Miracle and I both wanted to be in Key West on our 1-year anniversary. We imagined sitting on a beach eating key lime pie and sipping champagne while the waves rolled in and out. Miracle had read about Key West via Martha Gellhorn’s letters. (Gellhorn, for what it is worth is twice the badass Hemingway was and a much better writer. There. I said it.) I pulled my own imaginings of mile marker 0 from Bob Dylan’s song, “Key West (Philosopher Pirate).” To say that Bob romanticizes the four square miles of land at the end of the line is an understatement.
We listened to Pod Dylan—a podcast all things Dylan—as we cruised down Highway 1.* In particular, we listened to the episode where they explicated the penultimate song off Rough and Rowdy Ways. The host and his guest, a renowned Dylan scholar, both wondered aloud if the Key West in Dylan’s mind is just that or if it really is like he says: the land of light, fine and fair, paradise divine, under the sun, under the radar, under the gun, an enchanted land.
I’m here to say, the song is a great imagining and is a true testament to Dylan’s songwriting. Key West is, yes, under the sun, but judging by the hordes of tourists, it is hardly under the radar; there’s plenty of light and there’s plenty of litter. It’s fine; I think that’s fair.
Put simply, Key West is a party town. Lots of bars and lots of drunken bicyclists and golf cart drivers. Our driveway hosts were a bright spot. They were very accommodating and gave us some tips on where to eat and sites to see. (I even got to use her parking pass so we could get in close to Duval Street.) All the bars are pretty much the same—tropical drinks and bottles of cheap beer. The food is south Florida—shrimp and grouper, seafood galore. All of it is pretty darn good, though nothing stands out. Cuban coffee is good and there’s more than a few places to choose from.
Everyone will talk about the Hemingway cats. I’d rather have heard about the nocturnal chickens. Key West—and most of the other keys—are home to wild chickens. I like chickens. I used to have chickens. Only my chickens didn’t crow like they were witnessing a murder in the dead of night. Every night at two a.m., these dino descendants began a chorus of the most blood curdling yodels, making it nearly impossible to sleep. It was a call-and-response of horror. Our first night out of the keys, Miracle and I slept like babies. (Lesson here: If you go to the keys, don’t camp.)
We got to eat our Key Lime pie (though the presentation with mile high meringue was the most noteworthy part) and we had our champagne (actually a Brut Dry Rose from Korbel). We made it to one year together. We made it to Key West. Things aren’t always what you think they will be. Key West is better as fiction. My life is better than I ever could have imagined, even if there are sleepless nights on a party island.
I’ll give a full Florida wrap-up in the next few days as we plan to hit Cedar Key and panhandle on our way to Alabama.
*Cruising down Highway 1 is also a fiction. All the photos of empty roads must have been taken during quarantine. Wall to wall cars. That’s what you should expect. People passing on the shoulder, on the double yellow, honking and weaving, flipping their brights. “You feel like you’re driving on the water,” I heard from many people. No, I felt like I was driving on a highway bridge. Electric wires, guard rails, concrete barriers all detract from feeling like you’re driving some sort of aquamobile. Everything about Key West is romanticized, I guess.