Thursday, September 3, 2009

99: Close Out

I’m back. It’s over. Tampa surrounds me.

I wanted to be able to continue this blog all the way from Boston to Key West and then back to Tampa, but circumstance changed that. The laptop developed a virus and no amount of alcohol consumed by its owner could help. It was sent on to Tampa and should be back in my possession for either a reformatting or ceremonial bonfire, tomorrow.

Contrary to popular opinion, not all hotels in America have computers for guests. The majority don’t. Many – a great many in the middle price range – offer wi-fi, but that doesn’t help someone on a bicycle, who no longer has his own laptop.

In any event, many of the hotels I used didn’t aspire to that middle price range and could be described, quite accurately, as shit-hole dumps. In some, I am surprised that water flowed and electricity worked. You don’t get a lot for under thirty dollars per night.

Anyway, all this is leading up to an explanation of the sporadicity (I made that word up; I am almost American and therefore entitled to ruin the English language by doing so) of posts and the diminishing quality.

Anyway, all that aside, I am back. Key West was omitted and left for another day. I detoured across Florida from Flagler Beach and came directly to Tampa, arriving here after 5,163.7miles on the road. I dread to think of the cost of the whole thing, but the technical term would be ‘A fucking lot’.

Of all the intentions listed at the beginning, most were realized. The total punctures was only 4 – all from sharp wires from rotted truck tires on the interstate shoulders out west and patched. Additionally, I lost 2 tubes due to valve separations. Including the initial tires, I used 5 but the final pair still has plenty of life. Armadillos are good, but Bontragers are better.

I have no idea how much climbing I did but, after 5,163.7 miles in all weathers and across all terrain, I lost 28 pounds and 5 trouser (waist) sizes. Being unfit beyond my comprehension at the beginning, I spent around 500 miles in the Crossroads SAG vans on the cross country portion of the trek. There being no support southwards from Boston, that 2,300 miles was all EFI, although there was a danger of ending the trip due to accident after the crash in South Carolina and when my back went out in Georgia.

So that’s all very serious isn’t it? No more. I’m almost finished sorting things out and not at all ready to return to work. Next week or perhaps the one after, I’m seriously thinking of a road trip by car, with my boots in the trunk and a bike on the back. Not far – perhaps around 3,000 miles or so, by way of several national parks.

Anyway, before I close, I’ll mention that, for anyone who liked reading Wheels on the Bike, there’s a new blog:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

38: My PC Says What?

Damned computers!

Actually, it's not computers' fault – it the fault of the person who designed the software without thinking further than the end of his (or her) nose.

You might think that, with thirty years in the IT business, I'd either be an expert on how to get around the foibles or become numbed to them.


So, when I get the zillionth email from AMEX informing me of suitable job postings within their company – which I can't access because I no longer have my User-ID or password and, to be honest, don't remember whether I ever did - I am irritated to learn that the only way to cancel the automated delivery of this email is to visit my AMEX profile and uncheck the item that authorizes email. In order to do that, I have to login with my User-Id and password; yet another example of circular logic.

It started me thinking back over all the other irritations with technology and how little effort the designers seem to put into what they intend for us to use daily. It's not always computers – software is just the most recent example of people not thinking. Similar incidents have happened many times and each sticks out in my memory, as it was so simple and yet so impossible to fix.

Imagine these...

Delta airlines' air miles account used the ZIP code from the original setup location address as some form of security PIN, but I couldn't remember where I had lived five years previously when opening the account, so I couldn't change any details or reclaim mileage. My problems was that I had somehow managed to acquire three separate accounts and wanted to merge them. Neither supervisors nor managers could help and the problem was never solved. Somewhere in the internals of their system there are still three air miles accounts bearing my name, all with different addresses, ZIP codes and mileage balances.

It's not that long ago that I spent a good part of an afternoon trying to book a Hertz rental car for collection at Auckland airport in New Zealand. After struggling with a non-intuitive dial-up system for almost an hour, constantly back-tracking to correct lost data, I reached the payment section to be told that the 'special rate' was only applicable to US residents. The site then closed. I am a US resident. I used a US credit card. I had a US address. So what was it trying to say? I never found out.

