After parting company with the nice folks in Big Pine I caught a ride into Key West where I was in for some more profound experiences. Key West is an island measuring 2 miles by 4 miles, and yet within the confines of this tiny rock there are over 500 bums at any given time. The sheer mass of homeless there make it exceedingly difficult for anyone in my position to find what you might call shelter, there is no where to hide your gear, and no where to lay low and sleep. Every inch of reasonable real-estate that would suit a man's needs is occupied. This would test my ingenuity.
I found a nice sandy spot between 2 hotels called Simonton Beach, and on it was a very large bathroom facility. It had a covered porch that came in very handy. Using a stretch of 550 cord I strung my backpack up into the framing of it's rafters for safe keeping while I scouted around. Not an easy task considering my gear weighed a little more than me at the time. But I managed to conceal it well enough. My thought was that anyone who could manage to get it down had earned what ever they wanted from inside.
I spent several hours into the afternoon scouting for a place to camp. I might as well have been looking for a snowman. It simply wasn't to be found. And so as I sat on the concrete steps of the public bathroom on the beach casually smoking a cigarette when a thought occurred to me...why not under the bathroom itself? The beach was deserted when I started digging down around the foundation. I made a hole big enough to poke my head in and saw the space I had to work with. And it was very doable. I stripped down my pack and hauled my gear in a piece at a time until I had made a camp for myself in a corner. It was cozy enough, damn near like a cave really, and best of all, nobody would bother me. And so I spent a week and a half there living under that shitter. Every time I left popping up out of the sand like an over sized meercat, and every time I came back burrowing down like carheart clad gofer.
My first night in Key West was on St. Patrick's day during spring break. The party seemed to roll on forever, and it was my first real experience in the hard core party scene. I learned alot that week...hell, I never even knew a naked mechanical bull riding contest was a thing. But there it was, in all it's glory.
I made money in Mallory Square weaving roses from palm leaves and selling them to the tourists. It kept me fed and drunk and I made friends with remarkable ease. By now more than half of those friends are all dead. Including the girl who taught me to weave the roses. She was always fond of using a bogus Boston accent. Such is life, she's probably better off now anyways.
My next time coming to the Keys I was bound to be a fisherman in the tropics. And I was. I did a full 9 month season of lobster and stone crab on board the heaviest hitting boat in the lower Keys. I "lived" out of Cudjoe Key and fished out of Big Pine, with a little 80 cc motorcycle to scoot around on. I worked my ass off. Turning 550 to 600 pots a day, pulling 12 to 14 hours a day, and only making $150 flat rate, I paid my dues. But it was a helluva experience, and one I wouldn't change too much of. Ultimately I was there chasing a girl, and at the end of my season when I would need to find something else to do, things between us disintegrated. And I left paradise to go back to Alaska for salmon season. It was a decision I have always regretted. Girl or no girl, this is as close to "home" as I've ever seen. I never should have left it.
The Keys are remarkably similar to Alaska in many ways. The one Road leading in and out is very Alaskan, the fishing/drinking culture, everyone is from somewhere else, the ragtag "nobody gives a damn what you do" mentality...yes, the Keys are a tropical Alaska. Only improved in some ways. It has palm trees, girls, cheap rum, wet water year round, and the fishing industry is far easier to break into here. Indeed, anyone willing to do much of anything at all can do quite well for himself. It's actually so easy to make it here I sometimes catch myself waiting for the other shoe to drop and end the good times...but it never happens. You don't need shoes in paradise.