Friday, February 18, 2011

Keys Commuting

It's five past five o'clock post meridian, a cow has licked my hair, I got a clean polo shirt off the hangar and my Kevlar lined pants aren't too terribly wrinkled to serve as work dress pants for the night. I am ready to say goodbye to my dog.

She pretends to ignore me as I turn the hall light on and put out her dinner bowl which she won't touch until either my wife gets home or hunger over takes Cheyenne. When I tell her to stay Cheyenne knows not to follow me downstairs but she makes a point of ignoring me as I abandon her for the night.

The Bonneville is always ready to go at the touch of the starter button. I generally run the engine for a minute or two while I put on my mesh jacket helmet and gloves. A squeeze on the Loobman chain oiler and off we go out into the world. It should be around five ten pm when we roll out from under the house.

To have but one road to ride may seem like a limitation but in my experience people are such creatures of habit that when they commute rarely do they take a different route to and from work even when options are available. I used to try to explore the back roads between Santa Cruz and San Jose but found that the time spent away from my dogs was an imposition. So I ended up using Highway 17 most of the time. Here I have no choice.

It's lucky the views are so pleasant. Most of them at any rate.I vary my commute by varying my approach to the ride. Some evenings I take it really slowly, pulling over to let faster vehicles by. Of course when I catch up to other vehicles on nights I am riding faster, they never pull over for me.
I know the passing spots and if I am thinking about passing I know where and when to position myself to take best advantage of the limited passing opportunities. Sometimes people speed up as I pull out but even a 60 horsepower air cooled twin like the Bonneville has plenty of oomph to get past the drivers who drop their phones and start to speed up to avoid being passed. Why it bothers them I couldn't say- I ride my own ride.Passing isn't always worth while even when it's possible. This time of year snowbirds clog the Highway. For some reason they don't have the wit to avoid rush hour so they manage to clog the road quite a lot when traffic is at it's heaviest morning and evening. In summer even heavy traffic bowls along nicely at least close to the limit, but in winter one will find oneself in an endless line of cars chugging along at 30 miles per hour.Sunrise and sunset vary throughout the year of course and summer time will change the dynamic once again in a few short weeks. Currently it gets dark around six thirty in the evening and it gets light around the same time in the morning. This is the typical view across the Saddlebunch Keys looking toward Big Coppitt.I have been commuting along this road for the six years I have owned my house on Ramrod Key and some days I will ride it twice. Yet it rarely tires me, for all that it is largely flat and mostly straight. Perhaps it is because I have a large store of memories of riding more challenging roads, a lifetime of them in fact. Perhaps it is because I appreciate so much not feeling too terribly cold, not hypothermic at any rate, even on the coldest days. Perhaps the wild summer weather and the blistering winter cold fronts help to provide variety. Perhaps it is just because I am content in advanced middle age.The hump in the four lane stretch between Big Coppitt and Stock island is produced by the exit ramp to Boca Chica Naval Air Station which is bury training pilots this time of year (who spend lots of money in the local economy). The road here is peppered with signs reading "Slower Traffic Keep Right." But do they? Do they hell! The slowpokes line up in the left lane and I sweep by in the right. There are a lot of control freaks on the road who like to worry about what everyone else is doing on the road.Traffic starts to build up by Stock Island, which is where I should be by five forty at the latest to get to work by five fifty. Stopping to take pictures buggered up my schedule on this ride so I snatched my backpack from the top case, dropped helmet and gloves in it's place and ran upstairs to the communications center. I like to relieve day shift by five fifty as it's nice to get a few minutes break at the end of a twelve hour shift. they do the same for us when they relieve us in the morning. That's when I gallop downstairs to warm up the Bonneville and get my jacket helmet and gloves on for the 27 mile ride home.The Boulevard (North Roosevelt Boulevard) looks especially quiet this early on a Sunday.The cluster of cars leaving key West will peel off to various destinations along the way. Some go no further than Stock Island, the hot rodders generally pull off at the Navy base and the last few pull off to jobs on Rockland Key's trucking depots or go home on side streets at Big Coppitt, Mile Marker Ten. The tourists trying to make an early flight in Miami and myself remain on the highway through the early morning darkness of the Saddlebunch Keys. The smart tourists follow me at my pace because I know where it's safe to hold the limit and where it isn't but sometimes they hustle on past me risking a hefty fine on a road that really doesn't resemble the high speed highways they are used to at home.
Eventually I pull in under the house hopefully around six thirty five though some mornings I'll stop at the Shell station at the end of my street to fill up with regular gas- at $3:30 a gallon these days. The Bonneville runs about 134 miles before hitting reserve which holds another forty odd miles. By the time I'm around 120 I start to think about filling up. It's a pain to stop on the way to work and I don't always remember to fill up on my lunch breaks and on top of all that the station at the end of my street is among the cheaper gas stations around. Cheyenne comes running downstairs from her station on the lounge chair on the porch upstairs, her paws rumble on the steps as soon as she hears the motorcycle.My commute isn't yet over as we pile into the Fusion for a ride over to her early morning walking spot, the Pool on the northeast shore of Ramrod Key, five minutes from the house.The pool is a cut in the living rock as part of a development that never materialized and as a result there is a deep hole in the ground filled with tidal saltwater. A perfect place to come and swim or walk your dog as many locals do, at a more civilized hour of the day. Cheyenne prefers to walk here when no one else is around and each morning she likes to sniff and see who came by the day before.I read the paper that I picked up in my driveway, she walks. A couple of weeks ago we came here later in the morning on my day off and an inoffensive Lab mix clamped her face in it's jaws and bit down to howls of protest. She got a couple of small cuts over her right eye and the vet put her on antibiotics for a couple of weeks. I tried to reassure the poor owner of the dog but she was mortified. One can hardly blame Cheyenne for preferring solitary walks.The walk takes perhaps forty five minutes and usually there is no one else around. When I start to yawn uncontrollably, or if a cold north wind is blowing we head home to breakfast for Cheyenne and sleep for me.Cheyenne likes this spot but she is a funny girl, a creature of habit. Some mornings I take her for a walk down our street but I get the feeling this is where she likes to come so we ride over most days.Finally she clambers back in the car and if I'm lucky I'll be home in bed before quarter to eight. If I'm really lucky Cheyenne will climb up alongside me and we'll sleep back to back.Winter or summer, rain or shine, every day is good for a ride in the fabulous Florida Keys.