Archive for January, 2017

My son Sam is in a band that was performing at a restaurant near Asheville on Friday night.  I drove the almost four hours out there early Friday morning, so I could spend most of the day bicycling around Asheville before going to see the show that evening.

There are very few flat areas of Asheville and most of that is either flood plain along the river or the relatively small area of the downtown.   I wanted to discover by bicycle the areas outside of downtown.

Older residential neighborhoods with 1920’s houses are scattered in several directions from downtown, but most are cut off from downtown by steep slopes and Interstate highways.  I sweated  all day bicycling up steep slopes.  Outside of the immediate downtown it is difficult to imagine Asheville as a nirvana for biking or or walking.  There does seem to be a decent bus system.  For most situations here you really need a car.

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I bicycled up a long steep hill on the north side of town, looking for the Grove Park Inn, built in 1912.

I thought I had arrived there when I saw this building.

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That turned out to the just an apartment building with a view; the Grove Park Inn was further up the hill, around a corner.

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Downtown there are some lovely 1920’s-30’s high rises.    This is one of several.

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I am probably the only person who appreciates this place.

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Likewise The Beaucatcher Motel on Tunnel Road which I stayed at for $59.00 a night.  It is in the process of renovation and the rooms are actually quite nice.   They seem to be betting that people are going to want a 1962 Mad Men experience.

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Sam, on the far left on the banjo,  is in the band Red Clay Revival, who played at the pleasant restaurant Native Kitchen in the nearby town of Swannanoa.   I left the camera back in the hotel room so I could only record on my I-phone.   Sam said they sounded better the next night but I thought they sounded fine.

 

Once a year for the past five years I have been coming down here to bicycle around.   Each time I am amazed at the cultural polyglot.   And the buildings!   I surely do not want to live here, and I really do not want spend more than three or four days a year here.   But here on a solo trip for three nights in January things certainly never got boring.

I had wanted to cycle the Tampa Bay area instead, and I still might do that this year.   But for one hundred sixty-five dollars you can fly round trip to Fort Lauderdale nonstop from Raleigh/Durham on friendly Southwest Airlines.   And Fort Lauderdale is still the only airport I know of in the USA that has luggage storage, because of the cruise ship business.   I can arrive with my bicycle-in-a-suitcase, check the suitcase at the airport, and ride off into the South Florida Netherland.    I landed here on time just after 12:00 noon but the plane sat on the runway for forty-five minutes, so it was almost two o’clock before I got the bicycle put together and I could cycle away.

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Weather in South Florida in January is generally perfect.   People tell me they love the desert climates of places like Arizona in the winter.    South Florida is something else entirely; a constantly blowing warm bath of humid air, almost always between 65 and 78 degrees.   Shifting very low clouds, surrounded in the mornings and evenings with pinkness evolving into blue sky.

My general idea of this trip was as follows:

  1. Day One (afternoon): Fort Lauderdale airport to South Miami Beach.
  2. Day Two: Tour around Miami, then Tri-Rail commuter train to West Palm Beach.
  3. Day Three: West Palm Beach to downtown Fort Lauderdale.
  4. Day Four: Bicycle early to Fort Lauderdale airport for 10:40 AM flight home.

I biked from the airport to the south, just the other side of the runway. I crossed a canal into the neighborhood/town of Dania Beach. Both Broward and Dade counties together have many dozens of municipalities. It is really all one continuous city starting in Palm Beach down a hundred miles to where farms and the Everglades begin south of Miami.  But the names of the “towns” change constantly.

Before about 1900 there was essentially nothing here but swamps.    Almost everything here is new, some of it shiny.  I cycled through older neighborhoods on the west side of Biscayne Bay.  By  Miami area standards these places are old enough to be called historic.

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There were school kids walking around.

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In a stiff headwind I crossed the Broad Causeway to the barrier island that is Miami Beach.

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Even before I got to the Art Deco architecture of South Beach, there were all sorts of cool buildings to look at.

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I got down to South Beach just before dark,  stopping on Lincoln Road Mall to get an ice cream and watch the world go by.

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I was worried about high hotel prices, but at least on a Monday night I could stay in this place for less than a hundred dollars total.

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Restaurants can be expensive and pretentious down here, but I found this small family Italian place on Yelp and ate outside.

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There was delicious octopus.   South Beach is an extremely international place; hardly anyone fits the mold of what most of us think of as Typical White American.  I sat next to an actual Italian guy, a graduate student from near Bologna who is currently studying in England   We talked about food and he bitched about England (the people, the food, the weather).   He admitted he could not keep himself from eating Italian, even when visiting here in America.   He also got the octopus and liked it.

The next morning I rode around South Miami Beach looking at the architecture,

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before crossing the MacArthur Causeway to downtown Miami.  Miami Beach has decent bicycle lanes.

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I biked through the north of downtown into the newer Design District, then to Little Haiti.

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I turned around and rode back through all of downtown Miami, looking for the Rickenbacker Causeway, which heads to Virginia Key and ultimately Key Biscayne.   The causeway had a bike path.

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On Virginia Key I wanted to see and photograph Miami Marine Stadium, an impressive piece of modernism built in 1963 and designed by a 28 year old recent Cuban immigrant architect named Hilario Candela.  It was to host powerboat racing and water skiing shows.  Covered in graffiti, it has been abandoned since 1992 but people are still fascinated by it.  After I entered the parking lot, I was approached by a very cordial security guard with a Haitian accent.  He said people came up to him frequently trying to photograph this stadium.   His instructions were to keep people out.   He even said that I was not supposed to photograph it from a distance!   It was too late for him, I had already had taken the picture, although only of the back of the stadium.

