Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve

My world closes down between Christmas and New Year and this used to be the time of year I envied the Cubans whose government decided Christmas was a Papal conspiracy not worth celebrating. These days Cuba has gone the way of the rest of us and Santa Claus relief has been suspended more or less officially on the tropical island. So I get through it and my reward comes in a couple of days. As of Wednesday life returns to normal, or as normal as circumstances permit.

The biggest shake up for me has been that my work schedule has been turned upside down, and though it may not be immediately apparent, I like my routines. I have been working the same shift for years and as complicated as my peculiar schedule is to explain, it is also entirely predictable. Want to know if I'm off on my patronymic feast day, September 29th? Give me a moment and I can figure it out. The past couple of weeks my hours have been so whacky I actually had to photocopy the schedule at work to keep track of when I was supposed to show up. Well bugger me. On the other hand I can't really complain because people who care for St Nick need to take their vacations. I hope they enjoyed the snowdrifts amidst their family gatherings because I worked my ass off for them. Very bad for my OCD, but I like the brownie points of working holidays!

I have not been downtown for New Year's Eve in years, and the last time I was there was in the boom years when crowds were huge and the crush overwhelmed me. As a result I have never much minded missing the various items being dropped, New York style to mark the New Year moment of marketing. I am one of those dweebs happy to go to bed when I get tired and miss the magic moment while passed out. As it is I usually have to work as I shall be working tonight.

There are two holidays in the Key West calendar that trump leave at the police department - Fantasy Fest is one, it has to be as that whole week is law enforcement busy and the other is New Years Eve when South Florida pours into the smallest town and expects a show. Not every Florida town, you may be astonished to learn chooses to drop a drag queen in a shoe to mark the midnight moment. I will be sitting at my desk hoping anxiously that all five police computers turn over with the new date at pumpkin hour. One memorable year they didn't and everything had to be operated by hand until the Internet technology wizards straightened out the sleepy binary machines. This past year we In dispatch have issued nearly seven thousand case numbers, and as of midnight the computers will I hope, remember to start back at number one for 2013. That's my big worry.

Worrying about case numbers is a little esoteric for New Year's Eve I grant you when most people are wondering where the best parties might be and have they been invited but Key West has to function in order to give the monied visitors the carefree visit. Housekeepers and valets and hotel managers are all doing the same as Key West's facade as a laid back town that time forgot can never actually descend to such a level. You should hear the bitching on 911 lines when the power goes out at three in the morning. People call us to ask when the power will be back! I am tempted to say something absurd like "at 4:31am precisely" to get them off the line but a shortage of electrons in the middle of the night is only a crisis if you depend on them to breathe. Everyone else can take a chill pill, but they don't. You'd think their vacation was ruined by a two hour outage at three in the morning when some drunk driver hit a power pole...So much for laid back. Key West must function at all times like a first world city pretending to be funky.

This time of year more than ever I need to walk Cheyenne in the back woods and she cooperated mighty well when we took off around Spain Boulevard on Cudjoe Key for an hour yesterday. I like this subdivision for its totally rural feel, horses and dirt roads and thick grassy fields and verges, it's like finding yourself in a backwoods village in the mountains instead of feeling surrounded by salt water, which is what you are.

The homes are just off Blimp Road and make a handy place to stroll while waiting for my wife at the nearby gym. For some reason Cheyenne is less than thrilled with this area some rarely get out here but her five day absence has sharpened her appreciation for any and all walks close to home.

As always other people's bunches give me banana envy. These used to be surrounded by an electric fence, perhaps to keep the deer out but they looked splendid and put my still fruitless bananas to shame. Next year perhaps.

Lobster pots are a reminder that the sea is never far away, even in the bushes.

One thing about this area is the consumption of couches. Every time I get out here someone has another worn out couch waiting for pick up. I found two on this walk, a record. When I replace my worn out couch I shall deliver it directly to the dump, which is very close by these homes actually, and I promise I shall not leave it curbside.

I do not miss snow or blizzards, sleet or heavy chilly rain.

Weak winter sun perks Cheyenne up and as long as skies are blue I can live with cooler temperatures and occasional cold feet.

it was warm enough to tire Cheyenne out even though the cold front fought hill overnight temperatures.

I don't suppose much will change with the flip of a calendar page tonight. Politicians play brinkmanship with the economy, cheap energy remains as elusive as ever despite fracking and posturing, and if the parents of America take no interest in protecting their children from gun nutters I am happy to stay on the sidelines of that ferocious non-debate. I expect 2013 will bring more of the same, political posturing and bad economic news from Europe, more shootings and hand wringing, dope smoking tours of Colorado, more poofs getting married and about time, and most important of all stiffer joints on my aging dog and experimental rides with my new/old antique two stroke Vespa.

