Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The best grocery store on the planet. (feat. $2.89 wine.)

I'm calling out Aldi by name. I thought it was a discount overstock grocery store. It is not. They have their own brands of excellent actual food. The prices are correct as hell. I had to take Lisa's word for it. This is where she stocks up on supplies. I hadn't been to an Aldi in more than ten years. Their game has evolved considerably.

I bought quinoa of several sorts, and an assortment of beans and rice. I got staples like tortillas, olive oil, and avocados. And let me tell you about the wine: I bought twelve bottles of Aldi's house brand wine for $2.89 each. The brand name is "Winking Owl." I tried out one first, and I was impressed. I was impressed with the price, but as a bonus it actually tastes good too. It goes for ten cents less than Walmart's budget offering, and is more enjoyable to look at and drink. You know what that means: time to load up and get loaded. Time to buy in quantity and toast to success.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Meeting on the Appalachian Trail.

We were all headed north. Jonas and I arrived at the Nantahala Outdoor Center on October 17th. This is an oasis on the Appalachian Trail. Lisa arrived hours later, and was invited by Justin to dine with our group. Justin and Mike were two hikers we'd already met. The entire lot of us took up a table until late.

I noticed immediately that Lisa is specifically extra cool. As we talked, our facts and opinions meshed well. Her attitude and interests were exactly correct. Anybody hiking the entire trail alone is somewhat of an automatic badass. It takes five or six months for most people, which is a lot of time in the woods. I didn't know it at the time, but she made an alcohol stove from a soda can, which has been part of her equipment for more than ten years. It's a small detail, but a badass one. Yes, she is definitely cool.

I let her borrow my shower card. All of us dudes paid to stay in a bunkhouse. Lisa was sleeping down by the river for free. Any traveler can usually use a shower. So I used my card to let her in.

We hung out on the porch of the bunkhouse for a couple hours. We talked and became friends. I told Lisa about my book business and gave her my phone number. I told her to text me when she got home if she was really interested - and I'd explain how to get started with doing the job I hired myself for.

She did text; we did talk. It was helpful to me because I was lonely at the time. I wanted to talk to friends, and it was great to have a new one to type at.

Now we met again in person. We are working on business a little bit, but leaving plenty of time to have fun.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sleeping inside for awhile.

My van is parked in the driveway. Me and Lisa are hanging out in a big empty house. The house is for sale, but it hasn't sold yet. We are making it less dormant for the next week or so. We are cooking food there, and I brought in a truckload of wine.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

It's Saturday. How about disc golf?

Disc golf is a sport I can handle. Throwing some discs at a circle of chains can be fun - especially when you ignore the scoring and par. I'm bad at disc golf. Darn bad, in fact. None of this decreased my enjoyment of hanging out on the course.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Visiting new friends in Georgia.

I like typing. If you text me, I'll chat. Writing is my preferred medium. I miss chatrooms. I miss Instant Messenger, and when people used to communicate on that.

I guess now there's Facebook chat. I've learned what that's all about. I've been talking to Lisa using Facebook chat, and that seems to work well. Now I'm visiting in person. That's what you do when you make new friends.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A much better reception.

"We don't know you, bro..."

This guy fucking hated me. I showed up in his driveway after 11pm, and rang his doorbell because I thought it was the correct house.

"There's nobody named Chris here dude." What a moron this guy was turning out to be.

"No." I corrected him. "My name is Chris." I spoke slowly, and indicated myself as I explained. "Clearly I have the wrong address. Give me one second and I will amend this situation."

This guy was dumb as a rock. If my intent was to create havoc, why would I park in the driveway and knock? This idiot would be very suspicious of a wrong number. I tried to ignore his stupid dumbfounded face as I rechecked the address.

He did not like my van or the way I looked. He didn't like how I spoke or sounded. I feel absolutely certain of that. I have no idea what he thought I was trying to pull. He stood at his front door glaring at me as I stepped back to the van and looked at my phone.

Two houses over. That's where I was supposed to be. Not in this fuckface's tiny driveway. Not in this man's dumbass stare.

