Saturday, February 28, 2015

Home In The Sun

Yesterday I rejoiced in being home with my Labrador. It was a lovely sunny afternoon so Cheyenne and I went out to rest together in the stubby grass at a park close by home. A far cry from the 400 mile motorcycle earlier in the week, much enjoyed and well remembered.
The sun was out, the sky was cloudless and blue and everything resembled nothing quite so much as the perfect summer day in a temperate climate. Summer vacations when I was a kid looked like this in Italy and I spent every waking hour out and about. I looked like a peculiarly round faced child with a straw hat according to the picture. My buddy Diego, in the background was unimpressed.
Except now I am an old man with a Labrador, no longer a child running loose. I get to sit and contemplate and my dog does the same.. I was contemplating how I didn't hurt after a 400 mile day, including rain and darkness on the road. Perhaps I am not so old after all...
But time passes for us all, even my youthful Cheyenne who some days likes to walk less and sit more.
After all one doesn't have to go on long motorcycle rides every day, but a good dog deserves two decent outings every day. And Cheyenne is very good.

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The Podcasts  should appear Monday:

Here’s how you listen and review for us:
1) Go to travelandsafety.com/itunes

2) Click on “View In iTunes”

3) Click “Get” in the “Price” Column (far right) next to the episode you want to check out

4) Whenever you’re ready, click “Ratings and Reviews” (directly under the title in iTunes)

5) Click “Write a Review” and enter yours in the Window that comes up. Give it 5 Stars to make it worth your effort.

Thanks in advance for taking time out of your busy lives to help us out.



Friday, February 27, 2015

Fog And A Dog In Old Town

I took these pictures earlier this week, after work and with Cheyenne who loves the cool of winter. She was on a mission to lead me on a forced march through the deserted streets. It was between two and three in the morning, and despite the fog which we associate with cold clamminess I walked behind her in shirt sleeves, torn between snapping pictures and keeping up. From time to time she stopped to look back at me balefully wondering what the hold up was.

The picture taking was frustrating, partly because the dog, whose walk this was, wouldn't slow down and sniff something to give me time to frame a picture, but also because the fog took the edge off everything. I felt as though I couldn't get anything in focus.

There she is, looking at me demanding to know why I can't get a move on:

From Charlie's Grocery she led me straight down the lane to Bill Butler Park.

And on past the usual collection of lovely Key West homes and their greenery.

Classic Florida louvered shutters:

I just followed...

...my Labrador. I was her shadow for a change. There she is in a feeble pool of light, waiting for slowpoke:

 

 

 

A lone cyclist wrong way on Olivia flashed a light at me as though I were in danger of not spotting her and running her down; literally as I was still on foot.

She was panting like a steam engine after an hour of this, 14 years old and unstoppable. Every day I am grateful for her. How else would I see the world through her amazing eyes?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Finally: The Podcasts

Over the seven years I have been posting on this page I have been told many many times to take this page to market and I have never wanted to change the nature and character of my stored memories of life at the end of the road, as I live it. Even now when I have taken on a whole new full time project this page has been my refuge, a quiet hour each day on the porch or on the couch playing with pictures and words, not thinking about 911 or all the myriad home chores that lurk in daily life. I thought for a while, I feared, that Key West Diary might have to take a back seat. So far so good I have put up a new essay almost every day, and I hope that on those few rare occasions when I have resorted to "re-runs" I have not offended. I have to figure not everyone has read (and remembers) all 3800 photoessays logged here since June 2007. And some days I have simply run out of energy to put words to screen, or have no photos to use so I have reprinted old favorites.

When I was approached to do podcasts I was leery as I am entrenched in the school of radio where I lived and worked for a decade. I got out of radio news because journalism was a nut I had cracked and when I have mastered a skill I get bored. Also news was becoming less hard core which I did not like, and I did not want to participate in the dumbing down process I saw underway in broadcasting. I still enjoy listening to the radio and I bought a life membership in Sirius when satellite radio appeared. Thus podcasts I approached with some wariness. However it seems this is the way people like to listen nowadays.

