I saw some images the other day of water polluted by fracking. The coffee at my office tastes like what I imagine that water does, both liquids brackish and filled with indiscernible flecks of soot like the runoff from some terrible storm left to cook untouched on a hot plate for hours. We have a guy here, we’ll call him Ted, who drinks the stuff as though it were the last pot he’ll ever set eyes on, and watching him ingest the drink in a continuous loop, makes me less fearful of sudden onset death.
I kept referring to (and still refer to) Key West as “Cuba” every time I mention it. I’ve never been to Cuba, so I’m not sure how far away from the truth I am when comparing the two, but the Cuba of my imagination is similar to Key West for one reason or another. I do, however, have some minor experience with the Caribbean which Key West strongly resembles, appropriately, so maybe it balances out. Key West is a strange mix of tourism and not, the island broken into what feels like districts catering to either locals or visitors. This is most apparent as you first cross over the bridge and see the familiar hotels, chain restaurants, chain stores and markets. Nearer the opposite side of Key West where the United State’s Southern Most Point marker can be found seems to be the other large tourist chunk, this area defined more by the coast and series of road arteries with higher priced boutiques and bars.
We didn’t do much I’d consider touristy, though it wasn’t completely for lack of trying. The Ernest Hemingway Home was a little expensive for our taste ($13), so my wife took a picture at the entrance being careful to block out the wall and ticket booth to make it look more like we went. I’ve only recently gotten okay with Hemingway again so it would have been neat to make a visit as a part of that reconnect, but I figured I could just as easily look up pictures online and spend the saved money seeking the best Cuban coffee in Key West. Place called 5 Brothers Grocery and Sandwich Shop won out. We checked out the southern most point. Saw a number of roosters. Key West has roosters the way large cities have pigeons. At the Six-Toed Cat – right by The Hemingway Home and a spot where you can get some great french toast – the birds just walk around beneath the outside tables which made for a strange (and strangely welcome) experience. Lunch was eaten at a place a little off the beaten called Firefly which my wife said seemed like “us”, a result of the music, the food, and the overall atmosphere. Casual would be a good way of describing it, though casual steeped in late 90s, early 2000s rock. Though the food didn’t knock our socks off – BLTs and Fish Tacos – it was far from bad with a price more tourist than local friendly. Recommended still.
Overall Key West wasn’t the most amazing place I’ve been to, and if I had to do it again, I’d personally say fly in rather than drive in. The Time Spent to Interesting ratio isn’t skewed favorably enough to warrant the extra hours. I think Key West would be an excellent spot to go to if you’re planning to sit for a week where you can hang out on the beach or the pool in between visits to the hotel or trips “downtown”. Though I’m sure it’s an obvious conclusion, Key West doesn’t feel right when experienced quickly as there’s little to hold the attention for too long. Dolling out time is the better way I’ll bet, and as that’s something we didn’t do.
Bahia Honda is (about) the halfway point of the Keys. The island of Marathon is about ten to fifteen minutes north with Key West around forty minutes south, which wasn’t too bad a place to be. Admission is eight bucks per car, but if you’re staying overnight (which was something like thirty, maybe), admission is included, and staying at Bahia was easily one of the best decisions of the trip for my wife and I. There are two beaches, one on the Gulf side which was mostly lame since it’s sectioned off making a bit of an impromptu lagoon and facing both the original bridge and the current bridge, so the view itself wasn’t all that spectacular, and one on the Atlantic side which was really a series of beaches broken up along the coast. Though the beach(es) on the Atlantic side were narrow, seaweed and rock infested things without a place to lay out comfortably, the swimming was pretty great. No real waves to speak of. Clear waters. A bunch of aquatic life I both recognized and didn’t. My wife saw a barracuda. I saw a stingray. We were “caught” in a school of fish, tiny and in the (seeming) thousands, them inciting a brief moment of panic where I wondered what they might be swimming from. Saw sea urchins. Other stuff.
The Florida Keys Astronomy Club meets in one of the parking lots there. It’s billed as a “come and learn” type of event, though it was more the Club is allowed to come as they please to stargaze as long as they entertain the questions of campers who might wander by. Just my wife and I showed which made it a little awkward and difficult to escape when the time came as we both felt the need to be overly invested/interested regardless of what they showed. I personally thought it was awesome getting to see Jupiter and Venus and hearing the mythology behind a number of the constellations, though I think my wife went in expect NASA images not realizing how the process works, so she was understandably disappointed. A good time in spite of, and the two guys we met were a pair of sixty-year-old kids. Giddy to the point of infectious.
