I recently had the joy of attending a reunion of sorts in beautiful Key West, Florida. Our group stayed at the Coco Plum Inn, and I can say I’ve never had a better bed and breakfast experience! It was both my wife and I’s first trip to the Keys, both in the singular and the collective. During my college days Key West was a common spring break destination, but between the lost time from work and the cost to do anything on the vacation it wasn’t a trip I ever tried to afford.
I remember vividly listening to the stories of stumbling out of Irish Kevin’s at the end of a night several hundred dollars poorer than you were when the night started. The next day they’d begin their accounting of the night before piecing together how they had spent their fortunes. There were also the occasional stories of waking up with more money than one started the evening with. These folks spent significantly less time reassembling their own story.
Often folks would come back to campus with an assortment of souvenirs. My kitchen’s entire beverageware stock was Flying Monkeys cups. The odd menagerie of souvenirs over the years included t-shirts, signage of dubious origins, seashells, and tattoos. So many tattoos. The natural cycle of seeking permanent body modification usually starts with a moderately inebriated undergraduate expressing the sober desires of the drunken heart. Commitments are made. Designs are drawn. Appointments are scheduled. Pressure builds. Finally, a cartoon monkey with uncertain copyright is permanently inked onto the skin.
There were legends that were told to me so many years ago. My favorite of these is the sausage cart guy. As the story goes, if you stay in the right part of the island when you leave Duval Street late enough at night there will be a man selling sausages. The sausage guy always had a variety of sausages: bratwursts, italian, jalapeno. There were all sorts of mustards and hot sauces. Everything you need to recover on the way home after a long night on the town.
Having lived with these stories for damn near two decades I was ecstatic to hear that we were having a reunion with some close friends in Key West. We made our reservations, booked our flights, and prepared to get into swimwear shape. Finally the weekend arrived.
The Key West airport is not like other airports. As we disembarked onto the outside tarmak we were immediately reminded by the Florida sun that we had forgotten our sunglasses. Once inside the airport proper I realized that there were more people queuing at the bar than at one of the two baggage claims. I instead queued into the restroom. I was there greeted at the men’s urinal by an advertisement for the capito-hedonistic business venture of bedside IV treatment for hangovers. I had heard of IV treatment to cure hangovers self administered by nurses and EMTs, but I’d never seen it marketed to the masses. The advertisement wasn’t playing coy describing ‘dehydration’, or ‘restoration after a long night’. It was titled ‘Hangovers suck’ with subtitling ‘Tomorrow morning doesn’t have to’. The implied question was not whether I would be hungover in the morning, but would I take science into my own hands to avoid the natural repercussions of my own actions. This felt like the Key West I had been promised.
As we drove through the neighborhoods to get to our bed and breakfast, Coco Plum, I noticed a chicken wandering the street. I thought to myself, ‘weird, someone’s chicken got loose.’ Then shortly after I saw another chicken. Apparently our urban farmer had lost several chickens, or at least two. With each street we crossed I began to notice more and more chickens. A rooster here, a hen there. The occasional chick. For all of the sights of Key West that my friends had described over the years an endemic chicken population had never been one of them. A recurring theme over the weekend were the requests from my wife to keep one. I’m not entirely certain that she was joking. Now that the trip is over I’ve come to the conclusion that a chicken population is preferable to the Canadian goose, and I believe we should transition from Canadian geese to chickens. The sidewalks were mostly clear of bird feces. No chicken accosted me while walking. I could eat toast outside. There are, of course, a few negatives to wild chickens roosting in every available nook. I was awoken by a sound early the first morning, before the sunrise. I heard a cacophony coming through the window. At the time I couldn’t quite tell if friends were still by the pool guffawing with gusto, or if the roosters were starting to crow. In retrospect it was the roosters, I think. The birds, much like the visitors to the island, are also alcohol abusers. A friend later regaled the tale of a rooster that leaped across his table, then used beer bottles at the next table as stepping stones to finish his flight, breaking a beer bottle in the process. The staff at the restaurant explained that the avian population has exploded with the reduction in visitors due to the pandemic. I hesitate to think on the implications.
We finally arrived at the Coco Plum Inn. The entire inn is two buildings of apartment style doors surrounding a small, heated pool. The inn is strategically placed next to a liquor store and a popular bar, and is within walking distance of Duval Street. The host was wonderful, checking whether we wanted maid service each day or only a towel refresh. He showed us around the property explaining that there was an ice maker, pool towels, an assortment of sun tan lotions and sun screen, and an ice chest we were welcome to use. The only two restrictions he proffered: no glass in the pool and no jumping from the second floor into the pool.
Our first stop in town was Rum Bar, attached to the Speakeasy Inn. We ordered a rum flight and began to catch up with our fellow reunioners. We made friends with some other visitors adopting the naming convention of our states of origin.
The rum flight emptied, I ordered a Rum Old Fashioned. A few of the ladies befriended the resident house cat, but all friends were forced to part as it was time to meander over to Irish Kevin’s. Irish Kevin’s is most famous for live music, sing-alongs, and car bombs. For those unfamiliar an Irish car bomb, or car bomb, is a pint sized shot created by dropping a shot of Irish whiskey with Irish cream into a Guinness. The drink must be drunk quickly before the cream curdles. The ingredients are certainly Irish. The name invokes what the British Isles call ‘The Troubles’ as an understatement of the carnage that haunted Northern Island and its border for most of the second half of the 20th century. If you are unfamiliar with this civil war, and enjoy the terrible parts of history, I would suggest you read more on the subject. I love the drink, but could truly do without the name. I remember singing Sweet Caroline with my closest friends before moving on. Somewhere along the way I was provided a drink on a coaster reminding me that I didn’t have to suffer tomorrow.
There was an earnest discussion as to whether we should go to Garden of Eden, a clothing-optional bar. I was resistant as I’ve read ‘If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,’ but before we could resolve the conversation we were interrupted. I later pieced together that someone in our group had ordered tequila shots and invited a young bachelor on his bachelor night to join. It was the eponymous bachelor that interrupted our conversation by emitting what we hoped at the time was a very wet burp. It wasn’t. I turned to see his eyes glazed staring forward mouth not over his mouth, but hovering a few inches away, as if his hand wasn’t sure if it wanted to be there. I suggested to him that he may want to step further out onto the sidewalk to get some air. He did so. We turned to ourselves to address the damage. First was the quick discussion of did he or didn’t he. Then we were assessing whether anyone was hit. We finally realized that one of our group was hit in the shoe. We cursed the misfortune while asking the barkeep for a cloth to clean the shoe. As we lamented the misfortune of having one’s shoe soiled, another of our group stepped forward. ‘He got me,’ was all he mustered through the shock. And he had. Across his entire shirt. Suddenly our soiled shoe companion felt quite fortunate.
It was while watching the barkeep recite his usual speech for such an occasion that I decided it was time to return to the tranquil, heated pool at Coco Plum where we were all staying to finish the evening. Several agreed, and we began to make our way back. I realized that I was quite hungry and was discussing what snacks we had back at the room when we rounded a corner and discovered a cart-sized Key West miracle. It was the sausage guy. He had a bratwurst and a soda waiting for me, as if he knew I was coming.