Short Bus Florida Flopdown – Florida, USA

Short Bus Florida Flopdown
South Beach Miami and the Keys, Florida, USA

I cracked my wallet, displayed my ID, and carefully handed over a crisp
$20 bill to the hostel desk clerk. My enthusiasm was tempered by my sobering
experiences at the hostel in California, so I approached my room in "the
most beautiful hostel in America (Lonely Planet)" with caution. The
hostel’s "terrific Mediterranean ambiance" would have been true
if it were not for the exterior’s dilapidated and grimy condition. The
interior of my room greeted me with shade-drawn darkness and a substantial
waft of foot odor. I was optimistic, though, and looking forward to meeting
a few people, for companionship can always raise your spirits up out of
such rubbish heaps. No sooner had I lay my belongings down on the single-wide
vinyl mattress pad than an excited Englishman bounded out of the shower,
still slightly drunk from the previous night’s festivities. We began conversing
and it immediately became clear this handsome fellow had an alpha male
personality and was positively enamored with the wiles of the female sex.
I took him to be a "clubber," and with his talkative nature
he soon revealed an irritant that he had been exposed to-and then
he began to scratch. "Uh-oh!" I thought as he mentioned he may
have been bitten by mosquitoes. "No," I answered, "No mosquitoes
around here." Then he rolled up his sleeve, his pantleg next, and
off came his shirt to reveal a dartboard of red spots. I immediately assessed
the situation and shouted-"Good god, man! Those aren’t bites
from a mosquito, those are from Bedbugs!"
This announcement didn’t faze the excited Englishman, but I had experienced
the utter horror of a bedbug infestation at the San Clemente hostel; and
I related to him just how nasty and offensive these creatures were.

Back
at the front desk I was recited the "Bedbugs, huh?" standard
response. Then I reminded them I had previously worked at a hostel, that
I knew all about bedbugs there and we also fed hostelers the "Bedbugs,
huh?" line. The clerk then, in a plaintive and unhopeful voice, piped
up, "We spray." "Yeah, sure, just give me a bedbug-free
room," I demanded. The replacement room was clean but the entrance
door would not close freely, the bathroom door handle hung down attached
by the last threads of the screws, and the toilet’s flush was barely enough
to gurgle down the remaining wisps of toilet paper. No bedbugs, thankfully,
that I could report after one night’s stay. Once I stepped outside and
shed myself of the hostel’s woes, I discovered that its location, in the
heart of South Beach on Espanola
Way
, was first-rate. The Italian restaurant across the street, Hosteria
Romana, was exceptional, unpretentious, and staffed with exceedingly friendly
and boisterous Italian waiters. Their wonderful loaves of bread take the
art of bread-making to new heights, quite unlike the chain restaurant
Olive Garden’s bread sticks. Hanging out in the "common area"
of the hostel later, I met a young German chap who lived in Namibia, Africa,
was employed by a Jewish Holocaust fundraising effort, and worked on
website development as a hobby- all this told to me between puffs
of smoke on multiple cigarettes, cell phone conversations, and yellowed
teeth. "What an odd fellow," I thought. In the morning, after
an agreeable sleep, I resolved that I was through with the hostel; and
I proceeded to tell the manager how her hostel was a tumbledown fleabag
dump and that she should do something about it. After she stared back
at me with an incompetent glaze eyed expression, and the other desk clerks
hung their heads in shame, I figured I was powerless to convince this
head moron and her lackeys of any home improvements. So with a few good
stories from my travels under my belt, I began the final leg of my journey
to the Florida Keys, a string of island pearls leading to Key West, where
people gather in the evening to celebrate the spectacular sunsets.

Thoughts
of snorkeling in the crystal clear waters occupied my mind on the short
hour drive down to the Keys. Midway down the Keys was the town of Marathon
and Sombrero Beach, one of the nicest beaches in Florida. Calm waves and
cloudless skies allowed me successful snorkeling here for one day,
with the weather and geography blackballing my water interests for the
next two weeks. No surf here down in the Keys. Once you’re south of Miami, the
reefs and bigger islands in the Caribbean effectively block ocean
swells, and the only waves you see are knee high boat wake. With no surf
or snorkeling, I was forced to do more touristy things, like walk up and
down the main street of Duval, rubbernecking about at the T-shirt shops
and the myriad bars and restaurants and their patrons.










Chocolate Waters

Chocolate waters


Because
the main public beaches had a latrine-like fragrance, chocolate colored
waters, and were overrun by vagabonds,
I based my operations from the Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park.
This was a park I could access with my State Park Pass, but only after
paying a daily 50 cent "Monroe County fee." This, of course,
instigated a quiet outrage in me, since I figured that the $31.50 State
Park Pass should cover all such extra miscellaneous fees. Why stop at
the "County fee?" I considered, why not tack on more
fees? How about a "Parking fee" or a "Beach fee" to
access the beach? and what about fencing off the ocean area which would
be an additional "Swimmer’s fee": all of which could be paid
separately at various cattle counters-or all at once… like the
$31.50 I paid all at once. As I daily dropped the meager 50 cent sum into
the elderly toll both operator’s open hand, I dryly stated, "Nickel
and diming me, nickel and diming me," which provoked a blankness
in some faces and a smile in others.

