Saturday, August 31, 2019

Motorcycle Obsession

(I wrote this essay for an online publication and publish it today here in its original form on the first anniversary of my catastrophe). 
I was laying on my back looking up at the blue Florida sky, which wouldn't have been so bad had I found myself there by choice, but I was in the middle of Highway One and I found I couldn't move. My right leg felt spongy and out of place and it occurred to me I might perhaps have amputated it after I flew across the hood (the bonnet) of the car that cut me off. People were gathering around my prone form and I started to feel like Kafka's beetle, a metamorphosis was apparent and it was obvious death was coming for me. I felt strangely at peace, annoyed I was out of time, but quite warm and comfortable as though wrapped in a healing blanket, drifting off to my appointment with the hereafter.
That I didn't die last August 31st was thanks to the remarkable medical care I received, paid for almost entirely by my excellent municipal health care plan offered by my employers, the City of Key West where I dispatch police and fire for a living. It seemed grossly unfair to me that I was cut down while traveling serenely to my night shift, in a line of cars tooling along at a perfectly legal 45 mph. My Suzuki Burgman 200 was totaled in the wreck and I spent twelve days in Intensive Care l where my pelvis was rebuilt with rebar and metal plates, my right thigh was reset where it was twice broken, not amputated,  and then two months in a rehab hospital in Miami where my right knee and left shoulder were allowed to heal on their own and I slowly learned to move and eventually walk again. I lay in my hospital bed with too much time to think and all I could move was my right arm. It's not easy posting to Facebook flat on your back with IVs in both arms, a tube up your nose and only your right hand to hold the phone and tap the keyboard. 
On August 18th 2018, at ten o'clock in the morning of a Saturday I rode away from my home and took off up the Keys aiming for Niagara Falls, New York 1500 miles away.  I had a mad idea I could try to complete the ride in less than 36 hours and add another timed long distance ride to the two I had already accomplished on my previous bike, a 2007 Triumph Bonneville 865. In 2008 I had managed a one thousand mile "Iron Butt" ride followed in 2010 by a "Bun Burner" 1500 mile ride on my Bonneville.This time to make it interesting I was going to give it a shot on a 200cc scooter, the smallest Burgman sold in the United States. My doctor had diagnosed arthritis creeping into my left wrist so when Hurricane Irma flooded and wrecked my Bonneville, ten years old with a hundred thousand very happy trouble-free miles on the clock from new, it was time to consider riding an automatic. 
I have been riding continuously since  1970 when my Italian mother bought me a Vespa 50 in the hope I would grow up to love motorcycles. She died shortly thereafter but the seed was sown and I have spent the 50 intervening yeas riding and traveling as much as I can. I have always had a mixture of motorcycles and Vespas in my life and I have never made a distinction between my first full sized bike an MV Agusta 350, and my scooters. Since then I have owned a Gold Wing, rented Harleys, and Indians trying out the cruiser lifestyle which never suited me.  I have toured on BMWs and assorted singles and four cylinder Universal Japanese Motorcycles but the best trip I ever took was a ride across the US and Mexico in 1981 on a brand new Vespa P200. I spent six months on the rode inspired by the movie Easy Rider yet drawn to the simplicity dependability and ease of use of the humble Vespa. At the time the US was restricted to a national 55 mph speed limit so the  63 mph scooter fit in with traffic flows just fine. I have tried to recreate that era by buying another P200 and found it to be too slow with terrible brakes and poor reaction times in modern traffic. 
Testing Eric's P200 in Virginia. Great fun but very old fashioned.
The Burgman 200 was my first Japanese "banana boat" scooter and it blew me away with it's mixture of performance, comfort, economy and dependable low maintenance operation. Of course if you are young and looking for thrills and a chance to get laid a modest 200cc scooter will cramp your style, and even though the Baby Burgman will just about touch 80 GPS miles per hour it is not a thrill ride for those seeking absolute acceleration and performance obviously.  You need to stick to Gixxers in Suzuki's range for that. But if you are an old foge looking to extend your riding years and recreate the seat-of-our-pants riding style of our youth when we pressed into service whatever unsuitable ride we owned for a summer touring vacation (holiday) then the Baby Burgman is the pick of the litter in my opinion. 
I tell you I took off that August morning with no real expectation of making it to Niagara Falls in time to complete the Iron Butt "Bun Burner" 36-hour ride. But I was going to do my best on my 200cc banana boat. It was a revelation as we cruised up I-95 on the Florida East coast at 71 GPS miles per hour. Fuel mileage dropped to 65 miles per US gallon (add ten percent for Imperial gallons) and the ride was perfectly comfortable holding my own with traffic in the two right lanes occasionally passing a slow poke. As night fell rain came on and the Burgman cut through the night with impressive headlights and great wind protection keeping me comfortable through South Carolina and most of North Carolina. I rode up Fancy Gap in Virginia, a seriously steep incline, fast enough no car caught up to me and when I plateaued at the top it was dawn on Sunday and I was 500 miles from Niagara Falls with 16 hours to meet my deadline. Piece of cake (piss).
The mountains of West Virginia were a trail - 75 mph downhill, slingshotting onto the long uphills where my speed dropped to 60 or even 55 on really long stretches. It was here I wished I had a T-Max or a Burgman 650, which would be necessary if I lived among the mountains but in my home state of Flatistan especially commuting the slow paced Keys my 200 was plenty, I concluded. I rolled smoothly along the south shore of Lake Erie and made my way past parks filled with sunbathers in Buffalo until I reached my hotel 1550 miles from my home. I did it in 32 hours and the Burgman was running fine. It burned not one drop of oil and the only casualty was the baffling inside the muffler (silencer) that blew out in a specially deep West Virginia pot hole. Now my modest ride sounded embarrassingly like a Harley wannabe. That problem solved itself in the wreck two weeks later when the bike was pretzled and written off along with the rotten muffler (silencer).