My wife and I are not nightlife people. I mean, I’ll be up late, but we don’t go out doing what I would assume someone correlates with a “nightlife thing”. In fact, I had my first real “club” experience this past weekend at the tender age of thirty-four. Still, there is little to do on Marathon after hours. You can go to the grocery store. There’s that. An IHOP is open twenty-four hours, which turned out way better than it should have been. And this is not me saying I wanted something “touristy”, but one you option is grocery store, IHOP, or bar after 7 p.m., that’s a little sad. Par for the course in experience, though, with reality not quite living up to expectation. At least give me some Go Karts. Go Karts between the islands.
Lastly, the nature center at Bahia Honda is depressing. Not so much a nature center as a nature room, and one filled with equally depressing models of wildlife and a video playing on loop. However, we were able to identify the barracuda I was initially convinced was not a barracuda after the story was first related to me.
My expectations were high. I’d mentioned in an earlier post how the Beach Boys may have oversold the desirability of Key Largo some, and the downward spiral of realization the further into the island we drove was a relatively fast descent. Initial impressions were good: color and people and shops and food and signs promoting what you’d expect to see promoted. About a minute after this small patch things went further south, however, both literally and figuratively. There was the Bird Sanctuary I also mentioned earlier featuring Leopold and Ruby who became vacation favorites. Beyond that? Little. Buildings became run down things. Lawns the same. I won’t say the comparison is a fair one, but I was reminded of those towns that spring up around some natural resource only to see the stuff run dry and the town forced into decline shortly thereafter. Signs of life exist, though it’s the type of existence you’re likely to think of when you read McCarthy’s The Road.
Anyhow, we stayed the night in Key Largo Kampground and Marina. The place itself was fine and fairly close to the town proper. Our only negative was the lady in charge of check in. She as a person was incredibly kind but invasively so, helpful to the point of me having to get out of the car to go see if my wife had managed to get herself kidnapped by a crazed local or two. Turns out she had, in a way, so engulfed was she in a conversation I can’t even remember. Like white noise. There was a fair amount of wrangling to get us to stay an extra night along with a fair amount of fear mongering over the nefarious intentions of “those other campgrounds.”
We had diner at The Fish House Restaurant and Sea Food Market. The food was as you’d expect it to be, especially when it’s attached to an actual market. My Mahi Mahi was awesome. My wife got the Conch basket which was also good, though not equal. Pie was had at Hobo’s Restaurant. The pie was fine. It was pie. Hobo’s wasn’t really Hoboy (Hoboie?), which was a little disappointing, more a sports bar where we arrived on Mexican night. Dunno.
Go see the Bird Sanctuary. Eat at the Fish Market. Then: drive. Key Largo is a sad blip on the journey to better beaches, better sights.
Whenever my wife and I road trip, we always try and swing by Asheville. Even if it’s a little out of the way. Well, even if it’s more than a little out of the way. I can’t remember the first time we visited so ingrained is the place in my memory and routine, but Asheville has become a second home to me in a peculiar way. We never visit long – maybe a day, maybe two – before setting off again for unseen places, though the taste is enough to make me question again why I’m in Ohio and not there. I can’t even place what it is about Asheville that strikes me so. It’s not the most remarkable of places. The surrounding landscape is beautiful, of course, though the layout of the city is confusing for the most familiar of travelers. Folks seem kind, those I interact with anyhow. There’s a place in Columbus where my wife and I currently live known as the Short North which is the arts area of town with food, galleries (though less of these as of late), more food, shopping you’d expect to find in such a place, etc. etc. Asheville has been referred by us a handful of times as a less dirty version of the Short North which feels largely appropriate. Anyone unfamiliar with either won’t get the comparison so maybe it’s not a helpful one, but perhaps it might inspire you to visit both and put together the contrast.
One reason for our continuous return which does spring to mind is the food. My favorite restaurant is a place there called Tupelo Honey Café. They make a sweet potato pancake with pecans and maple honey butter which is just ridiculous. Ridiculous. I try and branch out as best I can when going to eateries I’ve been to before, but Tupelo works against me in this way; pancakes are my favorite food, and their sweet potato pancake (which is the size of a charger) is the best pancake I’ve ever had, which ties my hands in an insurmountable way. And they give you these biscuits, fluffy on the inside with just enough crispness on the out that are unreal. The jam – I can’t remember what type – is equally unreal.
The Green Sage is a coffee shop we also tend to visit, though the past few experiences food-wise have been just okay. Their coffee is still great (which I guess is the entire point of a coffee shop) meaning I won’t not return, but we may stagger times between from now on.
