August 9, 2006 – Wednesday – Day 9
PA TO TX, KEY WEST AND RETURN – SUMMER 2006
Miles Today – 1 – Total Miles – 2079
San Antonio, TX (rest and sightseeing day)
(-staying at Roger & Jennifer’s)
-THE ALAMO! –
Around 10 or so we had a mile run around and through the newly constructed, and not-quite-finished RoseHeart complex where Roger and Jen lived. The garden homes were neatly laid out and beautifully landscaped.
At about 11 we went into town with Jennifer to pick up a dress, and I made inquiries at an electronic store and in a camera store about the elusive charger, but to no avail.
On the way back we lunched at trendy Madeline’s, and we had a very delicious salad there.
Roger was never able to get a hold of his tech guy for the unknown password, and so I never was able to enjoy the wireless internet in the house.
Roger came back from work at about 1:30, and we all left at two for downtown.
Like most other kids, especially guys, growing up in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, one of my most endearing memories of Disney childhood is seeing coonskin-capped Fess Parker playing Davey Crockett on TV. So I’ve always wanted to see the real thing. Ever since that became a possibility with this trip I’ve been hearing how disappointing it would be to see the real Alamo. I’d heard that it would be disappointing in size, locale, and plainness. So one of the main things I wanted to do on this swing through Texas was visit the Alamo and see it for myself.
I knew the movie version was Hollywood pretty much through and through. But I haven’t studied history enough to know what might have been real and what was just Disney or patriotic-type myth. Someone sent me a note somewhat before leaving on this trip about my plans to visit the Alamo. He wrote that they were all just drunken guys in there and that they all should have just been arrested, that they weren’t really patriots at all.
Roger and Jennifer and May and I went into San Antonio, and we went to an IMAX show in the mall there called, succinctly, The Alamo!… It was a late ‘80’s version of what went on there, and was just as sappy as the Disney version, plus the acting in it was wooden and poor. After the movie (and too big a bag of popcorn!) we walked the few blocks to the actual site. I felt the excitement of the place, and the surroundings were not as bad I imagined – at least there was NO Burger King right next door! It was smaller than I thought it might be, and on the inside were only a few little rooms with only a handful of historical things. There was one little diorama, which gave me a much better understanding of the Alamo’s form and shape. I mean, the entrance we all know was not even really the main entrance. And that was a revelation! Otherwise, who knows what the truth was about what went on really! It does make a good story though.
The other thing that the proverbial ‘everyone’ said to go see in downtown San Antonio (Or “San Antone” as most people here say.) was the RiverWalk. This was a longish area of shops and restaurants around the flowing river there. Greenery and water seemed to flow along the whole way. Boats even would take people on tours on one part of the river to another. Sometimes the stores would be on two levels. We four walked a few blocks down, and then headed back the other side and stopped at a pasta place for dinner. Nice atmosphere.
A long the way in the beginning I kept trying to hook up on a hot spot to send out yesterday’s notes. I’m sure the other three were a bit fed up with me, and in the end I was unsuccessful. At one restaurant one of the waitresses in her short plaid-skirted uniform came up to me and said, “There is no charge for you to sit down, sir.” But I said, “My friends are probably already fed up with me.” No matter where I tried, I wasn’t able to get a strong enough signal I guess to keep AOL on long enough for even a one-minute session.
After the RiverWalk we went back to the car, stopping occasionally in a specialty shop or two.
May and I took a mile ride around the development on the motorcycle just at dusk, and when back I finally got on-line to send out yesterday’s notes – via a land-line.
We four chatted in the spacious living room until about 10:30ish.
August 10, 2006 – Thursday – Day 10
PA TO TX, KEY WEST AND RETURN – SUMMER 2006
Miles Today – 99- Total Miles – 2178
Austin,TX to Shiner,TX
(-staying at Peggy & Bubba Patek’s – Bubba is one of May’s brothers-)
– GOING HOME AGAIN – THE NIGHT SKY –
Roger and Jen were off to work before we got going. But May gave a call to say good-bye. We headed out around 10am for May’s childhood hometown of Shiner,TX, where she was born and raised. It’s where she lived the rural life of a youngster on the farm. Where she picked cotton, baled hay, butchered pigs, and grew all their food.
The first ten miles of every day just seem to spurt right by. It’s the same for the first ten after gassing up, too. We set out, move a bit down the highway, I look down at the odometer, and ZIP! Ten miles are registered.
Lots of low hanging clouds stretching from one end of the horizon to the other across the end of the highway today. They looked like fields of clouds in furrows that were in neat horizontal rows one on top of the other…ready for planting.
At Buc-ee’s, a big convenience store near one of our gas station stops, we browsed for a while, and found a great Texas flag shirt for May. There we saw a bus full of children out in the parking lot, and May mentioned it looked like a prison bus with young children. It sure did. I mentioned that most junior and senior high schools built around the ‘50’s through ‘70’s looked like prisons to me.
Upon arriving in Shiner we went right to the Country Corner Café. That’s where May’s sister runs that best little restaurant in town.
It was wonderful meeting Kay. (At one point I referred to her as Peggy, and after I was corrected, I noted, “There are just so many of you guys, you know, it’s hard for me to keep up!”) Kay is about the same age as May, and has a wonderful demeanor. It was just terrific listening to her talk. She said she had read most of the journal. She said she was impressed with how I could remember all what people said throughout the day. But then I showed her the little mini-tape recorder I keep in my tank bag, and that helped explain my ‘great memory’ to her.
She said that the reading was a lot to keep up with – but that as she was reading it to someone, he said, ‘He’s a real writer.’ And then Kay said she agreed with that and, “Yeah, he can just write things into existence.” Besides being happy about that sentiment, I thought it was a great expression.
Jerry, one of May’s brothers was there, too. He was a cook for the café, and he was able to chat until his shift came up at 2pm.
I soon learned that the café was a wi-fi hotspot. I mock bowed to Kay in the diner. She said how since the technology was kind of new here, that sometimes people who saw the advertised “WI-FI HOTSPOT” on her sign outside the restaurant would come in and ask what was the new dish being served….
May had told me so much about Shiner – about how small it was over and over, and I said to Kay that I was surprised to see that the streets were paved and that there was running water! She got a laugh out of that.
Shiner is known as “The Cleanest Little City in Texas”, and May says it really is just that. It also draws a huge crowd for it’s annual Boctoberfest (Shiner Boch Beer sponsors it.) Last year they drew over 30,000.
Someone May had worked with was having lunch there when we came in. Walter drove school buses for 17 years around here and so did May. I told him I was a schoolteacher for 20 years so I could get an idea of what he had gone through with all those kids every day. He countered, though, with the observation that I might have had 25-30 at a time to deal with, but that he and May would sometimes have as many as NINETY to put up with!
When the subject turned to travel, Walter said he had been around a bit, but he was staying around Shiner for the rest of his life. He said he wasn’t too impressed with Colorado, but when I asked him if he had seen the Grand Canyon, he noted, “Yeah, when the Lord made the Grand Canyon, he made a pretty big hole!”
Headed out to Peggy’s where we were to spend the night. At first I thought that lively Peggy was May’s sister, but it turned out she was her sister-in-law. The two have a lot in common including looks and that twangy southern way of speakin’. Peggy was very friendly and with her wide eyes welcomed us warmly to her and Bubba’s home. They were married 21 years, and Bubba came back shortly from work where he drives a fertilizer truck.