Before the ride I had told my wife not to worry as I was statistically much more likely to wreck on my commute close to home. I should never have said anything of course as I managed to jinx myself pretty badly. The good news is I've found another 2014 Burgman 200 with just 400 miles on the clock, as apparently not everyone loves to ride this crazy machine. As soon as I can walk properly, in a few weeks I hope, I'll be back in the saddle and this summer when I set off for Montauk, New York (1550 miles from my home) on my next Iron Butt I have a pretty good idea I'll get there in plenty of time. No more wrecks for a while though, I am quite enjoying every day I am alive; it's gift to be able to walk even with a cane and the prospect of riding, even a modest Baby Burgman, is quite the boost. I am ready.

1400 words.  Michael Beattie. Cudjoe Key, Florida.
August 31st, 2018:
What I expected to be my last self portrait. I forgot to smile.
Helicopter ride:
Wytheville, Virginia 19th August, dawn and not warm.

Pennsylvania, cold and wet. NOT Florida.

Touch and go

Getting Better


Hurricane Dorian

I appreciate irony as much as anyone, more than some quite likely but considering this time last year I was in the hospital on a respirator  hovering between here and the hereafter, I do think it would be over the top were my life in danger from Hurricane Dorian, the storm that is as usual generating all kinds of over the top superlatives in the field of human terror. The Weather Channel headline reads: "Multi Day Siege of  Strong Winds, Dangerous Storm Surge and Heavy Rain."  Well, that should strike holy terror in the heart of every Floridian. 
cone graphic
I posted this picture on Facebook of Rusty and I panicking as Dorian approaches...the Bahamas...with landfall in Palm Beach...not the Florida Keys. Anything is possible, the world may be flat, but I'm pretty sure the Earth is round and I'm pretty sure when the National Weather Service points the storm at Palm Beach and Jacksonville there is going to an almighty mess up the East Coast, not the Keys. Not Miami even. I look at the National Weather Service page for my storm information ( Google "nhc" for National Hurricane Center) and I avoid the drama laden orotund oratory of the commercial weather services who get their information from the National Hurricane Center just like me. 
I took this picture a few days ago of the palms bending in the wind at the White Street Pier under gray rainy skies and I expect this is pretty much what we shall see Sunday night and Monday. As a precaution we will put our vulnerable deck stuff in the spare room and we shall load our iPads with downloaded videos and we shall have water, food and flashlights ready as we always do and we shall try not to grumble when the power goes out. But I absolutely refuse to sweat this one. 
The worst thing about hurricanes is when you aren't in the line of fire and you're glad someone else is going to get creamed. You feel relieved and glad and guilty at the same time.  The thing about storms is they rarely kill people but they do lots of damage and the clean up after the storm is not life threatening but a total pain. And it goes on and on, even after they restore the utilities and the clean up crews start sweeping up the trash. The mosquitoes and the smell of decaying garbage hang over the whole place. Restaurants are closed, movies are closed normal life takes ages to pick back up. Check out the airport tower still out of action two years on from Hurricane Irma. They manage flights in and out from a trailer until this gets fixed:
I have sat out every storm since 2004 in the 911 center in Key West and every time I see the patterns reassert themselves as storms approach. There is usually lots of bravado and no one plans to evacuate then the nerves start to get jangled especially when the categories start to go up. Category Three officially makes the storm a Major Hurricane but all these numbers end up being rather vague. A Category One, a mere 70 mile an hour pussycat can easily blow up to a Category Three in the time it takes to drive to Miami...So there is a lot of talk about paths and probabilities and all that stuff. Dramatic clouds last week had nothing to do with the hurricane. They just looked pretty:
