Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mile Zero

Some like spelunking or sailing to Bora Bora.  I am the sort of guy who likes loose ends.  Aim me at a place where the Earth comes to a significant point and I am there.  Within reason, that is.  Everest and Antarctica are just so - so - - inconvenient.  I like the ends of the Earth to be convenient.  Think Tenzing Norgay and Roald Amundsen in flannels.

I once set out Amundsen-like to visit the easternmost point in the U.S., which it turns out is in seven distinct places, many of which are damned inconvenient.  So I picked the easternmost point that you can walk to from the car.  Automotive proximity is a scientifically accurate determinant of "easternmost," according to many nebulous authorities.  I settled on West Quoddy Head in Lubec, Maine.  I am not even mildly disturbed that the easternmost point in the country is named "West" Something.  From West Quoddy Head, you could toss a clam into Canada.

We end-of-the-Earthers love Canada because it has so many loose ends.  The only one even arguably convenient is Cape Spear in Newfoundland.  This easternmost point in Canada is conveniently also the easternmost point on the whole continent of North By-God America.  Heady stuff, I know, but true.  I went there.  You can walk there from the parking lot of the Cape Spear Lighthouse.  The lighthouse is about 45 minutes east (of course) from St. John's, the home of Quidi Vidi Brewery.  That's convenient, too.

Cape Spear was named by the Portuguese, who called it Cape Hope, but the Portuguese did not speak English, so "Hope" came out sounding something like "Spear."  Fair enough; it's their language.

By a monumental coincidence, the westernmost point on the continent of Europe is in the ancient and lovely town of Sintra, in Portugal.  I went there.  It's a place called Cabo da Roca, and it juts out like a wart on the nose of Iberia.  I suppose you might look out from Cabo da Roca and imagine that you can see Cape Spear.  I did.  You can't.

And then there's Key West, wherein may be found the most convenient of many southernmost points in the U.S.  I went there this week.  This particular point is a big chunk of concrete on which is painted "Southernmost Point in the United States."  Not so picturesque or picaresque as my quest to Cabo da Roca.  I waited patiently in line to snap photos.  No one seemed concerned that a considerable land mass - sidewalk, wall and shoreline - lay due south of the Southernmost Piece of Concrete.  So powerful is the voice of official tourismo that even I, intrepid pursuer of geographical extremities, did not realize that I was standing considerably north of the actual southernmost point in the U.S.  Lying bastards.

Key West,  like Bermuda or Provincetown or Aix-en-Provence, I suppose, is overrun with the mobility-incompetent.  For an outrageous sum, the local entrepreneurs rent mopeds to those who cannot master the fundamentals of bipedal transportation. let alone the intricacies of internal combustion.  Such maladroits wander the streets, clueless, on every continent.  In Key West, the effect is amplified by alcohol, often as not.

Key West is the root of US Route 1, that miserable excuse for a road that traumatizes the American East Coast for 2,377 miles from Key West to Fort Kent, Maine.  Viewed in a certain way, therefore, Key West is also the end of the Earth for highways, in much the same way that Route 6 ends at Provincetown and Route 66 winds to LA.  A nondescript street corner in Key West is adorned with a little green sign - a mile marker - that reads, "0."  Zero.  Da nada.  Nil.  Zilch miles.  Here is what it looks like on a good day:

The pretty red car in the picture is mine.  (So, BTW, is the pretty lady.)   I polish it -  the car, not the pretty lady - with tender care and no little sweat.  Door dings I have none. No dings in the pretty lady either.

As I was snapping this picture, two lovely, young and under-dressed misses rolled up on mopeds.  Like everyone else in town, they wanted their picture taken in front of MM Zero.  One of them wobbled onto the sidewalk and dumped her moped in a heap.  Despite my advancing age, I remain a sucker for a short skirt and a pretty smile.  I did not run like hell, as I should have.  I offered to take their picture.

They righted the bike, stood pertly in front of the hallowed sign, and I did what I promised. Grinning in covert lasciviousness, I hopped back into the red car and made to depart in the general direction of MM 2377, when there arose such a clatter from the nether regions of the red car.  Crap.

The same maladroit young lovely that dumped her bike on the sidewalk had T-boned me from the sidewalk as I sat idly at the curb.  Sigh.  I got out.  I looked long and hard.  Then I looked at the car.  It looked okay.

"I bumped the wheel," she blurted.  "It's okay."

She was right, more or less.  I got back in the car and drove toward MM 1.

And MM 2
 Etc.  Onward, Pancho, to yet another end of the Earth.



  1. I live in upstate NY, so I can take a one hour car ride into Canada. My daughter lives in Key West. It's a five hour trip by plane. But that southernmost tip is always intriguing to me. Intriguing because of the contrasts in weather, culture, proximity to other countries, and then there's the Duval crawl. That infamous street in Key West where those who like to imbibe, stop all along the street at every type of bar imaginable. Booze is booze, but the variety of people is...well...very different.

  2. When you travel with a guy who owns a new Corvette, you stop once in a while to wash the cars.

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