Monday, June 30, 2014

Fire Adapted Dog and Illicit Lumber

When on the road with wife and dog I am tempted to envy those among us who get to ride motorcycles. At the same time 1800ccs of raw power, a cup of cola and a backwards baseball cap aren't quite my style... In Fort Myers where I photographed him he was run-of-the-mill.

We decided that if this trip was going to be memorable we were going to friend-hop so Ft Myers we saw Jeffrey and Jessica again over Indian food. Great. But ending day two saw us still in Florida. Unheard of! We usually cover huge miles to get out of Flatistan. Not this time. Our next friend is Jack Riepe of Twisted Roads fame, for lunch Monday in New Jersey and that rendezvous was going to require some serious I-95 mile mashing. Poor Cheyenne finds riding the back seat, even turned into a broad couch, to be rather tedious as she can't see out very easily. However she is patient and is rewarded with walks all day long. Some of the Interstate rest areas outside Florida are quite wild...

We got to Florence, South Carolina arounf 2:45pm which was lucky as the Long Grain Café closes at three on Sundays and we slid into our booth in time to order lunch.

Layne found this place her usual way, hunting through her restaurant apps while I drove. There were cops everywhere on the freeway and they were pulling people over like high school monitors in the hallway. Still people galloped and I tucked in behind the big pick up trucks in my low profile Fusion sedan. So far I haven't got pulled over. Nice.

The Long Grain Cafe got tons of positive reviews for its southern food though the place looked intriguingly like a converted Chinese restaurant.

My wife hot grilled chicken, full of flavor and not even slightly dry accompanied by some peculiar but delicious broccoli pancakes which were delicious mixing two delicious yet apparently incompatible flavors. The mac and cheese baked in a dish was okay but nothing like a maccheroni dish I would expect to be served.

My grilled pork chop was delicious, thin and covered in a savory gravy. Of course I got long grain rice, collard greens and the oddest small red beans packed with flavor. A great dish.

Our lunch including the endless iced tea, sweetened of course, normally a forbidden sugar drink for us, yet delicious was $18. Outside we saw a woman packing her SUV with food. I think she was the chef because I didn't notice a to go purchase during lunch. I wanted to congratulate her for lunch but I was shy.

We drive through parts of Florence that were landscaped, filled with trees and shady avenues...and we left by a different route, thanks to the phone GPS that sent us through a more well worn neighborhood. I was racing to get to the restaurant before it closed so I got no pictures but I did get photos on the way out.

Some Main Street or other! Buggered if I know what. My wife was checking the signs as we aimed for the freeway and as we passed a billboard she said out loud with a deep note of puzzlement "Fire...Adapted...Dog...?" No silly, as we passed the second such:

FireAdapted.Org some sort of wildfire prevention program. Then we passed a construction yard, "Illicit Lumber? " she queried. I think she was in some sort of collard coma as there was nothing actually illicit about Elliott Lumber. Florence was getting a bad rap from my comatose wife. We left.

On the way to the freeway entrance we saw a hub cap store. Talk about enterprising!

Soon enough we passed the South of the Border nonsense just south of the north Carolina stateline, and as seemed to be happening too much so far on this trip we had to press on, no stopping. I will, one day visit South Of The Border ~ America’s Favorite Highway Oasis and enjoy the kitsch.

Our goal was La Quinta in Norfolk, Virginia and we had hours of tedious driving, eighty miles per hour in stretches varying between 65 and 70 mph. There were no cops on this stretch but I stuck to hiding behind the speed demons in the SUVs watching like a hawk when the way ahead was clear. In the Spring when I got stopped for 70 in a 55 in the Outer Banks I got plenty of ear ache from my wife. Not this time. I've been pulled over in Panama, Croatia, Grand Cayman and Bosnia on various vacations so Herself has come to expect it. Not this time I insist.

Of course when we arrived at the hotel we were stuck behind people who never heard of booking in advance and the sole clerk had to cope with their particulars and foibles before doing our instant check in.