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From Google Images this is the picture that I wanted to have taken, although in hindsight I really would have needed a boat.

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I biked back to the mainland and downtown Miami, then turned southwest towards Coral Cables.  Cycling through older neighborhoods, this former planned community from the 1920’s now has tree lined streets that remind me of New Orleans.

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I then headed north and west from Coral Gables toward the Miami Airport and thereafter the Tri-Rail station in Hialeah.   I weaved through miles of streets lined with older stucco tract housing.

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Tri-Rail was fine; $6.90 for the almost two hour ride north to West Palm Beach and you can wheel your bicycle right on the train.   I got a seat just after I boarded but by a couple stops later the train was standing room only with an impressively multicultural clientele.

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I got off the train near downtown West Palm Beach and biked south a couple miles to a hotel I had reserved the day before.  I ate across the street at a sushi restaurant in a small strip mall.  In contrast to Miami, West Palm Beach felt much less multicultural, even when sitting at a sushi bar listening to the sushi chef (who had on a Japanese hachimaki headband) talk Thai with a customer.

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The people behind me were having a loud discussion about religion, centering on “grace.”   I  realized I really did not exactly know what that word meant.   On my phone I looked up the word on Wikipedia.  The meaning of that word has inspired much discussion over the centuries, sometimes even conflict.

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The next morning I set out.  It was about fifty miles south to downtown Fort Lauderdale.   I biked through country clubbish neighborhoods of the southern part of West Palm Beach.

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Across the bay on the barrier island that is Palm Beach things were even more opulent.

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At Southern Boulevard I crossed the bridge over to the Palm Beach side just to check up on Mar-A-Lago and see if The Donald was lurking around.     I did not see any Secret Service so I stopped by the back gate and took a photo.

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Back on the mainland side of the bay, bicycling south, once you cross the line into the town of Lake Worth the area becomes much more working class, but maybe more colorful.

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South of Boca Raton I rode along the beach with almost continuous high rises.

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I had wanted to stay that night in downtown Fort Lauderdale but downtown hotels were expensive.   I booked the only Airbnb I could find near downtown.   It was memorable.

I got there about five in the afternoon.  It is in a transitioning area, a mostly African-American neighborhood being taken over by the construction of mid and high rise upscale condos.   Two artists live in this house and rent their spare bedroom on Airbnb.

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They were a friendly young couple.   They showed me their art, which they say is all a collaboration between the two of them.  Among several types of projects, they choose women whose bodies they admire and then try to convince them to let them take plaster casts of their torsos.   They then cast the torsos in ceramic and frame it.   They really like women with breast implants.

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That night I walked over to an informal restaurant in a strip mall that served delicious poke, which I learned is a Hawaiian dish of rice covered with marinated raw fish, vegetables, and a sweet soy based sauce, sort of like a large serving of disassembled sushi.

I left the house at seven-thirty the next morning.  I rode through older neighborhoods south of downtown just as it was getting light outside.

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I biked up to the airport before eight-thirty in the morning.

 

I drove from Chapel Hill to see Mom and my sisters and nieces in Virginia Beach, and found time to park the car in downtown Norfolk, take out the bicycle and bike around Norfolk on a cold afternoon in late December.

Biking around downtown, I could see that Norfolk is still recovering from being essentially torn down by the government in “redevelopment” during the 1950’s and 1960’s.   The modernist skyscrapers of the 1960’s are now looking for their next life; the former Virginia National Bank building (later bought out by Bank of America) was the tallest building in Virginia when it was built in 1967.    They were taking the letters off the building;  the signs say they are converting the building to apartments.

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My Dad was from Norfolk, born in 1911.  Until he was thirty years old he mostly lived at his parent’s house at 608 Redgate Avenue, Ghent, Norfolk.    He told told me that once, on a dare, he had driven his sister’s Model A Ford through Selden Arcade, all the way through to the street on the other side.

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But Dad said he always felt he was somehow different.   He told me that sometime in the late 1930’s, after he had spent six months traveling around Spain,  he was pretty much the only person in all of Norfolk who spoke Spanish.   In the early 1950’s he and my Mom moved around the United States trying to get a graduate degree, but just after I was born in 1955 he moved from Colorado with his new family back to the Norfolk area, in Virginia Beach.

If Norfolk would just try a little harder, bicycle commuting would be a complete natural.   It is relatively dense and as the land is as flat as Amsterdam.  I doubt it is much more than a mile by bicycle from the center of downtown to 608 Redgate Avenue, the house my grandparents bought in about 1908 and lived in until they moved to Virginia Beach in 1946.   It looks completely unchanged.

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Here is my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather sitting on that porch, about 1916.

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If you ever come here be sure to pronounce the place correctly. This license plate tells it all.

 

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I biked around for another hour of so, going as far as the waterfront in Larchmont, near the Hampton Boulevard bridge.

The New York Times keeps running articles describing Norfolk as ground zero of the effects of rising sea levels caused by global warming.    The most expensive residential real estate is waterfront; streets that dead end on a beautiful view.    These lots were usually built by filling in former swamps.   Contrary to the situation in New Orleans, in Norfolk it is the rich people that frequently face the worst flooding.     Still, it was all nice this December afternoon.

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