Thursday, December 31, 2015

Indian Rental And A Tornado

The plan was to take up Eaglerider Orlando's offer of a rental made at the AIMExpo motorcycle show last fall, so off the three of us went last weekend to enjoy a relaxing few days away from work, the app and all business related stuff. I have to work Christmas and New Year's so my time off came in between. On Monday morning I picked up this eight hundred pound brute:
Indian Chief Vintage
I headed south for breakfast at the curiously named Wawa on my way out of town. It turns out Wawa is the Pennsylvania town where the convenience store was founded and where in this case I found not bad food even though I didn't stand in line for the popular hot breakfast attractions. I stood by the Indian Chief Vintage in the parking lot and ate my delayed breakfast in the sun, after scaring off an admirer of the chrome and black beast in the parking lot. He slunk back to his mere car and glanced at me as though with envy. Well he might and I'm sorry if I scared him though why he didn't talk to me I'm not sure. Perhaps I had absorbed the piratical air of one who rides large American cruisers with loud exhausts.
Indian Chief Vintage
The Indian Chief cuts quite a figure even in the crowded multi-lane traffic of the Orlando suburbs. The factory mufflers are LOUD and bark at the least provocation while the acres of chrome glinted in the sun. The leather saddlebags attracted one motorist's  attention at a traffic light and  a middle aged woman, a horse enthusiast apparently told me in no uncertain terms the saddle bags would benefit from saddle soap. I don't doubt they would but neither they nor the leather seat are my concern. I am a fan of hard lockable saddle bags and  of waterproof vinyl seats. The leather saddle took up the heat of the 90 degree day and reflected it faithfully onto my buttocks. It looked like a hell of a ride, fringes and all when viewed from alongside, from the riding position it was like driving a boat with a tiller:
Indian Chief Vintage
I have never been much of a fan of the feet forwards riding style of cruiser motorcycles and despite the appearance of comfort by the end of the 300-mile day my shoulders ached from holding the widespread handlebars and my backside was as sore as you might expect from being wedged in one spot on the single seat. The foot controls were quite far forward for my short legs and my trouser legs rode up to my knees in the breeze when I stretched my feet out forward. As much as I liked the looks the Chief was not, to me, as comfortable as my sit-up-and-beg style with the Triumph Bonneville I ride daily.
Indian Chief Vintage
The Chief is a beautiful bike, rich with clever styling details, acres of luscious paint and lots of chrome. However the mirror stalks were at 1000 miles starting to show slight signs of rust so for an all weather rider the Vintage is an iffy proposition- chrome to clean and leather to soap and none of it benefiting from getting wet! The tires on this model have tubes so getting a flat requires calling a tow to get a puncture repaired.
Indian Chief Vintage
The 1800cc  engine is air cooled and mechanically noisy but it has hydraulic valves that require no maintenance and the primary drive, unlike Harleys is by gears but to me they sounded straight-cut and there was a fair bit of mechanical whine at lower speeds. The gearbox has six speeds though God knows why. I found myself cruising happily at 75 miles per hour in fourth not noticing I had two gears to spare! I had a very pleasant ride to the north shore of Lake Okeechobee:
Indian Chief Vintage, Lake Okeechobee
I had found a Vietnamese restaurant hidden away in a strip mall near the Lake so after taking a  few pictures I took some time out in the air conditioning to drink some soup. The motorcycle as always made me feel rather inadequate with its rumbling exhaust and vast shiny presence, I felt like a rather inadequate flea on a very flamboyant elephant everywhere I went.
Indian Chief Vintage
The pho wasn't terrible but it was mostly broth and noodles and less meat and vegetables but it did the job and it wasn't  fried  so it worked for me. This was when the day started to go wrong, just as I was feeling all was well with the world. I wasn't missing gear shifts while riding the beast and I had got no speeding tickets despite testing sixth gear to an easily attained 95 mph. The speedometer checked against my phone GPS was dead accurate up to 60 mph, as fast as I was willing to ride one handed with a GPS on my mind.
A call from my wife in tears revealed the news that our Texas rental home in a Dallas suburb was one of 1600 homes trashed after Christmas by a series of killer tornadoes. Our tenants were  safe which was good but the house was wrecked and so far pending an engineer's report will require demolition.
