Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Overseas Highway

I know I am not alone when I say that the Overseas Highway this winter has been a perfect hell to drive. And I am not sure why as visitor numbers are down according to the keepers of statistics. Despite the lower than usual occupancy for the busiest time of year the single road through the Keys has seen the normal number (I guess) of minor and major wrecks, a few fatalities and endless slow moving lines for no visible reason whatsoever. It drives me crazy.
 I have come to the conclusion that no matter what the speed limit drivers in the Keys will proceed at ten miles an hour under in any and all circumstances. And that doesn't necessarily mean they are paying attention, keeping in their lanes or even enjoying the views of which there are several.Most likely they are playing with their infernal cell phones  and I am forced to believe a few of them must be drunk. They are after all in the land of "island time." That cutsey phrase drives me crazy.
The problems is that fact, unavoidable, that Highway One, known properly as the Oversea Highway (usually spoken as the Overseas Highway, the name I give it out of an uncharacteristic) desire to conform), is the only way to get from one end to the other of the islands. That means that if I am late to work and you are just starting your vacation we are likely to have different driving styles. I loath island time because it doesn't really exist. I'd like visitors in their expensive homes and hotel suites to accept that island time extends to their privileged bubbles. No room service? Island time! Sloppy boat ride crew? Island time! Restaurant out of your favorite food? Never mind, island time!
 In point of fact it's only island time when looking for an excuse to behave badly, like getting drunk in the middle of the day, but when services are required everyone expects services to be provided shipshape and Bristol fashion and promptly in a very first world fashion. I feel like answering 9111 Island Time! We'll get there when we get there, mon, and see what happens (after I get fired). So as a result in winter I start my commute at least ten minutes earlier than I do in summer. Often it still only takes 30 minutes but I can never be sure...island time is not what my colleagues want to hear when I am en route to relieve them!
The other stress is the passing game. Not many Americans have training or confidence to pass on a two lane highway. Those of us that can and do strike irritation into the hearts of those exposed as less than entirely skillful. I enjoy passing, it relieves the monotony of the same old drive day after day, and even though it may not save me much time in the grand scheme of things I enjoy exercising the skill. Safely. I don't pass at any cost and I prefer to fail to pass than have a close call, but when I pull out I pass as fast as possible and dick back into my lane without delay.
Some days it feels better to sit back and enjoy the scenery and that's another way to vary the drive. I guess my plea to visitors is look at the speed limit sign and now that in Florida you can drive five miles per hour over the posted limit and not get a ticket. Don't drive dangerously, pay attention and my basic rule is keep up with the vehicle in front. Even that simple desire is so often thwarted as visitors take it upon themselves to keep everybody five or ten below the limit. For those that know not how to pass the rage they feel could induce a coronary. I pass when able.
It's a wide well built road, flat, mostly straight, beautifully marked with  few cross streets of any size with any traffic, almost no pedestrians and occasional bicycles too dense to ride the bike paths, so you'd think we could drive 65 the whole way. Not a bit of it, but if we are held down to 55 ad 45 I wish everyone could keep their focus on driving and keep up with the vehicle in front. That is all and take your island time and shove where you like, just not in my face. I'm not retired yet!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Miami Life

If you view Florida through the distorting lense of stereotyping you see a state with no appreciation for its past, a state filled with newcomers who cannot be expected to care for anything other than year round sunshine and a chance to make a shady fortune off speculative land deals, wit no hint of historic preservation.
 And yet the reality I see is hardly that. Certainly there has been wholesale environmental and historic destruction and appalling land grabbing. On the other hand some winter residents bring with them an appreciation for what has value and quality and Florida benefits. 
 I was privileged to see one such place this past weekend when I took my wife to the airport and we stayed overnight in the city which allowed us to lunch with friends and hang out at their gazebo in the grounds of this little compound where they rent an apartment.
The coral building material, the Mediterranean tile and the details are a reminder of how Florida used to build, with care and style and it is lovely.
 Can you imagine sitting out with orchids as luscious and lustrous as this by your ear? 
 I was entranced.
Rusty enjoyed sitting out as he always does. He slept well that night, lots of walks, new  experiences and stimulation made for a tired dog.
 He  got lots of praise for being no trouble at all. He was just himself, friendly but not intrusive.
  I took a couple of black and white pictures for fun.
The interior is classic old Florida with tiled floors, coral stone work illuminated by that particular light. 
The nice old Florida still exists and sometimes one is lucky enough to come across it. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Tea Table Keys