I just wish the holidays would be over so it could get delivered here, perhaps even before my inert Bonneville gets the much longed for new valves.

Happy New Year.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Horse Country

That part of Florida more commonly known for it's horses is around Ocala in the north-central part of the Sunshine State. Take Highway 27 west from Ocala and you will think you are in Kentucky, all fields, white wooden fencing and woods sprinkled with horse ranches. The Keys are not most people's idea of a place to keep or ride a horse. But some people prefer to defy stereotype:
The Key West Police Department used to keep their horses here where there have been stables for what seems forever but then they built the "new" stables at Truman Waterfront. I guess winter residents like to bring their horses with them and I suppose the animals enjoy escaping snow as well and even though the rides around here are limited there are trails. Yet I've never seen anyone riding on the backwoods trails I have walked.
The green fence is new and I suppose annoying people are in the habit of feeding the horses. I am not that organized nor do I have the inclination to walk around with carrots or sugarlumps in my pockets but I did enjoy scratching their ears and reviving memories of my youth when my sisters kept horses and took me riding, experiences which never quite matched up to the pleasure I got from inanimate motorcycles.
Nowadays all I can do is look across two rows of fences. I miss the feel and the smell of them, a momentary trip out of the Keys to a more rural past.

Local Chickens

The American White Ibis is my idea of what a wild Key West chicken should be. These local birds are quiet, delicate and superb hunters. Supporters of the crowing scratching chicken population point out they kill insects forgetting these quiet well behaved guys date same without the chicken drama of scratching holes in the landscape. Check out what Wikipedia has to say:

"The diet consists primarily of small aquatic prey such as insects and small fishes. Crayfish are its preferred food in most regions; however, it can adjust its diet according to the habitat and prey abundance. It is a tactile non-visual forager, whose main foraging behavior is probing with its beak at the bottom of shallow water to feel for and to capture its prey."


I was sitting in the car listening to my dog snore as we waited for my wife. I found watching these high stepping hunters serenity-inducing. I watch chickens and wonder why anyone puts up with barnyard animals fouling the streets and sidewalks. Chickens get tourist votes so it's just as well my opinions don't matter.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cheyenne Is Home

She seemed glad enough to see me when she got home after five days on the road with my wife but she made me come to find her as she pottered around under the house sniffing this and drinking from her favorite muddy flower pot. Since our happy reunion she has fallen back into her usual routines, expecting me to scratch her when she stretches out on her bed, and then when she's had enough she gets up and wanders out for a little light sunbathing on the deck.

My dog's return means I find myself at her service as usual out walking when the mood strikes. After a few days away she approaches her walks with renewed enthusiasm checking out everything with her nose, catching up on missed editions of the doggy news.

It's been hot and sunny lately though the tell us cold temperatures in the mid 60s can be expected overnight this weekend as another cold front makes itself felt. Cheyenne will enjoy it more than I shall as already I am tiring of the cooler season. Not least because Highway One has been positively clogged with motorists driving 40 miles per hour as they seek the laid back lifestyle of people on vacation in the Fabulous Florida Keys. On the subject of laid back check out my dog, resting from her labors behind the Big Pine post office while a grazing key deer wandered by insouciantly, on the other side of the street.

She sat there and watched, the perfect dog, as usual, causing no trouble, stress free and happy to be home. The perfect dog and ideal companion. I missed her.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Keys Disease Illustrated

When my wife and I were out sailing in distant parts we carried a supply of bits and pieces and some vague knowledge of how to repair some stuff, all that and the faint fair hope that we could bumble through. Things broke and I bodged repairs and when the latest effort was finished we'd look it over and say to each other our favorite punch line: "Fixed; for now!" We never assumed any fix was permanent, things were always breaking on all the sailboats out there traveling through Central America. The best thing about the Panama Canal was the supply of easily accessible spare parts. Fixed for now was the mantra, and it's one of those things we've never quite forgotten.

After a lifetime spent on boats bodging things I am a nervous, insecure handyman in houses and my wife likes a nice clean finish to a job in her home. Therefore when one of the PVC handles that switches the water supply between the cistern and the aqueduct broke and spewed water everywhere I decided to call in a professional. In the photo below the bottom right handle opens and closes access to the cistern and it's pumps, while the new big red handle on the left opens and closes the high pressure water from the aqueduct. I bought a house that can be completely supplied by rainwater collected off the roof, or from the main water supply piped to the islands from the South Florida Aquifer. The handle on the left was the replacement installed by a professional plumber at my request, after the original broke and leaked.

