Thursday, 20 May 2010


Realised I have booked into another slightly sweaty-pillow Motel.
It is actually fine, although there is a slight odour. Since I started doing these trips, I have noticed the pong only on this one. (by the way, to see where a map of whre I have travelled so far on this trip, click here)
Is this due to the fact I am in hotter parts of the USA?
Is this due to that fact I am staying in cheaper places?
Is this due to the economic downturn and accommodation cutting costs?
At my age, my sense of smell has improved?
Well, in American adventure 1 I travelled across Death Valley where it was over 100F.
In Adventure 2, I was in the desert where it was over 100F
On this trip, I have not stayed in so many chain hotel/motels. This may indicate the “Mom and Pop”-run establishments have lower standards.
I stayed in a few before and they seemed fine, including the “Crossroads Motel” in Iola Kansas which was fine on both occasions.
So, as it was fine on both occasions, does that rule out a worsening of standards due to the economic downturn?
With this level of research I should be a politician. I can now make some sweeping judgements and the newspapers will lap it up:
OK, in truth, I think I have just been slightly unluckier in my choices this time. I have tried to stay in the low-budget end as - like most people - I don’t have an unlimited amount of cash.
I didn’t go last year due to the economy and so I have been saving for this year. Budget is tight, hence some slightly less salubrious places. Far more importantly the Dark Lady is due in two days in Orlando and I am sure I am not going to skimp on the accommodation with her.
“Hi baby. Yeah the “Reeking Inn” sounds just the place for us! Pillows a bit pongy but you look great with this peg on your nose. Er, it was made by the Sioux. They do dream catchers as well.”
This morning it was up for breakfast steak (It is my one luxury, I have decided) and then out into the old part of town. This is also where the tourists are.
At first glance it was bad taste T-shirt central. The main drag had all those places you would expect from a tourist town.

There were bars and T-shirt shops. There were restaurants and T-shirt shops. There were art galleries and T-shirt shops. Being Key West, there were boating opportunities such as Jet Ski, glass-bottomed boat and Para-sailing and T-shirt shops.
It even had a couple of “Adult/Gentleman’s” clubs and T-shirt shops.
Of the 5 billion T-shirts (at a conservative estimate) that I saw today, only two made me laugh. The rest you will have seen already, most likely, perhaps with a different resort added to the slogan.
They were as follows:
“Too many right wing Christians…Not enough Lions”
“People say I have AAD...ooh a chicken!”
The last one I loved particularly as somewhat bizarrely, there are chickens roaming the streets down here, the legacy of its proximity to Cuba, which is only 90 miles away. Cubans - who arrived years ago to manufacture cigars - brought chickens. They may have gone, but the chickens haven’t.
The proximity to the Cubans and the distance from the rest of the US provides the kicker for the tourist industry. There are many cigar bars and shops where (I think this must be a legal loophole) cigars are locally made from Cuban tobacco. As a non-smoker, I must admit I was tempted.
The other is the fixation with Key West being the most southerly part of the US. I watched the tourists doing the equivalent of the “Lands End” thing that we do: a queue to have yourself photographed by the marker.

After a wander around and robustly rejecting any attempts to sell me a poor taste T-shirt, I fancied the beach. Key West is fabulous for water sports although its beaches are not exactly brilliant.
With that in mind, I decided to drive back up Highway 1 to find a beach. 20 miles in I realised this was ridiculous so turned round and came back.
Higgs Beach seemed ideal. Parking was free. Quick look at their AIDS memorial and then into the water. In I plunged. Then swam out. The water was practically bath water it was so warm. Out I swam towards the reef and the Pelicans sunning themselves on the poles by the breakwater and the reef. I then stood up. The water was still three foot deep.
NB: Mums, if you fancy somewhere safe and warm to teach your brood to swim. This the place.
No waves to speak of and no current.

I was also able to make use of a gizmo I bought in 2007 and have never had to use; the “Acme round the neck waterproof box for carrying stuff in”.
As I had no one to guard my belongings and, being paranoid about exiting the water to find my clothes, money and car gone - I bought this item. I put all my valuables in the boot of the car and put the car key in the box. I also put the spare car key in the boot. This may sound stupid but, as you know, car keys are not car keys any longer. They are multi-purpose and multi-function.
This one opens the driver’s door with one button. Press again and it unlocks the passenger side. It also has another button for opening the boot. A door lock button and a final button impressively in red which is marked “panic”. Not tried that one yet.
The downside is when you lock the door it sounds the horn.
This is common to many vehicles over here. One night earlier in the trip, there was a nightclub attached to the motel and it didn’t shut ‘til 2am. Alot of the patrons were staying. So as I drifted in and out of sleep I kept being woken by stray car horns.
”Guess I’ll turn in see y’all later. Jes’ get mah bag”
“You stayin too?”
“Shoot. Forgot something”
“Well, time I was goin’….hell no, I’m good for another round”
“Shoot. Forgot mah cigarettes”
“And mah money”
“Where’s mah lighter?”
“Better let the dawg out for five minutes first”

“Where did I put the leash?”
And so it went on….

However, back to the story:

My rationale was that if the “Acme round the neck waterproof box for keeping your stuff in” was not as waterproof as it was supposed to be, I could use it as a key to open the boot and get the still functioning multi-function key out!
It worked like a dream, although I had to leave my sandals on the beach along with my shirt, so was concerned someone may half-inch the footwear and I would be condemned to another week and a half barefoot.
In Key West, I would not have looked massively out of place. It reminded me of Majorca in some ways when I went there as a kid. Hot seaside resorts attract people with no visible means of support. They make stuff out of bits and bobs and sell them to slightly drunk tourists in a good mood.
I saw guys making hats woven from the leaves of coconut palms. There were some terrible buskers often with dogs dressed up in hats and sunglasses. One guy was playing the sitar dressed as Spiderman. Not sure about him as it was difficult to see but all the others - because they spend possibly their whole lives outside - have been burned by the sun and are a very deep dark “vagrant brown”.
Two people I was not sure about though were a guy spinning two Frisbees and listening to music on headphones and another chap talking to himself as he examined his abs in the reflection from a glass door.
The town looks to the water and it is expensive; $30 buys you fifteen minutes on a jet ski. Half a day of fishing is $300.
I reckon you would probably be repeating yourself if you spent more than a week there.
With that in mind I resolved to head north again in the morning.
Orlando and the Dark Lady beckoned.

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  1. Really enjoying all your stories Alex, what are we going to do when you come back home and they all stop.....

  2. Fabulous blog, Alex. Never been, and I get a true perspective of Southern Florida, Never been (of course, that's evident). Hey, have a great time with teh DL when she arrives and hanging on the blog of the trip North. Have a good one (I'm away too for a week, but I'll be checking your blog! ~ CW

  3. That was the best blog this trip Alex been with you all the way hope you meet up with the dark lady soon it will be good for you to have company
    Carnt wait for the next blog

  4. Another great account. Always wanted to see Key West. Thanks for letting me know that if I get there, it will definitely be a day's visit, only. I'll make sure I stay elsewhere! Thanks again for the great commentary.

  5. You have really captured the essence of Key West as I remember it from my visit a few years ago - including lining up to have my photo taken at the marker!

    It's very generous of you to share so much of your trip.