I pulled in two houses over two seconds later. I arrived to a much warmer reception over there.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Sebring Florida

I heard a lot of talk about Sebring, Florida. Old Florida. The highlands. I decided to take a look.

I pointed my house and my van up the center of the state. My happiness remained at a rolling boil.

Sebring Florida looks like a homogenized vestige of earlier times. The word for Sebring is "quaint." The town is arranged in a circular pattern with a park at the center. I inserted myself in the park, and laid upside down and sideways all over every bench. I felt like a distracted extra in that movie The Truman Show. I crossed my legs over the back of a pristine bench and yammered and joked on my phone. I stretched and shifted and let the sun warm my skin.

I could exist like this indefinitely. I could almost ask time to slow down. But when the moment comes, I know how to float. I cooked my three eggs and did that. I listened to music while I drove, and arrived in the suburbs of Atlanta late.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Leaving Key West for the year.

My plan was to sleep at my usual spot and cruise away from the island in the morning. The island has been heaven this year. I know the future happens at the rate of time passing, but I have felt enclosed in a safe and comfortable bubble for a month. I feel stronger by far than when I arrived. I am afraid to break the spell. I feel compelled to stand up and march forward. I will burst the bubble and attempt to continue toward the unknown with grace and a semblance of aplomb.

I didn't like my goodbyes. I skipped a couple people, and didn't issue the correct number of hugs. I was glad to get an early phone call from Eddie. He called before I had a chance to disappear.

I returned one last time to the Gypsy Village. One last time for this year. I spoke to the people I wanted to see. I had a final coffee and breakfast. I wished my friends goodbye. We exchanged some information. I received the hugs I was looking for. Between last night and today's well wishes, I feel ready to move on.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Planning to leave the island.

I'm leaving Key West. I'm leaving before I'm completely mentally ready. I've been here for a month, and I have new locations and ideas to explore. I am headed to the suburbs south of Atlanta to meet up with a girl I've been texting with. Then I'm going to New Orleans to see what music sounds like.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Super Frugal Food Plan to be Cheap in Key West

My goal for Key West has been to thrive and improve. I am happy, and that is what matters. That is my number one priority for life. I'm making changes that I believe will help me succeed in the most direct and appropriate ways for myself. I don't like spending money, and I don't want to eat junk. It's difficult to explain or even understand why I was previously doing so much of both.

I wake up most days, and head to the grocery store. This also my bathroom - I go first thing while still waking up. For bonus points, I bring wet wipes in my pocket, because the toilet paper is narrow and harsh. After this, I focus on acquiring staples. I do not have refrigeration, so I shop on most days, and log every purchase on my phone using a spreadsheet.

North to South through Winn Dixie:

What I buy first is eggs if I'm out. I eat three every day, so I buy six or twelve, depending on whether they are eighty cents or more than a dollar - they fluctuate. Eggs do not need to stay cold.

On some days I get a yogurt. I choose Fage Greek plain, because every other option seems to have a percentage or horsebones or horseshit. I bought flax seeds and rolled oats early in the month - those items last and last.

Continuing along the aisles, I get beans if I need them. Seventy cents per can is when I stock up. I get pintos, chickpeas, and sometimes chili beans. I'm on my second bag of dry red lentils. I ran out of quinoa, so now I get rice. I get it for seventy cents per bag of the store brand stuff which cooks in twenty-five minutes. I get corn tortillas in packs of eighteen. That costs a dollar and nineteen cents. These are the items I eat at night.

All of the aisles after this are packed full of bullshit. Unless I need oil or hot sauce, I proceed to the wine. You can get three bottles for ten dollars. Those are the bottles I choose. I switched from white to red for antioxidants and less acidity. But to be self aware, I'm just poisoning myself on cheap booze here - but at least I wait until night.

Next, I move to the produce. My favorite is avocado. I get one for a dollar, or two when they hit sixty cents. I might get a navel orange for a dollar. I've gotten a couple cubes of sprouts since getting here, which has always cost an even two bucks. I buy hummus for the sprouts, and stuff both in a pita. That's two-fifty and one-sixty-nine respectively.