The plumber did the job while I slept and promised to come back and check his work and collect payment. He showed up a couple of days later unannounced just as Cheyenne and I got back from a walk (the one where the crazy lady yelled at me) and the plumber, who it turns out is also crazy, in a nice way, said there was a leak and he'd be back to fix it and collect payment. He never showed. I generally only use the aqueduct to operate the washing machine as the amount of water the machine needs taxes the cistern pumps so I open the aqueduct to do laundry and the go back to the better tasting rain water for the rest of the time. The leak was small but persistent so I decided to try a simple fix. Gorilla Glue to the rescue!

It failed and the water kept dripping like water torture as I washed my clothes. I pondered my options and decided first that there was no way I was calling the sad sack plumber back, after all he failed the first time, failed to come back and as the investment scams point out past success is no predictor of future returns- or is it? I figured I might as well give it a shot before calling another professional plumber, who most likely would be just as incapable of mastering the overwhelming task of successfully connecting PVC pipe.

I figured what the hell and I started grubbing around in the aqueduct meter out by the road. The lid yielded eventually to my probing penknife and inside I found a ton of dirt which I slowly removed, handful by handful. Then I found the little round switch shown below at the top of the picture. A quarter turn and the water supply to the house was cut off. So far, so good. Boat bum becomes handyman.

To someone used to this stuff it would seem absurd but I had to think about what I was doing every step of the way. The day after Christmas, Boxing Day, ACE hardware on Summerland Key was open so I scootered over there to pick up some supplies. I wish PVC was allowed on boats because its cheap and easy to work with but if it fails below the waterline the boat will sink so I had no experience with the stuff before we moved into this house which has lots of it.

I have to confess I was swearing up a blue streak as I laid out tools, pipe, fittings and PVC glue. Across the canal I could hear Chrismas renters whooping it up in the shady garden alongside their side of the canal. I didn't even have my dog to keep me company and give sound advice as I planned where to cut and what to glue. Oh shit, I gulped and wedged the hacksaw blade into an impossible corner and started cutting.

The reason why the plumber left a leak was because the pipe sticking out of the sheetrock was almost inaccessible. I got some pipe clamps on it and held down as far as I could and sanded the plastic. I had barely enough room for the joint and the corner pipe but I hoped for the best. Dammit I thought to myself, why can't people who know how to do the job come and set up shop in the Keys? They call it Keys Disease when you hire someone and they fail to show. You can blame alcohol drugs or an unhappy childhood but the inability to show up as promised is standard operating procedure in Paradise. Failing to complete the job is just as commonplace.

I hacked, sanded and glued with a will. I wanted it fixed by the time my wife got back from Alabama. I can do this I said to myself as I stood on my stool PVC dust drizzling onto my head. My repair spilled purple glue everywhere, over the joints, the pipes, my hands and my hair, everywhere. It was Ugly.

I dread the day my home takes a direct hit from a hurricane and I need professionals to do serious repairs on the structure. Victims of Wilma waited years to move back not their homes as Keys Disease ran rampant through the islands as repair people picked and chose their work and rip off artists made a killing. I couldn't get a plumber to connect some PVC pipe without drama and failure. Imagine if my bathroom were wrecked. So you really want to live in Paradise? Are you sure?

I opened the aqueduct yesterday and to my astonishment my joints weren't leaking. Victory! Sweet victory!! However let's remain rational...Yes it's fixed, but only for now.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Jack Riepe's Conversations With A Motorcycle

I was susrprised and delighted to receive a package from Jack Riepe just before Christmas. I know Jack has been going through the torments of Hell since Hurflooded his publisher's offices and his local Post Office destroying stacks of books and any prospect of producing more quickly or easily. But Jack Riepe doesn't give up easily and the priority mail envelope was proof of that.


Jack Riepe's blog Twisted Roads is  known and widely read and  this book is an extension of that writing style - 186  pages of lyrical descriptions of the rides of his youth, the dark vortex that was Jersey City, a place filled with vivid male characters the author tried to emulate and the women he wanted to "get to know," all brought to life in Riepe's  inimitable style. 

I met Jack Riepe once and stayed with him at his  former home in Pennsylvania and yet after three days in his company it's as though I've known him a lifetime, which isn't far from the truth as Jack has a penchant for living a great deal all at once.  I've read his blog and you might imagine this book is a collection of blog essays; well,  it's not. This book is a coming of age story simply told, with self deprecating humor and penetrating insights into what makes human beings idiots.  