The house in Rowlett was our plan B if we needed a bolt hole somewhere away from floods and earthquakes- ha who thought of tornadoes in Dallas? We had been turned on to a first rate rental company in that city and the rent had been paying for the house for almost twenty years. Dallas isn't our idea of a first rate living with neither mountains nor ocean but it has a strong economy normally decent weather for people who don't mind heat, and it had seemed  a secure bolt hole or an inexpensive base for retirement travels should we have needed it instead of monthly income. Man proposes, God disposes as the saying goes:
Rowlett Tornado, Texas
Just this summer we had spent a bundle upgrading tired facilities in the home and now all was wrecked:
Rowlett Tornado,Texas
My wife insisted I continue the ride as she would feel worse were I to cut it short and return to her hotel room where she had planned a day of leisure. Actually it turned out the La Quinta where we were staying was undergoing renovation and the outdoor pool wasn't heated - no swimming. There was no gym, boo hiss and the room itself was more like a dungeon with purple paint, no carpet and a rather strait jacket  layout, narrow and dark. My wife was making do but Cheyenne was peculiarly restless and unhappy in the room. The weekend break was not quite going to plan and plans were going to be wrecked even more if that were possible.
Indian Chief Vintage
I decided to set the tornado news aside as there was nothing I could do and so instead I amused myself passing trucks in sixth gear rolling the gas on from 55mph. The motorcycle accelerated without a care in the world and cruised at 75mph in top gear at 2700 rpm. Wide sweeping curves were a delight with no wobbles at all,  and the weight of the bike is down low so when I amused myself by pulling a u-turn it was the easiest thing in the world to lock the bars and flop around in a tight circle without putting my foot down. 
Indian Chief Vintage
Riding alone ( two suggestions to meet for lunch were rejected, it being the holidays by two moto bloggers) I could stop as I pleased to look around. So I did. It was a delightful day, not a tornado or even a rain cloud in sight.
Indian Chief Vintage
The oil filter was easily accessible ( I check stuff like that when I think about owning a bike) below the oil cooler, and this one was changed I'm guessing at 512 miles. With belt drive and gear primary drive, changing the five quarts of oil every five thousand miles is about the only maintenance chore. I find that  very attractive combined with the low stress nature of the low revving engine.
Indian Chief Vintage
You can read elsewhere about the history of Indian founded in 1901 in Springfield Massachusetts, as Polaris has done a masterful job since buying the company in 2011 of building heritage motorcycles in Iowa. The Indian name is proudly displayed all over the motorcycle.
Indian Chief Vintage
 I was having a good time rolling along Highway 98 north full of Vietnamese food, and enjoying the crazy noisy rumbling engine. You've heard people say that "loud pipes save lives" well because I ride with quiet factory mufflers I have never had proof one way or the other. Riding the Chief Vintage I got proof positive they don't- three different ways. I had the classic turn left to cross my path attempt by one driver, another changed lanes suddenly to exit the multi-lane street across my path and on a country highway the pick up didn't see notice or hear me approaching from behind when he took a sudden turn to the left to exit the road as I was planning  a pass. None of the suicide drivers used signals or mirrors or anything decadent like that. Powerful ABS brakes and an alert brain saved my ass each time. 
Indian Chief Vintage
I love central Florida, the rolling countryside, more pronounced hills to the north and wide open cowboy spaces to the south with smooth roads, a bit too straight frankly offering miles of peaceful touring through varied countryside. Arcadia is known as the Cowboy Capital of Florida but Okeechobee has its own rodeo ground and fleet of citywide pick up trucks.
Indian Chief Vintage
Crossing the bridge into Highlands County was a reminder of the hilly nature of the countryside west of Orlando. There are lakes woods and rising and dipping ridges of hills in the area, the highest point in the peninsula is almost 350 feet high near Clermont. Not much by Colorado standards but plenty in the Sunshine State where two days after Christmas I was enjoying low humidity, a light cool breeze and 90 degree temperatures which I found perfect.
Indian Chief Vintage
Hot enough for the cows to seek refreshment in the puddles. And it was after I took this picture that my motorcycle troubles began. The starter wouldn't start. I checked the side stand, I checked the kill button which I normally never touch, I fiddled with the starting procedure, I looked for the radio activated fob to make sure I still had it. But the bastard wouldn't start. I called the rental  company and as though by magic the call got the thing going. Great thought I...
Central Florida Cows
