Chapter 12: Island Life

Uncle Jimmy!

I woke up last night thinking of something. I’ve been sharing all sorts of stories of our current European trip, as well as back-flipping into stories of past excursions. And I’ve been doing a lot of comparison to “life back home”. But I really haven’t told you what back home was.

Have you ever been to the Florida Keys? No? Well, think of Florida as this big long appendage hanging down, with the tip squirting out … no wait, that analogy can only get worse. Ahem, at the very bottom of the state of Florida, on the east coast, your last major city is Miami. Below that lie several smaller towns, then the famed Everglades, and then nothing but water. Well, except for a chain of narrow islands that stretch generally east-to-west, and bearing slightly to the south. Those islands are The Florida Keys, and they span over a hundred linear miles end to end. All connected by more than forty bridges, and surrounded by the bluest of waters.

In the Keys, everything is measured by its mile marker, starting at zero way down at the very end of the chain in Key West. MM108 is your entry point after leaving the mainland. We’re at mile marker 101 and a half, on the bay side. In Key Largo.

We live in a trailer park, which really isn’t a trailer park. Not by typical American standards anyway. Prices for houses in the Keys are seriously not cheap. So a lot of folks just park their travel trailers and RVs on tiny lots that are mere steps away from the ocean or bay. Forgoing acreage and elbow room for price and water access. And our tiny caravan that I mentioned in an earlier letter is parked just so.

How to describe life down there. Easy is probably the only real word. There is no dress code, except for shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops. Wealthy or poor, everyone looks and acts the same. There are no real politics, just discussions of fishing and boating. And everyone, at every bar, is a friend.

Slow is another word I’d use. No one rushes or hurries. No one honks their car horns. Let that person pass or turn, you’ve got all day. The only time that matters is sunset, and every single person in the islands knows the exact minute that will happen on any given day. For at that moment, you will raise a glass, someone will blow into a conch shell, and another transition from well lit paradise to a dimmer one will commence.

We do get a lot of tourists, and even more “Snow Birds”. People who usually live in the colder North, and who travel down to us for six months a year. To put up with our winters well-heated by Mother Nature and to enjoy the island way of life.

I think the widest part of Key Largo is maybe … half a mile? Probably less. Most of the islands are very narrow. In many places, they are so thin that the ocean on one side and the bay on the other are in the same view. And aside from mile markers, nothing is measured by distance, except maybe for how blessedly far away the mainland is.

Everything in the Keys is based on water. Scuba diving, fishing, boating … everything. Out of season lobster fishing is more of a crime here than most anything else. The place has peculiar priorities, at least to outsiders.

Sounds like nirvana, right? Well it is. And it isn’t.

If your mindset is one to relax, dig your feet into the ocean, and sip away at a cold beverage, then yes … it’s indeed paradise. But it’s hard to be or do anything else. The closest airport is on the mainland, easily two hours away. Using the Keys as a jumping point to destinations elsewhere ain’t happening, unless you have a big boat and want to visit another island chain. Which is my only real complaint about the place. When I get that itch to wander, wandering isn’t a thing easily done. So there is a price for paradise. To roam, you first have to escape.

One day, I can easily see myself settled down into island life. Hell, I can see continuing what we do now, even with the difficultly that is getting out to explore other lands. And I can envision even flip-flopping everything and becoming snow birds ourselves. Key Largo is truly a wondrous place. One that I love. That relaxes me. But it’s also one that oftentimes makes me feel trapped. Which is an odd thing to say about paradise.

So there you go, dearest uncle. Home, when I’m not home.

OK, back to the trip. Next letter! 🙂

Love, Rick

LETTERS TO A DEAD UNCLE

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