Thursday, July 20, 2017

SD to MB--and Back--on Two Wheels (Westward Return)

The five days at the condo in Miami Beach are a blur. I was dead tired and sore. I soaked in the ocean and pool for hours on end. The plan was to leave the day after 4th of July celebrations, where I walked a few blocks to the beach and watched the fireworks with a crowd of strangers. As before, it was a good vantage point for seeing two similtaneous displays, one from around 73rd Street in North Beach and the other from the jetty across from Haulover Park.

As often happens, I slept restlessly that night and didn't get started as early as I'd wanted to. There was the usual ritual of washing the bedding, giving the place a general cleaning, mopping the floor, and shutting everything down. It may seem a bit over-thorough, but I don't like to leave anything to attract roaches or other vermin during the long periods when the place is vacant.

Thus was it the early afternoon of Thursday July 5th when I loaded up the bike, talked awhile with some neighbors that saw me leaving, and fired up for the first step of another long journey, this time westward by a more southerly route than before.

The traffic was as bad as ever on the A1A, then Biscayne Blvd., then Hollywood cum Pines Blvd. I reached Highway 27, and this time headed north. It was a little discouraging to think that every 30 miles or so represented only 1% of the return trip. I wound around the west side of Lake Okeechobee and continued through the middle of the peninsula on this inland highway, passing Clermont and making slow but steady progress toward Gainesville, the first day's objective.

When it started getting dark, I decided to settle for Ocala, which I knew only as the home of The Royal Guardsmen of "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron" fame, as I commented to the hotel clerk. It was an uneventful night, too late for a swim in the hotel pool, with just a few beers and some snack food from the nearest convenience store... and it would often strike me as strange hereafter that gas stations were always the most reliable places to find beer.

Got started pretty early in the morning after the complimentary breakfast. I was getting pretty handy at working the waffle maker that so many places seemed to have on this trip. Highway 27 met I-75 around there and Gainesville was not far to the north, so I pulled off to see what I could see, which wasn't much of interest. My beloved motorhome from the '80s was built in Gainesville, as I recalled from a plaque on the cab-over section, and dad underwent part of his army training there. It was long ago and long forgotten, with nothing remaining. I continued along.

Not way farther north, the I-75 met the I-10, rather near the latter's origin in Jacksonville. I would be following it off and on all the way to Arizona, and thought about this as I buzzed along toward Tallahassee. That was another place where I pulled off for awhile and promptly got caught in a god-awful traffic jam. A couple in a restaurant parking lot told me the state capitol was about three miles away, so I rode past it just to say I'd seen it. Then back onto the I-10 through Pensacola, then Mobile.

As on the trip out, I tried to take a look at Mobile... but as on the trip out got lost and frustrated. Back on the I-10, I continued right through the small coastal section of Alabama until I reached the outskirts of Biloxi Mississippi, Pascagoula to be exact. As before, I was struck by how genuinely nice most people in the South seemed. The hotel had a pool, and I blissfully soaked myself after the long day of riding.

In the morning, I'd been riding along the I-10 for a half hour or so when I realized that I wasn't seeing much of anything by taking the interstate. Actually, from coast to coast it all looks pretty much the same. You can fill up at Chevron and eat at Subway just about anywhere you wish. After looking at the map, I decided to try the coastal highway through Biloxi to New Orleans.

Saw a bike shop near the Highway 90 junction, and stopped to ask about the road and the condition of my tires. They serviced mainly Suzukis, but tires are tires and they told me they had an affiliated Honda shop in Gulfport. Deciding to try to get to Texas with what tread remained, I headed west right into a huge thunderstorm in Bay St. Louis, near the Louisiana border.

Seeking shelter at the gas station, several people commented that they felt sorry for me being out in such weather on a bike. I figured it would pass in an hour or two, and I was right. In the meantime, the Big Pig Barbecue inside the convenience store area beckoned. It was alright, and a decent way to pass the time as I waited for the heavy rain to lift.

A bit farther west, I was on the outskirts of New Orleans, and checked the map again as Highway 90 neared the junction with I-10. It was here that I got a nice experience of bayou country, pausing for a bit to think of all the popular songs about it, and how my brother and I used to laugh about how so many songs mentioned "NEW ORLEEEEENS!!!"