When I asked Peggy if she had been keeping up with the journal, she said only some of it, and she exclaimed to May, “This trip would be over in half the time if he didn’t write so much!”
Around 5:30ish, we four headed out to visit May’s and Bubba’s dad. Bubba advised me right away to put on the seatbelt. He said that the police were very strict here about it. He said that it was the passenger who got the ticket. We agreed that it was a good way for the local force to get money.
May’s 82-year-old dad was using a ventilator to help his lungs work when we arrived. I joked, “What IS that your smoking there??” It got a laugh. We spent the next hour or so chatting in the little room and then going out to the little pond. May’s brother Poncho (Frankie, Jr.) came by and proudly showed off the quails he was raising. From cute little baby ones to grown up ones to the egg incubator where there were 100’s of tiny eggs. One of the (some kind of pit-bull) dogs had been stealing clothing (presumably off a clothesline), and he was scolded – but admired at the same time!
May kidded me a bit with her dad as she said to him, “Oh Joel would
Next we went down the road to visit Willie, another brother. Poncho had left as we did, but was already there. The six of us visited a bit there on Willie’s driveway. And May and her sibs talked about old times – mostly with good recollections of times past. And there was catchin’ up on births and deaths and various other goings-ons.
On the way back we took pictures of the various homes May had lived in. Bubba, Peggy, May and I went back to the Country Café for a late dinner. And it wasn’t until about 9:30ish that we left.
So many new names and faces, and so little time to absorb who everyone was! Still, I thought I was doing pretty well…
Because of all the visiting, and then eating so late we went out on a very late run. It was about 10:30 before we started down the stony driveway here. Peggy came with us and the three of us carried flashlights. And May carried a small baseball bat – just in case any coyotes got brave!
It was a moon-blanched night – a full moon of amazing luminosity. And the stars were huge pinpoints of light. Coming from the populated northeast I’ve only been out on such nights a few times – 1980 outside the mobile home along the way on my cross-country bicycle ride – in the Arizona Desert always comes foremost to mind. But here out in the countryside was even a bit different. On the horizons were the distant brightnesses – some solitary, some clustered together, no doubt cities. There were great swirls of night-time clouds intermingled with the stars and it was quiet – and it was grand scale nighttime beauty. At one point, I thought I saw the glistening tail of a shooting star.
Peggy and May mainly walked and talked together while I walked slower from behind or ran ahead. When I came back ahead of them they continued walking and talking, and didn’t get back to the house until about 20 minutes after I did.
It was close to midnight before we got to sleep.
August 11, 2006 – Friday – Day 11
PA TO TX, KEY WEST AND RETURN – SUMMER 2006
Miles Today – 161 – Total Miles – 2339
12:15pm-4:15pm – 4 hours
Shiner,TX to Pasadena,TX – a suburb of Houston,TX
(-staying at Linda & Ron White’s – Linda is a lifelong friend of May’s-)
– HEAT – A REUNION –
Out in the country here one would think that May’s penny pickup would pretty much come to a halt… And last night we ran in the dark of course so there was little opportunity to find a copper coin with a flashlight zigging and zagging on the asphalt while running…. But I wrote “pretty much came to a halt” because on this morning’s run down that same stone/gravel driveway, and then out the country lane to the big highway, May again didn’t find a penny – but she DID find a folded dirty FIVE DOLLAR BILL! Just unbelievable!!!
Bubba was already gone to work, but Peggy bid good-bye as we packed up under the big tree on the side yard. We had had a good stay here and May sure enjoyed being with her friend again. The country home, so different from city and suburban homes, evokes feelings of independence and freedom. This place did all that with a wonderful homey feeling. And Peggy hangs her wash out whenever she can just like we do, and that made it even more special.
After we left Peggy’s we stopped into town at Kay’s restaurant for some kolache. This pastry could be described as a soft baked biscuit-type confection with fruit or cheese in it. I also took care of a couple email sends at the café hot spot. It was good chatting with Kay as she took time from her busy duties. It was hard leaving her friendly demeanor and kind smile. But we needed to get on the road and eventually, after warm hugs, and promises of seeing each other again sometime, we broke away to do so.
We stopped to check air in the motorcycle tires at 11:15am and although the front tire needed about 3lbs worth, the back tire was still dead on the money. Had a little difficulty finding a gauge that would work on that back tire because of the angle of the air intake.
On the way out of town at about 11:30am visited May’s aunt Rita. Rita, now in her ‘70’s, is a younger sister of May’s mom. (May’s mom passed away when May was eight years old.)
Rita is quite a twinkly-eyed character of a woman!! She has a nursery out near her modernish big-windowed home. She has a couple of organs in one of those rooms and is quite proficient at playing several instruments including the organs and the accordian. She goes out and plays in a hobo band. That’s an oom-pa-pa band that often uses washboards and accordions other unique instruments. The big room we sat in while chatting was filled to the brimming with knick-knacks and memorabilia from her past, and from her late husband’s Leo’s long life – including a photo of him when he played Santa (a natural with Leo’s white beard), and a collection of at least a score of wooden canes he had.
I liked Rita immediately as a down-to-earth and plain-spoken no-nonsense energy-inspiring woman. And said to her upon meeting her that, “I like ANYone who carries a leaf around in her shoe!” Looking down, I had seen a green leaf wedged in her left loafer between the tongue of the shoe and her forefoot. That comment got a laugh, and the leaf was still there when we left a little after noon.
This was a day that we both – but especially May – minded the heat. Not sure why though as the temperature may not have been any higher than the other days. But I think we were tired, and perhaps not fully hydrated.
We arrived at Linda and Ron White’s place in Pasadena (a Houston ‘burb), about 100 miles after leaving Shiner. The time was around 4:30pm… Linda and May make up two-thirds of a friendship that goes back about 30 years. The story goes that Linda saw May in their church choir and thought to herself that she looked like she’d make a good friend, and there it began. Shortly thereafter Marilyn rounded out the trio when they met her.
Linda is an out-going woman who seems to love to have a good time. She had just gotten back from several trips to her beloved Missouri, but was out when we arrived taking her mom out to see a show.
Ron was home however, and he sat talking in his soft-spoken way to May out on the little patio near the huge above-ground plastic blue pool. They sat about 90-minutes actually as Ron described a tour of Europe upon which he and Linda would be shortly embarking.
Meanwhile, I sat in the kitchen working desperately to try and get caught up on some journal writing, and the 16 business phone calls that had come into my message machine at home in the last few days.
We had bunked into one of the upstairs bedrooms in the plushly white carpeted home. There were probably millions of pictures of Linda’s grandkids all around the house.
When May and Ron came inside we had a little supper of salad and peanut butter that was in the refrig.
Linda came home a little before midnight, and she and May chatted a bit then.
August 12, 2006 – Saturday – Day 12
PA TO TX, KEY WEST AND RETURN – SUMMER 2006
Miles Today – 2 – Total Miles – 2341
(-staying at Linda & Ron White’s – Linda is a lifelong friend of May’s-)
– MORE REUNION – AN ACCIDENT –
Got a few gems of southern expressions from Linda, a lady with a kind-hearted personality and friendly way. When I mentioned that I needed the ceiling fan turned down a big, she advised me, “Whatever’s goin’ on, you just fix it!”
The conversation came around to May and my being vegetarians. I mentioned about the Mormons being vegetarians and having longer lives because of it. Ron got grins from us all by stating that, “Perhaps it wasn’t because of their diets, but because they were allowed to have multiple wives, that kept them alive longer.”
