A Florida diary… the group heads for Fort Lauderdale and the Keys
9 days in southern Florida… days four, five and six

Here in the second section of our travel diary, we are headed off to the Florida Keys. We’ve already experienced some fantastic moments on this trip… but the surprises are just beginning.

Day Four ~ Tuesday, May 5, 2009

It would be hard for any vacation to top the experiences of Monday, May 4th. It started out with alligators and an airboat. It included one of the best meals you could ever hope to enjoy. And it concluded with a beautiful sunset stroll along the beach.

Great, great stuff. Kind of day that makes you feel good to be alive, and special to have lived and shared those moments.

This morning we find that perfection is going to keep rolling for just a bit longer… fruit salad for breakfast (and Richard in heaven) followed by a drive, with some special stops involved, all the way to Key West. Yup… another memorable day was ready to begin.

We’ve been playing around with the radio on this trip. We have a satellite system… Sirius, which I’ll mention because I have no idea about merger dates or anything else that is going on with satellite radio… and we can’t agree on a station. But so far the driving has been giving us fits when it comes to regular radio, since many channels fade out of range into static, and we’re trying to find a few options we all like.

Terry has settled on music of the 70s, which seems to be getting a mostly positive review from the group… but every so often a song begins and I feel like sticking an ice pick into something. As far as the driver is concerned, we’re going to need to work on this.

Our first stop is around Mile Marker 79… at Robbie’s.

We’re here to feed the tarpon… and, apparently Terry is here to ignore the signs and feed the pelicans too. (Unless that’s illegal, in which case she only fed the tarpon.)

If you haven’t had the experience, and find yourself traveling along Route 1 with a few minutes to spend, then by all means… stop. It’s quite the show.

Each of us has a bucket for the tarpon and we’re headed out to the dock. After spending a few minutes with the fish, I look up and freeze…

It can’t be.

It can’t possibly be.

It is.

The most annoying woman in the world and her party of four have arrived. Apparently they’ve recovered from whatever illness was plaguing three of them and are enjoying their day.

I nudge Tigg and motion in their direction. She looks up… appears to want to say “no way”… and instead sits there with a dazed look on her face. Finally she asks me if the pelicans would attack if she tossed a fish in their direction. I respond by saying a better idea would be to push the woman off the dock, drop the remaining contents from our buckets into the water around her and let the tarpon have some fun.

Instead of doing either we chuckle and make our way back to the shore.

No more than thirty minutes away, we arrive at the Dolphin Research Center. Unbeknownst to Ellen and Richard… but knownst to us… we have plans for this place on Wednesday. We’re stopping now to meet up with Ellen’s friend Nancy and spend some time on the property.

The DRC is no stranger to Terry and I. While we haven’t been here in just over 12 years, it was part of our first major vacation together… the one we got engaged during… with Jay and Justin back in 1997. Back then, knowing we were heading to the Keys and that I had been swimming with dolphins before, Terry asked me to find something the boys could do. With Justin having just turned 7, the DRC was the only one of two locations in the Florida Keys that would allow him to participate. You couldn’t have removed the smiles from the boys faces with a chisel and dynamite after that experience. In fact… it took a trip to Australia to top it for them.

Back then we swam with Santini and Aleta… both still residents here at the DRC.

We wandered around the complex, stopping for about twenty minutes to watch a show and some of a dolphin experience that was taking place. Then we headed into the gift store to do some shopping, and eventually took off for lunch.

We’re taking Nancy’s recommendation and heading to The Square Grouper. But, something funny happened along the way. No-no… fresh off of her one night show in Fort Lauderdale… is back.

We’re still traveling along the Overseas Highway on our way to Key West. We’re all smiling and laughing… having a grand old time. In fact, Terry turns and looks at Ellen… it should be noted that to say Ellen loves the Florida Keys doesn’t do justice to her love of them… and says that we’d be willing to stay an extra night if she and Richard want to. Ellen smiles and nods, and we get back to our conversation.

