Saturday, August 1, 2015

Exploring Brooksville - a pretty place with a racist history

It's your typical Summer weather pattern here in Florida, the rain was moving in off the Gulf coast and again I had to decide if riding was worth it.  The TV news blabbing about a 60 to 70% chance of rain.  Weather.com broke that chance down even further for me.  I could stay dry if I moved my ass and had a little luck.  If I was going to do this today, it would not be on Kimmie sadly.

My destination was Brooksville, Fl which lies about an hour north of me in Hernando county.  The roads in the area are twisty, the county is mostly rural which makes it one of the more popular destinations for riders in the area.  It has an annual Blueberry Festival in April that celebrates the area's agricultural roots.  I also learned that is also the geographical center of Florida although I could not find the exact spot anywhere on the map.
Confederate statue outside the courthouse.

It's a pretty city with roots dating back nearly 150 years.  It also has a violent racist history which sickened and interested me at the same time.  Brooksville was named in 1856 after Preston Brooks, a South Carolina Congressman whose claim to fame in the history books is that he beat a anti - slavery congressman with a cane on the Senate floor.  An act that may have indirectly lead to the Civil War. 
It also has a history of lynchings, of intolerance and trials.  

So here I am, riding a hour or so north to visit the courthouse.  To learn about how a deadly feud could erupt over interracial marriage (at a time when such things were simply not done), how the courthouse could "mysteriously" catch fire and destroy the evidence of the lynching that followed the death of a black Minister and former county commissioner.   How, for a brief time this county was lawless and filled with vigilantes called "regulators."
One of the old oaks dating back a few hundred years.

How a county of only 4,000 people at that time would have over 40 murders, many of which are still considered unsolved.  Many of the murders were related to race, but also included the death of a sheriff and two judges.  One of the area's sheriff's, W. D. Cobb, was even accused of killing two white men, one of whom was involved in a crime that Cobb supposedly took part in.  How and why this happened interested me although I still don't have an answer.


Two hotels were burned down during this period and house fires were common.  Even after justice was restored, Hernando county had the highest incidence of lynchings between 1900 and 1930, possibly second only to the entire state of Mississippi.  However those numbers are hard to come across, and frankly I'm not sure I want to.  

Brooksville still has racial tensions, brought to the surface recently by the Confederate flag controversy but also by the vandalization of a historic black cemetery, which according to local legend and myth; you can still see the body of a lynched man at night.  Or sometimes hear the screams of a baby.  Entering town there was a business proudly displaying Confederate items.  History they say, repeats itself.
May - Stringer House

How this town could have so many Confederate moments yet not one that even mentioned Brooksville African American community?  If they did, then I was unaware of it.  History moves on and in this pretty town it's hard to believe such things happened in the time of our great grandparents.  We have come so far in such a brief time, but at the same time we have so much further to go.  So here I am, looking for historic sites and information on this dark period of history. Then I'm reminded that I'm living in a dark time, as a Confederate flag burning was recently attempted in Brooksville.  It did not turn ugly but had the potential to, the pro flag side outnumbered the anti flag side and cooler heads prevailed.

Living in Florida it is easy to forgot that despite all the sunlight and natural beauty, that darkness still lurks.  That ugly things still hide in the shadows.  



In a way I wish the weather would have held off for me a little while longer.   The groundskeeper at the May - Stringer house was telling me about his ghost sightings.  I was hoping to visit the rail station and one room school.  The African - American cemetery was on my list.  It was to wet, to nasty...I was lucky to get the time I did to look about.  Frankly though...I'm not sure I go back.  You can't go in reverse, only forward.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Riding changes you.

I'm stealing this idea from Scooter in the Sticks, who stole it from Princess Scooterpie.  Basically, they wrote a piece about how riding changes you.

Lately I've been giving a lot of thought to changes in my personal life, but that is for another blog post at another time.  My personal life of course, leaks into this blog.  How can it not?  Generally speaking however, when I write a blog post, I try to just concentrate on my riding, my hopefully improving skills as a rider and the adventures that I have.

I started riding for a variety of reasons and frankly none of it was to explore.  Explore I have however as my bike has taken me to places that I would not have seen other wise; down roads that have surprised me with amazing beauty and odd little things that only exist if you go looking for them.  I've always enjoyed exploring.


