Friday, September 8, 2017

Holding Pattern

I left my house shuttered and as secure as possible with my car parked at the top of the hill under the house and my Bonneville motorcycle snug in front of it. My hill top driveway is by Keys standards a good long way above sea level so much so my neighbor wants to park his car alongside mine for the duration. No problem I said, as you do.
The worry now is that with winds from this monstrous hurricane aiming somewhere between Miami and Marathon the hurricane will bring huge sea surge, more saltwater than was pushed ashore by Hurricane Wilma in 2005 so everyone who remembers is freaked out and those who don't remember are picking up the vibe from those of us who were there.
Image result for wilma flooding
                                                                          City of Key West picture
No one likes living inside a house with hurricane shutters over the windows and if you haven't done it you should to never have to. It's weird, like being in prison as friend said yesterday. Plus you have to have the lights on all day. Plus you plants are all in the living room and your outdoor furniture is piled in the office and you just have to ignore it all.
I got up at eleven as usual after a night's work and went into town, 25 miles from my house, to take an exercise class. But first I visited some tourist attractions and took my picture.
Other locals were there too and I got my picture taken at Mile Marker Zero.
Then I went to exercise and rode home through a deserted town and on a deserted highway.
There were a few cars around but it was weird. The highway was a bit of a race course with the few cars on the road speeding like I wish they'd speed on work days. I was ambling along enjoying the day in no hurry and cars hurtled past me like the chariots of hell were on their heels. I was quite impressed by their performance but I stuck to the 55 mph I was enjoying. 
And it was a gorgeous day in every respect. A light breeze bright sunshine and puffy clouds. My chores were done and I went for a swim in the canal. By the time my fingers were wrinkly I went upstairs to brew some tea and settled into my rocking chair for an hour drying off in the shade. Then I took a nap. I realized a hurricane watch was declared but I decided to enjoy my day on my own time and it was perfect. 
The storm has been marked as heading toward Miami but there is a lot of concern it could head closer to Key West but as far as I'm concerned what is, is. I'm slated to work and this opportunity to be home, in a silent neighborhood with no one to please but myself was fantastic. I put Mozart on the phone speaker and it was so quiet I could swim and hum along to the phone sitting on the deck above my head.
Of course I had a glitch. I did my laundry and set my uniform to dry on the balcony with a nice crease in the pants as the brass will be out in force at work. I woke from my nap to the sounds of a  downpour and I suddenly remembered my pants and polo shirt drying outside. Too late! I put them in the dryer while I showered and they were still nice and damp. Nothing a  brisk ride to work wouldn't dry ( though the collar is still damp three hours later). I buttoned up the shutters on the door and noticed my last pair of pink Crocs sitting forlornly outside the now impenetrable house. So I tossed them in the car on my way to the Vespa.
The Vespa is a great tool for this kind of situation and it would be better had I remembered to fill a five gallon jug of gas so I could refuel at home...But it will be easy to park in a semi-protected spot at work, it will dodge debris lying in the road after the storm (if it doesn't drown) and it's fun to ride on empty roads in glorious sunshine.
The cars strung out on high ground have multiplied in number along the Overseas Highway. This lot are parked on the hump over the entrance to the Boca Chica Navy Base. Who knows it may be a great idea! That's the thing about hurricanes: everyone pretends there's a science to survival but its all blind luck.
North Roosevelt Boulevard was deserted for long minutes as I rode into Key West shortly before seven yesterday evening. The scene was eerie along the main road into town:






And when I got to work Nick and I took over from Keith and Kristi who are covering days shift. Then the captain gave me the great news.
Winds are not expected Friday so I get to go home and Do IT All Again! Fantastic! This time I'll lock my Crocs safely in the house when I leave for work not expecting to return.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Calm Before The Storm

