Saturday, November 12, 2005

Back from the Run

It was a great day — very few clouds, a nice breeze, and an open road. I took along some favorite tunes, including Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles, The Eagles Greatest Hits by the band of the same name, Time Out by Dave Brubeck, and Songs of Summer by the Beach Boys.

They’re having trouble with the drawbridge on Jewfish Creek at the end of the 18-mile-stretch between Florida City and Key Largo, so traffic was diverted down Card Sound Road. That was fine; I like that road better because it has some twists and turns that make driving fun. The traffic wasn’t too thick in Key Largo and it really didn’t get annoying until I got to Marathon, which is an island that is becoming more like the mainland with four-lane roads and Home Depot. But I guess the Conchs need some place to go in the Keys to find building materials and a Wendy’s.

Speaking of building materials, US 1 is lined almost all the way from Key Largo to Marathon with stacks of dead tree limbs and ruined household items from Hurricane Wilma; everything from old sofas to the rusting hulk of a yellow mid-70’s Triumph roadster. Crews were busy collecting the stuff before the real tourist season starts at the end of the month. Even so, the damage to the trees and signs is very apparent, but you could see that everyone was getting back to work and the charter boat shops all had signs up with variations of “We’re Ready!”

My stop at the Seven Mile Bridge was nice. There were a lot of people fishing, and even though there was a pretty stiff breeze out of the northeast, it didn’t deter the campers and windsurfers. I paid a silent tribute to Sam at his favorite pee-bush, which seemed to have weathered the storm, and after a stroll along the shore, turned around.

I stopped at the Cracked Conch for lunch and had a great conch burger. They do their steak fries in peanut oil, so if you’re allergic to that, order the cole slaw instead.

They had the 18-mile-stretch open again…until I got there. The bridge went up for its normal 2:00 opening and got stuck. After sitting through most of the second side of Sgt. Pepper’s, I flipped a youie and went back up Card Sound Road.

One of the reasons I went down there today — other than the fact that the Mustang hasn’t stretched its legs in a while — was to remind myself of the flavor of the Keys. That’s for two reasons. The first is that Can’t Live Without You is set in the Keys — Marathon probably — and I want to refresh my memory of what life feels like there, even if it’s just passing through. You can really sense the difference between the mainland and the Keys, and it doesn’t take much to bring the feelings back. I’ll be sitting down with the Old Professor this week before the staged reading of the play next Sunday, and I’d like to impart some of the sense of openness and casualness that come from living there.

The other reason is that I will probably end up living in the Keys when I retire, or maybe even find a small weekend place down there before then. Who knows. The Keys are like no other place I’ve ever been and it’s hard to believe that it’s so close to here but so different. There’s a different pulse; slower, mellower, almost like the pace I’ve seen in places like Montserrat and Tobago. All you have to do is drive off the main road to feel it, and once you do, you never forget it. Oh, and one interesting thing; gas is between 20 to 30 cents cheaper than on the mainland. Who knows why, but it was a nice surprise to see regular for $2.35 a gallon compared to the $2.67 at my normal place.

One little problem. When I went to smear myself with Coppertone SPF 30, I ran out before I could get much more than my nose covered, so I got a little pink on my arms, face and neck. Fortunately it’s not too bad and it’s the first burn I’ve gotten in about three years. But I’m going to look like a tourist for the next few days.