Key West

In which I find out who really runs the island.

Cock-a-doodle-doo! That’s the first thing I hear Saturday morning. It was really early, reeeally loud, and it sounded nothing like that, but it’s the common spelling for the outlandish sound roosters make at outlandish times of the day.

A little tip for next time I visit Key West – make sure the fan is running in my room before going to bed. There be wild chickens in these here parts, and they crow allll morning. Early morning, mid-morning and noontime – I could still hear them when I hit the road Eastbound at 12.

The edge of America

Day 6 – the Last Day – started way too early. I had not slept well and debated whether to ignore the region’s natural alarm clocks or go out and see what’s going on. Lucky for me, I chose the latter.

It was still pretty dark around 7am, so I chanced a scurry across the street and perched on the edge of the island to watch the sun come up. Seems like it took forever, but eventually the few clouds on the horizon took on the pink, orange and finally yellow light of the bright ball hiding behind them. When the top of the sun peeking above its fluffy mask, I decided it was breakfast time.


The hotel parking lot was occupied by 2 roosters, 2 hens and 2 chicks. Coal black and loitering around the premises like they just didn’t know where else to go, one of the roosters favored me with an ear-splitting ‘Ehr-ah-ruh-rah-RERRRR’ before I fled to the continental breakfast bar and comforted myself with yogurt and toast.

The Florida Keys really offer some unique vegetation. Not only were there coconuts on the palm trees, but there were intriguing plants and trees of other varieties.

Just begging for a tree house

Super cool man-eating star shaped flowers!

Meandered around town for a bit, observing the variety of tiny houses crammed into an island 4 miles long and 2 miles wide. As usual, there were a few places for sale or rent and I fantasized about what it would be like to live here.

If my mom were to move to Key West, this is what her house would look like

It was only 9 or so, but plenty of folks were out and about. Islanders had been nothing but friendly, and this proved true even in the morning. After awhile, it got so I could distinguish the difference between locals and tourists by (among other things) whether they would look me in the eye and say hello. Tourists quickly avert eyes and pretend you don’t exist.

With an hour to kill before the Hemingway House would be open for visitors, I hit the cemetery. I don’t think it’s morbid. I like to read the headstones and think about the people they memorialize, trying to decipher meaning from the words etched there, the years lived, the other people implicated in said etching. The presence or absence of flowers.

Anyway. Here’s another picture.


The Hemingway House was interesting – a mansion on 1 square acre of uber-valuable island space, built by a seafaring gent who purposed to engineer a hurricane-proof house. Seems to have worked. When said seafarer died, there was such an influx of false claims to the property, the house stood vacant until Ernest Hemingway picked it up for $8,000 in back taxes.

I’m sure it was a lot of money back then, but probably still not nearly enough. In any case, he lived there with his second wife and 2 boys for quite some time. Plus he had a really nifty writing studio set apart from the main house, which he could walk to via catwalk. He could go right out of his bedroom and across to his studio.

Unfortunately, it did not occur to me to take any pictures.

But I was inspired to actually read one of Hemingway’s books. I liked it.


At 11:30 am, Key West was sweltering and I had a flight out of Miami at 4. So with sadness that my adventure was coming to an end, I resignedly headed back across Route 1 for the Florida mainland.

With 2-3 hours of driving ahead of me, I stopped at Publix for fruit and a sandwich from the beautiful, well-stocked and very busy grocery store. On my way in, a fellow my grandpa’s age greeted me with a smile and a nod, and then, “Hey, did I see you out watching the sunrise this morning?”

It’s an island. Just a matter of time before you start bumping into folks.

Day 6 stats:
Miles: 163.8
Chicken sightings: 5
Hours of sleep lost: Let’s not think about it
Great Expectations: Finished it! Hooray for Pip and Estella.

South from Orlando

In which my car becomes a bug cemetery.

The freeway is a cruel, cruel place for insects and flying creatures of all kinds. Just a glance at my bumper and windshield will give you an idea of the sheer volume of grisly deaths that occur on Florida highways every day.

