Thursday, April 30, 2015


Cheyenne hasn't been in many posts lately. Time to remedy that. Out walking, at home, I'm always looking round for my shadow. I think sometimes I annoy her with too much fussing. 

 It's summer so Cheyenne goes looking for water to cool off in. Mud will do.

She has two perfectly comfortable beds located strategically around the house, but she usually prefers the tile floor or at best the carpet. I suspect her life before her stint at the pound got her used to discomfort. I really need to stop fussing over her. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Checking Key West

I went to the Red Garter once and I wondered what the fuss is about. Sad eyed Eastern European women walking around an improbably decorated room pretending to find the patrons fascinating. I stood there with some grossly overpriced drink wondering where they found so much blackness to decorate a room. They've hung a sign on the front door which seems less than likely to work
One isn't allowed to take pictures to preserve the sensibilities of the bourgeoisie but Google is your friend in these difficult circumstances once again. Gay Paree at the turn of the century it ain't but it's the best that 21st century straight Key West can manage. Drop off your husband here, have no fear and go shopping. I like to think the darker recesses of the 801 further up Duval show gay men a better time but I'm not going to hunt for images of that glory hole on the Web.
I am certified to dive but I gave up diving as a bad job owing to all the paraphernalia required and in the end I'd rather go ride a motorcycle and risk dismemberment than go floundering around underwater and risk blowing up a lung. But having spotted this delicious looking dive tank I may have to reverse course. Do people really dive with pink tanks? Great stuff., I'm jealous.

I am not looking forward to the next year and a half of planned road reconstruction between Big Coppitt (Mile Marker Ten) and Key Haven (Mile Marker Five) when the state is planning to repave the four lane highway. Apparently the engineers came to Key West to plan the two-and-a-half-year wreckage that was the reconstruction of North Roosevelt and when they drove the four lane highway they were appalled by what they found. It is a nightmare of pot holes and torn asphalt, worthy of a forgotten African highway in the early stages of self destruction. So I'm glad it will get rebuilt but it means more road works for ever and ever Amen. The Boulevard work seems to have been brilliant mind, with properly timed traffic lights and no flooding yet in the mild rains we have had so far. I have high hopes for the next round of work and look forward to a billiard table smooth highway out of Key West. Next year.

Meanwhile downtown Key West has been torn up for much of the winter for sewer work or some other thing. I have to say it was bizarre seeing the streets in the busiest part of town at the busiest time of year closed off for construction work and now the city is not completely saturated with people the machinery has moved out of Duval and Eaton and Simonton Streets. Judging by the picture above it would seem it is now Greene Street about to be torn up.

The sign above amply expresses the lack of giving a toss that exemplifies the mass tourist economy. I know that running a business costs money but a lick of paint would work wonders for a lot of the tatty smudged and grody downtown businesses. And the duct tape (or more accurately boat tape) to "clarify" the sign just looks like shit. I mean if you are going to overcharge people couldn't you at least do it with style and grace?

So I close with a few early morning street scenes, the time I like best in Old Town. The streets are dirty because the cleaning crews haven't got here yet and drinking from nasty plastic cups and throwing them in the street is the kind of tourism our civic leaders are eager to promote. But if you look beyond the signs of the night's excess the city retains its small town charm, its tropical warmth and bright colors and its variegated roof lines.

Some people can already be heard moaning about the summer heat that can be felt during the day. I love it. I sleep in air conditioning but I have shady areas outside my house to sit with my dog and read ( I read she watches the world go by) and I enjoy the lassitude of being in the heat without the need for doing.Dry heat makes my skin itch and renders my hair like straw but summer in the Keys is an invitation to enjoy the shade, go swimming and to go for moonlit walks with your dog. I hope the snowbirds never figure out how lovely Key West is in the summer. I've been in Kansas in July and I cannot imagine the attraction. July in the mountains....well that's different.

I like summer in Key West and if I can find the time to blast up to New England this summer once again for a few weeks away I wouldn't mind. Luckily summer lasts easily into October here and swimming season usually ends near November with the second real cold front. I have a busy summer ahead so I may have to stay close to work in Key West but that will be okay too.

Doug Bennett of blogging fame enjoys his retirement in Key West, always a cheery greeting for passersby from his Caroline Street home. Check him out when you stroll by.

