Friday, November 21, 2014

Summer in Winter

My friend Nick went to the car show in Miami last week and sent me this picture illustrating the return of Alfa Romeo to the United States. He's a gear head (known as a petrol head on Top Gear) and drives a Lexus, getting only slightly annoyed when I describe it as a Toyota Corolla. He knows I want to own an Alfa before I die, even though the odds look very long at the moment and this picture was his revenge.
My wife, a good sport, agreed to let me get my Vespa nostalgia fix by supporting my purchase two years ago of a 1979 Vespa P200 but I don't think a cramped two seater, be it ever so sexy, would get past her bull shit  meter. Besides I need my Ford Fusion to haul my precious Labrador around. We got a late start on our latest excursion onto Caroline Street, her favorite walk and  the weather was heavily summery. Not good for her fur-ness. I watched a couple of tourists haul their airport luggage down the bumpy sidewalk and pause in the shade to consult a map. It actually was last hot Monday morning.
Cheyenne took an early pause in the shade as the heat and humidity was oppressive. It always happens like that, as we wait for the promised cold front to arrive, the pressure from Up North squeezes the air down south and the temperature rises, rain falls briefly and then the temperature plummets, which is what it did the next day. 
 Plummet is a relative term and you have to be here to appreciate the fact that 63  degrees is cold. It's an uphill battle when Montana is cold enough to kill you and the Northeast is going into the 20s every single night. I hope to god outdoor pets (horrid concept!) are indoors. Cheyenne is and  she likes 60 degrees. There again she pretty much sleeps wherever she wants every night, and she always chooses indoors as any sensible dog would.
When it gets that cold I get out my padded jacket and my handlebar  muffs which is about as wintery as my gear gets. Usually I ride in a mesh jacket and light summer gloves and kept my helmet visor closed on the open highway, but below 70 degrees I get cold. What can I say? Blood gets thin in the tropics.
 I enjoy the shift in seasons, the sun lower on the horizon, the occasional widely spaced cold snaps, the emphasis on less waterborne pastimes. That's enough of a seasonal adjustment for me. If I plan a long distance ride north of Lake Okeechobee I try to plan the trip between cold fronts. Central and north Florida get frost most winters and I actually remember snow flakes drifting down one winter in Tampa. It didn't settle on the ground but my girlfriend and I sat in the window and watched that phenomenon, as she was a Florida native and had no idea what that white crap was.
For Cheyenne was not enjoying the heat but she will be all too frisky all winter long every time temperatures zip down below zero- which is the local joke to describe 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20C). 
I'm telling you, it may not look tough but people who find themselves on vacation here during a cold snap understand that cold in Key West is relative - and unpleasant too. WE just have to tough it out, like folks in Montana and points north.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cross Winds And A Vespa

I did  tell my wife, by way of reassurance that I planned to take the car in to work last night, but there again I told her that the night before when I took the Bonneville...and had a rollicking good time despite a little (a lot actually) of cold wet rain on the ride home at four in the morning. Cheyenne was waiting for me as I stripped off my waterproofs and then demanded a 90 minute walk in freezing North winds. After the fun of my ride I felt unable to refuse her so I got to bed at 6:30 quite chilled and cheerful.
I studied the entrails offered by the National Weather Service and it looked to me like rain might be in the offing but only on the way home which is not much of a problem. Getting soaked and cold on my way to a twelve hour shift in an artificially chilled office is more of an issue. The communications center is kept quite cold year round not for our benefit but to keep the radio telephony stacks at comfortable operating temperatures...which is quite important as tax payers like 911 to work all the time. So getting wet feet and hands and shirt collars and sitting in damp clothes on a 63 degree ride is not indicated. But all looked good enough to risk. Bugger the car! I'm riding!
The next thing to think about was whether to take the Bonneville or the Vespa. The Bonneville has 60 horsepower, enough to fight headwinds easily, and a big windshield to keep my torso warm and relatively dry if the rain's not too heavy or continuous. However the Vespa has floorboards to keep my feet dry if there is any residual rainwater on the road. And the small screen helps to push air over my head though I think it is really more of psychological support in nasty weather. A lot of people think ten inch wheels are a liability at speed or in cross winds but I have never found them to be so. My technique in strong winds, and the weather service reported gusts to 35 miles per hour, is to hold the handlebars lightly and let the machine take care of itself and it works really well. I never get blown across the road and I have been out in stronger winds. You need to keep an eye on passing slab sided vehicles and hedges or buildings that may shield you from the wind because sudden changes in wind pressure can cause a motorbike to lurch but  a light touch on the handlebars is all it takes, I find. 
The Vespa performed flawlessly and I had a nice ride into town easily keeping up with traffic even in the 55mph zone. I had another reason for wanting to test the Vespa in these conditions: next week I am scheduled to drive to Allentown Pennsylvania to get my 1979 P200 back from Gene at Scooters Originali. I can hardly believe the 18 month restoration is just about over. Tuesday morning I plan to show up with my trailer, in what I hope will be 55 degree weather, and tow it south as fast as I can for a Thanksgiving with friends in Georgia, at Jekyll Island. Anyway I am hoping the P200 will perform in similar fashion to my wife's more modern 150cc which I have found ideal for my flatland commute. 
The problem with the Bonneville is that it's too powerful some days for this road. It's an easy bike to ride and seventy miles per hour is entirely comfortable but that just gets me in line for a ticket. My theory is that a Vespa commute will keep the pace slower and leave me less tempted to pass everyone all the time. Why I prefer the old two stroke over a modern Vespa is a story for another day. First I need to make sure my theory about the 1979 nostalgia trip works in real life. That I rode one from New York to San Francisco, via Guadalajara, in 1981 is not a guarantee that this P200 will be the ideal daily rider I think it should be. Certainly my wife's 2004 four stroke automatic handles the job really well at a high cost in tires belts and variators. I am hoping the P200 will use almost no consumables with its gear box needing oil changes and split rim wheels making tire changes easy even at home.
I got to work in plenty of time and in fact there was evidence of rain in the parking lot at work, but I was dry and ready to sit up all night in comfort. My half hour ride is quite a  privilege this time of year when snow and ice is the order of the day most places in the northern hemisphere. I found this rather evocative picture on the Web from a long defunct Italian blog. They seemed to be enjoying snow, something I find hard to imagine frankly.
Vespa snow riding Pavia
To each their own and mine is sun, tropical primary colors and heat thanks.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Not Buffalo Or Michigan But Cold