The Chief is a gas guzzler. Granted I was riding a brand new bike that hit 1,000 miles on my three hundred mile jaunt and I'd like to think the Beast would get better mileage with premium with the addition of a few thousand miles...but in town riding hard I got less than 30 miles to the US gallon. The 5.5 US gallon tank started to look empty in the gauge after a hundred miles though probably I could have gone another thirty without panicking. However not knowing the machine and not wanting to act the rental prat with an empty tank I made sure I got gas promptly every 100 miles and added three gallons each time. Gulp!
Indian Chief Vintage
 Naturally when I stopped for gas and a phone call to check on my still tearful wife the engine refused to start. To start this bike you keep the fob near the bike ( I carried it in my man purse in the saddlebag) and you press the big black button on the tank. That sets ion motion to fuel injection and the starting procedure. When you are ready to set the machine rumbling you press the starter button on the handlebar. However something seemed to have gone wrong with the security feature as the black button lit up red and the starter didn't start. I kicked the side stand, and when it did start the horn started beeping (LOUDLY) as I tried to ride off, making me look like a thief. Great!
Indian Chief Vintage
Suddenly it all settled down of its own accord and spared me a second embarrassing call to Eaglerider. Off I rode until I stopped on Highway 27 to answer my phone and check my map on my way to the hallowed Yalala Bakery near Clermont. And that was when Eaglerider promised to send a mechanic out with a spare bike as this non starting had left me stranded again. I walked to Bob Evans for soup and a pee and waited for the mechanic and trailer as the sun hit the horizon.
Indian Chief Vintage
 I put my riding jacket on the side walk and decided to read my Kindle, thank heavens for the iPhone, and wait in patience for deliverance. Idly I tried to re-start the bastard and wouldn't you know it, it fired up promptly, leading me to think the diagnosis of a dead battery in the electronic fob was not correct. If the battery were dead it should stay dead. Yet here it seemed to work at random.  I called the mechanic and cancelled him, put away my stuff in the saddlebags (including some Bob Evans cookies for my long suffering wife) and set off into the gathering darkness. That was when the bugger died again after giving off several loud horn farts as I rode down Highway 27. I coasted into a turn lane in the dark where the bugger fired right up again and I lurched off homewards on old highway 50, what turned out to be a delightfully twisted wooded road toward Orlando. It would have been great had I not been riding with my heart in my mouth waiting for the horn to start beeping madly before cutting the engine off.
It was a wild ride through Winter Garden and Windermere stopping to check my map on my blessed phone hoping the engine wouldn't cut out and I started to have fun, feeling like I was 20 years old again riding the crazily unreliable used motorcycles of my youth, all failed wiring and uncertain return times. There was no drama, just an hour long ride I'd like to replicate in daylight on a motorcycle I trust... and after a few missed turns I was back in the dungeon with my grateful wife who feared for my life on the stop and go Indian, and my dog  who was finally exhausted, sleeping and still hating the sparsely furnished  hotel room and life. It took Cheyenne a night at home before she would talk to me so I think her traveling and exploring days are over. I got the hint from my elderly Lab.
Indian Chief Vintage
Eaglerider were great. I got the bike started in the morning and therefore naturally got lost on my way to the shop but when I arrived with a full tank (did not turn the bike off at the pumps) they refunded the money for the rental in full, and gave me a credit for a free rental in the next year. There are roads I want to ride around Orlando, next time I think on a Harley Davidson. I enjoy riding different motorcycles on rentals and had I the time and money I would spend a lot more of both around the country with Eaglerider. 
Indian Chief Vintage
I took this picture of Cheyenne at home, happy on her bed and eager to forget her Orlando vacation. I don't think she can take the car further north than Ft Lauderdale or Ft Myers anymore and at the age of fifteen she is happy to spend her days pottering around the house sleeping and eating and watching my every move. It's taken me a while to accept that she is happiest being left at home but it seems now I am convinced that for the rest of her life our travels will be circumscribed by her needs.
Cheyenne Key West Diary
She has been a good dog and I would do no less for her. I'm just glad she's forgiven me for putting her through a  stupid weekend to indulge my riding habit. Oh not to mention my wife and the ghastly hotel room and the tornado and the calls to the insurance company and FEMA and the mortgage people and the rental company and on and on. What a weekend.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Continuing Weirdness

