Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ft Myers - A Moveable Feast

You wake up far too early, but not early enough. Cheyenne's awake and that means it's time to go walking. And because you just spent the night in La Quinta - the dog-friendly chain - you can't be in Key West.

The airport La Quinta is twenty minutes from downtown and Cheyenne likes downtown. We've been here before, practically every other weekend for a year as we have worked on our new business. My partner Jeff lives in the area so this is where we plan, brainstorm argue and cajole and reassure each other. It's exhausting so a calming dog walk is a great way to start the day.
I sent this picture to my buddy Nick who is wrapping up his Lexus lease. Nick likes to drive do naturally he lives in Key West, which is a long story but lets just say his mother lives in Key West. This Scion is what he wants next and I was quite proud of myself for recognizing it as such. It's quite pretty too.

Cheyenne likes downtown Ft Myers because it turns out they party hearty in this town - more on that in a minute. More importantly I like Ft Myers because it's full of little surprises like this architectural motif. An Arab doorway in this town?

The city I lived in decades ago has changed, not surprisingly, but in some respects it has changed for the better. Downtown is full of places to eat drink sit out out, sit in and listen to music. They also try to respect and remember their history, as illustrated by the historic plaque placed somewhat inappropriately on the fountain in the square. Better that than the alligators used to draw tourists decades ago.
Pretty spot.

As to why Cheyenne likes coming here every couple of weeks, that's because some things haven't changed in this town. This pretty downtown doesn't stop people from discarding surplus food wherever they stand. Even fifty feet from a trash can Cheyenne could find pizza crusts parked in flower pots, slices in boxes on the ground...she even found a Mcdonalds sandwich in the street.

Ft Myers is not a hotbed of intellectual ferment. It's a provincial town where pink Crocs, weird accents and peculiar humor have no place. I liked commuting by bicycle and every night as we closed the shop someone would ask if I was tired of riding yet. Nope. If I wanted I had a motorcycle but not having a car made me weird. It got tiring. However this corner of conservative Florida has warm weather and superb beaches and...Germans? Yup. They love coming here. Now the Euro is in the toilet I'm guessing the flood of German vacation home buyers is drying up.

You can buy houses here for prices that would make a Key West house hunter weep. $250,000 for a four bed, four bath with garage and pool? And I dare say a nice kitchen, proper air conditioning and no drunks crashing in your flower bed or shitting in your driveway at three in the morning. How d'you like them apples, hip Key West?
Ft Myers is a river town do if you want to spin in salt water you need to drive a half hour. Mind you, you need to drive a half hour to go practically anywhere as Lee County is the poster boy for uncontrolled urban sprawl. The thing is urban planning is an instrument of government devilry which is not electable here so the core of the old city, platted on a frontier Army fort built to keep Seminoles at bay, is surrounded by an infestation of neon, franchises and familiar chains. Useful but dreary, which makes the revitalized downtown even more valuable. And look how clean it is, aside from the stray pizza crust...

Forty five minutes under overcast skies and herself was done. She doesn't want breakfast my puzzled wife asked as Cheyenne walked past her bowl. Nah I said as Cheyenne passed out, she's had it already.

She had a hard life before they dumped her at the pound and I guess she likes what she's used to, even if it seems weird to me. I'd like it if she slept on a bed but she is her own boss in retirement and if she wants to sleep on the floor or eat pizza for breakfast, so be it.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Slow For Construction

It seems Florida DOT engineers who came to Key West to organize the re-paving of North Roosevelt Boulevard were shocked by the state of Highway One between Stock Island and Big Coppitt. One thing led to another and now we face nearly two years of faffing around while contractors pretend to work diligently on our highway. They have diligently reduced the speed limit along this five mile stretch from an already modest 55 to an even more coma-inducing 45 miles per hour. So now from Mile Marker Ten to the city traffic is supposed to travel at fast bicycle speed. Oddly enough most people ignore the 45 mile per hour limit.

The problem is that the Department of Transportation imposed an unworkable blanket limit on the entire stretch of four lane road and proceeded to do absolutely bugger all road work. Construction? None visible. Then they started to disassemble the bridge at Boca Chica. Then they put out a bunch of cones and then they tore up the median strip, trees grass and all. The pot holed highway remains untouched and the 45 mph speed limit remains. An unimpressive start to a two year project.