And so to bed. What a tedious way to travel! Making miles....Tuesday will be much better, destination Boston.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

From The Archives: Nicaragua 2009

I was mulling over a bunch of photographs my wife took on her vacation in Nicaragua and I thought she took some street scenes that might be of interest. Nicaragua is a rated as the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere, wedged between Haiti at the bottom of the list and Honduras one step above Nicaragua. So street scenes here have a flavor that tends to be quite different from suburbia USA. Not all people have actual wheels to get around so they end up walking. When my wife and I were sailing down Nicaragua's Pacific Coast a decade ago we walked a ton too, though not usually with a load on our heads:The US influence is obvious on the streets, the yellow lane paint, the green road signs and the fact gas is sold by the galon, not the liter. A new sight on the roads that caught my wife's eye were these Bajaj three wheeler taxis, based on the Italian Ape of years past:The more traditional cab is a multi-purpose pick up truck hauling people and stuff, and they don't spare the weight as economy is critical when you live in the second poorest nation in the hemisphere:Nicaragua is fixed in the average American mind, if there is any consciousness about the place at all, as the place where the Sandinista revolution took over the government 20 years ago and President Reagan instituted a Counter Revolutionary War to win back the country for capitalism.Those days are long past and Nicaragua has been at peace long enough it's difficult for an outsider to see any signs of that civil war. Nowadays it's a matter of working long enough and hard enough to make ends meet. The Danish government built some pretty decent roads across the country more than a decade ago and they are still there. The trick was the Danes sent their own engineers to Nicaragua to see that the money was spent on the actual project so the main roads are really quite excellent:Earning a living is tough when there isn't work and Nicaraguans have to be adaptable and tough to try to figure out how to earn some cordobas, (20 to the dollar, roughly). Imagine earning minimum wage standing out in the sun all day doing cleaning windshields rather than take charity:I find the anti-immigrant rants in the US to be extraordinarily uninformed. Granted these people who seek to make some money in the US don't have papers, but they don't come to the US for charity either. These are people that work:One aspect of Nicaragua that always intrigued me was the legacy of Sandinismo, the leftist ideology that left behind a series of social reforms that make Nicaragua one of the more progressive peasant societies in Central America. It's modest stuff, regulated hours and conditions on the job with some protections against arbitrary firing, but it's revolutionary in this part of the world.
The World Bank has figured out that Nicaragua has the 14th most "free "economy of 29 in the Americas and is almost 70% "free" which I suppose means capitalist. And there they are out there beavering away as best they can:
It would be hard to imagine threading one's way through this sort of rush hour traffic on a motorcycle if you were used to the orderly flow of North American streets:And even though it looks romantic, a horse and buggy isn't the most efficient way to travel, unless of course you can't afford the cost of gas:In Key West pedi-cabs are a tourist attraction, in the provincial capital of Rivas they are actual taxis:And where would be without a picture of the local fuzz? If stimulus money doesn't stimulate I wonder how long it will be before Key West officers are "protecting and serving paradise" with less than pristine cars? It seems we are all a recession away from being on the ropes, so one can only imagine what local government budgets look like down there:And there's another Bajaj doing sterling work hauling people and their chattels:
A one horsepower cab:
A one horsepower pick up:
One feature of street life in Nicaragua (and other Latin American countries) are these gruesome noise pollution devices. They trundle around town advertising in loud horribly distorted voices, or alternatively they can be hired to announce political races or new city ordinances and the like.
And yes these countries do have helmet laws, though brain surgery here would be a bargain compared to getting the noggin reassembled stateside. And before you sneer at the level of private medical care in these countries remember the doctors here trained in the US and Europe and nursing care is amazingly affordable. Rely on Key West Diary to waggle your stereotypes.I've driven in all these countries at one time or another and I've found traffic to be no worse than anyplace else. It's a matter mostly of getting in the flow and remembering the basic right-of-way rule in all developing countries: whoever has the biggest wheels gets to go first. And whatever you do, don't get in a wreck because then your worst stereotypes will all come true!


