Monday, November 28, 2011

Unchanging

Tomorrow I expect it will look much the same. If not, it might look even better.


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Realpolitik Key West Style

To hear the complainers tell it the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority is a failing public utility which has failed the public trust. And as if to prove the point they had a sudden change there, reported in the paper Thanksgiving week and now there is a new director running the utility. Viewed from the outside its impossible to know if the complaints about Jim Reynolds have substance. I have thought the utility has done a good job and made sensible inroads into the plan to run sewers at long last through the Keys.

However in considering Reynolds long history at the Aqueduct, rising through the ranks over 17 years it seems odd he resigned abruptly and was replaced even more abruptly. Apparently Reynolds caused a stir with a foolish e-mail advising women visiting the USS Spruance to wear underwear (no, really!) as the stairs on the destroyer are steep. Then suddenly he resigns. Pantygate! Not exactly, as the plot thickens. When Reynolds announced he was resigning he was ousted immediately with a promise of free pay until the natural expiration of his contract in March. At $180,000 per annum the board voted to throw away quite a lot of good money but it got worse. The board immediately voted to hire their counsel on the spot as the new executive director. Never mind a contract, never mind setting a rate of pay, the board said they would get to those details later. It sounds like a poor joke that a public agency would hire a director with no bid process, no discussion of parameters of pay or a benefits package. Then they hired a new counsel in the form of a former employee come back from the wilderness.
None of which is to say whether or not Reynolds was a good employee or a capable leader but the manner in which he was essentially turfed out and replaced leads one to speculate as to why the board of the Aqueduct Authority behaved as they did. I have no idea but I wonder what the sewer project for the Florida Keys might have to do with all this weird behavior. There's a lot of Government money to be made, hundreds of millions if they can shake any of it loose from Washington DC and Tallahassee and the Aqueduct is all that stands between private contractors and all that lovely cash. An attempt to install sewer lines by a private company in Stock Island led to a disastrous experience with wrong sized pipes and back flows and sewage bursting into people's homes. Aqueduct installations have been much criticized by "Anonymous" but they work without fuss and have been installed to specifications. I would not be at all surprised to see the new leadership at the Aqueduct relinquish this fat government plum to the private sector.


Meanwhile the paper reported a board member's relative was hired by the Aqueduct at a salary of $50,000 to be a secretary in a move that sceptics called nepotism which made the Governor's appointee to the board rather upset as he denied any invovlement in her hiring. However once again, the appearance of probity is often as important as the reality. I guess its the Aqueduct's turn to be the public whipping boy. Other public agencies may be sighing with relief as all attention goes to the water (and sewer) utility.


Meanwhile conspiracy theories have been floating around on the subject of development at Truman Waterfront. Two members of the advisory board were sacked unceremoniously as they lacked qualifications deemed critical to the board's composition all of which led the Citizen to author a tart commentary wondering who vets applicants for these boards. The paper also noted that the advisory board is going to be facing pressure when it comes time to vote on which way to develop the 34 acres of waterfront open space. The exclusive marina proposed by the Spottswoods got a boost when it was announced the USS Mohawk floating museum will be shipped off to be sunk as a reef.
The Mohawk and the Ingham were obstacles to the proposed redevelopment into a high end marina because they took up too much seawall space. That problem was solved suddenly. Now two respected community members vanished from the advisory board. Meanwhile there is caustious optimism that Wisteria Island my not be developed just yet even as Sunset Key's sales history comes under federal scrutiny.

Home

It is said the comedian W.C Fields had his epitaph in mind as he lay dying. "On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia" is the phrase attributed to him. I empathize except it's not the City of Brotherly Love that calls to me.


On the whole, I'd rather be in the Florida Keys. Western North Carolina was great fun but dead leaves, frost and gray skies don't hack it.


Sometimes gray skies are just fine, and 72 degrees was altogether finer than freezing.


However I was walking Cheyenne, fighting off flying biting gnats wearing a padded vest I had been given as a birthday present in Asheville. A vest? I was cold which can be explained.


These thick clouds to the west had dumped an unexpected rain shower on me in Big Coppitt on my way home. By the time I got the Bonneville under cover at a gas station I was quite damp even as I pulled my waterproofs out of the saddle bag. This weather is altogether too irrational for winter, season of steady sun, wind and predictable showers preceding obvious cold fronts. Winter is not the time of year for sudden showers out of nowhere.


Cheyenne didn't care when I got home. It was time to walk, wet or not so off we went. It was worth it.


My clothes were wet, so was my dog, I was being bitten to death as I had expected it was cold enough to keep the little flying teeth at home but my repellent-free arms were a hearty breakfast to squadrons of the damned no see'ums.


What the he'll. It was great to be home.



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Nolan N43 Trilogy Helmet

The Nolan open face helmet is advertised as a six-in-one all purpose helmet. I drank the cool aid and bought one at the Triumph dealer in Miami, picking it up on my drive back from North Carolina.


Nolan has a long history of making good quality helmets and they are proud to be still in business still in Italy as the packaging, in patriotic red white and green announced.


The helmet cost me the manufacturer's retail price of $299 and I was glad to buy it at the Triumph dealership even though the Internet will sell it for less. I needed to hold it, wear it and test it in my hands before buying. Besides I like supporting a brick and mortar dealership where I get my motorcycle parts.


The instruction manual in three languages is about the size of a pocket bible and equally dense with precise instructions.


It even explains how not to remove the helmet from a rider with injuries.


Oh, and did I mention the helmet was made by unionized Italian workers in Italy on the 150th anniversary of Italian Unification? Viva Garibaldi! Evviva Mazzini!


After singing a verse of the Inno di Mameli the Italian National anthem, to myself I decided to actually check out Scipio's helmet (Italy girds itself with the helmet of the Roman general Scipio in the heroic first stanza of the slightly absurd national anthem). The nub of the multi-function operation is this big knurled knob, one on each side.


