Saturday, June 20, 2015

Triumph Bonneville Memories

I am quite fond of this round up of images of my well traveled Bonneville. They don't cover every trip we've done together, and I hope to have more trips in the not-too-distant future. I have 84,000 miles on it and it's still running fine. The Vespa has taken some of the pressure off it as a daily rider but that isn't to say I don't like riding it. To me it's the ideal motorcycle for me, a solid all rounder and a great versatile daily rider. I can't ask for anything more from a motorcycle. It's long overdue an overhaul and that it deserves more than anything. Other bikes may come and go but this one stays. This and my old Vespa and my wife''s new Vespa. But the Bonneville is the go anywhere all rounder. Fast enough for freeway trafgic, agile enough for the city, planted enough for dirt roads. Reliable and fun. Great bike. Here's why:

The Bonneville From The Archives

I have been sifting through the archives and it occurred to me I have been around the block a few times since I bought the bike in October 2007. Above I rode an Iron Butt to New York State in 36 hours, then I went to visit Jack Riepe in 2010 recorded in one of my better essays: Key West Diary: Riding With Riepe. I also rode across Florida to a conference and got to spend a long enjoyable day in the saddle exploring the back roads of central Florida.
I used to use Triumph soft saddlebags made of cloth that was neither waterproof nor impervious to being twisted by the wind. After they tore from constant use I replaced them with heavier but solid and waterproof 1430 Pelican cases which I bolted to the soft bag frames. They still work just fine, seen here on a rain-filled ride to Georgia for a family gathering:
The Bonneville continues to run perfectly with almost 80,000 miles on the clock.
Back and forth on Highway One.
In the years between dogs, after Emma died but before I found Cheyenne, I did a lot of lonely Keys exploration by motorcycle. Fishcutters on Summerland became The Wharf:
Garrison Bight:
My preferred parking when going to a movie at the Tropic Cinema.
On my many miles of commuting I have seen fog a couple times:
But this is, in my estimation the perfect motorcycling climate, usually between 65 and 95 degrees year round.
One year I rode my bicycle to the Summerland Key polling station three miles from my home, and the poll workers said I was the first cyclist they had ever seen. As time has passed I have cone to find less and less comfort in voting as money seems to count a lot more than what we the voters have to say, but so far I have not yet found the courage to ignore the process entirely.
Another mainland trip saw me coming home from the Everglades on a Highway 27, my preferred non-freeway route across central Florida. Here at the junction southbound with Krome Avenue:
I also got held up by a massive wreck on Krome Avenue that trip which closed the road and I sat in the grass waiting...just as though it had been the Overseas Highway.
And as I usually prefer Card Sound road to the no-passing restrictions of the 18 mile stretch I found myself getting ready to pay the dollar toll to cross the Card Sound Bridge:
Frank Deford the NPR sports commentator also came to Key West in 2008, typical of the caliber of visitors to the Southernmost City in winter:
Key West Diary: Frank Deford
A day on Cudjoe Key, pre-Cheyenne, saw me riding out to the horses stabled on Asturias, and then visiting the flooded gravel pits on the other side of Blimp Road. Kids liked to drive around there and that of course had to be stopped so now they've blocked off the entrance, on the puritanical principle that fun must not be had. I'm sure it has you do with liability or some other such thing.
I would ride to El Mocho on Stock Island for my favorite Cuban food, truly the place where locals eat:
The Overseas Highway through Stock Island hasn't changed much:

They've taken out a few passing zones when they recently repaved stretches of it (bastards!) but the sun still shines on a Highway One:

The Bonneville is an easy bike to ride, not light at 500 pounds but I find it scooter-like in the ease of the controls, so I enjoy exploring back roads on it, here at Bay Point, Mile Marker 15:

Also at Bay Point Knuckleheads didn't work but it made way for what appears to be a successful eatery called Kaya Island Eats. I ate there last week and it seemed pretty good, much better than my first visit when it opened, but I suppose that was to be expected. Kaya Island Eats
In 2007 I went to my home in Italy for the first time in 25 years and I rented a BMW 650 to ride around Umbria. It was a good bike but rather breathless compared to my easy going Bonneville.

The Summerland runway is still there flanked by homes equipped with airplane garages. The signage is a bit more imposing these days.

But the point remains the same, cars and airplanes shouldn't mix.
Part of the pleasure of the Key West climate is that it rains mostly in summer when it's hot and summer rain is no big deal. Hypothermia is highly unlikely on a commute around here:
And the sunrise can be quite comforting as one rides home from a long night at work.


Anonymous said...
Hi again,
Still reading and enjoying your blog. Finally warming up here in TN, and the forsythia, flowering quince, Bradford pears, etc. are blooming. Dogwoods will be blooming soon. :)

Just wondering, but have you ever thought about getting a sidecar for your bike so Cheyenne could go with you on your rides? Some goggles to protect her eyes....