Singing to Jeffrey's Tune said...
Consider my stereotype's waggled. Great post.
Allen Madding said...
The last two pictures include scooters - the first has two up riders. one would think the cheaper 50cc scooters would thrive in this society.

I am warmed that they embrace the pedicab. Some where in Nicaragua is your compatriot who is contemplating launching a blog, recommending sites to see, places to stay, places to eat, and providing pedal-cab tours of the countryside. I wish him great entrepreneurial success.

Jack Riepe said...
Dear Sir:

I am confused. Looking at the map. I cannot find Nicaragua Key. While I see many things that remind me of Key West in these pictures (i.e. battered and aged scooters ripe for Sargeant Pepper-type paiting and neighborhoods and lifestock in the streets), everyone does seem to emp[loyed in doing something useful. Is this another kind of bizarro Key West festival?

Also, yesterday's blog seemed to contain a note from your wife, who is under the impression you are "funny." Can you chect to see if she meant "humorous" or "peculiar." (I'm running a pool with several other posters and I'd like to collect soon.)

And congratulations on your new tour operation. Will it include the nude beach? (Bob Skoot was too shy to ask.)

Fondst regards,
Jack "reep" Toad
Twisted Roads
Anonymous said...
Riepe: $20 on "peculiar".

blameitonbuffett said...
...Jack's post just reminded me...

It seems that the A.S.S./F.I.S.T. collaboration wasn't as smooth as we had all hoped, though we're working towards the same end (namely the nude beach and "boobs and bugs"--copyright Jeffrey).

We expect that investors will help to lubricate the process, however, we may be forced to focus our attention elsewhere.

We have an attache communicating as we speak with the Nicaraguan Institute for Protected Serendipity (N.I.P.S.). We hope to clamp them down to an answer by the end of the month.. As always, I'll keep you all posted....
bobskoot said...
Mr Conchscooter:

I would just love to have a Bajaj, or an Ape, or a Tuk Tuk but they don't allow them here. Our Government has something against 3 wheeled vehicles. Now that Chrysler has been bought by Fiat, perhaps there will be a Topolino or Fiat 500 in my future

Nice story and very interesting pictures. Thank you to Mrs Conchscooter

bobskoot: wet coast scootin
Conchscooter said...
My wife is losing her, mind: she thinks you lot are funny. We're on a road trip and I think the stress of being trapped for days in a car with me is causing her to lose her mind. Someone explain to riepe where Nicaragua is, else he too will go mad. Writing on an iPhone is exhausting.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