I rented a motorcycle for a short break from all the work we've been doing.  My wife planned to spend my ride in the hotel relaxing. Things went pear shaped. Details to follow when I get a moment. 

It was a hell of a ride around central Florida on an 800 pound Indian Chief Vintage. That the starter had an issue on a brand new bike is a story for later. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas With A Biorhythmic Triple Negative

When I was a youngster we used the term "biorythmic triple negative": to express a deeply messed up day, when you seemed to be stuck in an endless repetitive cycle of bad luck, when it felt like the gods were crapping on you from a great height. Let me say from the outset I know biorhythms don't get any scientific respect and I have no interest in numerology  but I have found the term useful to express my frustration on those days or in those times when everything seems stacked against me.

From The Skeptic's Dictionary:

The belief in biorhythms is based more on numerology,testimonials and the Forer effect, mass media hype, and intuition than on scientific study. The belief originated in the nineteenth century with Wilhelm Fliess, a Berlin physician, numerologist and good friend and patient of Sigmund Freud.

Apparently Fliess had an obsession with 23 which he called the male cycle and 28 which naturally he ascribed to women on what was called their lunar cycle. It's what people do when they seek to make sense of an insensible universe. Anyway last week the universe seemed to have it in for me personally and that inclined me to feel the universe was sentient and malevolent and I was the target.
Flamingo Crossing, Key West
Key Lime Sorbet, Flamingo Crossing, one of my favorite things

From the cycle tourist:

Since the period of all three cycles are different (23, 28, and 33 days), the interaction of the three cycles overlaid on top of each other is rather complex.  On the day of birth they are all at their day 1 position (at mid-point and moving upwards.  They are not in this exact configuration again for 21,252 days (23 x 28 x 33) or 58 years and 66-68 days (depending on leap years).  (Who says life begins at 40? Looks like its 58 to me.) This 21,252 day cycle is known as a biorhythmic span.  There are 4,327 days on which one or more of the three phases is critical.  That leaves 16,925 days of mixed rhythm or "normal" days.  When more than one cycle is critical it is referred to as double-critical or triple critical.  These multiple critical days are especially unstable.

The holiday weekend started somewhat unfavorably when my wife went to check the bank account and discovered the credit card company had double dipped a several thousand dollar payment and had charged our business account and  our personal account. My wife went apoplectic on my only night off last week. It was a pleasant romantic evening called to celebrate the completion of the 911buddy app and wish it well on its journey to seek Apple's approval for the iTunes Store. A very long call to US Bank solved half the problem and we were preparing to go to Key West for a movie and dinner at Sister Noodle when our downstairs housemates knocked on the door to report a leak from their ceiling. It turned out our air conditioner was not draining and water was everywhere. I rolled up my sleeves, or would have had I had any, forgot the movie and tackled the air conditioner coils, my favorite occupation of a night off.
The drain was clogged and the coils were flooded and blah blah blah. We had pasta at home and sank a bottle of wine, planning a quick start at the bank to finish off the failed credit card payments and spend Christmas Eve afternoon at home before I went to work. Fat chance. 
Wet vac borrowed from a neighbor to suck out the drain

From "The influence of biorythmic criticality on aircraft mishaps:"

Critical states of the three biorhythmic cycles have different effects on groups of 
people with different characteristics. For pilots, the 
study revealed no significant influence from Biorhythms by 
straightforward application of critical days, as observed 
in previous research. Significant resuits at varying levels 
between a = 0.15 and 0.03 were obtained when considering 
different age groups among pilots. The intellectual cycle 
was found to be irrelevant in connection with aircraft 
mishaps.