New Orleans, at the point where I entered it, did not impress me. I rode awhile through ass neighborhoods with a number of motels that all had chain link fence around them and a locked gate. I'd wanted to avoid the rather hairy looking freeway system around the city, but when I saw I-10 overhead on an elevated roadway, I decided to take my chances. The idea of seeing the French Quarter was less appealing than the idea of rolling up some miles and getting the hell out of there.

The I-10 proceeds northwest for awhile, toward Baton Rouge. I recall seeing a huge stack with a flame shooting from it in the distance--probably an oil refinery--as I headed out of town. Baton Rouge was larger than I'd imagined it, with a long rollercoaster-like bridge over the Mississippi... I hadn't even known that Baton Rouge was on the Mississippi! As I continued west, it started to get dark and I realized how tired I was. Somewhere between Lafayette and Lake Charles--Crowley, I think--there was a complex of several motels. I chose one and called it a day, even more sore and tired than usual.

Now it was Saturday, July 8th. I was making good time and decided to have a relatively leisurely day getting to Galveston, a major objective on the trip that I'd originally planned to visit on the way east. As it turned out, approaching it while heading west allowed me to avoid Houston, see the Bolivar Peninsula, which has more of the buildings on stilts that one associates with Galveston, and catch the free ferry onto the island.

First though, you have to traverse a rather uninteresting area between the Texas border and Beaumont, where the I-10 becomes a rutted obstacle course full of windswept debris. I stopped for awhile at the visitor center on the border, and picked up a large map of Texas and some advice on how to approach Galveston along the peninsula from Beaumont. At one point, the riding was so stressful that I had to pull off the road and have a nice stop at a Dairy Queen just to decompress.

Once on the Highway 124 though, it becomes a scenic and enjoyable ride. Farther from Galveston, you see people and camping and driving along the beach. I stopped at the first open realty I saw, and talked with them a bit. They said that such things are legal all along the gulf coast of Texas, though the larger cities such as Galveston have local ordinances for populated sections. They told me the ferry was free, and easy to catch... which it was.

It was perhaps a four mile ride on the ferry, and a highlight of the trip. Mainly because of the Glenn Campbell song, I'd always been intrigued by the place... a beach in Texas! The ferry pulled in, and the cars unloaded in orderly lines. I stopped at a couple of hotels where the rates were ridiculously high on weekends, then found one called the Knight's Inn that was relatively inexpensive and conveniently located.

I washed out my clothes thoroughly for the first time since leaving Miami Beach, figuring correctly that even the blue jeans would dry overnight in the heat. I bought a six-pack of Heinekin in the late afternoon, and relaxed in a chair in front of my room while the clothes dried. Before sunset, I walked down to the beach and soaked in the water for an hour or so. It was murky, with no visibility at all, but warm and soothing. At night I took a walk on the Pleasure Pier without going into the area that required you to pay for the amusement park rides. Then I had a seat on some stairs to the beach along the seawall, and felt a little sad that I knew no one there and in fact had no one special at all in my life.

After the modest complimentary breakfast at the motel, I asked them to store my bags and helmet for a couple of hours while I explored the rest of the island. There was a "Wings" beach accessories store along the way, where I bought a few souvenirs for myself and for my niece and her new fiancee; she'd just gotten engaged a couple of days before. I stopped at a beach past the seawall, with people parked along it and barbecuing. I began to see houses on stilts again. The island is rather long, and it looked like more of the same for as far as I could see. I turned back, loaded my bags, and decided I'd satisfied my curiosity about Galveston Island.

Consulting a map before leaving, I saw that I could bypass Houston altogether by taking Route 6 to the I-10, where I'd ride west only briefly on it before catching the 290 into Austin. Route 6 was reasonably fast and traffic free on a Sunday, but it looked just like any highway in Florida--or Louisiana or Alabama or Mississippi--with its franchise businesses and long straightaways broken up by traffic lights and busy intersections. I stopped briefly to ask another biker if he needed help, but he said his wallet had fallen out of his jacket pocket on the freeway and there wasn't much I could do. He lived in the area, and would get things straightened out eventually.

The 290 takes you from the flatlands of East Texas to the hill country around Austin. It wasn't a particularly long day of riding, with me starting out around noon and finding a Rodeway Inn within walking distance of the LBJ Library by late afternoon. I looked up my cousin's number that his older brother had given me when he said he would be out of town during my time there, and left a message. I'd noticed while riding the north/south I-35 that goes through Austin that there was a Honda shop a few miles away, and it seemed a good time to get new tires.