Westpac Bank Visa (Australia) list only toll-free phone numbers to call in case of emergency – but those numbers are only accessible from within Australia. The so-called 'international' numbers, which bear no relation to the toll-free ones, appear only on their web site. Who thinks to check the back of their card before traveling and ensure that all phone numbers are accessible world wide? Isn't is possible that someone might be in an emergency situation – without access to the Internet?

Everyone in the western world, I assume, has some tale concerning telephone voice menu systems. It's not simply that the required option is not obvious - some of them give no option to press keys and rely entirely on speech recognition, which fails to understand my accent. After several iterations of trying to pronounce a simple 'Yes' in a manner that the machine might accept, it will give up and allow me to press '1' instead, or even allow a person to come to the phone but, by this time, I am in no mood to be polite. What do people do, whose knowledge of the language is slight?

Some time ago, in England - my own country - I found it impossible to prove that I was entitled to open a new bank account. I could not identify myself to the bank's satisfaction. I produced a passport, credit cards, a British driving license, a British telephone statement, a contract of employment, British charge cards, British bank statements and a cheque book. One by one, each was dismissed as insufficient proof for one reason or other connected with security. The most absurd part of the situation was that I was trying to open a second account at the bank where I currently held an account that had been open for eighteen years and where I was personally known. It did not matter. Rules were rules, I was told.

Telephone credit card banking systems all require you to enter you 16-digit account number 'for faster service' but, as soon as an operator comes on the line, she demands that you dictate it to her. I have a Capital One master card and one of their phone options is to increase the credit line. I tried that and immediately heard a recording saying that it was not possible to change the credit limit in this way.

I get statements from my health insurance company, supposedly to inform me of whether they've paid a claim, how much they've paid or why they've decline it - but the numbers make no sense, the totals do not represent the figures they are supposed to include and I am bewildered. When I call, after navigating myriad telephone voice menus, I get a call center girl who knows nothing and can do no more than read to me exactly what I can already see, but not understand, from the statement. I cannot speak to a supervisor but one will supposedly call me within 24 hours. It never happens.

Citibank's system dictates that they send your new credit card by regular mail. If you are not there to receive it, you have moved or there is some other reason that it cannot be delivered, it will be returned to them and your account will be suspended without warning. It happened to me five times in a single month before a Citibank manager suggested changing my address to a friend's, where a new card could be delivered and simply reside, unused, allowing the one in my hand - sent to me at a hotel via UPS - to work.

So many telephone systems either have no listed keys entry to get a human operator that there is even a web site dedicated to what key, keys or commands one must give to summon one. It's not always '0'. Sometimes it's '00' or an asterisk or two pound keys or a combination even more convoluted and unguessable.

Orbitz travel booking site, which has multiple credit cards listed on my account, will not allow me to change the details or delete one without entering the 3-digit security code; the number printed on the back, which fades quickly. That card is destroyed, which is why I want to delete it. I have no record of the 3-digit security code – after all, they tell you not to write it down....

We're heading into the realm of science fiction as it was before computers took over the world. Our lives are controled by computers and by simpletons who are little more than mouthpieces for the machine.

In the 1980's and before, no one would actually believe that society would be so dumb that they would believe every line on a computer screen or bank statement - but now they do. Otherwise intelligent adults are convinced that anything the computer says is correct. I have listened to educated people trying to rationalize and defend what is so obviously an error – as if incorrect data is something for which the machine should be forgiven.

Where do we go from here?

I don't know.

Maybe the third world has it right.

I'm gonna go live in a hut.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

37: A Town With No Beer

The disappointment is tangible.

The frustration hangs there in the air like an over ripe pear not quite fallen from its tree.

It's like the building anticipation of sex after not seeing your girlfriend for a month, waiting throughout the day for her to arrive and then hearing that she's not in the mood.

After pedaling more than seventy miles through the South Carolina heat, I arrived in Southpoint last Sunday afternoon, tired and sweaty, hungry and thirsty, to find that it resided in a partial dry county. Nothing alcoholic could be sold, served, given away or in any way dispensed, on the Lord's Day.

Suddenly, all I wanted was a cold beer. Not being able, the desire intensified until I could think of nothing except a chilled glass, frothing over as the bartender filled it.

