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Supporting appealmobile on his world travels

Friday, 17 March 2017

The US - Cuba Adventure (Part 1 San Francisco - Florida)

As you know I came to the US with the intention of buying and riding a bike on either side of a trip over to Cuba. It was a far cry from my original intention to ride the coast of South America, but in an attempt to get there by the cheapest flights, found myself arriving in California with no cheaper alternative to Lima, than I had originally discovered from Europe. Now I wouldn't call it a cluster f**k of events from there on in, but things never worked out as I intended, to say the least and while it was disappointing, it has been quite an experience with some downs and many ups, like meeting up with friends from back home and friends I had made on facebook, who insisted that I call in for a bed and a beer, in LA, Austin and Miami.
First stop in SF with Steve with a couple of the dogs on the beach. Really like this shot

I arrived at a FB friends Steve and Annie in San Francisco who I had never met before, but knew from a Spanish learning website from years ago. They lived in a part of SanFrancisco I had never seen before, but was a really friendly area off the southern end of Mission. Steve, who was originally from Texas with one of those deep warm Texan voices, was a photo copier technician until some years ago, when redundancy opened up an opportunity to do what he really liked doing, dog walking. He now runs a dog walking and minding service that sees him walking up to six dogs both morning and afternoon. Annie was from the East coast and retired from teaching to supplement the business by walking dogs too. Steve's other talents was playing the slide guitar and singing as the video below shows, and it was great to spend some time getting to find out more about him. Unfortunately I arrived on the day Trump was elected which with Steve and Annie's political persuasions put a damper on the arrival somewhat. Meeting Steve though in the flesh was special though. It felt like I had found a brother I didn't know about. My dad must have had a good bike is all I can say really.

 Below - Steve trying to sort out a song he knows to his style

 I immediately set about finding a cheap motorbike, which was proving more difficult than I thought, due partly to the registration processes and documentation, but also finding an affordable bike in good enough condition. I was about to give up finding one, but a Honda Ascot 500 VT Ascot presented itself at $500 which I purchased after a search to make sure it was clean legally, i.e., not scrapped or stolen. It wasn't registered either and with no plates and I wasn't in the mood to chance being stopped riding it back to Steve and Annie's by the cops so arranged to truck it back. Although I made a search on the legality of the bike, it did not include registration penalties and it was only after checking what the fees were for registration for my bike on the DMV Californian web site, that I discovered, it hadn't been registered for the last five years and I was confronted by a $650 bill to register it. The new owner is responsible for all penalties, such as unpaid tolls, parking fines and non registration penalties, which at $650 I couldn't manage, as I still had some parts to buy to make it good. I eventually ran out of time to sort the bike out for a departure and ride to Florida, where I was going to store it at my friends in Miami until I returned from Cuba to continue my ride. I instead made a quick search of the internet for a 'driveaway' car/van delivery, where you effectively have the use of a car that you agree to deliver to another location, within a mileage and time stipulation and found one that needed delivering from Seattle to Jacksonville Florida. It was a ten day span which was quite manageable so after organising with the company bought a Greyhound ticket to Seattle, then booked a storage spot for the bike on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay and bussed it up to Seattle to do the 'driveaway' to Jacksonville.

The deal is you pay $300 deposit and pay for fuel yourself, but I had 10 days to drive to Florida and visit my friends on route, as well as visit New Orleans. Unfortunately things went wrong while on the bus, due to Wifi failing. I had asked for an address of the pick up before leaving, but the guy insisted on telling me nearer my arrival time. I had told him I was arriving that Thursday at 2pm in down town Seattle and was aware that I had till 5pm to pick up the van, before the guy in the office left for a long weekend. My phone was still on an English SIM and the only means of communication was by e-mail, which became impossible when the wifi failed on the Greyhound in mid journey. It was a case of finding wifi at a cafe to contact the guy for the address only to find a mail telling me he had waited at the airport for me and had given up and was returning to the office. The following mails resulted in him telling me to get a taxi out there, which I abandoned after half a mile, when I found out the cost was $75. Without any regard for my situation, the guy closed the office and left for his long weekend and I was left stuck in Seattle for four days and nights. I settled in the airport for two nights before being evicted and with the cold of Seattle finished up paying $80 for a hostel. However I did have a couple of nights in a really rough bar near the stadium which had great music, so not all was bad. I was irritated though, to find out I had passed his office at 1.30pm that Thursday and could have got off the bus quite close to the office, if he had only given me the address and could have arrived for the car at 2 pm. I then found out that there was a local bus service direct to his office with no stops and at a cost of of only $2. I decided to keep my calm and just get out there as early as I could on the Monday and set off, as I now only had six days to get to Jacksonville. I then learned from Steve, that the guy who was transporting my bike to the storage, had called to tell me, that the storage had been cancelled. Frantic calls to a friend, Kevin who also lived in San Francisco resulted in the bike being placed in a rugby football ground to await my return from Cuba.

