My Key West

Key West Sunrise Photo by Marsh Muirhead
Key West Sunrise  Photo by Marsh Muirhead 


Well, I’m back in Minnesota after a two-plus month sojourn in Key West, and I’m not a bit happy about it. Right now, as I’m writing this, it’s minus one, “bitterly cold,” with an overnight low of minus seventeen and dangerous wind chills as low as minus thirty-five. But hey, let’s not talk about the weather! Let’s go (at least in our minds) to Key West! I want to take you there!

We’ll get up every morning around sunrise. It won’t be hard to wake up, because we’ll have been awake since about 4:30 a.m., when the roosters start crowing . . .

Walk with me through the Historic Bight marina, past Turtle Kralls, Schooner

KW Historic Bight
KW Historic Bight

Wharf, the Boat House, Alonzo’s (restaurants where we can get a mahi or grouper sandwich or pink Key West shrimp) over to the open blue water where deep sea fishing boats are just heading out. At Mallory Square we’ll lean on the wood rail of Sunset Pier and look out at private Sunset Key (where the rich have fancy places), and uninhabited Christmas Tree Key, where sailboats are anchored offshore.

We’ll walk through Truman Annex, with its the beautiful, stately white homes, and lush, tropical flora. I’ll show you a banana tree

Banana Blossom
Banana Blossom


with a bunch of hanging bananas and we’ll ooh and ahh at the incredible pinky-purple blossom–kinda sexy in a botanical way, don’t you think! Back up Duval Street we’ll go, where men with noise-blocking earmuffs are blowing the streets clean, and the street sweepers are busy sweeping up the previous night’s debris from all the folks who mill up and down the main drag. We can’t help laughing at some dirty T-shirt sayings in shop windows. Maybe someone will ride by on a bike with a parrot on his shoulder. We’ll come back on Fleming, stopping in at Faustos grocery store, where I’ll introduce you to my friend, Betina. She’s from Haiti, works two jobs to send money home, and is wonderful. You’ll like her too.

When we get back to the cottage, we’ll take Murphy for a walk around the block. We’ll pass by the homeless couple who camp under a big tree at the edge of a parking lot. They ride trike-bikes with all their stuff piled up, and where they spend the night, I don’t know. But they’re there under the tree every day, rain or shine, cold or hot, and they’re nice. Friendly and warm, and seemingly okay, smiling, jovial, especially her. I’ll introduce you, though I don’t know their names, and we’ll make a little small talk about where you’re from, the weather, Mr. Murf.

I’ll take you for a leisurely stroll through the streets of Old Town, where we’ll see many

Bougainvillea over our back porch light
Bougainvillea over our back porch light 



charming houses, such as the eyebrow houses particular to Key West. We’ll enjoy blooming bougainvillea and the gorgeous Starburst trees that are flowering right now. We’ll walk down to the Southern end of the island, and look across the water to see if we can see Cuba, ninety miles away. Let’s have lunch at Blue Heaven, where Hemingway boxed, and order Key Lime pie with sky-high meringue at a table on a dirt sand lot with chickens and chicks running around our feet.

KW's Blue Heaven
KW’s Blue Heaven 


Mr. Chapman
Mr. Chapman 

I’ll take you a few steps down the street to introduce you to Mr. Chapman, and show you Buddy, his dirty white Chinese chicken, dirty from hanging out in Mr. Chapman’s dirt yard. Mr. Chapman is seventy-five. His family has lived in the same block on Petronia since 1870. His mother was fourteen and his father sixty when he was born. Mr. Chapman is an orator who speaks in rhymes and sayings which come fast and furious. He’ll walk with us down the street to show us his portrait painted on a mural on the side of a wall. There he is, Mr. Chapman, with his white handlebar mustache. At night he rides his trike-bike covered with flashing lights and a big sound box through the streets of Key West. They threw away the mold when they made Mr. Chapman. Continue reading “My Key West”

The Loooong and Not Very Winding Road from Minneapolis to Key West

That was a long trip!
That was a long trip!

I don’t know what Willie Nelson is talking about when he says he just can’t wait to get on the road again. If I never get on the road again, it will be too soon.  That’s what driving from Minneapolis to Key West, Florida, will do to you.  But I’m glad I did it.  I wanted to get the dawg and car down here for the next two plus months, and I wanted to see what it would be like to drive 1900 miles by myself.

What it is is looooong.  It’s five days and four nights long.  It’s a blurred mix of the tedious, enjoyable, exhausting, hair-raising, and constant attention to the road.  It’s knowing you need to go at least four hundred miles a day, setting the odometer at zero when you start out in the morning, and staring in disbelief when four hours later it’s only at 235 miles.  It’s a lot of longing for rest areas, bypassing the millions of fast food restaurants off the exits of our highways, eating a lot of granola bars and cheese and crackers instead of meals, opening the motel door at yet another Red Roof Inn where you want to fall on your knees at the sight of the bed, only you fall on the bed instead. It’s a blur of states, cities, scenery, weather and semi-trucks.  We are a trucking nation, my friends.  It’s thank God for cruise control, great music from Chris, a book on tape, NPR, and silence.

