Sunday, June 19, 2011

Still Ridin' Still Writin' - Update for the readers

I've continuously expressed my gratitude to all of the readers out there that followed this journey and have supported the adventure through words of encouragement and advice. I'm not going to stop now. Thank you again.

It seems that Betty is stuck in Florida, her story never rolling out of the sunshine state. The blog has come to a crawl, but rest assured, the writing has continued. In an effort to turn this crazy idea into a book, I've backed off of the blog for a while(a sedentary, cubed existence in corporate America hasn't exactly lent itself to cooking up inspiration either).

Since the last post, a lifetime dream has been realized and I was allowed the great opportunity to have a feature article published in Ride Maine - a biker pub out of, you guessed it - Maine. The people there were great to work with and while on the trek, I actually read last year's book cover-to-cover many times over.

Soul smiling, I'm both saddened and excited to say that while I attempt to chase a dream and turn this crazy idea into a lifestyle and actually earn a living from these wonky words, the blog will continue to be fairly inactive.

I will try to keep you updated on the successes and failures as I attempt to become a paid writer and see if this thing turns a corner.

If you're just burning for more tales from the road, and there are many, (a battle with a black bear, a tough-as-nails NYC cop breaking some rules, hang-gliding in a thunderstorm, soaking up beauty in Savannah just to name a few) please write me at

(full site coming soon)

I'd love to hear from you.

With the utmost sincerity,

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Florida: Key West 4.2 - 4.9

Route: Key West, around Key West, Duval Street, Key West

“When life gives you limes, make margaritas.” – Jimmy Buffet

Key West is the isle of sunsets, lovers, gypsies, margaritas and debauchery. While many of you may be expecting more from this post, let me just say that while writing this blog, readership and response are as immediate as a trip to the bathroom after eating at McDonalds. And while this chapter of the voyage would leave mouths agape and yearning for the more water-cooler-worthy side of this tale, I shall save most of it for another medium in order to avoid the instant shit that would follow, spare some feelings and tease your curiosity, of course. Riding down another avenue will allow that buffer of time-past that will inevitably ease the repercussions that could potentially follow. Intrigued? Well good. Besides, what fun would it be if I unveiled all the really good stories now? Those involved…consider your reputation intact. For the time being.

After slapping the “ride the edge” dollar bill up with all the other Washingtons that get lost in the crowd of staple-gun victims on the walls of the No-Name Pub, an iguana tickles the air with its tongue on the side of the road and the slow trickle continues down to Key West. All the daylight hours are mine for the taking, until the time a guest will arrive to share company for a couple of days. Betty drips down Highway 1 to Fleming Street on Key West, where it promptly ends at mile marker zero and street signs band together, forming a worthy adversary, to test my navigational skills. Just a bit away is the southernmost point in the lower 48, the famous Key West buoy. The island is small, but Key West still takes the form of a familiar enemy, the city, and of course, directional confusion consumes me as forcefully as the elation of having finally hit one of the “most” points of this journey. After a few twists, turns and happy coincidence, I’m unwittingly spit out right next to the buoy…and a line has already formed down the block where tourists eagerly shuffle their feet 24 inches at a time to immortalize their vacation in the lens of a camera, with an iconic tribute. Bikers don’t wait in lines… do they? Well, this one doesn’t. Not today. Betty stealth fully purrs into the fire-lane and poses with the vixen-like styles of a pin-up queen. The tourists, once so eager to fill their frames with their own faces, turn and start snapping shots of the Harley, sunlight bouncing and blinding off her like solar flares. The moment with Betty and the buoy is captured and I try to mount up and ride out before the local law enforcement start enforcing. Luckily, a gentleman and his son offer to take a rare shot of the bike and I in the same frame next to a national landmark. What can I say? I’m a tourist too, eager to fill my frame with my own face (but the helmet stays on in case I have to make a speedy getaway).

Sun rains down in sheets of heat and sweat that cook the contents of my leather and helmet with the authority of a blast-furnace, leaving temptation wide open to strip the skins from mine and reveal the white that lays within, offering a cool relief from stifling safety. Safety wins, as it always does and will and the familiar curiosity surrounding all the caution of a solo journey is explored, as it will be continuously on the road. How much would I err on the side of caution? How much more adventure would there be, had there been a partner in chrome on this trip? The opportunity is taken to check into a hotel and rid all the road uniforms of their soil and stink, while taking the same opportunity to do the same to myself as I watch discomfort and fatigue slip down the drain, floating on layers of grime. The scene is not glamorous and neither am I, the dryer buzzes with the annoyance of a high-school basketball scoreboard and a restricted wardrobe is rejuvenated with a scorched freshness that has been unknown for quite some time.

