Crossing the Florida Keys

Sunset near Islamorada

Sunset near Islamorada in Florida Keys

Floridians have an iconic affection for the sunset. Every night, strangers drive up to the beach before a sunset, watch the sun set and then applaud. It’s one of the reasons I was hoping to get to Key West before 6 p.m. tonight, but I only made it there by 8:30 p.m. So this was my sunset.

A lot of folks ask me how I’ve been able to do these marathon road trips alone. Doesn’t it drive yourself crazy being alone in a car? Not if I have music playing at all times, and I’m belting at the top of my lungs. There’s nothing like the open road with just the opening riff of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” that gets me into the mood that I’m free as a bird and happy.

Of course, what happens if the road trip gets stuck in traffic? Not only did I have that problem this morning before getting to Miami Beach, but I was stuck in some pretty nasty Miami traffic on my way to the Florida Keys. I badly wanted to play the Beach Boys Greatest Hits CD to get into the tropical mood, but getting distracted with “I Get Around” isn’t good traffic music. So I played Billie Holliday, good uplifting blues that got me in the spirit — and out of the traffic jam.

The “Overseas Highway” is a 200-mile stretch of two-lane road that follows the Florida Keys — an island chain that goes from the Everglades to Key West. By the time you get to Key West, you’re closer to Havana than to Miami. And the drive is truly spectacular, with the Gulf of Mexico on your right and the Atlantic Ocean on your left. I wanted to stop more often and enjoy the scenery, but it was getting late. The great news, however, is there’s only one way to get out of Key West by car — the way you arrived, so I’ll have a chance again on Monday.

When I was in Key Largo, I had the Beach Boys blaring in my car — which was appropriate, since the song “Kokomo” specifically mentions that town (which is two hours from Key West.) After the Beach Boys, I played my Carmen Miranda CD — the famous “Brazilian Bombshell” of the 1950’s who belted songs in both English and Portuguese.

One song on the Carmen CD was noteworty — “Weekend in Havana.” Consider the lyrics: you better pack up all your summer clothes; I’ll see you down at Sloppy Joe’s; so long boys, and chip ahoy Havana!

“Sloppy Joe’s” was (and still is) a famous and popular bar in Key West. The song hearkens back to a time when, rather than imposing economic sanctions on Cuba, taking a weekend trip from Key West to Havana was typical — and quite trendy.

Carmen’s CD kept me holding all the way to the Seven Mile Bridge. By then, it was 7:30 pm and pitch dark, so I needed some uplifting and bad-ass music to keep me going for the rest of the journey. I put in Van Morrison’s “Bang Masters,” and within moments was belting to “Brown Eyed Girl.”

Van kept me going all the way to Key West, where I showed up at my hotel — the Carribbean House. It is now 9:30 p.m., the night is still young, and I’m having dinner at Wagon Wheel Bar & Grill. It’s a good local haunt with live guitar performances, and none of the pretension I get from restaurants in Key West tonight that are gouging wealthy couples with the Valentine’s Day special.

It’s Saturday night of a three-day Holiday Weekend, it’s Valentine’s Day and it’s peak season in Key West. And I’m just off of Duval Street, the main drag of one of the top gay tourist sites in America. Have a good night!

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One Response to “Crossing the Florida Keys”

  1. nafiss griffis Says:

    The picture speaks silently of the beauty of a Key-West sunset. The vanishing power-lines, reflecting in the mirror-like sea, guide the sun to its abode. The power-lines, a rarity nowadays, keep the traveler company.
    I find applauding a sunset marvelous. I know the zen of a sunset, for I enjoyed many in Baker Beach. Baker Beach excels in its sunsets.
    Nafiss.

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