This past week, Kendra and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary with a much anticipated, long awaited bucket list trip to Key West. I’ll skip the usual about what’s happening here in Ormond Beach, because not much has changed…except that Kendra has extended her contract and we’ll be here until the first of October.
Now, for the meat of the story. We left Ormond Beach on Thursday (the 2nd) headed to Ft. Lauderdale FL to see Linda who is a distant cousin of Kendra’s. Linda opened up her home to us and let us spend the night there. She’s an animal lover so the dogs were at home with hers. I was a pleasure for me to meet Linda and a good time of catching up for Kendra as she hasn’t seen Linda since she was a little girl.
Next morning, we got up and headed for the Keys. After working our way around Miami traffic and stopping at McDonalds for some coffee and a biscuit, we hit the Overseas Highway for the rest of the trip. This highway is basically a 113 mile, mostly two-lane road which carries US Highway 1 from the mainland down to Key West, where it ends. Most of this highway is on little spits of land, or keys, that are less than a mile wide, and quite a bit of it is on bridges from one key to another. Here are a few shots from the drive down the Overseas Highway.
The very last mile marker on US Highway 1 is where we ended up. Now, for the skinny on Key West. I’ll try not to make this too long, but we did so much in those 3 days, it’ll be hard.
Where to stay – We arrived on Friday and quickly found there is so much to do in Key West, and it is all packed into a roughly 1 mile wide by 4 mile long island. First off, where to stay…rather than look for a 200 dollar a night hotel room, we used Airbnb.com. Kendra found us a room close to the attractions and attached to a local resident’s house with separate bathroom, fridge, microwave, decent size closet and a spacious bathroom. This particular room is mostly rented out to couples only, so it was perfect for us.
Behind that green curtain of foliage is the house. It was within a short walk/bike ride to all you want to do in Key West. Here are some shots of room. It was furnished with old antiques and kind of made you feel as though you were back in a time where “Papa” Hemingway walked the streets and frequented Sloppy Joe’s Bar. Again, I highly recommend airbnb.com for a decently priced place to say.
How to get around in Key West – There are many ways to navigate around the island. You can drive to the famous Duval Street and try to park…parking is at a premium and you will pay dearly for that little space. Or, you can rent a golf cart and again, you are faced with trying to find a space to put it while you shop, eat, drink or go to some attraction. You can also rent gas powered scooters. The absolute cheapest way to get around this little island is by walking and we did a lot of that our first day there. But, we quickly learned that biking is the next cheapest and quicker, by far, than walking. So, for two days, we rented bikes to get around.
Kendra and her bike, leading the way…
These aren’t the high-dollar 21 speed bikes you see so much of. These were single speed, large tire, beach comber bikes with the coaster brakes…which took a bit of getting used too after using hand brakes for all these years. Here are some of the sights we encountered pedaling around Duval, Whitehead, Caroline and other streets.
The chickens are feral chickens…they run wild all over the island and believe it or not, they are protected by law. Rumor is they of course were brought to the island by settlers and escaped, or when cock fighting was outlawed, they were turned loose. In any event, just about everywhere you go on the island, there are chickens. The car art is something I didn’t know existed until this trip. The cemetery shots are from Key West Cemetery located in the center of the city, and is an interesting place in itself to visit. It is similar to the cemeteries in New Orleans, simply because it was easier to “bury” above ground than dig a grave into the limestone ground. Many notable Key West residents are buried here and there is a part dedicated to the sailors who were aboard the USS Maine when it exploded in Havana Harbor, Cuba.
Those of you who are Jimmy Buffett fans or “Parrotheads” as we are called (yes, I said we), know that Key West is a hangout of Jimmy’s and some of his songs were inspired by things or places on the island, like “Woman Goin’ Crazy on Caroline Street” and “Last Mango in Paris”, about Captain Tony’s Saloon.
Captain Tony’s Saloon – A bit of history on Captain Tony’s…it is the original location of Sloppy Joe’s Bar (more on Sloppy Joe’s later). This particular location on Greene Street started out as the town morgue/ice house in 1858 and has been many other things since then such as a brothel, speakeasy, and a telegraph building from which all the world heard about the explosion of the Maine in Cuba.
“Captain” Tony Tarracino was born in 1916 in New Jersey. He grew up, and dropped out of school in the 9th grade to sell bootleg whiskey during the Prohibition era. He got involved with some Jersey mobsters, was beaten and left for dead in a dump. After that, he moved to Key West. Tony became a boat captain, gunrunner, saloon keeper, politician and quite arguably Key West’s most beloved resident. Tony bought the saloon in 1961 and sold it in 1989. He continued to show up there and entertain the patrons until his death in 2008. Captain Tony was a man who, as the Buffett song goes, did so much in his life , but realized even then… “There’s still so much to be done.” Jimmy Buffett played here for many years before he became the entertainer he is today, and still occasionally shows up for and adult beverage or two. He no longer plays at Captain Tony’s now, preferring to play at his Margaritaville, just a few blocks away.
The bar is colorfully decorated with bras, dollar bills and license plates from all over the world, which to me symbolizes its colorful history. Rumor is that when it was a morgue, a hurricane washed away all the bodies save one. That body was supposedly buried in front of the building. The building has been enlarged over the years and that grave now lies near where the pool table is today.