As with all stuff online the podcast market is creating niches and followings and this is where I need your help, and I trust you can come through for me. iTunes is supposed to have the first four podcasts ready on Monday morning. Jack Riepe kindly agreed to share some stories with me and if you have read his best seller Conversations With A Motorcycle then you know why his stories are worth hearing.

Scooter riders know Orin O'Neill from his widely read and respected webpage Scootin' Old Skool and he too has agreed to be interviewed for which I am very grateful.

And that's just the start.To get the space on iTunes these interviews deserve I need something back from my loyal readers. My producer sent me these instructions to post here to help get the word out Monday morning and to create a space for the podcast. Over the years this page, thanks to you, has received nearly 1.5 million hits and put my diary in the top million webpages worldwide which frankly astonishes me. I have as you know no marketing skills of any kind and the concept of search engine optimization is about as alien to me as small talk at a party. And as I have previously confessed I have no small talk ability whatsoever. So I am confident if after all these years I ask you will respond and I thank you in advance.

Here is how you do it...Monday morning, if Apple posts it promptly!

1) Go to travelandsafety.com/itunes

2) Click on "View In iTunes"

3) Click "Get" in the "Price" Column (far right) next to the episode you want to check out

4) Whenever you’re ready, click "Ratings and Reviews" (directly under the title in iTunes)

5) Click "Write a Review" and enter yours in the Window that comes up. Give it some 5 Stars too.




I am doing the interviews because I enjoy the informal give and take of these conversations, but also because I have my own history of traveling and apparently managing to stay safe. The picture above is the wife and I with dogs sailing Central America studying the instructions that came with our portable hand laundry machine. We later graduated to a bucket and plunger when the hand wringer, built in the First World, broke. Simplicity became our watchword.

My more recent travels I have logged on this page of course but I have in the past ridden motorcycles all over the place, including Africa, crossed the Panama Canal (bits of it actually with the motor off and sails up).

I also took the Great Siberian Railway across the Soviet Union as as a young man.

I have been stopped in an embarrassing number of countries for speeding. Adventures all, but none looming quite as large as this one right now. Wish me well and I hope to see you on the...podcast!

 

 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Marine Inversion Layer

Fog is not unknown in the Florida Keys, land of perpetual sunshine. But, like the occasional winter cold snap it is rare enough to cause comment. As a general rule I am not fond of fog. It combines the worst meteorological elements all into one. It's cold wet and it mutes sound and destroys visibility and if you're on the water or on the road it makes the simplest journey disorienting and at worst dangerous. I have no appreciation for its artistic enhancements of daily life.

Actually I have some night time pictures of Old a Town I will post later and as reluctant as I am to write it, the fog does look...interesting. But on my way home in the middle of the night driving home from a short shift the fog was surprisingly thick and impenetrable. I was in the car because Cheyenne wanted to come into town with me so I let her wait in the car, not her favorite place, while I worked.

By the time my Labrador got her reward, an hour long walk through Old Town, I was ready for bed none of which drowsiness helped me on the twenty mile drive home. I don't think the photographs display adequately the utter darkness surrounding the outer edges of the wall of white cotton wool that lay just out of reach of the head and fog lights on the Fusion. I was reminded of driving home after Hurricane Wilma wrecked Key West in 2005.
I half expected to see wrecked boats driven onto the road by the storm and abandoned on their sides by the retreating waters, left on the highway in the dark like beached whales. Instead this time around the road was clear except for a few cars who drove like maniacs. Believe me when I tell you I crawled home, well under the speed limit, mesmerized by the curtain always in front always out of reach. My speed would increase gradually to a maniacal fifty miles an hour when I would come out of my trance and quickly slow down. One of the axioms of safe riding is to only go as fast as you can see. Last night I could see 35 miles per hour. Others apparently had x-ray vision for of the few cars I saw in either direction all were traveling at normal speeds. I pulled over several times to let them go (a courtesy I wish would be reciprocated to me but never is) and was astonished none of them wrecked.

During the day this bizarre fog makes the Keys look like a California summer day. The cloud hangs low over the water, the penetrates it here and there and the air is crisp and unnaturally cold. All I can think of is standing on the cliffs in Santa Cruz looking out over the roiling Pacific Ocean and wishing I were in a warm place. Fog changes everything, and not for the better, no matter how artistic I think I may want to be. Fog sucks.

