Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Desert Ride

I was a young man in the late 1970s, owner of a Citroen, a Benelli 650 Tornado and my first dog, Sandy, an unwanted mutt who loved me more than I deserved. I planned to leave all this behind and go exploring for a few months, and I was ambitious. It was 1979 and I left home in the Spring aiming my Yamaha SR500 at Cape Town from my home in Italy.I had the Euro-Yamaha with spoked wheels and a plain red/black paint job and no plan on how to repair a puncture, an oversight that leaves me gasping in retrospect. I tried to load canister for gas on home made racks on either side of the bike, and piled my saddle bags and rear rack high with unnecessary crap to comfort my loneliness in the heart of darkness. I carried too many books and not enough tools clearly, but I was 21 and ready for adventure. I found it. I bought a chain cover like the one shown above on the profoundly ugly diesel powered MZ whose picture I found on the Internet. It consisted of a black plastic box to cover the rear sprocket and two rubber tubes to protect the chain on it's run to and from the gearbox and the rear wheel. The idea was to keep abrasive sand from chewing up my chain. It worked- until it didn't. The early part of my trip consisted of taking a ferry from Naples to Tunis, crossing to Algeria just as I had done in 1977 on a Moto Morini 350 Sport (I excelled in riding small capacity motorcycles back then) and then turning south to cross the desert, an inhospitable place that Sahara.The road had been freshly paved to Tamanrassett so the riding was easy. Back in Tunisia, camping in an oasis of date palms and sandy roads I met an intrepid German in a camper van. He was older, grumpy and probably retired with a world war two pension in part, no doubt.This was a long time ago and The War lived on in the back of some people's minds. He shared his knowledge with me, after many winters spent down here away from snowy winters in West Germany. At night we sat by our campfire chatting with other travelers, mostly Germans in those days with a strong currency to back up their travels. My fireside companion measured me up before we parted with words I've never forgotten. "The motorcycle will do fine," he said in response to my expressed fears. "You? I'm not so sure about..." He was nothing if not blunt.After a week of building up my nerves I cast off from friendly, westernized Tozeur (alcohol was for sale, discreetly in government stores in Tunisia) and I made my way to Algeria In 1977 had got caught up in a riot in Constantine and had found refuge with an Italian engineer who came from my home town and spotted my Terni license plate in the chaos. I spent the night in his home drinking and listening to a city burn. In 1979 everything was quiet, the border was easy and I was soon rolling south. In the picture above I found a shot of some French travelers in a sandstorm, one of the big fears of a motorcyclist there. I never did have that pleasure, luckily for me. The picture below is Agadez, in Niger, well south of the worst of the Sahara and 800 miles from the end of the paved highway. My motorcycle was running fine, and I was doing okay, against predictions.

In point of fact I had traveled from Tamanrasset in a convoy of trucks, me in one and the Yamaha in another across the wasteland of desert that was the Hogar wedged between the sand dunes of the Great Ergs. Weird places all and far too far for me to ride with not enough gas and not enough skill or experience. It was smart move joining the German convoy, not heroic but perhaps a sign the Journey was doing what it was supposed to do. Teach me to grow up.