Ellen is looking for a delicatessen. She’s describing it… telling us we should be coming up to it… and looking to the right side of the road. Terry is giving her the most help. Richard and I… on the left side of the car… are trying to assist, but we’re also watching the road and looking for The Square Grouper, which is supposedly on our side of the road. We reach our lunch destination first.

It’s hard to explain why I spotted The Square Grouper. And I say that simply because it’s hard to spot. This isn’t a building that looks like a restaurant, and it doesn’t have a sign that can be easily spotted from miles away. Instead, I had the address, knew we were getting close, and suddenly… yup, that’s it.

(By the way… that would be 22658 Overseas Highway on Cudjoe Key. It’s around mile marker 22.5.)

The menu is a strange collection. We’re looking over the offerings for lunch, and when I say strange that probably isn’t the right word. It’s absolutely appealing and sounds delicious, but this is not a menu designed to cater to a massive audience…

Go to the web site… check out the menu… the lunch menu… and when you start seeing wasabi drizzle and buffalo shrimp and island pepper aioli and key lime tarter sauce, I think you’ll see where I’m trying to go with the thought. The seafood looks incredible and the plates are unique and creative. That said… it’s a menu designed to deliver quality while making The Square Grouper memorable and just a bit different. (Which is a really great thing for a restaurant to do.)

Terry ordered shrimp sliders and a bowl of conch chowder. Ellen went with the grouper sandwich. Richard decided on a caprese panini that had chicken, mozzarella, tomato and pesto. I went with a burger… but would like to point out that I remember it as being a special of the day. Of course I didn’t note what the special was, but I did note that I ordered crab wontons as well.

The food was fabulous, and all of us plan to find our way back to this restaurant in the future… but something else was happening as well during our lunch.

The islands were hitting us.

After three fun days of vacation, we had reached a stretch of absolutely no worries. Heck… we even had a reservation for that night, but it was as if we didn’t care. We were laughing and joking around… the restaurant was clean and the staff very friendly… and the food was wonderful… and just a bunch of things that suddenly came together and we felt relaxed, refreshed and just thrilled to be exactly where we were.

All four doors on the car had yet to be closed… we were still about thirty minutes away from finding our hotel and checking in… and Ellen was asking if anyone minded if we stayed a second night. No vote was needed.

Soon after hitting the highway again, No-no returns and Richard and I are entertained by the following exchange:

“I know it’s here some place.”

“Is that it?”

“No. It’s a deli.”

“Like that one?”

“No, no, it’s coming up soon though.”

“But right there. That one. On the right.”

“No, it’s… wait… oh yeah. That’s it.”

Ladies and gentlemen… No-no. She’ll be here all week. Please remember to tip your waitresses.

We’re headed in to the Sunrise Suites Resorts… and looking to check in for two nights instead of one. When we get to the office, the girls head in and have no problems arranging for us to stay in the same room for both days. If you had asked me when we got started this morning, I would have told you I honestly didn’t think it was possible for Ellen to have a bigger smile. Then, after catching up with Nancy and a terrific lunch, she was beaming. Now she’s absolutely ecstatic.

We’re meandering around our room… unpacking things in the bedrooms… watching television in the living room… changing and preparing for the night. We’ve got reservations on a sunset cruise with Danger Charters.

Before we leave the hotel room for the evening though, I want to back up a few paragraphs. Did you see where I described our group as “relaxed, refreshed and just thrilled to be exactly where we were” while eating lunch? Ok…

Richard and I can be funny some times. The best way I can describe it is to say we are quite comfortable acting as the designated driver on any given evening. And while those evenings can be filled with fun and a carefree attitude… being a designated driver carries a bit of responsibility.

Responsibility… no matter how willingly accepted… carries with it pressure.

And pressure… no matter how great… doesn’t easily merge with relaxed and refreshed.

So… anyway… you’ve got the basic idea. Right? Relaxed… refreshed… thrilled… getting ready for an adventure. But potentially… there’s pressure.

Not tonight.