At one point Ron and I talked about those ubiquitous pick-up trucks that every single Texan guy seems to have parked in his driveway. Ron said there was an name for those, and they are called “Cowboy Cadillacs”! Ron also mentioned an oft-repeated phrase here I would guess: that he wasn’t born here in Texas but he “got here as fast as he could!”
We got a load of laundry done.
Ron had gone to play golf at 1pm. Linda, May, and I left for a local sports-type store popular here in Texas named Academy. There I bought a couple more shirts and a pair of shorts. Then we left for the 45-minute or so ride to visit May’s friend, Marilyn, and her boyfriend Wayne. They had only been in their new home for two weeks – and a nice place it was! The backyard backed up to a real swamp and was separated from it by a big fence. Like Marilyn would say, “It was precious!” There were two white rocking chairs on the front porch and everything seemed in its place. She showed us around and we were impressed by the neatness and design of the place.
After we visited a bit, Wayne played guitar for us – and he was terrific. He played his Ovation Adamas instrument, which he said was top-of-the-line. But top-of-the-line or not, he made it sound sweet and tuneful. He had no music in front of him, playing solely by ear. He strummed mostly country stuff, and his rendition of part of the Deliverance banjo scene was wonderful.
Marilyn and Wayne had met on a cruise ship the December before. When May, Marilyn, and Linda were on the ship as part of a 600-strong group of friendly ladies called the Red Hat Group. After they met there, they became fast friends even though they lived far apart -Marilyn in Texas, Wayne in Oklahoma.
We were to go have dinner at a restaurant about an hour away.
Marilyn and Wayne drove their own car. And Linda, May, and I followed for part of the way. Right in front of Marilyn and Wayne a lady had a flat tire, spun out of control and slid into the trees beside the highway. If we hadn’t been delayed by a few minutes for going back to get Linda’s cell phone (which had been on the seat the whole time), who knows how much closer it would have been to one of our cars? Our two cars stopped and Wayne hopped over to the scene to find a bloody lady in the driver’s seat. Marilyn called 911, and a medic soon came upon the scene, stopped and took over. The front of the car was pretty much bent in, the lady said she had been drinking, and gigantic mosquitoes enveloped the area. We left shortly after the medic came but before the ambulance got there.
We went to Kemah for dinner. Kemah is a fun area with a ton of restaurants, some amusement rides, a little stage for an outdoor band, and even a little train running through the area that carries people back and forth. It has a festive and amusement park flavor, and sits right next to the Gulf of Mexico. We went into Saltgrass Steakhouse, which was a riot of stuff western. The view (until it got dark anyway) was right onto the Gulf of Mexico. There was plenty to eat in huge portions, although he service was kind of slow. The atmosphere was boisterous and friendly with loud talking, good joking, and country music in the air as background.
From my seat I watched a little girl of about 3 sitting at the next table and waiting for her meal. She was intently using her steak knife to chop apart a crayon in neat little sections.
We left from there at about 10:15pm, and May and I engaged some motorcyclists who had Goldwings parked there. It was a friendly group of guys and gals from the Kemah area who had a mcycling group and they rode together when they could. We looked carefully over the Goldwings, and asked ton of questions about them.
Our ride back to Linda’s was about 20 minutes. I came up to go to sleep anticipating a big day ahead tomorrow, while May visited a bit more with Linda.
August 13, 2006 – Sunday – Day 13
PA TO TX, KEY WEST AND RETURN – SUMMER 2006
Miles Today – 346 – Total Miles – 2687
9am-4:30pm – 7.5 hours
Houston,TX to Covington,LA
(-staying at Super 8 Motel -)
(States: TX, LA)
After a run in the growing heat, we left Ron and Linda around 9am. We had no trouble getting out to the main highway, and being a Sunday, there was little traffic whatsoever of which to speak. We sailed….
As soon as we entered Louisiana on Route 10 we could tell. The road became bumpier. May, especially, on the back of the bike felt those bumps a lot.
Made it to Iowa just before noon. Iowa, Louisiana, that is…
Around 12:30pm we stopped for lunch. The advertised Subway was closed and so we tried a Burger King, and to our delight they had a veggie burger on the menu!
I believe it was because we began drinking early and often that we didn’t mind the heat today at all. It was a wonderful travel day and I went between 80 and 90 all day and we made terrific progress. The winds were bad in parts, and at one time a huge red truck came kinda close on the right (and we could feel the sucking of a huge draft on us), and once a car on the right had his left blinker on and began to move into us. But I had both situations very well in hand. I was on top of both, and not either of them was really very close calls. Otherwise, it was a fresh-aired blur of a ride around the Gulf with wonderful scenery of shore and forest, a number of friendly thumbs-ups, and over three hundred relatively easy miles under the belt by day’s end.
Shooting on the way down Route 12 east we passed many Louisiana bays, bayous, and bogs.. We rode twin bridges of highways on stilts – two lanes each way as different roadways.
At one little town turnoff we went the wrong way looking for another Subway. On the way back we were stopped at the railroad tracks for a train that have over 115 cars in it. (Yes, I counted them.) There was no caboose. In fact, it’s been a number of years since I’ve even seen a caboose on a passing train. I heard they don’t use them any more, but can’t confirm that.
We checked into a Super 8 Motel after checking out about three or four others but not finding wireless internet offered in them. During the evening, I worked on these journal notes, and the cataloging of pictures. We also had popcorn and oatmeal (both made in the motel room microwave) while watching Bill Murray in Groundhog Day on the PowerBook G4 we have along.
I was up until midnight returning emails and working on the journal notes.
August 14, 2006 – Monday – Day 14
PA TO TX, KEY WEST AND RETURN – SUMMER 2006
Miles Today – 78 – Total Miles – 2765
Noon-2:30pm – 2.5 hours
Covington,LA to Gulfport,MS
(-staying at a Days Inn-)
(States: LA, MS)
After a little later sleep than usual we began getting things together and studying the map for the days ahead.
We left around 11ish this morning, and while waiting at an intersection in Covington, May hopped off the bike and picked up $.52 in nickels, dimes, and pennies. Just incredible! (I also asked her to grab two pointed screws up out of that intersection.)
It was pretty smooth riding in the early part of the day. But low hanging dark clouds were ominous on the horizon and to the south. We also noticed some moisture under the parked mc that we hadn’t noticed before, and that was a concern as well.
In a Burger King, a young smiley kid tucked himself alongside me as I was walking along with the tray. “You a fireman?” he inquired. He sidled up to us at the table, and May cutely asked, “Your name ‘Tommy Hilfiger’ like it says on your shirt?” He laughed, and replied that his name was Zachary. May asked if he’d like a picture of himself, and he said he would.
Once, as we rolled along Route 12 and gazed southward over the Gulf of Mexico, a long single slender beautiful bolt of lightning flashed from the sky. It was full length to the water.
We got sloshed on in the latter part of the afternoon…. Just some sprinkles at first, then a real soaking. But we got right off the highway in Gulfport. At first, after the Hampton Inn had no room for us, we just trolled up and down the highway looking for a place we had heard about that might have Honda service. We needed to get some oil. But, even with the help of “Lucky Larry” an amiable bespectacled t-shirted heavy guy on a white Goldwing, we could not find the place.
