By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 9/20/2019
Occurred: 4/9/2019
Posted: 4/18/2019
Topics/Keywords: #Florida #KeyWest #Travel Page Views: 285
For the second time, my daughter sent me to Key West. Do you think she's trying to tell me something?

In 2016, my daughter, Jennifer, sent me and Keith cross-country to Key West. It was an awesome trip, but exhausting. Since then, Jenny has bought a vacation home there, which she usually rents out but she reserves the month of April for her own use. This year, things piled up and she was unable to go. But rather than waste the unrented house, she sent Keith and I there, again, as a birthday present.

Of course, now we have dogs and they couldn't come. So we arranged with our roommate, Yoshi, and our friend, Michael, to watch them while we were gone. And I offered to let Michael use our car while we were gone, in exchange for his taking us to and from the airport.

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We flew in style, in an almost-brand-new Airbus. So new, it included WiFi (that I didn't pay for, but didn't need) and USB phone chargers at every seat!

In addition to movies, the seatback entertainment center included a Google Maps-style indicator of our route. It also allowed us to explore the world if we wanted.

At Atlanta we switched to a slightly older plane for the final leg of the journey. Key West, here we come!

We arrived at Jenny's pretty little Key West home, which she normally rents out but she reserved a couple weeks for Keith and I. After all those hours flying, it was a welome sight!

The lot is surrounded by such luxuious vegetation that it's like being on an island by ourselves.

The fully-equipped kitchen comes with dinnerware and cookware included, as well as top-notch appliances.

It's also beautifully decorated. This little tableaux in the kitchen, I was told by my then-2-year-old granddaughter, was the "mommy Buddha and the baby Buddhas."

This is the back porch. It is the most secluded, cozy, safest-feelinge place I've ever been. Keith and I literally spent nearly all this vacation right here!

Even the back yard is charming. In a corner is nestled the "Daddy Buddha".

The back includes a beautifully-kept pool. Back in the day when this house was first built, this was a cistern to supply the home with rain water, because there is no fresh water on Key West. Now water is piped along the Overseas Highways (US 1) so the cisterns were mostly all converted to swimming pools.

It rained, briefly, the next day. But it was still plenty warm, and I went out to document some of the flowers and other foliation near the house.

Key West also happens to be the home of a great many feral chickens. I was told that, if I wanted fresh eggs, all I have to do is scatter corn or grain in the back yard; the chickens will find their way there.

Keith's school pal, Roberto Begayo, happens to be working outside of Miami. So we invited him to come for a visit. That gave us the excuse we needed to revisit our favorite parts of the island, such as Fort Zachary Taylor Beach.

Robert and I went into the ocean, which was very rough today. Keith doesn't generally "do" ocean, so he got to take the pictures.

We then went on a walking tour of Key West.

Key West is an eminently walkable city. We went from one side of the island to the other, and our round-trip was only about nine miles.

You can get an idea of how densely packed Key West is, when you realize that real estate is so precious a business can actually set up shop between two buildings and still become a landmark!

This is the original Sloppy Joe's, beloved of Ernest Hemingway when he lived here and creator of the only dish my mom could actually cook. Because everyone has heard of the meal, it's an excellent place to bring a visitor who wants to explore Key West, to dinner.

I had looked up the time of sunset, so we could see it from Mallory Square. Obviously, we weren't the only ones with that idea! But, that's because going to Mallory Square for the sunset is a Thing. There's also food and souvenier vendors, and buskers and acrobats to help pass the time until the event itself.

The first acrobat we came to was a very funny guy named Kevin Armour. In addition to being a juggler and gymnast, he's also an accomplished comic. When an old plane flew overhead, Kevin stopped a moment and stared at it. "Isn't Key West amazing?" he declared. "Even the airplanes here are 'bi'!"

Adjacent to Mallory Square is the Key West Historic Memorial Sculpture Garden. In it one will find the busts of everyone who contributed to Key West's history—and I do mean, everyone! No race or gender was omitted, making this one of the few Southern momuments I've seen that aren't racist-by-omission.

It was full-on dark when we strolled back home, doing a little gay bar hopping along the way.

The Bourbon Street Pub, a copy from New Orleans, actually has a nude swimming area in an open patio. (No one was actually nude while we were there, however.)

Earlier in the day, we had gone by the Southern Most Point marker. People line up here to have their photos taken at this iconic landmark. However, we decided to come back later, when we wouldn't have to wait 40 minutes for a turn.

That was definitely the right call!

After Robert went on his way, Keith and I decided to take the bicycles ("Even the cycles on Key West are 'bi'!") to Smathers Beach, where there's a pier dedicated to AIDS victims. AIDS, as one might imagine, pretty much devastated the island's population in the '90s.

Then we shifted West to Smathers beach. Again, Keith didn't go in the water (which was much calmer on this day) so he got some shots of me.

The next day I headed out on one of the scooters that also comes with Jenny's vacation rental to meet with Snow Simpson, my daughter Karen's mother-in-law. On the way I passed the Lighthouse from which I originally spotted what was then a gay B&B, Lighthouse Court. (It's no longer gay, sadly.)

Snow works in a bookstore when she is in Key West. (She only lives part of the year here.)

On my return I spotted this tableau in someone's front yard. Not a store or B&B or anything, just a regular house! Which, I think, will give you an idea of how charming the residents here are.

One evening Keith and I took a simple walk around the block. I am astounded at the quality night photos my phone can take—yes, all these pictures were taken with my Galaxy S10+ cellphone!

Jenny's house is near the airport. (It's a small island, so everyone's house is near the airport!) No flights run at night, no it's quiet then. The morning is a different story, though!

On our way to visit more friends, I spotted this fixer-upper. Three more payments, and it's all ours!

Dave and Betsy Schlesinger are friends of Snow's, thus of Karen's, thus of mine. Betsy and Snow have known each other since grade school! We had a lovely visit with them, at the conclusion of which Dave offered to drive Keith and me to the airport when it came time to leave! I'm telling you, the people of Key West are awesome.

Betsy and Dave rent the same condo every year, and have for a long time. In fact, they've been there so long, the landlord is even allowing them to make changes to the condo, like mounting a new flatscreen TV to the wall.

They also have an exquisite back yard, including a pool. Betsy tells me they spent hours soaking in it and reading. Island life!

So, as promised, Dave drove Keith and me to the airport. We boarded, repeating our journey east in reverse: Key West to Atlanta, and Atlanta to Phoenix.

And before you know it, we were home! Michael picked us up as promised and took us to our apartment, where frantically happy doggies welcomed us. It was a perfect vacation: We loved every minute of it, and also loved coming back home!