On Monday morning, I made the decision to stay an extra day. It would give me time to get new tires in the morning, visit the LBJ Library in the afternoon, and see my cousin in the evening. Thus did the day go. I got a good deal on the tires with free installation, and they had them in stock. I got to the library around 1:00, and stayed until closing. Then I took the I-35 north to the Twin Peaks restaurant in Round Rock.

Presidential libraries--and museums in general--are becoming obsolete in this day and age. There was really very little there that I hadn't seen before, and the four floors or so of papers and archives will probably be replaced from the Clinton Administration on by a couple of flash drives. The animatronic LBJ telling humorous stories was kind of corny; it creaked as he moved with a sound very much like farting. Nonetheless, it consolidated in one place the stuff I'd spent many years finding online or reading about in books, and I did enjoy standing alone in the model of his Oval Office near closing time.

I'd seen my cousin in 2009 when his son graduated from Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego. He seemed more communicative this time, and we had a very nice visit. He came over on his own motorcycle, as his wife wasn't at home and he didn't get a chance to ride it much. We talked about the visit our family had made to his during Easter Week 1967--when LBJ was president--and the current state of our lives. He's not a real sentimental type, and seemed mildly embarrassed to say that seeing me meant a lot to him. After a couple of beers and a meal, we talked awhile outside by the bikes, then putted off in our respective directions.

The next day, Tuesday July 11, was one of the longer days of riding. I took Highway 71, mostly a two-lane road but a fairly fast one, toward San Angelo, seeing a lot of the Texas hill country and the Pedernales River. It passed rather close to the LBJ Ranch, but I didn't need to visit there. The objective on this day was to reach the New Mexico border, and I did. I stayed that night in Hobbs New Mexico, not an exciting place other than for the significance of now being much closer to San Diego than to Miami Beach, and having only three more states to cross before I was home.

The next day was a bit of a side trip, as I headed northwest to Roswell, then southwest back toward the I-10 in Las Cruces. There isn't that much to Roswell other than the "International UFO Musem," which is also full of stuff I'd seen before online, on TV documentaries, and in books. The former air base was the site of a lot of top secret work, and I arrived pretty much convinced that the weather balloon and test dummies explanation made sense. However, I left with new doubts and an appreciation for other utterly inexplicable sightings and--most obviously--crop circles.

In Alamogordo, I was wondering about the little zoo that I'd visited in 1981, and had later heard a humorous anecdote about from my friend in Buckeye, when I saw a sign for it. It was closed for the day, but the gates were open and I took a look at the lemurs while texting her to say that I was there. She replied shortly after and found the memory humorous.

As I headed along the highway through Alamogordo toward Las Cruces, I thought of the history made there. I'd seen the display on the Manhatten Project 36 years before, and figured it hadn't changed much. I found a Super 8 along the highway in Las Cruces, and settled in with a takeout pizza and a six pack of Coors stubby bottles. Around sunset I took a dip in the motel pool, and realized it was the first time the water had felt cool on the entire trip.

In the morning, I took a rather leisurely cruise through the city, which was much larger than I'd thought and even had a Honda dealer. I'd lost the helmet visor in the wind somewhere in Texas, and the glare in the late afternoons was pretty unbearable. Unfortunately, they didn't have one in stock and I had to put up with that glare for the rest of the trip.

Today, it was all I-10, Las Cruces to Tucson. It was hot, monotonous, uncomfortable, and filled with a kind of anxiousness at being close but with still a ways to go. Austin is supposed to be the midpoint in miles, but the time since leaving Galveston had seemed to exist in a different continuum where the miles passed faster and the distances seemed shorter. Now however, I felt like I'd never get to Tucson. The sign at the state line was encouraging, and I pulled over at a rest stop to stretch my legs and drink water. A lady traveling east stopped to talk awhile, amazed that I'd ridden all the way to Florida and was now on my way home again.

The highlight of the day, I guess, was stopping at "The Thing?" roadside attraction. I'd always been idly curious, but didn't expect much. The displays in the "museum" were dusty, poorly maintained, and rather depressing. The gift shop, gas station, and Dairy Queen on the premises were a little better, but there was no reason to hang around. Nowadays, you can do a search for this particular attraction and find out all you need to know.