Seattle ferry stage on a wet Sunday

I eventually picked up the car at lunchtime and was off from Seattle, non stop, overnight, down to LA, except for an hour or twos sleep in the car and I got to LA for an evening of Guinness with Colin and his wife, before leaving the next day. Colin was a young lad I played football with back in Liverpool eight years ago. We were a supporters football team that played other supporters teams in a friendship and ambassadorial manner. Colin had finished his studies and located himself in the States as a kids football coach (soccer to Americans). I had hoped to spend a couple of nights down at the local drinking holes but mys shortened schedule restricted me to one night.

The van

 The Van to Florida If the drive down to LA was a long haul, the drive to my next stop was a marathon, only for the lack of interesting landscape. I was heading to Austin to visit a good friend, a scouser no less who lived north of Austin in Round Rock. Again it involved an overnight drive with an hour or two kipping in the car in New Mexico to watch the foundations of the wall being laid. While the trek across the Arizona desert was quite boring, the drive from New Mexico and especially across Texas was unexpectedly interesting. I had always imagined Texas as miles upon miles of nothing, but the landscape eventually gave way to rolling hills and more greenery than I was expecting.

the desert drive

Morning desert

And hours later
Prior to the fire
Tony scorching the grass before I scorched his ass

 I spent a couple of days with Tony and KD, his missus and managed to watch one of our games in the pub in Austin. Tony was originally from Liverpool and was a programmer who emigrated to San Francisco. Met his lovely wife and finished up in Texas. Tony is now undertaking two degrees in Creative writing and English, while KD, an actress is supporting him by delivering mail. Tony also has a great knowledge of US history and is of the same political persuasion as myself. After the game I had the pleasure of trying to set fire to my host after repairing an old sit and ride lawn mower. It hadn't run since being donated to them and as I was a mechanic I was charged with getting it running. I succeeded, but left the air filter off to test run it which, Tony obliged. Unfortunately after deciding it was fine, Tony switched off the engine, which backfired and ignited a weeping petrol pipe under the seat that Tony was sitting in. I have never seen anyone jump from a seating position and clear the steering wheel by at least four feet before. The event became the butt (pun intended) of quite a few jokes that evening.

The following day I was off again to Jacksonville with a brief stop in the evening to see New Orleans. Unfortunately it was late Sunday evening and not much happening, music wise, so I continued on to Jacksonville non stop again overnight. The guy in Seattle had given me the wrong zip code on the delivery address and I couldn't find the guy the car was to be delivered to. I was frustrated as I had made good time so I could finalise the deal and get my deposit back. I slept in the car that night while waiting for the Seattle office to put me right, but again I was at the mercy of finding wifi facilities to send e-mail and then wait for a response. Eventually I received the correct Zip code and was out there in the morning to deliver the van. I was relieved when I picked the van up in Seattle, to see a ban the bomb sticker on the fender, knowing that the people I was delivering it for, where on my side of life. But I wasn't prepared for what kind of people I would be delivering it too and connections to the last time I was out in the States. The address was out in the woods and was the remnants of a farm of the guys parents. He wasn't home when I arrived as warned when I confirmed delivery with them, so had time to wander around the location, until he arrived back.

The Quakers House in the woods

 It was one of those old detached properties with barns and buildings dotted about. The guy was a Quaker and while he was preparing me a sandwich for lunch, told me a lot about the Quaker life style. His daughter lived on the same land in a caravan and wanted to meet me before I went back to downtown Jacksonvillle. I was offered a lift down town and his daughter joined us and it was during conversation, I discovered she was a member of the peace movement there and was a host to a group of anti nuclear weapons marchers, who marched across the states more than 30 years ago. It was a march that I was invited to go on, marching from LA to Washington, over nine months. I couldn't go and gave the invitation to the mother of my future daughter, Jac. It was very satisfying to discover all these connections and also to meet such peace loving people. I never mentioned to them that I would be hanging around Jacksonville for a couple of nights, roughing it out, till my deposit was returned to my account, as it might have seemed that I was looking for some extra recompense for the delivery of the van, so asked them to drop me at the Greyhound bus station. I spent two days, desperately waiting for my deposit to arrive in my account so I could get a bus ticket to Miami and a couple of nights with Bill, another LFC supporting friend.

