Thursday, January 31, 2013

Walk Time!

She lets me know what she wants. She stands by the car door looking like a bulldog, legs planted, a demand in her eyes: I want a walk. I let her wait in the car while I finish my chores.

Then we walk. I was getting food at the bar at Square Grouper picking up my to go order when my former boss, who happened to be sitting on a stool, asked me: I see you walking a dog on Big Pine sometimes. Don't you live on Ramrod? Well yes, I replied as I signed the credit card tab, but my dog doesn't like the same walk twice. God forbid. My former boss looked at me in a way that I am learning to recognize. They think I indulge my dog. The thing is, in these islands you never know who sees what. I haven't worked at Fast Buck Freddie's in nearly nine years yet she remembers me...

Sometimes Cheyenne bites off more than she can chew on hot days when the walk goes on too long. On those occasions she sits down as is her right because her walks are her time. If the car is in sight she won't get up until I walk to the car and bring the chariot back to princess.

It's good to spoil your dog because your dog will always love you and won't take advantage of you. Your dog is forever yours and she deserves every little thing I can do for her. We should all get retirement like this.


Vespa Trials

I spent the past couple of afternoons covering my hands in black grease, smelling like gasoline and giving my Labrador an inferiority complex. While Cheyenne napped under the house, ignored by the scooter mechanic, who twiddled with the carburettor settings and exchanged incredibly helpful messages with a group of enthusiasts on the Modern Vespa forum. I am such a nerd.

The Vespa was strangled. The factory said in 1979 that it was good for 63mph maybe more and this one wasn't breaking 50mph. Shit. In desperation I got online and worried I'd get contradictory advice from people who couldn't get down to my level. I was wrong they came down to the dirt and showed me the way out of the no-performance hole.

It should have been dreary, trying this and trying that and worrying about seizing the two stroke motor and stopping and burning my fingers to pull the spark plug and check its condition. Luckily the weather was lovely, breezy, low humidity and eighty degrees.

They told me to drill holes in the air filter box. "There's a heart shape..." they said in printed messages. Drill a seven millimeter and a five millimeter hole, to " allow proper airflow," they added. Of course I did as I was told and of course the spark plug color became correct all of a sudden. From black and oily to dry and brown. Well bugger.

I'm a silly bugger, I should have known some silly people put a PX200 filter box that lacks the holes, on a P200E like mine that needs the holes, seen under the really big hole in the picture above. Make sure all bits of aluminum swarf are washed out of the box, they said. I washed the air filter like a madman washing blood off his hands. Then I went for a test ride.

It was lonely out on Dorn Road on Big Torch Key. The road winds eight miles through the mangroves and by the end there aren't even telephone poles. Just me and the Vespa and the poorly maintained asphalt with ripples. There was a deer momentarily but it didn't like the popping of the two stroke motor. An iguana got confused by the sound and I was enjoying the ride so much I chose not to even try to kill the bright green, flower eating bastard. Besides the lizard was a long way from my house.

Actually I was a long way from my house and if the intermittent electrical short that stopped the lights occasionally also stopped the motor it would have been a long walk home. At 230 pounds the P200E is considered a lightweight. Maybe, but try pushing that for ten sea level miles. I liked the steady popping sound of the twelve horsepower two stroke motor.

I should have stopped and checked the spark plug and all that stuff but the ride was fun, the wind was in my face and the grim visages of passing snowbirds dressed in spandex on bicycles twice as expensive as my antique were unable to get me down. I rode Vespa-style puttering at 45 miles per hour, wobbling through the corners and admiring the views.

The engine isn't perfect yet and there is some fiddling left to do but the Vespa nerds have pointed me in the right direction. And that electrical short has to be fixed though I'm buggered if I know how. Perhaps someone on Modern Vespa's Not-So-Modern forum will have an idea. For now I just want to enjoy knowing I own and can ride a piece of actual history.

Yup. That's my Vespa.