Tucson was hotter than hell, and I saw signs for the Pima Air and Space Museum as I approached town. It was the last planned sightseeing stop of the trip, and I went directly there to see about tickets for the "boneyard" tour. It was first come, first served, so I'd have to get there bright and early the next day. The timing had worked well, as the next day was Friday and the tours didn't run on weekends.

Found another motel, a Day's Inn. I was pretty exhausted, and fell asleep early after giving my outfit a wash, dipping in the pool, and having some beer with a Wendy's burger. That morning, Friday July 14th, I was up early to shower and shave, put on my clean clothes, and get in line early at the museum. I talked awhile with another early arrival, a piping company employee who was on his way to Austin to start a job. We talked a bit with an older couple that got there shortly after us. When they announced that the credit card machine wasn't working due to last night's thunderstorm, the lady gave me the $3 I was short to pay for museum admission plus the boneyard tour.

The display area of the museum was actually a lot more interesting than the boneyard, where we're not allowed to get off the bus and there really isn't that much on display. It isn't truly a boneyard, as a number of the aircraft are serviceable but not in active use. There were a large number of C-5 Galaxies and F-16 Falcons in particular. I spent much of the day at the museum, then decided to head for Gila Bend. At the Miracle Mile, I stopped off at the cemetery and got directions to the gravesite of Arthur Olaf Andersen, a musician who wrote the arrangements for the New American Songbook dad gave me when I was a kid.

Perhaps the most unpleasant part of the entire journey was the 120 miles or so between Tucson and Gila Bend. I stopped for gas in Casa Grande, and ended up going far out of my way. The glare was awful, and I was in a headwind most of the time. There is absolutely nothing of interest along the road. I decided to reward myself with a stay in the Space Age Lodge. It has an OK restaurant which was rebuilt after a fire in 1998, but neither it nor the hotel are all that special aside from the artwork along the ceiling in the lobby.

So started the last day of the trip, along a road I'd traveled many times before. I kept telling myself not to blow it so close to home. I stopped in Dateland for gas, then Yuma to see the house again five weeks after stopping there on the way east. I had lunch at the Taco Bell off the I-8 in El Centro, and recall an employee waving and bidding me a safe trip as I left. The big climb from the desert into San Diego County didn't have severe winds for a change. The haze I'd seen in the distance was just coastal burnoff from the big change in temperature; San Diego was warm but hardly as blistering hot as Arizona had been.

The final stop was Golden Acorn Casino to top off the tank and get a free soft drink from the dispenser in the casino area. I told myself once again to be extra careful during these last miles of the long journey.

A children's song I learned in school played in my head, as it had off and on over the past couple of days. I turned off the I-8 at the end of El Cajon Blvd. and made my way down 70th Street to my condo, putting the cover on the bike just like I did when I arrived in Miami Beach. Before going inside, I just stood there for a moment in the parking lot, dazed that I was home safely. Once again, I thought of that song:

"Sing your way home
"At the close of the day.
"Sing your way home;
"Chase the shadows away.
"Smile every mile,
"And wherever you roam
"It will brighten your road,
"It will lighten your load
"If you sing your way home."

Ferry to Galveston, from the east.

An interesting place.

Home again, Saturday 7/15/17.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

SD to MB--and Back--on Two Wheels (Eastward)

For many years, I had the idle thought in the back of my mind of doing a cross-country motorcycle trip. Now, at 62, it seemed a reasonable project for this summer's annual adventure. I'm strong and healthy enough to handle it, and affluent enough to be able to stay in comfortable accomodations along the way. For the past three years I've owned a condo in Miami Beach that would make for a logical destination/objective.

Just the same, I'd never ridden more than about 400 miles from home, and had no idea how long it would take to cross the country or how I and the bike would hold up along the way. Probably I'd be sore and extremely tired at some point. Certainly the bike would need maintenance. These were serious considerations, but the most important consideration of all was that I'm not getting any younger and needed to quit being such a wimpy worry-wart. I kept telling people I was going to ride cross country, and it reached the point where backing out would have been very poor form.

There were, of course, a few days of building up gumption. I have the summers off, so there was no pressing schedule or anything to get me out of bed on any particular day and start this. As is so often the case, I created a schedule item by asking an old friend in the Phoenix area if she'd like to get together and visit on Sunday afternoon June 11th, and that became the impetus to get going. Well sir, that morning--for the first time in months--it was raining in San Diego. I'd planned to get an early start, but rolled over in bed and wondered WTF this trip was going to be like if it were to start out like this.