My wife and I have our own hurricane plan. If I am to stay at the police department for the storm my wife packs her bag and our dog into the car as soon as the schools are closed and they drive north to a hotel room we reserved as soon as the storm starts to head our way. With Layne and Rusty out of the way I close up the house and ride the scooter to work and wait for the storm to leave.  In my opinion waiting to evacuate at the last minute is the worst thing you can do as you become one in many cars streaming north across the state.  They had colossal traffic jams on freeways across Florida on the approach of Hurricane Irma but Layne and Rusty were already in Pensacola with friends at that point. 
Bearing all that in mind one has to ask how it was that last night Key West had run out of gas. I kid you not. I arrived at work, my tank three quarters full as we filled our cars Thursday, and when I wondered out loud one of my colleagues suggested it might be PTSD.  Fair enough, gas vanished before Hurricane Irma never to be seen again until well after the storm when all the pumps along Highway One were destroyed and they gave away free gas from a  tanker to a long line of cars in Big Pine Key. If you remember that scenario a less than full tank will prompt you to run for more. 
I remember before Hurricane Irma how empty the town was as evacuations sped up and people streamed up north to escape the Category Five storm approaching. During the day when I was off duty and awake I wandered around town on my Vespa looking at the city and wondering what would be left in a few days and as much as it was serene and peaceful to see Key West empty, it was a  false serenity filled with foreboding. This time around I don't know what's happening. We can't evacuate as there is nowhere safer in the state than these islands well south of the storm's track, but the future just feels uncertain as our suppliers to the north are facing potential catastrophe.
I suggested to my friends not to order stuff for delivery in the next few days as all our deliveries are sorted in Orlando and Miami and that seems likely to be problematic for a few days. Meanwhile we face the possibility of erratic fuel deliveries in the Keys and so far that prospect's not being handled too well by nervous drivers:
Hurricanes don't bring out the best in people even those who live far away. They seem to delight in ramping up the anxiety. We get calls in dispatch warning us we have to leave or we will die. They ask if its safe to visit even as the city was evacuating en masse in September 2017. People are strange, its as though they want to share a part of the experience by involving themselves from a distance. I took this picture of Nick last night at work in a moment when I was off the phones and he wasn't. It's what we do, listen, understand and send help. Until sustained winds reach gale force, the emergency room closes and the first responders are no longer dispatched. Then we wait. 
I would be quite content for the web cams to be shut down before a storm.  They cause us more grief than you can imagine. We had one guy sleeping in a cardboard box in front of a downtown bar a day before Hurricane Irma arrived and we received hundreds of calls, no exaggeration, over a period of hours telling us to get the man some help. He refused and stayed put but finally they took him to the city hurricane shelter when he realized the weather was deteriorating and the calls stopped. We have a reduced population of homeless people in the summer months but Key West is a city with shelters, half way houses, soup kitchens and all sorts of facilities but  for some the freedom of the street is what they want. I know it's odd but respecting the rights of the poorest among us is not a bad way to be I suppose, and if they want help they can get it. If you are an inveterate cam watcher please don't call; I can assure you no one is left behind when a hurricane hits the island.
 In the middle of all this drama let's not lose sight of the fact that the sandy heavily populated east coast of Florida is facing winds as strong as Hurricane Irma's and they aren't used to coping like we are in the Keys where we live close to Nature. This is their drama, their storm, their clean up and until further notice we in the Keys are sitting pretty. I feel pretty happy about that, and considering all the grief I've had in the past year I think I deserve a break from more weather madness. 

Hurricane Irma Posts from September 2017:

Calm Before The Storm

The Story Of A Table


Upper Keys Recovery

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale:

Image result for saffir simpson scale