 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Everglades en Masse

A Canadian riding the All American motorcycle in alligator country. Yesterday was a day for riding motorcycles in South Florida.
David Masse was at Eaglerider promptly just before eleven, and when I showed up he was looking apprehensively at the 700 pound mastodon he had rented for the day.
He had asked for a "basic" Sportster, the 500 pound beginner's bike Harley Davidson builds to get people started on a life of owning big v-twin motorcycles. They've modernized the concept with a new line of beginner bikes, the Street 750 and 500 but when David's Sportster was unavailable they "upgraded" him to their baby touring bike, the Switchback a Harley I had looked at with some interest. I ride a motorcycle viewed by some Internet mouths as a tiddler suitable for beginners which I find odd as I started out on much smaller bikes and the Triumph feels entirely full-sized to me. I think David might not have minded a 350 as he was looking at his first ride on a motorcycle with gears, traffic and everything.
The route I had planned avoided beaches, bikinis and other distractions, stop and go traffic and the Keys. Unable to spend a night away a ride down the islands looked like too much effort for too small a return. I figured a 200 mile rectangle through alligator country might work. He looked the part.
Our first stop, after a chunk of freeway keeping up with cars and trucks, and Highway 27 a four lane road with a few lights, and Tamiami Trail with road works, was the gas station now automated, modern, and devoid of human contact. I filled the relatively modest tank on my beginner bike, but David's five gallon tank (with gauge) was looking full enough. We pressed on.
David took to the beast like a duck to water. He rode a small motorbike once in the Pleistocene Era and then more recently got an automatic Vespa 300 which he rides around Montreal. Nothing like a Dyna Switchback but he took off like the proverbial off a stick. I shrugged and tried to keep up. Seen here cruising the Loop Road searching for alligators.
Oops! There's one...We stopped and David with his long legs maneuvered the lump off the road easier than I duck walked the Bonneville on tip toe and we took the inevitable pictures of the silent, stationary dinosaur.
Being smart older men we didn't approach the critter, nor did we tweak his tail, something half witted visitors to Disneyworld Florida do from time to time... Alligators are actually laid back and ignore large humans but they are not worth bothering. They run faster than you, swim stronger than you and inflict appalling wounds with their filthy teeth. They drown their victims to allow the bodies to rot so they can eat them later. Given all that they don't have to be hungry to kill, unlike sharks who hunt when hungry, so messing with them is not smart. We were smart.
Canadian with all fingers and toes, building confidence with the Switchback.
Looking at the two bikes David noticed something that has struck me over the decades I have been riding. Namely that motorcycles generally look smaller in real life than they do in pictures. I notice this especially with motorcycles from my youth which at the time seemed huge and out of reach not only because of their cost but also owing to sheer gargantuan size...now that I am a more experienced rider, decades later they look positively tiny. Head on my 900 Bonneville looks like a bicycle:
I let David loose on an unsuspecting Florida and he was momentarily alone with his monster bike. I wonder what he was thinking.
Clyde Butcher, the man who best captures South Florida in photography has a gallery on the Tamiami (Tampa-Miami) Trail. I wasn't letting the Canadian Hog Rider get past this cabin on Highway 41 without a look in. Of course there was photography to be done outside, too.
They are everywhere this year. I saw dozens lining the canal alongside the highway, basking in the 80 degree heat after the recent cold snap which put mainland temperatures close to freezing, even here.
The other wildlife we saw plenty of alongside the road was Angler Americanus, looking for I don't know what in the tannic impenetrable waters of the Everglades canal. A mercury laden fish in return for being run down by an 18-wheeler. Sounds like a deal to me. I can't think of a better way to spend a Monday.
Road building in South Florida isn't easy thanks to the boggy nature of the Everglades, but once the routes are chosen the road beds travel in very straight lines which are not exactly designed to delight the heart and soul of a human dedicated to adventure by motorcycle. On the other hand, some days are just made for the less curvy adventures of watching wildlife and counting clouds floating overhead. Not to mention coming to grips with the peculiar starting process and baulky gearbox of a modern Harley Davidson.
David, knowing my interest in the Switchback suggested we swap bikes for the next stage, riding to lunch. I sank into the plush seat, stuck my feet forward looking for the big rubber foot boards and tried to wrap my hands around the downward facing handlebars. David thought the Bonneville had solid acceleration but the Switchback felt like it was a rocket booster when I opened it up. Miraculously the mirrors stayed perfectly still through it and the vibrations weren't allowed to interfere with the rider. I was flying through the Everglades on a couch, tracking steady and straight though I did wonder how it would cope with mountain roads.     

