IMPORTANT NEW NOTES FROM JUSTIN:
US Tour Day 125: Key West, Part 2
We started off the day with lunch at a fast food place called Miami Subs. Feeling daring, we ordered the conch fritters. We tried to balance the deep fried, greasy badness by getting a greek salad as our side dish. The greek salad was good, but its health factor was no match for the heavy, oily fritters. There was no way around it—our arteries were about to get hate fucked.
Conch fritters are basically your run of the mill fritter with a little twist. Fritters are basically nothing but deep–fried dough seasoned with garlic, salt, and green onions. But, conch fritters add an extra element—chunks of everyone's favorite pseudopod, the conch.
For those who have never tried conch, I find that it closely resembles something between fish flavored rubber bands that have been toughening in the sun for a week or two and fish flavored tires that have been toughening in the sun for a month or two. Luckily for my tiring mandible, conch is an expensive meat, so it's most common to only use very little of it in fritters.
After apologizing to our bodies for our bad food decision, we headed to the man–made beach lining the south shore of the island. Lined with glowing white sands imported from the Bahamas, the beach serves as a beacon to lure beach–bum tourists from around the world.
The weather wasn't inviting at all—wind and clouds made the beach seem like even less of a good idea than beaches usually are. I'm not a big fan of sand and the way that gets into everything, sun–baking my skin to the point of skin cancer, or flailing about in salty water. So, we took a few pictures and skipped off to explore the rest of the island.
Near the Hemingway House I stumbled upon quite a find—an antique cannon closely resembling a giant, red dog penis.
We continued along South Street until we reached the southernmost point in the continental United States. We'd already visited the monument the evening before, but I was looking forward to taking some pictures of it in the daylight. The huge painted cement nub bore the words SOUTHERNMOST POINT and it was swarming with tourists, all elbowing their way in to get a photo in front of it. I took a few shots of Jennifer and I with the decorated pylon in the background. But, in the end I found it more fun simply to photograph the tourists taking pictures of one another.
What else was there at Key West to see besides tourists? We decided to get back in the car and drive over to the visitor center for some expert advice on ways to part young tourists with their hard–earned money. There were so many ways for us to spend money there! For a fee we could go on a tour of the Hemingway Mansion, visit a shipwreck museum, ride a tour train around the city's streets, or visit Ripley's Wax Museum. Nothing they told us about was free.
I took some photos in the gift shop there while we decided which one thing we would drop some dollars on. I got distracted by a hand–carved wooden ornament in the shape of an open clam shell. There was a wooden Santa Claus sitting inside. He wore a smirk as his gloved hands caressed the swollen, white bulge towering up from the crotch of his Santa–style pantaloons. Originally intended to remind the viewer of a pearl, all I could think of was the impending Yuletide pearl necklace old Kris Kringle was about to unleash from his ripe North Pole.
We decided that the shipwreck museum sounded like our best bet, so we spent $8 each for a ticket and sailed Jenn's automobile back to the tourist port called downtown Key West.
On our way to the shipwreck museum Jennifer spotted a strange, brown lumpy mass behind a convenience store. What the hell was that? She turned the car around so we could do what we do best—inspect disgusting things. And boy was it disgusting. From the looks of it, we had found a large piece from the set of Key West Shit Mountain Volume 17: Tropical Assplosion. We posed for some pictures with the foamy brown pile and continued our adventure.
The shipwreck museum was nestled behind Mallory Square in downtown Key West. The three story building held the finds of a shipwreck from the mid–1800's. The ship had wrecked nearly 150 years ago but its cargo had not been recovered until a few years ago. The luxurious sundries were meant for the New World, but had lived undisturbed at the bottom of the sea, the ship a victim of a furious storm and the sharp coral reef lurking only a few meters beneath the surface of the turquoise waters.
