There is something odd happening in Key West. We have a friend visiting from Pensacola for a week and my wife wanted to take Therese to Latitudes restaurant for lunch. The lunch menu isn't murderously expensive as dinner is, plus you get to enjoy eating on the waterfront amid the colors and breezes of a sunny afternoon after an energizing ferry ride. The service is first rate and the slapdash style of key West is in abeyance for a few hours to impress the out-of-towner with upscale dining.
Apparently Layne's plan was so good that thousands of other people adopted it as well and Latitudes has no lunch time reservations open before August. In light of the fact Therese is going home in a week that isn't going to work out. I have no idea what's happening but I am guessing the pandemic has made everyone desperate for a vacation and with borders closed Key West is the next best thing. It feels as though climate change is taking a back seat to over population as the leading cause of land sinking in the Keys at the moment. The place is packed.
The Viper sports car as an ecological symbol. Irony is alive and well in Key West (below). As is tourism alive and well and everyone wants to be here, except Conchscooter. How perverse am I? I was mentioning to my wife after the pool party, our first social outing in 15 months, how silly we were 23 years ago to quit our California beach home, our convertible and our precarious lower rungs on the expensive ladder of life in Santa Cruz, in order to go sailing and land up in Key West.
Now we have another precarious lower rung on the increasingly absurdly expensive ladder of life in Key West and in a few months, less than 300 days actually, we will be giving it all up. How does that make sense?
I don't think of it as leaving Key West, rather it is a matter of going somewhere else. My wife also pointed out that as the subject of our open ended travels come up none of our friends tries to dissuade us, none of them argue for us to stay put, none of them find it odd that we are planning our departure. It isn't a question of leaving Key West, it's the imperative of seeing somewhere else.
In the world of sailing there is the joke that is you want to go from A to B you take a power boat. If you want to leave A you take a sailboat. In our V-6 powered van we are leaving, we hope, with no final destination in mind, no return date on the calendar. We will scrape the bottom of the barrel of human travel experiences we hope.
Why the imperative to go? I'm not sure if it is a lemming gene I inherited, or a curiosity gene or the restlessness of a life lived outside the polite confines of settled society. The need to depart implies a criticism of the place one is leaving and in this case I don't think that is fair or accurate.
The deficiency lies in me in that regard, not key West. I think my wife would have been fine with taking planes to lots of different places round the world had I pushed for that. As long as she is seeing new places she's happy. However she has dived right into thevan as home concept and is an equal partner in the madness of overland travel as planned. And as unplanned later.
I have this fear inside that I am letting life pass me by if I sit still, it's too easy to sit still and not be challenged. I did the job to earn the pension, that equation was easy. Now I feel as though I am letting myself down if I don't find and face the challenges of the road. I could go boating around the Keys, or learn to be a barfly, or take up another career as a fishing guide ( I jest) but what I want more than anything is to see certain places before I die.
Driving round the US is fun but I don't find it challenging. Going places I've not seen before, fixing the van in exotic places, learning new currencies, new histories and figuring out how to say hello in Xhosa would be fun. Bob Evans and Flying J truck stops are the same everywhere, though my biggest challenge in insular communities is being understood through my immigrant's accent.
Travel liberates me, I can be who I want to be in places where I'm not a civil servant. I want to love where there are no expectations of me, no roots to define me, places where I am as strange as the places I discover. Key West was like that once long ago, and I trust it will be again when like Odysseus I return from jousting with Fate.