Saturday, May 31, 2014

My Czech Friend, A Jawa 350 Hack


Years ago when I was a youngster riding exotic Italian motorcycles in England there were quite a few cheap East European imports, MZ two strokes from East Germany and Jawa motorcycles from Czechoslovakia. The Berlin Wall came down and all the economic advantages of Communist imports evaporated with the countries they came from. Except...MZ came back as a German brand with modern machines and were even imported briefly to he US. Jawa on the other hand is still going strong with a niche market in England, much the way the Indian brand Royal Enfield is creating its own niche in the First World. Of course a two stroke 350cc twin is not going to set the US on fire  but when I saw this picture on Real Classics I was reminded once again how nostalgic I am getting about motorcycles in my old age. A Jawa 350 is good for 80 miles per hour flat out, but with a sidecar, I wonder if it will cruise at 60? Cheyenne and I aren't lightweights either...

Classic Motorcycle News
If you desire three wheels on your wagon and are seeking traditional style, then F2 Motorcycles have just the job: their new Jawa Retro Sidecar Combination. This uses the current Jawa 350 Retro two-stroke motorcycle matched with a purpose-designed all-steel sidecar. The sidecar is mounted high and with very little axle lead, a set-up much loved back in the golden days of the sidecar. Back then bikes were relatively slow, so lightweight, low speed steering was more important than high speed straight line stability. Modern sidecars tend to be mounted lower and much further forward, but F2 wanted to recreate the feel as well as the look of yesteryear's outfits.

The outfit as pictured costs  6200 pounds in England, almost ten grand in the US, though I have noticed over the years that prices tend to be equal in each market so I'd like to think that in the US if this delight ever came here -not likely!- it might cost $6200. That would be interesting... And if you are in the tiny minority that might agree check this page out: Jawa UK

My buddy Jiri, he who keeps my two wheelers  running at his shop on Stock Island grew up near Brno in Czechoslovakia under Soviet rule and he longed for the bikes I was able to see and ride in the West. Nowadays he likes to ride on the track at Homestead  and elsewhere and his engine of choice is a four cylinder Japanese classic style. He is not fond of two strokes, so while he thinks my preference for the twin cylinder Bonneville is eccentric, my desire for a two stroke Vespa fills him with horror. I call it my Trabant, the infamous two stroke East German car, the greatest wheels a Communist citizen could aspire to in the years before 1989. 

So, yes, my desire for Jawa 350 Retro is  nothing more than a fantasy. but for those too young to remember two stroke touring bikes, simplicity was their virtue, and the older I get the more simplicity seems desirable. Hence my desire for my two stroke Vespa, which I hope will become real in a  few short weeks.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Out With The Old, In With The New