We call for a cab to pick us up and deliver us to a marina near the corner of Whitehead and Greene streets. And here’s a good summary of the relaxed island lifestyle… the driver had one of his feet up on the dashboard and was using his cell phone to send and receive text messages. (I was stunned Ellen didn’t move toward the front of the van and deck him, but he managed to stay under control and drive ok.) He was nice enough, but for the first time in a long time we tried to hold a conversation with a cab driver and ended up with no real answers to any of our questions.

We arrive early and end up with time to look around the Westin Hotel Marina area. It’s hot… and muggy… and we’re sweating… and it’s been a few hours since lunch and we have no real clue exactly what food they’ll be serving… and that’s when I spot the ice cream store.

We stop in the Key West Polar Bear Homemade Ice Cream shop. It’s ok… but honestly, not worth the money. Very expensive… and yes, I’m quite aware of the fact that I was on vacation, in Key West, and on a hot day looking for ice cream.

We continue along, walking around a couple of other shops and then head back to the meeting point for our cruise. We met Haig… our captain for the evening… and were led to the boat. Our crew includes Haig, his first mate Don, and Sarah. And for this next part, let me use myself as a source… from an article I posted specifically about Danger Charters:

The cruise featured an assortment of wine and promised a variety of appetizers. Actually, let me quote the web site on this one: “In addition, an array of quality beer, and hors d’oeuvres are also served…” You’ll notice the word “quality” doesn’t appear next to the food. There’s a reason for that… the food was average. (Ok… look… it wasn’t bad. Veggies and dip… cheese and crackers… more cheese… more veggies. But heck… let’s face it… if you’re out on the water for a Key West sunset, the quality of the veggies shouldn’t be determining whether or not you had a good time.)

The members of the crew were fantastic… the wine was outstanding… and the cruise was beyond fabulous. We had a simply amazing time. Here’s a list of some fun moments…

First – When we left the dock (and, yeah, when we returned) we sailed past the Vandenberg. About three weeks after our visit, the Vandenberg taken about six miles off the coast and sunk to create the second largest artificial reef in the world.

Second – About two hundred yards away from the boat there were some dolphins playing. Didn’t get a great view, but Don pointed out some spray hitting the air.

Third – The wine. Back to my other column…

We started the evening with a Grandial sparkling wine that everyone agreed was pretty good and had a nice taste. We progressed through a Lurton Pinot Gris that was very good into a Yangarra Chardonnay that we all felt was ok. After that… a rose and on to some red wines… and the boat was on open water, the sun was going down, and my notes don’t cover everything else that was poured for us. I was distracted by, well, everything. (I do recall later being served a Fresca, which was a completely unexpected treat and kicked off a string of Caddyshack sailing with Judge Smails jokes. “How about a Fresca?”… “Spalding, get your foot off the boat.”… “You’ll get nothing, and like it!”)

And fourth – Richard. This is a longer story, deserving of paragraphs and the full development. Here goes…

Richard was the example of a perfect storm on this evening. See, first of all, he didn’t have a care in the world. Not one. We hadn’t driven at all. We were on vacation. No work… nothing to worry about. Remember that pressure? Yeah… none of that here.

Second of all, he was sitting in the best spot on the boat. Sarah was pouring wine for the passengers. She reached Richard, poured him about two-thirds of a cup, and then ran out. She went to get a fresh bottle and Richard drank his two-thirds of a glass. Then, she would come back to Richard and fill his glass back up with a full pour. As the night went on, she kept starting in the same place and finishing in the same place and every bottle was about the same size. (See where this is going?) The pattern of ending a bottle with Richard and starting a new bottle with Richard was repeated with every bottle.

Yup… Richard was hammered.

A few minutes after sunset… in the fading light of a beautiful day that was just brilliantly filled with color before the night arrived… Richard turned to Ellen and said:

“You know what makes this so much fun? Because I love you so much.”

We get off the boat and it’s official… Ellen and Richard are drunk.

