Saturday, August 18, 2018
Friday, August 17, 2018
Tomorrow I take off for Niagara Falls on my Burgman scooter. I leave behind friends and family and of course my Rusty as I chart a 1500 mile journey by Interstate freeway to the Canadian border attempting to get there in 36 hours. By myself.
Motorcyclists are an odd bunch, mostly because they aren't a bunch at all but clumps of iconoclasts who stick together by style, brand or size of machine but not by common interest or for self preservation. People who ride motorcycles despise people who ride scooters. People who ride Harleys frequently can see nothing beyond the marque while youngsters on sports bikes think going slow is a death sentence when the opposite might very well be true. And then there are BMW riders...
Naturally I cut across all these lines and artificial divisions because I rode scooters as a youngster and of course motorcycles as I got older but always had an eye on a Vespa or two in my life. I see the good in a Harley Davidson even though the foot forward style and short suspension on a 600+ pound motorcycle doesn't work for me. I grew up with European brands, exotic outside their home countries, but I have had my share of Japanese machines, derisively described as rice burners when they first appeared in the West. My motorcycles have always been useful things, machines that I enjoy riding but that will work as my daily transportation. I prefer to ride than to drive.
Yet I ride alone mostly. Ask and I shall be delighted to offer a ride but I would never require anyone to sit on a motorcycle in traffic and face the world exposed as a potential meat crayon without their express desire. I have been lucky riding ever since 1970 that I haven't been hurt badly by my two wheelers. Beyond the luck I have gained tons of experience riding in the hair raising flow of Italian cities, where two wheels are the only way to get around, and better a scooter than a motorcycle:
In England I took advanced riding courses learning to anticipate traffic and understanding how to move ahead of the vehicles in the roadway to avoid unexpected turns. In the US most motorcyclists come to their two wheels from cars and perhaps its a matter of temperament but the notion of making progress is not clearly understood or deployed. I love this article from RideApart which explains perfectly how I was taught to ride:
I discovered recently an old friend who was curious to take a ride and see what I see and I never made the offer to sit on my pillion. I often feel as though my pleasures are too abstruse to find any resonance and what I fear appears selfish is merely a misplaced attempt to respect other people's space. Offer a ride to someone who is fearful of two wheels, and many are, and you will find yourself exposing parts of people's psyche they do not want exposed. To me a motorcycle is a meditation, a magic carpet, a machine capable of turning the banal into a memory. I don't car if I'm riding a scooter or an exotic brand, 15 or a hundred horsepower the mesmerizing effect of flight on the ground remains the same. For most people motorcycles are noisy smelly dangerous contraptions with no more raison d'etre than a guillotine. Why the hell would you put your head in one of those? Because I love the sensation of flying that's why.
By choosing these years in the Keys to explore small bore engines I have opened a whole new North American world of riding. I love using a small bike in a big bike role as I feel like I'm getting one over on the advertisers who tell us what we "need." Screw them, I'm fine on my little urban runabout. I go on a long distance ride to see what I can do with a plastic bodied Japanese gearless motorcycle. It would be too easy to rumble out on a full size touring motorcycle with all the bells and whistles and large fuel tank and cruise control and so forth. Where's the challenge? I have a suspicion I shall have a very fun ride if all goes remotely close to plan. But in any event it will be me alone for 36 hours, riding with my thoughts and hopes, pondering the meaning of life and my incompetent place in it.
I hope that explains the why and wherefore, of me alone on the road without even my dog for company. Sometimes it just has to be done. I hope I shall be back in a week with stories to tell and joy in my heart. Always you need that joy that comes from roads like this and encounters along the way:
I am the architect...says Giovanni scepticism writ large all over his face:
I don't always ride scooters. Sometimes I ride 170 hp behemoths.
You decide which is more fun and which one you'd rather ride with me.
Thursday, August 16, 2018
Swimming in the canal behind my house, still a rather bilious shade of green thanks to Hurricane Irma's passage eleven months ago I asked my wife if she thought Key West has changed in our two decades living and working here. She looked at me like I was an idiot. Of course it haS she said firmly. It isn't, I wondered out loud that we may have changed and what seemed fresh and new and interesting no longer is..? She snorted in derision.
I came to Key West in 1981 and there was no doubt the place was different. I kept coming back, visiting friends, going sailing living the life of a tropical wharf rat in short bursts before returning to real life in California where I sailed in harsh seas under gray skies through cold summers and colder winters. California was dynamic and interesting and the weather sucked. But Key West was too isolated and remote in those pre-internet pre-Amazon days for young persons like me. And then time passed and I sailed into Key West with wife and dogs never to leave.