“Where's the county line?” I asked the check in clerk, almost in desperation. Maybe it was simply over the bridge and slightly out of sight. Another five minutes' worth of pedaling.


“That's what most people say,” she said with the cheeriness of one who didn't care. “Right after they stare at me for ten seconds and then wanna know if I'm joking. It's thirty miles south on the interstate. Staying or going?”

Thirty miles. By bike, tired and aching? No way.

Perhaps this explains why all the motels were cheap. The standard, familiar names were all there – Knights Inn, Days Inn and the like - surrounded by a host of others and many sported signs promising rates of $30. Probably those prices doubled or tripled on any other day.

The inability to sell booze extended into restaurants being closed altogether. “They don't do so well on Sundays," the cheery desk clerk said, "So most of 'em are shut. The ones that are open become family places and you find a lot of kids. Folks around here who like a drink go to the liquor store on a Saturday and then stay home with the TV on Sunday nights. The Lord's Day gets us all somehow.”

Who is this Lord, I wanted to demand, who said that you shouldn't drink on Sunday? Does it say that in the bible? What about other religious faiths? Maybe they don't see it the same way. Why should the city elders, or whoever they were - probably upright Christian souls - determine that everyone else should follow their religious imposition? After living in places where no such restriction existed, losing this simple ability away without warning was like regressing to childhood and having my bedtime cut by an hour.

There was no point arguing with the friendly desk clerk so, with an inaccurate grunt of, "Heathen town," I accepted the key and went to clean up. A steak was just so much meat without a nice glass of wine. Burger without the beer was only fat-loaded ground beef. It's sad, I suppose, that the absence of a bottle changed things so much.

Ruby Tuesday's was open but the bar itself remained in darkness. I sat in a booth and ordered a salad, self-righteously pretending that this enforced period of dryness was healthy. It was, of course, but just because something's good for your doesn't mean you enjoy being forced.

In a way, it was funny, I'd been dry all week for one reason or another and now, when I intended to reward myself with a glass or two of wine and a nice meal, the realities of a small town in the the bible belt had hit me.

So, fresh and entirely hangover-free, I left Southpoint earlier than intended and headed to Wilmington. Perhaps, if I'd had a drink or two the night before, I'd have left later. I'd certainly have traveled at a different rate and would've encountered the railroad crossing at a different time; a time either before the rain began or well into the storm, which means that it would've been either dry or I'd have been more careful and focused more attention on the road. With than enhanced attentiveness, I may not have skidded, lost the bike from under me and smashed my wrist and head into the ground.

The injury, although not serious and certainly not life-threatening, forced a three-day rest period, which included, due to boredom, three evenings visiting local pubs and restaurants. Southpoint's enforced Lord's Day abstinence led directly to pain and enhanced consumption.

Where's the sense in that?

Sobriety hurts.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

36: Statesboro Blues

I'm trapped in Statesboro, Georgia. Not the Georgia in Russia although frequently, over the last week, I have wished to be there. No, I am in a land where the word 'ham' spans two syllables.

"Woke up this morning...."

I reach Statesboro in the late afternoon, looking forward to a rest day. The sprained wrist is now almost better, but my back is beginning to stiffen. It probably needs an infusion of beer. Such demands will be met.

Familiar motel names proliferate along South Main Street: Ramada, Best Western, Days Inn, Baymont, Quality Inn and more. Budget Inn has a sign promising $29.99. I'll take it. Sixty bucks for two nights is impressively low. Porsches, BMWs and Mercedes stand in the parking lot, so how bad can it be?


Only two light bulbs work. The towels look as though they've been used for the last two decades. Hopefully the stains on the bedspread are only water.

Those decent cars outside probably indicate a secondary use as a crack house and have little bearing on state of the motel, which might be just a cover. Should have seen the sign in small print on the door threatening 'No refunds'. Note to self: OPEN YOUR BLOODY EYES.

I'm starting to feel as though someone has hit me over the kidneys with a baseball bat. It will be good to finally reach Tampa in two weeks and visit the chiropractor. Now though, it's time for that medicinal beer.

