Friday, April 27, 2018

Night Commute

Tomorrow evening I will be sitting, I hope, in an aeroplane bound for London. In two weeks I will be back once again walking Rusty whom I shall miss very much, riding my scooter to work and glad no doubt to be back in the bosom of my family. I will try to post here as my phone and the blog app allow, and if my pictures are of interest my Instagram account:  michaelconchscooter will get regular updates. I will be in Scotland a few days with one sister and in Italy for a few more days to see my other two sisters. I plan to take lots of pictures.
Meanwhile I have been thinking quite a lot about how much I enjoy commuting with my Burgman 200, my first ever Japanese scooter.   It gets 70- 80 miles per gallon and has a top speed of 75 mph with another 5 possible in neutral conditions. The winds lately have been blowing hard but I have no trouble passing distracted drivers on Highway One. I liked this Australian billboard found on the web:
My commute starts about 50 minutes before I have to start work. For a 6pm shift I try to be ready by 10 minutes after five, loaded with my man purse and my lunchbox I say good bye to Rusty who sits at the top of the stairs looking pathetic as I put my bags under the seat of the Suzuki and put on my helmet and gloves.
I roll out onto Spanish Main the main artery that connects my neighborhood to US One. It's a subdivision filled with pirate names for some reason, a bored bureaucrat or one with a  peculiar taste in imaginative street naming. My house is almost a mile from the Overseas Highway and along the way normally one will see a human or two walking their dogs in the same places in the same way every day. In winter they crowd the street from their trailers in the neighboring Venture Out trailer park.
Riding to work between five and six in the evening I get to see the sunset in its various stages before and after time changes, different times of year, under vast cloud anvils and through wispy cirrus and sometimes in all shades of pink and orange and red. In December I find myself in a race with darkness to get to work before the sun drops out of sight. Those are the times I remind myself why I have worked nightshift for 14 years and, after I was sent to nights as punishment for insubordination (I was rude to the boss's daughter) I never wanted to go back to days. These days I'm the senior dispatcher and I work the shift I want.
The other reason to work nights is the lack of traffic.In winter there seems to be traffic everywhere all the time and all of it driving very slowly and distracted. However eight months of the year I drive the wrong way against the commuters and my ride to and from Key West can often be a pleasure, an empty road, the highway to myself. The hardest thing is to find an opening to pass if I do get stuck behind a solitary wool gatherer behind the wheel of a car.
When I arrive at work there is normally my choice of parking spots as all the administrative staff, all the day shift have gone and there are open spaces all round the police station. Plus my scooter doesn't have to sit out in the sun fading the paint and wrecking the seat. I am a vampire: by the time the sun does come back up I am most of the way, if not all the way home.
I love riding the empty highway especially after a short overtime shift which often sees me on the road around two in the morning:
I can ride the 14 miles home without seeing another vehicle after I leave Big Coppitt. That's the place the last of the cars from Key West usually peel off and go home. It takes dedication to live at Mile Marker 23 out beyond the outer darkness that closes in on the highway after Big Coppitt.
When there's a decent sized moon the waters either side of the highway glisten silver, while the mangrove islands crouch impenetrably black alongside the road. Sometimes I stop in the middle of one of the innumerable straight stretches and I sit astride the Burgman scooter and listen to the darkness.
The lights of Cudjoe Key mark the Sheriff's substation at Mile Marker 22 followed shortly thereafter by the Kickin' Back convenience store. I paused for a picture to take advantage of the lights though this isn't a twenty four hour store and it was long since closed for the night:
Then it's another mile of highway and the final mile of Spanish Main back to my side street. Rusty awaits usually and expects a quick neighborhood walk before I repair to the deck and sip rum and look at the night.
All this riding requires occasional maintenance and though I usually turn to JK Motorsports on Stock Island for my wrenching, I will do a quick oil change as needed. Pretty soon Jiri will have to order a tire for me as the rear is wearing down. I've put more than three thousand miles on the Burgman since March 17th. Not bad. I like this scooter, handy in town and powerful enough to pass cars on the highway even if they decide to try to prevent me.
Why people spend so much time worrying about other people passing them I'll never understand. If you want to go fast be my guest, but if you don't please don't get mad if I want to ride faster than you want to drive. Because my Burgman 200 won't hold you up if I do pass you. I've ridden this road enough to know every nuance, believe me.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Brick History