Earlier in the day, we determined that the Shadow needed oil. YIKES! That and because a number of other things were not quite working right, plus the booming thunder, the near-distant lightning strikes, and then the spatters of rain, we decided to end the day early. We seem to be ahead of schedule and so the odds dictated that an early stop would be a good decision on this day.
As the rain began anew after a slight lull, we spied a Days Inn and wheeled over. Although the lobby and every other bit of this motel seemed run-down and lower grade, the room was more than adequate. I’m glad we brought our extra set of sheets along though.
We heard that every single motel room along the Gulf Coast would be about $100 – mostly because of the Katrina hurricane.
The wireless internet didn’t work in the room (because of the weather the desk fellow said), but it did in the lobby.
We bunked into the room, and May did her usual great job of making sure everything was in its right place.
Around 5ish, we jogged over to the nearby Wal-Mart for some dinner things and to browse around… We checked out the grocery items and got some veggie burgers to cook up in the motel room microwave – then some rolls, lettuce, and tomato to go with them. We got some microwave popcorn, too. Then it was over to the McDonalds in the Wal-Mart where we got some mustard and catsup packets.
Over in the tech department I bought a 60-gig drive (because I keep getting the annoying – and likely false – message on my laptop that my drive there is running out of space), and also got a wi-fi/hotspot finder. That’s a little thumb-size device that detects wi-fi signals. (Those are signals that a computer equipped like mine can get right on the internet with.) I had been planning to get one anyway, and it was only $20. Also, got a little speaker that plugs into the G4 which will make the sound louder for when we watch movies or might want to listen to music.
At the checkout line the young tattooed woman’s nametag read “Patter”… I asked if that was her real name, and she said it was. She said it was her mom’s best friend’s middle name, and she was named after her. Patter also had a huge tattoo on her left shoulder and a Chinese character on the back of her neck. I asked what it meant and she said, “butterfly”. Having heard that sometimes people have those Chinese characters put on but the person putting it on draws an obscenity, thinking that no one will ever know anyway… Patter said that she studied Chinese and so she was sure of what it meant.
As we left Wal-Mart I got a quick shot of a kid who found an unusual place for a catnap. He was on the underbars of his mom’s shopping cart. Pretty clever I thought.
On our run/walk back from Wal-Mart the skies opened up again, and we got soaked as we scurried back across the big highway to the motel.
Back in the room we had the delicious burgers and a couple bags of popcorn. Then instead of watching a movie we got chores done. We figured to get an early start in finding the area Honda motorcycle place we were told about by some folks here.
August 15, 2006 – Tuesday- Day 15
PA TO TX, KEY WEST AND RETURN – SUMMER 2006
Miles Today – 234 – Total Miles – 2999
Gulfport,MS to de Funiak Springs,FL
(-staying at a Best Western -)
(States: MS, AL, FL)
– GLAD MY HEAD WASN’T IN THE HELMET! – AND OTHER BAD THINGS THAT HAPPENED TODAY –
It was a wonderful night’s sleep, and a little later than usual again, until about 7am. We were out running by 7:30, and then May packed up while I went down to the lobby to send out the last three days of notes – and I was sorry to send them all out at once as I know it takes people a lot longer to read them. But it was good getting caught up. I also found the local Honda dealer, a map to their place, and confirmed their phone number.
For breakfast we had the other two veggie burgers w/lettuce and tomato we had gotten in the Wal-mart yesterday. They were delicious as was the bottle of grape juice.
It’s always interesting to see a town the next day after being in it in the rain. It always looks so different. And that one place for the oil that we looked for in the drizzle yesterday? May said she saw it as we cycled toward the Honda place.
A&B Honda in Gulfport gets my vote. When I told them we were on a tour, the manager of the repair department took the bike right in and put it up on the rack for a check out.
Tom, the friendly goateed mustachioed mechanic, who worked on the bike, mentioned that the coolant was a little low, and he found where it might have been leaking. That’s likely what we saw the other day. The oil was fine, but it didn’t hurt to change it, and everything else checked out fine with the bike. While waiting I carefully looked over and read the literature about the Gold Wing that was there. Quite impressive specs on the impressive bike. We left right around 11:30.
Right after we left the Honda dealer in Gulfport we got immediately back onto I-10 East heading toward Florida. As usual, I forgot to put my earplug in before leaving so we pulled off the road to the shoulder. (Unfortunately, it was a sloping uphill grade – mistake one – where I stopped on a bridge – mistake two. I took my helmet off and carefully balanced it in my lap as I’d done a hundred times before. Well, a number of big semi’s came rumbling by shaking the bridge. I felt it shake and I felt the kickstand start to give way a bit and I instinctively put my hand up to the brake. And that motion was enough to let the helmet tumble out of my lap, down the side of the bike, and bounce almost into the middle of the traffic lane. There was little to do except hope it bounced back – and it did – but AFTER it was run over by a HUGE semi-tractor trailer truck!!! We were able to lean over the bike and grab the helmet. Hmmm… I won’t ever buy another helmet except a Nolan ever again! Although it was clearly ragged with some missing parts, and the visor gone and cracked, I was able to put it on and even buckle it. Later at a gas stop I pulled apart one of the sides so it would be a bit more comfortable.
In one of the next towns we stopped at another motorcycle place and they had some flip-up helmets as I wanted but no yellow. I got the idea to call a Nolan place and get the newer version of the helmet I had – that has some improvements. The fellow behind the counter here generously and very helpfully made some calls and spent some time finding me a company that would ship it out to me from Illinois to May’s son’s home in Orlando. It would arrive there by next Monday. Meanwhile I’ll wear the battered one.
On the way out of the store I spied the Gold Wings. One of the alert salespeople saw the glint in my eye, and asked if we wanted to ride the rest of the way home on one. He said someone else on tour had done that recently. He scented fresh meat, but we got out of the store – fast. (Because I was somewhat semi-seriously thinking about it…..)
Hmmm… thinking maybe we’ll send the Nolan company a picture of the one that went under the truck. When people asked about my day, I would say, “Well, my helmet was run over by a truck, and I’m glad my head wasn’t in it at the time!!”
There had been an accident on the freeway. We squirted around several miles of the backup and avoided baking some more, by again riding on the shoulder.
We stopped at the Florida Welcome Center mainly for those motel coupons they offer. May took some pictures of the great jet plane sculpture they have there, and some flowers. When she came into the building I said of the lady behind the counter, “This is the lady who knows absolutely everything about Florida.” She smiled and said, “Well, I’m from Chicago!”
At that Welcome Center we asked around, basked in the coolness, and checked and re-checked distances. Finally we left, and the clouds were ominous as we again headed east. Luckily the darkness dissipated and all we got were a few sprinkles.
As we drive along it’s fun to notice the vanity license plates on the highway. I enjoyed seeing “FULQIVR” today. May got a good shot of it, and as the van pulled off the road onto an off ramp, I noted that there was a guy leaning out the window taking a picture of US! (From that plate, clearly they were archery fans.)
At 200 miles we began looking for a place. It was 5pm by now, there were some threatening clouds again but I was ready to end the day anyway. We used a coupon gotten at that Florida Welcome Center and that chopped $20 off the bill. It came to only $50, and that seemed like a deal.
We checked in to the friendly place, again unloading and spreading out our gear in the room. I was able to park the bike under an overhang in case it did rain.