We say our goodbyes to Haig, Don and Sarah and begin the walk to Duval Street. I bring us down Whitehead to the Mile Marker 0 sign, and a fight breaks out.

Sort of.

Ellen has decided she wants to go to the Hemingway House. For some amazing reason, it has at this moment occurred to her that Whitehead Street is the home of the Hemingway historical sight, and she is looking around trying to spot it. The reason for this… and I quote… is because “they have cats.”

A debate begins, with Richard and I agreeing that we would be willing to look for a synonym of the word cat, and trying to figure out if we would find that at the Hemingway House. Our offer is refused, and not too politely.

Ultimately, Ellen trades seeing the cats for a promise that we will take her to Mallory Square.

We swing over to Duval to begin our crawl. We’ve decided to kick it off at Margaritaville.

Terry and Ellen went with margaritas. I ordered a Kahlua colada. And Richard… well…

In hindsight, this is probably the point in the story where things changed for Richard. Now… mind you… we are still about ten hours away from knowing this as we enter Margaritaville and sit at the bar. And given our experience on the boat, there is evidence worthy of note at other moments in the timeline. But if you lived the evening, and kept fairly detailed notes… you know, like I have by my side right now… and you were looking for a moment when Richard made a mistake that would create a problem for him… my guess is the following sentence describes such a moment, and such a mistake…

Richard ordered a black Russian.

Rick is the bartender, and we strike up a good conversation. It turns out they fully expected Jimmy Buffet to show up for a surprise performance that night. He was supposed to be in town to appear on the Today show and discuss the sinking of the Vandenberg. But… swine flu… Today cancelled… no Jimmy. (We immediately blame the most annoying woman in the world, her touring group of four others and the unidentified three of five that were sick, for missing Jimmy perform in his bar.)

We leave Margaritaville and head in the direction of Mallory Square. As part of her reasoning for that specific location, Ellen is now promising us the best mojitos ever. According to her these will be served at a place right next to the square. And I can only hope that written words can do justice to what happened next, because it was friggin’ hysterical.

I tend to be a Capt. Tony’s Saloon kind of guy. I can’t explain it… so much of the Key West night life is marketing and touristy. And Capt. Tony’s is in the heart of that, filling it’s own little space just off Duval on Green Street. But back when my best friend Chris and I first came to Key West in 1994, we saw a band play an awesome set at Capt. Tony’s. And it just felt right being there that night… not quite polished like other places, just very comfortable.

I had every intention of stopping at Capt. Tony’s. Ellen though had Sloppy Joe’s on her mind. So, keeping the trek in order, we had crossed the street from Margaritaville so we could head up to Sloppy Joe’s. We could always cross over to Capt. Tony’s, with thoughts of hitting the Hog’s Breath on our way to Mallory Square a part of the process. (But it wasn’t a well developed, true to the word process. Any interesting bar, corner stand with a blender, or paper bag in between us and the square might just be fair game.)

Our group is together but separated. Ellen has spotted the sign for Sloppy Joe’s, and even though it isn’t necessarily the definite next stop, she has locked in and moved to the front of our pack. Richard and I are almost stride for stride next to each other. And Terry is following all of us by a couple of paces.

Richard and I are having a discussion about nudie bars. (We weren’t using the word “nudie” though.) I have no clue how we had decided on a thousand dollars… neither of us was carrying twenty dollars in cash, never mind a thousand… but we were trying to figure out if it would be worth it to offer each of the girls a thousand dollars for all of the one-dollar bills they had.

As we are having this discussion, and while I’m looking ahead of us, I can see Richard right in the corner of my eye. I mean… you know the idea… something is immediately next to you… it’s right there… it’s not at all in your line of sight because you aren’t looking at it, but you can see it because it’s right there.

And then he isn’t there.

And suddenly Terry is laughing uncontrollably.

Now you have to understand, to my point of view it was like Richard dropped off the planet. He vanished from my sight. Just vanished. He was there… then he wasn’t… and if a magician was standing on the curb waving a wand, I would have applauded.