Night Watch

I took advantage of sleeping in town and walking Cheyenne before dawn to play with my phone camera. My pocket Canon takes pictures these days that my blogging applications for my iPad can't seem to digest, so I take my pictures with my phone and upload them to Picasa and from there these wretched iPad applications are happy to accept my pictures. I have no idea why this is but I have had to learn to adapt, and struggle to understand the camera in my Android phone. Sigh.

But I have to confess it's been interesting because I have learned that cellphone cameras have astonishing capabilities.

There are a huge number of effects one can induce at the push of a button, and some of those effects are bizarre and apparently without purpose. However I am learning to manipulate the camera and the desire to learn makes the instrument fascinating. The flash tends to be weak, with limited spread but it can be used to illuminate back lit subjects, just like a "real" camera.

Black and white is but a button away, as is sepia effect and Key West especially at night lends itself to these effects. The phone camera operates more like the human eye than any camera I have known. It has the ability to adapt astonishingly fast to an enormous amount of variety in the light and focal distances in all directions. This picture of Don's Place, a dive of a bar closed but with the televisions still flickering as the janitor prepared for a seven am opening. Yup you can sit at the bar and buy a beer at seven in the morning! I used to work with a woman who did just that. Key West was not good for her.

Crisp clear pictures as long as Cheyenne isn't tugging at the leash...

And the flurry of motion through the dark night captured as though by a proper camera.

So I have to ask myself: is this a proper camera?

I guess so. It has amazing depth of field, too much some times and I have trouble adapting the "close up" function to give pictures the depth of image that I want.

Yet I can take a picture of a For Rent signs with the greatest of ease and make the whole crazy message entirely legible in this format. $3000 a month pets considered, if you're a really good renter. For that price they should consider a menagerie.

Amd with the arrival of the dawn the funky all seeing eye of my telephone shows bright blues in the sky above and clarity of image in the world below. I have found contrast the hardest difficulty to overcome with this camera. A bright day plunges shadow into darkness and burns the sunlight or makes the darkness visible but the focus then overexposes the sunlight behind... I am coming to the conclusion some over or under exposure is inevitable in some pictures.

But learning to adapt to my telephone has been a wondrous journey, and now I hate to be without the Swiss Army Knife of the electronic world. I make calls, send texts, read websites, listen to distant radio stations carry a flashlight, navigate and take pictures.

And some come out quite nicely. What an electronic world we are privileged to live in. Imagined only in comic books when I was a boy.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Eaton Street

I have rumbled about gentrification on this page from time to time but every now and again when I look around I manage to find signs that the gentry are being kept well at bay in Key West. Check out the Coca Cola Bottling Complex off Simonton Street which aspires to looking nice in a bland sort of way but the details don't meet the standards set by suburban corporate America. Raggedy ass bushes, weeds and hosepipes. Hmm.

These excrescence would never be tolerated Ina town that cared about its appearance. My own aspirations in favor of gentrification get defaulted by these things because at heart I like the slightly chaotic. Disheveled mess that is Key West. As misplaced as it might be my feeling is that these public messes do actually express a certain civic rebelliousness that appeals to me.

Then you meet the occasional eccentric who is still hanging on to a modest life in the ever more expensive town. Here he came prancing down Eaton Street carrying his own leash in is mouth which I thought was a remarkable piece of self reliance. An example for all America to admire. His owner said he just started doing it and she decided he knew what he wanted. Cheyenne, more conventionally leashed was intrigued, even though she went to the wrong end to investigate.

You've heard end plaintive cry of the frustrated visitor asking where exactly is it that locals eat? I usually reply, only slightly sardonically, Outback because we can afford their prices. But there is this place to which I have to confess I have not been for several years, but that continues to operate in a very low key manner. I don't know if it's locals only, I doubt that as there is hardly a corner of this island that sells food in secret, but the Carriage Trade is particular. Check the menu, and you get what you are given.

You eat under the stars in this lovely rear garden, served by one owner while the other elderly gentleman, a real par of gentlemen actually, does the cooking.

Sometimes you'll see them watching the world going by from their porch, anticipating the delights they plan to serve up no doubt. I really have to get back there some Friday.