Waiting for a hurricane to make landfall is a period in one's life that requires patience and the ability to keep oneself amused by the daily requirements of this most peculiar time. The weather is lovely if a little warm, the southernmost buoy bathed in afternoon sunlight and  no great crowd around it...This is the reward for the work, the uncertainty and the moodiness that hits  a lot of people at times like these.
Key West residents are doing their thing as they wait to see what Hurricane Irma brings. Why did the chicken cross Whitehead Street? Because it could as there was no traffic at all in any direction.
Why was he passed out? Because ...why not? Actually I suspect he was sober and doing fine and simply was reveling in the lack of people and traffic and noise and bustle across Old Town Key West. I felt like doing the same thing and enjoying the lush cool grass but work beckoned.
Every time I paused and turned off the Vespa engine the 150 cc burble died away to a bucolic silence like you will rarely hear on Duval Street in daylight hours:
Hotels are closed, stores are closed and gas stations are out of gas. As far as I know the only fuel in the Lower Keys pending resupply (if any) yesterday was at the Shell station on 1st Street , see below for the line, and the two gas stations on Summerland Key which seemed to be running low. I suspect the Chevron on Ohio Key might have some but I did not ride that far, almost to the Seven Mile Bridge. Looking for gas is one of those peculiar amusements. I saw one fight break out last night at a gas station resupplied, only to be broken up by the woman attendant with a baseball bat. By the time the cops got there everyone had gone. I filled the Vespa.
And now the panic buying is over, the streets are empty and the long lines of cars driving north are filing along, in orderly fashion I might add along Highway One. I understand the crowds are now filling the mainland freeways as urban south Florida is inspired by Irma to flee.
Most of the bars downtown are closed much to my surprise. I think the Category Five nature of Irma with unbelievable 185 mph winds has scared more people than want to admit it. The Green Parrot was open for business and there were people at the bar. I also saw people drinking at Don's Place on Truman...
...but the iconic tourist draws in town were firmly shuttered as employees took to the evacuation route: 
Usually you find a bunch of blowhards telling newcomers to ride it out. This time there are a lot of people desperate to leave. The transit system will pick anyone up at bus stops who want to evacuate and take them to the transfer station on Stock Island and put them on a coach to a Dade County shelter. The service starts at noon and buses will be labeled "Hurricane Evacuation."
People still seem to think Key West is on the path to a direct hit but the National Hurricane Center,while being extremely cautious about its uncertainty is putting the bulls eye right now on Homestead and Miami. If they are right Key West may be as much as 120 miles from the center of a storm with hurricane winds not reaching half that distance from the eye. Irma for Key West could be just another tropical storm of Category One hurricane. Wet and annoying but eminently do-able.  The fear is of sudden change in strength and direction.
I did my share of helping install shutters in the hot sun and I was impressed by these guys determination with their plywood on Whitehead Street:
The city park and ride garage is a prime spot to park ever since Wilma flooded thousands of cars. So now they have to keep cars from parking here to keep space for city vehicles:
I was enjoying the silence  and the solitude downtown and suddenly a motorcycle rumbled by, a car turned the corner and a  cyclist wobbled into view. This is still an inhabited city...
 Those hurricane shutters take sweat and effort to install.
I watched these guys have a mid-road chat on Caroline Street just like the old days when September meant a naturally empty Key West:
My house has a surprising number of windows and they seem to multiply when they have to be covered by broad sheets of aluminum. I got some much needed help and then I got to sit in a corrugated cave in darkness, alone, until I couldn't stand it so I took off for work on the Vespa to get these pictures before I sat at my desk.
My wife meanwhile spent the day driving and arrived in Ft Myers with a tired dog and a tank full of gas so she is well out of the path of Irma, or will be by tonight.
Yesterday was the day designated for visitors  to leave the Keys and today is set aside for residents, not that anyone much cares which way people go but the hotels use the mandatory part to clear their rooms and prepare their buildings for what's to come. 
 I wish the billboards would stay gone:
 And then twelve hours at work where people respond in their own way to the tensions of hurricane threats. Myself? I feel pretty good seeing as how the threat has veered off to the east and we look to get but a sideswipe. Fine by me thanks. You never know how it will end up but for now I'm enjoying the calm before whatever storms strikes this weekend.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Waiting Game