Our home is empty, we have flown the nest, that housed us for the past decade. Good bye little tree house.
The interior one bears only the anonymous improvements my wife oversaw, new sheet rock on the walls properly painted, bamboo flooring properly scratched by Cheyenne.
A kitchen we never got round to modernizing and that towards the end showed signs of a lot of wear.
The exterior too needs attention, but we were loathe to spend money on a project the bank was unwilling to renegotiate with us.
It was a long hard slog, taking down the pictures, moving the detritus of twenty years of marriage and ten of occupancy.
We were lucky that the heavy lifting coincided with a two week period of cool breezes and low humidity.
Cheyenne throughout hung on to her habits, staying in her favorite spots while mournfully watching us dismantle our lives.
I suspect she was dumped at the SPCA as her military family packed for their move out of Key West and the prospect of jail loomed large in her mind, as the furniture and fittings disappeared...
She is adapting to her new home and as the days go by and she resumes her routine in a new place and she seems to be calming down. Mind you we humans are also learning to adapt to the monumental changes wrought upon us.
They say boats take maintenance but let me tell you fiberglass is indestructible in salt air. Wooden houses are not...termites, spalling, warping, you name it.
The realtor had a reputation which preceded her, so in proper local tradition she won a nickname in my head as I tried to vote with her. Cruella was as brusque as she was tart and not in a good way, so I suppose it's little wonder she works for the banks as buying a house from her would require a buyer with a hide as thick as an elephant's. We got the house empty and clean well before the eviction deadline.
My wife said the hardest part was saying good bye to the bits she had overseen herself. I remember the old Cuban tile layer was seriously puzzled when we asked him to put random fish tiles we had found into the new bath tub design...but he got into when we handed them to him and you'd him to stick them in at random. He got a laugh out of that.
750 square feet isn't a lot to empty but it was full of our life.
The new place is bigger and has a fantastic loft where we can store crap we aren't immediately using, winter clothes and motorcycle parts and the like. I live in hope that our drawers and shelves will be less crammed with stuff.
Indies Zroad had a lovely view across the salt ponds to the west on a Ramrod Key. That we shall miss.
My wife thought the realtor brought us here in 2004 at sunset to admire the view, and maybe she's right.
In the debris I found a picture of me with no gray hair and my cruising mentor Bob Unanski, who died not long after he stopped sailing. We met in Mexico in 1998 and sailed together on and off through Central Anerica to Panama from California. He helped us through the canal and we sailed together through the mosquito coast of the Western Caribbean. His widow has remarried and we last saw Barb happy in a new inland relationship in Arkansas. This picture taken before a sunset cruise in Key West brought back a flood of memories. We were so different in our backgrounds, and politics, and so similar in our sense of humor and curiosity.
Out with the old! Away with the barbecue from this deck...
To its new home on another deck:
Cheyenne is not a huge fan of stilt house living:
And unfortunately the new place us a bit higher off the ground with more steps. But she is still game, good girl:
The canal at our place was an absolute highway filled with yahoos playing loud music and kicking up wakes as they roared by all day in clouds of exhaust smoke.
Even on Memorial Day weekend our new canal is hardly rippled by the passage of any boats which means a quick swim before work is much more possible. The house on the corner is not occupied.
I will miss the wide open area under the house, our new place has less room but adequate. Indies Road was extravagant:
We were lucky to get the new place, a combination of factors were at play including my wife monitoring Craig's List all the time. She sent in our application 12 minutes after the ad appeared. Then we agreed to see the place that evening. A cop lives two doors down and he gave our landlord a recommendation. And we had five grand ready to move in. The rental market is brutally tight, even in the Lower Keys and we are very lucky as our landlord who lives in Miami is very pleasant and decent and Cheyenne is welcome.
The boxes are moved but the process of organizing will take several more days.
Slowly does it, as things find a home, then my wife ponders the choice, makes a change and tries again. My Asperger's is screaming but I keep reminding myself this state of confusion isn't permanent and we are working toward a goal.
Finally Cruella was satisfied and we got a check to vacate which my wife says can go in part toward the annual tune up of the Bonneville, on which subject of motorcycle riding, the new home means a shorter commute, by four miles and close to ten minutes for me.
It has taken time and energy but in the end we count ourselves lucky inasmuch as our new place will be comfortable and offers a serene and enjoyable place to live. You may remember I was musing about living in Key West itself months ago when it became apparent this change was in the offing, but I actually enjoy my commute with views over the water and a daily chance to take my motorcycle or my scooter out for a ride. Rents are cheaper out here, not by much but you get full sized homes on full sized lots with full modern conveniences.
Add to that the ambient silence, the access to saltwater, the ease of parking, the low crime rate and to me this is what Keys living is about. A beer on my deck is cheaper than a beer at Sloppy Joe's, and the view is better.
Well, it will be once we get organized!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Summer, A Time For Cannon Or Kayaks.

Memorial Day is come and gone and soon schools will be out and those families with bread winners still employed will take vacations. Till then there is parking, you can drive Highway One in the not entirely unreasonable expectation of not being held at or below the speed limit and visits to the grocery store are likely to be an easy amble among friends and less like a competitive shopping show on television.

The newspaper says the Boulevard is supposed to be finished in less than two months, but for now when I come into town I usually take Flagler to First Street to avoid interminable lines. But homeward the way out of town is usually clear on the Boulevard at six in the morning, so I use the wreckage of the main drag to start the 23 mile ride to Cudjoe Key. Which route takes me past the photo above. The cannon at the VFW post isn't actually there to test the theory that at certain times of year you can shoot it and not hit anyone. Or if it is, I've never seen it used that way.

