true working scooters:John in Turkey challenged me to find a working scooter with three people riding, which I failed to do, not least because that would be illegal, no doubt. However I did manage to find this particular pair riding happily (and illegally) down Duck Avenue:Certainly Key West doesn't look much like anywhere I've seen in Scooter in Turkey, and the two wheelers won't look as exotic or unusual as those photographed by John, but Key West, by any standards, has a healthy and vibrant population of working scooters.

The State Of Imagination

We are waiting in the wings for our bailout money, my wife and I. Wells Fargo Bank is preparing to organize new lending rates for customers with houses and we are hoping to step in and improve our mortgage terms. My wife had a conversation with a banker last week and he said there is a chance we could qualify for new terms at 4.5 % and we could even possibly get a 20 year loan yielding the same $2500 a month mortgage payment while knocking 7 years off the repayment schedule...The fact that the bank is ready to consider this is a measure of the extraordinary times we are living through. It gets better.
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These splendid new terms are supposed to be on offer soon and with no points or costs. "Are you okay to hang on for a while?" our Wells Fargo broker asked anxiously. Herself reassured him on that score. We, our government jobs and our strong credit rating will stand in the wings until we hear from him. He's happy, he's a broker with the chance to do some business again, we get better terms on our mortgage. Everyone is happy.
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But wait there's something weird here. Usually to get a home re-financed you have to submit an appraisal at a cost of a few hundred dollars. In this case if we get the house valued it will come in horribly low, well below our $390,000 mortgage, so in a normal financial world we could never re-finance. Why would a bank offer us a loan far higher than the property is now worth? At far better terms for us? To keep us paying off , so the debt stays on their books as an asset, is why!
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It's rather like the astonishingly low cost of gasoline these days, which in the Lower Keys is holding steady around $2 a gallon. We all know that gas should cost a lot more than that but the economy is such that it cannot be priced higher. And we know there will be hell to pay if/when the economy kicks in again and demand increases and prices rise. Especially as the search for new sources of oil has dried up with petroleum selling at less than $40 a barrel. Our bank is willing to give us an Alice in Wonderland re-finance deal because the housing market and all it's housing assets are so...not real? Wait until the stimulus spending kicks in and inflation takes hold. I'll be paying off my fixed mortgage with my lunch money...
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But wait, there's more. I have suffered for the past three years at the hands of a truly unpleasant insurance agent in Key West. His staff are aggressively rude and he is a noisy angry man who believes business should be conducted inefficiently with a large dose of his Neanderthal political opinions thrown in for free. He has a point, home insurance is problematic, but his business practices don't help. Private insurance companies withdrew from Florida after the state told them they couldn't charge what their actuarial tables indicated was needed to cover their risks. So the state, in an effort to pacify the voters took over home insurance and set rates artificially low, using prayer as a back up form of risk avoidance. Insurance companies know what it will cost should Florida have a close encounter with a major hurricane, and those costs set premiums unacceptably high to people who vote. So this year I said enough, I want an insurance agent with customer service skills in the event our home should get wiped out, so I went to a Big Pine Key agent who had me get another house inspection ($150) and voila! Now we face a premium of around half the original cost. I find it totally weird how this stuff works. A major hit this summer in the state of Florida will be interesting, as the state is already $4 billion in the hole, and my premium will be less than it has ever been.
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Perhaps this how deflation works. If you keep your job and your income and your home and your health benefits you find your formerly imperial task masters are suddenly your friends. I have spent the past half century living with inflation in a world where savings were despised as a way to lose your money, a world where spending money was the way to keep the economy buoyed. Now suddenly we need to save our jobs, save our money, build our savings. Our way of life, the one where we were ordered to spend like our economy depended on it, is now being re-written as profligate and stupid and we we were all being wasteful as we obeyed our orders. Now we are all Japanese, thrifty, hard working, conscientious. I just can't wait to see what 2009 will bring, as I borrow my imaginary loan for my imaginary home insured by the imaginary state of Florida, a state that is already bankrupt with an imaginary economy with no clue how it will pay off hurricane damages this summer... How I got to this imaginary place I have no idea. I never thought adulthood would be so crazy. Perhaps I will wake up and find it was all a dream and I am 12 years old again, dreaming of my first moped.