That  night we didn't sleep well, blame the alcohol or racing thoughts trying to plan a zero dollar marketing campaign for the damned app we ended up getting up blearily just in time to reach the bank minutes before the second duplicate payment went through. Four checks bounced and my wife was still madder than a wet hen even though we stopped the second payment. I envied the elderly Cheyenne at home snoring on her second nap of the morning as we got back into the car as my wife tried to figure out in her head how to transfer business payments now made on our personal account  from there to the business account. Then she called the credit card company as we drove to Marathon and half way over the Seven Mile bridge the call center supervisor gave up the fight and agreed to refund us the bounced check fees. That lightened her mood somewhat, but the driving patterns were slow and unpredictable and my mood was getting grumpy. The first gas station at $2:10 a gallon of regular was completely jammed so we went to Home Depot to pick up the wine cooler we had ordered. Our first 24-bottle cooler had lasted eleven years and recently stopped maintaining the wine bottles at a cooler temperature but the replacement was here to rescue us and our wine! My wife was excited.

Cheyenne, Shrimp Sound Studio
Cheyenne used to enjoy  her downtown outings, here at Card Sound studio

From procato.com "Biorythm Calculator and Predictor:"

Important ideas tend to spread rapidly in the scientific community. Dr. Hermann Swoboda, Professor of psychology at the University of Vienna, read Fliess' work while still a young man, and by the turn of the century was himself researching, lecturing, and writing on biorhythms. Swoboda, who detected a periodicity in the occurrence of dreams and thinking processes, and in fevers, asthma, heart attacks, and the outbreak of illness, believed his own investigations confirmed Fliess' observations on the 23-day and 28-day cycles. Swoboda contributed to the theory the notion of the "critical" day, when the cycle shifts from high to low or low to high; a day of instability and usually of some stress for most people.

WE were in line to pick up the wine cooler when my wife asked a Home Depot employee about doggie pads, sometimes used to train dogs to pee in one spot (preferably not your bed). A customer in line ahead of us cornered my wife and told her exactly what to get at Publix and how to use them. Great my wife said, that should be helpful. So we picked up the cooler, stripped the outer box off and squeezed the thing in its inner box onto the back seat of the oh-so-capacious Ford Fusion. We also got the correct size filter for the air conditioner and bought just one to make sure it would fit properly in the future. The previous tenant bodged the filter fitting to make it easier to replace and that allowed a lot of dust insider to cover the coils. We were going to Do It Right. Then we went to get gas at another station also at $2:10 and there were no lines there. I filled the tank with less than twenty bucks. Things were looking up.
Key West Bight
Key West Bight, a sunset cruise is on my list of things to do again in 2016

From lobsangrampa.org:

Bio-Rhythms play an important role in everyone's lives, and in spite of this the majority of people don't realise and are missing out on something really remarkable and practical. In the Far East they have been using Bio-Rhythm wheels for centuries. However, Dr. Wilhelm Fliess was one of the first Westerns to observe and record Bio-Rhythms. Knowing how these cycles flow you can plan ahead and avoid really bad days or becoming hyperactive on a really good day. This is not science fiction, it's as real as the air you breath.
Do you remember when you had your last really bad day? when everything seems to go wrong regardless of what you did? This is known as a cautious day, also could be a double or triple caution day, either way you can really forecast such days and plan events around them. You are up to five times more accident prone on such days.
Everything in life goes in cycles, it's even written in the Christian Bible, Ecclesiastes 3. So knowing when is the best time, we can achieve more and avoid the really embarrassing days.

So riding high on the wave of success we stopped at Publix in Marathon for some last minute shopping, us and just about every single year- round and winter resident of that unhappy city. It was like visiting the mainland for Thanksgiving's Black Friday with no parking and crowds of people. I was told later that Key West was even more unhappy with vast crowds and endless lines so what do I know? I felt overwhelmed especially when my wife said perkily "That wasn't so bad was it?" Of course not dear.
Triumph Bonneville
My Bonneville, something else to be grateful for in a world rapidly going

From Scientific American:

A new study finds that around the full moon humans get less shut-eye and their slumber is not as deep, even if sleep is restricted to windowless rooms free of environmental and time-based cues—such as those found in a sleep lab. The findings, published today in Current Biology, suggest that restful sleep takes a hit during a full moon as well as a few days before and after the phase. Still, no one has any idea why that would occur or what biological mechanism could be at work. The authors found that during and for the few days around the full moon—the period in its monthly phase cycle when it is brightest and appears in the sky from sunset to sunrise—it takes about five minutes longer to fall asleep, sleep duration is reduced by 20 minutes and slumber is not as deep.

