It’s hard to believe that for all our travels over many years, neither Mark nor I have ever been to Key West. A prime tourist destination in general and one of the great gay destinations on earth … and we’d never been there. A big part of that is that we love Miami Beach so much that when we were working and had a few days off, that’s where we’d head.
So as we started thinking of this U.S. journey and had the brilliant idea of a road trip, we figured Key West should be our ultimate destination. After our week in Miami Beach, then, we picked up a new car for the five-hour drive south. The drive itself was fun; little towns, lots of water, a nice lunch stop at Chef Michael’s in Islamorada, just feeling more and more remote. And then we were in Key West.
After all the years of hearing how great it is my reaction to Key West was … it’s OK. There’s pretty architecture. Some interesting history. A great climate; in April at least the weather was spectacular. Fun people watching. As with our experience in Savannah I love the fact that they’re not freaked out or prudes about alcohol. One night we stopped with a friend for a drink but didn’t really have enough time before our dinner reservation. No problem: the bartender just poured our drinks into plastic cups and off we went.
Mark made an interesting observation on our first day in Key West. He was walking up the main street at maybe 5 PM and it was incredibly lively with the bars full and people having loads of fun. “Wow,” he thought, “this is a lively town!” Maybe an hour later, though, he was walking back toward the hotel and it was vastly more subdued. The end of happy hour maybe? Nope – they had all been ashore from one of the two cruise boats in town and were now back onboard for dinner. In other words the evenings in Key West, in April at least, were a lot calmer than late afternoons.
Speaking of drinks, here’s something to love about being in the U.S.: diet sodas. I know, the artificial sweetener isn’t healthy. But then, neither is sugar. In the rest of the world you can’t get diet mixers, so a lot of mixed drinks are off-limits to us. There’s nowhere else in the world where I can get a gin & diet tonic, but that’s not hard in the U.S. And in Key West they even had diet ginger beer, meaning that we could have sugar-free Dark & Stormies. While walking down the street to dinner. I was in heaven!
Walking down the street finishing your drink? I like that. On the other hand, you can go too far with all that free and easy liberalism. Walking down Duval Street, the main street in Key West, there was a sign for a bar called Garden of Eden. And the Garden of Eden was described as a “clothing optional” bar. I just have to say, given what I saw walking down the streets of Key West clothing should most definitely NOT be optional.
How did we spend our time in Key West? We spent part of it with Jim Marzilli, an old friend from Boston who had moved to St. Petersburg but came down to visit for a couple days. It was good to catch up and share a few meals (and maybe a couple of drinks…).
There were two great sites for us to visit. First up was Harry Truman’s second White House, an old Navy station where he could use the base commander’s house and have both the freedom and security he needed; he spent nearly six months over the course of his seven-plus years as president there. Truman has a special place in my life: I paid for two years of college and one year of graduate school as a Truman Scholar. And then there was the whole Navy connection in the house, so I really enjoyed the tour.
Next up was the Ernest Hemingway House. Hemingway lived here, in the best house on the island for nine years. And while that wasn’t such a huge portion of his live the tour guide says that he wrote some two-thirds of his books here. I’ll admit: I’ve never been such a big fan of his novels. Maybe it’s just that I find him to be such a jerk, and I know I’m not supposed to say it, but I’m just not a fan. On the other hand his house was interesting on its own and then there were the cats. Dozens of them roaming around, most with six toes on at least one of their paws (polydactyl cats, as we learned). What’s not to like about a big beautiful house with dozens of cats?
I had expected that one of the main activities on Key West would be the beach, but no so much as it turns out. We spent a couple hours on Smathers Beach, half a mile long and supposedly the nicest public beach on the island. Obviously we’ve gotten spoiled but the beach itself wasn’t that nice. And the water was kind of dingy. And not that warm or deep.
So there you have it. Key West is a good place to drink, a fun place to admire the architecture, and a great place to enjoy summer weather when it’s not yet summer in the rest of the country. Next time we come to Florida though we’re stopping at Miami Beach. That’s heaven.