Last night the cold front that has been generating apocalyptic headlines across the Mid West and North East finally arrived in Key West. I saw 63 degrees but no rain in the forecast, so nothing daunted I hopped on the Bonneville and went to work. I did add my windproof vest as a concession to the cold, but my handlebar muffs and balaclava are secure in the loft in a box...somewhere.
Actually it wasn't too cold at all, I found it bracing and rather fun. I met Shannon at the front door to the office and she looked at me as though I were an idiot for not commuting by car and when I said it was fun she looked worried as though my idea of fun was akin Ebola and quite possibly catching. It's a half hour ride and my fingers wrapped in light summer gloves weren't even close to chilled.
In an effort to  find evidence of cold weather I took Cheyenne to Higgs Beach yesterday and granted the wind honking out of the north was a bit cool I felt no need to wear anything heavier than a short sleeved shirt. The winter homeless/camping population were huddled under the trees as though seeking shade from the cloud covered skies leaving me alone in the parking lot to ponder why one would paint the word "Love" on the side of one's ratty old van. If one plans to camp illegally you'd think a low profile might be indicated, not an incandescent color scheme.
 Over at the bocce court I was struck by the apparent correlation between smoking and bowling. Some people call it bocce ball which is like a fingernail on a  blackboard to me. In Italian that would be like saying "football ball" but I know I will never make any headway on that subject. It's like this new fangled American term for an Italian sandwich all hip and modern called "panini" which in Italian is the plural of  "panino" which means common-or-garden sandwich. So asking for a sandwiches grates on my nerves. But who cares. 
What is truly peculiar is the way people feel the need to sunbathe on the beach even under total cloud cover. I know damaging rays penetrate the clouds and stuff which is why the tourists like to wear broad brimmed hats under gray skies, and I am refraining from commenting how odd that looks, but sitting on a beach on a day like this seems very odd to me. Maybe I should try it.
This next picture might have come out better had I a telephoto lense on my phone camera but it has a symmetry all its own anyway. I was trying to show the small dots on the horizon that are shrimp boats anchored off the south shore of Key West to get out of the heavy weather at sea romised by the cold front. 
Indeed on my ride into work I did get sprayed, albeit lightly, by salt water pushed over the seawall by the strong winds battering North Roosevelt Boulevard. However when one takes a quick check of the Internet and comes across Michigan Live one starts to develop a sense of proportion about cold fronts.
On the whole subject of cold and winter and seasons and all that boring stuff we should obey the proverb and let the sleeping proverbial lie. 
Just like that.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Red Barn And The Poetry Of Hearts

