Heading Orff…

well, it seems that only road travel elicits anything like regular blog contributions, hence the plan to see a fair swathe of Florida using that most unconventional of vehicles (in the US at least): the bicycle.

at 1000 miles, the proposed route could be called a tad ambitious, and i am reserving the right to tailor the course to prevailing mood and circumstance (likely to be driven by the size an insistence of the saddle sores). but let’s just see how we go.

i’ve been fiddling with the bike setup for about a week now, and am well pleased with the Batavus i spotted while in Bali and kept on hold for a rainy day. although it’s fairly clear that it hasn’t exactly been designed for touring — a fact underscored by the many raised eyebrows on the part of the fine gents from Orange Cycle in orlando when they fitted the rack. my other essential bit of kit is the all-in-one hammock, which meets the weight criteria but possibly not the security or stability criteria that have been stipulated by the missus. thankfully Florida is the land of the cheap roadside motel, so i should hopefully be able to credit card my way out of any unsavoury or unlikely camping scenarios.

It all sounds a bit like folly, but i guess there’s only one way to find out.

As ever, i’m grateful to the Missus, and to her dad Farouk, for doing the parental bit while i get to go and have ‘fun’. I will be on standby, and have promised to be back within two days of any emergency.

will also be travelling with the essentials: laptop and broadband stick, so, in a way, it will be like i never left. Hoping to document a fair bit of it here, but will turn off the email notifications so everyone can carry on with their lives in peace.

hasta luego!

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Day 1 – Daytona to Rockledge

11:15 – Daytona

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2:16 PM– Scottsmoor

the old boy in the gas station seemed pretty excited about the forest fire. ‘Outta control’ he said, with blue eyes glittering. ‘That’s why I’m stocking up.’ He had a 24 case of Coor’s Light under one arm and asked for a carton of cigarettes when he got to the till. “Good thing you ain’t riding north! !” He chuckled as he walked out. “Be careful now!”

We had both just finished listening to a rather sizable lady explain to the counter staff that her husband had been complaining that she was getting too thin. ‘He’s told me I look like a crack whore,’ she cackled. The counter staff nodded sympathetically. I couldn’t see her face throughout this exchange, so I held back on passing judgement. ‘an that just ain’t no fair.’ Despite dropping the Southern double negative, she sounded fairly well satisfied with the situation.

This being my first stop, there’s already a few lessons to be learned. 1) I really am going to have to do something about my saddle. After two hours, it has started to feel like I was sawing at my perinium with a loop of barbed wire. That, or I have somehow managed to sit on the bike chain. 2) a quart-sized water bottle is inadequate. Mostly because 3) Florida is fucking huge. No matter how much you think of the place as being wall-to-wall crowded with Publix, Walgreens and the like, there are still these huge empty bits in between, containing just the odd trailer (not even trailer park), fishing hole, Church of the Nazarene or closed down marina. There seem to be a shit load of those, leading me to think that 4) the economy here is still on its ass. I have passed many desolate scenes worthy of Stephen Shore. Beautiful and empty in a sort of post-apocalyptic way.

Perhaps that’s not far off, in one respect. Especially now that the sky is purple and orange from the ‘out of control’ forest fire rolling in from the west, and the sirens have started to wail

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18:40 Garden Court Motel – Rocklege

After a quick stop for endlessly refillable drinks at Burger King in Coca (I know), the GPS led me down a surprisingly nice, riverside street then chucked me back out on US 1 by the Garden Court Motel. Here I was greeted, somewhat suspiciously at first, by Bridgette, a tiny lady with a wandering eye and pinstriped shorts in brightest pink. Checking in seemed to put her in a bit of a tizzy, not least because I asked for a discount on the $45 room rate (it would seem Indian habits are hard to break). Bridgette gave me a long and baleful look then silently shook her head.

‘So that’s a ‘No?’ I asked.

She nodded again, very slowly.

When I asked to see the room she let out a long howl that kind of surprised me. “AAAAALLLLLBERRRRRRT.” I heard a sort of shuffling noise, and then an even smaller man in blue shorts with purple braces appeared.

“Can you show this gentleman number four?”

I dutifully followed on Albert’s heels, careful not to step on him. “Been here long?” I asked.

“Only thirty-seven years.” He kept shuffling along down the row of rooms without looking back.

“Will it be OK if I keep my bike inside?”

That stopped him. Very slowly he turned, giving it some serious consideration. “We’ll have to get something for you to lean it on. Getting paint that matches these days can be murder.”

My kindly hosts originally came to Florida from Kiel in Germany, via Hamilton Ontario and Connecticut. I mentioned that I was from Toronto.

“Ah. Toronto. Very cold there.”

“Yep.”

“Where do you live now.”

“London.”

“And how do you earn your living?”

Albert doesn’t mess around.

“Well. My last job was doing internet stuff, but I haven’t worked for about a year. ”

“We don’t have internet here,” Brigette chimed in.

“That’s ok.”

