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Friday, September 24, 2010

Reminiscing about days gone past...

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Think of the Florida Keys as but a long string of beads on a thread. It is one little key after another all connected by short bridges along Highway 1 and the best way to locate a business establishment is by referring to the MM... as in mile marker.

The Marathon City Marina is located on mile marker 49 or thereabouts and it can be somewhat of a hike to get to around anywhere if one is walking. SOooo... I'm suddenly missing my fully depreciated yet still functional 1999 Chevrolet Lumina... 232,000 plus miles and still putting out.

I have yet to fully embrace the cruising lifestyle and don't care about hiking about everywhere and wish I had my car to get around in. I'm just gonna have to reclaim my beat up car sooner rather than later.

I find myself seated at a table in the lounge area of the marina diligently studying a map of the Keys, courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce, as well studying the Key West Transit bus schedule and Key West Express motor vessel schedule. I'm wanting to head on up to Fort Myers in the morning to retrieve my car.

The next morning I hike on over to a nearby bus stop and sure enough a Key West Transit bus rumbles to a stop at it's scheduled time and I climb aboard. The bus fee is but three dollars and will take you all the way to Key West in an hour or so depending on traffic. Three bucks for a fifty mile bus trip throughout the Keys is a pretty good deal if you ask me.

It is a beautiful sunny morning and I am mesmerized by the open blue waters on either side of the Keys. We soon drive over the Seven Mile Bridge which S/V Blondie-Dog had been ignominiously towed under just days before on a windy, grey, crappy, wet day... a not so proud moment that I'm certainly not going to be sharing with anybody.

There are but a few passengers onboard, one of which is a grizzled old guy dozing off with his chin whiskers pressed up against his stained T-shirt. I suppose there might have been a time when he too was mesmerized by the open blue waters but had seen enough of it over the years and now simply preferred to sleep on that bus.

The Key West Express motor vessel is scheduled to depart for Fort Myers Beach at six o'clock later that evening. A one way ticket on that massive jet propulsion catamaran will cost eighty-six bucks and will get me to my destination in some three and a half hours or so.

It is about two in the afternoon when the bus pulls up to its final stop. The bus has picked up a full load of passengers along the way down the Keys and we all now spill out of that bus. I've got a few hours to check out the sights and sip on a few cold ones so I head on over to the dockside bars along Garrison Bight where that huge motorized catamaran is tied up.

I'm am somewhat surprised how different everything looks. I was last here for some four or five months way back in 1988 and 1989 when my then wife and I lived onboard a 35ft Morgan sailboat... S/V BratCat.

I stroll along the same pier where our sailing vessel was once tied up. I pause for more than a few moments in front of the slip once occupied by S/V BratCat. Now occupying the slip is a deep sea charter fishing boat and I cringe for a moment at the sight. There isn't a sailboat to be seen along this dock... only commercial fishing boats with their huge twin outboard engines.

I think back to the many times how our cat would ever-so-slowly strut to the bow of the boat and jump off onto the dock at the sight of tourist as they would approach the boat. I can well remember how those tourist would then invariably oooh and aahh at the "nice" kitty and marvel at how loving the cat was.

What they all didn't realize was that the cat was in all likelihood pleading for someone... anyone... to claim him and take him into a regular house and off that boat.

I later enter Turtle Kraals Seafood Bar & Grill. Turtle Kraals was once a quaint tiki- hut, open air styled bar with an adjoining pen containing turtles that were being nursed back to health. Gone is the pen along with the turtles and gone is the quaint tiki hut.

In its place is an enclosed, air-conditioned, full service restaurant with flat screen TVs mounted above the bar area. It is no more welcoming than a cafeteria in a hospital basement. The name is the only recognizable feature of the place so I move on and go elsewhere without entering beyond the front door.

Across the parking lot is the "Half Shell Raw Bar" and I am pleased to see that it still retains its quaintness from years gone past even though the place has been enlarged.

(memo to self: Don't even think for a moment about commenting on the photograph shown above... some things are better left unsaid...)

There is a biker event going on throughout the Keys this weekend... something to do with a poker run whatever that might be. The place is somewhat busy and there are bikers throughout the place all decked out in their biker garb and tattoos. I am unequivocably the only guy or girl for that matter, in there without a tattoo.

I take a seat at the bar and note that I still have a couple of hours before the Express departs for Fort Myers Beach and order myself a cold beverage. As I sip on that cold beer, I think back to the many colorful characters and personalities met way back then.

I think of the friendships made and of the many delightful memories shared with my ex-wife.

I think of the three months or so spent working construction as a general laborer at the Waste Water Treatment Facility, also affectionately referred to as "The Sh*t Plant" by construction personnel.

I think of the hardworking fellas on my labor crew who I later befriended and I later wonder whether I could somehow be granted a special pass to enter onto the Naval base for a tour of the waste water treatment facilities.

I think of Gary and his wild perm hairstyle and of his many "how in the hell did he do that" magic tricks and of his motor vessel, The Magician.

I think of Mike and Margaret Collins aboard S/V Magic Carpet and of the times spent dining together at El Siboney, a delightful Cuban restaurant catering to locals.

I think of TT because I no longer remember her real name... an old lady who served as dockmaster and a stickler for the rules and who was derisively referred to as TT behind her back with TT being short for Torpedo Tits...

Later while at the bar I find myself chatting it up with a biker and hearing him endlessly talk about motorcycles and of going back to school to specialize in bike repair and of him selling a turn of the century shotgun for five grand earlier in the day and of hearing him talk about more motorcycle stuff.

Before long it's time to trek on over to the Key West Express motor vessel for boarding. A beautiful and pristine sea terminal now sits in place where old dilapidated and closed-up dockside warehouses once where. I then purchase my boarding ticket. Check my carry-ons through the Security Checkpoint and board the motor vessel for the trip on up to Fort Myers Beach.

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