Key West

So remember I did this thing for San Francisco where I detailed our trip for posterity? I’m doing it again, for my trip with my mom and my sister to Key West. Don’t care? Don’t read.

Saturday

Jason and Zoe drove me to the airport Saturday morning. Although Zoe had been asking if I could put her in my suitcase Friday night, and saying that she ought to come because she likes me and loves G.C. (and I suspect my husband didn’t tell her Aunt Kate was also coming, or I can only imagine her request would be more vociferous), by Saturday morning she was pretty sanguine. She blew me a kiss and smiled at me and I was alone in an airport.

Alone in an airport. Is there a greater pleasure? The only real problem is that you have to bring your bags with you everywhere you go; normally when I am with Jason and Zoe, Jason forms a station at the gate where bags can be left, and I can come and go as I please – but of course, since the advent of Zoe, “as I please” has meant “when Zoe needs a diaper change/help on the potty”. So I will take a little alone time, especially since the O’Hare United/Continental terminal has bathroom stalls large enough to fit a rolling carry-on, a large purse, and a Ricki.

The flight was uneventful. I mostly slept and did the crossword puzzle in the in-flight magazine. Kate and Mom met me at the gate and we proceeded to the rental car counter, which had about fourteen computers and two or three people to work the computers. My mother was annoyed, but this is like the waiting room thing. When you don’t have small children, being expected to wait in a waiting room or on a long line is frustrating. When you have small children, and they’re not with you, the waiting room is paradise and a long line is no big deal. So I was not annoyed.

We got a red Chrysler Sebring which was cool but it was a minor challenge to fit all of our stuff in it. I drove and Kate shouted directions from the back seat. We hit major traffic once we got on Rte 1 before we were on the islands proper, but then it cleared. Again, Mom and Kate were annoyed by the traffic. I was sanguine. It had been hours since anyone had called out, “Mommy!” and I had had to respond. (And I don’t just mean Zoe.)

Kate and Mom had a specific fish restaurant in mind for a late lunch (and getting later every moment we sat in traffic) but knew neither the island it was on or its name. And yet, we found it! The Fish House, near the bottom of Key Largo, if you’re curious.

We had put the top of the car up to go into the restaurant, then had a hell of a time getting it back down again, although I suspect I was being more finicky than necessary.

Then disaster. I stopped for a crab crossing on Islamorada – hey, other cars were stopping, too! – and as I tried to determine whether or not the crab had reached safety, another car whomped me from behind. He was going so fast his air bags deployed.

The passenger in the other car was herself an insurance agent, so she was pretty calm about the whole thing, even friendly and chatty. We exchanged information quickly and then waited.

The sheriff – or possibly deputy sheriff – came right away but he couldn’t do the traffic report; we were supposed to wait for the Highway Patrol.  The Rescue guys came. Only my sister needed to be checked by them – her head had hit the seat in front of her – and they determined she was fine.

Then we waited. And waited. And waited. We called Hertz. They said we could leave. The insurance agent lady said we could leave. Although, to be fair, she also didn’t want her man getting a ticket. But the Hertz guy said it, too. The Hertz guy who was in India and had clearly never heard of the Florida Keys, never mind Florida automotive laws, but he knew Hertz company policy, so that’s enough, really.

Anyway, after much waiting, we were back on the road, and finally arrived at our hotel at around 8:30 or so. (The crab, by the way, scuttled back and forth across the road several times before disappearing on the other side. It did not seem grateful at all that sparing its life had caused us so much trouble.) Our hotel, the Santa Maria, was swanky. There was a little reception area, manned that night and frequently that weekend by the ever-friendly Wolfgang. The reception area was sort of its own building, though it connected to the bar/restaurant that we did not frequent, and then you went out to the lovely pool/courtyard, and then we went up to our suite, which was gorgeous. A full kitchen so nice I felt bad for not cooking, a small living room, several balconies, and then two bedrooms upstairs.

It was very late but we were jonesing for something Key lime-y, and also needed some drug store items, so we went out to Duval St. and found some Key lime pie gelato, which was excellent. I love it when ice cream (or other frozen dessert products) have pieces of pie crust in them. My sister and I contemplated hitting a drag show, but we were too tired. After a little more meandering we went home and went to bed.

Sunday

Sunday morning we tried to walk down to Dog Beach, which was allegedly by our hotel, but we did not see much beach that was not the private property of some hotel, and we did not see dogs. I mean, we didn’t see dogs then. Throughout the weekend, we met quite a number of very nice dogs, including a beautiful Great Dane that wanted nothing to do with us and a golden retriever who retrieved dollar bills for her man. Then we sunned ourselves by the pool for a while. The pool was saline, which is what I want if we put in a pool. There were also free smoothies and ice water with pieces of fruit in it. We read, we tanned, we swam. We went to Camille’s for brunch and had delicious crab cakes and omelets. We pooled some more. Then we got dressed and headed out. We swung by Southernmost point, where we saw my favorite site of the trip, the Southernmost Iguana.

See, for those of you who’ve never been to Key West, there are Southernmost everything. The Southernmost house in the US (which the owner deliberately built to be 18″ longer than the house across the street, so that they could call themselves the Southernmost). The Southernmost Hotel. The Southernmost Hotel on the Beach. The Southernmost tattoo parlor. I am not making that up. I think at the Southernmost tattoo parlor, one ought to get a tattoo of the Southernmost Point . . . on the bottom of one’s feet. Your own southernmost point, as it were.

(The other thing they have is places Ernest Hemingway drank. They have Sloppy Joe’s, the bar where he drank, and then the other bar, which is now on the location of the original Sloppy Joe’s, so it’s the physical location where Ernest Hemingway drank.)

