Sunday, November 13, 2011

Holiday Cheer

Call me naïve but I was a little taken aback to see Christmas for sale even before Thanksgiving was in the bag.

In the years of plenty the need to keep on selling in these manufactured holidays seemed obscene to me, but now that we have our economic backs to the wall it smacks of desperation. Snow days? In Miami? Chain stores' inventory sometimes manages to look ludicrous without trying.

Sometimes they want us to spend $6 to make our best friends look ludicrous. My wife really thought for a minute that I wanted to stick this piece of Chinese crap on my dog's head.

Champagne appears this time of year because bubbly wine is another cliché for the holidays. Done right it's delicious any time of the year, not that the advertisers care.

We're going North for a meaningful family gathering. I want to spend the first in this series of holidays doing what the holiday was first created for, and that wasn't shopping for nonsense. Buying stuff from local artisans to express a true sentiment is one thing, keeping Chinese oligarchs in business seems crazy to me.

I will miss t-shirt weather in November but the family will make it worth it. I am a citizen first and a consumer a long way second and the sooner we all realize the difference the sooner we will have holidays truly full of joy and hope for the future for all our family members and let Made In America be the next holiday wish.

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Dear Art

My wife calls her rheumatoid arthritis ’Art' and she's lived with him for 15 years. The irony is her specialist has his own form of arthritis and he like my wife is a triple A personality so they both work their backsides off in their respective trades. Check out the size of her file. That's years of trying to outwit Art.

We share a similar sense of humor and ironic detachment when it comes to politics. Dr Ritter no longer prescribes narcotics owing to new Florida laws aimed at pill mills which he is decidedly not. Ritter knows what arthritis pain is and he is reigned to the fact that his patients who really need relief can't get it from him. He sends them to pain specialists. As they discussed treatment options for a relentless evolving disease I looked out the window into the South Miami street below.

What does the flower seller do for his arthritis, without insurance? Does he rely on a home remedy? My wife tried those in her struggle to evade side effects. She tried them all when we lived in California: Indian, Chinese, diet, massage, herbs meditation on and on and on, every new age treatment that never worked. So it was back to chemistry and expense and side effects.

Thank god we have insurance. As messed up as the system is between us we can navigate the torturous paperwork, we find the co-pays and my wife keeps her government job. As discussion moves in right wing circles toward repealing Obamacare, as it is called dismissively, I wonder how many people with incurable expensive non terminal diseases would like to let insurance corporations cut them from coverage? Obamacare isn't much but has helped. Call it socialism, but for my wife who is uninsurable it is a lifeline.

There's money in medicine and for specialists in low demand fields like auto immune disease there aren't enough doctors, so there's too much work and money enough to expand the offices to try to cope with the flood of patients seeking relief from endless, crippling pain. I read about cancer drugs now going generic that are unavailable in hospitals, about drugs not being shipped to Greece in bankruptcy and I wonder how long before we start an adult conversation on these issues. Rationing? We have it already. Ask the flower seller, if you can stoop to speak his language.

We have tens of thousands of children not eating right, or not eating enough, deprived of access to health care and still expected to shine at school on empty stomachs. My wife and I have neither aging parents nor needy children and we are left to imagine the stress of those situations. We just have to live with Art and his impositions. Exercise daily in the gym and laughter daily with her husband help keep the joints from seizing up. And expensive drugs.

And if like this scooter rider I take to lane splitting (illegally) I run the risk of...well you name it. In any event the biggest risk is unmanageable medical bills if I survive the wreck. We're all an ambulance ride away from joining Greece in debtor's prison. Obamacare? Not enough, but you won't know till you get the diagnosis. Then you join the flower seller at the botanica.

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Triumph Tiger 800

We went by Triumph of Miami, where I ordered a rather fancy new helmet, when my wife and I were in the Big City.

Thus I got a chance to see the new Tiger 800 up close for the first time, even as Triumph has released the new 1200 Explorer to an eagerly underfunded public.

The base price of the Tiger is $11,500. Plus no doubt a few more fees and taxes plus saddlebags etc... So I'm figuring about $14,000 out the door as seen here.