The Carriage Trade is still there, happily and the reputedly haunted theater is still there across the street, seen in the corner of the pictures above, while here below we see the ghost of Voltaire Books, gone too long ad saving us with only Island Books to fend off Amazon. Voltaire Books is now a gallery, one more place selling pictures. Voltaire's owner told the paper people perused the books and ordered them on Amazon. I did the reverse but not enough to keep the place open. Rats!

I went into the parking lot across Simonton Street hoping to see the Voltaire books reserved parking spots still labelled but parking is too previous to leave it hanging and the signs are gone. Nothing deterred Cheyenne started her clean up operation sniffing back and forth until she found a box of nachos (I think) to dispose of, as only she knows how.

I found this sign rather ironic, as I wondered where the sign was that required dogs to make sure they cleaned up aft their owners instead of letting them spill food everywhere...

Mind you this lot are pretty harsh, and those parking here for their devotions are most decidedly not welcome apparently. The church across the street has a couple of spots reserved on the street for services and my wife who is a Jew and not a Methodist likes to park there when no services are scheduled. However the church apparently is doing well in a town filled with churches and needs more parking. Not here.

It's a pretty church too, a touch of New England in Key West.

So, the book store came and went, the restaurant came and stayed, the gallery came and the church? There it is surveying the changes, and churches don't come and go do they? Even in this town of endless change.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Life In The City

We house sat and dog sat for a couple of nights. I was a resident of Key West for forty eight hours, and it wasn't all bad. I mean the house was nice, check out the breakfast nook.

I have this attraction repulsion to the idea of living in Key West itself thatbi have gone over previously. It was pleasant to be able to walk off the property and have my dog happily immerse herself in her favorite kind of walk, the urban kind. No putting her in the car and driving to some suburb to find her favorite walks. Here she hit the street running, nose down, tail wagging.

In the same way that migrants to Key West always cite the weather as one of their reasons for moving, the notion of the car as optional is another big draw for residents of this small town. For me of course the idea of not riding is a pain in the patootie because if I'm not commuting my riding time is limited. On the other hand while we lived in Old Town my commute went from 40 minutes to five. Count'em: 5. I left work at ten to six in the morning and Cheyenne and I were out walking at six o'clock sharp. At home on Ramrod I arrive around 6:35 load the dog and arrive at a good walking spot around 6:45. Hmm.

The dog sitting part of the equation I left to my wife who carefully measured the terriers' precise nutritional requirements and she took them for a walk while Cheyenne and I got some alone time. I have to admit the break in my routine was rather hard for me, but Cheyenne seemed to adapt just fine. My wife did okay too hosting a dinner party for a bunch of girlfriends.

I was impressed by the order of this lovely oasis of pool and hot tub, and abundant greenery which looks so much more ordered than my treehouse chaos. Turns out it takes elbow grease and some dude showed up with a bucket of soapy water and set to scrubbing the outdoors. I couldn't find the caffeine so I was gong through withdrawals and found his exertions astonishing.

We walked a lot which ended up being rather repetitive surprisingly enough. Over time I could I've stuffing Cheyenne in the car from time to time to vary the diet. She, like me, enjoys a routine but she does like to vary her walks. The other thing that was slightly odd was how exposed I felt. Minding my own beeswax Doug of This Week On The Island woke me from a reverie yelling to me across the street. That was fun, normally I just meet Lower Keys snowbirds who cross the street tugging their cheerful hounds who just want to frolic with my Labrador.

I saw the residents of Bonnie Albury's house admiring their handiwork, as well they might. The place is looking resplendent, and were Miz Albury to come back from the dead I don't supposeshe'd recognize her old pad. Perhaps it might remind her of her youth which is how it must have looked a century ago. She used to call the police department to sho away artists who thought her old pile worth painting and she thought they were intrusive louts. We always sent an officer to meet with the grand dame of Southard Street. I think of her every time I pass her home even though I never actually met her. I used to think about walking up to the door but she liked her privacy as much as I do and my job is to stay out of sight.