I am not yet sure if the story of the oldest electrical generating plant in Florida is a  story of civic pride, democracy in action or bureaucratic evasion though it seems likely at this point some sort of preservation of these historic buildings may yet be undertaken. Color me surprised.
These heaps of brick, rather degraded and apparently likely to tumble are wedged between Truman Waterfront and Bahama Village and once upon a time they made electricity. They fell into disuse and decay and were slated to be demolished in the way Key West likes to deal with its history and heritage.
They look out over the barren spaces created by the refurbishing of Truman Waterfront, an exercise in bland urban planning that does not bode well for the future of the generating plant. It took Key West twenty years to come up with a plan for 34 acres of waterfront donated to the city bya retreating Navy and this is the best they could do:
So when I turn away from the acres of grass and pavement and stubby little saplings I see a future of not much hope for these structures. Indeed the city after much study is most likely going to keep the exterior walls and do something fresh with the interior on the grounds of safety and expense. For some reason Key West revels in this sort of thing. The new city hall cost $20 million to house offices in the old Glynn Archer school and it looks very nice from the outside but it is not historic in any fashion inside.
Originally planned for demolition it was civic activism that may yet save these brick walls. Citizens were outraged to hear this space could be demolished and protests began. Oddly enough it worked and at least some of the facades should be saved. 
Apparently early efforts to produce electricity from steam soon gave way to internal combustion and the paper reports that there are stationary engines inside these walls that are so rare as to included in the national Smithsonian collections. Typical. A Key West treasure ignored and encouraged to rot in place.
The original functions of the plant are reflected in the substation attached to the east side of the complex, protected by some fearsome signage.
The final use for the place has yet to be determined. Affordable housing, artists' space or regular commercial offices are all on the cards. I have no doubt there will be much mumbling about the need for housing but a developer's idea of affordable is not always the same  as a wage earner's view.
Fingers crossed and hoping for the best that these walls survive to become something interesting.
It is an opportunity.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Bagatelle

George is in Key West visiting from his home in Czechia so we had lunch. I took the reins and suggested we try someplace new.  I had heard Bagatelle on the one hundred block of Duval Street was doing well so George seconded my choice and there we were one sunny afternoon.
The Bohemian from Bohemia in our little bohemian town:
He had lobster Texas toast....
...I tried lobster mac and cheese:
I'm not sure why I went to mac and cheese but I do have that sweet tooth affliction and coffee and banana bread pudding (two spoons, one lightly used) sent  the modest meal over the top. A bit. 
George settled in Prague after the Berlin Wall came down and by now speaks fluent Czech which means waiters in this town get a pleasant surprise when he breaks out into their home language. This guy is from a town called Most near Germany, apparently a formerly thriving industrial center. Now you know.
We talked politics for a while Hungarian and US. Hungary has voted a third term, by a wide margin to a nationalist president who is fond of nothing much European, objecting to immigrants and the European Union in equal measure. 
It's the sort of political shake up that sends vibes around the world when the president in question leads a  large economy like the US. In the case of a country the size of Hungary such rhetoric mostly isn't heard outside the immediate region.
I have been pondering my retirement choices and we discussed those for a while, as I close in on my last three years in Key West (I hope). Hurricane Irma didn't help by driving out many marginal working class people from the Lower Keys, but the inexorable process of gentrification takes a lot of the joy out of living here. I like so many find myself working too much, filling in for absent colleagues who have quit and left Key West, and with the prospect of another dispatcher leaving in a month I wonder how many hours I will have to work.I see a summer ahead of more overtime than I want and not much time away. Retirement is alluring.
I wonder how I will cope with normal weather, gray skies rain and cold, and George's stories of harsh central european winters are a brisk reminder why people with money buy space on this small lump of  rock. I will have some adjusting to do wherever I end up. I feel obliged to live mindfully, more so than ever because I don't want to look back and have any regrets about not doing what I wanted to do while I lived here. The absurd costs of living here, the endlessly long road to drive anywhere fresh and interesting and the general lack of amenity in this tiny place demand a fresh start for the final phase of my life. As odd as it may sound living on a small island is not for me, though what is the right place for me in retirement I am not yet sure.Wherever it is it will need more than one road in and out and a chance for interesting driving to compelling destinations and more to do with unstructured days than to drink or fish.
Some people do not much enjoy endless summers. I am all for them and I wish George good luck back in Bohemia, a place I remember fondly from a long car trip I took there in 1995 but which gets cold quite a lot of the time..
Personally i don't mind endless sunshine at all. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Smathers

It was a windy day and I paused at the southernmost shore of Key West to watch skill at work:
At about that moment the windsurfer lost control and disappeared:
That lost my interest so I turned to the bird life always a good back up:



And then the pelican instead of flying off plunged into the water like the windsurfer:
Well, I figured the cyclists on dry land should stay in the frame for a while:
And suddenly the Smathers sidewalk looked like a scene form the Walking Dead:
I turned away to look for serenity:
Time to press on to work:

