Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Wheels in Key West

The weather has been absolutely perfect lately with the prospect of more to come. I know most of the country is freezing but the Lower Keys are bright and crisp and sunny, cool at night and breezy without a trace of humidity. It's been warm enough there have even been a few mosquitoes out enjoying sunny afternoons among the mangroves in the back country. So Rusty and I took a walk downtown and I was reminded of what a two wheeled culture we enjoy in this end of the Keys.
I have seen people riding and using their phones, cyclists and moped riders so when I saw a passenger surfing the web on Southard Street I didn't think much of it. However now that winter residents are filling the streets it has become that much more hazardous to ride two wheels. Just last night between Searstown and the Police Station, a couple of miles on the main thoroughfare I was cut off three times by distracted pushy drivers. I don't think they are used to seeing people riding scooters as daily transport, because obviously they want Key West to more closely resemble the metropolis they don't want to spend winter in.
I saw this Vespa (below) on the sidewalk near Five Brothers and I wanted to like it but I am a convert to modern automatic Vespas for speed comfort and reliability.  In the world of Vespa nerds this black beauty is what they call a  "Viet Bodge" because there is a huge market in refurbished scooters from Vietnam. Early efforts relied on lots of chrome, bondo and paint to cover rust and dents and got them a terrible reputation. These days Vespa purists still hate them but I think that if they are used as around town gentle rides they may do well enough. You can tell a Viet Bodge by the twin seats, the spare wheel on the back, the not-original glove box behind the leg shield and the chrome rails everywhere. Add to that the extra thick carpet and the non stock exhaust and white wall tires and there you have it. Caveat emptor.
These three wheel things are renting well too, for thin people afraid to ride two wheels. I would feel large and silly in one but there you are. I ride a Vespa so I look silly on two wheels.
Lots of people ride  bicycles in Key West and it makes sense in a town with no hills above 16 feet and no distances longer than four miles or six Canadian miles, you'd think a bicycle would be ideal. However I am not a fan of cycling in Key West, I'd rather walk or ride my Vespa. Here's why: the streets are narrow and while you are allowed to ride on the  sidewalks you face stiff competition from pedestrians who have right of way. 
Cars tend to be unforgiving and there is constant sniping between cars and bicycles. Cyclists only tend to follow rules of the road when they are in their favor, like demanding their three feet of space from passing cars but then ignoring stop signs and traffic lights...I don't much care one way or the other but riding a bike seems like a very stressful way to travel these marrow streets in a country where European style urban driving is not practiced. American drivers demand vast acres of space and long distances between cars and no bicycles cluttering up their line of sight...
But even here we have a few Euro drivers. This 300 cc Vespa has a French tag and is always parked on Fleming at Duval. You'd think at some point they'd choose to join the rest of us and pay a modest Florida tax fee to use Florida roads...
Not so far.