PS: I Love You Key West

Today is the first day of vacation, three glorious weeks alone on the road with Layne and Cheyenne, no 911 calls, no cops, no commuting, no nothing of the daily grind. It's my turn to be the lost tourist,and I promise to pull over to let the locals by if I am holding them up as I lose my way far from home pottering through New England. The Fusion has fresh oil and clean transmission fluid, the tires are new and the interior is clean and we start our adventure safe in the knowledge we leave the house in the care of friends and neighbors on our new street where we actually like the people who live next door. With the house sat, the plants watered and the boat in Robert's capable hands we are set to leave town and think of very little except what a great country we live in and what lovely places we have to explore.
That it takes 12 hours to get out of Flatistan and the flat parts of Georgia is one of the drawbacks to living in the southernmost tip of Florida. Even though on this trip we are driving straight through, I am one of those people who has learned to enjoy the flat bits; Central Florida is an amazing place, flat but filled with cowboys, forests, rolling hills, weird towns and odd landmarks, a few of which I have illustrated in this blog. Below we see the lovely Rooftop Cafe, romantic (read expensive) dinner ambiance over a craptastic t-shirt shop. The contrasts of Key West, a flat city with a knobbly personality.
I saw this poster outside Red Fish Blue Fish, a tourist trap I'd recommend to no one unless you like fried food of a certain type, and I looked over the poster while Cheyenne sniffed something delicious at ground level. There, I thought to myself are all the activities associated with Key West in the minds of visitors, and  I have nothing to do with any of them. Nice work. Great blog. Very informative.
The parts of Key West that interest me keep cropping up as I walk around town, as I read the paper, as I listen to conversations and talk to people. I find the town fascinating from an observer's perspective because it is a city in transition, and yet remains a town filled with contradictions. In a country that equates quality with uniformity and exact replication Key West  trots off in the opposite direction, sometimes maddeningly so. Homeless? No problem!  
There was some bright spark, I don't remember who that wanted to turn this burned out ugly-ass wreck on Mallory Square, prime tourist country into a little restaurant. The excuse was as I recall that it was too small but I also seem to recall potential neighbors with much more muscle decided competition was not the American way in this case. Application squashed and the wreck lingers on in prime tourist attraction zone. How many tourist towns do you know love their moldering wrecks like this?
And across the way we have Key West harbor, lovely and what people look at when the sun sets and their turn their backs on the wreckage behind their backs. I love the tourist literature that spouts off about Key West's "world famous sunset." Really? Is it different from everybody else's? Advertising is weird.
Of course this is a town that struggles to combine wild drinking, part of its reputation, with history, literature and exceptional weather. The wild drinking requires massive clean up every morning and when I'm out with Cheyenne on early mornings after a night off work I see a lot of city workers charging around blowing sweeping and cleaning. They don't get as well as I do and I admire them for their physical labor in the heat even early in the mornings. People leave foul messes behind too when they are drunk.
More stupid t short shops, marring a pretty building, a landmark downtown known to anyone who has walked the upper end of Duval. I winder how these places stay in business when monthly rents on Duval are usually more than $30,000. It Italy they'd be getting audited to see if their tax returns matched their expenses. The Italian tax man is a lot less trusting than in the US where these places supposedly support their monstrous expenses month after month selling knick knacks. While defacing our lovely downtown at the same time.
Want to hazard a guess how much this jewelry stand might rent for? Too much is the correct answer.
This excessively long essay is my good bye my home town while I go off to explore parts to me unknown. I have crossed the Sahara desert with a motorcycle, I took the Great Siberian Railway across the Soviet Union in 1981 and I have navigated the Panama Canal on my own sailboat but I have never visited New England. Which should make me wonder where my priorities are. So as we drive through verdant mountainous twisty New England in July I shall look around and see if farting t-shirts are popular in resorts Up North.
I thought this window sign was funny. I don't think most people would have the nerve to actually shoot someone, despite the bluster. Mind you anything that keeps my workload down... The promise of violence is everywhere as though waving a gun around solves anything. I know people who can't leave home without worrying about where there gun is. All those off the wall places I've traveled? Never had a gun, never wanted one.
Then, when you least expect it Key West manages to look pretty. People drive down the Keys without doing their homework and all they see is the wreckage of no urban planning from Mile Marker 112 to Mile marker 2, and sometimes to my amazement people give up without checking out streets like these:
Yeah, I know, warm weather year round brings out the less able, the unmotivated, the residentially challenged, in a country that prefers not operate mental institutions. Better to spend the money blowing up Iraq to no visible purpose than taking care of our own. But behind the facade of indifference Key West does a lot for the poor, the medically indigent, the smelly and the unemployed.  