I spent a good hour this evening looking for my right contact lens, which somehow didn’t make it into my hand when I took it out at the motel room sink. I pride myself in never losing those things, but this one, despite my spending all that time on my hands and knees scouring the tiles, somehow eluded me. I took my shirt, pants, and socks inside out. I patted down all the sink area. (Yes, the stopper was closed.) It would have been good having the vaunted penny-finder person helping me look, BUT……
May was hit with some kind of serious stomach cramping or virus as the day ended! I brought her some soup and crackers from the motel restaurant. Then she slept for quite awhile.
I shortly went down to have a good supper at the Best Western salad bar. I also moved the bike to be under an overhang by a stairwell, and I covered it.
NOTE: I heard from a few people about cabooses. Ali, a motorcycle friend from upstate PA sent this link and this info which you might find of interest…. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caboose
Until the 1980s, laws in the United States and Canada required that all freight trains have a caboose. Technology eventually advanced such that a caboose was unnecessary, providing improved bearings and lineside detectors to detect hot boxes, and better designed cars to avoid problems with the load. The caboose was also a dangerous place, as slack run-ins could hurl the crew from their places and even dislodge weighty equipment. The final nail for the caboose’s coffin came with an electronic box with the innocent name of “FRED,” an acronym for flashing rear-end device, or “EOT,” End-of-Train device. A FRED/EOT could be attached to the rear of the train to detect the train’s air brake pressure and report any problems back to the locomotive. The FRED/EOT also detects movement of the train upon start-up and radios this information to the engineer so that he/she will know that all of the slack is out of the couplings and additional power can now be applied. With the FRED/EOT on the job the conductor moved up to the front of the train with the engineer and year by year, cabooses started to fade away. Very few cabooses remain in operation today, though they are still used for some local trains where it is convenient to have a brakeman at the end of the train to operate switches and the like.
August 16, 2006 – Wednesday- Day 16
PA TO TX, KEY WEST AND RETURN – SUMMER 2006
Miles Today – 225 – Total Miles – 3224
Noon-5:30pm – 4.5 hours (back to EST)
de Funiak Springs,FL to Lake City,FL
The day’s weather broke sunny and grand.
Called my contact lens place at home, and they will send a new one out for us to pick up at May’s son’s in Orlando when we are there next Monday. Meanwhile, I will make do with the spare that I brought along.
Stephanie was the genial General Manager, of this wonderful Comfort Inn. And she was ambling down the hallway when we were leaving. I mentioned – half-jokingly – to her that if the cleaning woman who did the bathroom just happened to find a contact lens, would she send it to me… She took a real interest in the case, and even got down and looked a little herself.
Stephanie asked about the tennis racquet May was carrying out to pack on the bike. (She had brought it from her sister’s.) May smiled and said, “I have it just in case HE gets out of line.” All the cleaning-up ladies in the hallway laughed at that. Stephanie said, “Oh, he looks like a pretty nice guy to me.” And May replied with her sly drawl, “Well… just in case.”
The Daily Penny Report: May didn’t even go running this morning and found three pennies at the motel by the vending machines and then two pennies at a gas station in the afternoon. And then a quarter a dime and a penny when we pulled up to the motel. Then when we went to dinner at the Waffle House, a shiny new penny was waiting for her on the floor there. I suggested to her that we just quit the photography business, go on the road, and make money from her ability to find loose coins on the ground.
Despite a lot of rain today, there were grand chunks of wondrous motorcycling… we rolled through the play of shadows on the highway, the weaving of the clouds overhead, the interweaving of the forest to the right and left… and the cool and warm and cold and hot drafts of air that swirled through us.
At a Subway at lunch I got into a conversation with a guy who had totally mechanic greased-up hands, a few days old grey stubble, and looked kinda cruddy actually. Friendly, smiley Scott said that although his wife wouldn’t let him have a motorcycle they had a pop-up trailer and would travel around place to place. He said they were where most people who were 65 would like to be. He noted they traveled around and they stayed a couple months until he found work. But, “Of course,” he continued, “we’ve been here for 15 years!”
Scott listened to the helmet story in wide-eyed amazement as most folks do. And he said that the story convinced him to get a Nolan helmet – should his wife ever let him get another motorcycle…
At 1pm at a gas station in the afternoon a youngish couple was sitting behind their pickup truck. They were sitting across from each other, and they looked all the world like they were having a picnic and fishing into a small hole in the ground. It was a very odd scene. As I was filling the tank I shouted over with a smile to them and asked what they were fishing for…. The woman said that a lot of people asked them that, but that they were actually just ground water checkers.
We sped down I-10 until reaching south I-75. We talked about going down the smaller coast road to the west, and there were positives and negatives about doing that, but in the end we stuck with the big road – which we enjoy anyway, figuring there would be enough beach scenes and ocean roads ahead (Key West, and likely the Outer Banks to come.)
I hit a steady 75-80 during most of the way, nudging up to 90 a few times. I played it pretty cautious and safe though as usual. Whenever a car is coming up on our left from the distance, I always back it down to the speed limit (which is 70 here, by-the-way) just in case. And that paid off for at one point, in fact, it was a police car overtaking us. And we passed that officer a bit further down the road where he had pulled someone over.
We rode rain for about 15 miles today. May wisely offered me her helmet and it made a big difference. The rain was pelting and I could feel it strongly stinging on the part of my leg where the pant leg was up and exposed my calf. Ever feel a driving raindrop at 70 mph??? Not as bad as hail, but pretty stinging. May, for her part, without the visored helmet, snuggled into the broad part of my back and hung there until we drove through the storm. And it was sunny on the other side for the remaining hours of the ride.….
We pulled into another Comfort Inn that was off the first exit of I-75. They seem to be our favorites – and they usually have a washing machine for the guests to use. Julie Roberts was the manager on duty, and a nice lady she was. She and her husband motorcycle and so she had quite an affinity for our story. She was a kind lady and even offered to have her husband bring over some aloe vera for May’s pipe burn. He did so later in the evening, and they were nice fat leaves full of the helpful medicinal liquid. I was surprised, because I had been expecting a store-bought tube of it. This was much better, of course.
We got the wash done together, made reservations for two nights in Key West (should be there Friday and Saturday). emailed with Connie in Vero Beach (where we’ll be Sunday), chatted with Chris (May’s son who we’ll be seeing Monday in Orlando), and generally planned out a bunch of the days ahead.
We had a good evening of friendly humor, nice togetherness, and important accomplishment. To sleep too late again, but with a wonderful feeling of a good day passed
Received a number of notes regarding the helmet rolling under the semi. Here’re a few of the replies:
from a fellow motorcyclist:
Joel I have heard a lot of motorcycle stories but Bowling for Semi’s with your helmet. Really!!
a photo client:
Joel, I don’t know anything about motorcycle helmets, but I know just a little about bike helmets. After an accident 6 years ago, I was told to replace my helmet, because the crash causes some sort of stress on the helmet and the integrity/strength of the helmet can be compromised. You can’t see the stress, but it’s there. It could be a hairline fracture or crack or something you can’t see, but it’s there. And if you should have another accident (or if the helmet gets run over by another truck!) it may not be able to protect you fully.
a sister of a former student:
I am also glad your head was not in the helmet!!! Yikes!
Man, good thing your head WAS out of that helmet!!! Phew! Too bad though, as I know that thing had to cost a LOT of those little pennies that May had been finding!
from south carolina writes:
Unfortunate that you lost a helmet to a semi, but if you have to have an accident – that’s the kind to have!!!
So sorry your poor helmet had a mishap… better that than YOU! L.