I could see him, walking next to me, at exactly the same pace I was moving. The lights and signs of Duval Street are moving past, and Ellen is cruising toward Sloppy Joe’s, and Richard is right there almost floating along.

And then nothing.

As I turn around I quickly see the problem. Richard walked directly into a pay phone. And when I say directly into a pay phone, I mean he was walking right at a set of pay phones lined up together, while looking at them, and smashed into the first of three.

Terry thought this was the funniest thing she had ever seen. Later she would claim that because of how he was walking (behind and blocked a bit by Richard), she didn’t see the phones. But even if she had, she isn’t certain she would have warned him, because he didn’t move at all to avoid them. She simply could not figure out how he didn’t see them.

When I see the phones, I begin laughing and then lose it completely. Because Richard goes through three seconds of facial expressions that were absolutely priceless.

When I first see his face, he’s kind of stunned. It was no more than a heartbeat between him hitting the phone and my turning to see him, and he still has that “what the hell was that” look as he tries to regain his composure. This immediately turns into an anger, as if he thinks someone walked into him and that guy should be looking where he’s going and he wants an apology. And then, the third face is the realization it’s a phone and understands he walked into it but can’t figure out where the damn magician is that put the phone in front of him..

Seriously… all that in three seconds or less.

As we begin walking again… Ellen had pulled over to a bar to look at the menu and we lost sight of her, Richard almost causes another accident as he keeps stopping to turn back and look at the phones while mumbling that he can’t believe he didn’t see them.

We finally arrive at Sloppy Joe’s, and Mumbles joins Ellen on the dance floor. Terry buys our group a round. And here we reach, perhaps, a breaking point for Richard.

Now, in fairness to Richard, let’s keep in mind, he’s so far ahead of us in alcohol consumption at this point it’s not even funny. I like wine, but I’m not a big drinker of it for an evening… so I had switched off of it on the boat. After my Kahlua colada, I had decided to stick with rum drinks for the rest of the evening. Richard and the girls went from wine to mixed drinks.

And now, as Terry asks what they’re having, the three have moved over to beer. This is kind of funny in several ways, one of which is because both Richard and I will only drink ridiculously cold beer. (Let’s just say these places aren’t known for frosty mugs and color-shifting labels on the bottles… both of which are signs to Richard and I that the beer has gotten too warm. These places serve beer… by quantity, not temperature.)

All three claim the move was motivated by cost… and I can’t say I blame them there. But umm… ok… let’s leave Sloppy Joe’s and head over to Capt. Tony’s.

As we head outside, Richard decides he wants some water. So… we stop and grab a bottle of water. We get to Capt. Tony’s and order drinks. Then I head over to check out the shirts and hats. I turn around to look at the table, and Ellen is pouring the rest of Richard’s water into a beer.

Yeah… none of us understand that one. Usually she just steals the water from Richard’s bottle. Why she dumped it out… into his beer… no clue.

He was in the restroom, comes back to the table and reaches for the beer. He makes a face, but doesn’t say anything, then starts looking around the table. Ellen asks him what he wants. He tells her that he didn’t like the beer and wants his water. He stares at her for a few minutes as she tries to explain why she got rid of it.

Then he notices all the bras hanging around the bar. I suggest to him that Ellen could make up for dumping out the rest of his water by hanging her bra from the rafters. Richard decides this is a great idea and begins to needle her about it.

Doesn’t happen. But Ellen and Richard have now moved past drunk into the land of as smashed as we’ve ever seen them. (And we are having a great time.)

We leave and meander over to the Hog’s Breath Saloon. There’s a good band playing, offering up a solid rendition of ZZ Top’s “Waitin’ for the bus” and “Jesus just left Chicago” along with some other covers. We stay for a quick drink and then begin to finish up our crawl by arriving on the edge of Mallory Square.

Terry looks at me and asks if I have the number to call for a cab home. Ellen hears her and tries to stop me. We have the following conversation:

“No, wait, we have to go to Pepe’s first.”