Oddly enough these apparently immovable cement buttresses on the bridges are screwed together like Lego bits - who knew? - and they can be taken apart like building blocks. So naturally they pulled apart one whole side of the Boca Chica bridge and like children bored by a new toy they have just sort of left all the bits there, waiting for mother to come by and clean up. I know this because I idle by at 45 and see no signs of human occupation of this "work" site. (The big gray pipe brings water to the Keys from the South Florida Aquifer).

We went through this with the reconstruction of the Boulevard, a job that started out with massive disruption and then stalled for months. Because local businesses were being disrupted the state got called on the mat and the half-witted contractor was flogged back onto the job. Here there are no businesses, just the indentured servants commuting as quickly as they can and tourists who prefer to drive slowly to enjoy the view. I expect this chaos will drift merrily on for the full length of the scheduled construction period and beyond.

The entitled retired, unemployed and idle rich often wonder why anyone wants to drive even the speed limit which is a legitimate question considering how many zombies I see driving with a cellphone in their hand. I'd rather ride the speed limit and pay attention but I am in a decided minority. The emphasis on reducing speed over the years has created this weird belief that no matter what, as long as you are doing the speed limit or less you are driving safely. Speed kills after all. Driving distracted is a complex notion and depriving entitled citizens of instant, constant electronic contact is a non starter in a world where cars are status symbols, offices away from home, personal spaces or anything but a means of transportation.

The state has put up these electronic billboards which say "An Alert Driver Can Avoid A Crash." I think the word can is misplaced, could or should or will might be better. If you ain't alert you won't avoid it...But there again the state puts up a ton of signs that read "Slower Traffic Keep Right," and look at all the good they do. None, zombies still plonk along all the time in the passing lane. And now they can do 45 miles per hour, send texts and insist they are driving "safe." (Safely in my grammatical world). They aren't, they are just driving slow. (Slowly).

There are days when I think commuting is over rated. But there are a few points in my favor: the weather is excellent so riding is always an option and my old Vespa doesn't offer me the acceleration of my motorcycle that increases frustration when zombies are driving five under the limit. On the Vespa plonking along is a way of life, a lifestyle choice to some degree. I work at night so the bulk of the cages are going the opposite way. This does mean ducking onto the shoulder from time to time as those few poor souls trying to make progress and escape the marmalade crush of slow moving commuters occasionally mis-time their passes and come toward me on my side of the road. I forgive them because I appreciate their enterprise. My commute on the wrong side of the flow is actually relaxing and riding the 63 mph Vespa adds to that.

I am not in the habit of naming machines I ride. I am human they are mechanical so calling my Vespa Rosie or Betelgeuse strikes me as odd. But in this case, thanks to the Vespa's ability to pass distracted cages and flash my antique tag in their faces I have taken to calling my ride The Emasculator. I get to work and Nick asks: "So how many cars did you castrate tonight?" Its not my fault they under estimate my 12 horsepower scooter I say. Do 45 in a 55 and that's what you get. Besides when they zoom past me later in a snit ( I can pass sometimes but not out run!)I can hide in their shadow and let them take the speed trap on the chest. There's more than one way to emasculate a zombie it turns out.


Christina Canters Is my guest on the podcast today. She quit a successful career in Australia and took off around the world to see what she could find. She is online, she is back home and she is here for you to be inspired by her story.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