August 17, 2006 – Thursday- Day 17
PA TO TX, KEY WEST AND RETURN – SUMMER 2006
Miles Today – 330 – Total Miles – 3554
10am-5pm – 7 hours
Lake City,FL to Naples,FL
(-staying at Best Western-)
The days of the week just blur together anymore. And the dates? Well, you can just forget them.
We got together a bunch of things we didn’t need or bought along the way for home, and put them into a box to send back. Kindly Carol, morning manager from behind the Comfort Inn desk said she’d tape up the box and would send it off for us. I was going to give her $10 and I told her to email me if it was more. She said not to worry about it, but I said, “What if it’s $30??” At that point she took my email address.
We were on the road by 10am, which was pretty early for us – at least lately.
As we rolled onto the on-ramp there was a somewhat seedy hitchhiker there who had a big smile. I stopped and shouted over to him, “Sorry we’ve got no more room or we would have helped you.” His smile was even bigger after that.
There were quite a number of rainstorms in the afternoon that we rode through. And sometimes the darkening clouds were ominous in portent, but as the road traveled their way, they broke out into just blue skies. And sometimes it seemed bright skies ahead, and as the highway turned, the clouds would be grey and frightening. Once I needed May’s helmet (with the visor) to keep going safely, so we pulled off and traded.
We were on I-75 all day today. Near the end of the day we saw a wreck. A white sedan must have hit the brakes too quickly and came upon the side cement barrier. Didn’t look pretty.
We rode along steadily today, except with one stop at a rest area, and got into Naples around 5pm. This is our last stop before Key West. And we spent part of the evening planning what we might do there….
August 18, 2006 – Friday- Day 18
PA TO TX, KEY WEST AND RETURN – SUMMER 2006
Miles Today – 243 – Total Miles – 3797
Naples,FL to Key West,FL
(-staying at Comfort Inn-)
– WE WENT SOUTH UNTIL WE COULDN’T
GO SOUTH ANY FURTHER
The sky was greeting me ‘good day’ on the run this morning, and was a grand design of dappled clouds covering half the sky. A weak-rayed sun burst through the middle of those dappled clouds, and it was quite mesmerizing.
The southern most route east-west in Florida is Route 41. It’s a bit more southern than the infamous Alligator Alley, the US interstate across to Miami. Route 41 is a two-lane highway with mostly Everglades on one side and trees on the other. There are not many service, and only a few closed down campgrounds along the way. There are a couple other buildings including some kind of Everglades info place. We went about 50 miles with seeing nary a car or truck. It was flat as a pancake. There was an occasional sign like, “Panther Crossing”. It was smooth and wonderful sailing. And then the afternoon rains hit! We had been watching the enormous dinosaur-like black clouds for hours, and finally we rolled right under them. It rains every afternoon here “right at the same time” the anonymous “they” say. And it must be true because everyone else says it, too.
That would not have been a place to have a breakdown, and I got a scare when, as I was pointing out something to May, I accidentally hit the ‘kill’ switch on the handlebar, and the engine conked out. At first I hadn’t realized what I’d done, and couldn’t figure out why the engine wouldn’t start….
A Miami officer, Chris, befriended us at lunch around 1:30 as we took a little break at a little store as we turned off of State Route 41 and onto one that would take us right to Route 1 and Key West – 142 more miles down the road! He was a Harley rider he said, and he took an interest in our trip, and in my helmet story.
Chris said that there were more deaths on this highway than any other in the state. And the handsome officer said he resisted computers with a passion. Then, while chucking down his Subway sandwich, he warned us about the dump trucks carrying stone that were innumerable on that highway, and that we shouldn’t get behind them too close because they spew little rocks out the tailgate, and we should be careful as they come out from the side roads. It was good advice, and we saw many of those trucks bullying their way down the narrow road – to the highway construction project to which they were delivering their load.
The Cuban coffee he said had the caffeine kick of three American cups of coffee.
More than any other trip, I can never remember such changing skies… such gorgeous cloudscapes… such full hemispheres of sky evolving so quickly with varying panoramas of white and blue and grey.
The Florida Keys are wonderful to travel. Seven-mile Bridge is a technological amazement combining grace and utility. It soars over the deep ocean blue in infinite white, majestically rising, constantly pulling the eyes forward.
I frequently thought of my bicycle trip along here – and would see the occasional bike path by the main road to which I would cling given the opportunity on that Miami to Key West and Return trip in February of 1997!
I love seeing those clever store names along the way though little towns. The winner for me today was an upholstery store in Marathon – called “The Rip Off”!
There is an excitement about traveling the Keys. An electric ‘something’ that speaks about doing something special.
We checked in to the Comfort Inn for our two-night stay at around 5:30.
At 7ish we hopped on the Shadow sans heavy gear (just helmet and boots) and headed to the downtown area after a bite at an on-the-way Taco Bell.
After tooling down the main streets we had no trouble finding a place to park the mc down by the sunset wharf area. In fact, this place is abuzz with motorbikes, motorcycles, bicycles, and little run-abouts.
We scurried the block to the pier and joined hundreds of others who were awaiting the sunset. The clouds were simply gorgeous and beyond any real description of glorious in size and design. We got there just as the sun was popping out from under a cloud and about to plop below the horizon of a little island. A couple was trying to take their own picture by holding out a cellphone. I took one for them with our better camera and said I’d email it to them. Then they took one for us with the sun perfectly between us.
Now, there are places in the world where throngs of people gather and seem to become one giant life form. The masses pulse along generally with good cheer and common experience. This is one of those places – the sunset piers at Key West, the southernmost tip of the United States. It’s like a big bazaar, a kaleidoscope of people from all over the world and the big scene we’re all here for is a nature thing. And it’s free!
We toddled our way down the pier, hob-knobbing with the rich and the poor, the genial and the snooty. We watched as some guy played out his shtick (for too long) and then swallowed a long silver sword. We gawked as some guy was suspended high in the air and then to the amazement of the crowd wiggled out of the chains and straightjacket.
We browsed some of the wares that vendors brought in their pushcarts – from fine jewelry, sensitive artwork, touristy clothing, to kitsch of every design. There was a wonderful guy at a mike singing reggae and perhaps some blues – we didn’t spend enough time listening to him.
Then we walked back along the way we came and took it all in again. We made our way off the pier around 9ish, and ambled onto Duval Street, one of the main buzzing places here. We fit right in among all the different looking folks forming a human snaky chain along the stores. Of course, not too many others were carrying two yellow helmets and wearing shorts, t-shirt, and motorcycle boots. But who cares here? Who notices? Only the really bizarre, or ultra beautiful or extremely ugly or very obscene standout in such a multitude. And there were plenty of those types, too…. One odd couple was a 70ish lady, holding the hand of someone who one can only guess was a grandson – he was of normal height for say, a 15-year-old, but had a head the size of someone who might have been 7 years old…. There were the super big 7-foot tall guys coupled with the 4-and-a-half-foot tall women. There were the women showing everything off, brazenly, happily. There were the middle America types, shy and timidly picking their steps through the boisterously raucous music that permeated the air, ever changing as one walked along by different barroom doors. There were the lover couples of opposite and same sex handholding and hugging and kissing with abandon. There were folks in all states of intoxication – from the clearly straight-laced to a few – a young girl and two guy threesome – who already at this early hour were slathered in liquor so lushly they could barely walk the sidewalk.
