Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bike Week

It's that time of year again in Key West when motorcyclists, some of them, ride all the way from Miami to Key West to raise money for charity. And to go drinking in the coolest little town in Florida.They call it Bike Week, but they should probably call it V-Twin Weekend, or Loud Noise Days, or just-in-time-another-boost-for-the-local-economy days, or something like that. Officially it's called Peterson's Poker Run, named for the main sponsor, the Miami dealer for Harley Davidson.So it's no surprise, and for me terribly boring, that almost all the bikes are Harelys or imitators lining the streets of Key West. Throw in a Gold Wing and a couple of out-of-place BMWs and that's who turns out for Bike Week.I took these pictures Thursday afternoon, the beginning of the four day "extravaganza" (who coined that silly word?) of loud pipes, drinking and massive police enforcement efforts. Wouldn't you know it I worked overtime Friday night and the rest of the weekend, through Monday was my regular shift so by the time you read these words I will probably have run hundreds of motorcycle tags and hundreds more driver licenses. A few weirdos show up to visit Key West at this time not on Harleys.But as the weekend progresses the number of motorcycles grows and they eventually close down Lower Duval to accommodate the strutting vests and leather chaps and orange bandannas. Individuality expressed through conformity. For me, Bike Week is overwhelming and if I were an extrovert I would be in the bars were I not working, telling tall tales about motorcycle derring-do as a local. Instead I join the residents in wondering why loud pipes are so necessary. My poor old Bonneville has factory pipes which make the engine sound anemic, like a sewing machine, according to proponents of noisy mufflers. Just last week I was following two Harleys home one afternoon on Highway One and they were so loud I felt this huge wave of relief wash over me after I passed them and it was me and the Bonneville on the silent open road. How one rides with that constantly blatting roar in the ears I just don't know.The half of the town that doesn't need the money from the constant parade of festivals this time of year (Beer Fest, Women Fest, Hemingway Fest, Conch Blowing Fest, all leading up to Fantasy Fest) gets kind of pissed off at the teeth jarring roar of unmuffled bikes invading the city. For some visitors these are all the wheels they need:And for some, bike week means being on vacation and riding a bicycle almost naked. This employee has been retrieving rented bikes from some guest house or somewhere like that.At first glance this guy doesn't seem to have anything to do with Bike Week, sleeping in his kayak on Whitehead Street in front of the Courthouse Deli, across from the Green Parrot Bar. But on second glance... "Best motorcycle trailer I ever saw!" my wife said on seeing the picture. She harbors the delusion that kayaking is a sport she and I might enjoy. By Saturday night the sidewalk in front of the Parrot will have more Harleys than scooters.Not everyone rides to Key West, picking up playing cards at the stops along the way between Miami and here. Make it a family affair and tow a trailer with Harleys for all the family! It's not long now until Goombay and Fantasy Fest, the gatherings that mark the end of the summer and the beginning of the anticipation of winter, the big money season in Key West. But for residents of Key West it's all about mufflers. For every "hospitality worker" there is some retiree, government worker or curmudgeon who can only hear the sounds of unmuffled motorbikes blipping their throttles in the narrow streets.

That bike week carries with it a sprinkling of BMWs, Universal Japanese Motorcycles and even the silent giant, the half ton Honda Goldwing, complete with stereo, reverse gear and every electronic gadget found in an expensive car means nothing to people who hear straight exhaust pipes and see red.Bike Week wants to be a fundraiser for worthy causes, it likes to promote itself on the back of Daytona Bike Week and it's an opportunity for the wild ones to be decorously wild in Old Town Key West.For those without motorcycles scooter rentals are still available, though the streets of Key West are always available for the inexperienced to run themselves off the road with a 30mph scooter. Bike Week is extravagant motorcycle week, extravagance being on display and it's always the over the top rides that end up on the front page of the paper.This year's favorite, the ride preferred by the herd of reporters, was a sidecar combination disguised as a mobile missile launcher. I rather preferred the waterproofed, hunkered down Harley riders braving the stormy weather and coming to Key West early, before the sun came out for the weekend: Scooters are not bikers, because there is nothing if not hierarchy between riders of two wheeled vehicles. I am a cross dresser when it comes to riding, I don't care if it's my wife's Vespa or my rented BMW when I was vacationing in Italy. 12 horsepower or 170, each is fun in my book.

Crotch rockets remind me of my lost youth when crouching forward all day was no big deal.
These guys were riding the Boulevard companionably then pulled off into the Shell gas station to take cover from the rain. The rain got worse as I left town and headed out on the Overseas Highway home. It was one of those days when the sea seems to have invaded the causeways.By Ramrod Key the rain had tapered off and these good folks had no idea what awaited them down the road.Hail to thee, blithe spirits, and I wonder if you have any waterproof clothing?
Riding in the rain down here rarely leads to hypothermia. Nothing a few drinks and a few tall stories won't fix.