I chose this last track to represent our trip to Key West, because Jimmy Buffett seems to be an iconic representer of this unique place. It certainly feels like one of the most isolated places in the U.S., and as such it has developed a culture not seen really anywhere else. Of course, tourists and their (our? But I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveler! Haha) actions make up a significant portion of this culture, as you will see.
4:45 comes early, and that alarm feels like the same that awakens me for a workday. Not surprisingly though, I have a much easier time willing myself out of bed to prepare for the coming adventure. We stumble into and through the showers, and for the only day during our visit, do not have breakfast at iHop. Instead, we pack snacks and water into our backpacks and make our way outside into the unwelcome cold that has descended over the land. 52 and a brisk wind, and yes it takes little to no time for one’s perspective on what constitutes “cold” to change. As we await the Miami Tour Company bus that will come by the nearby Crystal Beach hotel to pick us up, I mostly hope that it will warm enough for walking to be enjoyable. The email has stated that the bus should arrive at 6, but it actually rolls up shortly after 6:30. We are only the second group of passengers to board.
As we make our circuitous trip around Miami Beach and then across the causeway to Miami, we continue to collect others. Most are couples, will very few non-adults. We marvel in the fact that the bus nearly fills, at 53 souls on board, even on. Monday morning. She is relieved by this. As we make our way out of the city, again with the drive narrated by an individual speaking quickly in English then in Spanish, my wife goes to sleep while I read some and enjoy watching the GPS as we go further south. Florida City the last mainland post, slides by, and we continue onto the Overseas Highway. Part of, the end of, US-1, this amazing piece of engineering extends over the Caribbean Sea to the left and the Gulf of Mexico to the right. She tells me that the two bodies of water do look different as well. Also, and this makes me feel slightly dizzy, there are stretches of highway even over the water where no guardrails are present. The longest stretch, the seven-mile bridge, I think takes us to Big Pine Key. But along the way, we do make a stop.
“Ok,” the driver says: “get your cameras ready, because we are about to stop at a very historic place. Very historic… McDonald’s.” This draws chuckles from the half awake crowd, and we scramble off at the Key Largo location to acquire a more substantial breakfast.
Back on after about 30 minutes, we move through a surprising number of small keys: Marathon, Duck, and others who’s names I am not able to recall. Finally, we bump onto Key West and roll to a stop at Caroline Street, immediately searching for more food. We enter a little diner called Harpoon Harry’s, where she orders a key lime pie sandwiched in French toast (interesting?), and I get a giant Cuan Mix sandwich that had pork, mayo veggies, and delicious bread. I regrettably consume only half of it, and by the time I think of eating the other half we make the determination that it is probably already too late to do so safely.
By the time we step outside, at around 12:15, the sun is up and temperatures climb nicely into the mid 70’s.
“Ok, we’re down here” she said, “now what do we do?” We decide that then $39 trolley tour is not worth it, as most things are walkable anyway, and make the mile-and-a-half hike to the Southernmost landmark to have our pictures taken. She makes frequent stops to accommodate my sedentary body, which is not but should be used to taking such strenuous strolls. As we waddle down the walk, roosters waddle along with us, moving freely through yards and along streets. This, I hear, is common to many island locations as they are seen to symbolize good luck. They give me nightmares! Because I have this weird thing with birds that go back to my dream of the Big Chicken stomping through Charlotte and causing havoc as a kid. Don’t… ask.
Anyhow, rogue roosters aside, the walk is pleasant and I absorb the calming feeling one gets by being so far away from news centers and other such minutiae. We get to the icon, where we must stand in a somewhat lengthy line. “My phone is down at 3%,” she says, noting that use of the GPS has nearly drained it. I had tried to allow her use of my wonderful Anker Portable Battery Charger, but her ports were not USB. As you arrive to take your picture, the person behind you in line actually snaps it. I suppose this is a sort of unwritten rule that developed over time. Just as our would-be picture taker prepares to snap us, her phone bites the dust. So I hand the woman my phone. Only it chooses to not stay bright, continuing to drop brightness to 0%. Later, I determine that this happens because I have the green curtain enabled. In any event it causes us to throw in the towel on that and scramble out of others’ way.
She searches for a likely location to give her phone a little more juice, and we discover the Southernmost Guest House. Yeah I know, real creative name. The person inside is nice, allowing her to plug in and grab a cup of coffee, and inviting us to sit on the porch with a table and chairs.
After getting the pictures successfully taken, We again find a place to charge up, the Markers Resort. The lobby of this establishment is quite swanky, and as this occurs at nearly 4 PM, I have a hard time not drifting off as I listen to people walking around, getting on the elevator, and the like.
Prior to our visit to the Markers, we wander into a cookie shop called Matheesen’s, where all of the cookies are huge! She purchases a half-pound peanut butter cookie, and I eat a small bite. The people are friendly and joke with us as we get the cookie. They even ship their wares online, two-day and only through Wednesday so that they can be had by Friday. I may well get one someday.
The bus ride back, beginning at 5:30, is more brutal than the inbound trip, and I slide into Lala land before we even get out of Key West. Second on also means second off, so it is with great relief that I finally step from the bus and try to stay upright long enough for us to purchase frozen meals from Publix and to crash into our room.
And thus ends our trip. Fortunately I have found a 4:30 PM flight, so we are able to sleep in at least a little bit the following day. Then we return to rainy, cold North Carolina, energized and full of memories to add our our ever-growing pile. A great way to celebrate a year of marriage.