Thursday, October 13, 2011

Learning To Night Ride

I spent almost half a million lire when I bought my first real motorcycle in August 1975. It was a lightly used MV Agusta 350 pushrod twin and the owner had it on consignment in a small motorcycle shop in Todi. A friend knew I was looking for a motorcycle and without a second's hesitation, knowing nothing of the motorcycle except that it looked totally cool and Giacomo Agostini was a world champion MV factory rider, I hastened to the bank and started a tradition in my life of riding a brand new purchase directly out of the shop.

It was a hair raising machine, bursting with thirty two whole horsepower at 7600 rpm and a top speed of a hundred miles an hour. The previous owner had bored holes in the mufflers so it made a row audible over two provinces as I screamed through the Umbrian mountains teaching myself how not to kill myself in motion. Compared to the 50cc machines I had ridden previously it was the superest of super bikes and in my tiny village it was the loudest baddest bike there was.

I knew nothing about riding, I learned about counter steering and weight distribution from reading magazine interviews with my idol Agostini. I managed to spare myself injury and my motorcycle miraculously needed no spare parts which was as well as I had no idea where to buy them. I rode, changed the oil and tightened the chain and kept on riding.

I had no protective clothing so I used plastic bags to cover my sneakers in rain, and newspapers under my parka when it was cold. My helmet was elderly and my gloves were thin leather and I never stopped riding.

I wanted no car so my neighbors thought I was very cool in summer on my fire engine red MV Agusta, and in winter they thought I was crazy as I rode through the snowflakes and in thunderstorms in countryside where cell phones were thirty years away and ambulance service consisted of getting your neighbor to drive you to the hospital thirty minutes away and hope for the best. I was 18 and invulnerable. I had a blast.

I played in the town band in Todi and rehearsals after dinner saw me leaving home before dusk, the rolling hills burnt brown by the dying sun. The ride home was close to midnight and in total puitch black on the narrow winding road through the fields.

There was nobody around which was probaby just as well because this was where I discovered my fabulous fire engine red MV Agusta suffered a major defect. The high beam was fine and I could see really quite well with it but the low beam was another story. When I crossed paths with an oncoming car my low beam light was barely one candle power. I had a better headlight on my Vespa 50! It was a hell of a ride if I saw a car headed my way, as I had to prepare to dip my headlight and essentially lose my way as the car passed leaving me blinded and trying to neither fall in the ditch or run off the end of the road, as the hair pin bends were numerous.I had to investigate why the low beam was so weak, band practice was twice a week and night riding was getting tedious even though I would rarely meet half a dozen cars on my thirty minute ride to and from town. It was no small thing for me to open the headlight shell and check the bulbs. I did it and discovered to my astonishment the headlight bulb was burned out. When I replaced it low beam reappeared as a shorter version of the high beam cone of light, I was set to ride at night at last.

Looking back I'm astounded how little I knew and how easily I accepted whatever fate threw at me. No headlight? No problem! I just kept riding, through it all. I guess I was lucky there was no Internet back then to expose my stupidity to the world.

Not Montana

Had you been in Key West yesterday, as was I, riding into town a little early for my shift, this is what you might have seen.

It was another boring afternoon of sunshine, flat seas as far as the eye could see from South Roosevelt Boulevard.

I looked real hard but I couldn't spot a snowflake anywhere.

The weather people have issued a formal warning that owing to the phenomenon known as La NiƱa much of temperate North America and Europe is facing a harsher than usual winter.

It must suck to be them. Last winter we had our own cold snap when temperatures plummeted to the low 50s and stayed there for three weeks. We saw the second coldest temperature ever recorded at 42 degrees and everyone I knew came down with 'flu like symptoms walking around in grubby winter clothes they could not remove to launder for fear of getting frost bite. I am among the lucky few with Heat available in my home.

It was pretty harsh and not an experience I want to repeat this winter. However winter time kicks in November 6th in the US this year and that adds to the winter nasties as the sun vanishes an hour early. Around here that means a modest twelve hour day as sunset will move to around 6:30 post meridian.

It could be worse, we could be in Fairbanks or somewhere on the shores of a frozen Great Lake. Perhaps this was hell, where this super fit cyclist was sucking down water like he was stuck in an oven.

I would not do at all well in a butch place like Montana. Frozen Crocs are my exact vision of eternity in Hell.

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Pre Fantasy Fest

I look to the end of this month with trepidation, thanks to the gradual gearing up of all things Fantasy Fest. It is inevitable as this is the largest party of the year in a town that prides itself on that reputation. I am woking my regular shift dispatching this year which is fine by me. I will be off during the local's parade on Friday evening which is also fine by me as that I like to see.

Saturday night will involve a lot of floats driving down Duval and the first half will be local floats with local themes while the second half has been taken over by professional floats from out of town which bring nothing of value to the parade. The last time I watched I was sorry I was on the west side of Duval and couldn't escape the claustrophobic parade before the endless lines of Tampa Bay "krewes of boredom." they toss beads like it's a chore. Bizarre people invading our town.

At the moment there is no sign of impending crowds and tasteless nudity and adult silliness. Things are normal at the moment. Pretty dull it is too. The new wine shop on Upper Duval wasn't even serving at breakfast time...!

Can you imagine how many towels they have to sell to may the rent and utilities for this space?

Rent a scooter for a fast getaway? Better not the crowds are tremendous and the drinking zone extends to Simonton Street. Tucks town is busyfor Fantasy Fest.