“So how do you earn your living?” Clearly, once on to a point, Albert could be relentless.

“Well, I got a bit of money when I left work, and we rented our house, and now we’re staying with family in Daytona, and kind of just getting by.”

There was a long silence in which I felt the full and weighty stares of two tiny folk who could easily have been members of the Lollipop Guild.

Then Brigette piped up. “Check out is at ten.” She pushed something black in a plastic bag across the counter to me. “And it’s five dollars deposit for the remote.”


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interim tallies

Greetings from the Siwash*

prevalent conditions:  sun, wind, brush fires

prevalent conditions:  wet, no wind, bad drivers

 

*more on this later

Day 2- Siwash at Port St. Lucie

After spending a grey and wet day trying to put some miles on without getting soaked, a sizeable nail through the back tire put an end to my 100-mile ambitions at around six pm. it was getting dark, and i hadn’t passed a seedy motel in ages. Best Westerns and Holiday Inns there were aplenty, but sadly it looked like I was about to venture beyond the land of the thirty dollar special, with only Albert and Brigette to show for it. After patching my the tire and getting back on the Publix-IHOP-Walgreens-Burger King-Marathon-7/11-CVS conveyor belt, i started to wonder just where i would spend the night. i was loathe to part with 100 bucks to sleep in a sterile box with cable.

i did have another option. despite coming under fire from various parties, i’ve been toting a hammock under the vaguely delusional notion that i might be able to do some camping, save some readies, etc (after all, I am unemployed and with few prospects). ever since a rather soggy conversation in India with Uncle Howard about the merits of a Hennessey Hammock, getting one has felt a little bit like destiny. i mean, the thing weighs 1.1 kilos and you don’t need any tent pegs. how cool is that?

sadly, it’s been looking rather like i wasn’t going to get the chance to use it. Most of the trees in Florida seem to have been cut down to make room for RV parks, and most of the RV parks don’t seem to have anything else you can tie a hammock to. it’s strictly back in, and hook up, open a Busch and say hello to the neighbors. This has been double disappointing, since i vowed to recoup the cost of the damn thing through savings on h/motel rooms. using campgrounds, that would take eighteen nights assuming a cost of $20 per night. with the but only 4 nights of Siwashing. so you can see the attraction of some bush whackin’.

So anyway, i thought i would warm myself up to this. coming off the road after 80-odd miles is a pretty smelly business. showers tend to be uppermost in your mind at the end of the day. and that is where i was heading. the legs hurt, and i was in need of a good dousing. but then i saw it. the perfect road. paved but turning quickly to gravel. leading to nowhere. on an impulse, i turned and followed it down to where it ended at a small power substation (if indeed that’s what they’re called). behind that was rather promising and abandoned stand of trees (i had noticed that the 2 acre lot was for sale as i rolled in). a quick three minute bushwhack into the forest, and there was a grove of conifers, largely hidden in the bushes. perfect. i charged in, and got busy making fool of myself setting up the hammock for the first time. thank god i didn’t attempt it in an RV park. they would have sold tickets and hot dogs. I managed to tie the last knot just as it got proper dark, then i bush whacked my way back out of there, hopped on the bike, and cycled over to the mall for my usual evening shop of fruit, a single tin of beer, some muffins, and a bottle of this mysterious (but delicious) liquid called muscle milk*.

Then, looking for somewhere i could plug in the laptop, i wandered into an unassuming Pizza shop, and was greeted by Carlos, a Portuguese ex-pat who had moved to Port St. Lucie via Mozambique and New York. he had one hell of a life story to tell, and wasted no time in telling it – plying me with various freebies (‘garlic knots’ anyone?) to keep me in my seat talking about english football. i was there until eleven. he liked the idea of the trans-florida bike ride, and when he asked where i was staying i mumbled something about the Best Western up the road. “that’s a shame. you could have come round to mine. met the kids.”

i smiled and thanked him gratefully, then excused myself for a date with the bush…

next morning: i.e. after a sleepless interval

you would never guess that it would get so bloody cold overnight here in florida. or maybe you would. it is the beginning of march, after all. i spent the night trying to wrap myself in every last bit of clothing within reach, then tossiing fitfully as i dreamed of helicopters pounding the air overhead, scanning the forest with heat sensing cameras. i’m not sure if i managed much sleep proper, but eventually the sky did start to get brighter. i did some extra strength shivering in an attempt to get up enough heat to exit the cocoon, then hauled myself and my several loads worth of gear back out to the road. there were a few quizzical glances from the morning’s first shoppers, but i just smiled and waved, trying to keep my hand low and my nose averted….

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* Muscle Milk: contains no milk

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a perfect night’s accommodation. email me direct if you want GPS co-ordinates.