I unloaded the wine cooler and swept it up the flight of stairs to it's new resting place, preparatory to opening the box. Cheyenne, not wanting to shit upstairs where I have laid out a large dog box to make life easier for her weakening hind legs, had taken a copious dump in the driveway. Which would have been fine had not some vehicle chosen to use my drive as a turn around, crunched the dog eggs methodically and squished them everywhere. I got out an old towel and my bottle of bleach and set to work, picking up and bagging what was possible and wiping clean what wasn't which was most of it. Beleive me. when a car squashes a dog turd it goes everywhere.
It was a full moon Christmas night, in every respect like this, with predictable consequences

 From iconceive.com:

Some six decades ago a young Slovakian doctor named Eugen Jonas made an astonishing discovery — that women have not one but two fertility cycles. In addition to the hormonal cycle (one that the medical scientific community widely accepts) Dr. Jonas found that women have another fertility cycle linked to the cycles of the Moon called the Lunar BioRhythmic Cycle.
The nature of the Lunar BioRhythmic Cycle is very similar to how the moon affects the ocean as seen by the changing tides. The effect the moon has on the female menstrual cycle may also affect a woman’s peak fertile time. It has been observed that many women conceive not during their expected and charted hormonal ovulation period, but rather in line with their lunar peak.
Dr. Jonas established that the time of fertility occurs during the same phase of the moon as the one in which a woman was born. He also found that the gender of the child is determined by the position of the moon during the time of a woman’s fertility. In addition, he found that conception during certain phases led to pregnancy complications, owing to less than ideal gravitational forces coming into play.
Wearily I washed my hands and then went to deal with my wife's Christmas present to herself, the wretched wine cooler. I got the box open and wouldn't you know it, inside the the perfectly formed box the cooler looked like it had been attacked by a madman with a hammer. The corner was crushed, the door was broken off its hinges, it looked like some daft bugger dropped it in the warehouse in Shanghai and said bugger it to himself before sticking it in the box and sending it on it's merry way. I don't blame him really. We have too many luxuries as it is, but my wife, like the cooler, was crushed.
Cheyenne, Key West
A younger more active version of my beloved

From Wikipedia:

According to the theory of biorhythms, a person's life is influenced by rhythmic biological cycles that affect his or her ability in various domains, such as mental, physical and emotional activity. These cycles begin at birth and oscillate in a steady (sine wave) fashion throughout life, and by modeling them mathematically, it is suggested that a person's level of ability in each of these domains can be predicted from day to day. The theory is built on the idea that the biofeedbackchemical and hormonal secretion functions within the body could show a sinusoidal behavior over time.

The last I saw of her she was on the phone to Home Depot starting another round of phone round robin with a major corporation trying to figure out how to get the cooler returned and replaced. I slunk off to work.
Sunset is always a pleasure in the Keys 

From biorythmcalendar.com:

Transition days are the day when a biorhythm cycle changes polarity. At mid point and end point in each biorhythm cycle, the cycle sharply moves back to zero point and changes polarity. That is called a transition day (or caution, or critical day). As the cycles constantly change polarity, we experience life’s ups and downs.

A double transition day is when 2 of your cycles change polarity on the same day. This day may be difficult, especially if both cycles are changing polarity in tandem (going in the same direction)..

A triple transition day is when 3 of your cycles change polarity on the same day. Triple transition days are rare, occurring once every 7-8 years.

The toughest days are multiple transition days closely following each other.

As  you can imagine the night at work was filled with calories and drunks, cakes and disturbances as people succumbed to their worst instincts. But of course most people don't, most people aren't on the line to 911, most people really do have a Merry Christmas.
Conchscooter
Some of us just have to get through our own biorythmic triple critical days and try not to go all negative.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Mallory Square 2014


From a little more than a year ago this essay. I publish it today because in part I want to encourage myself to go back. I just need to make the time, dammit.
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Mr Bean Does Mallory Sunset