Upper Duval is getting quite a lot of attention these days as stores move in and they attract tourists other than cruise ship visitors.

Key Lime Pie may not be a big deal on the Fantasy Fest menu but drinks and naked boys might well be. So if that's your poison do you go to the Key Lime store or the 801 Bar?

My dog will be nowhere near Duval when adults are parading their fishnet stockings on the street. She will be home with a good book and a rawhide while Daddy is at work helping keep the city safe.

I am not completely sure the old time families in Key West are that excited about the Fantasy Fest but let's not forget this whole daft week of parties and costumes and parades and themes is about money. Money for charity-AIDS Help principally- and businesses that need to get through the slowest time of the year.

They want you in town to buy a costume, rent a room, shop for dust catchers...

...and enjoy the fun. 800 block of Duval? Fantasy Fest's only competition around here is the year end party.

Overboard they say? Maybe but it's all good natured fun, for mostly older partiers. Key West's demographic is aging as it has to in one of Florida's most expensive towns.

They are all getting ready for the flood, even the misspelled ones.

Come to Key West get naked (painted breasts and covered genitalia and butt cracks please. Ugh!) and ship home some toys.

I was admiring a chopper placed, like a dust catcher in a shop window when my view was interrupted.

I wonder if she was pondering Fantasy Fest as I was.

Fantasy Fest Website

If you don't believe me when I say it's about money check the website. Aquatic Afrolic? Really? Are they running out of names?

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Eliza Street

Setting sun, parked Bonneville, Conchscooter must be on the prowl for pictures.

And this is typical turf for the pocket Canon SX100.

Conch cottages, palms and side walk free city streets.

Ooh! My almost-favorite Vespa! Bonus! It's one of the awesomely slow PX 150cc revived classics. It's cute, it's a two stroke and it has a spare wheel and a kick start in addition to an electric boot. But it will barely wheeze up to 53mph, far far less if you face a headwind.

How do I know? I had the Indian built model until that blew up after 2800 punishing miles. Cute but useless.

Back to happier themes, Conch cottages and palms.

Lots of them.

Eliza dead ends into the House of Brats school, but it's a lovely ride all the way.

I mean, really there are just too many of these things.

And here's one more.

And this lovely old rusty roof from another era.

Too bad I had to get to work.

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Key West Pix XIV

I was looking at dust catchers in the window of one of those super expensive stores on Upper Duval when a strange smell assailed me. I felt like I had walked into the middle of a giant sandwich.

Some person or persons unknown had been engaged in a mustard fight the night before and had managed to spray the block with gobs of yellow stuff everywhere.

These are the joys of doing business on a street dedicated to the pursuit of alcohol. Inside the window a four hundred dollar glass apple: outside the window great yellow gobs of dried condiment. Staying in business must be a challenge, but I have to note my dog loved it. I was forced to spend altogether too long contemplating dried mustard, to keep her happy.

Must be another kind of dog behind the gate shown above. It is certainly a different kind of cock shown below, different from the roosters normally seen pecking the streets of Key West.

I wondered what the head could see in the white container. Our futures perhaps? Greek default? Hell, anyone can see that.

In case you were driving distracted and missed it the sign below, on Eaton Street, was as tall as I. It was a life sized man "having difficulty with his umbrella."

I previously noted Bogart's has gone the way of all flesh, as it were, and in it's place an equally Irish named establishment has risen. I was never a patron of the former and probably won't be of the latter but the building is worth looking at, built of local rock.

The deli on the corner of Duval and Olivia, a spot that hasn't seen much commercial stability of late has been closed. It is supposed to be open this month.

Key West seems to need all the convenience stores it can get. It's amazing how many there are in this small town. Mustard and alcohol on every street corner!

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Old Town Bakery Breakfast

This building has been transformed over the years. It was Colez Peace years ago, a popular bakery named for Cole, the owner's son. It was with some public surprise that the news was received that the bakery was sold. The new owners soldiered on and gave up. The bakery went to the Restaurant Store further up Eaton Street and an art gallery ironically named Poisontook it's place.

Poison gave way to the staff of life once again, except that this bakery doesn't do much in the way of actual bread. I stopped by on a whim and they managed to rustle up a fresh baguette for me, which was very good when my wife and I wolfed it at home later. However they do sell lots of pretty pastries.

I saw a piece of cheese that would go well with the baguette while I waited in line and my weak and feeble will was overpowered by the prospect of fresh coffee and pastry. It had to be done.

It was not bitter, the coffee, and the pastry was sweet and the whim was entirely successful.

An anxious Cheyenne and I hurried across the street to the open air table at Paseo, the sandwich shop I recently enjoyed but that is closed Mondays and Tuesdays...lucky for me on Monday.

I spent ten years in an English boarding school, an upbringing that makes one powerless to resist anything that involves, for instance, custard, sugar or a thing labeled "sticky bun." it was flaky pastry sticky in places with crusty toffee dried on the outside. It went well with coffee while baguette ends went well with Labrador:

Three tour trains and trolleys rolled down Margaret Street and they all pointed out this house as the residence of the Cuban Minister at the time of the Spanish American War, or something like that.

I heard the story three times in three minutes. The pity of it was there were only four tourists trapped in all the vehicles passing, forced to hear the endless talk. And there was me and my sticky bun. Breakfast in Key West is as you make it.

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