Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why I Ride A Motorcycle

The  need to ride a motorcycle is almost impossible to explain to a non rider. In a world where comfort and convenience and separation from the natural world are all exemplified by the automobile, a thinking human that chooses to sit out in the weather unprotected on an inherently unstable machine equipped with power to spare but no rider protection is a choice impossible to explain rationally. So when I came across this superb essay by another member of the Iron Butt Association, one who rides further faster more efficiently and more often than I do, I wanted to share his words from his website because he expresses what I usually feel on two wheels more eloquently than I have ever managed.

Samuel Liles is well known apparently in the world of the Iron Butt Rally, a ride that I suspect is beyond my abilities or my desire to ride, and he combines intellect, emotion and riding ability and puts it all on the page like this. For those who think motorcycles are dangerous...stupid...pointless...this essay is for you. If you read this and understand because you sail...fly....rock climb...bicycle...dive...spelunk...collect stamps...whatever excites you, then you understand. If not, don't worry, motorcycles will never take over the world, happily for all of us.

Production notes: I have added the photos from my albums because readers expect pictures on my blog. Liles provides few in his essays and in this case he offers none. I did as required on his site, and raised my fist and shouted (to the astonishment of my colleagues) "Hack The Planet" and I have linked his copyrighted work. If you have never heard of the Iron Butt Association consider reading about them. I have done their two shorter rides and found them entirely manageable. I like slow touring and exploring as well if not more, but riding to a time and distance requirement has its excitements and thus is worth doing from time to time I think. Enough of me, read the essay and marvel:

Why I ride

I ride motorcycles to live. I am neither afraid nor endeared to the rest of the world. I am me and when I ride my motorcycle I get to be a little bit more me. Sometimes I am rude and crude and I get smacked around for it. Sometimes I am elegant and gentlemanly and I am rewarded for it. In the end when I am riding the motorcycle I am me. I don’t ask permission from anybody else to do this. I don’t ask forgiveness for turning a precious resource like dinosaurs into my form of fun. This is an activity about me. It is selfish, it is personal, and when I do it I know that I am better before, during and after the ride.

Riding a motorcycle and why I do it is personal. It is a part of who I am and who I have been for nearly 40 years of my life. I feel closer to that thing that connects me to reality and in some ways I feel removed from the place other people think is reality. I travel short distances, long distances, and intermediate distances. The noise of the road is drowned out by the screaming banshee of the worlds evil being torn from my skin in a blistering heat of righteousness. I listen to music with a new sense of wonder, I connect to the moment of a narrative I have created, and I see a future clearer for having given up the confines of a dead vehicle.

As the world rushes toward self driving cars I feel the physical sense of locomotion through my feet, hands and posterior. I shift, move, adapt, overcome, consider, calculate, role, move, and adjust to the moment. The road unfolds with majesty and grace, the trail of dirt and hard scramble unveils the future, the terror of darkness holds my soul enthralled in cones of light reaching towards my humanity. I see the world as a thread and woven fabric of physical, social, and emotional artifices.

I have suffered for this “sport” and “lifestyle” called such by those who can see the sweet but not taste it. I have broken bones, shed layers of skin, been bruised, torn tendons and ligaments and crushed my flesh when others have reached into my reality to remind I am only mortal. If I am mortal and fear the facts of that statement I am bound to live and not die slowly on a trip not of my own choosing via a mode of transportation I do not control to a destination I can not define. What is death to living that way?

I ride to feel the world pass by and see myself rushing into it. I want to see more and like a glutton I can never get enough of the vastness of a planet I will only see a small part of. I want to experience, feel, touch, and taste the wonders of the world I was born into. There is an aliveness to the motorcyclist who holds the totality of the experience in a moment, day, or life and can know the awesomeness of that experience. In the space between heart beats the senses tense ready to spring upon the next moment. Much as the moments of the world pass by my life on a motorcycle.

It is merely a motorcycle, a conveyance between two places, a silly gimmick, a machine of no consequence, and an objectification of masculinity to many. It is the place I share some of the warmest, fondest, and most romantic moments with my wife. It is the device that brought together each of my children to see another side of the world and experience the joy of being. It gave me the skills to reach into my tepid and despicable day-to-day grind and find a little joy as I shed the excess and enjoy the rest.

It is just a vehicle. A two wheeled vehicle. It is just a motorcycle and I am a motorcyclist.