One might think that a restaurant named the French Quarter, advertising itself in the Yellow Pages with phrases such as 'Balcony Dining', 'Authentic Cajun Cuisine' and 'Statesboro's home for live music', might embody a flavour of New Orleans.

One would be sadly disappointed.

The balcony, I am told, is not open to the public. A drunk at the bar, his face so bloated it looks sandpapered, thinks there was karaoke last week, but can't be sure. The single laminated sheet of paper that is the menu, is devoid of anything from New Orleans except gumbo and the only item not fried is the crab cake special. I ask how they're prepared - fried also? "Oh no," the under age bartender reassures me, "Sauteed."

I order a beer - bottled Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale - but do not get a glass. There are glasses for wine, glasses for shots, but nothing for beer. I ask for a plastic water cup and all four regulars watch in silence as I fill it from the bottle. Maybe they think I'm gay.

Conversation around the bar concentrates on such subjects as why Person-A had to whack Person-B with a pool queue, recent fights and how many Jagermesister shots it takes to get Jeremiah really ferked erp, all at a volume great enough to wake the inhabitants of the next town. Hopefully, this is not the intelligencia of Statesboro.

I can't stand up straight and even the most comprehensive stretching does no good. The back is killing me and I feel like an old man. The shower is a chest height so I have to bend and the bath moves like stepping on marshland. Finding a local chiropractor is now a requirement, rather than a wistful thought. How? Maybe the office has Yellow Pages?

I struggle up the slight incline and the desk clerk appears from a back room, as if by magic. His head is wrapped in something that could be a cross between a turban and a towel and he has a large orange paint blob where his nose meets his forehead. If I wasn't in such pain, I might have laughed. There's a pause after I tell him what I want, as though I should justify the request, but then he disappears again, leaving the back room door open. I can see nothing in the dark void but the smell that emanates threatens to dissolve the hairs in my nose. When he returns, he hands a Yellow pages across the desk and tells me to leave it in the room.

Armed with information and now in more pain that I have experienced for years, I organise a chiropractor and make my way, slowly, to his office.

It's a painful adjustment and I still hurt afterwards. Just swelling, Dr Ward said. The joints are back where they were supposed to be, he said. Take Ibuprofen, he said. Ice it every hour lying face down, he said. He said a lot of things, including that I should come back on Friday.

Some things in life are just hard and icing your own back, like applying your own sunscreen, is one of them. It's a fundamental rule of the universe - if something's good for you, feels nice and is desperately necessary - it's impossible to do. Necessity is the mother of invention though and handfuls of painkillers helped me through.

Back is stiff, but better and stretching helps. I'm moving from the crack house motel today. The Budget Inn has been a learning experience and I thank the owners for their material contributions to my next book. The Baymont, at the opposite end of the quality scale, offers a mini-suite, high-def TV and in-room computer, all for under $60 per night. If I have to stay in Statesboro, a little luxury will make up for the pain.

It occurs to me that I could use this time productively, by buying a computer book - C# perhaps - and learning whatever I can without actually having computer access. I'm directed to a local bookshop but, apart from fiction, they have simply a few technology reference shelves where books on photography, writing and motor mechanics sit shoulder to shoulder with the single one on computers, all mixed together in alphabetical order by authors with no concern for subject. It should surprise me, this lack of educational material, but, strangely, it doesn't.

After more pills, more icing and a sleep, I feel in need of sustenance. Across the street is RJ's, a renowned steak house and I believe a rare New York Strip and a whole bottle of Cabernet should be mine, but I am thwarted. Yes, they are the best steak house in town, I am assured, by a waiter who looks like a young church minister in training, but something persuades me otherwise when I am informed that they do not serve wine - and that is the end of my steak aspirations.

That is how I discovered my own slice of heaven in the form of Christoper's most wonderful eating and drinking establishment. People at the bar don't shout. Conversations don't include bragging about violence or bouts of drinking and customers don't look as though the task of propping up the bar all day is theirs forever.

I stay there until they close. I don't care if I have a hangover - which is just as well. Plans for tomorrow include the second and final visit to Dr Ward, resting for the day and then leave early Saturday; back on the road again....

Fuck, hangover city. At least I can stand up. Shit, my head hurts. The adjustment helps but I am informed that yet another will be necessary on Monday. Will I ever get out of Statesboro?

