Saving money? You wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing, would you? After the financial meltdown of 2008, one of the problems we Americans had was spending beyond our means and not saving enough. Well just let me say it’s not always a good thing either. Hannah and I have taken frugality to a new sad and pathetic low today. Our eyes grow wide as the greeter at the Key Largo visitor center mentions a $65 motel room in Islamorada. Mesmerized, we are under her spell and the result is not pretty.
Our $65 room turns out to be a Debby Downer. True we have a king-size bed and a shower with hot and cold water; but when I asked for ice, the day manager is dismissive saying they have none, as if only a fool would ask such a question. This is southern Florida, my good man! They claim to have Wi-Fi, but, if so, it doesn’t reach the outer edges of the motel complex where we are. I wouldn’t say the room is small, but the TV cabinet angles in the corner of the room not six inches from our bed. I get that art is not a prerequisite for a good night’s sleep, but there is not a single picture on the bare walls. There are three askew wire hangers, the kind you’d get from a dry cleaners, in the door-less closet. Two plastic chairs out by our door are green with age spots. Landscaping was last done during the Bush Administration (Bush I) and the wire door to the pool is damaged.
Given our sad choice, we know the maid should not be penalized and we leave her a $5 tip. Though not a fan of the anonymity of leaving money for a maid we never see, I would have no soul if we don’t leave some money for whoever cleans these rooms at the No-tell Motel.
As overnighters, we do not take the time to find the soul of Islamorada, a town of 6000, which is from all appearances a way station on the Overseas Highway from Key Largo to Key West. This narrow highway town with motels (from $65 and up), sandals outlets, marinas, bait and tackle shops, salons and day spas, cigars from Cuban seeds, chocolate shoppes, and pet stores) caters to the traveler. It’s not an island hideaway as we have hoped, just a tourist mecca. Islamorada was once home to the baseball player and avid fisherman, Ted Williams, for 45 years. Ted left in 1988 because it was too difficult to turn onto Route One when he wanted to.
On a predawn walk along the Overseas Highway in Islamorada, we have an apercu (a mini-epiphany) and realize that this experience is a godsend. Let me underscore we are not going all Pollyanna on you. Hitting us like a thunderbolt, we realize we are going to screw up five days on the Keys in a big way if we go cheap at every corner. It’s vacation. You can write this down and no need to footnote me: Vacation when on vacation. It’s not home. You saved for this trip, don’t ruin it. Welcome to the Dan and Hannah Juice Bar, where we make lemonade from lemons.
With a change of attitude and five days of freedom ahead, we drive southwest on the Overseas Highway, a road to Key West which flows nicely at 45 to 55 miles per hour on this early January Tuesday morning. Forty-two bridges connect Key Largo to Key West.
As Hannah drives us across the seven mile bridge just south of Marathon, Florida, I’m reminded how vulnerable the Keys are as global warming becomes a reality despite all the deniers and those who failed freshmen high school general science. Flat as southern fried pancakes, the Keys will be inundated in a heartbeat when Super Storm Sandy’s big brother comes acalling. Click on this link to see how much of Florida remains as the oceans rise. Interestingly, Key West has not been directly hit by a hurricane since 1919.
Eight miles from Nirvana (Key West) is the Visitor Center where we don’t flinch at $149 for a room at the Wicker Guesthouse. Ouch! But we have learned our lesson and put down a deposit to hold the room. Key West is pricey.
We’ve been to the Wick last year (our nickname, not theirs) and know that it has Keys ambiance, poolside breakfasts, plush queen beds, and bikes for rent at $15 per day, which means we don’t have to move our rented car for our two days in Key West. It’s also where the action is on Duval Street.
With our room not yet ready, we take to the streets on our seven speed cruisers. There is an easy mixing of cars and bikes in this busy, but not crowded, yet easy going south seas town in early January.
Key West is a place for bicycles. Though the streets are busy and traffic has cars going 15 mph at best, we ride down Duval Street to the sea for an afternoon of pedaling along the beach. All of the sand on the beaches of Key West has been shipped in on barges from the Caribbean. Hannah’s left leg is functioning at 90% after her July water skiing fractured tibia; she bikes and walks easily now. Though, descending on steps from our second floor room is slow going.
Hannah grabs her Vitamin D by the pool while I read the Sunday Review section of the Sunday New York Times that I brought from home.
After our late afternoon two person happy hour by the pool, we stroll (hey we are on vacation) to the west end of Duval just before six PM to get to the pier where tourists gather at sunset. We are making the scene and getting into this vacation of ours.
As we walk after sunset on Duval Street, we see a sign: Happy Hour 7-9P and 2-4A. Whoa. Key West has more bars per capita than any other place in the country. Checking out the pub singers singing Bill Joel cover songs from the sidewalk, we mingle with the evening revelers. Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville is just down from the Wicker Guesthouse. The Duval Street buzz of tourists is music to the Keys. Restaurants and bars are busy on this Tuesday night in early January before the school kids’ winter vacation and the college kids’ spring break.
We’ll sleep well, having have gone from the outhouse to the penthouse in one day. Despite rumors to the contrary, Dan and Hannah can be fun.