As it was, the rain was just an extra substantial manifestation of San Diego's famed "June Gloom." It cleared up, and the streets were dry enough that I no longer had any excuse not to get started. I loaded up the large backpack and smaller day pack with the stuff I'd been idly thinking about packing for several days. After all, I'd traveled enough over the years to have a pretty good idea of what I needed to take for a month or so out of town. I'd just never had to carry it all on a motorcycle, and--honestly speaking--never tried until that very morning to mount it on the bike or even thought much about how it should be laid out.

With three heavy duty bungee cords, I devised the configuration you see in the photos, and it worked well in that format for the duration of the trip. A neighbor came out as I was loading up, and there was that odd moment when he realized he was talking to me at the very beginning of a very momentous event. I told him I'd be back in the middle of July, God willing, and the journey of several thousand miles began with that single step of firing up the engine and riding up the residential street half a mile to the Seven-Eleven to top off the tank and hit the road.

Following the easterly route I take to school during the academic year, I turned off on Campo Road and took the slower Highway 94 rather than I-8. I carried in my head a list of places to see along the way, with the vague plan of following the I-40 east and the I-10 back west. Didn't expect to see every one of them, or even to ride all the way to Miami Beach necessarily... yet I ended up doing everything I said I'd do. Every damned thing!

The first stop was Campo, where the Camp Lockett display was open only on weekends. It seemed rather strange to be stopping for sightseeing less than 40 miles into a 7,000 mile journey, but I don't get out that way much and it was a chance to convince myself that I was actually underway and doing this. Then I buzzed along at a fair clip to the end of 94, where it meets I-8 and the road drops into the Imperial Valley. This stretch of road is very familiar, so I recall nothing extraordinary about it.

It was mid afternoon by the time I got to Yuma, and pulled up in front of my rental house for a look. My friend had called and left a voicemail, wondering when I was going to get there. I told her things were getting off to a slow start, and we agreed to meet up at dinner time at her place in Buckeye.

This provided an incentive to cover some miles on the first day. She'd lived in a dozen or so places since we'd met the fall after I graduated from high school and came to live in Phoenix for a year, mainly to be somewhere besides the place where I'd grown up. Now she had a nice home in a retirement community, and after telling me several times in our occasional phone conversations that she was all through with sharing things with her previous husbands and various men in her life, I was introduced to her new husband. He seemed a nice enough fellow, and I hope it works out better than the previous ones... but her apparent blind spot in romance, despite being an otherwise intelligent person, is part of why I was never much attracted to her as anything other than a friend.

We had a nice dinner of Pollo Loco at her house, and visited for a couple of hours. Then I was on my way up Grand Avenue to Wickenberg for the first night of the trip.

Got to Prescott early Monday morning, with the intention of staying about three days to work on my rental property there. Well... riding out to the property for the first time, my Honda Shadow--a model renowned for its dependability--died at the side of the road. The management company for the property went above and beyond the call of duty to send out their maintenance man with a truck to help me haul the bike to a shop, where he happened to know the owner. Prescott is a small town, and such things are common.

It was a salvation for my self esteem to find that the problem was fairly complex, and not something I should have been able to repair at the side of the road. The Honda Shadow has an electric fuel pump that works like a fuel injection system... though the engine is carburated. We were able to get it running, but the contact points were worn down so badly that setting out on a long trip without a new fuel pump would be asking for trouble. Getting one took a week.

There was work to do in Prescott, but not a week's worth. Lying around in the Navajo Lodge during this time, I began to lose my gumption. If things were getting off to such a rough start, could it be a sign that maybe I shouldn't continue? Well, I'm a stubborn guy once I set my mind to something, and after working more leisurely on the property than I'd planned to and doing a little research on filming locations for "Billy Jack" (filmed in Prescott in the fall of 1969 but not released until 1971), I decided to get an early start the morning of Wednesday June 21st.

The route through Jerome to Sedona and through Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff was also familiar, but I'd never done it on a motorcycle before. It was a winding and scenic ride, but hardly one to inspire confidence that I'd reach the East Coast in any reasonable amount of time. I turned it into one of the longest riding days of the trip, catching the I-40 in Flag and following it along many of the places mentioned in "Route 66" and other songs--Winona, Winslow, Gallup New Mexico--where I finally decided to call it a day. It was a comfortable if not cheap motel, and I think it was here that I resigned myself to spending great sums of money on places to lay my head each night.

