Thursday, February 9, 2012
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Monday, February 6, 2012
I am a dozen-odd miles from Key West. I've been eight months on the road. Find me now in the grip of an existential crisis. At least my stomach's upset. Come tomorrow my journey is done. And then where will I be. Right back where I started, but three thousand miles from home.
Or four thousand. I've not added them up. I'm not sure I ever will. It's not for me to measure the marigolds. It's enough that I still have ten toes. And I've gained a few things. Philosophy. I stand taller than I did before. I've tamed the North American continent. I'm a master of the hobo art.
I needed all my skills this evening. I've passed one final test. I left no mark on the rice paper. I snatched the pebble from Master Kan's hand. A good hobo can walk through walls. Looked for, he cannot be seen. Listened for, he cannot be heard. Sniffed at, you take your own chances.
I've put up my tent where no space exists. I'm invisible in plain sight. And I accomplished it all by the light of the moon, surrounded on all sides by lizards. Last night I camped in mud. Sometimes my training fails.
It rained all night. New records were set. I woke in a sea of goo. It coated my shoes and messed up my tent. My pack weighs six extra pounds. From all the clay I'm lugging around. I did as well as I could. But I was trapped in the worst of it. I suffered some this morning.
But onward I marched. Big Pine Key was a good eight miles off. Over some bridges; I lost count. Beyond a fetid swamp. Which is home to the National Key Deer Refuge. Key deer are an endangered species. But easily found. They look like ordinary white-tailed deer, only they're fearless and puny.
Two foot high at the shoulder. They seem content. They're enjoying their endangered status. You'd go to jail just for hurting their feelings. So they go where they want and do as they please. No one can say boo to them. Traffic on the road is slowed to a crawl. There are all sorts of posted warnings. With that same sillouette you see on other deer signs. Only the scale is different.
I had a fine breakfast in Big Pine and wound up staying for hours. Because it started raining all over again. You weren't getting me out there. Enough's enough. It was another monsoon. I decided to wait til it passed.
Then it was over several more bridges, only one of any length. The shorter ones tend to have bike paths. That takes away all my stress. But I was soggy as hell. It was plenty warm and about as humid as it can get. Which makes me not only chafe but smell. Such are the hazards of the road.
Ten more miles and I stopped at a bar. I chatted with Captain Paul. And his vast family, only one of whom looked like Papa Hemingway. Which is rather a fashion down here. They hold contests. I prefer Mariel.
I stayed longer than I ought to have. I got a bellyful of CocaCola. And walked off into the setting sun. I was pointed due west. Blinded. I made it three more miles. They say it might rain tonight. But I'm on dry ground. Rocks, even. I will be just fine.
Sunday, February 5, 2012
Thunder is rolling overhead. It has been raining all day. But I did not let it hurt my feelings. I may do some sulking tomorrow. Because it's still raining and I'm camped in mud. It is bound to get muddier still. That is if I am not swept out to sea or eaten by rogue iguanas.
I did see an iguana yesterday. No one's going to Baker Act me. It was real; they exist. They're an invasive species. Like rock pythons and zebra mussels. One managed to slip his leash. And then another. Now they're breeding like bunnies. They're taking over the place.
Because they've got "no natural predators." Who preys on them elsewhere, I wonder. They don't look very good to eat. Chupacabras, I guess.
I woke up unmolested by lizards. I was convinced I had overslept. But it wasn't too very much after seven; not early but early enough. I packed fairly quickly and hit the trail. I was missing one bottle of water. I'll be damned if I know what I did with it. I hope I didn't litter.
I had seven or eight mile hike to town. On a bike path again. It fades in and out. It crosses the highway. It will one day reach Key West. But there are still sections missing. They are working on it. This bit was very well travelled. By cyclists and dog walkers. I met a friend from last night. And her chubby dog. She was, however, looking very fit.
We parted at Marathon, Florida. I was not impressed. It is much like the rest of the Keys. But dirtier; it smelled like latex. Which put me in the mind of contraception, not an unnecessary art. But it rather ruined my appetite. I went to Burger King.
Which killed my appetite altogether. I ate anyway. A boy's got to keep fed. The counter staff was surly. The place was fairly unclean. But I plugged in and lingered there for as long as I could stand the place.