Names have been changed to protect the guilty. When Charlie arrives, the Holiday Inn pool-side bar has me sipping on an island drink (even though a trip to the store has already been made and the room fridge is stocked) and having a lovely chat with the bartender. After a buzz worthy of a few hours strapped into Key West, I go to the room for the anticipated rendezvous. Once Charlie settles in and unpacks, we head on over to the Conch Club for some conchtails, excuse me, cocktails. The Holiday Inn is at the north end of the island and without a rental car and the inevitable consumption of island spirits, Betty rests peacefully under the canopy of the front lobby, while we walk to all of our tropic libation destinations. The night beautiful, stars twinkle like ice in a tumbler, but it is a typical night at a bar, as most are and there is generally nothing specific, unique or surprising about an evening such as this and tonight offers no exception. Venues may change as vastly and quickly as the price of the same cocktails do in each, but the course of an evening and the outcome of which seldom equate a memorable experience that could ever be discerned from the myriad of other bars one will visit in a lifetime. It’s fun nonetheless.

The next day, Mallory Square beckons, boasting of its famed sunset festival and the chest puffery of the cheaply printed flyers is warranted as street performers produce feats amazing enough to rival the beauty of the sunset. Ringmasters worldwide would drool at the thought of being able to introduce this small band of painted, neo-punk Houdini disciples, eating fire, escaping from chains and straight-jackets while performing contortionist moves that would make a nun blush. Conch fritters are a must and so are margaritas as we tour the square and settle into a Cuban restaurant for dinner. Spinning, whirling and tripping the light fantastic, an older couple makes light work of a samba and thrills the crowd with their beauty and grace. He’s dressed in gray slacks and a black shirt, complimenting the silver top, formed by the passing of years. She’s dressed in a paisley skirt and a red blouse that radiates throughout her perfectly styled white locks. Their faces read of a relaxed concentration while their shoes click and slide effortlessly across the brick and their bodies sway in unified rhythm that make couples sixty years their junior envious. They know each other. They know each other’s moves and smooth is too coarse a word to describe them. They move as one, as if doing so for a lifetime, which I’m assured they have. Wrapped in a cloak of pristine and fundamental beauty, longing and wonderment glaze my eyeballs, which are wide-open.

The red neon of Sloppy Joe’s is undeniable and a visit to Hemingway’s old haunt before visiting his home is as obligatory as slapping a read onto at least one of his works after you visit. The joint is packed with tourists and cigarettes, all lit up and smoking while the band on stage fires up some cover songs that set the crowd ablaze. Charlie chats up the bartender a bit and a warmer version of me takes to the floor and strikes up a chat with anyone that looks like a biker or looks like they may be interesting to talk with. A few random scatterings of conversation are found, but nothing noteworthy comes of this adventure, save for the fact that some very nice people are met with smiles and handshakes, once again proving that the masses are open and friendly, not the scary monsters we’re often lead to believe they are. There is no stranger danger at Sloppy Joes. Explanations unknown, it feels good to wrap up in a buzz blanket and have that numbness make an appearance. The same numbness that used to pay Papa frequent visits on those old stools and floorboards.
A friend of Will’s, I’m told, works at a bar called either Fogarty’s or the Flying Monkey. Apparently both of these are correct and are actually one venue. For the sake of Peace, Love and Flying Monkeys, that is the name that it shall be known. Jamie is working the bar when we get there and the fountain of generosity that strangers have been spewing on this journey is continued with an invitation to her barbeque the next day. Unfortunately, while I accept the invitation, it will later be passed upon when the time comes. Sound like there’s a story there? Yup. But not right now. After a quick rum drink and a conversation with two gay brothers (these two were awesome) who profess to have the “luckiest mom in the world,” a blues band lures our paths to wander into the Green Parrot to help close down the night. The lead singer is a strong woman, whose facial contortions and quivers grind her axe into the throaty, gravely riffs that define what blues is. The set is finished, the band starts to pack up and the tip bucket is passed. Not wanting the music or the night to end, I present a generous offer to continue or at least close out with Sweet Home Chicago. Cliché? Yes. Homesick? Yes. The answer is an expletive laden “no,” which is taken with a smile and the sould of the evening and the night is done.

Another night of wandering…Hog's Breath Saloon, cheeseburgers at Cheeseburgers in Paradise (Jimmy Buffet’s restaurant), complimented by margaritas and some other flavors of Duval Street, this next day and night is a rather dull one with nothing other than a very angry cab ride to splash colors on an otherwise monochrome night. This cabbie is a kind, thoughtful and intelligent man, who hates Russians with a violent ferocity that makes the grudge of Montresor look like a trite bout of sibling rivalry.

Charlie’s company was well received but it’s time for that great sky bus to return my companion to another place and leave me alone on this not-so-deserted island and for that, an impish smile works its way back across my mug. I’m back on my own time, in my own world, with my own thoughts and responsibilities. It is how this trip is meant to be, selfish, and that is perfectly acceptable. Some essentials are picked up at the local grocer and Betty, with a sweaty, leather cowboy on her back, rumbles on The 1 to Boyd’s Campground. Military jets, full in the throes of jaw dropping daily maneuvers, provide a jet exhaust path that the metal horse hikes to a nice campsite on the water’s edge, under the shade of a palm. Enjoying the air show, the breeze, sun and general bliss that comes with staying on an island and the pure glee of not knowing what’s next, a call is made to a cohort and fellow Harley enthusiast that I had the extreme pleasure and fortune of making the acquaintance of during the prerequisite motorcycle safety class back in Chicago. Tim has been a good friend and great proponent of this adventure and words pass from mobile-to-mobile with easy comfort and I hang up with a smile on my face and an eagerness to catch-up with him in San Francisco. A most incredible individual, he has lifetime experiences that rival great men of our time and times past, yet he remains humble, unassuming and never pretentious. The dark-half of these traits could easily be rationalized, given the life he has devoured, and accepted without hesitation by those with lesser experience. I have nothing but admiration for a man that has seen what most dream of, but still will listen with the attention of a young, naïve student, when another talks of a topic of interest.