I'm bored. It's not even noon. I find a local coffee shop but it serves the usual thin translucent stuff from an urn brewed at some time in the past and I have to put up with three sound sources in the form of background music, the TV and a crying baby. There's only so much thin coffee you can drink without bursting. How long do I have to wait before it's acceptable to go for a beer?

I decide to try the bike. There's a cinema two miles away so I go there and find a Books-a-Million, which has many computers books and - oh thank you Lord, I am a true believer, yes I am, whatever I said before, hallelujah - a STARBUCKS. Oh, the world is is mine, la la la. I love Statesboro.

Not for long.

I sense the onset of toothache and get back on the phone immediately. Statesboro dentists don't work weekends, I discover, and Friday is seen as one, so the earliest visit would be Monday. After the chiropractor, perhaps? Make a day of it? I call three, but all are busy for the entire week. First available appointment would be a week on Tuesday. Should I go or should I stay? I could just take more painkillers. I hate Statesboro.

Credence Clearwater revival recorded a song once called Lodi, about a town that they couldn't leave. Maybe I'll write one about this place. I could call it Statesboro Blues.

Oh - someone already did that?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

35: If the World Needed an Enema...

It's rare that I find a town so deserving of the description 'no redeeming qualities', but Andrews, South Carolina, fits the bill. Looking back, Grants seems like a paradise of dining and entertainment opportunities by comparison.

There's only a single motel half a mile from the centre of town, but I doubt that there's a need for any more. There's no reason except unfortunate accident that would bring visitors to Andrews and I seriously doubt that anyone, having suffered the experience once, would voluntarily repeat the circumstance.

Considering all the aspects of services and fittings that could so easily have been missing given their monopoly on accommodation, this one was almost perfect - even to the degree of having cable TV. It's like an invisible hand had plucked a perfect country motel from somewhere and zapped it straight into Hicktown. Maybe the owners had been bad in a previous life and this was their punishment.

The two main roads, which formed the centre of town where they crossed, possessed an equal number of establishments currently not open for business and ex-business that had not possessed even that status for many years, if the crawling ivy and overgrowth of weeds covering their windows was any indication.

After traversing both roads for half a mile in either direction, the only actual restaurant I could find not covered in several years' worth of ivy and weeds, fell into the category of not open for business. No sign in the window suggested when this might change, so I suppose it's possible that in a few weeks it too may be sprouting vegetation.

Had I wanted to wash laundry, buy automobile parts, clean my truck or attend church -which, if the plethora of religious buildings and billboards was anything to go by, the locals did with great frequency - there were multiple opportunities to do so, but to sit and eat, there was only McDonald's and a miniature Subway occupying space at the back of a gas station, which eventually took my business.

To take up time, I sat in a corner booth in McDonald's to watch the people of various levels of intelligence interact with the staff, all of whom appeared, if their trousers size was any indication, to have been on a McDonald's diet for some time. After an hour I had to go; there's only so much fun I can stand without bursting.

At the far end of town, near the Food Lion grocery shop where I used up another thirty minutes of wasted life perusing the shelves, a third road shot into no man's land. No signs showed where it might go, none faced the other way to advise incoming traffic where they were unfortunate enough to have arrived and nothing controlled the priority of either road. Given that American drivers all think they have priority all the time, the resulting confusion - usually won out by over-sized trucks alternately muscling forward and screeched to a halt two inches later - proved most entertaining.

I could imagine that this would be the Sunday draw for the locals, who might flock to the Y-junction with their decks chairs and a few coolers of Piss-Lite to spend an enjoyable afternoon.

After they've got out of church, of course.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

34: A Bum's Life

It’s not that I mind waking up in jail with a hangover - no honestly, things could be worse - but when the charges are read and I‘m found guilty, I really want to really be guilty. Not innocent, otherwise it’s all so sadly unfair.

Work finished at 5.00pm. Winter was drawing to a close and the first hint of spring had sparkled through the window all afternoon and my friends suggested a drink across the street at the Louisville Inn, a hotel bar where the waitresses wore silk, split-to-the-thigh trousers and tops revealing a level of femininity that made up for the beer.