I don't have a lot of friends.  Even fewer that ride.  I've always been the loner type, I'm not a joiner.  I've always felt a lot more comfortable in my head.  Yet I've found myself going to the Bahama's with people I didn't know to ride, simply to state that I've rode in another country to be truthful.  Or heading out to a restaurant to meet other scooterists.  Or as part of a ad hoc group of riders going down the road.  The three or four of us, each of us never speaking to each other, but forming a chain for mutual visibility and protection.  An unspoken bond of the motorcyclist.  The brotherhood of two wheels.

For me, the old mill with it's historical marker or horse in the field is interesting.   I rarely stop and take photos though.  I guess I would rather let that moment seep into my memory.  Not every photo I've taken ended up in this blog.  Nor has every moment or memory.  Like that time I nearly hit a car because I was more worried about checking the lane next to me and I took my eyes off of what was in front of me.   Or that time a distracted driver barely managed to get around me, ran the red light and somehow made it through a busy intersection unscathed.  Most times, the roads I ride are boring....and I've learned to keep my head on a swivel.  I've learned to be that much more aware of my surroundings.

Its okay to stop however, to read that sign or admire the flowers that grow along the roadside.  Or even to view the storm as it moves in across the bay.  Not for to long, but just long enough to remember that nature is more powerful and beautiful than we mere mortals will ever comprehend.  I've yet to find a writer that can describe that feeling of the sun shining down through the trees as we ride through the beams of light.  Perhaps it's not meant to be described.  I'm okay with that.  Riding teaches you to be humble.

Not a bad lesson to learn.



Sunday, July 19, 2015

Me, the South and that damned Stars and Bars

I try to keep my personal politics out of this blog.  I'm a liberal and a dyed in the wool Democrat although I joined the Green Party back in 1996 because I didn't like my parties candidate.  I found the Greens to be a little in line with where I was politically.

Personally I have no "dog in the fight" in the debate regarding the Confederate flag.  I grew up in the north and the "Rebel" flag was something that that hung in dorm rooms or was associated more with fans of Lynyrd Skynyrd than anything racial.  Sure it was used by the KKK and other hate groups, I knew that...but my friends and I all went to colleges were we were exposed to different cultures and ideas and then went to work in diverse work places.  We all knew Jews, Blacks, Homosexuals and other minorities.  We may have had different thoughts on where this country went right or wrong (and still do) but the debates were mostly friendly.  The flag simply was not part of our heritage for good or ill.

Florida quietly removed the Confederate flag from it's government buildings, parks and memorials long before I moved here.  You still see it flying on private property but generally speaking, with one notable exception, it's not very prominent.  At least here in the Tampa/St Petersburg/Orlando area.

So why write about it now?  Because frankly I have mixed feelings about it and putting things down on paper is one of the ways I work out my feelings.

I've been doing a lot of reading about the flag, being the news junkie that I am.  Case in point, I did not know that most state flags did not include any Confederate symbolism until the late 1950's or early 1960's and that was done mostly as a reaction to the growing Civil Rights movement and the perceived interference in "States Rights" by the Federal government  Many states in fact tried to enacting laws to sidestep the Federal courts when it came to Civil Rights.  Many of these same states are trying to enact laws to sidestep the recent court decisions on Gay Marriage.   It's a fight they are going to lose but the same tired arguments are being raised again.

I've also been planning a ride to historic Brooksville - which was named after infamous Preston Brooks - a man who won fame for attacking fellow Congressman Charles Sumner with a cane; who at the time was making an anti-slavery speech.   The beating of Sumner may have lead indirectly to the Civil War.  Interestingly enough, it's not mentioned on the town's website.

The more I read about Brooksville and its violent past, the more it sickened and intrigued me.  More on that in upcoming episodes of this blog I promise.  If the weather ever cooperates with me (I was rained on consistency for two days straight).

I guess I just don't truly understand how a man with a different skin color should be treated as a second class citizen.  Not I'm not a saint.  There are neighborhoods where the windows are up and the car doors locked because of a perceived or very real threat.  I've quickened my pace at times.  Generally speaking though, I try to follow the Golden rule.  I've also witnessed the so called "Driving while Black" phenomenon first hand...and had the white officer look me square in the eye ignoring my black friend behind the wheel and ask me with a straight face if I needed help.  I like to think this would not happen in my hometown my Pittsburgh, but I know it would.

