Sunday, August 14, 2011

Anchored Out

I keep hearing from friends and neighbors how glad they are things are getting better, the economy is coming back, things will be back to normal soon. Investment gurus on the other hand are fleeing to gold and muttering about recession coming back, as though we were ever out of recession.

Michele Bachmann won the straw poll in Iowa this weekend though I was glad to see the maverick Ron Paul came in 150 votes behind La Fascista. I'm guessing the money bags that own our politicians have figured by now that President Obama, as compliant as he is, has no hope. We on the left have abandoned him and those on the fence in the middle are disenchanted with his unemployment numbers and the investor classes need a compliant replacement. If Bachmann can do what Paul can't, and that is convince the money bags that they can own her, she could get elected. That will make for interesting times, with a Koch/Bachmann world view emanating from the Oval Office.

It has amazed me how we in the Keys have weathered the storm Up North this summer. Weather events have swept the rest of the country, too much rain or too little, crops ruined everywhere, sea levels rising around Alaska's coast and the price of food sky rocketing. No one really knows where unemployment levels are but gold has gone through the roof which devalues our currency, thank you Federal Reserve,and the next President of the US will be required to balance the budget by destroying our old age, even as our soldiers continue to wreck lives around the world for no known purpose except to increase Bechtel and Haliburton profits. Another Key West cop recently left to work as a mercenary in Jordan of all places and who can blame him? A city pension will mean nothing in twenty years while fifteen thousand a month tax free right now means a great deal.
And through it all I continue to be glad I live here, on the edge, out of the mainstream, away from reality. Where the money comes from that keeps funding these islands I don't want to know, it can't be anywhere good, but it might as well come here as anywhere else.

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Hurricane Resistance

I spend a fair amount of time looking at foliage that sprouts out of these rocks we call the Florida Keys but I think I spend an equal amount of time trying to figure out to minimize the intrusion of wires into my pictures. Some people use Photoshop to clean up their pictures but the way I see it, wires and poles are part of daily life down here so spending my time carefully erasing them makes no sense.

So in an attempt to embrace these annoying 'trees' I decided to take a few pictures while I was out and about. Honestly though, I don't think they have much artistic merit. The clouds behind them I like a lot, pregnant with moisture and promising lots of violent weather drama, but the cement poles are at best challenging to view as things of beauty.

Even artificial osprey nesting platforms like the black knob in the picture above fail to arouse feelings of beauty though they serve a useful purpose, offering homes to birds that otherwise would have to fend for themselves. Call it government welfare for ospreys, taking valuable money from free market stock dividends.

Actually Keys Energy, known to old timers as City Electric when it was a rather more city-centric public utility, provides electricity south of the celebrated seven mile bridge functioning as a rather well run public utility. They have undertaken a long program of capital improvements such that power is actually very reliable these days. There is no accounting for stupidity and the occasional distracted or better yet drunk driver, runs into a pole from time to time and power goes out for a short while. Boaters abandon sailboats in channels and when they break loose their masts ground the wires and...power goes out for a little while. But weather related outages are considerably more rare these days than in the recent past.

It's true that people who live here like to claim that we live with constant outages, like the good old days, a badge of honor, but it's not true. Blame the public utility for things getting better and more reliable. Which doesn't alter the fact that these hurricane resistant towers and poles are ugly as sin and get in the way of my pictures. That's just the price of reliable electrical energy.

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Back Country Boats

I look at boats out on the water and I am glad I have my own little skiff, not because buzzing about like a blue bottle is fun...

...but because arriving somewhere, away from here, can be very pleasant. Lots of people like to dive and kill fish. My wife and I just like to swim.

Some people are really serious about their fish chasing and they get Eiffel-like structures on their boats. They call them tuna towers because they were designed to enable fish killers to see into the deep waters where the pelagic beauties live. Now they use tuna towers anywhere.

The back country seems like a desert but there are boats everywhere, even on a weekday. Lots of people spend vacation time on the water, as they should.

Some people live on the water, a lifestyle I don't actually miss. These boats anchored north of Sugarloaf Marina are stored for free on the water and some people live on them.

A houseboat seems like it would be most comfortable if not the most seaworthy. Note the huge comfortable "dinghy" alongside. It's about as large as my skiff.

If I had to go back on the water I'd like something like this, below, preferably without plywood in the windows. I like the lines and the simplicity of life without rigging and sails. If I actually did have to go back to living aboard I'd rather be traveling than sitting in one place, which is bad for the boat and for the crew's morale.

"Men and ships rot in port," a quotation attributed to Admiral Nelson.

These days I enjoy living on land.

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Bonneville At 52

It was a slightly odd sensation to get back in the saddle of my 2007 Triumph Bonneville after three weeks away. Especially as I spent my vacation riding the smooth and powerful BMW R1200 ST in Italy.

For my life in the Keys, home to one main road, flat and mostly straight, the 60 horsepower Bonneville does very nicely.

The appearance of the Bonneville is supposed to harken back to the glory days of parallel twins when in the 1960s Triumph ruled the motorcycling roost with these fire snorting high performance bikes. The high performance label has moved on a bit since then of course!

I like the styling of the "new" Bonneville which does remind me of the rides of my youth except that this machine is vibration free, oil leak free and vice free and as such makes an excellent daily rider. People talk wistfully of old motorcycles having"character"but all that means is they rattled and broke wires and lost boil and bolts down the road. I lust after my bikes of old but as dust catchers, not daily riders anymore.

With 52,000 miles on the clock since mid October B2007 I have put this bike through it's paces, including two long distance Iron Butt rides and tours on the mainland, all in addition to my regular 26 mile commute into town.

The miles add up because I find the Bonneville easy to handle. After dealing with the 110 horsepower BMW Sport Tourer in Italy the Bonneville felt gangly and loose limbed like a bicycle by comparison. However the relatively wide handlebars and upright seating make it easy to check traffic and control the motorcycle.

I use regular gas and it was a relief to be ack in the US where gas is $4 a gallon compared to Italy's €1.60 a liter ($10 a gallon). It cost me €20 to fill the BMW or thirty bucks, whereas I fill the Triumph with about three gallons, like the BMW for $12. I'd like greater range on the Triumph which will go about 170 miles on a tank but which sees me refilling realistically every 110-120 miles.

But this is a classically styled and classically good looking motorcycle and a huge tank would look out of place especially as most of these motorbikes end up in the hands of weekend riders. That I have adapted it to daily use with a top case panniers and a windshield is sacrilege to those who view these machines as motorcycle art, to be chromed and pampered and reserved for looking good.

Mine lives under my house and despite regular cleanings corrosion has started to take it's toll. I figure one day when I care enough I can have the engine casings painted black.

And maybe I should do the same for the exhaust pipes?

This is my machine, that still makes every commute a modest adventure, especially this time of year when rains come at a moment's notice. The $65 Pelican Case 1430 panniers are working out very well to put my odds and ends out of the weather. The top case carries my man purse and I use it to store my helmet and gloves when I'm away from the bike. I have it all figured out and that creates a bond with a machine that is my transport.

I wish I got better mileage but even at 43 miles per gallon I'm having more fun than driving a Prius and that counts for a lot.

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