Lunch
at the Banana Cafe was an almost daily enticement, and a fish and chips
dinner was served up biweekly at Finnegan’s Pub by an Irish maiden from
Dublin. At the cafe, crepes were the basis of many of the divine preparations
made by the grandmotherly French chef and her son. I formed a mainstay
with the turkey club sandwich, but with Mercedes’ (a waitress and schooled
culinary chef) recommendations, I soon discovered finer delicacies, such
as the goat cheese, walnuts, sautéed apples, and spring salad crepe
concoction. Another young waitress at the cafe gave me extended glances
which I took to be favorable, and in return one day I asked, "So,
what do you do for fun around here?" This apparently did not go over
well, as a coldness crept over her demeanor and she briskly presented
me with the bill, continued to eat her own lunch, and neglected to run
my credit card. Sitting at the counter at my next cafe luncheon, I overheard
a gentleman announce to another that, "the girl in the blue sweater
is my girlfriend." Then I realized that my friendly remarks the previous
day had perhaps overwhelmed this sensitive doe with the thought that I
was testing her fidelity and desiring to lead her into a nightmarish soap
opera world of obsession and jealousy. Or maybe with too much time on
my hands I was projecting into her my own hallucinations, and her offish
behavior that day was merely the shock of discovering a fly in her lunch
soup.










Key West Chickens

Key West Chickens


Chickens
are an everywhere fact of life here, and much to my dismay and to the
lack of increased seasoning on my Cast Iron pan, they are protected under
town law. They have free reign of Key West. They are at the library scratching
the landscaping, roosting up in the trees, and cock-a-doodling at all
hours. The healthiness of these birds is what I first noticed: a full
coat of feathers and happily clucking about in groups watched over by
the rooster. Such a sight countered my memory of the crowded unpleasantness
and ammonia fumes of the chicken houses where I live, where the predominant
oversight of the farmer is wondering, "How can I squeeze one more
of these poor bastards into this box?"

Obviously,
tourism is a big deal here, and not only do they arrive by land, they
also arrive by sea. Titanic Carnival ships dock here, two at a time, with
one waiting a mile out to sea. Once the ship’s gangplank is extended over,
the tourists are heaved out from its belly, and they swarm over the dock
where the merchants and circus performers have been anxiously awaiting
them. With the livelihood of the town being tourist driven, it came to
my mind how such a place lacks a certain kind of dignity, a dignity realized
through standing up on one’s own two feet without a crippling dependency
on others. To gain favor of the masses it is easiest to appeal
to their lowest common denominator, which is exactly what is very apparent
in Key West: excessive drinking, drugs, homosexuality, homelessness, swearing,
and I saw one person spit on the sidewalk. Key West, it seems, has never
risen beyond its sordid past of "wrecking"
ships, a process of recovering (thieving, basically) goods from ships
that had run aground on the reefs, which Key West became quite wealthy
off of.

The
strangest attraction by far was situated in a fenced courtyard off from
the dockyard grounds. Like a lodestone, the oddity drew me nearer, and
with other onlookers we were compelled towards it in gaping awe. Nothing
could have prepared me for such a spectacle as what I saw that day with
my own eyes. I reached the outer throng and pushed my way into the mass
of stupefied people. Clearly, the attraction was a "Come one, Come
all," for I muscled my way past wee little children, stout young
men, and wrinkled grandmothers, of all color and creed. Grasping the fence
bars I peered out into the courtyard, and beheld a rotating device of
immense proportions, the likes of which I could compare nothing with.
With slack jaw I pondered its horrifying nature, and determined that it
resembled the body of a great compass with its central pointing projection
spinning about like a Whirling Dervish. The magnitude of what I needed
to do at that very moment struck me and like second nature I vaulted over
the fence and carefully timing the spinning projection, leaped upon the
colossal beast and furiously scaled towards its top. The spectators gave
a great gasp in unison at my boldness and incredible athleticism, which
I responded to by pumping my fist. Once astride, I planted my feet firmly,
grabbed the spinning beam, and attempted to wrench it out of its center
connector. The centrifugal force proved too much and it bucked me off,
hurling me back into the crowd.

Regaining my composure, I threw myself
with abandon onto the monstrous contraption, and had at it once more.
This time, I met with some success, as my counter force against the rotation
produced a whining sound in the socket and puffs of smoke began to emanate
from the motor within. The rotations began to slow somewhat as a groan
was heard deep in the bowels of the machinery, and I strained with such
might I felt the stitches popping on my hernia repair. The beam slowly
ground to a halt and with one last enormous wrench, I popped it out of
its socket and snapped it in half, and holding the broken shards aloft,
dramatically hurled the pieces down into the courtyard. This met with
much fanfare as the gathered people cheered and clapped while I descended
the wreckage. I poked around the devastation for a souvenir and pried
off a commemorating placard that read, "To the People of Key West,
‘The Moral Compass’, in dedication to their compassion towards the unknown
shipwrecked sailors of the 19th century." This was my last mark on
the Great 2003 Florida Flop Down, and I mounted this placard onto the
Short Bus for all to see and proclaim my heroism on the drive back to
Salisbury, MD.

Remarkably,
I met with no congratulations on the uneventful return drive home, placing
me in a somber, reflective mood. Trueness of action does not demand the
attention of approval, I conceded. I longed to return to my comfortable
house in Canterbury, but without the freezing temperatures I knew to expect
for the rest of the winter. Yet, who knows where the next adventure leads?
…To people unmet and lands unseen. I hope this brief story may help
a few travelers or surfers to glean a little about these few places I
passed through. I know you readers have been on a roller coaster of emotions:
from laughing to crying, and from heartfelt joy to disgustful resentment.
Maybe you can relate to the criticisms I inflict on these unfortunate
souls and the ridiculousness of the blinders they clap on their silly
heads. Or maybe you can relate to embarking on an adventure of a lifetime,
such as I have had, and experiencing the wondrous world in which we live.

Read other Short Bus Adventures on Rich’s Site.

Traveler Article


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