For reasons explained early on, the cover of the book depicts a classic Vincent motorcycle while the star performer in these recorded conversations, foil as it were, is a particularly lethal form of Japanese motorcycle that was produced briefly in the 1970s by Kawasaki  laws of physics and health and safety regulations. The bike was fast and qufriend in Italy who was lucky to walk away from a wreck on two stroke Kawasaki triple not known for cornering abilities. That Jack learned on one these monsters and failed to kill himself on it is not cause for self agrandisement in these pages, but it ought to be. Typical of Riepe he mocks himself for buying the one motorcycle that would reduce his sex appeal in a field of hard core riders, whereas he should be telling us he was a hell of a rider for learning to cope of that Kawasaki.

Conversations With A Motorcycle records young Riepe's life and tells us how his puke green Kawasaki helped mold him and showed him the path to manhood. As odd as the premise sounds it works beautifully, not least because Riepe's facility with women at age 19 was devastatingly absent. He pines for a love he has yet to meet, intwines his hopes and dreams with his bike, and by the end of the story reminds us how foolish we are who seek, find and throw away what we so eagerly sought in the first place. This is a lot more than  your typical Riepe flourish and a few descriptiosn of nubile curves and trombone solos in dark alleys with impossibly beautiful women.


I have never read anything anywhereJack's ability to describe the act of riding a motorcycle, never mind the peculiar joys of terrestrial flight produced by two wheels and an engine. Riders will see the hand of a master at work as they nod knowingly as Jack explains the emotional stupidity of our first motorcycle purchase (mine, in Italy with an MV Agusta 350 was so similar to his it was uncanny to read it), then his words will leap off the page as he the rides of his youth for the reader. the brilliant part of this book is how all this technical derring-do in such a way as to embrace readers who have no idea what a motorcycle is nor why any sane person would ride one. An affinity for motorbikes isn't necessary to appreciate this story, this is pure story telling in an ancient tradition. One can read The Hobbit without knowing anything about Tolkien's imagination. Equally Jack Riepe's imagination, descriptive abilities and narrative pace will carry the reader far beyond the simple world of 1970s motorcycling.

And it was a simple world a weekend ride could be done on less than ten bucks with enough left over to help out a stranded rider.  It was a world that kept at bay an aspiring rider over-educated and excessively sensitive for the Bucket of Blood pub in Jersey City, but it was also a world that we all know wherever we grew up and for a few short hours Jack takes us back there, where life was simpler and more fun and more crowded with existential angst than we care to remember. 

I know Jack Riepe and I like him and that makes me a terrible reviewer of his book, for I was bound to enjoy it. I'd like to think everyone who has read his blog has purchased a copy of his book, but I know that's not the case, and I wonder how that could be. I cannot think of a reason why a rider wouldn't be clamoring to read it, and I hope I have transmitted the idea that non-riders will be doing themselves a disservice by not buying a copy of this first edition piece of literature.  

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Woods For Pleasure

To find myself at home with no obligations left me puzzled: what to do? I figured I might as well go for a ride.

There aren't many roads to ride for fun but what there is, in the Lower Keys, I know. I could have ridden ten miles to Sugarloaf and ridden the south shore. I thought about taking the eight miles out and eight miles back across Big Torch Key. Or I could have ridden twenty minutes north and stopped for the sunset at the southern end of the Seven Mile Bridge. Instead I rode to Big Pine, turned north at the traffic light and explored Port Pine Heights.

In the last light of day I headed back to the supermarket for last minute supplies. I stopped along the way for a short walk in the pines of the Jack Watson Trail.

I started out okay but the walk devolved into a camera exercise that soon lost its flavor. Cheyenne was in Alabama and walking without my dog seemed pointless. I was lonely.

A controlled fire got away from it's minders and burned a hundred acres of the Key Deer Refuge and the marks of the blaze are still clearly visible along the trail.

The greenery is coming back. Indeed pines killed by an infestation years ago are slowly being replaced by survivors who are coming bak strong across Big Pine Key. But it is winter and leafless branches are everywhere.

Sunset brings darkness around six in the evening on winter time. I am looking forward to longer days but it's not until we go back on summer time in the spring that we will see sunsets at seven pm and later. The closer you are to the equator the less seasonal variation there is.

I mooched around for a while until it was dark.

Winn Dixie the Sunday night before Christmas was hell. The store was crowded with frantic shoppers, the aisles were packed with freshly delivered supplies and the obstacle course made me crazy. Better to be in the woods and on the trails, with or without my dog.