Miami is a whole lot taller that I thought it would be. There are almost as many skyscrapers along the thumbtip of Florida as there are in Atlanta, and none are as good-looking. How a city with so many short, gaily-colored buildings can have sprouted so many high, homely ones is a mystery.
I picked up Susan and Isabelle at the Fort Lauderdale airport in the early afternoon, and we drove into Miami for lunch. The back of the parking slip I printed from the meter-machine was a $5 coupon for pole-dancing lessons. We selected an Italian deli just off Miami Beach, and ate our panini on a bench underneath the palm trees. While waiting for our sandwiches, we'd looked over advertisements in a rack across from the counter--in addition to a card selling "Classes: For Men and Woman" (only one female per class?) in "pole fitness", "sexy chair" and "art of striptease" there was one for "The Home Grooming Services" which included "Ear Cleaning". We were speculating on what old guy would order in-home ear-cleaning when we noticed that the next line read "anal gland cleaning" and we pulled out the card to find, to our collective relief, the picture of a wet dog. Still, gross.
I wanted to avoid toll roads, having spent $8.50 crossing Florida on Monday, so we continued south down US1 in rush-hour traffic. In one area (where I suspect German tourists had met their end back in the 80s) we passed a guy holding one of those large advertising signs for a local business: "Guns and Ammo: Largest Selection!" There were several importunate panhandlers at stoplights, but this was not unfamiliar to DC residents. Frankly, Miami seemed appallingly tame after all the news stories of cannibals and other crime, not to mention crazy drivers and other local peculiarities much favored by the town's resident writers. But, again, it is possible that a denizen of our nation's capital is simply a jaundiced observer, being used to the insanity that passes for normalcy in and around the District. There are fewer crabs in Virginia, though.
Once I finally got tired of encountering a red light every two minutes, I was prevailed upon to use the tollway. Apparently the State of Florida is going to mail my poor mother a bill for $1.50 (plus administrative expenses) for the privelege.
Soon we were back on US1, driving into the Keys. I think crabs are the squirrels of South Florida. They dash crazily into the road, and you have as good a chance of missing them as hitting them if you continue on your way unpreturbed as if you swerve. They skitter this way and that, and for the most part avoid being crushed, but I am afraid that I heard two smash under my tires as I made my way down the two-lane track to Hemingwayland. Sad, really--two dinner's worth of meat wasted.
I did manage to spare the endangered Key Deer that were grazing along the road.
It's a long way from Miami to Key West--well over two hours. As the signs reminded us, the last island in the American chain is closer to Cuba than to the mainland. We passed over a lot of Caribbean-blue expanses of seawater on our odyssey, and arrived here at the Sheraton Suites just as the sun was going down. With our two other friends, Dani and Helen, who'd arrived early via direct flights into Key West International Airport (I guess a single engine flight from the Bahamas does make it "international", though I suspect all of customs and immigration is contained in a single employee), we went out for Cuban cuisine at this great little place on Truman Avenue (the former president had a "little White House" here). We all shared a single, deliciously cold slice of the local famous dessert, then boxed our leftovers and continued on to Duval Street, where we parked and walked to a bar where there was (very good) live music outdoors. I took one sip of my margarita and knocked the whole glass into my lap. This being summertime in Florida, I dried out pretty quickly, but I was sticky everywhere, from elbows to ankles. Having already wasted enough money at the place, I was not interested in emulating the peculiar example of thousands of the establishments previous customers, who'd written notes on one-dollar bills and stapled them to the walls, ceilings, and decor of the bar. The inside and out was literally papered in money. All defaced, to one degree or another. US currency, all singles, but an incredible accumulation. I wondered what patrons from other countries thought when seeing this. I could have paid several months' rent with the stuff.
When the band shut down at 11.30, we drove to the local AIDS memorial. Key West has been a gay mecca for years (many establishments which previously catered exclusively to homosexual clientele are now more hetero-friendly, acording to the guidebooks). Dani works in HIV-prevention, so she was interested in looking over the display. It was appalling how many names were carved into the black granite, even given the thirty years since the recognized onset of this disease. There was a quote from Khalil Gibran and Tennyson. Nobody does sorrow quite like ol' Alfred. Dozens of stars were visible overhead, but it is clearly a different sky here in the tropics than up north.
I am still frustrated in my attempts to seize one of the innumerable small, but fiesty lizards that race around the steps and foliage by the hotel. I suspect that the Hemingway (polydactal) cats hereabouts may enjoy better success. Tomorrow we snorkel. Susan plans to visit the Naval Base commissary so we can keep some provisioning costs to a minimum. There is also a lovely pool here, and we are right across the street from the beach. Bad weather is not anticipated until Friday, and I suspect even then we'll find plenty to amuse us.