Walks And Thoughts

I'm not sure if my dawn walks with Cheyenne start or end my day. After I get home from work, around 6:35 in the morning Cheyenne runs downstairs as soon as she hears the Bonneville roll up and we pile into the car. I live three quarters of a mile from the Highway so the question I'm asking myself before we have to turn left or right is where to go. I try to vary our destinations each morning after work so she doesn't get bored. She hops in the car and off we go, which is where I get time to think, which makes this, technically the last act of my day. I don't usually spend much time thinking about work the night before, when I leave the police station unlike the officers, I leave everything behind. Everything I do in dispatch is based on the authority of a sworn officer with a badge so when one them isn't around, I am not on duty.Mostly my thoughts turn to issues at home, getting the boat running or a new set of rear tires for the car, or some other mundane thing. These days i wonder a great deal about how it is the stock market is going stratospheric even as unemployment has fallen off the radar of the mainstream press. Gold is at $1550 an ounce, the Dow Jones is at 12,800 and the shadow stats site still reports unemployment and under employment stubbornly holding on at around 22 percent.None of it adds up for me. Japan is forgotten even as they lumber on cleaning up an impossible fiasco, car production is plummeting (good for the planet no doubt, bad for economies everywhere) and US factory output is higher "than expected" whatever that means.41 teachers across Monroe County are getting laid off but no administrators. The Massachusetts Mafia is taking care of it's own apparently. The school board keeps mouthing about cutting administrative costs but it's the workers that take it up the ass as usual. In the bad old days of high taxes and full employment, around 1955, one wage earner in a family was enough yet today with axes at historic lows working families can barely survive on two salaries.
I was talking to a police officer the other night who said her hospital bill for a recent surgery was $20,000 and she has yet to get the doctor's bills and the anaesthesiologist's bill and the aspirin bills and god knows what. She packs her lunch to work as does her state law enforcement husband. It's a way to save money she says, expressing anxiety about her food bills from Winn Dixie. I try to figure how many lunches you pack to pay a $20,000 medical bill. I explained single payer to her and said how about paying for it with $8 a gallon gas? Call em a socialist but I think I made another convert. The trouble is you have to get sick to appreciate National Health Care.

Cheyenne is a great partner for an early morning walk. She lets me bear the burden of thinking while she ambles.

Captains Of Business

I don't have the business gene a shortcoming I have been aware of for most of my adult life. The pursuit of business acumen as a way of validating myself has never been part of my plan. I've always viewed work as a way to earn money for some other end, usually a journey and as the journeys dictated I quit work and took off someplace else.I suppose being a wage slave gives one time to consider the accidental similarities between an early morning drive on the Overseas Highway (above) and a Landseer painting, from the Internet, of a Highland Loch (below), an act of contemplation that takes a little time.I have noticed that running a business consumes inordinate amounts of a human being's time. Vacations are referred to in a rather humorless way as unknown luxuries to people of business, and they seem to have less interest in making money than in the way of life involved in making the money, though that apparent indifference may be a mask. The idle and uninformed speculation about what makes someone want to own a business was prompted by the news a couple of days ago that the Green Parrot bar has a new owner. That the new owner has been making noise in Key West for a few years should come as no surprise because for Pat Croce as for so many people with bars and restaurants in this town, one is rarely enough. He it is who retired from some lucrative sports injury business franchise of some sort, I believe and opened a rum oriented bar on Front Street with a museum which subsequently closed, dedicated to pirates. With the piratical focus moved to St Augustine one bar in Key West was not enough... It seems the Green Parrot will not be going through any changes with a new majority share owner (for a sum discreetly not disclosed, though a sum everyone must be curious about. How much is two thirds of a frantically popular bar worth?) and in the newspaper article all involved were delighted with the deal, prompted by the recent death of one of the original owners.
Of all the popular tourist bar hang outs the Green Parrot is probably my favorite, as it features music, an open air lack of windows and a funky ambiance that may or may not be "authentically Key West" (whatever that is). Be that as it may I don't really care who owns it or why but I am mildly interested that owning a bar is an aspiration for some. I don't hang out much in bars; I can't fathom dealing with all the issues they bring in their wake. I like my vacation time too much.

