You get a day off and if Rusty is worn out you get to sleep in a bit and then the first decision of the day springs to mind: where to? I like Bahia Honda in the morning, a place by the water which attracts a few fishermen on overnight angling expeditions but no one else stops here early on a weekday morning in summer.
So I missed the golden hour of sunrise, fair enough. I've been here more than once for a spectacular sunrise or two so yesterday was the day to walk and reflect. My wife retired on Tuesday. I'd post a picture here but I got a comment from anonymous remarking that they feel sorry for my wife being stuck with me. I told my wife and she laughed.
"Who said that?" A coward I said, hiding behind anonymity. Bizarre she said. We've been married since 1994 and have traveled all over the place together and apart. She learned Italian to talk to my family in Umbria; we sailed central America together for a couple of years and after the Berlin Wall came down we spent three weeks driving round eastern Europe marveling at a world we hadn't been able to visit freely during our youth.
If the virus eases its grip we plan to drive from Alaska to Argentina starting in 2023 which seems like a long enough lead time for the vaccine to take effect everywhere. The odd thing is she has already seen Iguacu Falls, Rio De Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, Easter Island, and on and on. She speaks Spanish and taught English as a second language. She used to be a lawyer and has been threatened by clients in prison, she ran a women's shelter in Alabama at a time when young carpet bagging hippies were not welcome and she enjoyed the madness.
After we get tired of South America we have a few ideas about what next, assuming the van is still running. We have no parents or children, no obligations at all, and we will for the first time in our lives have a monthly income while we goof off. To say we might come home seems rather odd as we aren't sure where home is. We will have a mailing address in Crestview Florida to maintain our Florida residence, and our bank account in the Keys to collect our pensions. May the power of the dollar never grow less.
The great disappointment of Key West was something we came to terms with shortly after we settled here. Key West we had hoped might a be a springboard, a launch pad for travel. What we found instead was a city that represents the end of the road for dreamers, the furthest point of adventure seeking for that dreamer tied down to a life in suburbia. The highest aspiration is to go to Key West. We landed not quite by accident in Key West from a life we already enjoyed. I had friends here from previous visits, we got jobs we settled down, we fell into the trap of Key West as end of the adventure. We were happy. We were normal!
We stayed because my wife's arthritis had felt a lot less painful during our time in the tropics, away from the cold damp California coast. Key West seemed like a good place to stop. It was my wife's idea to try to make a proper go of it and get pensionable jobs. Having done the sailing trip I was ready for a break and I rashly promised to do the pension thing. Which was how I ended up in the unlikeliest of jobs at the police station, and she became a teacher.
The year 2000 was a time of plenty in Key West when decent jobs were ten a penny and everyone who came worked the bars of Duval Street where drinks flowed and tips were vast. We settled to our plodding government clerical jobs and looked forward to a routine that was made bearable by the eccentric nature of life in Key West.
Office work in Key West is made easier if you show up reliably and don't question authority, show signs of ambition or criticize anyone you work next to. Relationships in Key West are tight and intimate and the person you confide in probably went to school with the person you are bitching about and then the whole calamitous Conch phalanx closes ranks and you are shut out. Forever. I in some manner I cannot explain, managed to navigate this Byzantine bureaucracy and figured out how not to piss off the people in power, the power behind the throne that is. I made mistakes and I suffered the cold shoulder but I am good at apologizing and making up.
The good news is if you prove yourself to be reliable and silent and a supporter when things go wrong the ranks close around you and the value if life in a small town makes itself felt. Key West has been very good to me and I know that had we stayed in California I would never have found the peace and security I have found in Key West. I may be mobile for the next few years but where my wife is from Santa Cruz, I am from Key West. It has been an incredible place for me to grow and learn to cope with life.
I do resent the fact, the cold hard fact that the bright cheerful eccentricity, the literary basis of Key West is being stamped out by money. This has always been the case to a certain extent and a monied class in a a necessary lubricant to keep the wheels turning in a tourist town. And I am well aware that each generation feels forced out by money when their turn comes to step off the Key West escalator. So for us the decision to take our futures in hand by fulfilling our dormant desire to see the world one last time was obvious.
One night in May 1982 almost exactly 39 years ago I got on my motorcycle and rode to Chiasso in Switzerland, eight hours north of my home in central Italy. In those days Italian currency, the lira, was too feeble for traveling and I had a Swiss bank account in Lugano procured for me by a friend where I held a few thousand dollars which I could spend freely anywhere in the world. Currency controls in Italy made traveling a very difficult proposition for a young man like me. When people accuse me of being a communist, and they do because I am an indifferent capitalist, I tell them they have no idea about government bureaucracy. Italy in the 1980s was kafkaesque.