Check out the Travel and Safety podcasts this WEEK and listen to Brady Steffl tell tall tales from his motorcycle saddle. Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Key West Bight

In an effort to put lipstick on a pig the city has paid a sum of money for a study and decided to rename the Bight as the Historic Seaport and bugger me if it doesn't have it's own webpage! Historic Seaport. And look what I found on their website, a depiction of Key West as a working port, a place where rough people gathered and some people made money.
Gillnet Boats
Not all boats in the Bight are sleek or home to the wealthy. Western Union, the former cable laying ship is now floating after a massive refit in 2011, Key West Diary 2011 operated by a local non profit after Historic Tours abruptly decided to get rid of the boat and unceremoniously had the crew walk the plank, as it were.
I am quite surprised how much the boat has deteriorated since 2011 and now it needs more work and thus more money and is currently out of service. This may be a losing proposition.
The Bight these days looks less historic but it bustles with tourist traffic nonetheless. Hemingway wrote about the Bight and the more or less unhappy people living on boats there in 1937 but those passages from To Have or To Have Not are a bit long to excerpt here. His description of a nighttime bicycle ride home is quite evocative from that period. And all one sentence too:
 HE DID NOT take the bicycle but walked down the street. The moon was up now and the trees were dark against it, and he passed the frame houses with their narrow yards, light coming from the shuttered windows; the unpaved alleys, with their double rows of houses; Conch town, where all was starched, well-shuttered, virtue, failure, grits and boiled grunts, under-nourishment, prejudice, righteousness, interbreeding and the comforts of religion; the open doored, lighted Cuban bolito houses, shacks whose only romance was their names; The Red House, Chicha’s; the pressed stone church; its steeples sharp, ugly triangles against the moonlight; the big grounds and the long, black-domed bulk of the convent, handsome in the moonlight; a filling station and a sandwich place, bright-lighted beside a vacant lot where a miniature golf course had been taken out; past the brightly lit main street with the three drug stores, the music store, the five Jew stores, three poolrooms, two barbershops, five beer joints, three ice cream parlors, the five poor and the one good restaurant, two magazine and paper places, four second-hand joints (one of which made keys), a photographer’s, an office building with four dentists’ offices upstairs, the big dime store, a hotel on the corner with taxis opposite; and across, behind the hotel, to the street that led to jungle town, the big unpainted frame house with lights and the girls in the doorway, the mechanical piano going, and a sailor sitting in the street; and then on back,past the back of the brick courthouse with its clock luminous at half-past ten, past the whitewashed jail building shining in the moonlight, to the embowered entrance of the Lilac Time where motor cars filled the alley. 
Nowadays its  a cruise ship towering over this little town, the smoke stack visible right across town if you have a tall enough vantage point. The romance isn't quite the same, mass tourism versus Depression era poverty.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Key West Home Improvements

I took Cheyenne for her favorite stroll along the waterfront, something we haven't done for a while and she greatly enjoyed her pursuit of urban excitement. In dog terms that means walking snout to ground, in human terms it means enjoying the vast array of choices we enjoy and the diversity of how we like to do them. For me a $25,000 Canadian tricycle with a loaded trailer attached is about as far from my idea of motorcycle touring as it's possible to get. 

Leaving aside the concept of traveling with the kitchen sink for a moment I took a quick look at the former Waterfront Market which is being transformed very slowly into Key West's only brewpub. Apparently there are rules about how much beer you have to brew in the actual place to get that label and furthermore brewers across the state are  asking for relaxed rules for selling containers of beer for consumption at home. Florida can be a devilishly  regulated state in the most unexpected ways. The governor has even forbidden state workers from using the term "climate change" as though that will make the phenomenon less real. 
Key West has been going through a few changes lately and I have been rather busy plugging away at work to notice all of them, or even  to take advantage of Conch Republic Days which pressed on even without the redoubtable Peter Anderson to steer the ship of state. I have made a note to myself to go by his new monument in the cemetery which was unveiled last week. Anderson made a business out fo selling the notion of a "Conch Republic" as a State of Mind complete with passports, a Navy and an annual battle with the US Coastguard.
The city has a new restaurant called weirdly enough Keyviche, in the building where Braza Lena the very expensive Brazilian barbecue place used to be on Caroline Street. I'm not a huge fan of raw fish one way and the other so with a name like that I doubt I will be propping up the interior much and I doubt they will miss me. Reportedly  its been packed so I may have to check it out. The brewpub has a way to go judging by the rather spartan interior, and its been months already:
They are going to have a sunset terrace upstairs in back with acoustic music I believe so Schooner Wharf may have some competition. This place looks like it might be more to the taste of people staying at the new Singh resort across the street called The Marker. Schooner Wharf is between the resort and the waterfront and it seems to me Singh might very well want to incorporate the two. I don't think I'm the first person to think of this because Schooner Wharf has been saying stoutly its not for sale.  I don't suppose it is, the place is packed.
Further towards Duval Street a new housing development is promised and the land is cleared and ready for million-and-a-half  dollar townhouses, no doubt in the "Key West style" because apparently the city needs more ultra expensive housing. As usual civic leadership has run for the hills (which are a long long way away) and this development will serve to benefit no one in the workforce it seems. 