“Yeah. Yeah. Pepe’s. That’s the place with the mojitos.”

“Ok. Pepe’s it is. How do we get there?”

“Just get us to Mallory Square and I’ll do the rest.”



“We’re in Mallory Square.”


“Look down.” (She does, then begins to fall, and finishes it off with one of those hop-steps that are so useful for catching yourself when drunk.) “That’s Mallory Square.”

Ellen looks up. Stares at me for a moment with a quizzical, disbelieving look on her face, and then starts looking at the nearby buildings.

“Oh.” (Long, thoughtful pause.) “I’m not going to find Pepe’s tonight.”

Day Five ~ Wednesday, May 6, 2009

We wake up this morning to two unbelievable moments.

The first… which we’ll come back to in a second… is Ellen knocking on our bedroom door with the news that Richard is sick.

And the second is that Ellen is denying ever dancing the evening before. No… no… she didn’t do it.

I pull out my camera, display the pictures from the previous evening, and let her take a look at a shot of her and Richard with the sign from Sloppy Joe’s in the background.

She’s stunned. Then she points out that this probably explains Richard. Oh yeah… Richard…

Seems Richard had a rough night. Didn’t get any sleep. I’ll be kind and avoid a more detailed description.

Ellen tells us to take off and enjoy the day… or once we’re ready, maybe if Richard seems alright on his own, she’ll go with us… but ultimately wants to cancel the drive out to the Dolphin Research Center.

Terry and I look at each other… then back to Ellen… and then back to each other.

“What?” Ellen asks, sensing something is going on.

And we have to admit to her our devious and evil actions.

We’ve made reservations for the four of us to swim with the dolphins at DRC… the Dolphin Encounter. And… it’s too late to cancel.

“Richard!” she screams, and Ellen is off for their room.

She comes back out, tells us we’re heading to breakfast to give him some time to pull himself together. A trip to Denny’s, we return with some toast, and find Richard awake, dressed and ready to go.

It’s a miracle.

On the drive out to the DRC, I get to check something off of my list of things I want to see. Actually… three of us get to check it off. Terry is sleeping. And since we aren’t 100% positive, we don’t wake her up.

Out over the ocean side of the highway is a cloud. I point it out to Ellen and Richard and mention it looks like a funnel cloud. I tell them I think we’re looking at a waterspout, while thoughts of actually seeing a tornado race around my mind.

The trouble was that the cloud was several miles offshore. And while it looked pretty well formed at the top, it was almost see-thru in quality near the water. It would get a bit more defined, look even bigger and stronger, and then kind of fade a bit. And in questioning ourselves about it, it never really occurred to us to pull over, wake Terry, and grab cameras. (I have zero clue why such a sensible idea never occurred to us.)

We finish our drive to the DRC and walk inside. Nancy and several of her friends are preparing to surprise our guests of honor, only to be disappointed as we explain that they know all about it. But, everyone gets a good laugh out of the reason… and if you could have seen the faces, it really looked like everyone appreciated what he had done, as if the memories of personal experience granted understanding sympathy.

We’re going to be swimming with Cayo and Gypsi today, in one of the front lagoons. Nancy has arranged for a friend of hers to use our camera to shoot some video of the swim, and we also have the DRC photographer on hand taking some pictures.

This is going to be great.

I’d love to tell you how long the swim lasted… but you never really look at a watch. I could mention walking onto the landing… dock… deck… whatever it was we stood on… but I can’t even remember getting in the water.

This is simply too exciting an experience. Memories last… moments blur.

There’s a pre-swim meeting that all participants must attend to provide some background and review safety information. After that, we split up into groups, heading to our specific lagoon to join the trainer and dolphins we’ll be with for our session.

It begins with introductions… the dolphins swimming over to us and more or less getting a bit acquainted. During this time we each get a chance to pet the dolphins.