Tons of reasons to ride a motorcycle.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Foreign Vexations On Labor Day

My wife thinks I'm nuts but I am pissed off about this referendum they are holding in Scotland this month. Why do you care? she asked. So I had to explain to myself why my sister's "Yes" vote is annoying me so much. Independence for Scotland? Stupid idea. Yes, but why exactly? There's the question that I want to ruminate about today, an otherwise peaceful holiday, to try and get the vexation out of my system. The pictures are of Key West, a pre-dawn walk I took last week, because this page is supposed to be about the Keys, not Scotland.
At first I figured I was just getting worked up and annoyed because the world of my  misspent youth is possibly going to change irrevocably. I have traveled to countries that no longer exist, and a good thing too in most cases. No one really misses the German Democratic Republic and its spying apparatus. The 24 hours I spent there freaked me out far worse than my  trip to the Soviet Union did which was far less oppressive and creepy by comparison. Yet the idea that Scotland's union with England which together are the United Kingdom, should be dissolved after three centuries just seems wrong to me. It's like Maine voting for independence. It seems plain weird as none of us remember a time when Scotland was anything but glued to England.
The thing is I support most of the ideas promoted by the Scottish National Party, which describes itself as social-democratic which is to say left of center. If it does have good ideas worthy of an independent Scotland I don't see why they aren't worth promoting for the entire country. If free public health care, free education and a nuclear-free future are good for Scotland, why not fight for these causes as part of the United Kingdom? Its too easy to scoop up your marbles and go home in a huff, rather than stand and fight to convince your neighbors of the justice of your cause. Better to stay part of the United Kingdom and promote those policies for all residents of the UK, if they are worth pursuing at all. But Scottish "Yes" voters prefer to isolate themselves and ignore any larger issues.
The other thing that frosts me is that the nationalists want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to retain the British pound but the English government is saying no to that, though how they could prevent it I'm not sure. The Scottish nationalists also want to join the European Union, but Spain is dead set against that because Spain fears Catalonia might follow Scotland's example if they are successful and  gain independence so they have promised to prevent an independent Scotland from joining the Union.Scotland wants to fund its  expensive welfare state with North Sea Oil but  the supply is running out, and the voices for independence are simply ignoring this cold hard fact. The English government says a vote for independence is irrevocable and they will pull out English based manufacturing, military bases and support facilities further cutting Scotland's economy. The yes voters think independence by itself will solve all ills. They seem mathematically impaired.  Two generations ago large numbers of highlanders heated their homes by burning dirt. After decades of peace and prosperity its time to cut the ties that bind. I am quite surprised the English haven't decided to be the ones choosing to cast the ungrateful Scots off. Let them go back to the dark ages if that's what they want. And maybe this vote won't lead to the dark ages exactly but changes will be real and permanent with unintended consequences.
Yet the nationalists, losing in the polls by a mere 6% with double that still undecided (dear God how can anyone in Scotland still be undecided with the vote looming on the 18th?) are acting like rent-a-mobs hounding people like J K Rowling who supports union, and throwing eggs at politicians opposed to separation. Yet my sister who supports independence gets fatuous Facebook posts from her friends talking about border controls going up after the vote with the fervor of eastern Europeans throwing off the shackles of Soviet dictatorship. They sound like school children playing at setting up house, as though a vote for independence were make believe.  If they vote for independence all ties will be cut between the two countries but it will take a couple of years to sort out the mess. Not least is the name of the new rump state left behind by Scotland's proposed departure. It can't very well be a United Kingdom when the "other" kingdom departs. Some people want to call it the Former United Kingdom which leaves a rather unfortunate acronym in it's wake. I suppose it will just be Great Britain and the United Kingdom where I was born will disappear. Fantastic.
Unarguably the English have treated the Scots as badly as anyone but it was centuries ago, employing legalized theft to deprive the Scots of their lands and trying to suppress their culture by banning the kilt and so forth. But to hold a grudge would be like the US cutting off diplomatic relations with England because the British once burned down the White House. Scotland  has it's own parliament at Holyrood and has for as long as I can remember had certain of its own laws such that my father, a lawyer in London was not able to practice law in Scotland. Nowadays Holyrood levies taxes and makes laws but has no control over foreign affairs and defense. But that is not enough for modern Scotland.
The parameters for the vote are bizarre. Anyone who lives in Scotland as of September 2nd, tomorrow, the last day of registration get to vote. 16 year-olds vote. Citizens of the European Union living in Scotland get to vote. And bear this in mind you can currently drive from England to Scotland with no more formality than driving across a US state line. The possibilities for ballot stuffing seems endless. 
In the end I ask myself what does this mean for me apart from my irrational fear of losing where I was from and whence I do not intend to return? I guess I have grown into my American skin. As much as it is possible to get irritated by one's neighbors the US isn't a country that considers cutting them off just because of irritation. We don't weigh and reject, as a nation, the cost of repairing forest fires in the West, flood damage along the Mississippi or hurricane debris in the East. I suppose if you were to cherry pick certain corners of this country they could get along just fine without the rest of us but that's not part of the program and never has been since this place was founded. California would have a perfectly satisfactory economy were it to go it alone, but that possibility does not exist in our New World. That unity has always made America great; disunity will make Scotland small and mean and drag England backwards with it. 
On a practical level I don't see the value of leaving the UK and then proposing to join the EU. England is planning to re negotiate terms of membership with the Union but by seeking full independence Scotland would get to take itself out of those discussions. I don't think the Euro has been the brilliant idea I had hoped it would become, not least because of the lies propagated by the poorer European states anxious to qualify for membership in the currency.  They downplayed their debt to pass muster with regulators who seemed to pay no attention to reality. Scotland does not seem like it would be much of a boost to the European Union even if it could join as an independent country, and it will be  poor and laden with debt after  it separates from England and Wales and Northern Ireland. 
Change is good, I tell myself, but some changes are hard to swallow. Independence for Scotland rubs me the wrong way and I hope common sense and fear of the unintended consequences will prevail in two weeks and "Better Together" will win out and launch Scotland into a drive to influence, not tear away from, the other kingdom to the south.