As I waited for May as she shopped in one of the many clothing places, a lady came out of store and called to another waiting guy, who was standing by a lamppost. “We need you!” she summoned. I interjected a friendly, “Probably for your wallet…” And he and she laughed. When he came back I struck up a conversation with him – in the commonality of friendship of Two Guys Waiting For Women To Shop mode. I asked, “Where are you from?” And my jaw almost dropped when he replied, “Philadelphia.”…. It was a good conversation that followed. He said he had grown up around here.
When May came out we walked along for about another hour – popping in and out of some shops, doing a lot of window-shopping. One store had some nice Key West motorcycle tops for women. We cycled about a bit, and then stopped at a smoothie place and had a delicious strawberry-coconut-pineapple concoction around ten. The night was coolish, and the ride without the gear was breezy and fun. I was extra careful of course, and everyone else on the road was mostly courteous and careful as well. Of course, we got back before a lot of the people had too much drink in them to distort reality.
August 19, 2006 – Saturday- Day 19
PA TO TX, KEY WEST
AND RETURN – SUMMER 2006
Miles Today – 9 (around Key West) – Total Miles – 3806
(-staying at The Comfort Inn-)
-A GRAND DAY – NO OTHER WAY TO PUT IT!–
We planned a day exploring around Key West. But there was no strict itinerary – we’d just cycle in to town proper and let the day pretty much unfold itself. There were only a few things I wanted to see since my last time here, and otherwise it was a day unplanned.
Our first stop was at around 10:30am or so when we checked out the Green Parrot Bar on Whitehead Street. A fellow photographer and motorcycle enthusiast from home, my friend Dave, had asked me to stop in at the Green Parrot to say hi to the manager there, John. He and John had hung around together in the early ‘70’s and were buddies. On my Miami-to-Key West-and-Back bicycle trip of nine years ago I had done the same thing for Dave.
John wasn’t there at this part of the morning but we decided to come back around 6pm when he would be there. In the bar at this time, among other varied and assorted characters, was a middle-aged amiable fellow (aren’t most all that way in bars?) who began asking about our gear and then the trip itself. Turned out this red-cheeked guy was with the lady next to him (not his wife), and he proudly announced that his wife lived in California and that he saw her only once a year, and that way things really worked out GREAT that way!
We left the bike in various spots as we walked around several times during the course of the day. I constantly reminded May and myself to be careful of the scalding pipes. But sometimes, because of the boiling sun on the black material, the SEAT would be piping hot!!!
Around 11:20am we went to the Hemingway home where we met Loren, who would be our guide through the little tour of the famous house.
Loren was a character in his own right. After I said we had a complimentary ticket (another two-for-one from a Florida Welcome Center pamphlet), he said, “Well, I’d like to compliment you.” I replied that it probably wasn’t the first time he’d said that!
Loren and I got into an extensive conversation and he related to me how he’d traveled the country a lot on a motorcycle and that he had a quarter of a million miles to his credit. He had ridden a 650 BMW shortframe for many many years. He was proud that he had been the second person in the Midwest to reach 100,000 miles!
I told bewhiskered Loren of my thinking about getting a Gold Wing. He said with a twinkly laugh that he had ridden a friend’s Gold Wing once, and that, “You can set it at 80, and do a square dance on the seat!” Loren had a good way with words and had a friendly laugh with his turn of a phrase.
We shared some stories and he said that it would have been nice had we been able to share a corner of a bar for an evening to tell each other some tales. I said how I was sure we’d be able to spend at least three weeks between the two of us swapping yarns of what we’d experienced in our travels over the years.
Ernest Hemingway was one of those larger than life characters who led a life that myth and fiction could not match. He was a legendary fisherman, grand adventurer, big game hunter, and a writer of fiction and stories from intense war zones. He was 6-foot tall and 200 pounds. He often was plagued with insomnia and depression throughout his life. Loren supposed that part of that was because they didn’t make beds big enough in those days, and in fact, in the bedroom he showed us how Hemingway tried to solve the problem with two twin beds pushed together. Then he and his wife of the time brought a big wooden sculptured gatepost from Europe that they had taken a fancy to, and fashioned it as the headboard.
In high school Hemingway had lost partial sight and fractured some bones, and had a broken nose. He was injured many times during his career because of his wild ways. His friends wondered how he managed to live so long. He went out of his way for all that he did – such as the voluntary service at 18 in WWI where he received some terrifying wounds. In ’44 he flew unscathed over Europe with the RAF, but when back to England he was riding in a car as a passenger during a London blackout and they were in an accident in which he cracked his skull. And the stories went on and on. In fact, we learned that the author did a good bit of his writing while standing because of his wounds in World War I.
Loren went on saying how Ernest was treated for many months in Europe for wounds. And he and his nurse fell in love. Loren noted how Hemingway only had one good eye, but it was a busy one. He wanted the nurse to come back to America with him, but she wouldn’t because she was older than he was, and that it wasn’t ‘proper’ in those days for an older woman to be with a younger guy. He was so upset about it – and with her, that in his next novel he wrote about a character based on her, and then had the character killed off. Talk about getting even!
When he came to the island here in 1928 he loved the life and contracted what the natives call “The Keys Disease”. The only “cure” they said was “rum and plenty of it”, and Loren went on to describe with a smile how Hemingway took good care to take that treatment all the time he was here.
The second major expense at the Hemingway house is the cats. The guide said that there are citizens on the island that don’t look as good or are as taken good care of as well as the 45 cats here. That’s about the number that was there when Ernest lived here. All of the felines are related to Snowball, the original one there at Hemingway’s time. Many have the same polydactyl 6-toe aberration as that first one did. People would ask Hemingway why he had so many cats, and he’d invariably reply, “Well, one cat leads to another!” There’s even a cat cemetery here.
It was interesting seeing the room and the tiny little typewriter on which he worked. The story goes that he left that typewriter behind because, as he said, “It spelled too many words wrong.”
He was a stickler for schedule and would usually be in his study at 6 and work until he ran out of ideas or he got hungry, whichever came first. I wondered aloud to the guide what it might have been like if Ernest had had a word processor. He said he had wondered the same thing.
Well, then after some time fishing in the afternoon, Hemingway would spend the rest of the day down town here in the Key West bars engaging the populace in conversation and listening to their stories. And then he’d go back to write for some more hours in the evening incorporating those stories he’d heard during the day, and the characters he met into his novels.
While Ernest was away covering some war or another his second wife thought she would surprise him with a swimming pool when he got back. No matter that she had to move his beloved boxing ring from out behind the house to a place across town. Now, when they bought the house in the early ‘30’s it cost $8,000 dollars. Seven years later, she paid $20,000 for that in-ground pool (which had to be hand dug out of the hard Key West rock).
“If you’re going to spend my money that way, here’s my last red cent!” Hemingway exploded when he learned of the expense.
At that he threw a penny at her, and then he stormed out to go drinking. She kept the penny (and got the house, of course), and she had the penny cemented in plastic at the spot she got it. Then, when she had parties after the divorce, she would show it to her friends and tell them how she got Hemingway’s ‘last red cent’….
And since it was cemented into the ground there, that was one penny May couldn’t pick up.
One can find other interesting bits about Hemingway at hemingwayhome.com.
He bought the place in 1931 and proceeded to amass a wonderful wine collection in the basement. He couldn’t take the wine with him to Cuba (because of custom laws) as his second marriage ended, and he was going to move there. He didn’t want to leave it behind or let his ex-wife have it, so he invited all his friends in town one night to come and partake. And before morning, they had finished it all.