From there we begin an interactive segment. This includes each of us having the chance to swim out from the deck, extend our arms, and then get swept away by Cayo and Gypsi for a dorsal pull. The ride goes in a bit of a circle, with the dolphins dropping us off near the landing.

The experience wraps up with a training segment… sort of. We’re given a few different commands to select from, each of which asks the dolphin to perform a different task. Our choices range from initiating a splash fight to an aerial maneuver, along with a couple of others. And… honestly… I don’t think it’s even close. Virtually the entire group picks a splash fight.

We leave the DRC and meet up with Norm… Nancy’s other half. We spend a few minutes catching up and then head off to dinner… at the Island Fish Company Tiki Bar & Restaurant. And it’s there that the next surprise of the trip will be unveiled.

If there is a more beautiful restaurant in the world than the Island Fish Company, I’ve yet to hear about it.

Ok… that’s probably not true.

But this place is an absolutely brilliant, exotically perfect union of staff, guests and location. The water off to the side is gorgeous. The thatched-style roof is creative, distinct, and great. And… well… look…

If you are thinking of going on vacation… and you are picturing a tropical area where you can sit near the water with a frozen beverage… and it would be great if they served some decent food… this is it. We don’t need to exchange thoughts or blueprints. I’m sure of it. This is exactly what you would design.

If you were retired… kicking back and trying to look like a local… wanted an every day spot where you would fit in, know everyone’s name, and have some casual conversation while working on absolutely nothing… this is it. This is exactly what you would design.

The Island She Krab was simply ridiculous. Absolutely and amazingly delicious. Most of the food was good, and I’m sure if I became a regular I would find a few outstanding items to create a solid, normal order.

During our time together, we also learned something interesting. Turns out that Ellen’s long time friend Nancy has been a friend of Terry’s for even longer. While exchanging stories of the good old days, Terry and Nancy realized they knew each other while growing up, and that Terry had even attended Nancy’s birthday party one year.

We begrudgingly bid a good night to Nancy and Norm and meandered back in the direction of Key West for the night.

During the drive back to the island, we decide to take in a few sights before heading back to our room. We go to the Southernmost Point and also return to Mile Marker 0.

And then…

The Blond Giraffe.

Every trip should have some memorable moments. Things that you were thrilled to experience… places that create a desire to return… I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

This trip is only about half completed, and we already have several memorable moments. The Blond Giraffe may be the simplest and most unexpected of them all. Because all we did was stop for a slice of chocolate covered pie on a stick.

We had finished our travels around Key West for the night, and decided to return to our room for some cards. And we all thought that a slice of key lime pie might be a perfect snack. The Blond Giraffe was on our listing of places to look for, so we plugged the address in and Mi Luv U led the way.

And we didn’t find it.

The funniest part of following her directions and more or less ending up lost would be one of two things. (1) That she actually led us off of the island of Key West to find the address of the Key West store. (2) That we drove right past the location we eventually returned to for our pie. (And saw it when we drove past it… which is why we went back to it.)

Terry, Ellen and I got a piece of chocolate covered frozen key lime pie on a stick. Richard, who avoids chocolate, went with a slice of traditional key lime pie. As we were ordering, I spotted something and decided I needed to try it… key lime meringue pie.

Everything we got was good… but as I tried the piece of pie later I decided I had to return before we left the island to get a full pie. It was just outstanding.

Day Six ~ Thursday, May 7, 2009

Our day begins where Tuesday night left off… more or less… as Ellen is absolutely convinced that she can bring us to Pepe.

Remember Pepe?

On day four, with Ellen and Richard positively smashed, she told us that if we just got her to Mallory Square she would find the Cuban bar named Pepe.

Upon discovering that she was at that moment in fact standing in Mallory Square, she decided that she wasn’t going to find Pepe.

But this is day six. And it’s daylight. And she’s sober. And she wants a mojito. Or… as she has promised… the greatest mojito ever.