To a certain extent I understand why many see the flag as a racist symbol.   Years ago I was in a country called Kazakhstan, which was part of the old Soviet Union.   What struck me as odd was in the center of a square there was a huge statue dedicated to the thousands of Kazak soldiers that lost there lives fighting for the Soviets during World War Two.  The stone faces were European.   Kazakhstan is mostly a mixture of Asian and Middle Eastern faces.

It was explained to me that many Kazaks died during that war, but they never received recognition...it was always the Russians.  A case of the powerful keeping the weak down.  The Confederate flag is no different.  It's just another symbol.  A symbol that for some does the same thing.

Truly I understand why some see it as "Heritage".  Our history is full of people that kept Native American traditions alive despite attempts to "civilize" them.  World history is full of similar examples...and where one tradition could not be replaced, it was assimilated.  To many, the flag is a symbol of their ancestors who fought and died for seemingly lofty goals and for that reason alone it's worth saving and celebrating.    For many it's a sign of rebellion, of the little guy standing up to the big guy.  On that I agree.

Was the Civil War about state rights?  Yes.  However to deny that part of the state rights movement at the time was the right to enslave another is rewriting history.  Living in 2015 I can not think like a soldier in the early 1860's, willing to die for either side and I know there were many who fought for the Confederacy who did not own slaves, or disagreed with slavery.  Still they fought for a ideal and in my personal family history, we have soldiers on both sides.

I've lived in the South in one form or another for nearly 20 years.  It's changing.  It's slow but it's coming.  Removing the flag is just part of that change. Sure it's part of the Southern culture and heritage just as much as sweet tea and grits but in the end it's got to come down.  The south is going to have to grow up and move out of the past, and part of that growing is accepting that the argument(s) to keep the flag just does not hold water.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

approaching 25K

So here I am, it's a Monday and I've not been on the bike for a week.  I've been held up by heat, rain and just bad luck and timing.  I'm not happy with myself right now, it's been to easy to make an excuse not to ride.

So I finally get out on the bike and I'm sitting at a light.

I can feel a drop of sweat running down the small of my back.  I can feel my hands sweat in my gloves.

I am cursing at the idiot in front of me who sits on his phone through about 30 seconds of the green light only to peel into the turn and hit the bumper of the car in front of him.  Great.  Wonderful.

Respect the ride and the rider
Grumbling to myself, I pull off the side of the road and check out both drivers pretty quickly.  I'm a trained first responder...and although I'm not required to stop under Florida law, it's the moral thing to do.  Luckily there are no injuries  So a few minutes later I'm on the way again.

I end up taking a slightly different way home from work, lately I've been riding the freeway home and although Kimmie is more than capable of keeping and maintaining the speeds required, a little voice in my head says "no".  If riding has taught me anything, it's to listen to the little voice you hear in your helmet from time to time.

So the long way it is.  I catch every red light, get behind every bus.  I sit in the heat and the humidity and suck on gas fumes; and that the little sweat ball running down my back?  It  is now a stream and the seat I was sitting in was uncomfortable.   It was never a problem on the Kymco till the dealership replaced the damn seat....and I was foolish enough to let them.  I stand at yet another red light, and try to relieve the numb butt for a bit.

All these thoughts are in my head, for I've been invited to go on a group ride this Sunday.  It would be easy for me to bow out of it, avoiding the heat, the numb butt, the long hours of being in the saddle - the ride is on the other coast and would most likely be an all day affair.

Yet....I don't want to.  I want to go.

Its not about the mileage you put on your bike, it's about the ride.  Every year I've put on more and more mileage...every year I gain a little more experience, a little more knowledge about what Kimmie is capable of, and what her rider is capable of.

I don't remember writing down the mileage at the beginning of this year, I'm no where near where I want to be.

On Tuesday I saw that the car ahead of me was going to hit a pretty good sized bird that decided to fly right in front of it.  I understood quickly that the bird was going to come right up over the roof of that car and into my ride path.   A low duck, a quick lean and the bird strikes my bike low but off to the side for no damage.  I roll on down the road.

