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PhotoBike Tour 14: Key West!

Author: Jim Crescitelli
Date of Trip: March 2012

PhotoBike Tour 14: Key West
Welcome to Key West!

We spent a couple of days here with friends this past week, driving down Sunday with two and driving back up Wednesday with two others. It’s good that everyone drives! Bill was generous in offering to drag my bicycle down so that I could roam at will, and roam I did. We also did a lot of walking.

Kirk took most of the foliage pictures.

Here’s my bike– the one with the white basket– fairly jumping off the rack to get started…

This time six of us stayed at the Hyatt Windward Pointe, located at almost the very southeastern tip of the island. It’s far removed from where we usually stay– over in Old Town on the west side– but it was a wonderful change and, if I decided to bike around, I really had to work at it. And it’s breezy along the bikeway that rings the island, making for lots of strenuous exercise and rationalizations:

“Do I really need to have TWO Manhattans? Yes, because I can bike them off.”

“Do I HAVE to have another helping of spaghetti and meatballs? Yes, because I can bike it off.”

“Do I really need to have FIVE gin and tonics? Yes, because you’re on Duval Street and you have to bike all the way EAST, and there will go all those calories.”

Calories, schmalories.

Here’s a vew from our hotel room, looking south toward Cuba. If you squint, you can see Fidel smoking a cigar. Just across the road is the bike path, and less than a mile to the right is Smathers Beach. Just over the seawall you can see the older, collapsed seawall just below the surface of the water, and it’s become a reef: you see all kinds of fish and sea urchins.

Just to the west of the hotel, within walking distance, is the East Martello Museum. This is where you need to go to get a sense of the island’s history and quirkiness; it’s also where Robert the Doll lives forever. We didn’t see Robert this time, but we did pass the store on Duval Street which sells his likeness. I tried to photograph the display of Robert the Doll dolls through the window glass into the closed shop, but the reflection precluded that; it wasn’t until I got home that I saw that the dolls managed to allow themselves to be photographed onto the reflection of the street outside the shop window…

Walking through town, Kirk likes to photograph every bougainvillea bract, every palm tree, every blooming tropical. He has an eye for color and composition, so feast your eyes on the following photographs as seen through Kirk’s lens…

I spent a few hours on the bike exploring back streets and neighborhoods that most people don’t explore. Me, I see an alleyway, I go down it. I talk to people, ask questions, and find things out. The Albury House, for example, is a house I’ve been obsessed with for twenty-five years. It sold at the end of 2010 after the last family member who lived in it passed on (Bonnie Albury). The house is now being rehabilitated and it’s been scraped clean of its termites and barnacles both inside and out. I almost got inside, but the construction foreman was just about to start a meeting, and I didn’t want to cause an imbroglio. Not that there was much to see inside: you can literally look through the house from front to back now.

Here’s the entry hall stairway, which generations of Alburys must have climbed since the house was built in the 1800s…

Because it’s 2012 and not 1992, most people are on a budget, and so the six of us decided to each spend a night cooking while we were there. The unit featured a full kitchen, though we had to have a new orange juicer AND kitchen stove swapped out; neither worked, and there were bags of oranges that Jon and John had brought to be squeezed, let alone their chicken and rice, spaghetti and meatballs (Jim and Kirk), and steaks and potatoes and broccoli (Bill and Karl) which were slated for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday suppers respectively. So, we didn’t spend a lot of time in restaurants, though I do recall a lusty and excellent breakfast at Two Friends Patio. We were also planning on meeting locals Susan Kent and DeVonna Howell for breakfast one morning at Flamingo on Duval Street, but the plan fell through and instead I ended up having many, many rollicking cocktails with them at Aqua later the same day.

Entertainment one evening was provided by yours truly, lip-synching to the warblings of well-known and obscure girl-groups from 1963 and 1964, ably assisted by my background singers and dancers, who gamely invented stunning new choreography for each verse; Kirk slept through it all, which was a surprise considering we had You Tube cranked as high as it would go. It’s a good thing we were worn out before midnight, or we would have had to do a few turns to the Monkey Stroll.

One night we played Trivial Pursuit, which quickly degenerated into a raucous edition of Charades when it was decided that not many of us could answer anything that happened after 1970. I reduced myself to humming the alphabet at my teammates and then slamming the table when I got to the letter that formed the first word of the answer. “H I J K LMNO P!!”

Since we were located on the eastern end of the island this trip, I decided to take a good look around. For instance, while biking east along Staples Avenue, I came to a dead end; cars could not continue further because of a cut running from the salt ponds on the island’s north all the way through to the airport. Bikes could access a little bridge, however, and it’s here that I paused and had a look at the scenery.

And, looking down into that water, this man-made reef… anything to avoid dragging the grocery cart back to the store!

Following are a lot of houses I couldn’t resist falling in love with. Really– these places seem so cozy to me, and with a little TLC might actually be habitable for many more years.

This visit we toured the Eco Center, a free museum which features Keys wildlife, sea life, and flora. Aquariums and dioramas show you what’s at stake along the fragile island chain, and a movie in a dark little theatre helps put you to sleep after all that studying. Let me explain– it’s nicely air conditioned, the music is very Enya-esque, and the images are of divers, snorkelers, and fish of all kinds swimming slowly through their underwater world. It’s mesmerizing, and I almost couldn’t get up out of my seat when the movie ended. You stumble into a gift shop, though the thing that impressed me most was the tooled metal border running along the room’s circumference. It features turtles, fish, coral, and the like. Very nice.

When I went to take a photo out front, it appeared that an SUV had parked itself right in front of part of the mural; naturally, I bitched, leading Kirk to sputter ” I knew, KNEW you were going to say something!!”

Along with the hidden and the obscure, I like to re-visit some old haunts, just to remind myself that some things never change:

The West Martello Tower is the home of the Key West Garden Club, and is an amazing place staffed and maintained by volunteers. You can wander its nooks and crannies for hours, and the view from the top of the sweeping Atlantic is incredible.

The Garden Club library at West Martello Tower. You can sit here in this cool brick room and look at old books devoted to horticulture. What was that old joke? Someone asked Dorothy Parker to use ‘horticulture’ in a sentence, and she replied “you can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.”

The Margaret Truman Drop-Off Launderette, catering to first ladies since, oh, 1800 or so.

Inside St. Mary, Star of the Sea. (Sancta Maria, Stella Maris.)

They open the side doors for cross-ventilation at St. Mary, which helps dry off your streaming head after biking frantically to Mass and forgetting that you’re going to be dripping when you dismount and go inside.

St. paul on Duval Street, one of the city’s Episcopal churches. It’s gorgeous, and when you go inside and see the statues and the holy water fonts and the figural stained glass, you say “it’s so Catholic!”

Two full days go by fast, but if you drink a lot of coffee and Diet Coke you’ll manage to stay energetic enough to traipse hither and yon and up and down and along, though my feet were hurting all day Monday; I think that was because of all that choreography on the unit’s tile floors. When you’re performing, you’re only interested in pleasing your audience, not thinking about how your feet are going to hurt.

Jon and John drove us home via Jensen Beach, where we picked up John’s mini pinscher from his dog sitter, and Max was the most well-behaved dog in the universe. Not a bark did I hear, and my Claritin prevented any allergic flare ups because, if I had started to wheeze, one of us would have had to be left by the side of the turnpike…and it wasn’t going to be Max.

Can’t wait to go back !

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