My Parking Spot Near the White Street Pier:

Almost every day, I cook three eggs. I use oil before and after. It makes cleaning easy and adds a measure of heft. Satisfaction lasts at least several hours.

Sometimes I opt for oats and flax seeds on yogurt. I used to use the oats dry, but now I cook them a tiny amount. They mix better, taste better, digest better this way. It takes about one minute to soften them up. I put the oats in a bowl, heap on some flax seeds, and dump yogurt on with a spoon. Portions do not matter. For the next many hours, I feel full.

After one of these breakfasts, I'm on an even keel for any needed number of hours. When I need something more, I eat an avocado or some almonds. Peeling an orange goes well with sunset. After sunset, I most typically will move my van.

A Night at Home, or a Little Adventure:

I re-park at my spot near the center of the island. I open a bottle of wine with a multi-tool corkscrew. I sip a third of it while I cook rice. I add beans toward the end, or lentils instead. I turn off the stove a minute or two before it's done. I pour in more oil to make it more delicious, and also for calories and clean-burning fat. I have one shaker of seasoning that is a mixture of spices, and I use this on literally everything.

On occasion after parking, I will switch to a bicycle, and pedal downtown to happy hour. I get a margarita for three-fifty then switch to beers, and have as many at two bucks as I want. I order wings out of habit, which has proven to be a mistake. Every time I go, they are a little bit worse. Last time they rattled around on the plate. Especially at the cost of five-ninety-five, I begin missing my rice and lentils.

Some nights I get other invitations. I've had stone crab and fish and platters and soup. I consider these a special bonus. I am happy eating simple and cheap. This has been a month where I try to learn how. I have improvements and refinements planned for the future. I am completely satisfied at present.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

How to be Cheap in Key West

I've been on the island for two days shy of one month. I've eliminated an enormous amount of frivolous spending. I've kept track of each purchase on a spreadsheet. What I used to consider frugal has been cut more than in half. I've gone a hair over $500 in spending. That figure includes all of my food, entertainment, and gas. I am not including business expenses. I am speaking of personal expenses which lifestyle choices control.

I have everything I need. My wants are coming into clear focus. I live in a van, so I don't pay rent. I ride a bicycle, so I only needed one tank of gas. I drank wine out of a jar, and I cooked lots of rice. I loaned my friend twenty bucks, but he paid me back.

I could save more money with access to refrigeration or buying in bulk. I could cook better food if I wasn't slightly stupid. I do not feel concerned about those things. I am happy to improve at the slowest of paces. I am happy and healthy. Awake and alive.

Budgeting this month was a project and a challenge. I loved it, so I'm not going to stop. Living in Key West is universally assumed to cost an arm and a leg - but my low spending even includes some happy hour expenses. It would be simple to cut that out. This is a tropical island, where it is legal to sit down and drink on the sidewalk, or under a canopy of trees. With these stats who needs a bar?

I didn't buy anything wasteful. I considered each dollar carefully before it was spent. I bought two coffees at Starbucks, which was to ensure I'd be welcome to sit inside for twelve hours. The rest of my coffee was french press in the van. I didn't buy a single sandwich or prepared meal. I bought wings at a bar, and they were increasingly lamentable, getting progressively worse every time.

I had fun. I met other people who like to go dirtbagging. Sometimes we cooked and shared food. A gang of us went to a show at the Parrot. I drank wine across the street under a majestic old tree, then reinserted myself into the bar to dance. I ran out of wine, and began to sober up, until Clay played the hero and got everyone high. On nights like these, none of us spent a dollar. We stayed out late and had fun.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The stealthiest vehicle-dwelling setup I've seen.

I met a new vehicle dweller today. He lives in a Jeep. No matter how closely you scrutinize his setup, you simply cannot tell anybody sleeps in there. He built a box behind the passenger seat. If you open a plywood cabinet door, there is a bed inside. Until he actually holds this open to show you the bed, you would only see a Jeep with some tool storage in the back.

This guy is clean cut and young. He wears fresh crisp clothing and a grin. He is invisible.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Loving Bicycles Will Conquer The Planet.

