Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Key West by Sundown: Bring on the Crazies!

Wednesday -- day 3 of my AAA assignment in the Florida Keys -- wasn't without its hiccups.

The math-challenged itinerary planners didn't allow enough time to eat breakfast and arrive at our first scheduled activity on time. So, breakfast at the Green Turtle Inn was sacrificed for an on-time arrival at the Turtle Hospital.

Instead of a sit-down meal at the Green Turtle we ordered carry-out from the Midway CafĂ© and wolfed down our food in the van as we hauled butt down the road the 30 or so miles to the Turtle Hospital.

This is the only veterinary-certified turtle hospital in the world. Fixing injured and sick turtles is its business and business is evidently boomin'.

Am I the only one to find irony in the fact that originally we were to eat breakfast at a joint made famous for its green-turtle delicacies and then visit the turtle hospital? Just askin'.

When we visited the turtle hospital, 22 turtles were in residence being treated for sickness as well as boat injuries. About 80% of the turtles that are successfully saved are eventually healthy enough to be returned to the sea.

The owner of the hospital came to the Keys to open a motel, which he did. To attract guests, he created a tidal pool that hosted a variety of sea life, but the only way he could get a permit to add a sea turtle was if the turtle was injured and he nursed it back to health. Things just took off from there. The facility no longer serves as a motel and its large swimming pool has been converted to a secure tidal pool for recovering turtles. The hospital runs two turtle ambulances and has full surgical facilities. It's open for tours. Pretty cool!

Once the educational portion of my day was completed, we were ready to head to Strike Zone Charters for a five-hour snorkeling and fishing trip culminating in a fish fry on a deserted island. Before we left the turtle hospital, we learned that this activity was canceled. I won't go into the baloney details of the cancellation, but we were able to glom on to a shorter, 3-hour trip that featured snorkeling on the coral reef.

I was all for snorkeling until I discovered the ocean was a chilly 73 degrees. Uncle Russ don't do that nonsense. Those of you who know me well know I kept my pool in Boynton Beach cranked up to the high 90s. Nope, 73 wasn't going to happen. So I settled for lounging around the deck b'essing with the captain and the couple of other smart folks who stayed on deck.

Around , we drove the last 30 miles or so to Key West.

Key West is like New Orleans or Las Vegas: Everyone should visit it at least once just to say you have, but it's not a place in which I want to spend long periods of time. Most folks come to Key West to drink, party and attempt to secure as many happy endings as possible. There's nothing wrong with any of that, mind you; but it doesn't necessarily attract the highest caliber of human being.

Here's an example: This morning I was sitting at a poolside table at the Cypress House, a quite lovely B&B where the tourism folks put me up for my Key West stay, and at the next table was a high-class guy talking on his cell to someone back home. I overheard him telling this person that he and the missus were flying home early because she and her brother had gotten into a physical altercation the night before. ("Altercation" is my term, not his. I think he characterized it as someone punching the shit out of the other person.)

From the sounds of it, one or the other of the combatants drew blood. So the guy on the phone decided the best course for everyone concerned was early flights home. And could the person to whom he was talking please come pick them up at the airport.

Evidently he was speaking with a woman and she declined the invite to serve as the airport shuttle because -- from the side of the conversation I could hear -- her husband had set himself on fire dumping gasoline on the barbeque coals the day before.

I suspect that wasn't even the most interesting thing that happened at the trailer park that day.

In any event, we arrived in Key West just in time to attend the sunset celebration at Mallory Square. On our itinerary, this event described the local participants as arts-and-crafts exhibitors, street performers, food vendors, psychics and tourists. It made me chuckle.

The cornerstone of the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration is scores of kooks doing outrageous things disguising the fact they are really bumming money; in other words, panhandlers with a quirky talent is what they really are. The term "street performer" is a bit generous. "Street people" lands closer to the mark. It is a spectacle to be sure, and one every person should witness at least once. Having seen it at least half a dozen times, I didn't find it as engaging as some of the others in my group. I certainly wasn't sufficiently loaded to revel in the spirit of the process.

I was back on the front porch of the Cypress House by , glass of wine in my hand. Maybe I'm just too old for Key West?



  1. Do they still have the cats act at Mallory pier?

  2. Why, yes they do. On my past visits, I don't remember so many chickens running around everywhere. There was a rooster in the yard next to the B&B where I stayed that began crowing at 5 a.m. and didn't stop until about 7.

  3. yes, Paul, Dominic's Flying House Cats still perform nightly. Russ, you're lucky. Some roosters crow 24/7 I swear. There are occasional chicken round-ups when animal control sends a few flocks to the mainland. They like the Key West chickens because they are smart enough to roost in trees, so don't drown when there's a flash flood.