I like the looks of the bike well enough but I was quite surprised how huge the machine is. I liked the Tiger 1050 but that bike was far too large and heavy for my tastes. I had hoped this machine might be on a more human scale but even with the low seat option I doubt I would feel comfortable astride this bike. And check out the width on those bags. Lane splitting? Forget it! In Key West it would take two motorcycle spaces to park this thing, so equipped, for free on the streets.

The Tiger's three cylinders produce 90hp, 50% more than my modest $8,000 Bonneville, not that I actually need more power. However the killer is my wife thinks it's fugly and she compares the rather cool green color to a bad taste 1950's kitchen appliance. Bummer. I guess I'd better stay focused on the Sprint GT which she compares to an oversized all plastic scooter. Sigh.

She has a point. There is no motorcycle as pretty as the Bonneville and mine is set up exactly as I like it.

I really wanted to like the Tiger, but for three thousand dollars less the new Suzuki SV650 seems a much better deal. I think I will stick with the Bonneville in any event as it works fine for me, but it was fun to actually see some of the bikes I read about.

My true fantasy machine is another P200E Vespa. But like all fantasies I'm sure it would disappoint thirty years after I last owned one.

I saw the cool French poster in the changing room at Macy's. Too bad I was there to buy work pants.

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Five Guys Burgers And Fries

There is ferment in certain circles in Key West about a new burger chain supposedly coming to the Southernmost City. I am no fan of Walmart, still rumored for Rockland Key, but Five Guys on close inspection is in a different league and soon may be at Truval Village, they say.

We were in Miami Friday starting a new course of treatment for my wife's RA which meant an opportunity to check out some stores. And there it was like a star in the east, shining over the shopping mall.

A furtive figure broke cover and rushed across the open space in front of the store. Big Foot? Santa Claus? The bag was the giveaway.

Inside the store whence Big Foot had dashed we saw piles of potatoes.

These weren't just any potatoes, they were purchased specifically for the humbugger chain. Just part of then schtick folks!

We newbies allowed a customer, dressed in scarlet as though an employee, to take first place while we studied the form.

Choose a two patty or one patty burger, cheeseburger or bacon burger or even a bacon-cheese burger and add what you want from an extensive list. I always get anxious when I have to 'make my own' but this was simple, with no charge for toppings and the employee was totally easy going and cheerful and patient. They had a whole lot of compliments stuck on a board.

"Are they free?" I asked watching the child help herself with practiced skill.

We took a seat and passed the ti e loading up on free protein and coke zero (Free Refills the sign shouted as though we weren't in America!).

The walls were lined with press cuttings- so quaint in the age of the electron- and they set you up to want to like what comes next. My number called I walked to the counter and collected a brown paper bag. The don't care if you eat in or follow Big Foot out the door, as the are no trays or other impedimenta. The burgers come wrapped in tin foil, the fries in a waxed drink cup.

The bill for two single patty burgers, one drink and large fries came to $17.50 which isn't cheap in my estimation but it was decent value as they do seem to use quality ingredients. We weren't hungry when we left, not at all!

I had grilled onions, jalapeños, and bacon, my wife added mushrooms to hers and we both avoided the American cheese.

To enjoy the real fried potatoes we took a bottle of vinegar to the table, a flavor my wife learned to enjoy in San Francisco and that I got used to when I was in England as a child.

Inevitably the comparison to California's In N Out Burger comes up and I would say Five Guys wins out even on the famous fries which were bigger and more flavorful.

I really enjoyed the wide range of toppings offered here too. A burger is a burger is a burger and as long as you use decent meat the product is a hamburger. But the toppings at no charge, make the sandwich. The clientèle was young and cheerful with lots of families and a few old foges like us mixed in.

In a place like Kendall, land of malls and boxes and chain stores in mile after endless mile something like Five Guys is bound to ring a homey note paradoxically. They go out of their way to offer value but something a step up from the cheap and cheerful chains that offer the best value of all.

Whether or not Key West needs another chain eatery is a debate that won't be resolved because those that oppose chains de facto won't want Five Guys. Faced with a ten buck choice between badboy burrito, Paseo or a sandwich from Kim's Kuban, to name but a few, I don't know where Five Guys fits. On those days when I want a burger perhaps this might be a choice, just as when I want a weird and wonderful breakfast in a sandwich where else but a McGriddle? Ah competition, the people shall speak and eat with their money. Everything else is talk.

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