I sought out certain pictures during my lunch break for an online game of scooter tag, which ends up seeing me taking pictures in the dark owing to my devotion to organizing the new house in daylight hours. Above the conch shell at Key West High School and below one more Cuban coffee shop, authentically Cuban, as though a corner of Havana in Habana Plaza. During the day old Cuban dudes sit and watch the world go by as they are served bucchis by another grumpy looking Cuban dude. They actually remind me of the bars in the villages of my childhood. I'd pull up on my Vespa looking for an ice cream cone and all the old Italian men would swivel their heads in unison to stare down the teenager and his noisy scooter. It's four decades later and a different continent but nothing much has changed. When I lived on a boat I did my laundry next door and they stared at me just as much. If you want a coffee shop tourists don't know it is, miles from the mainstream.

Summertime is swimming time. My neighbors, who are nice -what a concept!- tell me the canal is good for fishing and swimming. I've seen a fair number of mangrove snapper but they are safe from me as I am no angler. Desperation may one day make me a fisherman, but not yet. Robert has helped me move by loaning me his big trailer and taking my ignored boat and motor under his wing. He tells me next week we may be launching...the summer is looking good!

Cheyenne is settling into our new home and my wife is getting her kitchen organized and, did I mention it? I am looking forward to summer in the Keys.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Key West, The End Of The Road