World Vespa Days, Croatia

I am not a clubby kind of rider, but my hat is off to a whole group of English riders of scooters who have made a not inconsiderable effort to cross much of Europe, most of them on two wheels, to attend World Vespa Days on the Adriatic Coast of Croatia. While the idea of riding in a group, drinking in a group and camping in a group doesn't suit my loner temperament at all, the idea of a 1300 mile ride across Europe using a patently "unsuitable" touring machine certainly tickles my taste for adventure. It turns out some scooters broke down but so did vans hauling some of the scooters to the event! This guy rode on a Vespa newer than but similar to mine:
The parent company of Vespa scooters, Piaggio is not known for its collegial support of owners of it's vehicles but from early on the factory organized clubs and rallies to promote its scooters. Now, sixty years on they are still doing it. The pictures I have reproduced here come from the webpage of the Vespa Club of Britain Journey to Croatia which has photos and comments from members on the road and in the peanut gallery back home.
The thing to realize about these riders is not only their dedication to their low powered scooters but also to their willingness to step outside their cultural comfort zones. These are not necessarily people who criss cross Europe on a whim and my hat is off to them for taking on a journey that may not involve customs and borders anymore (Croatia is in the European Union) but retains a great deal of foreignness for people who live on an island, drive on the other side of the road and drink beer unlike any other nation's. They do the best they can and make do:
Yet these intrepid riders took their machines and headed out and if you read the comments they are having the time of their lives, the ones that aren't breaking down.
Croatia was one of the countries that made up the former Yugoslavia and that inherited a fabulous chunk of coastline that everyone should enjoy. My wife and I drove it in a car (boo hiss!) a few years ago and really want to go back. 
The rally is a town called Biograd na moru whereever that is but it looks like fun riding.
I don't know what engines are powering these lovely old Vespas in the photo below but if they are original they have a top speed around 50 mph so I would not be surprised if they went to the rally by trailer or van. Not all vans did so well either. We call this a  wrecker, the English call it "recovery" and either way it costs money.
However a lot of Vespa riders in Britain refuse to go to these events at home or abroad except under their own scooter power, so this dude putting on sunscreen may have ridden all the way for all I know. The English are martyrs to the heat of southern Europe. 
I drew a rough Google map to give an idea of a possible route, 1300 miles over  24 hours in a car...Imagine that on a ten horsepower ride chugging up over the Alps to get to...the other side! Intrepid riders.
Because they are Vespa World Days you can imagine there are scooters from all over the place heading to this jamboree but I went with the British website for the lack of barriers to communication. Of course the British riders start with the over-the-water problem of living on a real island. In this case we see a scooter and an unrelated "proper" motorcycle using the train that takes the Channel Tunnel to go underneath the water complete with cell phone service apparently:
Lots of pictures of Vespas and mountains as the riders made their way south, a mixture of modern and ancient scooters all being ridden:

Yeah. I saw this picture of the Passo Stelvio in June and I shuddered. When I was riding the Dolomites a couple of years ago I got snowed on in July. Nice country! Not exactly tropical though. 
2005 meters in Old Money stands at 6600 feet, not a huge mountain pass by western US standards but high in Europe. And conquered by simple two stroke scooters:
This scooter flying the flag of the Isle of Man, with no visible luggage, spent two days riding up and down the infamous Stelvio Pass whose hairpins can be seen in the background in both pictures.

Some scooter riders skipped some of the mountains and rode down Italy to catch a ferry across the Adriatic.

There are blurry pictures of night time fun at the rally, but my interest here is in the journey not the embarrassment of alcohol. Well earned though considering the effort to get there. And by the time you read this the scooters will be starting their treks home. 

It's not always obvious from this side of the Atlantic but it turns out there is a substitute for cubic capacity! It's called riding what you've got, no excuses!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Ducati Scrambler

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I did the geek thing and while I was leaving Salute on the Beach I crossed paths with a brand new model of a brand new motorcycle, a Ducati designed to take a slice of the market so ably created by the Triumph Bonneville. The Ducati Scrambler 800 is both more powerful and lighter than my Bonneville and it is a pretty machine.
Ducati built a range of single cylinder motorcycles in the 1970's which were quite popular at the time. I never owned one because they had a tremendous reputation for vibrating and being an uncomfortable ride. I, even then, had my sights set on touring by motorcycle and my machines might have been equally uncomfortable but they didn't vibrate like these machines, which now look to my elderly eye quite lovely and desirable!. 
But, just like my Bonneville which is a picture of an elderly Triumph but not a real one these modern Ducatis are said to be fast and easy to ride and great fun.
I was hoping for some low down on these very new machines but the owner, from Czech originally could only tell me it was his second ever motorcycle and he liked it. Being the nerd I am I think I knew more about his ride than he did! Nice guy he even incautiously offered me a ride but I declined because...that isn't done! The last time I loaned someone my bike they crashed it so don't even ask.
I was on my way to work so I had to book on my old Vespa. I had been at Salute saying good bye to a dear friend whose mother is not well and who unfortunately lives in Illinois. It happens a lot in Key West, people who are permanent fixtures have family or other obligations Up North and off they go.
Nan, dressed in white, was quite tearful as this was not an easy departure. Her friends crowded round as one does and I expect each of us was secretly glad it wasn't our turn to slip off the island and go north.
This was the view from her front yard and she won't be replicating it in Illinois on the banks of the Mississippi. She told me she spent every waking moment she could sitting out here taking it all in one more time. "I wish I canceled my cable long ago, not last week." It gave me renewed appreciation for my deck, that conversation. I went out last night and stood in the breeze watching the thunderheads crackle, thinking of Nan.
I hope her departure will be temporary, I know she misses this place already. We keep hanging on.