My first mistake was deciding to drive home to change first. The second, closely related, was in not showering at the same time. In 1982 and, being British, the idea of optionally taking a shower on a day that was not Sunday, was unthinkable.

If I hadn’t gone home, I wouldn’t have left my wallet on the table. If I’d had a shower, perhaps the cops, when they later pulled me over for what began as speeding, might not have seen the greasy hair and stubbled chin and decided that I should be removed from the road. But I digress…

I drove my silver Firebird - oh yes, a car that stood out - at high speed back downtown and joined the crew in the bar. All was as expected - the sexy waitresses were there, the guys were there and the beer flowed. Discovering the non-wallet situation, the guys subbed me. When happy hour finished, the waitresses let it be known they were off to Dukes - a local hotspot - in case we might like to join them. We might.

I’d only been in town a few weeks and didn’t know my way around, so I followed Graham - who had a V8 Transam but didn’t appreciate newbies who couldn’t keep up. He drove fast and disappeared into the night after a few miles and then it started snowing. The blue flashing lights appeared in my mirror almost at the same time that I realized I was hopelessly lost, so I pulled over and waited, hoping I could get directions and go on my way.

The trooper approached and demanded my license and insurance. Both were in my wallet, which was at home. I tried to explain about the girls and how important it was that I should get to Dukes. He was a man, I thought - he’d understand.

He asked how much I’d had to drink but I continued about the girls, unabated. Is it known as withholding, I wonder, when you avoid a question like that? Perhaps it was my accent. Perhaps it was my stubble. Perhaps it was the greasy hair standing up at every angle known to man. Or perhaps it was the smell of the beer.

He asked me back to his police car. Whilst I sat in the back as he wrote out tickets and spoke in a hillbilly voice over the radio, a wrecker truck came and towed away the Firebird. Then we drove to the precinct house, which is the quaint American term for police station. Thinking that humor would diffuse the situation, when we walked inside, I pointed out that he hadn’t even handcuffed me, so he changed that immediately. They really aren’t that comfortable.

He stayed whilst a kindly old man, who looked as though he’d me more at home teaching maths to bored students, set up the breathalyzer. I’d expected a blow-in-the-bag affair, but this was like a desk outfitted with tubes, with dials and buttons and a chemical tube that had to be primed. When it was all ready, I blew through a tube that was almost three feet long and needles sprang to life. My reading, he said, was ‘borderline’, which surprised me as I was the only one of the three of us that knew I’d consumed five rounds of beers at two-for-one. You do the math.

Once I’d been charged and allowed my single phone call - I called work and left a message saying I’d be late in the morning - I was locked in a cell. The trooper disappeared and I was left to get what sleep I could, with only a mattress thinner than cardboard between my hips and a steel bunk. Several times in the night, I awoke with my contacts glued to my eyeballs and developed the solution of pulling the hairs up my nose to make my eyes water. Breakfast in the morning was pancakes and coffee - for free. Not enough syrup though - this was no Denny’s.

I was duly charged with driving without a license (in the wallet), without insurance (in the wallet), no license plates (new car and dealership temporary plate had expired), DUI (drunk driving), speeding and reckless driving. It was explained that I should get a lawyer to ‘negotiate’ some of these, since I professed to having a license and insurance, that the lack of license plates was not my fault and that speeding and reckless driving were mutually exclusive and that the DUI was ‘borderline. There was one other item though, that couldn’t be negotiated away…

The desk clerk asked me how much money I had on my person. None. I had to sign a form stating that I had none. It was explained that, in Bullit County, all persons must carry at least three dollars in cash. No exceptions. I began to explain again about the wallet. No exceptions, the clerk repeated, interrupting me. It was not a laughing matter.

He was right. Seven weeks later, in court, I was fined and given 6 points on my license for speeding and all other offences were dismissed. Except one. Even the judge protested to the police, but his hands were tied.

So that is why, despite being in possession of an expensive sports car when arrested and subsequently having earned millions of dollars over the years, I still have an outstanding conviction on the state of Kentucky.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

33: A Munch and a Sip

It's late, I'm hungry and tired.