After he lost all his considerable Cuban holdings to the Castro revolution in the early 1960’s, his mental bouts of depression got worse. He suffered considerably and even decided to go for electroshock therapy that backfired, and left him without huge blocks of memory. He was just short of 62 when he ended his own life with a gun blast. The manic depression won the final battle.
We got in on the tail end of another guide’s lecture. He had just been talking about where to get some good sandals on the island – a place called Kenos. As I trudged past in my bulky, big, and black motorcycle boots, he sideward glanced at them, and uttered, “Well THOSE sure aren’t Kenos!”
After leaving Hemingway’s place we spent more time mcycling around to various spots on the island. At one point we passed a white bearded guy looking just like Hemingway. He was sitting on an outdoor bench with an Apple laptop on his knees. I guessed that more than a few eyebrows were raised at the sight of him.
May’s son called saying that he heard that because of an approaching hurricane they were evacuating the Keys. Although cause for concern, we didn’t see anything like that here – it was overcast in one part of the sky, and very sunny and blue in the other. We checked with some folks walking by, and they said they had just listened to the Weather Channel, and hadn’t heard anything about it.
On my bulletin board at home for many years I’ve had a little 2-inch by 3-inch picture of the “END OF THE ROAD” sign. It’s the spot where Route 1 ends (or begins, depending on how you look at it). For many years it was my goal to stand there, and it was accomplished on that bicycle trip. But the emotion continued, and it was quite a thrill for me to be here yet again.
Near the End of the Road sign there was a kapok tree. The kapok tree grows to 130 feet, and was the sacred tree of the Mayans who believed that the souls of the dead climbed the mythical branches into heaven. It can grow 10 feet taller in a year. It has amazingly wide buttresses at the base. Most commercial kapok, we learned, now comes from the island of Java in Indonesia.
Little chickens and roosters run free all over the island. It’s quite a sight when traffic is stopped by one nonchalantly strutting across the roadway.
Next, around 1pm, we went to the giant buoy that announces it is the southern most point of the United States. We learned that as early as 1867, the International Ocean Telegraph Company began laying a cable, which would connect Cuba, 90 miles away, with Key West.
We found a great health food store, The Sugar Apple. It had some wonderful tasting foods. I told the manager that it was the best place for food we had come upon for the 3,500+ miles we were on the trip. And it was! I said, “It’s a… it’s a….” and he finished the sentence with the word I was groping for… “It’s an oasis!” And it was the truth! We savored over the fakin’ bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches, some blue chips, a wonderful organic fresh fruit smoothie, and some soy ice cream.
As we left the place and waved good-by to the owner, he said what must be his expression here, a friendly “Stay.”… I said, “No, we have the real world to get back to…” And without missing a beat he said with a laugh, “Oh, you must mean the main land.”
At this point we could decide whether to go back to the motel for a bit or walk around and see some sights, take in some tourist stuff, and do some more window browsing. We decided on staying in town, and the first place we went was Mel Fisher’s sunken treasure museum. This was recommended to us by fellow motorcycle pal Ernie from home. We used a two-for-one coupon we had picked up at the Florida Welcome Center and saved $11, and then enjoyed ambling through the museum. Seems this guy Mel’s slogan was “Today’s the Day” and though he spent many many days where it decidedly wasn’t the day, he eventually struck it rich in a big way. He made a ton of money and opened up doorways of education about the past. Most of that knowledge was specifically about life aboard the Spanish galleons of the 1700’s that floundered in the waters near here when they were taking purloined booty and other treasures back across the ocean to Spain.
There were exhibits of the way Mel’s people found the sunken ships and there were many examples of what they found. The most impressive to me was a little case where one could put one’s hand through a little hole and lift up a gold bar that was maybe 10-inches long. It was VERY heavy!!
At a much larger exhibit of huge gold bars, maybe three feet long, and maybe fifty of them in there, I turned to another museum goer next to me. He was a youngish guy in a t-shirt. He had a moustache. I loudly whispered under my breath in a mock conspiratorial tone, “You break the glass, and I’ll run out with one of those bars. We’ll meet up tonight at 8 at Sloppy Joe’s (another well known bar in town) to split the loot. Whadya say???” He looked over at me at first bemused, and then we both laughed.
While in the museum, the heavens opened, and the rains fell. But the downfall timed out perfectly and we walked out of the sunken treasure museum at 3:30pm into bright sunshine.
We walked around town variously souvenir shopping and window shopping and getting a snack or two…
At 6pm we were back at the Green Parrot and we got to meet the manager, John, who my friend Dave from home knew. I tried calling Dave on my cell phone so he could talk with his old friend, but he wasn’t home. John said he had remembered me from my 9-year-ago visit. We got some nice shots in front of the famous bar.
We went back to Mallory Square to watch another sunset, but it was pretty cloudy so we were glad we had been there the night before. We made friends with some of the other watchers there, especially two couples who had come from New Jersey who happened to be sitting near us.
Amidst all the hullabaloo and circus atmosphere there was a couple getting married on the pier at sunset. It was about 7:45pm and all the passers-bys were gawking and marveling at the tiny ceremony between the heavyish woman in the white formal dress, and the older looking gentleman.
A bit further down was the old man singer strumming the blues, and again we didn’t take enough time to listen to his good sounding and moving tunes.
We walked around town for a while soaking in the festive atmosphere and occasionally peeking in a shop or two for something we might find of interest. In one of the finer art stores we poked around for about 20 minutes looking at the fine looking paintings and prints. Then I said to the fellow who presumably the owner, “Isn’t it just the classic irony? Here we are in a store with so many fine art pieces, and I am buying this kitschy little “Route One Mile 0” mug??”
In one store was a display case of about 50 three-inch-or-more thick gaudy (presumably fake) jewel encrusted belts. They were laced in sequins and colored glass and to my eyes at least couldn’t have been more ostentatious or pretentious or garish! Perhaps like the kind of wide belts Elvis would have worn in his later sodden years. I went up to the instantly very likeable, hugely charismatic young sales guy and asked innocently, “Do people actually BUY these things??” He said they did and he had one woman come in last week and buy eight! He said at $150 or more a pop that sale made his month. I left just shaking my head in bemused amazement and told him, “Thanks for the education.”
Many of the storefronts were full of signs with funny, cute, urbane, clever, nearly obscene, very obscene, risqué, or non-sensical slogans. And t-shirts, too. It’s always interesting what is the most popular from year to year. The most popular t-shirt saying this year seemed to be, “Please tell your boobs to stop staring at my eyes.”
In one of the restaurants we passed trying to keep out extraneous traffic just looking for a bathroom was this sign hanging on the door: “If you don’t eat it here, don’t dump it here.” Maybe a little over the top, but EVERYthing here could be construed as a little over the top.
May was really astonished that people were drinking right out in the open while walking down the streets!
As we meandered down the bustling sidewalks in the darkening, warm, and humid evening we could feel the icy blast of the air conditioning in huge waves just pouring out of the stores upon us through the open doors.
After searching for quite awhile around town, we finally found the little shop with the little shirt top with the sequined motorcycle on it that reads, “KEY WEST – LIMITED EDITION”. I had wanted to get that for May.
It was about 8:30pm, and after a full day of trudging around to all the different places we were happy to be heading back to the motel room. We took a route down Duval Street and the crowd was there again – folks of every style and sex and persuasion were shopping, and drinking, and partying as they were last night, but with a mostly different cast of characters.