A Nice Commute

There was rather too much of the near miss excitement in the commute yesterday morning. Had I been relieved as I usually am around ten minutes before six in the morning I'd have breezed through and missed it all. As it was day shift released me just before six in the morning so it seemed I was on the road when a couple of my neighbors lost their minds.Before I even arrived at the crash scene on Ramrod Key in front of the Boondocks Bar I was nearly knocked off my motorcycle by the classic fuck you maneuver indulged in by some overly anxious car drivers. It rarely happens but yesterday a silver PT Cruiser pulled out of Bay Point next to Baby's Coffee at precisely the moment I would have run into their driver door at 60 miles an hour had I not been paying attention. I just got the feeling the car wasn't going to stop, it approached the junction with the Highway too fast and I could see it wasn't going to stop at the shoulder, so I started braking nice and early. I even had time to hit my high beam and give the driver, who knew precisely what they were doing and were miscalculating horribly the benefit of the piercing white beam of the Bonneville's headlight. I swerved and passed behind the numbnut in the car and got a nice little adrenaline rush as I pulled past and swooped onto the bridge toward Sugarloaf.Usually I find at least once a week that some impatient soul stuck in a line of slow sleepy drivers heading to work in Key West, pulls out to pass, sees my lone headlight and says what the hell and goes for it anyway pushing me to the shoulder. In the picture above, taken from my car as I returned home with a well walked Cheyenne in the back, I was looking east toward Boondocks on Ramrod about where the wreck in the first picture took place. Forty minutes earlier I was completing my commute, and calculating I needed more fuel to get to work and home from my early morning shift to come I stopped at the Shell station at the end of my street. A pick up pulled in and the driver said"Did you see the wreck?" Huh? "A pick up ran into the railings over there..." and sure enough there it was, across from Boondocks. I had been checking out a black Mercedes parked on the street on the opposite side with no lights and fearing a repeat of the earlier maneuver I had been watching to see what it was going to do. So much so I missed the big truck half in the mangroves on my side of the street, where the Mercedes driver had apparently gone to render help. Silly me. How the truck, caught in the flashing-by-in-motion-in-the-half-light picture above managed to drive off a very straight chunk of highway I cannot begin to imagine. Unless he was still asleep, drunk, high, texting, suddenly taken ill, arguing with a passenger, or any of the hundred and one things people do as they drive.

I went home to sleep. The rest of my day was entirely uneventful.

Conch Or Not

I asked around and not one person I work with went to Conch Republic Days. I wonder why?Summer is the time of year when the people in charge of attracting tourists dream up all sorts of events and gatherings and parties and tastings to draw people into town. I have never been too attracted to crowds and noise and these events tend to leave me cold. Which in my own mind has made me feel a bit of a goofball. Everyone else likes standing around in the sun eating good food off a crappy paper plate, right? Why not me? It seems I am not alone. Kristi, speaking of one such event sniffed. "It's for tourists," and went back to texting her Conch (the "h" is silent) friends.I had a conversation once with the owner of Fast Buck Freddies, one of the seminal organizers of Fantasy Fest. he described summers in Key West, "back in the day" as a time of extreme boredom (no wonder I took off for California immediately upon arriving as a youngster on a Vespa!). Duval Street was the proverbial place where a cannon could be shot and no one would be hit. Indeed it was a domestic dispute between bored crazy neighbors that prompted the first parade, a way of distracting people in the exceedingly hot dog days of summer in hurricane season. It was a short parade with a lot of drinking to celebrate the hardy few still in town.Nowadays Fantasy Fest has become an occasion for people to come to town, take off their clothes and act stupid. It's a shame really because the innocent nudity and stupidity has been turned into something rather unpleasant and weird. I try to approach that week with an open mind and inevitably I end up feeling prudish and a little unclean. Unhappily the locals' parade seems to be succumbing to the commercialization disease as well. And yet how can one apportion blame? Without the visitors there would be no money and Key West has already gone bankrupt once in it's history- that was what precipitated the drive toward tourism!

Perhaps the dilemma lies, once again with the size of the land mass available to us. It's difficult to avoid the mass of people that come to town be it for a very loud Bike Week, or Fantasy Fest or Conch Republic Days. In response to the complaints listed in the Citizen's Voice one can usual read anonymous advising to leave town if they don't like it...But there is too the feeling sometimes that there should be more to Key West than frenetic consumption, and happily there is, for those that want to and that take the time to seek out that quieter more contemplative place. I guess I should not feel too annoyed at myself for not going into town and wading into the happy crowds and watching the Conch Republic Navy bombard the Coasties with bread. They had lots of people already down there doing their bit and helping out the economy...