Then it was on to Duval, where we shopped and shopped and shopped and shopped and shopped. Oh my Lord. I do not know any shoppers with more stamina than my mom and my sister. For serious.

Kate and I tried on tiaras at a schmancy gallery. Don’t we look great in tiaras? We are clearly descended from royalty. We even both have the longer second toes to prove it!

I had made reservations at Cafe Marquesa for my mom’s birthday. It’s a swanky restaurant connected to a swanky hotel off of Duval. We were a bit early and they were a bit short-staffed, so they had to quickly decorate the table once we were already seated, but the food was amazing. We had crab cakes and arugula salad with tomatoes and cheese and truffle oil, and then each of us had a different fish, and of course we shared our dishes. We skipped dessert because the shop lady at one of the stores – where we purchased an adorable dog purse for Zoe and possibly some other things; I don’t remember – had told us about a place called Better than Sex, a dessert restaurant, and said we had to try it. I had actually read about it while searching for a place to take Mom for her birthday, but was concerned that, even with her extensive experience reading romance novels, Mom might be mortified and disapproving of a place with dishes named “Peanut Butter Perversion” and “Tongue Bath Truffle.” (No, I’m not making these up.) So after our fish, we shopped some more, then headed for Better Than Sex. We almost didn’t get in because it was all booked, but there was a table that the people who’d reserved it were late for, and we ended up getting that one. We had the Tongue Bath Truffle (flourless chocolate cake with raspberry sorbet), the “Between My Red Velvet Sheets” Cheesecake (umm . . . yeah, this one doesn’t really need translation, does it?), and the chocolate grilled cheese (dark chocolate and brie) with strawberry-prosecco soup, which I do not recall having an adorable name but I suppose it must have.

So did it live up to its name? It was pretty good. But better? Well . . . I guess it depends on the sex.

It was, however, fully embarrassing. The perky blonde waitress had to explain that the daily specials are called “One Night Stands” and that the wine drinks have chocolate around the rim, which they call a “rim job.” Oy. And Kate and I ordered a Carly’s Button wine drink, and the dark chocolate rim did in fact have a little white chocolate button. Good thing it’s so dark in there no one can see you blush.

Also my mom kept commenting that she’d never encountered such an expensive ice cream parlor and we had to keep pointing out that it was in no way, shape, or form an ice cream parlor.

After that we were fully exhausted so we went home and went to bed.

Monday

The next day we woke up and did some more pooling. Then we went to lunch at this other place the shop lady had recommended, Santiago’s Bodega. Boy was that off the beaten path. We went through quite a few blocks with seemingly abandoned houses, and across the street from an abandoned lot populated by a rooster, two hens, and their preteen-ish chicks. We saw chickens crossing the road! Hahaha!

The restaurant was very nice, small plates, some of which were Spanish and some of which were not. My mom and sister had never had bacon (well, prosciutto)-wrapped dates before, so they were impressed. Our waitress was very pregnant but moving around like it ain’t no thing.

Then we went to Hemingway’s house, which was cool. (Looking up that link, I discovered that Hemingway was born in Oak Park, IL! I’ve been down that way a few times to go poke around Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio. Cool!) We saw the six-toed cats. Actually, even my very moderate cat allergies were tripped by just being outside Hemingway’s house. But it was cool to see. They have some of his own books, and his checks, which are still for more money than I might ever see from writing. It’s a really nice house; I didn’t realize Hemingway had made so much money in his own lifetime. It seems wrong somehow. It also seems wrong that I’ve read so little Hemingway. I should get on that.

More shopping. So much shopping. When we got hot and crabby we stopped at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, the touristiest of all tourist traps on Duval. But we needed tall drinks and air conditioning, so what were we to do? Then more shopping. Then the sunset celebration at Mallory Square. We saw a rooster up a tree, which was pretty cool.

My favorite thing were the little kids dancing to the calypso band by the entrance. They later came to sit next to us to watch the sunset. The little girl wanted to know what the sun was going to do and was not impressed by the answer. The little boy announced to my sister, “Boat!” and then, “Poop!” And the sunset looked really cool. It was behind a cloud but it made these awesome gray-blue streaks in the sky.

We promised we would not stop and shop on the way back to the hotel because we had 9:30 reservations but we may have ducked into a few stores. Then back to the hotel for a quick change and then to Louie’s Backyard, which was luckily right around the corner. We were seated on the back porch, and I was concerned we’d be too hot, but really with the sun down and the breeze coming off the water, it was fine. Some more swanky fish and finally, finally, a slice of Key lime pie.

We went back to the hotel and Kate generously agreed to accompany me downstairs so I could have a night swim. Night swimming is possibly my favorite thing to do in the world and I like to take advantage of it whenever there is no one to tell me not to. I floated on my back a lot. I saw Saturn. (I checked it with my Night Sky app so I know it was, in fact, Saturn.)

Tuesday

Tuesday morning we had to hustle. Mom credited me with getting us out the door by 10, saying I used my skills as a toddler-wrangler. Kate was offended that she wasn’t given credit, and I pointed out that they were a lot more cooperative than the people I am used to getting out the door. We went to Theater of the Sea on Islamorada, which is a place where they rescue and take care of various animals and also display them, so we saw a three-legged turtle and a turtle that appeared to be paralyzed in the back legs, and some sea lions and a whole lot of parrots, and we watched the parrots perform their tricks. Parrots are hella smart, y’all.

Then I approved lunch at The Fish House, which I emphatically should not have done, because it meant putting pedal to the metal, arriving at the airport and leaving my mom and sister to deal with Hertz, and begging the security guy to let me on the priority line through security because my plane was boarding, like, now, and the line was miles long. I hate being that person. But I made my flight.

And now I’m home again.

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