From my bank account in Lugano I rode my Yamaha SR500, my partner in my ride across the Sahara desert to London where I stayed that summer organizing details of my student visa for California. I emigrated, I got married, I created a new life and I never spoke to my family for 25 years. Why? Because they told me I was crazy every time I took off, they told me I was gay because I wasn't married, they mocked my dreams and they discounted my feelings.
Now when I go back to Italy, a country no better off than when I left they tell me I was smart to emigrate. I pay about as much attention now as I did then. I know what I want and I lay plans to get it, then get impatient and try to hustle my way to an early start.
It's my wife who lays out the plans, who steadies the timeline. She retired on Tuesday, so as of next Monday her full time job is stripping down our lives.
We have to plan as though the virus will be gone by 2023. If it isn't we will happily live in our van where we can, BLM land out west, exploring towns and museums in New England because there is much to see in the US and we haven't seen it all. We hope to spend more time doing that after our overlanding adventures are done and we are older and more feeble. Driving a cross the US is easy for us, enjoyable but not difficult. Same language, same currency, easy to understand customs and habits, lots of help and so forth.
We bought the van last year and fitted it out to have to bed in the systems and make sure it worked as planned. Up next we have to take care of ourselves. Teeth need to be checked, eyes, colons, the usual catastrophe of aging. A friend of ours turned us on to a doctor with a long waiting list who will be able to inoculate us against the usual array of tropical diseases. All the drama about virus vaccination passports makes me laugh. I've had a World Health Organization yellow inoculation record since my first trip to Africa in 1977. I still contracted break bone fever in El Salvador and I got hepatitis in Nigeria before a vaccine for hepatitis was invented. I love vaccines and I scoff at anti-vaxxers. Modern medicine is astounding and I take advantage of it every time I can.
I have a friend slightly older than me who got polio before the pink sugar lump was invented. I took the sugar lump and Joe walks with a limp. He doesn't remember his time in an iron lung fondly. I watch people in poor countries die for want of a virus vaccine and think there but for the grace of a strong dollar go I. I know how to be grateful, I knoww to measure risk. And when things go wrong I know how to shoulder my burden of responsibility. I am an adult.
I got a call at the 911 center on Tuesday from a man in a rage because the garbage truck was blocking the street and the operator was being slow emptying garbage cans. I kid you not. He said he wanted it "on record" that the garbage truck was inconveniencing people. I said I heard his complaint and he hung up. There it is in a nutshell. Key West streets are narrow yet people still produce garbage. What is the solution? Flog the workers. The driver could have done what i do which is spot the truck and take a detour. But he didn't and the police needed to know.
Live your best life. Grab opportunities when they beckon. Follow the beat of your own drummer. Our social media world is plastered with these stupid aphorisms. I know they are stupid because when you actually do try to pay attention to the quality of your life and step out of the world of obedience and fear you get shot down. Key West used to celebrate being different and there was patience with weirdness and that made this place my home. I find that sort of acceptance now when I am rootless and shiftless and evanescent.
Flora brought up a good point in a comment and it's an issue I wrestle with. How to describe places when you have but a fleeting acquaintance with them? This is going to be difficult and challenging and I hope I can rise to the challenge. All I can say now is I will be aware of the problem and will be working to find my way through it. In short I'm not sure how my words will flow in describing strange places but I'll give it my best shot. This page won't change format just because we change location. I'm not doing YouTube because it's too involved and needs too much bandwidth and I'm not asking for money as so many do because we don't need it. I've been a civil servant for twenty years to buy my freedom and my travels won't cost you a penny nor will you have to look at an advertisement.
In closing I want to say that I know what I'm doing and my wife, who manages our money and fills in the details of my expansive dreams, has the last say in how we live and how we travel. Rusty is cherished and though he can't have a vote we know him well enough to know what he needs when he needs it. I have little doubt he will end his life somewhere far from where he started it and I am prepared to bet he will enjoy the journey as much as we will. Our choices aren't yours but in a country where freedom is bleated constantly as a watchword what you are seeing on this page is that concept lived out fully. Look away if your fears overcome your joy because this is our life and our choices and our consequences when it all goes wrong. You won't be affected one jot.