Sometimes it seems to me a little less spinelessness and a little more community control could go a long way. I try not to agree with the notion that Key West is being killed off but the struggle to oppose the belief is getting harder and harder to maintain in the face of the evidence.


On the podcast front this week we have Brady of Behind Bars fame easily located and heard interviewed by myself at Travel and Safety. You can hear the thirty minute interview by clicking on iTunes or Stitcher and we would much appreciate a rating. Thank you.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Vespas Around The World

When I bought my Vespa in Iowa a couple of years ago I planned to have it mechanically refreshed if not restored not least because I wanted a reliable commuter but also because I grew up in the belief that an old style two stroke Vespa is one of the most sensible and reliable touring bikes available. I love my Bonneville, 84,000 miles in 7 years attests to that and it runs fine, but in the Keys 65hp is a steam hammer to crack a nut. The motorcycle I love to ride encourages me to ride like a hooligan in a society where 55 whole miles an hour is going real fast, and with modern acceleration and brakes anyone can dice and slice city traffic like its not there on even a relatively slow motorcycle like mine. Its just not a good way to ride at my venerable age, I should know better and my wife's 2004 automatic Vespa showed me the way to keep civilized. I thus figured that taking a 35 year old nostalgia scooter and making it "as new" could work and I am starting to think my plan is paying off. I'm not sure my middle aged responsibilities will allow me to repeat my 1981 trip coast-to coast, but who knows? It would be easy in retirement, a period to close the life I chose that began with that six month ride...
So it occurred to me that because I ride an "antique moped" in a world dedicated to traction control, ride by wire, electronic suspension, swiveling headlights, automatic braking systems and total environment control my pleasure in riding a biplane daily may seem willfully stupid or eccentric at best. I find it liberating and sensible and I am not alone.

Then there is my hero, the amazing Roberto Patrignani who raced motorcycles, wrote about them and traveled all over the world on unsuitable machines. For some reason Italians are particularly good at riding Vespas in improbable places and I grew up on a diet of such adventures, so to me the idea of an elderly two stroke scooter as a travel adventure machine makes perfect sense. Low maintenance, low cost, easy to ride and easy to lift up when it falls over, equipped with a spare wheel and a fan to keep the engine cool these simple rugged machines epitomize freedom to me. And I'm not alone. check the modest partial list below:

General Lee, 50cc Around the World 
Giorgio and Giuliana Serafino scraped some money together and bought an old farmhouse and use it as their base of operations to see the world continent by continent. They've crossed the US, Africa and parts of Asia after figuring their stuff out touring Europe. All on a scrapped 50cc Vespa Giorgio restored in his shed.
This intrepid couple are tougher than I could ever be, touring with 50ccs but they have done it and they have the pictures to prove it on their Italian language website with the photos HERE.

Elefantentreffen By  Vespa
I have been trolling the web looking for stories of  intrepid  derring-do on old Vespas. Here, underneath the mound of clothes we have Missmoletta Marineo of Milan on a 125cc small bodied Vespa Primavera. She took not one but two trips to winter rallies, the larger one is famous in Germany as the Elephant Trek attracting up to 5,000 riders. To her credit  she reports in the Italian motorcycle magazine Motociclismo  that she took a tent, as you do, despite hating the cold, and she looked with barely veiled contempt on people who trucked their motorbikes to within twenty miles of the rally to complete the journey in style.
L'inverno sta finendo (e un anno se ne va?)

