Thursday, September 29, 2011

Static Bonneville

It would seem obvious that after four years and 54,000 miles it is time for a change.

In a society where newer better faster is the mantra and where we are encouraged to keep buying to improve the economy, I find myself entirely content with my Bonneville.

I have found the 2007 Triumph to be the ideal ride for me, powerful enough to deal with slow distracted drivers, comfortable in stock trim for prolonged rides and reliable enough that I would recommend it without a second thought to anyone seeking a daily rider.

Flatistan is not the ideal countryside for motorcycling, it's true, but the climate is as close to perfect as it gets, so that makes it easy to get on at the least excuse to go for a ride.

In and around Key West two wheels make more sense than three or four, and a motorcycle agile enough to maneuver through congested streets (no lane splitting allowed in this retarded state) light enough to be easy to push and park while still being economical enough to compete with scooters when one considers the utility of a full sized motorcycle, is what makes the Bonneville an ideal ride.

I like the look of the new Triumph Tiger 800 and the new Suzuki 650 V-Strom both with tons of luggage options and other accessories to add, more horsepower and modern water-cooled fuel injected engines, but neither with enough of any reason to replace my perfect Bonneville. Besides we are in a Depression. Who needs more debt?

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Cemetery Walk

With the USS Spruance dominating Key West these days it's hard not to spare a thought for the Maine destroyed by explosion more than a century ago in Havana harbor.

Key West was the location of the investigation into the explosion, wounded sailors were treated here and the dead were buried as shown above. They never did figure out for sure why the Maine blew up in 1898 but the best guess is the coal got wet producing explosive gases in the bunkers, and the resultant bang became the rallying cry of the Spanish American War.

Key West's cemetery is an astonishing repository for history in this town, yet many visitors, terrified of Death and unable to see past the ghoulish stereotypes ignore the cemetery's treasures.

I always find pleasure in wandering here with no greater goal than to see some beauty and to reflect for a moment on the transient nature of life. It does me good.

The other thing I like about the cemetery is how much this place means to survivors. In Italy where I grew up the cemetery was a place of pilgrimage on All Souls Day, similar to the famous Mexican holiday if less lurid. In Key West it seems every day is All Souls Day for some of the graves.

Take the time to read this headstone and understand a little of what I mean about history filling the graveyard.

These three tombs gave me pause.

Roger Ek Senior, born in 1926 and fought in World War Two. Junior meanwhile was born in 1947 and served in Vietnam. He preceded his father in death, and there through it all was the "loving wife and mother," now all laid out side by side.

There are lots of stories here.

And not just well known ones.

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USS Spruance

A brand new Navy ship has sailed in to Key West amid much fanfare. In the arcane language of Navy numbering the guided missile destroyer is labeled DDG 111.

I spent a confused twenty minutes trying to unravel the druidical mysteries of the Navy numbering system in Wikipedia and all I did find was that the first two letters are repeated as though to give the class emphasis.

Thus DD is a destroyer and G presumably because it is armed with guided missiles. And this one point two billion dollar machine is come to Key West to celebrate it's birth, or 'commissioning.'

Saturday evening I and four thousand of my closest strangers will be gathered somewhere on the Navy Pier while they go through the ritual and pomp of the start of the new ship's career. In so much of daily life I find people mix up routine and ritual in the order of their day. A ritual is more than the routine of making coffee first thing, a ritual is following a script and imbuing an occasion with importance.

Key West is all atwitter with the ritual of commissioning and on a weekend when the city mercifully has no public money-making activity scheduled the commissioning will make a pleasant ritualistic variation. The community will pause and contemplate en masse, before getting back to the important business of business.

The ship is named for a man who has been described as one of the greatest Admirals in American naval history. His name was not DDG111, but Raymond Spruance, born in Baltimore in 1886 and dying in California in 1969. He commanded the US side in the Battle of Midway in June 1942. He beat the superior Japanese forces and was roundly criticized for not chasing their Navy after the battle, though historians studying the tactics came to agree with Spruance's thoughtful prudence.

Those days seem far away when one considers how huge were the battleships and cruisers of the time and how lithe is this modest little destroyer that packs a disproportionate missile punch.

