Monday, March 20, 2017

REMINISCING: St Patrick's Day in the Keys

The Grand Adventure I wrote about the last two weeks is kind of being continued today. This was not the same trip, but it was another trip that I took that involved my brother, Bob. It also involved, once again, leaving Wendy behind. I know; she’s a saint. You’ll especially believe that once I tell you that I went to Key West at St. Patrick’s Day while she stayed home with the three girls. (We didn’t have Jo yet, but that’s a story intricately woven into this one.)

My parents were already in Florida. They spent the first part of their winter near Daytona for Bike Week, but then “moved” down to the Keys for the last part of the winter. They stayed on a campground on Sugarloaf Key. My mother had called me and was saying how my brother and his girlfriend were going to come down to visit, and there was a pretty good possibility that they were going to get married while they were down there. I felt that I should go.

Welcome to the Conch Republic

Since they weren’t leaving for Florida until mid-to-late January, I packed a suitcase and sent it down with them. That way, I only needed a carry-on when I flew down later. My clothes would be waiting for me when I got there, already full of Florida sunshine and beach air. Since it was winter in Buffalo, the clothes I packed would not be necessary for me until May or June. Mom and Dad would be back at the beginning of April with my suitcase and my clothes, well in advance of the warm weather here.

I can tell you this with absolute certainty -- I hate flying. I hated it before the 2001 attacks, and I definitely hated it afterwards. So, going to the airport is a nerve racking experience for me. I firmly believe that TSA is a violation of the Fourth Amendment (That’s a story for another article.). Anyway, flying is not my favorite mode of travel. It was even worse when we flew out of Charlotte on a little prop job. That was a very bumpy ride that made me feel a bit sick.

The "almost" Southernmost Point in the Continental US
When we landed, I thought we may have missed our destination by about 90 miles. We landed and stayed out on the tarmac. It was the first time I had ever deplaned down steps to the pavement before entering the terminal. Considering that there was a sculpture of an Hispanic family on the flat roof of the terminal, I envisioned that we were actually in Cuba and somebody was in big trouble. The plywood walls inside the terminal didn’t set my mind anymore at ease. It wasn’t until I saw the sign detailing all the renovations going on that I felt better. Well, that and seeing my Dad’s truck pull up at the curb when I walked out the doors into Key West.

Key West is warm. And bright. It never dropped below 80 degrees while we were there, and it rained all of ten minutes on Saturday morning when we were preparing for the Bar Stroll (or Crawl, depending upon how far up Duval Street you’ve gone.) This was March. Back home, they were concerned about the typical mid-March snowstorm. (I think we escaped it that year.)

We were all staying in Mom and Dad’s camper at a campground at Sugarloaf KOA. My parents had the bed in the front. My brother had a mattress set up in the “garage,” while I slept where the kitchen table would normally be. It was a nice campground, right on the beach. Well, I guess every place in the Keys is on the beach.
Bahia Honda Beach

We got to do many wonderful things while we were in the Keys. We got to see a Space Shuttle launch from our campsite. Many people were gathered by the beach to see whether the combustion trail would be visible. Even from 350 miles away, it was very easy to see the shuttle rise above the earth into space. The glow in the clouds from the exhaust was beautiful and surreal.

One afternoon, my mother was telling Bob and I about where the old main road used to be and that there was a place where the bridge used to be. We might want to go for a walk to check it out. It wasn’t far, she said. She obviously had never been there, and was going by hearsay. That was the longest short walk I’ve ever been on. It took us about an hour to get there, and all there was when we got there was the abrupt end of a road and some water. It was a pretty nice walk, though.

Bob at the "Lost Bridge"
The Saturday that I was there was the St. Patrick’s Day Bar Stroll. For $20, you got a shirt and went from bar to bar down Duval Street. Beginning at South Beach, at the end of the street, we went all the way up Duval to Rick’s at the northern end. We were sitting at Rick’s at the end of the day when a monster crowd suddenly showed up on the street outside. Apparently, Kenny Chesney stopped in for a little impromptu show at the bar across the street. Oh, and he brought buddies Peyton Manning and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., with him. The whole island was a party that day.

Before I go on vacation, I do research about where I’m going. The internet is a wonderful thing. One of the places Bob and I wanted to go to was Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. That would have been a day-long trip and a bit expensive, although neither were a major concern in my book. We ended up not going because my dad was not sure he wanted to go. It is still my biggest regret from that trip.

Riding the bull
However, I did convince them to try out Bahia Honda Beach. It has been listed as one of Top Ten Beaches in the United States. It was worth the visit. Bahia Honda is an absolutely beautiful beach. We swam on the Gulf side of the island. There must have been a storm off shore in the Atlantic. The surf over there was quite hard. On the Gulf side, it was very placid. The water was warm. And apparently, according to the flag that we saw later, the risk of sharks was elevated. Oh well. We came out in one piece. We didn’t need Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider.

Key West, and all the Keys, were a very fun time. Bob rode the bull -- a couple times. Even with the chickens running around and all of Hemingway's cats meandering the streets, the Conch Republic is a great place to visit. I could never live there, but it’s a great place to visit for a short time. I haven’t been back since, but our 20th anniversary is this year. Maybe it’s a place we could go. But this time, we won't have that little extra gift nine months later.

Craig Bacon has vowed not to take another vacation without Wendy. The hockey trips don’t count in this scenario. He also promises to not keep telling you stories about his awesome vacations. Well...maybe promise is too serious a word.