Biking Duval

By Richard Boettger

Last week your elderly bicycler reported on the adventure of biking North Roosevelt, including both Hawkeye crosswalks and the frisson of sharing the esplanade with scooters and motorized bikes.  Today we head in the other direction, from The Meadows downtown.

Along the lines of my getting to be a happy-time reporter in my golden years, I have nothing but good things to say about the Joy of Biking.  And I’m going to try to sweet-talk some of you into getting out of your cars and buying a bike to get around on. First, it takes only 10 minutes to bike from near Bayview Park all the way downtown.  We still get to use the cemetery to ride through, as Judge Jones decreed a decade ago.  The rest of the ride is past the Old Town conch cottages that make Key West’s architecture as beautiful as any town’s in the world.

It’s safe and easy to take the bike paths on Southard down and Fleming back.  I don’t know how anyone runs into a car door opening, as you’d be able to see anyone parking as you approached from the rear, and be able to anticipate their getting out of their car without checking their rear-view mirrors—even I don’t—before opening the door.

Downtown, I usually take the local’s secret passageway through the Bight on Lazy Way, behind Schooner Wharf.  There is rarely a car to be seen on the side streets, and never on Lazy Way.  From there, I take Simonton for a quick peek at the increasing number of beach goers at the end of newly repaved Simonton.

From tiny Simonton Beach, it’s back to Front down to Duval, a jog right to Wall Street with it’s ancient paver bricks, and through the parking lot to Mallory Square.  If it’s full of people, it’s nice of you to walk your bike, but it is usually the wide-open spaces in mid-day, so somehow—this is on you, bike or walk—get to the bridge past the backside of the Aquarium past a big newly named resort on your way to Pier B.  Note you are on our glorious Gulf waters, dotted with islands, all the way along these piers.

Instead of biking toward Pier B, turn left, and now you have a choice to make.  Either 1] go through the parking lot behind the Hyatt to the Little White House, and thus through Truman Annex, past the water park, and on to Fort Zach, or 2] return to Duval via Front, past the Customs House to Greene.  Then enjoy another very different Key West bike ride, away from the water, but instead swimming through a sea of happy tourists.  Right as Greene hits Duval, I imagine what it is like for them to see Captain Tony’s and Sloppy Joe’s for the first time.  I don’t even like bars, and I think they’re a hoot.

The crowds are of two types: if a cheap cruise ship is in town, there’s a lot of fat folks.  Otherwise, dang, it makes me feel ugly to see all of the beautiful people who come visit us.  And how do they afford it, at their average age of what looks like 35?  I wasn’t spending $400/night at that age.  Our bars and shops are a good sight all the way bottom to top of Duval.  The much maligned obscene t-shirt shops are in such decline I perk up to see one, like seeing a barracuda at Zach, hardly any of those left anymore either.

Dear Readers, almost all locals I presume, we can’t let the tourists have more fun!  Somehow we have made a lot of right decisions to live here, and we have got to enjoy our magical paradise in all of its manifestations, which means everything from snorkel trips to the reef  to a Sloppy Joe sandwich at Sloppy’s once in a while.  And at least once a year go to Mallory for the Sunset celebration.  Even if you grow too old and fuddy-duddy like me to enjoy Fantasy Fest any more (not even the Locals’ Parade, sigh), you have to get out and about. If I can do it as a run-over wreck at 73, anyone can.

Okay, back to the end of Duval, it’s up South Street and a meander past Louie’s Backyard to the Atlantic behind Casa Marina.  Higgs Beach, the volleyball players there, past West Martello, and then I make my way back home across town any number of ways.  All of them safe for my big fat slow old bike.

A separate trip I am almost ashamed to write about is simply along South Roosevelt, like riding on the very ocean itself.  Ashamed, because I lived here for ten years on my bike before I biked the most glorious esplanade in the U.S, if not the world (Venice Beach’s bike path is too far from the Pacific, though their Muscle Beach is quite a sight).  I bike it practicing my songs at the top of my lungs, harmless in the sound of the surf.  But any way you do it, …aw, damn…tell me again, how did we get to live here?

So: next column, anything but biking.  I’ve said more than I have to say.

Footnote to my previous column:

A reader asked what happened to the person who ran me down while I was legally crossing North Roosevelt at Key Plaza.  It is a remarkable story, starting with…almost nothing.  At first, it really was nothing except fixing her car after she ran out of control and crashed into the Marriott sign.  Turns out the first cop on the scene was a junior minority member I’d bet the same brand as the young and I’m guessing cute lady driver and her lady passenger.  He saw a probably dead geezer being airlifted to Miami for last rites and gave the gals a break.  He wrote up the accident as though I had attacked their car with my bike!  No kidding.  I’m not even mad about it.  If I’d died, no need to ruin their lives too, and actually kind of funny.

Well, when the geezer popped out of it and arrived live at Jackson, they sent a more senior officer to actually interview the witnesses, which were, luckily those EMT’s in the car right in front of me I owe my life to.  Then they wrote it up accurately—but, by law, all the driver got was a “failure to yield the right of way,” I was told, around an $80 ticket.  That’s all.

Seeing as I was happy to even be alive, and young minority members are rarely worth suing unless you want revenge, I didn’t even get a lawyer to go after her.  Lucky me!  It turns out, if you get a lawyer, my car insurer won’t bother to deal with you.  But without a lawyer, GEICO sent a nice lady to talk to me at my house for a half hour or so.  Then, surprise, I got a call from GEICO a few weeks later: “We’ve decided to give you the maximum for an uninsured motorist under your policy, $300,000.”  There was the usual kind of complications of running it by my VA because they were mostly picking up the bills for my recovery, but that is pretty much what I got.  And I didn’t even apply for it.  I always thought it was just car insurance for car accidents, not covering my bike.

Of course, I’d give that much back doubled not to have been hit, but $300k is nothing to sneeze at.  A lot of my friends had 80,000 reasons to be glad I got it.