The best bicycle for you depends on your needs. I want the one that I love. It needs to be cheap and amusing. It needs to be comfortable and robust. It needs to have components which are compatible with long-term industry standards. I need a frame which could not be dented with a jackhammer. My going rate is, say, twenty bucks...

When you go to new places, you need to take a bicycle with you. It needs to be easy to fit on any type of rack. It needs to be scratched up, so you never mind locking it - anywhere or to anything.

The best bicycle needs to go fast. It's okay if it takes a little bit longer to gain momentum, because all bicycles are fast once you get them to speed. Wide tires and fenders and storage are mandatory, so the bicycle you love will be heavier than all of the ones that you don't.

My bicycle lives outside. It needs lube on the chain, or technically a new chain, but I am in no sort of hurry for that. The chain is stretched, the cogs are fucked, and there is a bit of rust developing under the top tube. The middle chainring needs to be swapped out again - when you lean into the pedals, the chain seats with an audible click. This is an aspect not a problem. I have thousands of miles before anything slips.

I have a rack with a milk crate, which is held on with hoseclamps. Zip ties hold the fenders together everywhere they've cracked. I have a double thick layer of handlebar tape wrapped on top of some old sticky grips. I have wide pedals, and a ten-year-old Brooks, because I am unwilling to compromise on comfort.

When you see me or my bicycle, you do not feel impressed very much. But we are in love, so leave us alone, as we slowly take over the planet.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Always Blazin'

"Do you smoke wax?"

My battery was dead, because I listened to too much music again. I was jumping the starter battery from the house battery bank when a new vehicle dweller introduced himself. He was in his late forties, or maybe early fifties. He had a deep tan, and his skin showed wrinkles consistent more with long term sun exposure than age. He was smoking from a vaporizer.

Wax. I could guess what that meant.

"What's that? Some kind of concentrated shit or something?"

I tested my assumption. My assumption was confirmed. This man had an infectious smile. Everyone on this island seems happy. I have not encountered a single mopey fellow.

I explained that while I do like to smoke pot, I usually do so at night when I do not need to drive or make any decisions. It is for last minute relaxing, or any time I am partying and already parked for the night. Weed makes me feel nervous at most other times.

This man was family. He's been rolling with Rainbow Family since the 1970's. We talked for a long time about how Key West used to be decades ago. We talked about living in vehicles and how Key West is today.

"Well, if you see me, stop by" he told me. "I'm always blazin'" he said with a grin.

He is always blazing, I thought. I loved this statement. I believe it to be exactly true.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Universe Can Confuse Me To Death

I met God by the post office in the year of 2007. She introduced herself as God, and I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. God is a middle-aged Hatian woman. She has wild and distracting hair. Half of her head is a single dreadlock - the rest goes wherever it wants.

At the time I was drinking coke and whisky out of a Wendy’s cup. I was sitting on a low wall underneath a banyan tree. The time of day was late. Late late late. Music and boisterous yammering could be heard clearly from a block away. This spot, however, was quiet. There are no bars or strip clubs near this particular tree.

A few minutes earlier, I was picking up dog food. A heavy bag ripped down the side, and two sleepy travelers spilled a great deal on the sidewalk. The spill concerned and upset them, and I felt a duty to help.

“Look” I showed them, as I sat down on the sidewalk and began to sweep with my hands. “This is not a big deal. It’s easy to clean up, and you won’t lose much.” I lifted the kibble in big scoops, and put it into a grocery bag they had. Within a couple minutes, the food spill was completely contained. We all exchanged smiles, and I wished them luck. Unlike me, they didn’t yet have a place to sleep. Soon after they left, I met God.

God felt like I didn’t believe her. I told her I didn’t know anything. I’m just some guy standing and taking up space. She attempted to explain what she does in her capacity. I listened intently, but it quickly stopped making sense. She got frustrated with me and left. God turned out not to be all-powerful. She was a sczophrenic Hatian woman, I'm almost sure.

