I only included a little because, frankly, I still need convincing. A lot of convincing! See, I've got kind of a hate/hate relationship with Key West. "Whence, this animosity?" you may ask. Fair enough.
Let's set the WABAC machine to December 1979. I was in my Sophomore year at Emerson College in Boston. I had no particular plans for the upcoming Christmas Break and, if memory serves, my friend David lived in a dorm which he'd have to vacate since all dorms would be closed over the holiday. David and I decided it would be a great idea to drive to my parents' house in Jacksonville, stay a couple of days and then go have an adventure in Key West!
It was a brilliant idea! What could go wrong.
[Before I go any further, I'm not identifying David any more closely since he's not the one who chose to have my massive internet presence. I can find him online, but not much more than practically anyone else who hasn't made a whole lot of effort in that direction. For those of you who were at Emerson at the same time, we're talking tall guy, really long hair (at the time), and (gasp), Canadian! So anyway, I haven't talked to David in more than 20 years and it wouldn't be fair for me to identify him any further here. I will be friending him on FaceBook so he'll know where to find this. He's welcome to chime in and fill in any details I've forgotten...and I'm sure there are quite a few.)
Anyway, we hopped into my 1975 Plymouth Valiant and launched ourselves toward Florida!
Mine was blue, but otherwise, looked just like this (without the WalMart).I have absolutely no memory of the drive to Florida and very little memory of out brief sojourn in Jacksonville. In fact, the only real detail I recall at the moment is that, I had cash and David had a pile of Traveler's Checks for the trip. For some reason, we decided that we'd go through my cash first and then start spending his Traveler's Checks. (If that last sentence doesn't give you a vague sense of foreboding, it's only because I can't figure out how to overlay an eerie soundtrack.)
So, fine! We stayed a couple of days in Jacksonville and then headed south. OK, I'll admit this first part isn't Key West's fault, but it is one long ass drive from Jacksonville to Key West. This was during the age of 55mph speed limits and the drive to Miami was 6-1/2 hours if you didn't stop at all and never hit traffic. I'm sure it took us more like 9 hours. And, of course, we were young and decided we should just keep driving until we got to Key West...the end of the road!
Uh...it's another 160 miles from Miami to Key West. And this was in 1979 before most of the new bridges were open. There's something like 27 bridges (including the Seven Mile Bridge) between Miami and Key West. At the time, they all looked like this:
You could drive 55mph on the damned things, but I didn't. We'd been on the road for hours and it was really, really dark. And one other thing. Those lanes are just wide enough for a car. Tractor trailers had to keep their right wheels hugging the curb just to have their left-side wheels on the center line. That caused this high pitched screaming noise to come from every truck. The ones passing in the opposite direction were terrifying. The ones that passed me because I was apparently driving to slow were...whatever is more terrifying than merely terrifying.
Fine. Still not really Key West's fault. There are new bridges now that are much wider and allow travelers to arrive somewhat in possession of all their faculties (and dry pants).
Our arrival in Key West seemed to be promising. We got as far as you can drive without going into the Gulf of Mexico just in time to watch the sunrise. We'd been up for almost 24 hours, but we didn't want to waste a minute of the day. We decided to go get breakfast, make our plans for the day and then, check into a motel sometime late in the day.
At breakfast, we picked up a local newspaper and some tourist brochures. Looking through the newspaper first, we discovered that the biggest current civic problem was an overabundance of dirtbaggers. We never did figure out exactly what dirtbaggers were (vagrants? hippies? people who came down with the intention of camping out? Us?), but the Letters to the Editor made it clear that dirtbaggers weren't welcome! We decided that since we planned to get a motel room, we were probably safe from being swept up in some nebulous Dirtbagger Eradication Program. Probably.
Breakfast had us feeling utterly renewed and we decided to go out on one of the boats that take people out snorkeling. Once again, I only remember part of this little outing. Maybe snorkeling and sleeping don't mix well. When us tourists had all had our fill of looking at fishies and coral and stuff, the Captain announced that he was going to get his own dinner before we went back and we should all just hang out for a few minutes. He donned his fins and mask and spear gun and was just getting ready to hop in the water when David asked if he could tag along to watch. The Captain said yes, but that David should stay immediately behind him so he'd know where he was at all times.
So Captain Spear Gun and David swim off and maybe ten minutes later, David is flopping around in the water and screaming. He looked an awful lot like this:
I was sure he'd been speared, and when they got back to the boat, I found out what had really happened, which wasn't a whole lot better. His entire body had been raked by the tentacles of a Portuguese Man-o-War. He had marks all over from where the barbs had stuck in and he was in a lot of pain. Forty-Five minutes or so later, we were back at shore and David had progressed from merely being in a massive amount of pain to being completely in shock. If memory serves, Captain Spear Gun gave me directions to the hospital. Thanks a lot, Dude.
Once I found the hospital, I think he was seen fairly quickly. The treatment consisted of some kind of topical cream smeared all over his body and a lot of drugs. I'm pretty sure that there was some pain relief drug administered, but mostly they just gave him shit to knock him out.
I tried to buy something for us to eat at a convenience store before finding a motel, but they wouldn't take David's traveler's checks with him all loopy and shit in the car. He struggled his way into the store, (sort of a Weekend at Bernie's moment), but I guess in his drugged up state, they decided we must be dirtbaggers and told us to get the fuck out of their store. David wished them a Merry Fucking Christmas quite loudly. (Did I mention that it was Christmas Eve?)
Then, still foodless, we went off in search of a motel to stay in. Our reception wasn't much better at the first 3-4 of these we visited. I don't recall any more screaming involved, but they all made it abundantly clear that our kind weren't welcome in their establishments. Finally, we found a family owned motel that not only checked us in, they also went out and got us some food so I wouldn't have to leave David in the room alone. We stayed there for about 20 hours until David felt well enough to travel and we got the hell out of Key West.
So, Key West, I harbor ill feelings about your little slice of America. I'm fairly certain David harbors a similar, if not more violent attitude toward your little island. Now, to be perfectly honest, I had put this entire horrid experience out of my memory until I saw your representatives boasting about the wonders of Key West on TV this morning. And then the whole regretable thing came back to me...like that thing in the refrigerator that really stinks every time you open the door, but you can't quite find out what it is so you can get rid of it.
So, I'm offering you...Key West, the opportunity to rectify this. I'd be willing to come visit Key West again (on your dime, of course) to give it another chance. I'm sure my GF wouldn't mind visiting...she's never been there. And if you decide to fly GF and I down (uh...don't forget the really nice hotel, BTW), it seems only fair that you'd offer David the same opportunity along with any significant other he happens to be spending his time with these days.
I'll be happy to give the place another chance. I may (or may not) like it, but I promise to blog about it. Seems imminently fair to me. I'll wait to hear from you.