The question was: where are the best conch fritters in Key West? Now in the ordinary course of things answering a simple question like that should be simple, no? Not, as it turns out for me. For a start I had absolutely no clue who sells the best fritters in Key West. So I asked around, as you do. The most assured answer I got was the stand at Mallory Square at sunset.
I am not a huge fan of crowds thus I am not often to be found at Mallory Square at sunset. The paradox is that I actually quite like the celebration. I am tired of hearing the story about Tennessee Williams toasting the setting sun's superb performance, not least because I remember Mallory Square when it was a dying commercial wharf and not the neatly tiled tourist venue that it is today. The place where the performers hop for tips in no way resembles it's origins, and that's okay. It's now a place to buy dust catchers, to drop a tip in a tip jar, and it's a place to buy conch fritters it turns out. It's not a place where intoxicated writers take their friends, and one can't help but feel those conversations might have been just a little bit more fun and perhaps we have missed out. Well bugger; but we do have cyclists nowadays.
We are approaching that time of year when Key West turns its back on children and adults take up puerile behavior for themselves, so it is fitting that the sunset welcomes children. I have spoken with parents who like raising their children here because kids it seems can live out Tom Sawyer fantasies, wandering freely around town. Washing up at Mallory Square it seems.
And adults pay attention to them.
The world might be a better place were kids in charge you might think, as you watch an adult insert himself into ... a tennis racquet?
He was successful In his endeavor, which you might think is not a marketable skill but these exhibitors make a tidy living I am told in a town where the city is planning to build dormitories for city workers who, the mayor says, cannot afford to rent an apartment of their own on their wages.
Some people eat fire, herd cats, swallow swords, juggle and joke.
The sunset celebration is an organized non profit, assigning spaces, renting the square from the city. I overheard one participant complaining to another about an enterprising yet rather unkempt guitarist who showed up with his instrument, a chair and a rather off key singing voice. He was however viewed as letting the side down as he lacked shoes and a shirt and was apparently a stranger to clean running water and soap.
My goal was at the southern end of the square and I made a beeline as I am not terribly given to shopping and my life has all the dust catchers I need for ornamentation. The task was simple, buy some fritters, take a picture, eat the things and then bugger off to check out some juggling.
So far so good, I got six of them for seven dollars, added some ketchup and the man's home mixed mustard, and I ate them standing up.
The mustard was stinging hot, the fritters were crispy outside and full of sweet ground corn inside as one expects. There were chunks of white rubbery mollusk of course. But here's the thing: A hush puppy even when upgraded with pieces of conch is not something you write home about. There are so many things I'd rather eat, that I find more desirable than deep fried corn... Frankly I am no great connoisseur of conch and when I lived in California, abalone that Pacific delicacy that also comes in its own shell, much adored by west coast gourmands, left me cold. Conch salad, a mixture of cold raw conch strips marinated in citrus might as well be tripe for all the joy it gives me. Cracked conch, a deep fried steak of the stuff coated in breadcrumbs depends on the batter for its flavor. So conch fritters, more economical in their use of the precious imported meat are the fall back position for those as want to claim aquaintance with Key West's legendary culinary and sporting symbol. But these are worth the taste and I'd eat them again, nicely crisp, piping hot with real pieces of large conch and a spicy mustard to dip, they are a worthwhile taste.
Naturally the story doesn't end there. Like Mr Bean on his elaborate lunch break I managed to find myself doing three things at once and made a hash of them all...
The sun was certainly heading for the horizon so while I balanced my fritters in their mustard sauce I pointed my camera hither and yon...
...at people also working to catch the moment...
...which could have been more spectacular considering the anticipation it's descent had engendered.
Will Soto the original sunset celebrator still juggling after all these years:
Which was about the time my fritters attacked and found me completely unprepared. It was a sneaky thing but the mustard slipped out of the end of the cardboard tray while I pointed the lense. The first I knew of my loss of control was when I found I had yellow goop on my fingertips which led to the discovery of a puddle of gruel down my front. I'm not saying its certain but I am pretty sure my mood took a dive when I saw baby shit down my front. I took a paper towel, and then another, then my tide stick which travels in my man purse with me as I have a tendency in this direction when I get distracted. I thought I did a pretty decent job by the time I was done.
Anyway walking around with evidence of an unfortunate scatological accident on my shirt was a buzz kill. I abandoned the celebrants and rode home to Cheyenne who was alone to greet me as my wife is away wasting taxpayer dollars at a teacher conference. My dog promised not to give me grief if I took her for a walk immediately. Who was I to disagree with an urgent Labrador request.
Much less stressful, in the dark with no vendors, no crowds and no conch fritters. I am growing fonder of them the further I am from them. I might have to go back and get a second impression. Next time hold the mustard.