I saw God later in the Kmart. I used to use the restrooms there every morning. She would go there, I assume for the air conditioning, and stand perfectly still and transfixed by the wall of TVs. I would see her again in the parking lot. She wears heavy clothing and sits directly in the sun.

Our first conversation was nine years ago. Since she seemed to not like me at all, I respectfully give her space. She sits in the same parking lot. She still sits directly in the sun. Everything she owns is in two cloth shopping bags. Am I supposed to care at all about that, or even notice? The universe can confuse me death.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Meeting some old folks again at the bar.

I met an old couple and their little dog for the second time at the same bar. This is the only bar I go to, and only for happy hour once in awhile. I went and sat down with them, and they seemed surprised that I remembered them and remembered their names. They must be in their eighties or so. They speak slowly and sound classically southern. I can tell that they tried to dress down for the island, but their attire is still almost formal.

I think these two get a hoot out of me. We talked for a long time when we originally met. I was candid about my lifestyle. Take it or leave it, who cares, right? There was scant available seating on this occasion. Their little dog, Jenny, did not need her own seat, so that one was offered to me. Jenny was moved happily to a lap.

It's easy to meet people in Key West. That much is established. I was happy to talk about where I shit and shower. Where I park and sleep. How I make money, and what I believe. In turn they told me about themselves. Everybody shared and listened and drank.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Allowing myself to take control.

As a man, I'm too respectful to women. Being a gentleman is all well and good, but men need to make the first move. To me, this is an unwelcome responsibility. I am always second-guessing myself. I almost feel guilty for showing that I would like to have sex.

I am not good at pickup lines or smooth maneuvers. But I am good at faking confidence. I am good at seeming content. I believe that I tend to seem disinterested in sex. In many past cases, females have assumed that I'm gay. 

I am a good friend. I can be trusted with secrets. I can listen and give advice. 

I have never been sure how to detect the line where friendship meets casual romance. I have failed this many times. I am almost positive that I was supposed to put a hand on her legs. I also could have attempted a kiss. Instead, I remained aloof. I took a deep breath, and I held the moment dear.

I have tried my best to avoid being a predator of any sort. My actions are often an apology for my gender and its norms. But this is going to stop. I am a man, albeit a weird one, and I am allowed to take control.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Spending a day with The Kraken.

First, I arrived ungodly late at The Kraken's home where she was parked. She stays up to all hours, and I was sure she would not be asleep. First I was at happy hour, then at Eddie's boat for many additional beers. Next I arrived making bird noises. Knocking on a person's vehicle is jarring, and bird noises are my standard way to greet.

I was invited in with a smile, and enjoyed ridiculous banter while reinventing better ways to slouch. Everybody is interested in The Kraken. Her admirers are many, which gives me pause. I am also interested in more than just talking. But I will not be around much longer, and I like to repel all manner of complications and drama. I am happy and satisfied no matter what.

We are friends. I care about how she feels, and was genuinely surprised when she revealed she was less than perfectly happy. I felt sure that she owned the world. She does not. She has worries. I have had the same anxieties, but I am a little bit older, and I have considerably calmed my mind.

Today, I heard a light tapping on the side of my van. It was morning, and I opened the door to investigate. She was up late again, and hadn't gotten any sleep. She had stumbled across my van by pure accident, and decided to say hello.

I invited her in and we listened to music. I went about my usual business, while she spent many hours asleep on my bed. She wore a thin dress that would not stay in place. She wore nothing under the dress. I did not take this as a sign of interest. I merely observed this as a matter of fact. As much as I felt drawn to her, I also felt protective of her safety. I am safe, and I was happy she was here.

I kept my hands to myself. I allowed her to be comfortable and sleep. At night we watched a couple movies. I rested my head on her shoulder, and the evening was simple and nice. I did everything correctly. I went to sleep feeling slightly confused, but I wouldn't change a single thing.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Bicycles Go Slow in Key West, Except This One.

Bicycles in Key West are a fixture of the landscape. Even when they happen to be moving, they often seem fixed in place. The riding is slow, nobody wears helmets, and the percentage of tricycles is enormous. Trikes gained traction, I presume, because at these speeds, a bicycle will simply fall over. None of this means that bicycles are inadequate transportation. They are incredibly popular here for that use. Coaster brake hubs run bone dry for decades; baskets are a deteriorating matrix of rust. This speaks volumes about the power of bicycles. This has nothing to do with how I ride.