The litany of changes that have taken place this century, for us, consists mostly in the ways we amused ourselves back when we were in our forties. My wife reminded me we used to get cheap eats on the beach at the Sands as it was known, an informal buffet place right on the water and dog friendly. We watched al fresco movies at the Atlantic Shores, the resort that was pleased to describe itself as straight friendly. Movie nights saw me chomping free popcorn with my yellow Lab on the chaise longue between my legs snoozing and oblivious to the movie crowd. Who was it on stage that handed out raffle freebies? Super girl..? Wonder woman..? Lots of laughter and not bad movies either under the stars.
Then we had access in those pre-digital photography days to the Botanical Garden, an overgrown under attended forest on Stock Island that later fell victim to the organizational drive of a woman from Up North who mended the fences and started charging a fee and labeling all the plants. We bought pizza with Robert and carried boxes and beers out to the two picnic tables under the Canary island date palms and had supper under the trees before retreating and leaving the place to become the bums' bedroom as it did nightly. We cleared our trash of course as well. We ate at Stick and Stein and played incompetent pool and spent very little money. Or there was the buffet at Winn Dixie and the weird vibes at the Hukilau much lamented when it was torn down, Polynesia in paradise...
Things have tightened up in Paradise, where street art, bumming a drink and standing around weaving palm fronds have become memories for the most part. The color that was Key West, the hippy town that time forgot and that visitors proudly adopted as their away from home vibe has been buried under an avalanche of money. There is some perverse notion in me that a cleaner tidier Key West will be nicer to live in, yet despite the influx of money we still have a malodorous Duval Street with dirt ground into the paint, but we don't have the pirates or the men in tutus wandering around giving cover to those of us that like to pass unnoticed. Gone are the days you could rent cheap digs, do a couple of low stress jobs and have time left over to go fish or play a guitar or watch a sunset. When small homes in Key West sell easily for a million dollars frivolity gets pushed to the curb. Come to Key West, pay top prices for a hotel room and see the southernmost buoy which is known to locals by several unflattering nicknames.
I admire the seashell for hanging in for now. Youth Hostel, cheaper rooms and a bit of funk. I cherish it as long as it lasts...
Wednesday, August 15, 2018
If you want to know what the back country looks like off Highway One, this is it:
I took these pictures on different days in different places.
Rusty the hot dog.
Side roads always run into dead ends.
You can hear cars coming from a way away.
In winter it's harder to find roads free of the endless brigades of Spandex clad cycle racers.
Winters bring more bird life as migrations tend to settle around here in the cold months.
Rusty looks so downcast. He's actually not, he's just tired.
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
I saw this sign on a recent wander and I thought to myself, I can think of nothing more ordinary in the way of modern bar food than exactly that. It's a popular bar on Greene Street but I am not tempted to test the out of the ordinary nature. My wife made me a breakfast pizza Sunday which is about as out of the ordinary as I have had in a while. I do not need to travel to find out of the ordinary.
There is much lamentation that downtown isn't a place to go shopping for useful stuff for locals. So I was not entirely sure which way this one might go: useful or not?
I posted this picture on Instagram mentioning how Rusty reminded me of Lilli Marlene standing underneath the street lamp waiting for her soldier to appear from the barracks. Naturally Rusty refused to stay posed as I adjusted the camera though I liked the atmospheric look of Lazy Way Lane behind Schooner Wharf despite my dog's non cooperation.
Dinghy parking is in low season like everywhere else in this town as parents prepare to end vacations and get children back into school. There is lots of room for dinghies at the city docks.
I loved the idea of Flats Fishing for Beginners. I went fly fishing once in a stream in Scotland where I caught a trout and ate it for breakfast. That was about half a century ago with a Ghillie called, improbably enough Ian MacDonald. I took this photo (below) at the spot near Loch Broom when I was there last Spring because I remember that day very well. It was the first and last time I went fly fishing but I put the experience in the "done that" column. Many years later when I was a reporter I did a story for National Public Radio on fly fishing the San Lorenzo River in California and while I like the idea I find the act itself tedious and technical. I am glad I did try the fishing once.
Yes indeed, fly fishing for all in Key West.
Key West still carries the trappings of the eccentric past that marks the town as different. I spot them from time to time between the developments and the clean ups which frankly I think the city could do more of, considering the nearly three million tourists a year who visit. Yet the weird shacks and abandoned cars dressed up are useful reminders of what is lost:
And then there is the electrical supply company across from Harpoon Harry's. I remember years ago they tried to move to the Boulevard but they have stayed put in the heart of tourist town. I used to rely on them when I lived on my boat to supply electrical gubbins and most importantly to rewire and rewind pumps and alternators and expensive stuff. They did and I am sure still do, great work. And they hold their ground downtown.
Hurricane shutters old school: a plank and some nails.
This I liked though you will never see me decorating anything around where I live like this. Restraint in decoration, that's me. Not Harpoon Harry's though: