Bike Trip – Tidying Up

despite being months behind in other happenings, the Tour de Florida has been playing on my mind a little. here’s the last few scraps.  next up, Panama!

10 Things:

1. A journey of 1000 miles really does start with that first step/stroke/revolution, although there are easier ways to prove it.

2. Americans, at least the ones that I met, were genuinely nice, courteous, friendly, fat and incredulous that someone would want to make such a journey. They also showed due respect to my two wheels, and, with the exception of two separate ladies driving Escalades, never even came close to running me off the road. Even when there wasn’t much of it.

3. Bike Fit! Don’t be tortured by various niggling elements brought about by second guessing the many parameters that need to be figured out in order to cycle pain free. Do your knees/back/arse a favour: pony up and get someone to measure it out.

4. Multiples: these mean what they say. Ten miles is a long way, one hundred is a hell of a lot further. No amount of dividing, adding and subtracting what it says on the computer is going to make you get there any faster. Especially if it’s windy.

5. I just assumed my brain would work loads of things out as i rode — characters, plot, the meaning of life. It didn’t. Mostly it was just sweating punctuated with the odd bit of groaning.

6. It is only just possible to live for two and a half weeks on American Roadfood. Much longer than that, and parts of your body will start to fall off.  Associated with this is my index of Evil Substances:  Gatorade -7, Redbull -8, 5-hour energy – off the Richter. drink at your peril.

7. Key West is multi-layered and expensive. If you want to get past the typical drunken Duval-street stumbling-and-Hemmingway experience, you will have to apply yourself to some persistent digging. Your reward will be freaks in surprising numbers (and frequently,  house coats).

8. Completing the trip doesn’t seem to have killed the desire to go further, longer, harder, dumber.

9. Journey’s end was surprisingly anti-climactic. I realise that I was operating at greater-than-average levels of excitement throughout and that, in itself, was the reward. As with most things, the journey really does trump the finish.

10. Tubes. You never have enough of them. (a sub-clause of my own particular mechanical law:  whatever tool you need, you’re almost certain not to have it.)

Chronological:

the whole trip becomes a little more coherent when viewed in order.

Televisual:

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over and out.

A Sort of Homecoming – Days 18 -19

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

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Two Lessons: Avon Park – 12:23

Always trust the GPS (Although you should aggressively resist this advice if you find yourself being directed over the edge of a cliff). In my experience on this trip, the machine just seems to have a nose for the better roads — which is good, since my usual routine involves scratching my head for a while at the crossroads, then unerringly opting for the traffic-clogged straightaway. Current theories (what else am I supposed to think about for all those revolutions?) is that the software grades the busyness of each road, or it’s following the shortest non-highway distance between two points, or i’m just a bit of a doughnut when it comes to route selection. All three could fly.

Case in point, the SH64 pretty much wins the derby for the ideal Floridian cycling road (and i would have completely missed it if i had listened to GoogleMaps, which told me to continue north on the reliable but somewhat staid 17). By contrast, the SH64 has been showing off its gentle topography like a giddy pubescent, rolling through gentle farmland with cows that calmly mark your passing with a quizzical look and a few more chews on the proverbial. There is an almost total absence of cars, and the tractors make you feel genuinely quick for a change. The houses, where there are any, are set well back from the road among orchards, fragrant fields, rusting cars and peeling For Sale signs. It seems like quite a pleasant place to spend a few hours, though of course, that may have something to do with the fact that it will only be a few hours.

Also, bizarrely, at times this morning it has felt as though I have been slyly wetting myself. This is possibly because I started fiddling with my seat position again in Arcadia and now I seem to have hoisted it into a position where it has pinched a nerve leading from one dark and fusty place to another, thereby killing all feeling but for a slow, spreading tingle that feels remarkably like you’re wetting your down belows. This ongoing palaver with saddles, seat posts and the like has definitely decided me in favour of a professional bike fitting when I’ve got the chance (and £200 to spare). I’ve only heard good things about the results, and I have a feeling a very long queue of body parts would assemble to thank me.

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Clermont – outside of Publix – 9:30 pm

Playing at Homeless.

I have been masquerading as a tourist with some measure of success, but anyone possessed of even modest powers of observation would notice the telltae signs: spending a little too long in the restroom, emerging with a wet face and pockets bulging with stolen toilet paper. Or changing out of my shoes and into my flip flops while waiting for dinner in a Chinese restaurant. Charging a whole range of devices in a publicly-accessible power outlet, or even now, scribbling in my book on a bench outside of Publix, sipping a large Corona wrapped in a paper bag. Because tonight is the last night of my bicycling epic and the fourth time I have chosen to go without legitimate sleeping arrangements. But for a small copse of trees two miles back down Highway 27, where my hammock is strung between two of them, I have no home.

And this much I do know: that no matter how enjoyable I find it trying to live by my wits at the margins of this affluent consumer society, tomorrow night I have a bed to sleep in and a credit card should anything truly untoward happen. I have medical insurance and a valium if I find it overly difficult to sleep. And now I also have a newfound appreciation for just how difficult it must be for anyone who has to do this night after night, worrying about where to sleep or getting moved on, or how to get clean, or where the next meal is coming from. In other words, for the truly homeless.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

7:48am

Make that four out of four horrible nights spent trying to sleep in a hammock. The takeaway lesson is to get yourself something a little more substantial than nylon between your rump steak and the fresh, dewy breezes of a Florida morning (it also helps if you don’t dream of being eaten by the local wildlife ). this morning proved to be a fairly surreal sequence: get up in the middle of nowhere, make yourself as presentable as you can via water splashed out of a bottle, descend to the road, locate the macdonalds (there is always a macdonalds), and find yourself plunged into a torrent of disney-bound tourists who take little notice of you once they have established that your funny outfit is in no way related to the Magic Kingdom.

at least the queues in macdonalds helped to limber them up for  more of the same. it did little to prepare me for my last 80 miles straight into the wind. i always had pictures of coming back from a thousand mile bike ride completely de-fatted, with incredible endurance and calves the size of…well, calves. today was categorical proof that most dreams tend stay that way (i.e. i’ve still got abdominal overhang and chicken legs). plus the ride was gruelling. and that has nothing to do with two guinness at lunchtime (since i’ve done that enough times) and a lot to do with a constant 15/20 mph easterly wind. thankfully, i discovered a biker bar on the outskirts of daytona that seemed to be frequented only by bikers over the age of sixty. unlike nearly anyone else i have met since Jackie MF Bowman, these guys seemed genuinely impressed that i had just cycled to key west and back, and even clubbed together two dollars to buy me a tin of Bud (although part of this may have been a sanity test. could i drink horsepiss from a can?). it turned into a mutual vehicle appreciation moment (one of the guys even confessed, unashamedly, to having an Indian Enfield stashed in his shed), and i left with a nice warm feeling that was definitely not drunkenness.
another 10 windy miles then I crossed the bridge over the halifax river and pulled into the same daytona beach shores from which i had departed 18 days ago. For whatever reason, it felt perfectly natural to press the buzzer and take a lift upstairs to see the family; who must have missed me, since they overcame a very natural horror of roadkill to give me a brief hug, before ushering me toward the shower….

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there was a 2-for-1 sale on civic buildings
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surprisingly, even managed to source a Guinness on St. Padraic’s day.
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who knew? Florida can also do small/medium bodies of inland water.
(i.e. lake eustice)
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Eustice, FLA, a town too small for both a convenience store AND a wig shop
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’73 Panhead. think this might be the ticket if/when there is a next time
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the final 100 meters….

Arcadia, FLA Days 13 – 17

A Man and his Laptop

Before resuming the nearly stone-cold thread of this subtropical cycling epic, let’s have a quick round of applause for my humble macbook, only just back from death’s door after having weathered many thousands of miles over at best, asphalt, and at worst, plain old ass. but it is back, and collectively we are in business. it required a two week trans-american journey to some miracle worker on the west coast who possessed the last of the weapons grade logic boards. Miraculously he was convinced to part with one of them for the modest sum of $300. But, as i say, what’s $300 between a man and his laptop?

so please forgive the interlude. I hope this makes it a little more comprehensible to the one or two of you left out there reading this thing. And so, we resume.

Arcadia – March 12th, 21:20

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Just got in to Arcadia, after a brutal 70 mile pull straight into the wind. many things hurt. I have found a cheap ass hotel run by a Gujurati family. it’s the usual trade off: shabby, breeze blocked, some atrocious design decisions, really poor finishing – but cheap. $30 per night.

The town itself is a total throwback. Some super-outlets and fastfood restaurants at the intersection of two highways are the main concession to the current planning craze in Florida. But there is a charming old Main Street (completely abandoned at all hours of the day) and a smattering of older style bungalows which are slowly falling into disrepair as the town creeps closer to the WalMart . I’ve heard rumours of a Rodeo somewhere to the west.

After a day that hurt more than it probably should have done, I’ve been totally foxed for a decent place to have a beer. Had to resort to buying a six-pack of Yeungling from the grocery store – this one’s rather charmingly called Sweet Bay – and now I’m sitting in semi-darkness on a bench outside, sipping furtively at my beer, wrapped in the obligatory and specially-provided brown paper bag (the outdoor liquor laws in Florida seem to be somewhat vague on this point. From all of the brown paper bags i’ve seen wrapped around beer cans, it seems like it must be illegal, yet at the same time, the bag seems to confer some sort of legitimacy. Like: ‘I know i’m doing something wrong here folks, but look how dang discreet me and my paper bag can actually be!” Oh well, whatever works.).

Looking at the predominantly BMX-and-mullet-based traffic circling through the parking lot, i’m wondering if this is as good as Saturday night is likely to get in this town. Six thousand souls (according to wikipedia) and I find myself guessing how many of them are cousins.

Strangely enough, I have two Chinese restaurants to choose from. Both are buffets. I’ve only set foot into one of them, since through the window of the other one it was clear that the client base hasn’t risen above zero for quite some time. An hour before closing time, the place was empty, the chairs were on the tables and the ratty carpet was getting thrashed by a small girl and a hoover.

Sadly, the other one – King Buffet – seems little better. This is too bad, since I have concluded on this trip that Chinese is the (non-breakfast) food of champions. However, things didn’t exactly start out brilliantly chez King, since I was no more than three steps into the place before being informed that soda or juice were my only two beverage options (i.e. no beer). Moreover, a quick nose round the buffet revealed hours-old tureens of sweaty crab legs and noodles that had long since given up the right to be referred to in plural. I was glad and repulsed in equal measures to finally discover the source of the rancid stink that had been making me seriously doubt my own sanity for stopping there. It was cowering in the very last row of the buffet at the back. Up close it smelled like a cross between curdled milk and a festival sweat sock. The few hummocks that remained were huddled shamefully in their stainless steel tray as if they were only too aware of their disgraceful state. I’m talking about you, bacon-wrapped shrimp. thankfully, the smell seemed localised enough that I felt safe with (some of) the other foods (plus i was so hungry i kept having to negotiate with my stomach to stop it from eating itself). Still, it seemed a useful lesson: if, for whatever reason, you need to fake a convincing illness, waste no time in whipping yourself up a dish of bacon-wrapped shrimp. Neglect before eating. It’s certain to do the trick.

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The Clock Restaurant – Revisited

I do love the Southern inflection, especially when people get excited (this, I’ve found, is usually on account of dogs, trucks or guns). I just heard this phrase, which jumped out of the restaurant hubub somewhere behind me. I had to turn and look and discovered that the speaker was a rather sizable white man with white sneakers and a grey Hitler moustache:

“You can’t do nothing when that dog’s got hold of you.”

But, in his giggly excitement, it came out as “Ye can’ do nuttin’ when that dawg’s got hold of ye!” This over three octaves in exactly the kind of tones that make you want to slap your knee at the end of it. Just as he was doing.

There’s now another huge drama unfolding behind me, as a lady discovers that she has lost the winder to her watch – “it cost me forty-nine dollars!”

It’s certainly a credit to the good people of Arcadia that just about everyone in the restaurant is now crawling around on the filthy carpet trying to find the thing. The manager is on his knees under the table and people are offering theories left and right:

“You need a magnet!’

“Get the vacuum cleaner out. You’ll hear when you git it!”

“It would jam the darn thing!”

“it woodint jam a vacuum cleaner!”

“You shore would hear it, though!”

“Yup, I reckon you would hear it…”

And so on….

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Bonita Springs – Days 11 – 13

Much the same way that ending a rain of hammer blows to the head can feel like pleasure, one of the best things about sleeping rough is that you have a renewed appreciation for all those things you took for granted.  First among these:  hot shower, clean sheets, chairs not fixed to the floor.

After two nights slung between trees, I was ready for a bit of comfort, and, on my last ninety miles through the Everglades, it was incredibly cheering to think that my next stop would put me in the company of family.

That my brother Jeff was in Florida with his family was a coincidence that we just couldn’t pass up. Hence the somewhat migratory pattern across southern Florida, taking me to a lovely corner of Bonita Springs, just north of Naples.

When I got there, it was a joy to see my brother, his wife, and my niece and nephew, who I hadn’t clapped eyes on for almost two years. Unfortunately, i was slightly too fragrant to trade anything more than handshakes at first, and was given a beer and promptly ushered inside for a wash.

What followed were a brilliant few days hanging out with the kids, stoking up the sauna, chasing tennis balls and eating food that didn’t come out of a cellophane wrapper.  Brilliant.

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Taylor and Calvin: a sight for sore eyes

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Buddy takes one for the team and squeezes into the back

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Unlike my crew, these are good eaters, all

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iPoke: irresistible to little fingers

 

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The Ballad of George’s Meatball

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after carrying them 800 miles, i was not going to miss a chance to wear my ‘finest’.

this turned out to be my only opportunity.


Gator Aid in The Everglades – Days 9 & 10

Tamiami Corner – HWY 41 – 4:30pm

08/03/2011

I really wish I hadn’t asked Eddie, the guy at the Subway, if he knew anything about Highway 41 going west through the Everglades.

“Gators,” was his first word “People tend to carry a stick so that you can push ‘em out of the way.”

After much deliberation about where to spend tonight, having discussed several options with various bikers and truckers, called around local hotels called things like the Micosukee Resort  I finally decided to try and make a go of crossing the Everglades, with a likely bivouac when it started to get dark.. Last night’s bivouac in Key Largo had been unplanned. I took a sneaky whiff of the local atmospheres and instantly regretted it.

I was hoping that Eddie’s words would confirm my suspicions about advice you got in Florida. The more confident and knowing the tone,  the more likely it was to be a complete pile of fiction. I was in my current predicament for exactly this reason:

“Do you think I’ll find many hotels up around Tamiami Corner?”

Mexican Chef guy: “Oh yes. Many hotels. Very cheap.”

I somehow doubted that by ‘many’ he meant the Miccosukee Gaming Resort, and by ‘cheap’ he meant $175 per night.

And here was Eddie wanting to know what else to put on my sandwich. “Ummm…Lettuce, please. And some olives. Now, when you say alligators….”

“Oh and pythons too. And don’t wear any scent. No cologne or nothing. The insects will eat you alive. Anything else on the sandwhich?”

“Emm….nope. That’s it.” I had a brief picture of what it might mean to be the middle bit in an Everglade sandwich; strung up in my hammock, fighting off pythons from above and alligators from below. “Thanks Eddy.”

I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach and reminded myself to steal some toilet paper from the bathroom.


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The Everglades – At Camp

A few words while there is yet light and wine, and the residual buzz from Henry Miller in full bombastic flight in Tropic of Capricorn. I feel I should at least try to capture something of this feeling. Dusk is closing in and my heart is still racing from a fearful twenty mile sprint west into the Everglades. Would I find a place to stop? Would I get pulled over by the police and asked where the hell i thought i was going (the map showed very little ahead for the next 60 miles)? would Eddie’s talk of Gators and pythons prove true?

So here I am, about a hundred yards back from the road and once again the lonely power substation has come to my rescue. I’m currently trying to ignore some crackling sounds in the bushes behind me, but now (thanks again to Eddy) at least i have got a big stick to hand. At any rate, for much of the twenty mile sprint, there looked to be very few places where I could sling a hammock without having to hang my arse a few feet over the water. The image of an alligator biting of me through the hammock had already replayed itself a few too many times in my head to make a comfortable sleep likely.

to make matters worse, the bugs have started coming out in fearsome numbers and the crackling sounds in the swamp behind me are getting louder. one sec. i think i need to hitch the hammock up a few notches….

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9-3-11

The Everglades – Siwash #3

One of the most terrifying dreams I’ve had in years. Should have known how it was going to unfold, given that I pretty much spelled it out last night. I dreamt that I had actually woken up in my hammock as I was being attacked by an alligator. It felt so real because the dream was happening in the place where I was sleeping. The Gator was attacking from the swampside of the hammock, the precautions I had taken in hoisting it even higher had not taken into account the animal’s ‘rearing capabilities’ and in my dream the bastard was snapping away at my ass with gusto. I kept tring to scramble into a kneeling position – never easy when you’re in a hammock — and i couldn’t be sure whether it was my real legs or my dream legs that were failing me. I woke myself with my own terrifyied moaning, then passed the rest of the night in that interminable state which is neither sleeping nor wakefulness. As the night deepened a heavy dew fell, and I could feel my arse (still sensitve, no doubt, from its imagined mauling), growing chill with the condensation it was attracting through the hammock. In short, not a restful night.

Had I known that I was a mile from the Miccosukee restaurant, I might have put off eating breakfast, but have now piled on a follow-up of eggs, coffee and pancakes to the soggy half-sub that Eddy made for me while predicting my imminent demise last night.

Interesting to see a few Indians around in more traditional dress. There is an old tribal lady here in a colourful beaded denim skirt, and long white hair who carries herself with incredible bearing and dignity. A lot of the other Indians in the restaurant, both workers and customers, have wandered over to pay their respects.

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always look both ways….

Music

For days the iGod has been serving up a right old mishmash of tunes, but with a rather quirky – and some would say inspired — bias towards Talking Heads, especially given Mr Byrne’s well-documented bicycle fetish. In the last few days we’ve had ‘And She Was,’ ‘Psycho Killer’, ‘Nothing but Flowers’, ‘Once in a Lifetime’ and many others, surfacing with seeming randomness from a collection of 20,000 songs (sadly, not ‘Burning Down the House’ which may have disproved my theory) .

Out of loyalty to David (and his rather excellent Bicycle Diaries) I was reluctant to give the Heads the old Tramp’s shuffle, but the truth is, they are just not the right tempo for someone straining to get every last calorie out of their aging legs. Then today, as if I needed to ride six hundred miles to discover the answer to this pressing question, I finally stumbled on the perfect cycling music, buried so deep on my ipod that I had forgotten it was even there. And at just the right moment, since I had just hit a 40 mile stretch in the Everglades without any hint of habitation, let alone someone who would sell me a Gatorade.

What was this magical noise, you ask? Only The 808 State Radio shows from 1992. 140 BPMs of low fi, old school, hard core raving. Still kicking around up there, so here’s a link.

The Ride and Flop : Days 5 & 6

Day 5 – homestead => key west

For the record, one spare tube and six patches are not enough to preserve your dignity if you’re trying to cover 120 miles on ‘vintage’ tyres. It took three roadside surgeries where I tried patching two different tubes every which way, in the hopes of getting to the bike shop on Marathon Key. Knowing that the patches were shite i had to use two of them to cover three holes (how the fuck do you get three holes at once anyway?). So I was literally praying out loud as I rolled off the bridge onto Grassy Key, the last one before Marathon. Sadly, my luck was not in, and i felt the familiar bump of rim on tarmac just as i pulled up outside of the Dolphin Research Center. It’s very possible that the language which escaped me at that point was not entirely appropriate for the young visitors who were queueing up to pet Flipper.

However, whoever is responsible for putting nice people in your way came up trumps, because the two ladies in the Dolphin Research centre called me a cab and found me a bike shop that stocked the requisite 23 x 700c’s. I was picked up within minutes by a sizeable Cuban Lady with a bike rack on her taxi. She told me she had been living in the Keys for 27 years and the furthest afield she’s been in that time was Orlando. Keys living looks like it could be habit forming.

Otherwise, it was quite the slog. Don’t know how i would have fared over the last 40 miles to Key West if the wind hadn’t been behind me. As it stood, I was verging on delirious from arse pain and energy drinks by the time i got there. And the three beers i drank in quick succession did little to help matters….although they did help to soften the blow of what was to follow when i went in search of accomodation….

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Seashell Youth Hostel, Key West 8:40 PM

OK, so I’m starting to get the picture about Key West in March. Here I am in shared dorm accommodation, and the price is $60 including tax. If you want to stay in a ‘motel’ at this time of year, expect to pay upwards of $200. And it looks very much like people are prepared to do this.

Speaking to Steve, the cycle-friendly owner of the Patio Motel around the corner, it would seem that I’ve been lucky to get even a bunk bed (it’s a lowsie, in case you were wondering. My neighbour from ‘oop top’ has just emerged from the shower and is arranging himself and his clothes on the various hanging places around our bunk. All I can actually see of him are six inches above and below his blue calvins as he sashays around our bunk , no doubt looking forward to a Friday night out in Key West . He’s got thick glasses, a generous belly, and those rather suspect jeans with rear pockets sewn on the front). If for nothing else, it’s making me a little nostalgic for the times when Tash and I were real backpackers: where every hostel was essentially a grab bag of international characters, about whom you learned loads of things you never really wanted to know.

And, given that today has put 120 miles and three beers in the bank, i’m considering dancing front bum pockets at eye level to be fairly fitting icing on a funny old cake.

Day 6….still at the youth hostel.

There’s nothing like waking up to the crunch of a plastic mattress to make you long for home. Then you realise that a part of your body is actually touching part of the bare mattress (which must be plastic because loads of your predecessors couldn’t help pissing on it, right?) and you’re revolted enough to get the hell out of bed, hangover or no.

Of course, that just means that you have to join the queue for the toilet, since three other guys have just had the same experience. Then, since the last thing you were expecting to do was to stay at a youth hostel, you have to shake yourself dry, since you didn’t think (and didn’t want) to bring a towel on a bicycle road trip.

Amazingly, people seem to be queueing up for this experience. Myself included. In the course of going to get some breakfast, it seems the last of the bunk beds has been allocated; making me homeless as I write this now.

Technically I could cycle back to Marathon this afternoon. I’ve already decided that there is no point paying $55 for a camping spot on Key West. My fate lies in the hands of the young Polish guy running the hostel, who seems fairly jaded from doing the job of housing drunken students for four years now. He wants to go back to Poland soon, next year he says, since he only came out here to see his Mum for a visit, and ended up getting stuck. You see what i mean about habit forming.

The Green Parrot – key west

Meanwhile, the afternoon drinking crowd continues to swell at this famed Key West drinking hole (not the one Hemmingway frequented – that’s Sloppy Joes or Captain Tony’s depending on what you read and who you believe) . There seems to be no end of people willing to feed the jukebox with requests for gems from the sixties and seventies. Cream doing Crossroads is currently on for the second time in an hour. Not that I am complaining. If you’re going to be nostalgic, it may as well be for the good stuff.

Some guy with lumbar-length hair is starting to fiddle with the mikes onstage, which means we’ll soon be treated to live variations on the same theme. In watching him setup, i get talking to Rusty, an older guy with grey hair in a pony tail who is getting ‘toasted’ (his word) with his wife Dina. it turns out that we have far too much in common; he plays drums, fiddles on the internet for a living, loves motorcycles (ridin’ an’ fixin’) and is generally intolerant of being told how to ride his bike by the pillion passenger. Dina objects. “Don’t believe a word of it! When we’re at a stop sign, I just sit there. Sometimes I even close my eyes. I don’t tell him to hurry up, or we’re wasting time. I don’t want to cause an accident.”

Key West is definitely not the place for the solo traveller. The cliques and cadres (to use the Sheenism) that ebb and flow through the old town around Duval Street are bent on one thing: getting into a mess. If you are willing to shout at people in the street, or shop yourself shamelessly, then perhaps you might make some drunken collegiate friends. Otherwise, you are going to spend your time alone on the fringes. This was the case last night, as I wandered the streets, drinking a tin of Corona, thoughtfully wrapped in a brown paper bag by the guy at Walgreens, and just observing as the caterwauling reached increasingly frantic and depressing levels . In and out of the bars, up and down the street, everyone doing the same futile searching, tussling and sniffing that requires you to be drunk or else makes you realise what fools we all are.

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Saturday Night In Key West – Some Adventures to be Remembered:

Rather than join the hordes on Duvall Street for another night, i wheeled my bike around some of the less frequented parts of Key West. It proved to be much more…colourful. After about about an hour or so checking out the darkened suburbs, rather surprisingly full of shady people shuffling around in housecoats and carpet slippers, i decided to pull over at a corner store for a drink. I got hollered at by the car behind me, and, before i knew it, this little guy was out in the street yelling at the car as it rolled by. “Hey, you nearly hit this fucking guy! He’s on a bike man! What’s wrong with you guys!”

They honked and flipped us the bird, and then it was just me and my newfound ally standing in the street. He introduced himself as Jackie and offered to buy me a beer from the corner store. Little did i know that Jackie Bowman was the self-styled star of a huge cast that would be passing through ‘the Corner’ over the next hour or so like a bunch of characters transplanted from a Tarantino film.  Thanks to JMB, each and every one of them was regaled with tales of my pedalling prowess whether they liked it or not.

dramatis personae:

  • Jackie ‘Motherfucking’ Bowman . (his own designation) Five foot three of original conch mentalism. Possibly the most obstreperous person I have ever encountered. That’s before we even got to the ten years he served for attempted murder (aged seventeen to twenty seven). A painter by trade, just coming out of a divorce, pissed up from a day’s worth of drinking at some Conch Republic commemorative ceremony with his eight-three year-old mother and the mayor of Key West.
  • Richie – drunk but good-natured plasterboard installer man who hung around for half an hour, then literally ran off to fillet a lemon shark when his huge girlfriend Star pulled up in the car. He invited us back to his house, but it was clear he didn’t really mean it. I was, however, dying to know how he came by the cuts and scratches all over his face.
  • Pete – big dude with borderline ZZ top beard. never went further than his mom’s house or the corner shop, at least not since he lost his taxi license two years ago for DWI. Asked me if I wouldn’t mind standing a little further back, because people up close make him nervous.
  • Shaggy – a bocce-playing addict whose nervous twitches just kept on and on, like waves washing up on the beach. His hands would flutter through his hair, up his cheeks, pull on his nose, pat his eyes then rinse and repeat. Bore a striking resemblance to the Scooby Doo character after whom he was named, except for a mouthful of tobacco stained teeth that looked like they had been chucked down the street. Also lost his license for fifteen years for DWI.  We compared notes on bicycles before he rushed off to make the last game before the lights went off at 11.
  • Julio – tiny, psychotic Cuban who pulled out a knife and put it on Richie’s neck to demonstrate what he would do to anyone who fucked with him. Dressed quasi-dapper in pale jeans, matching blue jacket and baseball cap. Laughed like a maniac at the jokes no one else found funny, it came out of him in a phlegmy bark and then stopping just as suddenly, like there was someone even smaller at the controls.
  • The Cagey Looking Dude who Jackie hit up for a cigarette. ‘I smoked ‘em all.” “But you were only in here three hours ago buying a pack!” “I fucking smoked ‘em all.” He then proceeded to buy another pack, hand out a few, then sits down to sulk on a milk carton (where did that milk carton go, anyway? I was looking for it for the rest of the night). “See that guy,” Jackie says to me loudly while pointing at Cagey Dude. “He’s fucking rich, man. See that car? Cobra, man. The thing has got 500 fucking horsepower.” Cagey dude proceeds to look miserable, but says nothing. He finished his cigarette then melted away. I didn’t even see him get into his Cobra. He was that cagey.

The night wore on, getting increasingly surreal, and i found myself thinking it would be impossible to make this shit up.

Jackie told every single person that walked up to the shop (even those that were just passing) ‘Hey! You see this guy here! Drove all the way from Daytona. On his bicycle! On his fucking bicycle man!”

For a while, he accosted everyone who would listen, and some who wouldn’t, telling them of this miraculous feat. The frightening thing was that almost everyone Jackie spoke to seemed to know him. Most were wary. One really rich guy in a monster truck peered down at me as i stood there sheepishly and said “that’s fucking nuts.” This was all the encouragement Jackie needed. “I’ll tell you it’s fucking nuts….” “I mean nuts as in stupid. Now step away from the car, Jackie.”

Jackie, I noticed, was starting to sound like Tony Montana in Scarface. Drawling, shouting, and spitting like a man possessed. Must be the Cuban influence. Ninety miles as the crow flies. And nowhere was the impression stronger than when he was telling me about the time that he got sentenced to ten years and a day for attempted murder . “Walking down Duval Street, 3:30 in the morning,” “Were you wasted?” “Was I wasted? Fuck was I wasted. Charged up, drunk, you fucking name it!” “So then what happened?” “What happened is, some fucking faggot was walking by and he touched my ass. So I punched him. Not just a normal punch. My brother is a boxer. He’s even crazier than me. I hit him one right here.” He pressed his knuckles gently behind my ear. “Then I got down and started mashing his head against the side of the curb. They had to pull me off. Fucking guy was in a coma, for like, six months.”

I gulped and looked a little deeper into those glittering eyes, realising that I had understood almost nothing about what was going on behind them. Then i exercised the cyclist’s privilege and got the fuck out of there.

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JMFB