Monday, April 23, 2018

Jack Riepe Does It Again

Jack Riepe has published his second book this year proving I suppose he really is  writing his heart out. I've read both books and I am not alone in believing them to be works of genius.  What he's managed to achieve in these two books is an evocation of a time and place  that we all would like to return to: our youth. Beyond that he has also written about a lifestyle filled with glamor and pain, Jack's own youth relived in the pages of these books. Love found and lost, motorcycles untamed by modern electronics and riders living on the edge. And it all happened in the 1970s in New Jersey.
The thing is the books are funny. It's hard to imagine picking up a book about New Jersey 1975 and splitting your sides laughing but here's the proof. And not too far in the future Riepe is promising the third book in the series. I suppose at this stage one has to take him seriously. You can order the first two books here at his website...
I have got to know Jack over the years and his world has always been populated by strange events, fast women and motorcycles. How he manages to turn this mess of personal history that would drive me mad into something to laugh about I'm not sure. One rarely understands the magic performed in front of one's very eyes. Mother's day is coming and he's offering autographed sets of his first two books for delivery in time for mother to enjoy the nostalgia of a past that may or may not have existed inside or outside her imagination. Riepe makes me want to to go back to a place I had never been, to make me feel like a welcomed arrival at the Bucket of Blood,  to have me squatting next to him in the rain fixing the BSA of the redoubtable Alex, to ride the wild wooded roads of New Jersey littered with the debris of a world gone by. 
Image result for jack riepe
It's nostalgia with a punch fizzing with life and demanding to be read. You owe it to yourself to click on his webpage, jackriepe.com

Sunday, April 22, 2018

No Fixing Stupid

It was a lovely day and I had a few hours before I had to go in to work so my thoughts turned to the great outdoors and the Sugarloaf Loop in particular. Its a fifteen minute drive from my house so I like to have plenty of time in hand to walk the woods there.
There is a roughly hewn canal cutting through, a relic from years past and an attempt at development that today would be banned by all the agencies under the sun. Back then if you wanted a canal you dug it through the living rock if necessary.
 The development may not have happened around the Sugarloaf Loop but the canal does connect a few houses to the sea and boats do run the fast currents here:
Odd to imagine  a  suburban subdivision lining the water. Mind you that's the case for thousands of homes built on canals blasted the length of these islands to make way for development. I live in one such house myself.
I was not expecting to find myself sucking my rubber Crocs through a giant puddle of the most viscous soft slippery goo left behind by high tides and rain. Had I not been struggling to keep up with my happy dog I might have enjoyed the sensation between my toes.  
I paused to clean my feet in the canal and took off after Rusty who was waiting for me. I have to say hubris is a terrible thing but if the ancient Greeks were discussing human pride (and not thinking much of it) then you know arrogance has been in our make up for a very long time. So you will understand when I tell you I was shocked and annoyed to see a trail break out among the bushes where I had never previously noticed a trail. Well, I thought I had better check it out. I have to admit to that it was on my mind that this "short cut" might clip a  chunk off the walk on this increasingly warm afternoon.
Naturally when the trail expired a few hundred yards in hubris took over again and I figured it would not be far to the paved road, the road that loops through the failed subdivision...It was a ridiculous position to be in - again- blundering through thorns and poisonwood and heaps of rotting leaves and tangled downed saplings and so on and so forth. I did this a few weeks ago in spectacular fashion and here I was again. Once a fool always a fool. Rusty was having fun without me. He appeared briefly and took off again as though the impedimenta of forest was nowhere to be encountered. I expect 18 inches off the ground, where he operates, its a different world. Up here five feet above the ground the place looked impenetrable.
I did get a bit exasperated at myself as the Rider Haggard scenario played itself out. Soon I was bleeding from scratches on both arms and both legs,  death by a thousand cuts I told myself grimly as I gave up the struggle to mop up the oozing blood. Unlike my previous foray off the beaten track near the KOA when I got lost and ignored my phone, this time I whipped out my iPhone immediately and started checking the map. What I did last time was veer too far, going parallel to the road and ended up blundering extra distance in the brush. This time I was determined to push straight at the paved road without deviation so I kept an eagle eye on my electronic tracker.
The maze went on and on. And on. I felt like a total half wit and I was reduced to bargaining with a higher power whose existence seems less and less likely the more misery I see in the world. I put myself here so it is no credit to me that I'd have been happy to be helicoptered out of the woods, handed a long cold quinine flavored drink and told to sit back while my car was detailed for me prior to my arrival at the parking lot.  I imagine there are a fair few Syrians might feel the same  way with infinite more justification than me in my self induced predicament.
 B-b-b-b-ut you can see clearly on the map that there should be a path here- it has a name and everything. I never did find Sikes Lane but one day maybe I will come back to look.
I lurched out onto the Loop Road and got walking. I knew exactly where Rusty was as he would be waiting for me on he way back to the car. That's what he does on the rare occasions when we get separated. I met some youngsters on the bridge and they looked at me as though I was the monster from the swamp, bleeding from numerous cuts on arms and legs, clothes looking like they had been dragged though a  hedge backwards (they had) and my hair plastered on my head like the dome of a yeti... "Small brown dog..?" I croaked through parched lips. A young woman gathered her wits and pointed down the road as her companions continued to gawp. Then she jumped off the bridge perhaps in an effort to get away. I staggered on.
 There he was a neat trim brown triangle sitting on the trail happy as a clam and impatiently waiting for me to catch up. Then he set off trotting along, tail held high, ready for me to catch up. 
He might have been ready for more but I wasn't so we went home and he reluctantly followed me to bed, me to mine him to his. I'm pretty sure I fell to snoring before him.