Monday, January 30, 2012

Velcro & Sparky Go South

"The first step to getting where you want to be is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are." J. Piermont Morgan

10:15 am and South bound in a rented minivan with a bumpy rear tire, the warm weather already causing us to shed the layers the morning cold had at home had required. We managed to not miss the turnpike exit this round and in no time were having grilled hog fish and the guaranteed coldest beer in Key Largo.  You could almost hear the sigh of relief from the islands that we had gotten there.  Important things first, we found a liquor store, a Styrofoam cooler,  a bottle opener and our temporary home at the Breezy Palms.  An old original Keys resort painted coral and set on the ocean side of the island with lounge chairs scattered around below the palms.  I pointed and said "Pretty", my one word sentence that would be repeated no less than a 1000 times over, always accompanied by the point. Docks and boat slips fronted the ocean and black ducks and pelican pooped from the pylons causing more than a few questions from me.  We sat in the sun with our tiny drinks and our white legs watching horny iguanas chest bump and chase in hopes of winning the affection of one large, very uninterested looking girl lizard.  Speaking of girl, I kept my feet up and out of the way since the big 4 foot orange guy clearly was not intimidated by anything.  I found no need to try to prove myself by possibly having to wrestle something that had managed to last from prehistoric times.  This humored Velcro.  Unlike the last trip when we skidded sideways into the parking lot as the sun dropped out of site, we made it to Loreli in plenty of time to see the sunset. We listened to the dread locked sax player (who should have no trouble getting laid) play as the sun went down.
The following morning, surprised by the creamer selection, we took our coffee down by the water and watched the birds poop some more.  While we laid in the sun finally shedding our look of pale tourists I saw the first real smile of vacation on his face.  That day $6 paid for our entire day of food consumption, cheeseburgers and fries on the deck at Loreli.  After almost a year of waiting to see the Barstool Sailor we got our chance. He was playing outback at the Outback.  With the Atlantic and night sky behind him he sang us the best version of Wagon Wheel that we've heard and had some random knowledge of the writing of it that escapes me now.  He didn't look exactly as we had pictured but was exactly the laid back groovy island singer we anticipated.
Richer by bigger coffee cups and key lime whipped vodka we faced another day of the island.  The Wingman and his girl joined us and we had beer and grouper sandwiches on the back deck at the old Holiday Isle. So warm that beers had to be shared to keep them cold.  Wingman took quite a liking to the key lime vodka and soon true to form was making friends by the pool with Larry from somewhere in Oregon.  He had just lost the mayoral race in some rainy northwestern town and was looking for the same yet different escape that we were.  As much as I would have loved to have done a repeat of the full moon party, it wasn't in the cards.  Velcro's Key West Capt buddy and his crazy cool  Missouri transplant chick met us at Morada Bay.  Barstool Sailor sang in the background as Wingman demonstrated how to knee walk drunk while proclaiming horniness to the horror of his girl and the entertainment to the rest of us.

In the morning we packed up, clothes already not fitting back in the suitcase, we were taking on the look of traveling drinking gypsies...not a bad thing to be.  A GPS guided tour through Stock Island's finest trailer park landed us at one of our coolest finds of all time.  Hogfish Bar is all open air and rustic, sitting on the edge of the marina.  It's a fend for yourself park on the side of the road kind of place.  Their logo is "A great place if  you can find it".  We shared a cuban mix sandwich that was  the size of my head even after being cut in half.  There was an old autographed Buffett album framed on the wall, matted in with it was a poem written by a guy gone by several years.  I can't remember it all but it talked about having a group of close friends growing up and how the changes of life take people down different paths and away from each other.  The last of it though said "In the end there were just two.  It was good to have a friend."

While wandering the streets of Key West in search of more limes and a Florida avocado for me, we came across a cool little book store with local authored books and books with drag queen before and afters. I'm now reading Life Lessons of a Legend, about Capt. Tony.  Happy hour at Conch Republic with buy one get one drinks led us to a sketchedly remembered night of about 4000 drinks, some nachos that quite possibly saved our lives...mojitos at Louie's Back Yard ( that's not owned by Louie anymore), miles of staggering, a mop shop and a tumble and head grab but not down the stairs of the Garden of Eden...small miracles.  Just that little bit took time and collaboration to piece back together.  The next morning we did granola at Pepe's and the sun and not much else.  Lobster BLT with fried green tomatoes was lunch from our second trip to Hogfish.  No GPS required to get to the now probably favorite southernmost dive.  