First night: Quincy, Illinois, which is confusingly almost Missouri, in that it’s right across the Mississippi River.  I wasn’t even aware that there were terrible tornadoes going though Illinois that day, though for the last hour I drove in pouring rain in the dark.  I couldn’t find my motel, Days Inn, because they had changed the name to Budget Hotel, without informing anybody. Quincy has a lot of one way streets, which I drove around and around on, looking for the non-existent Days Inn in the dark and rain.  But by 10:30 that night, when I took Murf out to the parking lot for a final pee, the storm had passed, the sky had cleared, and there it was: a big, beautiful, full moon.  It was still there in the blue sky over the Mississippi when I hit the road the next morning.

I think I saw the arch in St. Louis as I zoomed past. Big. It was south of there that I couldn’t find a rest area so I had to get off at one of those ubiquitous travelers’ oases consisting of every chain motel and restaurant known to man.  I pulled behind a Hampton Inn or some such so I could walk Murf.  When I took my eyes off him for five seconds, he did a shoulder dive into some gooey dog shit in the  grass. My friend Karen, who travels with her dog, had advised me before the trip to be sure to take Wet Wipes.  Wet Wipes and a roll of paper towels.  This is the best advice I have to offer if you plan to drive with your dog from Minneapolis to Key West: Wet Wipes and paper towels . . .

Continue reading “The Loooong and Not Very Winding Road from Minneapolis to Key West”

Road Trip: Minneapolis to Key West

KW cropped MurfI’m about to join the ranks of Lewis and Clark, Amelia Earhart and Edmund Hillary. I’m about to become the overland equivalent of Diana Nyad.

I’m about to drive from Minneapolis to Key West.  By myself.  It’s never been done before.  By me, that is.

Correction: I’m not driving by myself.  Murphy is going with me.  Though I don’t expect him to do much of the driving.

Murf!  Always up for a road trip.  As long as it’s only to the grocery store.

I hope he doesn’t whine the whole way.  Or maybe that’s me.

I hope he’ll get back in the car after the first day. Or maybe that’s me.

I’m going to spend a couple of months in Key West, at the little cottage (430 square feet) we bought back in 2002.  I’m hoping to do some writing (or maybe just lie by the pool) before Jeff comes down for Christmas.  In January I’ll attend the Key West Literary Seminar called “The Dark Side: Mystery, Crime, and the Literary Thriller,” which is bringing in some famous writers, most of whom I haven’t read. Then I’ll teach a workshop called “Writers’ Boost: Taking Your Writing to the Next Level,”  which I’m busily preparing for now.

I love the idea of a road trip–lighting out for parts unknown, nothing to do but drive, listen to books on tape, and music.  I bought CDs of Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch, and Scott Turow’s Identical.

And a certain wonderful, music buff friend–you know who you are!–gave me the enormous gift of 5,000 songs (actually over 5,000–no shitzu!).  Andy at the Verizon store showed me how to put them in a cloud or somewhere so now I can access them on my smart phone. I bought a nifty little strawberry Jam Plus speaker about the size of a jar of jam, so I can listen to the songs in the car.  I put them on shuffle, and up comes Mozart’s Concerto No 2 in D Major, followed by Frank Zappa singing “Dirty Love,” followed by Bettye LaVette bellowing “Joy,” then Beirut’s “Postcards from Italy,” and on and on. . .  It is so great, so great! I asked my friend for a road song to add to this post, and he came back with Jeff Beck–Freeway Jam.  The dude knows music!

Of course the downside of this road trip is that at times I’m also going to get very tired, have a sore back and numb butt, feel delirious, overwhelmed, and anxious.  I pray I won’t lock the keys in the car, as I’ve been known to do.  I’ll stay in cheap, pet friendly motels and I’m worried about what I’ll eat.  I’ll miss Jeff and home, and wonder at times what the heck I was thinking.

But I know what I have in mind: Streaming down through Iowa, Kentucky, (is Kentucky below Iowa? Wait a minute!  Help!  I’m already lost and I haven’t even begun . . .).  Where was I?  Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and finally Florida.  I’ll be going from cold to warm, watching the land change over the course of 1900 miles, experiencing whatever weather comes my way.

I’ll travel all the way down to the tip of the world, Key West.  What a moment that will be when I finally pull into Margaret Street at the end of  Route 1, open the gate to the compound, go down the walkway, and turn the key in the front door of the little cottage that I love.300

I’ll hang with the likes of Jimmy Buffett, rather than Garrison Keillor.









Anticipation of this road trip has brought back memories of other road trips. Continue reading “Road Trip: Minneapolis to Key West”