Thirty miles on the bike from Wilmington to Southport has made my wrist painful and the hangover from last night's Special IPA in the Wilmington brewery has done the same to my head. All I want is plenty of water, several glasses of wine and some nice food. Doesn't have to be fancy, just has to be OK. Could be Cabernet with red meat, could be Chardonnay with seafood - I don't much care, but the combination is everything my abused body requires to get back on the right track.

Slainte, the local Irish pub, is so close to the motel I could spit and hit its door but I don't want Irish food. They'd murder anything like a steak, the only fish would be battered and deep-fried and I'm not in the mood for chicken wings or any of the so-called traditional Irish favorites like bangers and mash, corned beef and cabbage or shepherd's pie; not tonight.

The Surfer's Paradise is half a mile away and I head there, past the low-grade fast food joints and walking on the sandy grass against traffic, all of which wants to kill the pedestrian. It's a game we play, me and the drivers; I act like a normal person and they become homicidal maniacs, intent of mowing down He-Who-Dares-Walk.

It's hot and I get sweaty very fast. All I can think of is red meat and red wine so I guess the reds have it. Burger perhaps? No. Steak. Ribeye? New York Strip? Could be either, but it must be rare and the wine makes it a meal.

When I reach Surfer's, I'm perturbed to see that closing time is 8.00pm - only half an hour away. I had thoughts of staying for several hours, writing notes and ruminating on life and the bike trip. Inside, it looks like a cross between a school dining room from England in 1968 and an old folks' eating house. No cosy booths, no old wood - just plastic-topped tables. Also, it is quiet, except for the sounds of people eating; no music.

I saw a documentary on the TV Food Channel two days ago where the hero of the program found a haute cuisines chef working in the restaurant of a gas station in Texas, so perhaps the room layout I see before me is indicative of the high-class feast to come.

I get a seat and notice the cutlery - every table setting has a single fork, encased in a paper packet. There are no knives. The diners are mostly old - are they not trusted with sharp objects? Does someone on the staff arrive when dinners is served, to cut our food into little squares? Do we get bibs? Is someone on hand to execute the Heimlich manoeuvre should a piece of meat go down the wrong way and bring and early termination to someone's dining experience?

My waitress arrives to tell me her name is Kelly. It should be Fat Kelly, I decide, in a moment of devilry. Fortunately I have enough sense to not pass on my humor. Kelly delivers a menu and asks me what I want to drink, so I tell her it depends on what I'll eat but, in the meantime, I could have a beer so what do they have on tap? That's when my world begins to shatter.

They don't have beer on tap. They don't have beer in a bottle, as I find out a millisecond later. Of course, I could gamble on the steak choice and go straight to the wine selection and order a Cabernet, but that's also not going to happen because Kelly, realizing that I am asking for something well beyond her ability to supply, blurts out, "We don't umm, umm, umm - serve," and I correctly take this to mean that there isn't a drop of booze in the house. Well, not for me - maybe the chef is a complete alky and glugs a bottle of gin whilst he's preparing the grub, but that's not for me to say.

Kelly leaves me with the menu and I decide that I should at least give the place a try because I am pretty hungry but, after scanning all three pages, I am at a loss to find something that is not fried. There are no salads, not that I want one, but their absence is relevant. Finally, I do manage to locate two non-friend items, both of which are steaks. hen I realise that every item - and I mean every item - is accompanied by a superlative adjective.

Both steaks are of generous proportions and would be grilled perfectly to my liking. The pork chops (fried of course) are described as delicious, the fish is gently battered, the scallops are fried to golden perfection. Not a single entry is without such a description and it reminds me of a used car lot where every car sports a placard bearing a similar boast.

Between the superlatives, the atmosphere and lack of alcoholic stimulation, I decide that a burger and a beer in the Irish pub might be the best choice. Maybe they have wine. They'll certainly have knives and, if they don't have Guinness, I'll carve off my own head with one. So, I exit quickly and trudge back up the road, past the gas station that has no shop, past the pizza place, which has now closed, across the parking lot and into Slainte.

They have Guinness, so I order one.

They have music.

I ask the bar guy about food.

"Not until September," he says, scratching the back of his head. "We have no kitchen. There's a place called Surfers about half a mile away..."