Planning on a couple of hours of walking around the area, we park the car a few blocks away from this opening target and start out to Duval Street. We turn to face Mallory Square and begin moving on our intent to find Pepe. Still in the morning hours though, we’re taking our time and stopping along the way. One visit includes the Wyland Gallery. (We’ve been to a couple of his galleries. Very nice, always different, but we don’t buy anything on this day.) Terry and I do find a t-shirt for Richard with evil plans on our mind. (It’s a Christmas present in the making. Says “I got Duval-faced on Shit Street” and ends up looking amazing in a frame with a few pictures from the Tuesday night adventure.)

Eventually we hit Mallory Square and learn we aren’t looking for Pepe… we’re looking for El Meson de Pepe… and Ellen was 100% right. She should have found it. In fact, give her one or the other… daylight or sober, you wouldn’t need to allow her both… and I think she would have had us there on Tuesday evening.

While I stand by my comments that the Island Fish Company was the perfect location to sit back, order a drink, eat some food and stare at the water… this place isn’t too bad at all. In fact, it’s damn nice. Not twenty feet from the bar I’m taking pictures… of a pelican with glistening water only slightly in the distance behind it and gorgeous palm trees nearby. While it doesn’t strike me at the moment as being as relaxed as the night in Marathon with Nancy and Norm, I will say this… it is quite obvious that there is zero need for a watch in this region.

We finish our drinks and walk around a bit… including picking up some jewelry for Terry… and we decide it might be time to think about lunch and when we’ll head back to Fort Lauderdale. While we love Key West, we know we’re not spending another night, and being here into the evening hours and sunset would be just too tempting.

Which brings us to Crabby Dick’s…

For years we used to go to a Crabby Dick’s in Baltimore, Maryland. (Don’t look for it. They closed up shop and headed over to Delaware. (Which is another story entirely.))

As we kicked around ideas for lunch, one place kept getting mentioned by Terry and none of us were dismissing it… Crabby Dick’s down at the other end of Duval Street. And so it was… off we went.

I have to be honest… it was a bit of a disappointment. The menu wasn’t the same… well, of course it wasn’t, this was a different Crabby Dick’s and not some Florida Keys outpost of the same establishment. The food was fine… but when you’re expecting hush puppies, a cheeseburger isn’t even close to the same.

We finish up with some more shopping… in and out of a couple of stores, but nothing jumping out and becoming musts. I mention heading back to the Blonde Giraffe and hitting the road. With Richard’s promise that he’ll help devour it, we buy a whole key lime meringue pie.

As we get back on Route 1 and pass Marathon, we finally settle the radio battle. We find The Coffee House.

Now I have to say this up front… I’m very disappointed with The Coffee House today. Because the songs that made it so great to us on this trip, and then for several months when we found it after we got home as a DirecTV station, no longer seems to be the offered programming. So don’t go looking for it and wonder what I’m talking about.

Back then though… this was a great station playing acoustic music. And they ran from amazing and fresh versions covering well known material to some really incredible stuff you wouldn’t find any place else. (And now? Plugged in, more popular stuff. Kind of depressing to see it happen.)

As we pass Miami and close in on our home base, we begin debating what to do about dinner. And once again, our friend John comes to the rescue. I can’t recall the name of the place he recommended when he had been talking about Chima’s. So Terry gets out her cell phone and calls him. It’s J. Alexander’s… and it is awesome.

We’re not really amazingly hungry at the time. We just want something to finish off our night before we kick back and take it easy in our rooms. The sun has been knocking us around a bit for the past couple of days, and we’re all exhausted. So as we look over the menu, a few things stand out and we decide to mix and match a bit.

Ellen and I both order the rattlesnake pasta. Richard goes with a rotisserie chicken. Terry goes really basic with chicken fingers. John had been bragging about the calamari though… so we get an order of that to split along with what seems to be an irresistible option. (And since we ordered it… yeah… irresistible works.) Not your ordinary mac and cheese.

Everything was awesome. There was very little talking during dinner. Maybe we were tired… maybe it was too good to stop and speak… whatever… delicious.

A fabulous ending to the second segment of our trip.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com