At the end of a long relationship, I responded in my usual manner by planning a Great Escape. I hastily purchased a single airline ticket from a dubious internet site that guaranteed that, if I was willing to get myself to the airport for a 3 a.m. departure, I would reach distant, exotic Key West with only two insignificant stops in Dallas and Minneapolis.
I’ve always been partial to changing my surroundings in order to achieve a sense of transition, despite my mother saying, “You can go as far away as you like, but your problems will always follow.”
As I sat waiting for my flight, I was delighted to once again hear the soft-voiced commands of the airport announcements instructing me exactly where it was permitted to smoke, where a person could and couldn’t park their vehicle, and how important it was to keep a watchful gaze on personal luggage.
At 3:00am, I was able to notice what would usually go unnoticed in the bustling daylight hours, such as the big, fluorescent bulbs that annoyingly spotlighted the ticket counter representatives. A tired looking man gently buffed the floor in a circular motion spreading a thin layer of wax. So desolate was the airport, it seemed it was all done for me. Lastly, there was cheesy xylophone music piped over the airport intercom, which I’d never noticed before, and probably better so.
I arrived in Key West in the middle of the night and settled into my rented residence, a private house on Albury Street shrouded in palms and bougainvillea. I lay down, sweating in the tropical night air, and pondered how far I’d come.
On my first morning I made the acquaintance of several natives. Because Albury Street lies on the outskirts far away from tourists, I was able to blend in and observe. On this street, I was the tourist among stray cats, feral roosters and memorable locals.
While gearing up on my rented bike, I made the acquaintance of Butch, a friendly neighbor from across the street whose roof was still gaping wide open from a previous hurricane. He sat on his front porch and watched as life both flourished and sweltered in the heat all around him. Butch was brimming with friendly advice and stories of his life in Key West, a true native and a witness to all that Key West offers.