Pat Griffith Crossville,Tennessee
Trobairitz said...
I enjoyed all the Bonneville pics.

Hard to believe it has 80,000 miles on it and still running great.
Conchscooter said...
I went through the sidecar thing but it's five grand to slow the bike down, increase wear and tear and make parking awkward. Plus if I had Cheyenne with me in the car she travels more omfortably and can stay happily in the car when I arrive. Glad spring has arrived Up North though.
My Bonneville is the best bike iveowned. It still amazes me.
Danette Baltzer said...
Always enjoyable stopping by. Especially since we're getting a bit of snow today. Brrrr....

Friday, June 19, 2015


I have planned an escape today, a ride away from responsibility and family duties, a day alone with my old Vespa testing my theories about its suitability, even in this century, as a machine to see the sights. So I'm off for a ride, leaving behind a dog who I hopes forgives me for my less than complete attention to her needs. My wife already gave her blessing and my Vespa so far has not chosen to give up under my best efforts to push. If this goes wrong it may take a while to extract myself and my elderly scooter from the depths of the Everglades. I've located what may be an interesting dirt road in Seminole Country, which may or may not be gated and there's only one way to find out, so off I go. Tires inflated, including the spare, tools a few, rear wheel jack, plenty of two stroke oil and an extra jug of gas, and of course spare light bulbs. Here we go...

In light of the fact I plan to spend the day as far from tidal water as possible in South Florida I thought to post a few pictures of just that today. Here they are, with a very hot dog, who sat in the shade and soon demanded to be taken home. Which is one reason why I don't feel so bad buggering off to the Everglades for the day. 95 degrees doesn't please my Labrador.




Some anchoring device planted in the rock. The water here is too shallow for boats so perhaps it was used to secure some land structure once. I never noticed it before.


I had to include a Clyde Butcher impression. He's up the west coast for the summer he says, but his gallery on Tamiami a Trail is always worth an inspirational stop. That's on my route today...

I hope this is as much fun as it looks on paper. Could be sweaty work if not.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hotel Life

When people come to visit Key West they most often think of staying in a cute guest house in Old Town, something like this:
But there are modern hotels in town with all the modern conveniences you'd expect, a beach perhaps, a swimming pool, a concierge and all that stuff.  When you live in town this other side of life in Key West tends to slip by unnoticed. 
Until you meet friends at a hotel restaurant or bar for say brunch, or a drink then suddenly you see how others view Key West. I have to say wandering the carpeted halls of the big hotels you can find yourself fancying life in Key West quite a bit. People wait on you in uniform, under blasting air conditioning vents. You can find yourself in a room with people speaking half a dozen different languages. It's quite exotic. 
I met my wife yesterday for coffee in the Starbucks coffee shop at the Courtyard by Marriott on North Roosevelt Boulevard. It had been a  hot ride into town, summer is  full on right now and I was glad to feel the chill. The serenity of the dark lobby, the calm orderliness of the bar were in stark contrast to the unseasonably heavy traffic outside.
I think I could learn to spend some time in here looking out at the frantic mobs on the streets outside. It was a bit like a US embassy in some sad foreign land where revolutionary catastrophe is about to engulf the residents and we privileged foreigners get to watch from the balcony with a gin and tonic and plenty of ice in hand. I felt removed from the tumult. Of course I was going to rejoin the flow outside the compound soon enough and instead of gin I had coffee but the principle applies. I was on the set of The Killing Fields.
Of course you will make the argument that Key West seen that way may not be as pure and authentic as sweating it out with the homeless on Caroline Street. But I get plenty of reality every day. Being a creature of privilege for a minute felt pretty good. Inauthentic but relaxed. I should do it more often.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why I Love My Smart Phone

I have been noticing some rather dismissive comments on the Internet about people using cell phones in public, and I suppose because I use my phone in public I feel it is incumbent for someone, let it be me, to offer a coherent defense of the practice. Stand by to get pissed off, but bear in mind this blog comes to you through my phone cameras. No smart phone = no pictures. And let me say right here that my iPhone cameras are not complete, they have no telephoto and I find depth of field difficult to accomplish with a camera that always wants perfect focus everywhere all the time. But taking pictures, storing them and downloading them is easy and free. I count $5 a year for Picasa storage to be as free as anything considering they give me more storage space than I can use in a lifetime. So no, I will continue to look at my phone when I want to. Here's why:
If you want to have a conversation with me you have got some serious competition on my little screen. Standing in line at the grocery store I am more inclined to read my Kindle than I am to listen to a stranger talk about the weather Up North, her pet's incontinence or her family's health. These are subjects that I value in people I see day to day, people with whom I can converse and get to know, and share my dry sense of humor with, but a stranger dropping a conversational bomb in line at the supermarket, some intimacy or disaster of a personal nature, is an example of bad public manners than me reading my phone. In the same way I don't need the clerk commenting on my purchases as I like the anonymity of shopping for myself. I don't  view grocery shopping as a social expedition.