Mela is an Indian Restaurant we tried for the first time on our last stop. I think it was the last time. Maybe the time before. Trips are blurring. Mela is spectacular, that’s all you need to know. I ordered the coconut something-or-other, and it was delicious. Rarely do I get food envy, but whatever my wife got was better than my delicious coconut something-or-other. Seriously, if you like Indian food, go there. Even if you don’t like Indian food, Mela might convert you.
Sunny Point Café is a fantastic breakfast spot. I’m becoming thematic. If humanly possible, I’d eat breakfast for every meal. I had some type of egg sandwich concoction, and that turned out to be the correct choice.
This particular trip was done both coming and going. We didn’t get in until sometime around midnight on our way toward the Keys, and my wife and I decided to sleep along the Blue Ridge Parkway. By the time we got settled into the back of our car, it was about 12:30, 12:45, and we were awoken about quarter after 3 by some flashing blue and red lights behind us. Apparently Asheville suffers from people who like to drive along the parkway at night shooting at cars pulled over on the small parking spots (a claim we saw none of when looking on the Google, though who knows), so while it was fine for us to be where we were, the officer suggested we head down to Walmart and sleep there. We did. I apparently parked in the wrong spot because somewhere around 7ish a good number of other cars had surrounded us, and that makes for some awkward pant changing situations.
On the way home we made a little better use of our time, stopping in only for half a day, getting a chance to eat pancakes, swing by Malaprop’s which is an awesome local bookstore, and stop into The Battery Park Book Exchange which is a cool little used book store where they serve coffee, wine, cheese, all that good stuff. I’ve only experienced their cheese once and it was forgettable. Books were good though.
Some people move to Florida for retirement. If I make a obscene amount of money, which I don’t really foresee given my skillset, I’d choose San Francisco, because it’s awesome. Given how life will likely play out, perhaps Asheville will be the place. Though, as I think on it, Asheville may be the visiting sort and not the living sort. Not sure. I don’t know if I have a vibe of permanence there.
Anyhow: everyone should give it a whirl. Great place to eat and walk around.
Which explains my absence. I’d considered updating from the road with brief tales of some experiences, but in the end I took the partially selfish way out allowing for a lengthy stretch of nothing. And road.
My wife and I drove from Ohio down to Key West never having been before. We’d gone on a similar road trip a little over a year back to visit some friends of ours in Florida and go to Harry Potter World (mini review: it’s awesome), and during that time found our way to a beach or two. I’d never considered myself much of a beach person and I don’t think my wife considered herself one either, but those few short outings proved both of us wrong. I called her a Water Baby on this trip as she could practically live in the ocean snorkeling for hours only coming ashore for the occasional bite of food. I too had a great time exploring the relatively safe portions of the underwater world, though I had equal fun just hanging out on the beach itself. The sun remains an enemy of mine, but the sound of waves and gulls I doubt is something I’d ever tire of.
So we decided on Key West, wanting a beach trip. I won’t go too far into things in this post since I plan on covering our activities in detail over the next week or two (or three), but a brief overview would read along the lines of “The Beach Boys may have oversold some things”. Now, I don’t mean to suggest I didn’t have a good time – had a blast – but having designated Kokomo as the theme of our adventure, and having heard it a number of times on any given day while on said adventure, my vision of that particular portion of our great country was a little… colored. With the exception of Key West itself, the actual Keys themselves are a bit gross. Disappointing. Dirty. And in desperate need of a face lift. Again: the times were largely fantastic with us sleeping in our car in a Walmart parking lot, eating some ridiculously amazing food, getting chased by a Barracuda (my wife, not me as I was totally safe on shore), meeting the Florida Keys Astronomy Club, meeting also Leopold, an owl at a bird rehabilitation sanctuary – though my wife was partial to Ruby, a screech owl – along with a number of other oddities. It’s just the look of the place I found so confusing. Maybe everyone’s too busy fishing and getting skin cancer to slap on a coat of paint anywhere.
I’ll explain in a later post – I guess this is what people call building anticipation – but for anyone planning a trip that way in the near future, avoid the Cracked Conch Cafe at all costs. While going there will inevitably provide you with a story for future use you convince yourself you’ll look back and laugh at later, your experience in the present will be a thing of horror.
I doubt my impressions are going to come as a shock or a revelation. Rather than just saying “Yes” over and over again, a few things I disliked:
1. There is so much action, most character development (or progression) goes out the window. The exception to this is Hawkeye.
2. The story is a little far-reaching with so many moving parts, there is little time to give decent focus to all those pieces making things feel either unfinished or unexplained.
I think that’s it.
It was beautiful, insane, way over the top, and gave me exactly what I signed up for.