Not enough that Doug Bennett hailed me not once but twice in two days(!) I heard another voice asking ef I was Cheyenne's dad. Rob stopped and talked and had some interesing ideas about Key West as we stood in te street all neighborly in a way that seems hard to conceive on my street of grouchy old white men.

Here's another weird thing both my wife and I had no trouble at all parking close to the house. You'd think parking would be unobtainable in Old Town the way some people moan about it but we had no trouble coming back to the same spots day after day. And there were plenty of open spaces nearby. It helps that we have Monroe County tags so we can park in residential spots but it was not crowded.

We talk about wat it would be like we're we to move back to Key West itself. I missed the unrise and sunset on my commutes which I agree are an indulgence. The time I saved not riding I put to good enough use but I am lucky that working at night I get lots of time to myself anyway. I like the peace and quiet of my stuffy suburban neighborhood and the privacy of my tree house and if that means an expedition to get downtown to a movie or a play or a concert. It was fun though, being a city resident for a couple of days. Maybe I should have bitched more about chickens neighbors and all those other things that city dwellers moan about. I enjoyed myself too much.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Outward Bound With Andrew

I have no idea why I stopped to pick up the wiry young man on the side of the road. Even as I slowed the car on the stretch of US One approaching Big Pine from the south I was looking in my mirror wondering how many slow pokes would nudge past me while I played the Good Samaritan with some junior league alcoholic hitching a free ride. For some reason I stopped and let him hop in and the gods were on my side for he was an interesting companion for the ninety minute ride to his destination, outside the Key Largo Publix at Mile Marker 101. 25 year old Andrew is spending the winter in the Upper Keys teaching youngsters the joys of open boat sailing from the Pennekamp State Park base of Outward Bound.
I didn't know much about the modern Outward Bound but after I got home I looked them up and these days they have 40 bases around the world to teach wilderness survival and teamwork and leadership to adults and kids. Andrew works with another instructor and takes a load of kids out on an open thirty foot sailboat for a matter of days or weeks putting up a tent over the boat each night! They live off one car battery for minimal electrical use, no cell phones and no boat motor. I remarked that the experience was probably going to leave its mark on those youngsters for life. Andrew does similar work in Maine in the summer at another Outward Bound school. He also has plans to go home to Long Beach, California where he crews on a square rigger taking students sailing in California's Channel Islands.

Andrew lives in Key Largo in employee housing, has no car and admits there isn't much to do on his few days off. He got a ride with a colleague to Key West the day before and was hitchinging, successfully, back home. Had he failed to make the ride he was planning on sleeping rough using his "bivvy" contained in his rather diminutive pack, which along with a bright red ukulele was his only sign of luggage. It made me realize how old I am when I shuddered at the thought of sleeping in bushes alongside Highway One with no wheels at my side. I enjoy roughing it when riding my motorcycle but I feel like I am master of my fate with my machine at my side. On foot, in an urban agglomeration it seems a whole different thing.

It's funny but I have always treasured having wheels even before I came to the States where a pedestrian outside Key West is the lowest form of life. I never hitch hiked when I was a youngster as I would rather ride my motorcycle through a rain storm than ride a train, when I had a choice. I remember taking a course in south London when I was in my twenties and the ride from my father's house where I lived for free for the duration was about thirty minutes, which was pretty hairy when snow was on the ground and I rode feet down sliding like a sleigh. Better that than on foot!

He said it can get cold and wet on the boat but the idea is to toughen up the students and let them make their own mistakes which helps them grow. And Andrew himself is growing, taking his time, enjoying life, working outside a career path with the full backing of his family. We had an interesting time talking about sailing, discussing anchorages and generally being nerdy about boats and life. Like any sport or activity if you know what you are talking about your listener knows, and with sailing its easy to spot a fake such is the peculiar language of boating. Ours wasn't a conversation about bragging rights as I told him about my experiences traveling and he told me about his much less selfish experiences passing on the love of sail to a new generation. I was sorry to see him go, which he did faster than I could take a picture, which I knew was going to happen which is why I snagged a picture in the car as we rode down the highway together exchanging ideas.

It actually was better than listening to the radio, and for me that's saying a lot.
Outward Bound - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia