Thursday, November 1, 2012

Jack Riepe, Hurricane Sandy, And Canned Electricity

Jack Riepe has not had a chocolate cup cake since last May and he would kill for one now if you could slip him one amidst the devastation of Tom's River, New Jersey. It gets worse, members of the premier Motorcycle and Wrenching Chartered BMW club of Pennsylvania (its called some shit like that) have threatened to show up to help and he is desperate because they are holding out on bringing the chocolate cup cakes. Other than that the premier motorcycle scribe of New Jersey is doing fine. He has received mail, he has hot showers and he has a half gallon of rum he is keeping safe for a real emergency, he says.

The lights flickered around ten pm the night of the storm, the transformers in his neighborhood blew one by one and he knew things weren't going back to normal for a while. "A while" is the bare minimum and the stories of devastation from around the Garden State tell Jack he is doing better than most. His sister moved to the Big Apple for a taste of the Manhattan lifestyle and she is now living in a 27th floor walk up surviving off emergency rations she managed to buy at the last minute from her neighborhood grocery store. As she stood inline for two hours to buy her "supplies" one can hardly imagine the level of discomfort. No running water, no electricity and no way to move around in a city of eight million?

Jack's new book Conversations with a Motorcycle was supposed to be shipping wildly this week, with 25 orders a day coming in but his publishers are underwater in Manhattan and offices are without electricity across the southern half of the island and no one has a clue when power might be restored. Two million people across New Jersey are without electricity. It gets dark at six, and today, Thursday afternoon it's starting to rain once again on the devastation and temperatures are dropping. Jack wraps himself in a sleeping bag, writes long hand by the light of a lantern and goes to sleep in the early evening in a house that is fortunately dry if not warm. It sounds utterly horrible. And he notes wryly he is the youngest resident on his street, and the most spry.


We've all read Jacks stories of riding and wrenching and wrenching across improbably named communities that for a California raised immigrant like me are just names, but for Jack his childhood and adolescence and perhaps most important the scenes of his varied (and quite possibly mythical) sexual conquests have washed away. The town he liked to called the Painted Whore of the Jersey Shore, Seaside Heights is no more and he waxed nostalgic at some length on the phone about the likelihood he will ever get to have a drink there again and look at pretty young women parading.

I've heard of Hoboken as a gritty urban community rather resembling On The Waterfront but Jack says recently the place was refurbished and it's most upscale streets are now lined with million dollar homes filled with four feet of sewage from backed up and ruined sewage lines. A river of shit was how he put it. Trees are down everywhere and salt water has invaded the infrastructure all round him. So far he says no one talks of looting and people are "taking it in stride." Personally I'd rather be in the Florida Keys in a disaster where people at least try to be prepared and the weather is far more comfortable when services fail. But I am not as hardy as residents of Up North.


I was never in any doubt he would survive this mess and he will survive into the future as things continue to be a mess, for hurricane clean up in my experience is far more sapping and dreary than the major event itself. He did have one other big item on his wish list even as he lamented the absence of chocolate in his life. "Boy," he moaned, " I sure wish they had electricity in a can. I'd buy a case right now."


A Day Off In Key West

Take Tuesday for instance. I had the day off because I swapped with Keith who wanted Wednesday off because he had a couple of high school buddies flying down from New York for a visit. Well, that didn't happen; the last he heard they we're doing that which we are expected to do- cope with the after effects of a hurricane. Still our swap had been planned a couple of weeks ago so there I was with Tuesday off, and it was a lovely day to take Cheyenne for a walk on No Name Key to look at the new power lines (essay to follow next week) and I came across a lovely bunch of worn out dried up coconuts. I should get creative I suppose and offer my garden castoffs at twenty five cents apiece. The sign said they make excellent gifts for grandchildren about which subject I know nothing. So I eat and drink mine, as many as I can (coconuts not grandchildren) and put the rest out with the garden waste.
The Big Pine Key Department of Motor Vehicles office is open midweek so I stopped by with my Iowa paperwork for my new-to-me 33 year old Vespa and $360 later I walked out with a blue license plate for my scooter which is still in Iowa getting a new cylinder installed. I am ready to get it shipped here from Green Tree Scooters who told me last week highs were in the 40s. Which is far too cold to be riding a motorcycle of any kind when they finish fixing it which should be soon. Riding it home is now out of the question, as my original purchase plan called for, so when it gets here the license plate will be ready, and very cool it is too in sky blue.