I had a nightmare with using my Visa card on the trip with some garages accepting it and others not and in addition my bank was holding back money and then releasing it again days later. The same had happened at the beginning of that week and my ticket money was not to be accessed and with the delay in my deposit returning, I had to borrow from my daughter back home, to buy a bus ticket. My funds had also been completely exhausted with the costs involved with the driveaway which was more expensive than I thought it would be.

 Having an afternoon beer in Jacksonville on a very pleasant day 

I got to Bills, a Scot who is statistician and professor in the University there and spent a couple of nights with him and his wife, talking about Rugby which Bill was a player of, watched a game and then found my man in Seattle had made a cock up in the return of my deposit, which meant I couldn't buy my 'out' flight from Cuba. I was also worried I wasn't allowed to travel to Cuba, from things I had read on the internet. I clarified that with the airline, when arriving in Miami and had the all clear, but on the Monday when my deposit eventually cleared, the airline wanted $250 for the return flight. I was at the check in waiting to go, but immediately conceded the flight and returned to Miami where I moved in with the homeless on the street for a week, while my daughter got me a return flight to Cuba from Fort Lauderdale, for a mere $160 return.

My good friend Eugene. Caretaker of the patch

 When I talk about living on the street with the homeless in Miami, my friends get very concerned. I need to clarify that, homeless in the states is a different kettle of fich than other countries. There are many categories of people who are homelss as I'm sure there are at home and other places in Europe. I first stayed alone finding quiet places where I would be undetected, but eventually found a group of people on first street. Gene was a guy who welcomed me to 'his' little district, which was undercover. Gene had a wife who had fallen ill and mistreated for a wrong diagnosis and eventually suffered a stroke due to the misdiagnosis. Gene had cared for her and eventually lost his job as a chef, due to taking to much time off to care for her, lost their home and now the both sleep out every night. His wife is barely able to walk and can only move with a walker, which Gene occupies while she lies at his side at the end of a day that sees him volunteering at the mission in preparing meals for other homeless.

These guys, father and son have a gas station and brought food out regularly to the homeless

The other 'residents are workers who have fallen on hard times, but are still working and usually on minimum wage. Gene prides himself on keeping this end of the street clean, as opposed to others who have lost it altogether in their own particular situations. Yes the guys there can afford a beer or two from the liquor store but are decent people who share amongst themselves what little they have. I have to say I was honoured and privileged to meet and know these most wonderful people, who I returned to when I landed back in Florida after Cuba.

 A view from the monorail car on the way to my IPA session 

Miami was not a place I thought I would feel at home in, but I found myself totally at home. I had only known Miami as the place with all the beaches, but I settled in downtown Miami and found it a small and interesting city. I'm sure if I was a working person and trying to exist there I would have a completely different perspective, but my situation led me to find all the affordable ways of existing on a low budget. I found a sushi restaurant that had a good IPA @ $4 during happy hour and quickly freinded the staff, who were from various parts of South America. I felt quite colonial arriving at 4pm to have my table cleared of cutlery and napkins, leaving me with a clear table, except for my ashtray. I would sit there for my civilised two hour duration, watching the construction of an office block opposite and the various characters who walked past. The rest of the time I spent at small hole in the wall coffee shops drinking a colada (5 espressos in one cup) @ 41.30 and a spinach empanada @$1.20. Library was essential for wifi and a wash and change. I did some reading there and was astounded to only find one book in the main library that was connected to US- Cuba relations post revolution. It was a good book though and not as biased as I expected it to be. I eventually moved up to Fort Lauderdale in preparation for my flight out and yes passed Trump Tower while on the bus. I will say nothing about my feelings as I saw this monstrosity of a building though and was glad to arrive two nights ahead of my flight to Cuba. It had been one incredible month of not knowing what issue I would have to deal with next.

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