Will it? Won't it? Hurricane Irma is driving past the Virgin Islands, with the eye of the 185 mph storm some 40 miles north of St Thomas. Today it should brush Puerto Rico and Hispaniola then it will threaten the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. Because the Bermuda High is strong enough we could see weather coming this way if the major hurricane is forced far enough south, yet now there is a hint in the Hurricane Center forecast to indicate it could well miss Key West..
This is described as the largest most powerful storm to form in the relatively cool Atlantic Ocean waters and now it is scheduled to drive up the Old Bahama Channel, shallow and very warm waters which will feed the storm. Indeed it may drop to 140 miles per hour by the weekend but that will still make it a devastating Category Four storm. Right now, Wednesday morning it is a monstrous Category Five, as high as the scale goes. But the five day track shows the Upper Keys as the landfall, possibly  a hundred miles east of Key West.
It's been so long since a hurricane threatened and Florida has such a high population turn over there are many many people who have no idea what happens. And yet I have seen an encouraging number of people leaving and driving in good order up the Keys to escape. News that Irma is a category five with 185 mph winds has awoken many people to he idea that this storm is truly dangerous. 
My own response is to ignore the danger and just keep working at the daily tasks. Buttoning up the house is a step by step process with help from neighbors who themselves are all talking about leaving before Friday when the winds are expected to blow. Me? I am one of four dispatchers who will be working through the storm along with a few police officers who will keep the lights on at the police station. I appreciate the fact this is a deadly storm but the police station is designed to weather these conditions especially now that we might avoid a direct hit... and I expect we may end up a bit uncomfortable but   I doubt my life will be at risk. I shall post whatever I can here and at my Instagram and Facebook pages both under the name of Michael Conchscooter. If you want to watch this epic story fizzle one picture at a time.
So for now I go outdoors and look at the ocean and the check the Hurricane Center website obsessively and keep calculating the odds of not having to change my routines at all. Its very dreary and as  each day passes it seemed more obvious that Key West was in the cross hairs. I kept  hoping the  trough in the continental United States might suck the storm away from us and maybe it has. As for my family while you read this my wife has left in her Fiat 500 with a tank full of gas and a dog on the back seat. Someone asked my wife on Facebook if she was taking Rusty. Hurricanes produce all sorts of strange questions. I have no idea why anyone might imagine Rusty would not be taken care of. So I shall be alone until I report for work Thursday night and won't leave the police station until the all clear is sounded next week. 
The 911 lines tend to go quiet as people are busy preparing but the administrative lines light up. At Key West PD we answer both lines at the same desks, which can confuse callers when they dial 911 and ask for the police. "I am the police," I say and they don't believe me. I've already starting taking questions about the weather like I'm a forecaster or a prophet. I just read the weather off my phone like they should. Then they have questions about buses, where to get gas, shelters and so on. Hapily the emergency operations center for Monroe County has opened to answer these questions. We just take calls from people who need help, we have no particular information to share. When the storm gets close and they order us in and shut the doors time stands still. Whatever is outside is beyond reach and the world becomes an internet screen and a whirling mass of clouds slowly getting closer. 
It's been years since we've had to do this and I don't want to sleep on a  cot or shower like I was back in boarding school drying my hair as I walk past armed police and piles of sandwiches and the sounds of weather forecasters in the corridors. I'm not ready to wreck my routines to suit the convenience of a spinner called Irma. But it has come to that. Oh well.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Conversations With A Motorcycle

When Jack Ripe told m he had a new edition of his book Conversations with a Motorcycle I was a little taken aback by the fervor and excitement in his voice. "It is," he said, "a beautiful book, the cover glows and the print is easy to read and no longer like newsprint."
He was right.
I received his book last week and I checked it against the old first edition on my bookshelf. You can't deny even in mere photographs, the glow that comes off the new edition. His publishers Zadic and Deverelle have done him proud. And all for twenty bucks a copy.
I knew Jack wanted a newer and better edition of his book, planned to be the first of a trilogy, when we met him in the Summer of 2016 in New Jersey. Rusty was quite curious about him too.
   
Jack has added a series of appendices at the back of the second edition discussing the truth behind his reminiscences of growing to adulthood and riding a widow maker of a motorcycle in New Jersey. The fact is the Garden State is not like the rest of the country and his approach to people and language needs to be explained and he does at some great length. I now know when it's proper to call someone a douche and when to call them an asshole. It's a fine distinction but an important one.
The New Jersey pine barrens are part of Jack's life and he took us to check them out when we were there. Rusty was decidedly interested and we did a fair bit of walking in the woods later, him and I alone.
One thing people ask Jack is how much is real and he says all of it, except names have been changed. This past weekend at a Labor Day Rally in New York he got that questions again and he told me the story with great delight how he got one of the women in the book on speakerphone at the rally to confirm the truth. I wish I had been there.
I have included a couple of pages of the new edition here and as I read the stories again an feel the lovely new paper quality I have to confess I still laugh out loud. 
And in a few weeks Jack is promising book two of the trilogy, Motorcycles Speaker Louder Than Words when he promises further bombshells about his peculiar state of growing up.
He has a website and order forms and stuff  LINK HERE jackriepe.com to go take a look.
I snagged this picture a few years ago at his home in Pennsylvania and in my head I titled in "The Great Man At Work."
He is planning the third book in the series for publication in 2018. I can't wait. He might really be The Great Man after all.