I was moved to compose a soliloquy on behalf of baby bugs everywhere. If you ask me I will probably sing it for you.

Day 5 started grouchily, as I realized I had overslept and would have to skip some things if I would make it to Key West by nightfall. My neck was so stiff I might have to turn my whole body to check my blind spot shifting lanes. In short, my plans were really putting a cramp on my plan-free adventure.

Physical limitations are a reality of road-tripping, and this trip was testing mine. But the good news is… I’m a Christian! And so I prayed.

Surrendering to life as it is and not as I wish it to be is never easy, but it’s good. Rather than rushing out the door with my grouchy self, I took a few minutes to stretch, got some grub at the La Quinta continental breakfast bar (with waffles!) and spent some time reading the bible and talking to the Lord.

As it happened, my devotional for the day led me to Psalm 127, one of the poems written by ancient Israelites sometime around the tenth or eleventh century BC. It was good then, it’s good now:

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Psalm 127:1-3 (

Isn’t that great? It’s like God said, “Hey Cortney – it is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest. Chill out and enjoy what I’m doing here.” So I said okay.

Things start to get exciting

Much of the morning drive passed uneventfully. I listened to Great Expectations a lot because I had to take the interstate for the sake of time, and 95 is boooring. Somewhere past Miami I stopped to get gas and a salad. When I got back on the road it Stormed with a capital S.

Now, I’m from Northern Virginia, and we are notorious for our extreme nervousness when it comes to precipitation of pretty much any kind. I think Miami is worse.

Suddenly my placid highway of nothing-much-to-pay-attention-to was an obstacle course of hazzard lights, speeding trucks, 15 mph Lincolns, and water from all directions. More praying ensued.

The weather cleared just as I exited at Homestead. I was a little ahead of schedule, so thought I’d swing by the Coral Castle – which according to my GPS was only ten minutes out of my way. But.

Traffic jam!

See that little blue thing near the center of the photo? That’s where I’m trying to go. See all those orange blockade thingies? They appear to be cutting off all possible entrances to the place I’m now spending 20 minutes (with traffic) to see.

I did manage to snap a picture as I inched by. But a few minutes later I was on the Overseas Highway through the keys so I didn’t take it too hard.

Can you see it?

What a beautiful sight! Miles of 2-lane highway surrounded by calm blue waters as you skip from one tiny, quirky island to the next. It was a treat to pass the 2 1/2 hours marveling at this feat of God’s creation and human engineering, right next to each other, even though an obnoxious 18-wheeler rode my tail most of the way.

I got into Key West at 7 on the nose. My hotel was easy to find and I was able to quickly check in and deposit my stuff to go exploring. The front window looked right out at the Gulf of Mexico and I asked the woman at the front desk if she ever got tired of the view. “Never,” she said. “I’ve lived here 9 years, and I’m grateful for it.”

It was hot, but not debilitating. I strolled lazily through Mallory Square, which was full of tourists being entertained by jugglers, snack vendors, musicians, and something to do with fire. There was even a man giving a Bible lecture to an audience of one (no, not that One).

I wanted to see Key West, but the light was fading fast and everywhere I turned I found tourists and touristy things. Stumbling across a tiny shop painted key lime green, I took refuge from the crowds and chatted with the lady selling the keys’ best Key Lime pie.

She’s lived here for 9 months, working for the owner of the pie shop. Most folks come in the shop because they saw it on TV (Bobby Flay’s Throwdown – Bobby won, but apparently he cheated).

It was pitch black and difficult to see beyond the bright lights and noisy crowds of Duval Street, the main drag. I called it a day, purposing to get out early and see the place I’d spent all week getting to. In my room, I flipped on the TV to find that all the channels were agog with the royal wedding. Oh yeah. I guess that was today.

Sunset in Key West

Day 5 stats:
Miles: 409.5
Water ogling: plenty
Near-death experiences: 0 (but I was skeered)
Chapters:finished 42

Next stop… home!