The next day was Gallup to Vega Texas, on the outskirts of Amarillo. This was also a substantial day of travel, and the point where I realized that the only times I really felt stressed while riding was passing through large urban areas, in this case Albuquerque. Vega is a pud-in-the-mud town, but I was looking for filming locations from "Hud," the Paul Newman movie from 1962, and could have sworn the water tank shown at the introduction of the movie read "Vega." There was an outdoor concert in the town square area, and I went to it even though it wasn't particularly interesting... which was probably the opinion of most of the locals.

Friday the 23rd was a relatively shorter day of travel, with several stops to look around. I got an early start, but still encountered the most fierce crosswinds of the trip around and within the city of Amarillo. At one point I had to get off the I-10 and move along at about 40 MPH on a frontage road, simply because I couldn't ride in a straight line otherwise. On another occasion, I was actually blown off the road by a semi passing me on the left; the air blast was like an explosion.

Outside of Claude, site of most of the filming of "Hud," I got to talking with several bikers from Houston at a gas stop. It was the first time I noticed that my bike was the smallest of any I saw doing long-distance touring. A 750 cc motorcycle was rather large back in the day, but not anymore. One fellow on a Gold Wing complained that he was getting only 25 MPG in the windy conditions. I got a steady 50 MPG throughout the trip. He wasn't aware that the movie had been filmed in Claude, but expressed his liking for it in surprising detail.

Stopping at the county courthouse in Claude, I got directions to the city museum, where an older lady showed me the movie theater that appeared in "Hud." Brandon DeWilde and Melvin Douglas sang "Clementine" in the scene. She also pointed out the bus stop where Patricia O'Neal left town, and told me where the house was in Goodknight, about ten miles up the road. I had a look there, and found that it was a major area for raising buffalo and bringing them back from near extinction.

Before too late, I decided to call it a day on the outskirts of Witchita Falls. There, as throughout the trip, I noticed that the majority of motels between Texas and Florida seem to be run by Indians (from India). By and large, I found them a grim and humorless bunch, often with any number of extended family members living in the vacant rooms and casting unpleasant looks at the guests if they acknowledged our existence at all. Just the same, I was happy to get out of the heat and relax a little longer than I had since leaving Prescott.

It was Saturday morning, and Dallas/Ft. Worth was my objective. It wasn't far away, but the weather was rainy again, not soaking but enough to make my clothes damp and the road slick. I asked around Witchita Falls whether the Red River was nearby, but apparently it was too far out of the way to make a side trip. I was aware that Lee Oswald's brother, Robert, still lived there, and admired him in a way for never changing his name and living as normal a life as possible since that one moment in time had changed everything.

There was a moderately well known vegetable stand/store along the 287/81. I stopped for awhile and played with a small kitten that the owners had just adopted. They said it wanted to ride away with everyone who stopped there. Coming into the area, I followed signs for Dallas along a busy highway, stopping once for gas and asking the fellow at the next pump if I could get to Irving on it. Luckily the freeways weren't crowded as I passed through the area around Dallas International Airport. I turned off when I saw a sign for Love Field.

Fairly early in the afternoon, I found a hotel that provided easy access to Irvine, Parkland Hospital, Love Field, and Dealey Plaza. Having just missed the last weekend tour of the Ruth Paine Museum, I just rode out to Irving anyway to see it. Many of the locals think the tours, conducted in a van with a portrait of JFK on the side, are in bad taste. Dealey Plaza though, was easy to find and though there are always tourists looking at "the spot," it's rather low key. They seem to be a pains to explain that the plaza was an important landmark before the Kennedy assassination.

During the visit, I saw the site of Jack Ruby's Carousel Club--of which nothing remains--and the old police headquarters building where Oswald was shot. I also ran across the large neon "flying red horse" that once dominated the Dallas skyline in front of a downtown hotel. A taxi driver about my age saw me near the site of Ruby's old club and talked for awhile about his own conspiracy theory of the assassination, which included LBJ. I didn't bother to tell him that the LBJ Library was one of the places I planned to visit on the way home.

By Sunday morning I was headed east, leaving town unexpectedly on the road where the assassination occurred. The bikers in Claude had advised me that Houston was a lousy place to try to navigate on a bike if you didn't know your way around, so after a short consultaton with a map I decided to continue on I-40 through Shreveport and as far as Jackson, where I could catch Highways 49 then 98 south to Mobile. I crossed Louisiana in a single day, and on reaching the Mississippi River at Vicksburg realized that I was actually up for proceeding all the way to Southern Florida! I stayed at the Super 8 in Clinton, outside Jackson, and my "southern experience" consisted of buying some Popeye's Fried Chicken for dinner.