I have to be honest and confess my heart shrinks every time the authorities repave US Highway One (the "Overseas Highway" as it is commonly known). The reason is that they have a habit of reducing passing zones or eliminating them entirely and  reducing the ability of cars to make progress along the only road through the Keys. 
According to the paper last week four Spanish tourists were killed in a passing fiasco that saw them take an RV head on in the Tea Table Keys, depicted here. The accident is under investigation and exactly what happened isn't clear but  the call is now out to eliminate the passing zone on the long straight section that is the Tea Table Keys approaching Islamorada. This will add a couple of miles to the already tedious 14 mile long, 45 mph, no passing zone of the highway all the way to Tavernier.
I have driven this Tea Table section many times obviously and I have also passed here and done so safely and efficiently, and yet I have a nagging suspicion that eliminating passing may not be a bad idea no matter what the state authorities decide after they look into it as promised.
Reducing the speed limit though will be a pain as the combination of slow speed and no passing will increase road rage, already a problem on the highway especially among people not trained to pass on two lane roads.  They get frustrated and tail gate instead of passing safely, either because there are too few passing zones or they don't know how to do it. Passing on a  two lane highway is not a widely taught skill apparently.
The problem here as pointed out by an indignant Sheriff, are the pedestrians on either side of the road; the bathers, the families picnicking and so forth right alongside the traffic hurtling by at 60 mph. Distracted frolicking pedestrians and text obsessed distracted drivers are not a good mixture.
Passing here requires patience and careful observation neither of which are in great supply on this road. Especially here where visitors get distracted additionally by the proximity of the sea itself,  and the generally outstanding roadside scenery.
It shouldn't be necessary in a  well regulated world to treat people like children but...coping with the Tea Table Key roadway seems to require such an attitude. Too bad. I wish they could only stop the passing if they have to, while at least keeping the 55 mph speed limit.   I doubt that will happen.I have no doubt passing will be studied and subsequently forbidden here.
 And the views are great especially at sunset and sunrise:
This is Channel Five Bridge nearby looking toward Layton to the south (or west depending on your perspective).
I wonderif in a decade all passing will be outlawed on US One? Perish the thought. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Key West Night

I took a walk on my lunch break and circumambulated Garrison Bight with my iPhone.
I started at Bayview Park (above) and walked through The Meadows (below).


The Garrison Bight boatyard and boat storage:
Laughing Buddha at Thai Island restaurant:
Charterboat Row, where you go to get a captain and boat to take you fishing:

Friday, March 9, 2018

Out Walking

The tide was  out and the mangrove flats revealed and while Rusty ran around I stood and allowed the stress of work and the debris of another night at work flow off me.  
It's Spring Break, the weird ritual of young American students who abandon inhibitions and good manners while invading beach towns across the continent and in Mexico. Consequently said beach towns tend to get their defenses up in anticipation of hordes of young drunks behaving badly. I think Key West has priced itself out of the Spring Break market. That or this year's crop of Spring Breakers are remarkably well behaved.
Working 911 at night gives you a view of the city that is neither noticed nor appreciated generally. Picking up drunks and clearing accidents is thankless work at the best of times but during Spring Break one would expect a lot more calls for service and many more outraged home owners. These days the crowds are small and the sidewalks roll up as usual earlier and earlier in Key West. I suppose there is plenty of tourist money flowing into town even without young drunk students. One hears no complaints of low occupancy and so forth.
I remember the bad old days with hordes of young people swarming Smathers Beach and keeping Duval Street busy until closing time at four in the morning. Officers made lots of overtime money and worked every night regular shift and Spring Break shifts alternating for three weeks. Not any more; every nigth is a night like any other.
To come out to Blimp Road of an evening on my night off is a treat and my own private sunset celebration. Fat Albert the blimp has reappeared at the air force base for the first time since Hurricane Irma:
Out across the mangroves:
It is silent and still, no mosquitoes and no traffic on this dead end road. Just me and my dog.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