After examining old English toothbrushes, relic candlesticks, and sea–eroded kitchenwares, we hiked to the top of the museum's sixty foot observation tower. The tower was a replica of the kind used to spot shipwrecks through the 1800's. From our outpost high above the city we could see far into the sprawling horizon.
Islands sprawled out in every direction, and I imagined the Dry Tortugas to our west and Cuba to our South. My mind painted pictures of the pirates and sailors that frequented these waters in our not–so–distant past. I drank in the endless ocean around me and thanked the boundless heavens for the blueness that permeated everything in my vision.
The tourists were tiny on the brick walkways far below. They scuttled like slow–motion sandcrabs between gift shops and tour guides and the many kiosks trading money for key lime pie and conch fritters.
Hmmm. Key lime pie. A piece of that Floridan treat sounded like a little slice of heaven to me at that moment. So, I descended the many flights of rickety, wooden steps onto the brick sidewalks below and traded some American green for some key lime green. It was the best key lime pie I'd ever tasted by a long shot. My other key lime pie experiences vaporized into non–memories, obliterated by the creamy, tangy goodness that $3.25 can buy you on the farthest piece of land in the continental United States.
The day wound on, feeling so much fuller and longer than most days. How did I manage to cram in so much in so little time? The sun was only just beginning to sink low in the sky. Knowing the deep wild streak in Jennifer and me, there was no doubt in my mind that a long night would wind out in front of us. I took advantage of the remaining daylight and took a picture of a sign that I found pleasantly offensive. I nearly choked when I saw the words GLASS BOTTOM BOAT TICKETS SOLD HERE. Chubby Checker would've been proud. I imagined some overweight tropical shirt–clad tourist from New Jersey getting a glass bottom boat from a tanned, tattooed Key West tour guide. Of course, this just made me laugh more. It's hard to hold a camera when my thoughts turn to images so beautiful and lewd.
Jennifer was patient and waited for me to take my snapshots. But, the sun didn't yield for even a moment from its persistent path out behind the horizon. We melted into the flock of tourists that poured onto the docks lining the west side of the tiny tropical island to get a glimpse of the sunset. I've lived my whole life on a west coast, so seeing the sun sink into the ocean is nothing new. Truth is I was never much impressed by it. I guess I took it for granted. I lived right on the beach for over two years and only went out to watch the sunset a handful of times.
But, there was something special about seeing the sunset here—the energy of the hordes of travelers framed the yellow and vermillion seaside skyscape in a way I'd never felt before. It was hard to believe that this was the same sky that was pretending to be blue just a few hours before.
Soon the sun had made its egress to the West Coast then Hawaii, Asia, Russia, and Europe. We greeted the moon and started another evening of alcohol consumption and wide–eyed wonder. We took in the throngs of tourists, tasting their strange sounds and feeling the energy of the reckless abandon they poured out. Their vacationing felt so desperate. I looked around and it hit me. This was the most fun that many of these people would ever experience. That saddened me. See, when I thought about it, although I had a very fun day, it wasn't all that much more fun than the day before, the day before that, or the day before that. I wondered what it would be like to live a life where fun was confined to only a few days in an entire lifetime. I wondered what it would take to move the minds of the masses to a place where they lived each day with the same relentless pursuit of enjoyment that they radiated in their weekends on Key West.
The drinks continued, and my memories of what happened melted in an inverse proportion to the number of alcohol molecules I allowed into my bloodstream. There were conversations with locals. I sold buttons. I did a phone interview with a man who runs an online audio diary. I posed like a pirate and wrote 'R!' on my hand, making a hook with my finger to make sure my camera knew I was supposed to be a pirate. Key West felt like it needed some of my flavor of piracy.
Soon our energy ran out, drained by a day of laughter and sun and racing thoughts. We walked the tiring two miles back to our oceanfront hotel and collapsed into the embrace of an anonymous hotel bed and its blindingly white sheets. We said goodbye to our day, a day well spent, a collection of moments now gone forever. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. Or, rather, goodnight.
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