Sunset celebration at Mallory Square has changed a lot.  All of the street people with trained alley cats jumping through flaming rings are gone and have been replaced by 20 some year old knife throwers and the sort.  Makes you wonder if they died out or were ran off in hopes of making the cruise ship tourists feel more safe.  I miss the sketchiness of it, the doing what has to be done to get by.  We left the crowd at Mallory square and steered clear of Duval and wandered into Two Friends to take advantage of the waining of happy hour. Somehow we managed free philly sandwiches by sitting amongst the locals.  But as you know, there is no free lunch. We were beside "that guy".  A loud recent yankee transplant retiree who was wearing a ball cap with the little helicopter thing on top with flashing led coasters and a matching shirt to his wife that said "Don't Matter".  He was telling the story of getting kicked off the street during Fantasy Fest for wearing just a thong and his buddy going to the bathroom  and bringing him back his used whitey tighty's so that he could stay to party on...oh my.  A sex store walk through laughing more than we should and the LSU/Bama game in the bar that you needed to bring your own date to ...managed to not get blind drunk and no one fell down...we were improving. 

Back up to Marathon the next day still taking advice from the Yelp app, we found 2 more bars tucked in behind another trailer park.  Bovine's sign was an old boat laying cocked up on it side with the name painted on it with an arrow to guide you around the trailers.  We ate fish sandwiches and stone crab soup on the upstairs deck then stopped back by Castaways for a drink (it was about halfway back tucked back on a canal, hidden in the same trailer park).  The bartender was a friendly hippie type that you could tell had aged zen happy in the Keys life.  He told us about a place we could get stone crabs for a buck and a quarter a piece...needless to say that went on our list.  Piled up by the pool with our bootlegged liquor, we wondered why we were the only ones taking advantage of this big huge lush pool.  And then 3 o'clock came...the strange ugly old people descended on the pool.  The 5 minute kitchen timer guy with a big white beard and a tiny little boy shorts and every other variety of strange tourist was time to head out.  Right at the base of the Seven Mile Bridge was Sunset Grill, a big thatched roof place that from the road appeared very touristy but we decided to check it out.  There was an open air second story bar over looking the pool (all lit up with changing colors) and deck and boat docks with the bridge in the back drop.  On the deck level was more of a tiki bar and we drank key lime drinks and watched little dark haired girls practice being mermaids in the pool.
I had been directed to the Key's Fisheries and insisted to try the  lobster reuben that they are famous for.  They are Florida's largest supplier of stone crabs and the crab boats were running non stop bringing my little version of happy to the docks.  When you order they give you a little card so you can guess the number of reubens they sell that month.  According to the tracker board this biggest month was almost 3100.  But all of this is slightly out of your reach if you work for Delta...or so says the sign on the front of the building.  We didn't ask.

The Hook Line & Drinker bar sits right beside but doesn't open until later so we let the reuben digest a while before heading back to eat our fill of the $1.25 stone crabs.  Heaven.  The guy cracking them had the neatest little cracking contraption with a metal arm on a lever...slightly more efficient than our hammer technique.  Whoever owns this place is all about the signs.  Above the bar hangs one NO TV's...NO KIDS...NO BUTTER.  That sign actually said "Don't Ask", so we didn't.  Back to the bar beside the bridge but the weather and 30 mile an hour winds had the roll ups rolled down.  We decided we would brave the bearded man in speedos and try out the hot tub instead.  No bearded man there and we used our better judgement and didn't add Mr Bubble to the hot tub. 

Headed north out of the Keys we contemplated a goat cheese omelet in Islamorada but opted instead for the 13 oz burger at Le Tub's in Hollywood.  Found a tiny dive motel a block off the beach and thanks to the wonder of the smart phone were able to figure out the trolley system to get us down town.  After drinks and nachos at Whiskey Tango we wound up on the boardwalk listening to a Darius Rucker look a like sing with along side a pretty afro'd girl.  The next morning we abandoned our little red mini van and spent the day with the Wingman and his girl in Ft Lauderdale.  Bloody Mary's on the boulevard, grouper reubens at Bahia Cabana, drinks at Shooters and another bar that I can't name and an awesome pizza at Anthony's.

No better time could have been better person could have been with me.  And I fell in love...just like last time.