Two or three hours. I overcome. I needed the electricity. Besides, it was raining outside. A wet James will do you no good. It makes him cranky. He starts to chafe. His pack straps don't cinch up right. His socks go squishy. His calluses swell. His hat begins to droop.
But it went on raining so I shipped out. I'm from the Pacific Northwest. I was born in a drizzle. No rain can stop me. I'm defined by my pruny toes. And I had a bridge to cross. I did not want to get stuck out there in the dark.
And I had to buy a radio. My discount shop model has died. A fellow I met said they were going to talk about me. I'd like to hear what they say. I've never been talked about on the radio before, or only in general terms. On AM radio. They get it wrong. Liberals do not hate America.
It's my favorite country. It has changed some. Want to feel like an idiot? Try buying a radio. They look at you like you're from Mars. Ask for a transistor radio. "Over there by the butter churns."
I finally found one for twenty-four bucks. You can get a video camera for that. But it is awfully nice, ten times better than the last one I had. It was nice to have music. This was a day that really needed a soundtrack.
I stopped before the bridge and ate again. I wasn't hungry just yet. But it would be twenty hours until my next meal. A boy's got to keep up his strength. So I ate a hamburger and I'm glad I did. That's when it started raining hard.
Monsoon style. I've seen it before, but not in this hemisphere. If I had been three miles across the Seven Mile Bridge, life would have really sucked. So I waited it out. And made friends. With Don and Victoria.
Canadians. He's a chemical genius. She was blonde and fun. He's eighty-six. He made his fortune in plastics. He used to be a fisherman. She used to drive a Corvette and have a cat named 007.
At four or so they threw us out. The rain had slowed some by then. But it was still awfully wet. I thought of stopping for the night. Instead I climbed up on my bridge.
The Seven Mile Bridge. I'm sure you've seen it in films. They blew it up in True Lies. It goes far out over the sea. The old bridge runs to one side. But it's missing sections. Blame James Cameron. I was walking with traffic.
I was hoping for a slightly better shoulder. It was about five feet wide. I stuck to the middle. Not too near the railing, not too near oncoming cars. And walked as fast as I possibly could. I really do not like bridges. There's nowhere to go if someone swerves at me, other than into the sea.
Where I'd sink like a stone. At the very least I would get my computer wet. Or break my neck in the fall. Greg Louganis I'm not. He never dove with a pack.
It weren't a huge drop for most of the way. There is a good hump in the middle. If you'll excuse that expression. That bit was scary. There was a view from up there. Of the open sea, still impossibly blue despite the overcast weather. With great roiling clouds and flying fish, or at least fish that jump very well.
I wasn't as scared as I might have been. No one swerved into my lane. I think most drivers try to keep towards the center. It is a long way down. And the music helped. And in all honesty, my mind was on other things. I really really had to pee. I knew that was going to happen.
I could have peed right there on the bridge. I could have waited til no one was coming. In my lane. They'd still be rolling up behind. And then when I got to Key West they'd all be, "Hey! You're the guy we saw peeing on the Seven Mile Bridge!"
I pinched it off. Muscle contol. Rather trying, though. It took me a good ninety minutes to cross. That's walking as fast as I can.
But I survived. I always do. Find me now on Bahia Honda Key. Camped I guess illegally. The whole island is a state park. But it's where I was when it got dark. I'll pick up after myself. They'll never know I was ever here, whether I'm swallowed by mud or not.
APPARENTLY they're having another one of them Super Bowls today. I hope the good guys win.
GREG LOUGANIS has a dog named Captain Woof. And five Olympic medals.
BAHIA HONDA is said to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. It looks a lot like Seattle.
THOSE RHODODENDRONY-looking shrubs are I guess mangroves. I was pretty sure that they were.
I MET DOZENS of hoboes on the road today, evicted from Key West.
Saturday, February 4, 2012
I'm back online. The fault was my own. I'm big enough to admit it. And to apologise to the good people at Samsung. You do not, in this one lonesome instance, suck.
Find me camped at or around milepost fifty-nine. That's how we tell time down here. There's only one road in and out. Which makes street addresses a little silly. I woke up at milepost eighty.
In an abandoned hobo camp. There had been people there before me. Which is funny because, viewed from the road, it was just one point in a long stretch of trees. But something about it looked like home. Great hoboes think alike.