Stergios  Gogos -Around the World  in Greek

On his  blog page partly in English (LINK) you can read how Stergios left  Greece  disillusioned by the appalling economic situation and spent a year and eight thousand bucks traveling across Africa very slowly to save fuel on his Vespa P200. The scooter has about 120,000 miles on it and Stergios, who bought it lightly used at 45,000 miles (!) says he has never had any mechanical problems. He's now in South America starting to make his way north.
52 (2)

La Vida Vespa  by Markus
This German's exploits are particularly close to my heart as he rides the exact same type and year Vespa that I am riding, a 1979 P200...

On his English language website (link) Markus also known as Don Calvo (which means bald in Italian, the language of Vespas), says he traveled  13,000 miles across 31 European countries.

Vesparicana Atze Through The Americas

A young German lad took off for the Americas and rode Alaska to Patagonia on what I consider to be a grossly overloaded Vespa 125 ex-Postal Service. He had a few mechanical issues, notably the suspension which is hardly surprising when you look at his load...His blog is very efficiently translated into decent English.
Journey done the intrepid scooterist (this one too is bald!) and his machine are home in Cologne in Germany, so I guess he wasn't overloaded after all! (This picture is from when he took off):

Two Crazy Germans In The Middle East
These two guys had altogether too much  fun being youthful and silly riding around the Mediterranean in their BLOG. They like their Vespas which gave them some trouble but nothing they couldn't handle. Lots of good pictures, not so much great commentary but think of them as frat boys on the loose. 

The Americas By Vespa 150 by Illario Lavarra

Its a Vespa 150 built in 1970 that Illario had previously ridden all over Europe and Turkey. Then he decided to ride from New York to Alaska to Patagonia over the course of two years. His blog is down but his travel photos are HERE

Not surprisingly he  says his inspiration for his 45mph journeys (! a bit slow for me...) is the late Giorgio Bettinelli, a well known world traveler by Vespa in his native Italy.
Its worth noting that he had no mechanical aptitude whatsoever and he went riding for tens of thousands of miles at a time. He married a Chinese woman and settled in China where he got ill and died suddenly while touring with a modern Vespa donated by the factory after decades of free publicity. There is a fantastic tribute to Bettinelli HERE and The Scooterist website has lots of pictures of scooters, riding in Vietnam and historical pictures of  Vespas in that country.

Dr Frazier Rides A Vespa

I came across one American willing to step up to a Vespa after a life time girdling the globe on "proper motorcycles.

He's been around the world half a dozen times but he also decided to take on the dirt roads of Thailand on a very elderly three speed Vespa. A great adventure honestly chronicled here: Motorcycle USA

On this Facebook page you can read about a group of Modern Vespa riders crossing the USA and ending up in Key West. I had hoped to meet them but I had no luck and am limited to their Facebook Page.

Anything is possible with the Italian scooter that could. I prefer the older models for their simplicity and proven reliability. My old 200 model gets  a solid sixty miles an hour without modifications which is enough to keep up with traffic and enjoy scenery on the back roads. Freeways for this kind of travel are unnecessary. So next time you see pictures of my elderly ride on the road remember I'm not alone and there may well be method to my madness.

This Canadian couple has no visible website, but here's what I found in the press:  LINK and more recently: LINK 

Of course if you want to find stories of people riding modern four stroke Vespas, Google Search is your friend, especially:

Adventure Rider

Modern Vespa

Personally I find the prospect of riding a complex computer driven modern scooter long distances rather more daunting, but I am a creature of my generation. I hope this is all food for thought if you thought you knew all there is to know about idiots riding "mopeds."