It is winter time in Key West, season of cold breezes and bright white sunshine, a time when the dog can often be left in the car with just the windows open, in the shade of course, and when Culture comes to Key West. Frequently brought here by talented artists from Up, North who seek winter refuge down here and bring their considerable talents with them.
The Red Barn Theater has kicked off the winter season of live theater with a new play by playwright Bob Bowersox a man who apparently made quite a career in television selling dust catchers as well as acting in more conventional roles on stage and in television and in movies. He's turned his talented hand to writing plays and luckily for Key West he likes to stage them in his home town. I wasn't sure what to expect when I saw the poster advertising the play but I knew I wanted to see it.
The Red Barn is a totally cool space to go see a play. Its hidden somewhat off Duval Street's 300 block behind the Women's Club, and the theater itself fronts onto a relatively large brick courtyard, handy for two wheeler parking but also useful as a space to drop off patrons who arrive by car but aren't able to walk very far. There is a small bar with outdoor seating under the tree canopy and if you aren't alone as I was for this performance, it's a good spot to come early and meet friends. They have 35 seasons under their belt so they have the process of putting on plays pretty well figured out.
The play itself, a family drama set in Arizona was an absorbing study of end of life issues, the successful poet facing one more challenge and one more honor in a long career and being forced to choose between ambition and the reality of a career run dry. He is surrounded by an ambitious wife backed by an equally eager agent on one side balanced by a sympathetic daughter and brother on the other. In the middle for light relief a lively and indifferent nurse who enjoys life  and watches the family unravel with professional detachment and a wry sense of humor. I enjoyed the writing and the performances especially as the author managed to avoid the cliches of manufactured drama- no sudden discoveries of dark hidden family secrets or sudden inexplicable plot twists. I thought the story held together well overall and the drama came from within the characters. It was a good night out (right before I had to show up to work one more overtime shift! Argh!). 
I know that Up North winter is hitting much of the center of the continent quite hard, an thus winter has arrived. The effects of that sudden deeply cold snap are visible on our roads every day with a sudden influx of out of state tags. In Key West where the cold snaps have produced lows in the mid 60s and are cold enough thanks, the start of winter is marked by the shift in focus from the great watery outdoors to literary pursuits and as always I promise myself not to miss a play at the Red Barn or the Waterfront but unhappily I shall, I always do and regret it. Key West offers  a lot each winter for such a  modest cockpit.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Talking Trash On Greene Street

Among other shortcomings I lack the capacity for small talk. In Key West this can be debilitating when you plan on making friends in a watering hole of  a slow afternoon. Consequently bars aren't really my cup of tea as I have zero interest in sports, balls or light fizzy beer. I miss Finnegan's Wake, which is currently under reconstruction, and they say a refreshed first rate Irish pub is  to be resurrected. I wonder if Colcannon Balls will be back on the menu? Or that dreamy vast Irish breakfast? Or draught Boddington's? I am apparently not alone in missing Finnegan's Wake. The new resort hotel on Caroline Street is coming to life and is overshadowing in a big way Schooner Wharf, a bar that doesn't do much for me but is exceedingly popular. I wonder how long its rustic charm will fend off this sort of gentrification:

I found myself at 511 Greene Street one evening and dropped into the bar there called World of Beer which is supposed to offer several hundred bottles of beer and a few on tap as well. I am no expert on bars unlike this blogger who liked this place quite  a lot, so I suppose I should defer to another's expertise. I found the place cavernous and not terribly cozy, especially if one were in the mood to try tasting a few of the exotic and interesting beers listed in the massive menu. Instead I sat at a shiny bright wooden bar in a high chair that propped me up like a stiff backed mannequin and supped something from a bottle as the draft beers were all battery acid IPA "craft" beers. Ho hum,  twenty minutes spent irretrievably and a handful dollars I'll never get back in this life. I dreamed of cozy settles and dark corners and stout smooth Irish beer and small silent televisions in the distance.
When I was out walking (and photographing bicycles) I walked past the World of Beer window and looked in. I was trying to figure out just why this place  which is according to Trip Adviser (whence the photo) a franchised operation, doesn't do it for me when it gets rated so highly on the web. I was pondering the problem while my dog hunted down a few discarded pizza  crusts in the area of Paradise Pizza on Greene.
World of Beer: Inside
Two men were standing on the sidewalk and one of them, a  young African American asked me what I thought of it. I am no fan of impromptu conversations, certainly not on the street at four in the morning but one wants to be polite and by my nature when asked a question like that I tend to be honest. So I was. Not much, I said, pointing out the lack of warmth in the room and the uncomfortable high chairs which make me feel under aged as I swing my feet at the bar. 
Whoever the kid is he's a devoted employee, pointing out the back room which I had not seen, the kitchen, the food the beer choices and on and on. Cheyenne was planted next to the trash can vacuuming crusts discarded by dainty pizza patrons and she would not be moved - bad dog! I was stuck on the end of her leash trying to sidle away from the World of Beer disciple while I was also getting cornered by his sidekick an older scruffy white man, who had picked up on my conversational gambit attempting, rather feebly to divert my dissatisfaction with the World of Beer into a lament for the loss of my favorite, Finnegan's Wake. The black guy was chuntering on about the amenities, nothing deterred while the white guy was cornering me and telling me about the Irish bar when it first opened...Much cleaner probably I said, unable to think of any small talk to extricate myself. Of course he snarled it was NEW! Finally Cheyenne, gorged on pizza left overs picked up the pace and headed off toward Duval in search of adventure. The cabs were lined up on Duval waiting for the bars to disgorge  fares. and no one wanted talk to me. Lovely.
After that encounter I could have used a beer, but sales are banned between four and seven in the morning in Key West, so I was just out of luck. My bed called in one direction, at last I was sleepy, but dog pulled in the other, she was just getting started. Another nutty Key West morning.