Monday the 26th brought me into the panhandle of Florida, but I realized that over a fifth of the total distance would be within that state, with its very long coastline. Got lost on a traffic-jammed highway in Mobile while trying to take a coastal route for fun. I got back on the I-40 for awhile, and found the interstate's causeways plenty scenic. It was a long day of riding that extended until after dark. A little before Panama City, I was pulled over by a state trooper who told me my headlight wasn't working. I ride so seldom at night that I hadn't noticed. The high beam was working, and he let me go with a warning.

Looking at a phone book and online, I found a Honda dealer in Panama City and took the bike in for 36,000 mile maintenance and a new headlight bulb. It was quite expensive, even though the maintenance wasn't that involved. I got new front brake pads as well, and was advised that the chain and sprockets were in very bad shape. Rather than wait several days for parts, I decided to move on.

By Tuesday night, after a late start while waiting on the maintenance, I got to Crystal River, "Manatee Capital of the World." I hadn't covered a lot of miles, but was traveling along the gulf coast and taking in a lot of scenery. Eventually, I'd ride most of the gulf coast from Naples Florida to Galveston Texas. My dad's cousin first texted me then, and we agreed I'd visit them in Brandon, outside Tampa.

Rode across the bay bridge in Tampa and found my way to Brandon, which happened to have a large Honda dealer. I ordered the chain and sprockets there, and was able to have them installed the next day. Meanwhile, I checked in to a Motel 6 then went over to visit my distant cousin, whom I hadn't seen since 1981. Her husband wasn't doing well health-wise, and I didn't probe deeply as to what was wrong. His sister was visiting there, helping to take care of him. The next day, Thursday, was his birthday and I was invited to a big family party and to stay over afterwards. Her kids were now in their forties; I hadn't seen them since they were 10 and 8.

Friday June 30th came, and my cousin and her sister-in-law bade me farewell. I was heading down the I-75 and across the peninsula, planning to reach my goal by late afternoon. There was some sort of awful traffic jam, and I did my first lane splitting of the trip. As usual--there's one in every crowd--someone started honking loudly at me and demanding that I sit there in the traffic jam like everybody else. I proceeded slowly and carefully for several miles until the traffic flow opened up again.

In Naples, the I-75 becomes a toll road. I stopped at a Dollar Tree before getting on it. As in San Diego, it's the only place that sells Minute Maid frozen juice cups. It was also a good place to pick up a new toothbrush and tube of toothpaste. This was it! I was actually going to make it to my condo in Miami Beach! Then, outside Fort Lauderdale, I turned off on Highway 27 where it indicated Miami.

The Miami/Fort Lauderdale area is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Everglades. It's about 30 miles wide, and much longer north to south. As you approach from the west, it hardly looks like the outskirts of a major metropolis. I noticed a sign for Pines Blvd., and stopped to look at a map. It indicated that I was on the outskirts of Pembroke Pines, and could get to downtown Hollywood by following it directly west.

As I was putting away the map, in a state of disbelief and almost spiritual bliss, an older fellow in a white SUV stopped and asked me if I was lost. He confirmed that I was exactly where I thought I was. I rode along in the heat and traffic of south Broward and north Miami Dade Counties, the blissful feeling dissipating a bit. Then I was on the A1A coastal highway, in places I'd ridden by bicycle from my condo before! I passed the Trump Hotel in Sunny Isles, which caused me to have bizarre dreams about introducing him at a rally in my dirty clothes. The magical feeling returned as I finished the last mile, past the power substation, and turned right on 85th Street.

A neighbor friend was standing in front of the complex as I pulled up. I parked the bike and looked at it, sitting in front of my condo in Miami Beach just like it had at my condo in San Diego a few weeks before. The lady he was talking to took a picture of us with it. There was still half the journey to go--the return trip--but for the next five days (the stay shortened by the delays in Prescott) I'd get some rest and enjoy what I'd accomplished.


Early in the trip, along the I-40.