There is also a tree growing inside this building. Odd you say? Maybe, but not for Key West. This tree is known as the “Hanging Tree” and the story is that 17 people have been hanged on this tree…16 pirates and a mother who stabbed her children to death.
Sloppy Joe’s Bar – Another hangout frequented by both locals, celebs and tourist alike is Sloppy Joe’s. This place was started by a fellow named Joe (Josie) Russell. Joe got into the legal whiskey business by starting this bar at the end of Prohibition….before that, he dealt in illegal whiskey sales which the story goes, is how he met Ernest Hemingway. Joe and Hemingway developed a deep friendship over the years and Sloppy Joe’s was one of Hemingway’s favorite watering holes. Joe’s bar was originally where Captain Tony’s Saloon is now. Joe got into a rent dispute and moved his bar to it’s present location, across the street from the now Captain Tony’s. It wasn’t always called Sloppy Joe’s, but it was Hemingway who urged Joe to name his establishment “Sloppy Joe’s” and the name stuck. This place, along with Captain Tony’s, has been frequented by the rich, famous, infamous and just nobodies like me.
Hemingway House – Probably the highlight of our trip was the tour of the Hemingway House. This was Ernest Hemingway’s residence from 1931, when it was given to him and his second wife as a wedding present from her uncle, until 1939. Hemmingway retained title to the home until his death in 1961.
This house was built in 1851 by Asa Tift, an engineer and marine salvage wrecker. It is constructed mainly of limestone blocks mined from the grounds…the mining of these blocks created the basement which remains dry to this day. The building has weathered many storms since 1851 and it also remains basically unchanged (in structure) since the day it was completed.
I learned a great deal about Ernest Hemingway on the tour that I didn’t know. I know very little of his writings. What I knew about Hemingway was his personal history. This man was simply a genius…a world traveler at the age of 20 as a war correspondent who by that time was well known and had experienced much more than most experience in a lifetime. You can search for yourself as to his biography, but to me Hemingway was a man who lived and died as he wanted to, not taking advice or instruction from anyone but himself.
One of my favorite stories on the tour was of how Hemingway came to own the first in-ground pool in Key West, and the only pool for a hundred miles around. Hemingway was an avid and well trained boxer who had a regulation sized boxing ring in the backyard of this magnificent house. He regularly refereed boxing matches there and at Blue Heaven (Blue Heaven was once a bar but is now a restaurant).
While he was overseas with fellow war correspondent (and eventually his third wife), Martha Gellhorn, Pauline, his then current wife, got wind of the affair he had been having with Gellhorn, tore down the boxing ring, and constructed a very elaborate and expensive (twenty thousand dollars in 1938) in-ground swimming pool. Hemmingway came home from covering the war, found his boxing ring gone and in its place, the pool. He became very angry and a heated exchange of words erupted between he and Pauline. It was during this argument he said to Pauline something along these lines, “If you can spend that much money, you might as well spend my last red cent.” Then, he took a copper penny out of his pocket and threw it at her. She promptly picked up the penny and pressed it into the fresh, concrete patio…and there it is, still to this day.
The house was sold in 1961 by his widow to Ms. Bernice Dickson, founder of the Hemingway House Museum. Ms. Dickson preserved the house so that much of the interior is furnished with items that actually belonged to Hemingway. The house and grounds are also inhibited by 53 poly-dactyl (having more than 5 toes) cats who are direct descendants of Hemingway’s own poly-dactyl cat, Snowball. There is a full time vet on staff to take care of these cats…most are spayed or neutered and cat liters are controlled to two a year. You can see one of these cats on the bed, totally oblivious to everybody who comes into “their” home.
Shots from inside Hemingway House
Off to the side of the home is a smaller two storied structure which was originally a stable. The top was converted to a writing room where Hemingway did 2/3rds of his total writings.
Hemmingway Writing Room
As I said, I didn’t know much about Hemingway’s writings except that he was a journalist and that most of his writings came from his life’s experiences. My goal now is to read all of Hemingway’s works, starting with “For Whome The Bell Tolls” which should be arriving next week.
Hemingway, as I said, lived and died as he wished. He took his own life in 1961. He was quite the character….I would describe him as a brilliant, and often troubled man.
Portrait of Hemingway, probably in his 30’s
If you go to Key West, make absolutely sure the Hemingway House is on your list of places to visit.
Southernmost Point – One other place we visited worth notation is the so-called Southernmost Point Buoy. It isn’t really the southernmost point as that is Ballast Key which is a private island south and west of Key West…There is no trespassing on Ballast Key. The true southernmost point on Key West is on US Naval property and not accessible by civilians. So, this is the southernmost point in the US that civilians can access. There is such a line of people waiting for pictures in front of this buoy that we cheated on the selfie and took ours from the street.
All in all, a great trip. Key West is such an interesting place…it’s the only place I know of where you are closer to Cuba than you are a Walmart. It’s the only place where chickens free range and are protected…it’s a place where it is just as normal to see a man swimming in the ocean with a pair of pink butterfly wings on, as it is to see a man in a three piece suit. We loved it and I got to experience it with the one I love, Kendra!!
One last (but not least) thing. We did stop in Key Largo on the way back and have lunch with an old friend and Brother, Eddie…someone I knew from back in my law enforcement days. If you ever go to “Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen”, I recommend the hog fish.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned for more adventures!!