It was more elaborate than I first noticed. There were wigwams woven from trees. And a fire pit and a burglar alarm, fashioned from fishing line. And a few tin cans. It's a Viet Nam thing. A lot of hoboes are veterans. Who have earned their right to sleep undisturbed. They don't like to be surprised.
They were long gone by the time I got there. This isn't the first time it's happened. I'll find an ingenious spot for my tent, only to see signs of others. As far as I know I leave nothing behind. The grass may be sqooshed down some. But I pick up my litter. I may have a poop, but I bury it as well as I can.
Good citizenship, that. And something to teach every schoolchild. If you open it, close it. If break it, fix it. If you drink all the beer, go and buy more. If you poop in the woods, you should bury it. Keep America great and free.
I avoided the ocean as long as I could. I got a glimpse of the Gulf. But you may have noticed I stayed inland all the way across Florida. Because I wanted to earn it. I had miles to go. Even once I hit the Keys. But today was all bridges and open water. It was just me and the sea.
I had breakfast at the tip of Islamorada, at Bud N' Mary's Marina. Amongst the deep sea fishermen, before they shipped out for the day. Oldsters, a lot of them. Come from far and wide. I ate alone and felt just a little sad. Everyone was going fishing but me.
But my world opened up just after that. It was me and nothing but blue. The radio played We Are the Champions. It had special meaning for me. Because for months now I've been haunted by a particular vision, of me when I reach the sea. There'd be cheering crowds and a high school marching band. That was the song they played.
I'm more likely to finish my journey unnoticed. That may be for the best. I've been told that when I hit Key West I'll be arrested for vagrancy.
I hope I have time for a few beers first. Maybe if I ask nice they'll wait. After all, I'm not wholly indigent. Not yet, anyway.
I again encourage you to check your maps. It's hard to explain the Keys. Today was just a series of bridges. Only one of them sucked. Over a body of water called Channel #5. Marilyn Monroe used to sleep in it.
It weren't the worst bridge I've faced on this trip. There was a six-foot shoulder. But it had a high enough arc to make it blind at the top, and I wish the railing were higher. And I'm convinced a lot of these divers are drunk. Those who aren't are jibbering on their phones. Or are just plain old idiots. Only one tried to murder me.
And waved a friendly apology. I gave him or her the finger. Without much malice but I'm still ashamed. That's not my Christ-nature. It's for me to forgive these idiots. They know not what they do.
What they do is scare the ever-lovin' crap out of me. I've always known I'd die on a bridge. But from an artistic standpoint it would be good. It would add pathos to my tale. Art vs. Life. It's a tough call. I'll let the gods decide.
My next several bidges weren't bad at all. They all had pedestrian lanes. Quite separate, a bridge unto themselves. One must have been three miles long. It had to have cost a fortune to build. It was very considerate of them. To spend all that money just for me and a few million fishermen.
Who line the rails. It's a whole lot cheaper than chartering your own boat. And a fine place to spend an afternoon. They keep it pretty clean. Or the the pelicans do. I do like those birds. They are amazing flyers. They don't very often flap their wings. They are masters of the wind.
But still manage to look stupid. They're awfully big, too. They must weigh 20 lbs. More when wet. None of that water-off-a-duck's-back bit for them. Their dive into the sea looks more like a crash. They come out of it sopping wet. And shake themselves like a golden retriever, looking silly the whole time.
I never did see one get a fish. They don't leave their beaks distended. That's only in cartoons, I guess. They look silly enough as it is. They are not always cuddly. They will eat other birds. But they're still my favorite. They're awful fun to watch.
There are other birds too. Fishermen. And their long-legged friends near the shore. Big and small, beaks curved and straight. I don't know what they are. My mother would. She's a bird maniac. She would have fun down here.
I also saw a sea turtle, a great big son of a gun. I've never seen one of those before. Maybe at an aquarium, but that just isn't same. He was out for a swim. He poked his head up, then dove back under the water. Rather a thoughtful looking fellow. He's probably a hundred years old.
I kept an eye out for dolphins and sharks, but I didn't see any of them. I did meet, of all things, an iguana. He was out on the bridge. He was greyish, not green, and blocking my path. He had dark rings on his tail. I don't know if he was born here or if he emigrated from somewhere else.
