About 9 years ago, in another life I spent entirely too much time in Key West. I think it was 7 months all told. A telling detail would be that my favorite parts were evacuating for hurricanes. And being that 2005 was the worst Atlantic Hurricane season on record, we got plenty of trips off the Rock. Most of us lost our cars, watching from Ft. Lauderdale or somewhere while Katrina or Rita or Wilma or whoever torn into the Gulf. The loss of our stuff didn’t help morale, but in general the crew was in a pretty bad place. No one I still talk to has a high impression of the place. I wasn’t single at the time, but those who were complain about the lack of attractive people to hit on that didn’t have leather skin and/or a parrot on their flabby shoulder. My biggest beef was that there were no good beaches, no good waves, and after the hurricanes came through all the marine life was smashed so snorkeling and diving became pointless. Luckily we only had one day off a week back then, but goddamn we got bored. Oh, and the place stunk. And no-see-ums are fucking annoying. And we were right next to the airport and thats about it. And….ok I’ll stop…
*“The Rock” and “Alcatraz” both equal Key West in our survivors parlance.
Well almost a decade later I’m headed back. Not truly by choice mind you, but I had a compelling meet up I needed to do and the best option happened to be Alcatraz. I was very much excited about the meeting, but figured I would get in and out as quick as possible. It seemed realistic that maybe 7 months was too much time on The Rock, but a quick trip should actually be fun. Like Vegas or something. I planned to land at noon on Monday, have the day on Tuesday, and fly out late afternoon on Wednesday. 48 hours. I promised myself to keep a positive outlook. How bad could it be.
I landed at noon, and went to go check in at my hotel, Pearls. It was INCREDIBLY over priced, but I assume my last minute booking and Spring Break season left me gauged. When the price goes back to normal it would be a nice little place to stay. I couldn’t check in until 4PM so I figured I’d venture out and about for a bit. The tropical sun felt amazing as I stepped off the porch. The Southernmost Point is just 2 blocks (South Duval = one block) away from the hotel. Figured I’d check out the landmark and see if I could get my bearings back. When I got there, there were lines in both directions half a block long to get up to it and take your stupid selfie or whatever. Those too lazy to walk and read were backed up in Trolley Tour traffic around the bend with a cacophony of tour guides spewing their “facts” over PA systems. “From this very point we only 90 miles away from Cuba. Guess what everybody…we’re 160 miles from Miami!” “Oooo. Aww.” Not a good start.
I reminded myself how good the sun felt, and turned away that clusterfuck. Instead, I’ll just walk Duval to the other end. Grab a to-go beer and stroll around to see what has changed. Yeah, that sounds nice. I do have to say, I am a big fan of Key West’s lax (or nonexistent) open container laws. Nothing better than walking bar to bar with a road soda on hand for the sidewalk. At first it seemed ok, the southern part of Duval isn’t terrible to walk through. La-Te-Da is still there (great restaurant/B&B), and a couple cozy bars are there that you can drink on the porch. As I got closer to Truman street it started getting scary.
Probably my three biggest pet peeves in life are:
A. Slow/non-spacially aware people on sidewalks
B. Loud motorcycles
C. Loud people in general
I could feel my anger rising as I shuffled behind slow moving herds of sunburnt 14 year girls dressed like hookers. Pushed past idiotic frat dudes stumbling and yelling with their shirts off and captain’s hats (seriously is this a thing with the youth?). Then a scary leather faced lady (or man? hard to tell at times) would pop out of nowhere and scar the shit out of me with her toothless cackle. If I wasn’t ready to start doing the windmill down the sidewalk, I was cursing the pack of obnoxious wannabe Sons of Anarchy cruising down the street on their stupid, loud motorcycles. I couldn’t handle it. I was at an annoyance level equal to trying to get through the corners on Broadway and Spring. I kept trying to remind myself how good the sun felt, and how blessed I was to be here, but jesus I was seeing red.
In the end I put my head down, and powered back out of the mess toward my hotel. Grabbed a six pack from the Circle K, and sat on the jetty at the Southernmost Beach (southern tip of Duval St.). The beach and beachclub were filled with the same congress of idiots, but when I put my back to that, put in my headphones and cracked a beer it wasn’t all that bad. Damn that sun feels nice.
I went to bed early that night (combo of early flight, and day drinking on that pier). The next day I woke up at dawn, and found out that I actually enjoy Key West. I walked around in the morning light. I checked out the Old Town neighborhoods. The streets were quite, with the foliage shrouded bungalows packed in on every block. Roosters hollered out every once in a while. It was really nice. Until the people started coming out. Any the motorcycles started blaring around. And the line at the coffee shop was 10 people long. Time to retreat back to the Pearls. It has a really nice little pool bar with a couple small pools and became my haven when the annoyance factor reached code red.
Eventually the time came, and I met my friend for lunch. We grabbed a beer to walk with, and eventually ended up at Blue Heaven. Awesome place I remember from last time, but never actually ate there. Its in the Bahama Village, and serves incredible Caribbean/Soul food. The setting is like being in your Bahamian grandma’s back yard. Yes filled with Cruise People in the day, but worth the wait.
We rented some bikes, which was also actually fun. On the southern edge of the island between Smathers Beach and the airport, there’s a nice stretch of road with only the Caribbean Sea laying out until forever. Nice place to go for a quick cruise that doesn’t involve the blast and chug of Harley Davidson (for the most part). It reminds me of what would be called a malecón in the spanish speaking world.
Inevitably our time came to an end, and she had to get back on the cruise ship that she had arrived on. Four hours on land, and back to the floating city. The ship was docked near Mallory Square, so after it slowly churned out of the port, I stayed to watched the sunset from the famed spot. Of course the square was chock full of all the tourists I’ve been avoiding, as well as street performers. Call me a crotchety old man, but that shit sounds like an awful place to watch the sunset. I grabbed beers, and walked back along the dock to nice my spot. The sunset was pretty epic. Ball of light slipping under the distant sheet of ocean. Just before the sun went out of view a dolphin jumped up in the water in front of me. Point Key West.
I didn’t have to be at the airport until 2PM so I took advantage of the morning to check out my only surviving highlight from my last time in Key West. The cuban restaurant El Siboney is the shit. Once I was shown it, I think it was a once a week kind of thing. I remembered it being basically in someone’s house (at least feeling that way), but either my memory is off or they had an upgrade. Either way inside, it’s still small and cozy. I’ve dreamed of their grouper, and knew thats what I’d order before I even booked my ticket. Rounded out with a cup of cuban espresso, and all was good.
Proper full and caffeinated, I simply spent the last couple hours walking around lost in thoughts and soaking up sun. Avoiding Duval street like the plague.
I guess Key West isn’t that bad.
I’m sorry but I can’t even finish that thought. Maybe 60 years ago Key West was a quirky outpost for artists and lunatics, but today any of that reckless freedom has been commercialized, packed up and sold to fat Americans. I could have a similar experience at a suburban mall’s food court. It does have the perk of being an island in the Caribbean. The sun, seafood and relaxed lifestyle that come with this fact are available on The Rock, but for god-sake, THERE ARE SO MANY BETTER PLACES TO GO ON EARTH!!!!!!!!!!!!
Sorry. Key West still sucks.
On a side note, I really like that Florida (at least in Key West and Tampa) they have outdoor areas you can go to while in the terminal. It’s pretty nice to pass your layover by sitting in a rocking chair “outside” with a cocktail of your choice. Dear other airports, do that.