                          


Or rather how I would cope with mountain roads with the huge foot controls, soft floorboards and a handlebar that was as steady as a ship's tiller tied down for a storm. No wonder there are so many Harleys rumbling along the dead straight roads of Florida. A dozen years ago I rode an earlier model Dyna around California and I remember the 500 mile ride very well. Perhaps I was over thinking it, until I lurched round the traffic circle in Everglades City and nearly hit the car in front as I struggled with the weird turn signal controls and the fat handlebar throttle. Nothing like a motorcycle to make you feel like a dork, especially when you aren't man enough.
Where were we? Ah yes, lunch in Chokoloskee where David now looked at his new relationship rather more fondly than at my elderly excuse for a sit-up-and-beg motorcycle.
Thank heavens for the web. I had scouted out lunch and Havana Cafe had looked good online, and better in person.
David was vacillating between the Cuban Sandwich and the roast pork so in the spirit of my absent wife we ordered one of each and split them.
We talked of Canada, business ethics, retirement prospects (not close enough) motorcycles and the likelihood of not needing the rain gear I had brought. David was serene but I wasn't as it's been an odd winter. Not that I mind the rain if prepared for it but some people, especially newer riders tend to fear rain covered roads. Apparently not the Canadian.
We had no time left to cruise Chokoloskee, old time Florida surviving at the southwest tip of the state, a small village surrounded by tannic waters, mangrove islands and attached to the mainland by one causeway.
And so through Everglades City caught on the fly... I had thought about the Rod and Gun Club but apparently it is fast dropping out of favor with travelers, and it was no great shakes two years ago. Pass, and hope for better days for the historic hideaway for historic rich people.
Now we were under the gun as Eaglerider closed at 6 and we had two hours and thirty minutes left.
I stopped for a rain shower which was so weak as to cause no concern to the Steel Man from The North and like the condemned refusing a blindfold he rejected an offer of my new, unused Frogg Toggs bought recently to replace my well worn commuting waterproofs. Frogg Toggs are excellent if you plan on standing in rain or riding in rain. I love mine and they go with me everywhere. David's biggest concern was gas as he was running out of premium. He told me the last thirty miles to the Miccosukee gas station on Alligator Alley (I-75) was a nail biter for him. I have no gas gauge but I zero the trip meter at every fill up and I knew I was fine; damp but fine for gas. If my guest rejected the new Frogg Toggs I refused to wear my old set. The sun re-emerged and we were dry again almost instantly.
I had told David about the "twistiest road in Florida" and he knew right where it was.
He was off and running, I stopped for pictures...
...and left him to it.
Snake Road is a gently curving levy awkwardly built for photographers as there are no shoulders at all and the grass is soft and slopes away from the road surface. Eventually the Harley reappeared with a smiling rider. We shook hands like the men that we had proven ourselves to be and waved good bye as I took Highway 27 south and he continued west to Fort Lauderdale.
My private adventure began 35 miles north of Homestead where a big black cloud turned into a downpour and I happily put on my waterproofs and hunkered down for a quick ride to the Keys. It turned out rain darkness and farm vehicles are a lethal mixture as once again Krome Avenue (named for Flagler's railway engineer who died of yellow fever) was the personification of slow traffic, tons of lights, distracted drivers and a cautious 15mph top speed. Grr! I should have taken the turnpike but I was tired of freeways. Lesson learned- again!
Paradoxically the ride through the Keys was fantastic as the rain dried up and I found myself behind three cars that drove so fast I dared not keep up and they managed somehow to sweep all slowpokes before them. I got home at eight, still damp but delighted with the day and a solid 400 mile ride.
A day spent without this:
How could I do such a thing?

A rough map as I lost patience with my mapping device. Outbound we took Highway 27 a more rural, toll-free route than the Turnpike recommended.