Its a town where tourists struggle to fit in, and where to be a local is some inexplicable merit badge, where riding a bicycle is cool, especially if it is a substitute for a car and not expensive, and where visitors emulate locals. Yet when they go home these people lunge for the keys to their cars, and  slip straight back into normal. I will miss my two wheeled life, my canal, my malfunctioning boat,the heat, the tourists dressing down to fit in. I shall feel out of place in communities where pink Crocs are weird. Mine will stay at home, even though I see tons of people visiting wearing lurid colored faux running shoes.  
I amble these streets and wonder how these urchins manage to stay alive and functioning after a fashion dealing with the boredom of a life without purpose. This guy marched past me so fast I could barely catch him with my phone camera. Homeless? Dunno. But he looked young and used up and I wondered what talents lay hidden under his disheveled slice of life.
I read Richard Machida's Blog so when I saw this poster at Tattoos and Scars, a bar with an unlikely name I wondered what the mild mannered scientist gets up to in his other life.
Here's a Judge who recently fell asleep on the bench in mid-trial. Yet they plan to vote for him anyway. Are they paying attention? Was he?
Key West is a town that attracts some two and a half million visitors a year, many of them arrive by car thanks to the ribbon of asphalt that makes of these islands a peninsula. And when they arrive they struggle to find parking and then they struggle to manage the ticket machines which have instructions in four languages. You have to give them credit for persistence. I wonder how I will cope Up North. Can I plead ignorance of Maine's parking laws?
The State of Florida will be changing the shape of vehicle tags next year. The plan they tell us is to make them flat so cameras can photograph them more easily which is news I do not find encouraging. I'd rather be stopped by an officer of he law than punished by a camera. However along with those changes we lose our county designations, an option on current tags. That means that at last the city will have to change how it assigns "Residential parking" spaces as currently a "Monroe" labeled tag gets you the right to sue these spaces. Change never stops. Anyone know where this letter is located? First right answer gets a raspberry.
Cheyenne is a pig, but luckily I saw her eyeing the oblivious tourist's packed lunch. Its getting rather hot for my Labrador so she has taken to her summer habit of dunking herself in puddles which means walks end in showers for my patient dog. Luckily we took our outdoor shower from Ramrod Key to our home on Cudjoe Key in our recent move.
Stores open and close in Key West and everyone complains about the cost of living, and the bums and the interference of government and the preferential treatment certain people get, all the usual grumbling to be expected of a small town in a desirable place at a time when making a living isn't so easy. And then I spotted the Key West Mustard Company , so once again I am reminded I have no entrepreneurial bones in this body.I could not imagine making a living from getting enthusiastic about mustard. And yet there are people who sell peppers and aloe and plastic mugs and do nicely thank you.
There are times when your Labrador wants a pause in the action and she stops to rest under some fronds that look just right. So you look up and take a picture, just because you are there and you can and you enjoy looking up at  trees.While Cheyenne rested this is what I saw:
Looking down we were on Lazy Way Lane, a narrow line of shops wedged between the new overbearing hotel and the waterfront. Its a one way lane (supposedly) running from right to left in the pictures:
I wonder how long it will take for the hotel to swamp this picturesque little lane and I have heard rumors the developer has offered millions for Schooner Wharf. So far resisted but who knows how long before the hotel imitates neighboring Conch Harbor resort with its pool bar and restaurant? 
I was thinking these gloomy thoughts as I wandered past this preparation for a boat trip, and I liked the play on the word Brut, as Key West's version of a desirable wine,Brute will probably not take sales away from Champagne.
We ambled Cheyenne and I, and she didn't know this would be our last walk here for most of the next month as we visit Boston and Syracuse, and I hope Jack Riepe in New Jersey... when out of nowhere this pesky little mockingbird dive bombed us. I hate these pesky aggressive birds and I know its a sin to kill a mockingbird but it seems like it shouldn't be. Cheyenne ignored it the way she ignores most irritants in her life, an attitude I need to emulate.

And so our bags are packed, Cheyenne has food and treats and bowls even though she doesn't know it, and the prospect of three hard days driving to get to Boston. She'll enjoy the cool nights and we will take urban walks together and I will post pictures and we shall enjoy it. And i will marvel that people don't mind living in snow caves in winter and I shall miss this place.
No, I won't miss the morning deposits of what I hope is beer left along the streets after a  night of being on the town. This was I think one of the last pints pulled at Finnegan's Wake before they closed. I hope it was unused.
No, maybe it wasn't that one, perhaps it was this one at the corner of James and Grinnell Streets...
I will be glad to be gone, to see new things and be ready to come home and see old things and find my routines again. Walking Cheyenne, riding my motorbike, swimming in salt water, eating in at home on my nights off. And yes, back at work answering 911s. But a break is nice, we shall make the most of it.