I was cruising down Roosevelt to go check out some music. I had a jar in my milk crate - formerly containing pickled beets - now in the service of red wine. Frugal and friendly, I rolled down the bicycle path, pretending to be slow and local. Then a golf cart passed on the roadway, and I could no longer be contained. So I stood up and pressed on the pedals. I gained momentum and jumped off the curb. I rocked the Hoopty with force as I cranked up the speed. I measured my timing and prepared my approach.

The golf cart contained a vacationing family. Mom and dad were up front, looking like tourists, and two daughters faced backwards behind. They were both in their teens - one younger, one older - and it appeared that they doubted my power.

I maxed out the middle ring, spinning furiously, then I sat down and shifted to big. I pulled my left bar-end shifter straight up to the stop, and lowered my cassette gears about two cogs. I was now in position to win. I was gliding at the pace of the golf cart - they had gained some distance, but their speed was topped out. That's when I stood up to pedal again. I was now gaining speed, and my cadence increased, and I pressed the right shifter down to the stop.

Now in top gear, I threw the Hoopty side to side and leaned out over the handlebars in full sprint. I was happy I thought to pad my jar-wine in a hoodie, because the sprint would have smashed the glass.

I quickly reached a speed that would overtake the golf cart. Now it was time to sit down and lean. I rested my forearms along the northroad handlebars, and gripped the curves gently with my fingertips. I pushed back on the seat and flattened my back. I lowered my head and became a rocket ship.

I was now gaining quickly, so I began to coast, and did not need to pedal for a considerable distance. I tucked in my knees, and became more aerodynamic, before lifting my head to see mildly alarmed girls. I came within fifteen feet of the golf cart, then ten, then five while still coasting. At this point I sat up and began to pedal, keeping pace easily with the dumb little car. I smiled and waved and the girls looked relieved, and waved back with big happy smiles.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Gathering stone crabs was today's mission.

“Kill Fish” popped up on my cellphone. My buddy uses texts both simple and direct.

First, I showed him how I sell books. Then I asked him to show me how he gets fish. He seemed to like this idea a lot. He employs several methods for getting food from the ocean and gulf. Spearfishing is his favorite. But I do not have a mask or a gun.

After receiving the message, I rode my bicycle to his boat. The entire operation took 25 minutes, which included cooking my breakfast and eating.

I used a toe strap from my milk crate to secure my Hoopty to the cleat on a piling. I thus secured my rig where the liveaboards are docked, and proceeded, stoned as fuck, to the boat.

This is the season for stone crabs. We would be going to get them. My friend fired up the boat's engines, and pointed us out toward his traps.

The traps look like milk crates with cement on the bottom. There is an opening on the side for the crabs to enter, but crabs are too stupid to find their way out. For bait you use chicken or cat food - for the latter you just poke a hole in the can. The cement keeps the trap on the bottom. The water of the gulf here is shallow - the traps can be seen a few feet below. A line is tied to the trap at one end, and extends to a styrofoam ball on the surface. You pull the boat up alongside the foam marker buoy, and use a hook to grab the line from below. You wrestle the trap from the water, and hope there are stone crabs inside.

One lesson learned is how strong these crabs are. The word on the street is that getting pinched fucking hurts. With this in mind, I was apprehensive about grabbing around in the traps.

If I were left on my own to assume, I'd think the object was to bring the crabs home. Not so. You rip the claws off in situ, and toss the crabs back into the water. That is, of course, if the claws measure 2 3/4 inches or more. There is a handy plastic gauge to help measure. Today we got some whoppers.

The crabs survive fine, and the claws grow back. I wrestled a few off, and that was intense. Big crabs fight hard, but once you're holding the claws, you are determined as hell to not lose your grip. In a couple of years the claw is big enough to be ripped off again, if the crab is unlucky enough to be caught twice. What a life. But the claws are super delicious.