It may be coincidence but yesterday marked the end of organized violence in Northern Ireland when most of the IRA decided to stop killing people in an effort to bring Northern Ireland under the influence of the Catholic Church in the Republic. In much the same way that I wonder if Palestine might not exist today had they adopted Gandhian non violence, I wonder if the IRA had chosen non violent civil resistance would Ireland be re-united today? Who knows, but the past is another country, they do things differently there. Wild specualtion in light of the murder and mayhem happing across the world today. Duck and cover, once more. I prefer dogs to people.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

From The Archives: Hilton Haven 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hilton Haven

It's the endless search for that which was, which animates a lot of people who like or want to like Key West. Hilton Haven is little more than a street sized alleyway off North Roosevelt Boulevard and it has many of those elements of old Key West that the nostalgia buffs like to hold over a newbie's head. Finding it is your first problem, and I wonder if this vehicle trying to poke it's snout onto the Boulevard knows it is coming out of Hilton Haven:The street, if that is what it is, isn't labelled or marked in any obvious way, and it may not even appear to be a public street at all, at first glance. This might be nothing more than an entrance to the surprisingly spacious Banana Bay Resort:Even if the casual visitor finds the public right of way through the resort parking lots, Hilton Haven itself remains more of a suggestion than a city street proper:I am a sucker for old coral rock walls, even if they are held together with modern cement and surmounted by modern hurricane fencing rusting gently in the moist seaside air. Old Key West is delightfully evident here:Juxtaposed with modern Key West right next door:Key West in general is too small for total neighborhood segregation and buying or remodelling an expensive home is a crap shoot when it comes to enjoying your neighbors. In most American cities you can define your ideal zone by taking a quick drive and finding where you are comfortable. Key West pushes those assumptions back at you, as it does so much else in modern life. Just because you want an all-mod-con stuccoed palace doesn't mean your neighbor is ready to sell up the tumbledown next door prior to a move to Micanopy or Ocala...Hilton Haven has one other enormous feature that sets it apart from most other residential streets within the city:If you want a dock in your backyard for the most part you have to look at land outside the city, but not in Hilton Haven. This is the mixed up street of tear downs and McMansions, the sidewalkless urban agglomeration that is surrounded on each side by tidal saltwater. To the south Garrison Bight:With the ever busy Boulevard in the distance:And to the north we have the open waters leading to the Gulf of Mexico, by way of the Navy Base at Sigsbee, beyond the obtrusive power poles:And to the west Hilton Haven dead ends into the gut that opens Garrison Bight to the north and across that narrow channel we see the US Coastguard Housing on Fleming Key:Hilton Haven has a few houseboats tied up and I saw what appeared to be the odd liveaboard dinghy squished up in the mangroves waiting for their owners return from a day in the salt mines.For some, waterfront living in Key West is a tad bit more palatial:Though the ultimate symbol of suburban bliss, the lawnmower, here takes second place to the symbol of the joys of open waters, the jet ski:I'm pretty sure I spotted one of the city's senior "deciders" (to coin a phrase) buzzing the winding street on his moped, while one of his neighbors,seen here from behind, taking a slow pedal made time for a cheerful grin and greeting for the intruder with a camera in the right-of-way:There are lots of small curiosities to catch the eye of the camera, the length of Hilton Haven, far more indeed than could fit in one twenty picture essay on the street.But I couldn't leave this corner of rural/urban Key West without a tip of the hat to the long history of slightly irritable sign posting this narrow, confined city produces to this day from, apparently times long past:The sentiment, replicated today in garish plastic has apparently been around for quite some time. I walked the street and risked no tow, and that is what I would recommend to find yet another last corner of mostly old Key West.