I was on a roll getting things done so I went by the garden center and paid for the recent tree planting I had done and that was $460 which was well below what I had expected so I was doubly pleased. Plus I got some ideas for future plantings. Well, this was my day for getting things done so I knuckled down and went to the Big Pine library to face a four page, doubled-sided ballot. I guess when President Obama wins a second term by one measly vote in Florida you can blame me. I cast my vote in protest more than anything, as I can't stand the idea of a President who Believes In Magic Underwear. President Obama has been a major disappointment but he has the backing of the one percent so how could be anything else? On the social issues at least he has some slight grasp of daily reality so better him than Romney, who seems to have the sort of attitude toward women that led him to take his dog on vacation strapped to the roof of his car. Anyone who suggests I treat Cheyenne that way won't get my vote. On local issues I struggled through reams of amendments and propositions as best I could, wishing lawmakers could remember how to make laws instead of asking me to help them. After all, no one lobbies/bribes me for my vote, so clearly I don't rate in the world of political wrangling. The funny thing was there was quite the line at the library so voters are involved this year, I guess. I'm an immigrant so I vote every chance I get just because I can.
And that pretty much is an average day in the Fabulous Florida Keys for me. It's funny sometimes to think that people imagine every day is a vacation for regular people here. When I was a child I used to spend vacations in Italy playing all summer with my buddies and then I went back to boarding school in England in September. As I left I envied my friends and their endless summer, but it wasn't until I was almost an adult and I spent winters in Italy as well, that I discovered that the endless summer ended abruptly for everyone as cold weather and school work struck all Europe at once. It's the same thing in Key West I find. Many people come on vacation, have a great time and bugger off home wishing they could stay on and find a job. The reality is daily living is as routine here as it is where you live, except it doesn't snow or get frosty. Plus you do have to navigate around a lot of people who are on vacation and they expect you to feel their joy all the time. So on that note this is an excellent time to go downtown when not too many people are crowding the streets. As my wife got off work early down I went to Duval Street yesterday.
The first thing I noticed was the roof of the former bank building at Front and Duval which has lost some tiles to the winds. I have long said that Mediterranean architecture, and particularly roofs with tiles are a bad idea in the Keys. I grew up with the tile roofing popular in Italy and it was a pain as every spring we had to walk the roof and check for frost cracked tiles. Down here tiles fly in hurricanes and a metal roof properly anchored is what you want on your home. The photo above backs my argument I think.

So I was in town after a night off, to meet my wife for lunch and as it actually was my birthday I got to choose where we ate, so I chose Alonzo's as I had a hankering for fish. We usually eat at Alonzo's for an early dinner when appetizers are half price but I wanted to enjoy fish on the water yesterday so we did. The tourists above were peering into the depths from the boardwalk and I suppose they were looking for live fish swimming about. We had a quick look and all we could see was what appeared to be a grayish snapper type of fish and a lot of aquamarine colored saltwater. I was far more interested in my cold glass of Key West Amber (brewed in Tampa).

The funny thing was we both ordered exactly the same thing so my review of the lunch time menu at Alonzo's is necessarily restricted in scope. I wasn't interested in sandwiches or salads so I skipped those and went straight to the meals and the "Snapper New Orleans" looked good to both of us, fish in a cream sauce, as I wasn't in the mood for tomato based sauces either. I was feeling particular yesterday for some reason. Anyway the plate came with enough food for two so we could have cut the final bill, $48 with tax and tip, by quite a bit had we thought ahead. What you are seeing is a pile of mashed potatoes with carrots and beans scattered throughout, lots of fish and onion rings on top. No wonder obesity is a national issue with these sized portions. It was delicious.
And still people stopped to peer over the side looking for ...tarpon? As a general rule I don't find the antics of fish particularly fascinating but there again I am not especially interested in birds either. I am decidedly owned by my Labrador who was at home snoring massively the last I saw of her before I came to town. And let's face it, she's not that interesting either, because when she's not snoring she's walking or eating or eyeing me speculatively. She rarely talks politics, I have no idea if she believes there is a Dog, and she has never betrayed an interest in sports. So at some level my Labrador is as interesting as a tarpon as far as her stimulating company goes.

To prove my point that this is a good time of year to be downtown check out the motorcycle and scooter parking lot at the end of Front Street. In winter this vehicle lot is guarded by a man as vicious as Cerberus the three headed dog that guarded Hades in mythology. He steps out of the hut a d demands to know your business and sets a time limit on how long cars of motorcycles can park. This time of year no one challenged us as we rode in on the Bonneville and sauntered across the boardwalk to lunch.

Key West in November, an excellent time to ride a motorcycle in shirt sleeves, eat lunch downtown, and enjoy pretending to be on vacation for a day.