I figured he probably wouldn't attack me. People do keep them as pets. And if he did I could probably beat him up and throw him into the sea. Darwin used to claim they could swim. I could prove him wrong. And put an end to his unbiblical nonsense. The Baptists would all buy me beer.
I was still a bit nervous walking by. It was a narrow path. And he did have long claws and wrinkles and scales and weird liittle things on his head. Like Phil Spector, may God forgive him. We all should have seen that one coming.
There a number of tiny little lizards, shooting about at light speed. So fast you can barely see what they are. Like baby dinosaurs. They don't bother me much. Their chief purpose in life seems to be avoiding me.
What else, what else. I met a few kind cyclists. And an idiot outside a store. He was a Green Beret in Viet Nam. He is about my age. I was six when Saigon fell. "I was real young." He also taught Kareem the sky hook. I had little patience with him. He wasn't mad. That might be charming. He was just full of shit.
I finished my day on a most happy note at The Wreck Galley and Grill. I stopped in to swill some quick Cokes and refill my water bottles. Everyone was very kind. And the nice lady there covered my Cokes and gave me some french fries to go.
A buttload of french fries, enough for two Jameses. I've finished them all by now. And they were fabulous. It is my new favorite bar. Make it the high point of your trip to the Keys. Drink much. Tip well.
It's only a half mile up the road. I've got a fine place for my tent. I could go back and drink beer. But I don't double back. That's the policy that carried me all the way here.
PHIL SPECTOR was always a little weird, but it is thought his sharp downward slide began when Tina Turner's River Deep, Mountain High failed to find commercial success. He considered it his masterpiece. A masterpiece it is. I absolutely love that recording.
TOMORROW I cross the Seven Mile Bridge. I've been dreading it for 1500 miles. But it might be so bad. If it is, remember me fondly.
You are not reading this, not in a timely fashion. I'm still without Internet service. Oh, it's there. My signal is strong, but no connection is being made. It may be Verizon; it may be Samsung; it may be my own fool fault. But I am inclined to blame Samsung, because as history has shown us, they suck.
There was a case some years ago; I cannot give you the details. Because I don't have Internet service. The gist of the matter was this. A reporter for an English language daily in Seoul found himself hauled into court. And sued for millions. He had written a column about Samsung and how much they suck.
The libel laws are different in Korea. They favor conglomerates. But I am an American. I have certain inalienable rights. Samsung sucks. It is said. I stand by it. Let them prove that they don't.
Good freakin' luck.
After bragging about how well I sleep in tents I had the damnedest time falling asleep. I rely on the night air to dry myself. I perspire some as I hike. But it was seventy-five degrees last night. It was humid; I was sleeping on rocks. Volcanic, by the looks of them, but I don't know much about that.
Are volcanic rocks pointy? They were holey, as well. Like great jagged chunks of Swiss cheese. But it was the steam more than anything. I was up until two o'clock. And slept until eight. I did sleep well. I'd wanted an earlier start. But I made it to McDonald's by nine. It was just across the street.
McDonald's, ah. Their food is crap. (Let them prove that it's not.) But I do tend to feel fairly comfortable there. I've been going for forty years. Off and on, you understand. It was my favorite when I was a kid. Now it's just a place to use the wi-fi. They have wall outlets as well.
I had my rubbery pancakes with mapley syrup, a biscuit that wasn't so bad; some eggs of a colour not seen in nature, and a sausagey air hockey puck. Their hash browns are an insult to that noble art. Their coffee was pretty good. I had several cups. I may have trouble falling asleep tonight.
I sat there for two hours, recharging and reading yesterday's news. And attending to my scant correspondence. I usually do that in my tent. But I was done by eleven, plenty of time. I did not want to walk very far.
It's tricky down here. Study your maps. I was at the south end of Key Largo. I walk twenty or twenty-five miles a day. I have to plan ahead. There are some awfully long bridges; if I'm not careful, I can find myself stuck on one. After dark. It must be lovely, but it's a good way to get myself squished.
There are fine people down here, I'm sure. I haven't got to know many of them. But beyond a certain time of day you have to assume that they're drunk.
It's a cultural thing.
As it was I did not walk twenty-five miles. I did walk twelve or thirteen. In three short hours. I did not leave McDonald's until well after three o'clock.
That's six hours under those Golden Arches. I made my very first friend. In the Keys, that is. Mr. Joe DeMicco, a retired cop from New York.
