It begins and ends at Mile Marker Zero. They make a great deal of the U.S. Highway One marker in front of the Monroe County courthouse at Fleming and Whitehead Streets. So here I was the other morning.
After I got off work I figured I had better take a little ride around town, enjoy the night air, chill out physically and mentally as it is cool these days before dawn, and at six o'clock thanks to summertime it's dark and the streets are empty. I figured I could park illegally and capture my sweet running ( for now) 1979 Vespa 200 in a few hot spots.
Everyone knows about the Mile Zero thing. The Angelina guesthouse is perhaps less well known. It is one of a cluster of the less expensive guest houses I recommend when people ask. I got that question the other day at work. It goes like this. A dude calls Key West PD and says he needs to speak to the Lieutenant. Well, my job is to be the gatekeeper and as I told my trainee dispatcher, police officers hate to be ambushed. So I have to find out who he is and what he wants so I can pass a coherent message to the night shift Lieutenant, who does not want to be disturbed by bullshit but expects me to differentiate BS from urgent stuff she needs to know. The dude goes on he is a retired Los Angeles police officer with a bunch of retired buddies looking for recommendations on places to stay when they vacation in Key West next month. Yes, this sort of thing happens in every trade and profession in the Keys as any resident will tell you. No doubt in every resort everywhere. Me? I rely on my wife For teavel advice and she is smart enough to research Trip Advisor, Yelp, Urban Spoon etc... But among the electronically inept, word of mouth from a total stranger works better. I can just imagine the Lieutenant's response had I passed this premium service caller to her cell phone... Luckily the 911 phone was quiet and the trainee had some abbreviations to memorize so I made the department look good and completed the courtesy call. Talk to the Lieutenant indeed!
Everyone has their favorite bar in Key West and I don't. With the passing of a well known Irish place I have promised to stop whining about, I have no idea where to stop off. Some say Shanna Key on Flagler though I have some inbuilt internal resistance as I liked the quiet darkness and serene calm of the place that cannot be forgotten. The Green Partot sells the usual mediocre beer and has interesting music and is properly tropically open air but it's too well known and crowded and claustrophobic sometimes. I like to sit across the street on the deli bench that I have friended on facebook not to support clever advertising but because it is a good spot for sit-down Cuban coffee and people watching.
If you come to Key West you will stop off at the Hemingway House, the best known and best marketed privately owned attraction in the Keys. I have no idea what it is about the man or the myth that makes him so incredibly popular in a nation that prides itself on anti-intellectual illiteracy, but perhaps I have answered my own question. Perhaps he is the right kind of stuff, not for his clipped tedious writing style but because he drank, chased women, killed animals and write about bar brawls while making and enjoying an immodest fortune. And then to prove he didn't have it all he blew his own brains out as an antidote to aging. So people trek to his former home in droves. 6:10am was the perfect time for some private unobserved illegal parking photography.
Ah yes, the Fausto's landmark, not just a grocery store but a social gathering place is how Fausto's styles itself. . The mustachio'ed city commissioner who married into this family has the formula down just right. He sets prices high enough to stay in business, he caters to the high end, gay and harried guest house families with beach food, seaweed treats (erk!) and old fashioned cuts of meat. But it's also a real grocery store, steady and ready to serve people unwilling to drive two miles to Publix in the outer darkness of New Town. Visit Key West and shop Fausto's here and in the less picturesque store on White Street a mile away, to serve those unwilling to travel 12 blocks for groceries...and pretend you are a local with all the glamor (!) and none of the hassles...
To express correct ennui with the whole unseemly tourist thing tell people you are over Duval Street and you never visit, except perhaps to have a beer on the beach at Southernmost, or at best to wander the boutiques in the unhurried Upper Duval area, which is paradoxically at the Southern end of the main drag. Seen here across the handlebars waiting for a green light at Truman Avenue, looking south.
You won't find four speed steel bodied scooters with "antique" tags for rent at Andy's Scooter shop. You don't see me here much during the day, though if you need your scooter repaired and don't want to see Jiri on distant Stock Island, this is where you'll come. If you rent a scooter, the best way to get around town, remember this isn't Disneyworld and bad things happen to people who ride badly. A helicopter flight to Miami to repair your broken head will cost you $30,000 and I'm sure your insurance company will try to reject the charge as they usually do.
Speaking of which buying booze to go will do you no good either but here at Don's Place, on the Thousand block of Truman you have the chance to pick up plenty of second hand smoke when the doors open set seven in the morning, or to buy booze to go at the only drive through window in Key West since The Tunnel closed.
Landmarks in Old Town would be incomplete without a mention of Dions at Truman and White. 24 hour gas compete ting with the Chevron across the street whose secret weapon is car repairs and coffee for those who seek out American brew. Here at Dion's there is a convenience store alongside the gas and in it's way this too is a social hub. To people watch here pull up at the Kerr near the ice machines, get a coffee or a soda, but not alcohol please as this is the real Key West and public drinking is not approved of here. For real.
If you want true local food get some fried chicken, preferably fresh fried, from the chicken counter inside. I like Dions, as do many others which is what made the family monstrous wealthy one fried chicken breast at a time from here to Homestead.
There: not Chamber of Commerce certified. Conchscooter's landmarks. And no I didn't even try to get tickets for Jimmy Buffett's concert the other night. 200 tickets offered to 69,000 people. Humph!