"90 miles from Cuba." You can buy signs anywhere in Key West that say that. It's because it's true. On my recent trip to Orlando for a work conference, my friend Jace, who just happens to be a pilot, had reserved a single prop plane for a side trip to Key West. He offered to take me along, and I told him I'd buy his food, booze, and hotel in return. After all, the plane was over $700. Lodging and all the liquor we could drink was the least I could do.
You know you're in the world of Jimmy Buffett when you land and the control tower tells you to take taxi way "Niner" to the hanger, adding "It's the one that's NOT flooded." We called for a cab, and an aging hippy who reminded me (in only the slightest way) of George Carlin pulled up and asked us where we were going. I answered "we need a place to stay." After clarifying that we did not have a reservation anywhere, he said "Cool. I assume you want to stay downtown, near Duvall Street?" We said "Hell yes" and were off.
The first place we stopped was the Blue Marlin, and they had a room available for a decent rate. It was only two blocks from Duvall Street, which is Key West's version of Bourbon Street. We dropped our minimal luggage, threw on fresh clothes, and head out for a night of infamy. We stopped at the first restaurant that caught our eye, a place called Crabby Dick's. The first thing to order was a cocktail, and I was debating what I wanted. When Jace said "Pina Colada" I realized there was no other possible order. We had three each with dinner, which consisted of conch fritters (thanks for the recommendation, Jerry!), ahi tuna, Gulf shrimp, and scallops. Yes, we went a bit wild with dinner, but it was SO worth it.
After dinner we set out on our primary mission: get drunk and have a night of pure fun. In Key West, there is a law against open containers. They don't take it seriously, as every block had at least one cocktail stand without seating...just the way I remembered New Orleans. We went from one drink to another, focusing on rum. We staggered through the city, drinks in hand, right past police. As our waiter had told us, as long as you're not being an ass or causing problems, they don't care about open containers.
We found good music, amazing art, and rainbow flags everywhere. We went past at least four bars that were doing drag shows. Nightly. It would seem a good way to get rich quick would be to open a scooter store, as everyone was buzzing around on a Vespa or other scooter. Pizza delivery was done on scooters. At the end of our evening, we staggered home, and eventually found our hotel. It was warm and sticky outside, so Jace peeled down to his boxers, jumped the fence around our hotel's pool, and dove in for a quick cool down dip.
The next morning we cleaned up and called for a cab, as I had to be back in Orlando by 1 for a conference session. Our driver this time was a former stripper who had danced in 49 states. Hawaii is the one she'd missed, and in Wyoming she had danced at this club in Cheyenne known as The Green Door. It really is a small world sometimes. It seems most everyone we ran into who lived on the island had the same story. "I came here on vacation and never left." Our waiter had missed his flight. He didn't bother to find a new one. The stripper used to summer in Alaska and winter in the Keys. She stopped flying out for the north.
Both Jace and I understood the sentiment. It was a simpler life. Time and schedules meant little. Spontaneity was rewarded with hidden secrets, local hangouts, people willing to share or help out. Tropical paradise, cliche as it might sound, is a fairly apt description. The title of this post was our radio call sign in the single prop plane. Today's lesson: do something without a plan. Just drop everything and go. Go out on the town, start a road trip, or book a ticket to someplace you've never been but always wanted to see. Say "Fuck it." And live! I agree with Queen Latifah: "I'm Gonna Live 'til I Die."