Twist it half way and it pops out allowing the user to install either the visor or the windshield but not both at once (one demerit). Behind the knob you can see the slider that operates the internal sun shield about which more below.


The other removable part is the chin strap which clicks into place making the open face helmet as secure and protective as a full face helmet according to the literature, and to accomplish this it simply clicks into two slots in the front of the helmet.


One has to acknowledge the fears of those who argue that only full face helmets offer proper protection to a rider but on the pragmatic side, where I prefer to live and ride, the ability to take out the chin bar and drop it in a saddlebag makes this helmet ideal as an around town or relaxed riding helmet. Besides, by unclipping one end I can pull the helmet on or off without taking off my glasses.


Without the chin bar you have a nice open face helmet, with sun visor or face shield, your choice.


Ventilation is provided on top of the helmet a feature I have generally found to be fairly useless in warm Florida summers, but the Nolan face shield also comes with two small buttons that increase air flow on the inside of the face shield to decrease fogging. Very nice.


One other feature I like is the built in sun shield that pops up and down by pressing a knob on the outside of the helmet. Riding into the sun the sun shield offered a nice relaxing polarized view of the world. Some comments by users on the Internet want the sun shield to be a little longer to get closer to the nose(second demerit) but I found it to be just fine when deployed and easy to pop out of the way with one click of the button on the left side of the helmet (using the non-throttle hand to move it).


The other brilliant innovation that has finally crossed the Atlantic is the sensible secure and easy to use chin strap. Adjustable for length the strap is secured by an adjustable plastic slider operated with one finger. No more D rings! Hallelujah! My buddy Giovanni has been using these things for years in Italy. I no longer have to envy him.


In use the helmet is comfortable, of course, not very noisy and I trustingly seems to cut out a lot of the high pitched engine noises from my air cooled Bonneville. Wearing the Nolan I hear the low rumble of the exhaust much more than I hear the clatter of valves and cam chain. Odd but true. It's lighter than the flip up full face helmets that are great for people who wear glasses but are heavy and noisy and are awkward to wear in the open position.


This is a very nice comfortable and supremely useful helmet.


I am glad I spent the money with my wife's encouragement. It comes in colors far more interesting than the matt black I chose. If you think a black helmet is hotter than a white helmet ask yourself what the insulation is doing inside the helmet. If you think high visibility is important think again. A driver texting won't see you wearing a set of Christmas tree lights and you will be expecting them to see you. I wear black which hides the dirt, is traditional and gives me no false sense of security that I am visible. I believe in active safety and pay attention when I ride, which is daily. I'm glad to have the Nolan to look after my noggin.

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Back Home At Last

I get this feeling of loss every time we drive down Interstate 26 leaving Asheville behind and facing the descent back to sea level, yet far from the sea. It's not that I want to live in these polar mountainous regions but I do enjoy the change for a little while. Besides, here is where I am on vacation...




The South Carolina state line cuts across the highway about an hour southeast of Asheville after the freeway has made a few twists and turns and the car brakes start to smell of decomposing toasted mothballs. South Carolina is as different from the North as Iceland is from Portugal. They may be lumped together for advertising purposes but they are quite separate entities with entirely different topography.




The drive across South Carolina is a chore that has to be done to get to I-95 to the east. Leaving behind the mountains and crossing miles of pine forests and flat lands one loses the sense of being away and one finds oneself in some altered state of transition, moving closer to being home. We drove hard stopping briefly for gas and food and pathetic little walks for my dog who is banned from the Key West cemetery and who was thus fascinated by the neat rows of flowers in an open design South Carolina cemetery.




We stopped in Greenville as Trader Joe's, the California grocery has opened a branch there. We came out of the store after twenty minutes and my wife, who is a Trader Joe's fanatic, decided they need to spruce the place up before we will return. Trader Joe's is a particular company now owned by a German family trust which took the original concept of Joe Coulombe and created a growing empire of shops which sell their own name brand products at remarkably reasonable prices. They are famous for their ethics. though they are being boycotted over tomato prices and they are also famous for customer satisfaction. However the concept works well when the employees are enthusiastic participants in the experiment. In Greenville they were, to put it politely, slobs. My wife is looking forward to Trader Joe's arrival in Florida even if the first store will open next year in Naples of all places. I anticipate road trips to southwest Florida as a result.




We bought lunch to go from the store and the wraps were pretty dry and horrid too. I could barely find any tuna in mine and my wife's checken lacked any pesto flavor at all. We were a morose couple as we trudged across the endles srolling plains of South Carolina. Cheyenne thought her share of the wraps was splendid. She slept and we listened to NPR as the miles rolled by. Until we saw a motorcycle blazing a two wheeled trail in the half light of dusk in sixty degree weather.




A white bearded man in an open helmet with no windshield was cruising the Interstate on his Vespa 250. I had a twinge of envy but I remembering all the trouble my GTS gave me helped me to get past the sense of loss. I'd like to say something interesting filled every mile of the journey home but it was all pretty standard stuff. My wife and my dog were fed up with driving and both kept urging me to drive faster. That I didn't get a ticket was a miracle but I got us to a motel in one piece and a slaow start the next day got us to Card Sound Road the next day under a sky covered in clouds that reminded us we were back in the land of perpetual summer.




The ocean was as bright as ever, the mysterious islands as alluring, and the views as captivating.




The Seven Mile bridge marked the twenty-minute-from-home mark. Impatience filled the car.




We have a month before friends have invited us north to Birmingham for early January. I shall enjoy being home in the Keys until then when road trip fever will surely break out again and my long suffering dog will cover her head in her paws as she takes up her sleeping position across the back seat.


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