New Adventures

Life happens, as they say and sometimes life happens in ways you don't expect. I never expected to find myself owning a weird plastic covered Japanese scooter styled after a feet forward cruiser motorcycle. But here we are, my new ride the Suzuki Burgman 200 in a photo found on the web.It seems a heavy burden to lay on this 360 pound 18 horsepower scooter but the idea is to inject a little travel uncertainty into my life, which is decidedly too filled with routine. 
 I first saw the  Suzuki in New York in a dealership after reading about it and I was struck by the proportions and the well designed lines of the usually bulky plastic bodywork (known as "tupperware" to contemptuous motorcyclists). The seat is vast and apparently comfortable and low to the ground and every review reports a decent turn of speed topping out around 80 mph. Yet my heart has always been with Italian Vespas. When I owned a 2007 Vespa 250 it left me stranded too often to count. It recently appeared rather tired looking at Jiri's shop, running but rusty and careworn:
It was a comfortable fast ride when it worked but I was not willing to go back to the uncertainty of a non starting non running temperamental travel companion. My Vespa 150 as much as I love it can only just keep up with traffic and I have grown weary of defending myself from aggressive car drivers who resent being passed by a hairy old hobbit on a moped, even when they are distracted and driving excessively slowly. Furthermore I don't feel as though attempting even modest trips to the mainland is possible on a 60mph 150cc scooter. To do so once on a  dare or as part of some stunt would be entirely possible but to take my camera to routinely explore the Everglades is not within my grasp right now unless I take the car which is hardly an adventure. Hence the appearance of a larger more capable ride in my life.
Jiri my mechanic thinks I should ride a 400cc scooter like his Yamaha in lovely shiny blue, complete with carrier for his small dog...I went for a test ride and he has a point but these are massive beasts easily able to achieve 100 mph but crippled by bulk when it comes to parking or maneuvering 500 pounds of scooter through torturous Key West lanes. My idea was to have a small capable commuter that remains the essence of a scooter capable of occasional long distance trips for fun. Hence the relatively inexpensive Burgman I found lightly used in Tampa. I'd rather it be white but you can't have everything and I will going to pick it up on St Patrick's day chauffeured by my wife who will follow me as I ride it home.
 I am in no hurry to abandon my dog but I have been feeling rather trapped in my daily routines and I think my wife has noticed because she pushed me to make the change. Her argument is I need to go off with my camera and enjoy some solitude which is true. Rusty will always get his walks but a day spent riding and photographing at my pace would be pleasant and a good way to vary my rare days off. The reason I have not looked at motorcycles after my Bonneville drowned is principally because my arthritic left wrist makes changing gears painful.  I was coming to terms with this limitation wondering what to do when Irma drowned my dilemma in seven feet of angry salt water. I expect that in the not too distant future I will have to let a surgeon loose on my wrist and hopefully using a motorcycle clutch will again be a daily feature of my life. So far exercise and an automatic scooter have kept my wrist in only modest discomfort. 
So all things considered change is good, life is good and learning to ride a weird cruiser scooter will be a new and I trust enjoyable challenge. Old age need not diminish us nor alter our essential natures.
My next painful task is to list this little beauty for  sale. I am in no hurry though my wife is correct - three scooters is far too many. She is so unsentimental and practical, lucky for me.