Observations of South South Florida
During the holiday season in 2002, the USC Trojans were invited to the Orange Bowl, and Angela and I decided to go watch their triumphant victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes. As long as were in Florida anyhow, we went a few days early and took a look around the Florida Keys. Alas, I forgot my hat, so to protect myself from the sun I bought a $1.99 round, floppy hat at K-Mart. I look like Slamminí Sammy Snead.
We spent one night on Key Largo, and then drove the rest of Highway A1A to Key West and stayed for a few nights over New Years. Thanx to the film called Key Largo, the Key makes as many connections to Humphrey Bogart as possible. The boat used in filming The African Queen is there, and Bogartís image and name are used liberally around town.
We went to a nice restaurant for dinner on Key Largo to watch the sun set. This is a good idea. However, my wearing shorts and a T-Shirt to said restaurant was a BAD idea. It seemed like the very second the sun went down the wind came up and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees. So the tourists start to catch pneumonia before the main course arrives. Of course, if youíre lucky (like me) the restaurant can move you inside to finish your meal after the sun has set.
While Key Largo is all about Bogie, Key West is all about Hemingway. (The entire Keys claim Jimmy Buffet to be a favored son, but thatís a different story.) Hemingway has a house in Key West which has been turned into a Museum of sorts. Hemingway had a lot of cats, and his house still does to this day, 61 cats currently, many with extra claws (either six or seven on each paw). They are mostly descendants of Hemingwayís own cats, so that makes them sort of special, I guess.
For such a small island, there are an amazing number of people staying on Key West, and all of them (it seems) are on Duval Street by about 7 pm and stay for the rest of the night. They get there from Mallory Square which is the traditional place to go watch the sun set. Alas, thereís so much going on in the square itís hard to remember to watch the sun do itís setting. We watched various street performers perform, like the Great Rondini (escape artist), Bicycle Guy, and someone whom I think was called crazy Flying House Cat Guy. When we first got to the square, there was a huge cruise ship sitting there, but luckily it sailed before the sun set so it didnít block the view.
Key West is also the Southernmost place in the Continental US. In case you forget that, there are at least 4 or 5 Southern Most Houses (self proclaimed) on the same street, all near a marker claiming to be the Southern Most Point of the Continental US. There is also the Southern Most Laundry, Southern Most Pharmacy, Southern Most Hotel / Southern Most Guesthouse and probably even the Southern Most Parking Lot. Much of this southernmost area is owned by the U. S. Navy, so if the government ever wants to pay down the Federal Debt they can sell some of this prime real estate.
We took a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park, and thatís a great trip. Itís an old fort on a Key well beyond Key West, and though itís a popular place it feels like a sanctuary after the rush of Key West. We took a sea plane there and back and enjoyed the views of shipwrecks and surf, as well as many very visible reefs on the way there and back.
Key West is definitely recommended no matter what sort of vacation you like: active, relaxing (even with all the other people there relaxing), or drunken. I think Key West is one place that can reliably say it has it all.