Fort Apache, the Bronx. Man, he had some stories. He talks like Dennis Franz. He was there in the Sixties and Seventies. They were, how shall I say it, corrupt. He spoke of kickbacks and schemes and internal affairs, and beating people up.
He's been stabbed in the neck. They put a bomb in his car. They didn't do that again. I'd tell you how he solved that problem, but it's his story not mine. Let's just say it was funny in a frightening way. Joe was one mean S.O.B.
Not anymore. He left the force. The force may have hastened his going. And made a fortune in real estate. And lost it. And got himself Saved. And made a new fortune and lost that too. Now he lives in his van. He could do better but he's on a mission. He drives around helping people.
When there's a flood or a hurricane, he makes a point to be there. In order to help out however he can. He has some talent for building. Between natural disasters he finds homeless people and gives them blankets and soup. And sleeping bags and portable stoves. Anything they might need. He bought me lunch; I was in fact a bit hungry at the time.
I think he does some preaching as well. He calls himself a roamin' Catholic. But has long since lost faith in the papacy. He's a Protestant now. He asked God how he could better serve Him. God put him right to work.
Using every talent he has. He's foul-mouthed, fearless and persuasive. He can B.S. his way up corporate chains in order to get big donations. With which he does good. The hungry are fed. The naked, such as they are, are clothed. And he tells some very funny stories about being a rotten cop.
Sad stories, too. He should write a book. It's the pathos that sells. That's why I spend as much time as I do writing about my feet.
I could have talked to Joe all day. I get enough Bible talk. And the disaster stuff just makes me sad. But those cop stories were great. Especially in that badda-bing accent. He should be in Hollywood.
When I did start walking I walked pretty fast. I was wired with coffee and Coke. And wanted to put some dent in the day. You can't spend your life at McDonald's. So it was three hours non-stop. I wish I would have stopped for snacks. And a bit more water but I'll survive. I've got a pint yet to go.
I blew through a couple of Keys. It was more of the same. A number of houses, most of them nice. Resorts and boat brokers. Motels, none particularly lovely, but all of them on the beach. The bars and restaurants boast of waterfront views, but that's really not saying much. When an island is a quarter-mile wide the whole thing is waterfront.
Which is not to say I'm seeing much beach. They would not waste that land on me. I'm on the road running down the middle. I don't get much of a view. Just glimpses of blue between the trees, at the ends of driveways and such. These are not public beaches. I am not welcome. I'll see the sea soon enough.
On bridges between islands it opens up some. The sea's an impossible blue. I see kite surfers and paragliders; the odd sailboat, of course. And I get to smell whatever they're grilling at their fancy restaurants. It's a pretty place; probably prettier still on five-hundred dollars a day.
I guess I do feel just a little left out. It was a trick to walk all the way here. I've earned my spot in these islands. But those restaurants do smell awfully good. And I'd like to drink at a tiki bar and watch the pelicans. And see the sun set without worrying about where I will put up my tent. It all seems aimed at a different crowd. I don't think they're all super rich. But they're the people, you tell them you're Walking Across America, and they look at you and ask, "Why?"
So what if I can't articulate it. It's better that I cannot. Consider. I'm an articulate fellow. Who better than me? But it's one of those things you either get or you don't. To many it makes perfect sense. The others would not be satisfied with any explanation.
Find me on the far end of Islamorada. Careful, you're saying it wrong. Tomorrow I shoot out over the blue. I again invite you to consult your maps. I'm going out on a limb here, as it were. God knows what's at the end of this road.
I'LL REACH A Verizon shop the day after tomorrow. It will be like going home.
THEY DO HAVE pelicans, plenty of them. The buzzards are following me again. If anything they're bigger down here. Great, ugly things.
I'M CAMPED IN a jungle. There've been hoboes here before. It's raining hard but I am dry. Dryish, at any rate. I should sleep well; I'm on flat ground.
I PASSED TOO a sort of Sea Worldy place. The entrance in marked by a sculpture. Of what I think's meant to be a giant conch shell. The artist took liberties. All pink and gaping, I haven't blushed so much since I was 15 years old.
CHECK OUT YOUR maps, seriously. The Keys are kind of neat. It's like walking on water. I wish all the continents were connected by little islands.
I think my photos came out askew. Put your computer on its side.