Here I realized I actually was gonna do this!
The Miami Beach condo. Made it!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Number 7, La Mesa

Being me, I tried unsuccessfully to search for a history of the various bus lines used in San Diego by MTS, the Metropolitan Transit System. The best I can do is note that in a 1952 guide to businesses and services in San Diego, which I found in a pile of old books at the swap meet last year, Route 7 was in existence then and designated as such.

One of the few online references to Route 7 is a poem/essay from some years ago, where the author notes that it is the most widely-used route in all of the MTS system. It runs along University Avenue from a couple of blocks east of my condo complex to downtown San Diego, turning left at Park Boulevard, passing the San Diego Zoo, and ending a few blocks west of Horton Plaza. The zoo stop is probably what counts for so much of its ridership, as University Avenue--though a major east-west thoroughfare through mid-city--isn't what you'd think of as the most important of places to pass along.

The route has special meaning for me though, as it was the first bus I ever rode on, and nowadays about the only one in the MTS system I ever ride on. Mom took us to the zoo on it a time or two when the kids were small, and the folks would occasionally give me fare to ride it home from the Copley YMCA after swimming lessons, as we lived during my childhood just up the hill from the College Avenue stop.

Nowadays I'm about a mile away, farther east on University Avenue. The stop is maybe a hundred feet from my front door, and the noise of the particularly long buses they use for this route is a familiar ambient sound. I ride it on the rare occasions I have business downtown or in Balboa Park, such as jury duty or a ceremony with the Japan Society or San Diego Yokohama Sister City Society. The latter two often involve alcohol consumption, and it's nice to be able to drink moderately without worrying about driving home afterwards. Some years, I might also take it to the December Nights celebration in Balboa Park for the same reason.

The most important function of the Number 7 bus for me, however, is as the first leg of any distant journey. Though once in awhile I'll catch an early morning ride with a friend who works out that way, most of the time I'll begin any flight out of Lindbergh Field with a ride on the Number 7 to downtown. The old saying that a journey of a thousand miles (or more) starts with a single step definitely applies here.

There's a kind of personal ritual of taking a last look around the inside of my condo, checking that I have everything piled and organized in my backpack, bidding the place farewell until my return, and locking it up before walking over to the stop. The Number 7 runs pretty often and I always give myself more time than I need to get where I'm going, so I don't worry much about the schedule. It bumps along through City Heights, picking up and letting off passengers, then through North Park to the big turn at Park Boulevard and past the zoo to downtown.

At the last stop, I get off and walk down to Harbor Drive. Then I follow the Embarcadero walkway north and west, past the Star of India, past the County Administration Building, past the Coast Guard Station, and along the edge of the runway to the entrance road to Harbor Island. There I wait patiently to cross the extremely busy street at the main airport entrance... unless it's after midnight, when the street isn't busy at all and there aren't even any flights departing. In such cases where I have a very early morning flight, I'll catch one of the last Number 7's the night before and ask someone at the Sheraton or another hotel on Harbor Island if they'd let me sit quietly in the lobby for a few hours.

It's surprising what people will let you do if you're polite and considerate. I'm nearly always told that it's quite OK, and I sit there watching TV or dozing on a sofa until it's no longer too early to check in for my flight. In this way, the bus trip to the airport becomes in itself a somewhat adventurous beginning to whatever much longer trip I'm embarking on.

On return to San Diego, I generally do the same things in reverse order, catching the Number 7 from downtown to near its end on University Avenue, and--in the final effort at the last part of the journey--putting on my backpack one last time to cross the street to my condo.

My trip to my place in Florida for spring break last week brought me home after midnight. Since I've been curious about it for awhile anyway, I tried walking up Laurel Street, across the Cabrillo Bridge, and through Balboa Park to see if it were any farther than walking downtown. It doesn't seem to be, but on that particular return there were no buses anyway. On reaching the bridge, I just walked instead along the edge of Balboa Park to Hillcrest, where I treated myself to a taxi home rather than wait around for the first morning Number 7 bus.

The bus fare was 15 cents when I was a kid, as I recall. Now it's $2.25. A couple of years ago, I first qualified for the senior fare of $1.10. This makes it all the more intriguing to think that I've been riding the same bus route from childhood to impending geezerhood. Perhaps when I go, they should take my ashes on a Number 7 ride and spread them along the route.

An extended MTS bus, of the type used for Route 7.

Arrival at Lindbergh Field, coming in over downtown.
County Administration Building is visible to the right of the nose of the plane.
Nowadays the bus stops allow you to text
for info about the next arriving bus.