The Outer Mole is now home, temporarily to the Navy's newest ship yet the inner basin is still home to yesterdays heroes, coastguard cutters of another era now relegated to museum status tied up at the former Navy waterfront.

The little gray Mohawk served in World War Two escorting Atlantic convoys.

The white Ingham cutter newer and bigger is still miles behind the Spruance in size and sophistication.

They've got the bunting ready for Saturday and then who knows what they will do with this miracle of modern technology.

Out on patrol no doubt. We hear Cuba is preparing to drill for oil in the Straits of Florida using a Spanish company and amazingly enough the embargo is still uppermost in the minds of the maniacs who write policy for this country. So instead of talking to Cuba and preparing to deal with a spill the US Congress is proposing legislation to penalize any oil company doing business with Cuba. The Monroe Doctrine in 21st century guise.

We look back and the world appears to have been a simpler place. It's not true of course but we admire the modest little ships of yesteryear and what conclusions are we supposed to draw? That ships like these that ruled the waves could only have ruled waves more easily dominated than the seas of today.

The miracle perhaps is that they chose to commission the ship in Key West thus giving us cause to celebrate this new symbol of old power in a rapidly changing world.

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Bahia Honda Sunrise

I have come to accept that I like coming to this spot alongside Highway One a lot more than my dog does.

Cheyenne accepts my preference with good grace and jumps out of the car with enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm that shrivels a little when she realizes we are back here again...

With late sunrises thanks to extended Summer Time I can get home from work, park the Bonneville and shuffle Cheyenne into the car before the sun has even hit the horizon.

Twelve minutes later I can be parked off the Overseas Highway at the south end of the Bahia Honda (deep bay) Bridge camera in hand.

And there to fiddle with apertures and shutter speeds while my Labrador snuffles through the rotting seaweed and thick grasses to see what she can find.

I suppose one could argue that a solid Florida Keys sunrise is a cliché, but if it is, so be it.

I like watching the sun come up on another day. Thursday, today, promises to be great.

Traffic is never very far away and for most people seven in the ante meridian is commute time and they are busy rushing.

For me the work day is over, and has been for a couple of hours, sleep overtakes me at seven am and I am ready for bed just as the sun is about to start getting busy.

It really is quite spectacular; pity the poor drunks home abed sleeping it off.

It doesn't last too long so here as in so much else in life, timing is everything.

Cheyenne stopped right there and announced by her immobility she was ready to go home to breakfast.

I wanted to press on another forty yards and get a proper view out over the water.

As pointed out previously this tiny slope is the nearest thing to a hill for miles around.

It's hard to get proper panoramic views when life is lived at sea level.

Better this than a foggy morning or a snowfield, for me. Besides it was pleasantly cool, less than eighty degrees and copious coverage with repellent kept the mosquitoes at bay.

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Casa Marina Dawn

It is that time of year when the sun doesn't even start to appear until almost 6:30.

The cloudy rainy weather of the past few days has retarded the arrival of daylight even more. I quite enjoy riding home in the dark of the morning and arriving under the house as though at midnight. The start of winter time in a few weeks will change that when daylight comes an hour earlier.

Casa Marina is the high priced neighborhood of Key West, broad streets, large lots and no commerce to speak of.

Like most wealthy neighborhoods anywhere, this one has lots of greenery to decorate the streets.

But because this is Key West the neighborhood mixes older McMansions and elderly characteristic small Florida homes built half a century ago. All of which makes it, like anywhere in Key West, defiant of stereotyping and worth a wander.

Flagler's Casa Marina Resort - nowadays proudly described as a Waldorf Astoria Property- is the big commercial enterprise on this side of town.

Flagler built resorts on the east coast of Florida to attract travelers to his East Coast Railroad. In Key West he built this monument to his folly to attract winter riders to the Key West Extension. I tried to picture guests parking themselves here but I figured it was just poor syntax that made the sign read like some absurd surreal Monty Python skit.

We had no key card so on we plodded, Cheyenne and I.

The window in the blank wall managed to look inviting.

Blank wall I said? Like this:

Gables, banana leaves and porches.

A much more interesting profile to look at. Key West looking pretty.

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