Experience brought on by mileage.   I have learned to sense when that car is going to pull out and 1001 other little things.  I'm still weary.  Every day I remind myself "Cocky will get me killed."

I think about this as the mileage ticks off....I'm near home now, a cold drink...a soft couch....air conditioning...just turn to the left and go home.

What's five more miles?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The July 4th follow up (or air boat riding!)


It's still hot in central Florida, and the rain and thunderstorms that make up the usual Florida summer show no signs of abating any time soon.

With that in mind I woke up early Saturday to get a bit of recreational riding in.  I had no destination in mind but found myself pointing my wheels northward and my "secret road".  For what ever reason I've not seen many bikers on it.  Maybe because the road sort of "dead ends."  I should explain, although there is a connecting road that takes you to the green swamp, another wonderful ride, that road is mostly dirt and is badly rutted.  It's not exactly a road most bikers want to go down.

So I worked my ways through the curves and farmland till I reached the end, then turned back.  It's only 9 AM and the bank thermometer is reading 85 F (29.4 C).  I have to admit that I considered just sliding my gloves and helmet on.  Leaving the jacket at home...but here I am, sweating even in my mesh jacket at a red light; a prisoner of ATTGAT.  It occurs to me that I need to do some reading on hot weather riding.

Susan and I had plans, ever since we moved to Florida some five or six years ago, we had talked about going on an air boat ride.  After all this time, we finally did it.  About an hour north of us is the Withlacoochee river (pronounced exactly as it sounds) and swamp.  While we did not see any wild alligators (most likely due to the time of day and heat), we did see various turtles, coots, herons and various other Florida birds.  Including a fishing peregrine who got a small bass right near the boat.


Wild Bill's airboat tours is literally out in the middle of no where.  This is back country Florida but that what we came for.  Nature at it's purist.  Sadly we were moving to fast for us to get any good pictures, although at times our pilot did stop the boat.  The above video, courtesy of Born to Ride, should give you an idea of what's it like.

I have to admit that I gave a little thought to seeing how much a cheap air-boat would cost after an hour or so on the water.  It was fun, and just reaffirmed my growing belief that a day on the water is never a bad thing.

Sue and I had a early dinner and then headed home through a hell of a thunderstorm.  Due to the weather we decided not to go out for the fireworks.  Nature was providing her own.  Overall a good day out.

Bubba, 14 feet and 1000 pounds

Little Bubba.



Saturday, July 4, 2015

The fourth of July weekend


May you and your's enjoy a Happy Independence Day.  More to follow soon.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The dog days of Summer

It's been hot.

Actually let me correct that.  IT'S BEEN FREAKING HOT!!!  With the heat index up at around 105 degrees (40.6 C) lately riding has not been that comfortable.  To make matters worse we have had at least a 40% chance of rain every night...and it seems that every night it rains on me when I'm leaving work.

Last year I would have ridden in anything below a 50% of rain and in all type of weather, as long as I felt safe to do it.  Now...while now it's just easier for me to jump in the car, crank the AC to winter cold and go to work.  Add in a summer cold and some meetings at work where I've been required to wear a suit two days out of the five the past couple weeks and you (hopefully) understand why I've not been riding.

Kimmie is in the back
I know..."Stop making excuses Robert and get out there and ride!"  This heat however has sucked all the fun out of riding for me, and even the daily commute, which has been traditionally done on the bike, is getting to me.  The parking lot at my job is full of scooters and motorcycles, so if they can do so can I.  I have lead a small and quiet one man campaign to try and get more bikers to commute, so in a way...I'm betraying what I believe in.   But the car is so cool!  I'm almost tempted to return my Rounders patch.

So Kimmie sits.  She runs well when I do take her out, the electrical issues she's been having are (hopefully) resolved.  Although I've played with the idea of replacing her, I still have her...I still enjoy riding her.

This will pass...these doldrums will ease.  Much like the sailors of old I'll wait it out.  In the coming week the temperature and humidity are scheduled to drop and I'll be able to ride in a bit more comfortably.

If all goes well I'll be moving into yet another position at work, my fourth department in ten months - they keep moving me because I'm good at what I do - and I'll be able to ride into work early in the morning...avoiding the worst of the heat.

BUT UNTIL THEN