I took the title of this essay from my first picture shown here, which I made at the end of Blimp Road, not far from our new home on Cudjoe Key. I heard voices coming from the mangroves and expected to see kayakers rounding the corner coming back to their pickup truck. Instead a group of pedestrians came splashing back, long necks in hand. So, if you want to go boating and really save money forget paddling - try walking!
I posted this next picture on my Facebook page, a place for occasional, real time pictures, not words. I am no longer surprised by the ability of Key West to handle professional idlers. Visitors don't handle them so well, many call 911 freaked out and the more I try to reassure them the less they believe me that we handle these people. Memorial Weekend saw lots of people in town and many of them were freaked out by the drunks and it occurred to me that this is my normal. I'm sorry if you come to Key West and see bums (and visitors) passed out. It's not the best part of living here. It just is what happens daily in a frost-free zone devoted to the sybaritic pleasures of the hangover.
In one way or another almost all people here work to please the visitors and even though their grammar syntax and spelling sometimes leave something to be desired, the work gets done. Need your bags stored? Look for them at the turminal...
It's been a long weekend for those of us that worked in the police department, and we in dispatch always short staffed. I think a lot of people in town this holiday weekend had fun, and we workers make our fun where we find it between urgent calls. We have a new trainee starting soon in dispatch, the sole survivor of the last batch of six applicants and I was musing out loud about how the entire city operates when we can't fill our ranks in a job with livable pay, great benefits, and good hours. How I wondered do employers hire people who are paid half what we get, no sick leave, paid vacation, old fashioned pension plan and proper health benefits?
My young colleagues are fast food connoisseurs, not that they don't eat at sit down restaurants but they know the lay of the land in those places that serve food in a bag in a hurry. How do they find staff? Not well they said to me, I who don't eat at drive throughs much. There followed stories of crazy food orders filled by staff who seemed to lack a clue...Veggie flat bread replaced in the bag by a sausage croissant...Want cream in your coffee? Don't count on it...Hash browns half cooked and half frozen and dumped in the bag so they cover everything else... I love the stories, told through laughter by my colleagues interrupted by phone calls and radio traffic, sentences dropped and picked up as work allowed. The stories remind me that Key West sometimes tries to imitate the mainland but it doesn't quite work. Yes it's a franchise, but not quite the way you might expect.
If you want fast food the range is limited, Wendy's, McDonald's, Burger King, Dairy Queen, IHOP, Denny's, Dunkin Doughnuts, and a couple of sit down chains TGIF and Outback. When I'm on the mainland I like to try stuff not available here, ethnic mostly, like Indian or Vietnamese, but my coworkers crave places I am not familiar with, Sonic, Chipotle, Macaroni Grill and the homophobe chicken place. I think a lot of it has to do with craving what you don't have, a weird human genetic flaw that crops up in the most unexpected places.
There are those who think living at the end of the road is a privilege, as if longevity and eccentricity confer status. It's a nice conceit in a society that on the whole prefers to venerate wealth and fame and beauty. Dropping out is a suitable alternative for those who like to answer the question "Do you live here?" In the affirmative. When asked I reply that I work here but live up the road. I ruminated on this page a few months ago about living in Key West itself but my wife and I decided upon mature reflection that life in the city conferred few advantages and more disadvantages. Saving money by not commuting was negated when my wife hit a job in Marathon. The ability to visit bars without driving is not much use to us and we still get into town enough to let us feel connected, yet apart. Writing this overlooking our canal with no sounds of sirens or planes or traffic is an immense privilege in a world filled with noise.
When I lived in California similar pride of place was expressed by incomers who described themselves as refugees from reality who could go no further west in their efforts to escape snow or regimentation in uncomprehending families or cruel fate (unspecified). I liked the mountains close by the sea, the woods and the acceptance in a community where everyone had migrated and where one was from, mattered not at all. I was young and liked living in town where the lights and the girls and the events and culture were. In Key West one of the hardest cultural differences to overcome for me was the mixing of locals, winter residents and visitors in a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of people. In Santa Cruz tourists drove off the freeway, down Ocean Avenue in a constant stream and spent the day at the beach boardwalk. We locals lived separate lives, in other places close but separate. There were no locals' discounts to differentiate us. In Key West there is no separation, the end of the road bags everyone in one small place.
We may not have fast food but there is a hospital, not much respected in some quarters, and the ambulances run back and forth much as they do anywhere in this US. Phones work like they do where you live and packages are delivered with no island surcharge. I find it difficult to disentangle the ordinary from the unexpected, I find it hard to know what outsiders see as unusual anymore. Too often the end of the road is sold as a permanent vacation, but as my idea of time is to explore, not drink in a bar, I am occasionally at a loss yo know how visitors see this little town. It's sold as a drinking town so I am surprised when people get astonished by the sight of the inevitable effects of excess. The ambulances are there for them too.
Making do with less is I think the theme of life here. It's unAmerican to conserve we are told, in the face of declining resources worldwide, and technology will save the lifestyle of conspicuous consumption we love. But in Key West large homes are rare, cars are optional, and high prestige cars mean not much in town where they can' the serviced. If you have a sense of balance and can ride two wheels conservation comes naturally, not labeled as a (subversive) lifestyle. My dentist rides a scooter to work. Don't be surprised to see women formally dressed and in heels riding through town. Bicycles do manual labor. It's not a response to climate change and the certainty of rising oceans, it's just a sensible response to local conditions.
Making do with less is a seductive mantra isn't it? It's not easy to do, I'll tell you that. I thought my wife and I were living compact until we moved, and boy, I moved tons of boxes to get us into our new place. The end of the road is a place of paradox, more so than most places I've seen. You'd think that by living close to the edge the principles of conservation, ecology and preservation would be not just a priority but a way of life. Oddly enough it's not. Some people get it, but those who live here to escape aren't necessarily interested in the state of the reef, or how to improve the trash stream. Just waking up daily is achievement enough in a town with an absurd cost of living, and where the seduction of pleasure outweighs the seduction of conservation. Hang overs cost real money on Duval Street.
I doubt I can achieve the proper Buddhist state of letting go, but I do try to live mindfully, enjoying what I can while trying not to let the outside world bother me, and it does. It bothers me that we as one of the richest nations can't work together for the general welfare, what the Founders intended as the most good for the most people. Jesus told us to be our brother's keeper, despite Cain's contempt for the idea, to be mindful of the least among us, (Acts of the Apostles 20:35) but we seem collectively to do a piss poor job of that, preferring to believe that least among us are a pain in our collective rear end, which they are! Freedom is our watchword, but freedom to live on the streets seems rather harsh to me in a world of declining jobs and increasingly expensive energy.
Yet Florida has a solid budget, Key West is trundling along, and our new home has two bathrooms and a solid dock on a canal quieter and cleaner than the one we used to live on. What's not to like? Besides my county seat is inhabited by people who still know how to wield a dustpan and brush in public places. Self reliance, old world style:

I don't live here, I walk my dog here, I work here, I visit friends here and I get entertained here. Tomorrow I'm having lunch here. Come on down, the end of the road is lovely, warts and all.