I have my own issues, I know, and small talk doesn't come easily to me so hiding inside my phone is a huge blessing for me in public spaces. Maybe I don't want to make eye contact, people with Asperger's like me are known for such behavior and having a phone to read makes walking around in public so much easier. Not a hugely valid excuse I grant you but there it is. I have no idea how to talk sports, weather or fishing with strangers. I'm much more interested in Greece defaulting, the Supreme Court wrecking Obamacare or why Canada is making citizenship easily revoked. Not likely the subject of conversation in most lines I find myself overhearing.

Public cell phone use is now the object of study in scholarly magazines.From Psychology Today Magazine

"This isn’t addiction. This is social interaction. When you conduct your social life via text, keeping track of your cell phone takes on particular importance. Older adults, like me, shouldn’t make judgments about cell phone use in younger adults, or at least we should withhold the negative evaluations of people constantly checking their cell phones. Perhaps instead we can respect the cell phone and internet natives. These young adults have grown up using cell phones and the internet. They’ve learned to effectively maintain and enhance (and sometimes end) social relationships through the ether. Maybe they will be more engaged with and attached to their social groups than older adults who are still learning to keep in touch in the modern era."
I was delighted when GPS came to boating; having the ability to track one's course across an empty body of water was fantastic. I hated traditional technology, I was useless with sextants and mathematics but GPS was lovely and reassuring. Then GPS came to cars and land navigation and I thought it was clunky and useless to a map reader like me. My wife, an abysmal map navigator loved the GPS mapping in her phone. She became an expert navigator in our car. I slowly saw the value of GPS and now I can say it is a valuable tool on my phone. The fact is most people don't know their own way round their neighborhoods. People just aren't very curious, so when a stranger comes up and asks directions they just shrug. Yesterday a tourist wanted to know where to find Key deer. I gave him accurate directions with landmarks from memory to No Name Key. When was the last time you asked a gas station attendant (really a mini mart clerk) the way to someplace? How did that work for you? My phone leads right up to my destination no matter where it is. Plus it figures out where the road is blocked and diverts me without even asking. Bloody amazing. Mind you, I grew up in an old fashioned world so I still retain my ability to understand maps and place myself on the face of the Earth as needed. My world view isn't limited to my electronic map. My other new technology break through has been Skype, seen here with my business partner discussing our project in a phone meeting.
The team I have assembled to build my invention stretches from South Florida's mainland where my partner the engineer lives, and Central Florida where our Attorney does her patent magic, to New York where my Marketing guy works to Pennsylvania where the Executive Producer lives (the guy who raises money) to California where the Sales Manager lives. And we communicate in ways that two decades ago were barely functional. E-mails, texts/SMS photos and notes as attachments, and Skype, all free and relatively easy making a combined effort possible. I'm supposed to want to revert to an abacus and parchment? Hell no. If the technology offends I say too bad, this is how we do it, my phone means I can communicate from anywhere to anywhere and that for me is liberation. And then there is the human touch.
In the photo above I'm wearing a t-shirt offered to readers of the blog Rocket and Me published by an architect in Jacksonville who rides Vespas madly and who I have never met. Except online. He offered t-shirts with designs of his new blog page created by his daughter, and I took him up on it. Who knows if that counts as a relationship worth having or is it a relationship at all? Will it become one when we inveterate travelers meet? Beats me but there it is, an internet connection, and without my phone it wouldn't exist at all. I am a man who has an all consuming curiosity, I like to explore and having the power of an infinite number of encyclopedias in my pocket amazes me every day. My phone has a flashlight, cameras, a weather forecaster, a speedometer, maps, books, newspapers, a note pad, a telephone and the modern equivalent of a telegram, an alarm clock a television and a calculator. I'm supposed to wish it didn't exist? I love that I can hide behind my phone. All you extroverts have to remember that we shy people don't want to talk, we don't know where to look as you walk towards us, we have no fund of small talk for strangers. Our phones are our smokescreen. Don't assume that because I'm looking at my phone I don't know what's going on around me or that I don't appreciate the natural world. Perhaps I enjoy it more when you aren't in my line of sight forcing me to look away and feel awkward.
My wife and I met at Roostica for several appetizers on Stock Island the other evening. I made a note for my phone diary to remember to meet her (!) and we talked for forty minutes before I left to go to work. We've been married for going on 21 years and we still have plenty to talk about. At home we read in the same room, watch Netflix, and choose to ignore each other or the outside world from time to time. She puts up with my picture taking, and occasionally encourages it. She is not alone in standing by while I look at the world through my own eyes and the phone camera. I swear sometimes Cheyenne gets pissed at me for forcing her to share our walks with my phone.
I don't feel like apologizing for my phone. I guess in the end that's all there is to it. I like my phone and my iPhone a purchase required by my new business, has grown on me to be quite the useful companion, more so even than my old Android. My wife says that from reluctant Luddite I have become a smart phone aficionado. An old dog learning new tricks.

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.