Days of Blunder: 3 & 4

Day 3 – Port St Lucie => Pompano Beach

Jupiter – Macdonalds

I keep passing the same strange looking dude.  He’s wearing floods, carrying a bible in one hand and a jerrycan in the other, and i’ve seen him three different times at intervals of ten miles or more. He’s always walking slowly on the same side of the road, at least half a foot of bare leg sticking out below his jeans, lurching along, impervious to the roar and stink of the traffic.   How does he keep overtaking me? It’s either hitchhiking or armageddon. If it’s the former, i have to ask:  who the hell would pick up someone looking as crazy as that?

Now I’m eavesdropping on a hilarious conversation between a bunch of old people having their usual MacDonalds chinwag.

One old codger, dyed hair, and insistent voice – identified by several around the table as a lawyer, and fairly obviously so – keeps saying to one them ‘You’re interrupting. You’re interrupting. You’re interrupting.’ Until the poor guy he was browbeating (a reverend, from what I can gather) finally subsides into silence.

‘Now let that be the last time you interrupt. Because I’m trying to help you here. I’m trying to help you not make a fool of yourself. Get possession of the facts before you open your mouth. Then you won’t make a fool of yourself. And no one wants to see that, because we all love you Reverend.”

Talk about sweetening the poisonous barb!

The same asshole has just walked out making a fist and urging everyone to ‘seize the moment.’
Thankfully, nobody seems as perturbed by this display of Sheenishness as me. In fact, they seem kind of inspired by it, since they’ve now moved on to Charlie himself.

‘One of those girls looks like a porno star!’  ‘She can’t be older than eighteen’. ‘He’s a confirmed dope addict.’  In the absence of the law, they seem pleasantly scandalised.

 

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Miami subs – Briny Breezes/West Palm Beach

It would seem the rich have no use for 7-11s. Or Publix, or any of those other institutions I have come to depend on. Instead, they spend inordinate amounts at places called The Ice Cream Club, or Thaiku sushi bar.

I rolled through ten miles of west palm beach, and all I saw were mansions, flash boats, and unsmiling dog walkers. Originally intending to take the Ocean Road (A1A) all the way to South Beach Miami, I only lasted half an hour before crossing the bridge back to US1. As roads go, I think we’re much better suited to each other (though early signs are that the Old Dixie Highway could be making a bid).

Throughout the trip down, I have been exchanging at least some form of acknowledgement with other cyclists. In South Palm Beach? Nah-unh. I passed several mini-pelotons of lycra-clad rich folk, straining away atop their expensive carbon bikes, impassive behind their Oakleys. Not one of them cracked the slightest smile, let alone ventured a response to my wave. I never thought courtesy was soluble in money.
Otherwise, today’s ride has been a tough one. It doesn’t help waking up freezing in grove of dead trees just off the highway, your last shower 24 hours behind you. It feels like I might be curing myself slowly of this cycling habit. My arse has started pleading with me to stop, and my lower back is none too happy either. The fingers in my left hand are numb, and my right wrist feels like I’ve wronged it in some mysterious way. Worse yet, the rear hub has started clicking in fairly ominous fashion.

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better fix up the guest house

Day 4 – Pompano Beach => Homestead

Anu, the manager of this hotel hails from Bombay, and despite the intervening pane of bullet-proof glass, we got to talking. I asked her if there was anywhere in town to get Indian food, since I am truly, deeply missing it. She smiled but said nothing, just adjusted her headscarf and gave me my key. Then, fifteen minutes after i checked into my room, the phone rings. It’s Anu. She’s cooked me a fish thali, complete with curd, okra and gulab jamun. And it’s positively delicious. I find I’m at a loss to convey the depth of my gratitude. When i try to thank her, she points heavenward. “He provides.”

Today is definitely a day for feeling grateful. Here are a few people and reasons.

  • The Missus. She goes at the top of any list and for obvious reasons.  Miss you baby.
  • Uncle Cory. for pointing out the obvious flaw in my plan to get an Ipad for navigational purposes. Something along the lines of “I can see an ipad being a fairly awkward fit on the handlebars.” As a result of opting for something handlebar mounted, I positively skipped through Miami, taking a road to the west of the city (only saw two polic busts) and was then routed through a lovely part of town to the south on the Old Cutler Rd. (This was another neighborhood  dripping with wealth, but much more understated and classy than what was on display in West Palm Beach). so thanks to Uncle Cory.
  • Anu – the lovely lady from Bombay who was happy to talk about India while checking me in, and hearing I was missing the food, cooked me up a thali on the spot!
  • Enzio – the mechanic at P&J bicycles who tried that little bit harder to find the obscure campagnolo tool that would allow him to get my rear freewheel off to overhaul the hub. And, after a fairly involved tussel, got a new set of bearings in there, and only charged me twenty bucks.
  • And Me, for finally bothering  to look at the elastication in my cycling shorts (Steve, you’ll be glad to know that, although they are lycra, I keep them well concealed). A bit of pre-emptive snipping round some of the foam and a healthy slathering of suncream around the (ladies, look away now) nether regions, et voila! No nappy rash!

It’s been a good day.

 

IMG_0956.JPGBeyond the call of curry.

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