Orin at Scootin Old Skool also ran my story on his well known blog:  Scootin' Old Skool about the whys and wherefores of my choice in three parts. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Farmers Market, a Vespa Ride

I stick my neck out from time to time and when the sticking involves two wheels and an engine - I'm always in. When I was a kid in a group of youngsters and we were all bored one would say to the other "I'm bored. What should we do?" I was the douche who always chose the furthest possible destination just as a place to go, something to do, the joy of the journey. I'm not in this picture below but those were the kids of the village in Italy where I used to live and we looked like this when we were free to do whatever we wanted:

"No, no!" they'd shout in unison when I suggested a distant destination and unless I filled the tank on my bike and took off by myself, I ended up sitting around getting bored. So here I am forty years later and my wife says, hey on Friday they have this fabulous little Farmer's Market in Tavernier, wanna take a ride? Sure I say. I'm taking the old Vespa, time to make sure I've got the fuel mixture filled in properly. It's been 2500 miles since the first piston seized and the bike has been running nicely since I installed the new piston and fiddled with the carburetor mixture. A little rich perhaps but I like to push the motor so extra fuel and oil in the air mixture suits my style of riding.
On the back I have replaced the crate with a reputedly waterproof tail bag called an Xelement XS689 which my wife got me for free using some weird airline mileage wizardry combined with Amazon Prime. I'm buggered if I know how she does it but she knows all the angles.
I am starting to trust my 1979 Vespa and I am secretly hoping for a long future together quite possibly with some long distance riding involved as well. I know it's weird, not only do I have a perfectly serviceable Triumph Bonneville with 84,000 trouble-free miles but I also have access to my wife's 2004 Vespa 150, just as fast as my old Vespa but smoother, quieter and with no gears to muddle the modern mind.
I like my old girl and I'm having fun confusing car drivers who can't shake me off their tails, who drop their guards and find me passing them because I know all the passing spaces on the Overseas Highway and I am relentless, my Italian upbringing requires me to make the most of every twist of the gas. It really is more fun to make a slow bike go faster than to make a fast bike go slowly. The Vespa encourages stopping to peak at the ocean and check out my favorite surviving trailer park in the Upper Keys where money blusters and everyone else cowes. So far they haven't developed it away. Three cheers.
I also enjoy the 30 mph speed limit on County Road 905 which parallels the Overseas Highway in Plantation Key and Makes for a nice slow winding ride in a county where alternative routes are pretty unusual. Some of it is  shaded and tree lined and some of it is right next to the main highway.

And this is one of the myriad gates that line CR905 and keep,curious eyes from peeking at waterfront mansions. The house number reveals the mile marker: 89225 translates to Mile Marker 89 and almost-a-quarter of a mile. If you need to know where you are check a mailbox. I live at 22932, which means my street is almost 23 miles from Mile Zero in Key West. Now you know, and you never need to be lost in the Florida Keys. Good to know if you have to dial 911!
And then I find scooter parking off County Road 905 and I'm at my destination, around Mile Marker 92.
The Farmer's Market is about where the top "1" is on the map below, just before Tavernier Creek in the top right corner but after San Pedro Lake:
Now I'm sure you have tons of Farmaer's Markets where you live, doubtless in the midst of agricultural abundance. They are a popular way to shop. They have sprouted in Key West too and now this one way up the Keys... adds to the general quality of life in a far off community in the middle of the ocean.

The fact is South Florida is a huge breadbasket on a par with California's Central Valley and there is no drought here (but there is salt water intrusion as the sea level rises even though Republicans can't utter the words 'climate change') and these fruits and vegetables were delicious. I bought a giant cauliflower and a soursop because I like tropical fruit. Oh and a couple of loaves of bread at five bucks apiece.
But this was the real reason for my wife's joy at this market: Indian food. I loaded up with $32 worth of sauces spices breads and samosas, and yes I am now getting used to being presented with a telephone to sign when I use my credit card at portable stands like this. I also had cash thank you because I am old fashioned.
The Vespa is not the ideal flower carrier, at least not over 70 miles in 90 degree heat and strong winds...
Back on county road 905 stuffed with strawberry shortcake and a date with my wife and her work fridge in Marathon where she would preserve the food until she came home in the evening.
Tea Table Key was where I took a break and a couple of pictures of the Vespa by the water, and though I wanted to stop for more I had a nagging desire to get home and rest before the evening's planned activities of dinner and a movie.
For me, a busy day especially as I got up before dawn and took Cheyenne for a long walk along the waterfront in Key West. These days "long" is about an hour and she thoroughly enjoyed it. My plan was that she wouldn't miss me while I was gone and as you can see she didn't:
She didn't even wake up when I came into the house and made myself some tea. My sweet dear old girl. Every day is a gift, even extra busy today.