Motivation finally steals its way in, coupled with the threat of inevitable darkness and camp is finally starting to look like a habitable place after wallowing in a few hours of unregrettable sloth. The tent is going up with a stubbornness unseen thus far and is only matched by the stubbornness that lay within me. When a battle of this magnitude occurs, there can be only one outcome. A victor and the other. The victory is made clear when the tent pole snaps, splinters, leaving a rumpled heap of nylon on a bed of gravel. The loser is left with no shelter and thoughts of, simply, “oh shit, you are one stubborn asshole, my friend” and a few minutes of contemplation surrounding his own dumb-assedry. The moment is quickly lighted by the realization that within the duffle that holds all, duct tape shall be found. The splintered pole is wrapped with the silver, miracle, fix-all band-aid and I jump in the tent, strip down naked and let the breeze take me to a gentle island slumber. To the victor go the spoils.

Eyes, popped open by the early morning training maneuvers of military jets circling the island, take a few minutes to adjust to the new day’s light. The jets are a nice change of pace from the alarm clock of my previous life, always buzzing maniacally, seemingly more worried about me waking up and getting to work on time, than I was. It is, however, slightly emasculating to have these jets flying overhead, with missiles and jet wash visible to the nekkid eye, yet unable to identify exactly what type of jet it is. Men are supposed to inherently know these things the same way we should know how to kill and eat an animal, hotwire a car or pick a lock. A quick ride down to and a couple of laps around the Duval Street area offers up some motorcycle parking on one of the side streets. Given that most of the island hasn’t fully recovered from the home invading, perverted voyeur known as the sandman, parking is ample and I change into shorts, flops and grab frozen key lime pie, dipped in chocolate for the day’s breakfast. It is tough, isn’t it

There is an effect of gazing upon Ernest Hemingway’s writing studio, specifically his typewriter, which I have not yet felt in my lifetime. Previously unknown, this feeling burrows itself deeply into my gut with what I can only imagine as the power of 100 fluttering grammar school crushes all felt at once. I don’t know what exactly the feeling is. I don’t know why I have it. And I certainly wouldn’t know what I would do with it if Hemingway liked me back. Tourists walk through the house, snapping photo after photo, as tourists are programmed to do, but the blank gazes upon their red washed, twice-baked faces convey a message that it’s just another place to see and check off some bucket list and that is their depth. The six-toed felines that sloth about the grounds pay no attention to the myriad of five-toed bipeds milling about. Like a marriage with long forgotten love and sex that is tolerated as an act of supposed-to-be, they put up with random hands petting their coats with enough disdain and repulsion to be noticeable in their eyes, if one was to look, but not enough to tell them no. Maybe it’s the fact that he was only there for 9 years. Maybe it’s the fact that it was during his most prolific writing period. Maybe it’s just one lover of the drink speaking to another through the haze of time. Whatever the reason, Hemingway’s house has spoken to me in a way that nothing else on this trip has or could. ?

Roosters crow with confidence around Key West, strutting, posturing and bellowing like much of the men in the bars around the island. As contemplations of these “free range” chickens occur, a dude approaches proffering a nice, green bag of sweet, stinky weed. Politely, a refusal is made, as much fun as it may be, however, please remember, I am still alone on this journey-that-has-a-purpose and am consistently crossing state lines, wearing a look that screams convict. We’ll let this one fall in the overly-cautious bucket and a woulda-coulda-shoulda.

As I leave Key West, a wash of melancholy coats over me like a matte, gray primer, washing drab onto my psyche. Knowing more cheerful layers will be painted upon me, one after another that will get so heavy my frame can’t bear the weight, bringing a happiness that is based on a layer of the sadness of exiting a place that is an eternal smile. The days pass, not slowly or quickly, but in that way that days are meant to, full of meaning, worth and time. They pass with a smile, no matter what the conditions, for I am free. Rain, heat, humidity, winds, dust devils can all toe the rubicon. I dare them to cross it. If they do, they shall undoubtedly fail. I will not back down. There is not one single day that I do not want to ride. No matter how long and excruciating the prior day’s ride. No matter how aching muscles scream in agony. No matter how downtrodden, how wet, how hot, how cold, how treacherous conditions may be…I was born to ride and each new day is attacked with an amnesia of any sorrow that may have befallen me the day before. The road is my elixir. There have been no sorrows here in the Keys, but I am as sure as Betty is Black, that there will be many to come. Bring it on.

“The bike may break me. The road may take me. I will forever be alive knowing that I followed the road paved by my heart.”