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Basecamp Location:
Bahia Honda State Park
Big Pine Key, FL

We were awake, showered and ready to leave for Key West by 8:00AM. Once on the road our first order of business was breakfast. We decided that a quick breakfast from a locals restaurant was in order and from a little online research the night before we picked a place that sounded perfect. Just about six miles south of the park and hidden a quarter mile off US1 we found Coco’s Kitchen. Tricia ordered a delicious breakfast burrito and I had two scrambled eggs, a side of potatoes, and my favorite, biscuits and gravy. All this set us back just $10.00 and before 9:00 AM we were back on the road heading for Key West.

ROVER in front of the Southernmost Point of the Continental United States

Once in Key West it was time to check an item off of our southeastern United States bucket list. I wanted to park ROVER (our truck) in front of the Southernmost Point Buoy and take a picture to commemorate the day we visited the Southernmost Point of the Continental United States. We plan on traveling to all four corners of the nation over the next 5 or so years and this is literally the first corner.

After photographing the truck Tricia wanted to go explore The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory right around the corner from the Southernmost Point. She has been looking for a good place to practice using all the features of her new Nikon Coolpix P900 camera. She just loves butterflies, having spent the last 18 years living just around the corner from Butterfly World in Coconut Creek, the self proclaimed Butterfly Capital of the World.

While she was photographing butterflies, flamingos, turtles and such in the conservatory, I was locating a place to park the truck for the next several hours. Parking can be a problem on this tiny island of Key West, but being there early in the day helps. After locating a parking spot at the very end of Duval Street, paying the parking stand in the middle of the block and then returning to the truck to display the receipt on the dashboard, it was time for a drink. A drink of iced tea of course, after all it’s only 9:45 in the morning. I paid $3.00 an hour for 4 hours at the meter, so that meant we had until 1:45PM to return to the truck. Now where to find that drink?

I walked across the street to the Southernmost Beach Cafe, but it was more of a restaurant/bar type of place, I just wanted an iced tea. So back out onto the street I ventured and saw The Southernmost Trolly Stop just off Duval Street. There was a refrigerator on the back wall of the gift shop so in I went, thinking I might find a bottle of tea in there.

Before I made it around the cashier stand just inside the front door I caught a glimpse of a license plate over in the corner. It looked almost exactly like what I was hoping to find to put in the empty license plate holder on the front of ROVER. I say almost exactly because what most people don't know is that right across the street from the often photographed END US1 sign is the more appropriate for us, BEGIN US1 sign. I can fix that using my 40 years of experience in the printing industry, or maybe just some whiteout and a black Sharpie pen. Yes, this would do, $7.00 wasn’t much to pay for a near perfect license plate. But right above the plates were souvenir pins of the Southernmost Point Buoy, got to have one of those for a future project that will decorate our refrigerator back in the trailer. Only another $3.00 for the pin, that makes for a $10 sale at the register. Once again outside, standing in the hot sun on the sidewalk, I remembered why I went in there in the first place, an iced tea.

On my very first visit to Key West in 1994 I spent an entire Memorial Day Weekend at The Southernmost Hotel, which is now part of a hugh beach resort occupying both sides of South Street. Having never been to Key West before, I relied on friends who told me of an affordable hotel, right on Duval Street. Sounded good so I booked it, but later found out it’s at the wrong end of Duval Street. All of the hot spots like Sloppy Joe’s Bar and the Mallory Square Sunset Celebrations are just over a mile away on the other end of Duval Street. That is a pretty easy hike during the daytime, but it’s a long walk home at the end of a long night out on the town, if you know what I mean. Well let’s go see what the place is like today, nearly 24 years later.

First impressions from the street are good. They’ve cleaned the place up a lot, new paint and landscaping, a nice tall wall around two sides of the property to repel some of the traffic noise and separate the parking lot from the people walking down the sidewalks. Just as I spot an open gate into the parking lot I hear a car screech to a stop and a commotion of activity ensues right behind me. A mother hen and four tiny chicks get caught in the middle of the busy Duval Street and in a panic come to a complete stop. Once the coast is clear they continue crossing the road and walk up onto the sidewalk right next to me.

The mother takes one look at the wall and flies right up to the top and looks back at her chicks. Then one by one the chicks take their turn at trying to fly up on to the wall. The first one makes it with no problem but the rest aren’t so lucky. After another try a second one makes it safely on top of the wall.

The last two chicks try again and again but no such luck, they are the tiniest of the four. All the while this is happening right in front of me, people continue to walk past and just ignore all the drama. Every once in a while, in answer to all the cries for help coming from the chicks, the mother hen would fly back up onto the wall from the other side and startle everyone walking nearby on the sidewalk. No one seemed to care, with the exception of three younger girls, who were obviously heading for the beach on the next block and obviously not locals, due to their heavy southern accents. I came up with the idea that maybe the four of us could surround them and usher them 25 feet down the sidewalk to where an open gate to the parking lot was. We tried several times but without success, mostly due to everyone refusing to give us the sidewalk space we needed to have any chance of success. Finally even the girls went about their day to spend time on the beach.

It was now just me and the two tiny chicks, with all the other people just going on about their business. After about five minutes I saw an opportunity approaching, no one coming down the sidewalk for the whole block. I started ushering the chicks down the sidewalk towards the gate, then around the corner and the first two cars in the parking lot, before they caught a glimpse of mother and siblings. Mother hen had been busy scratching at the mulch in this beautifully manicured bed of flowers, I mean just tearing it up. The chicks were pecking away at the freshly uncovered ground at what I assumed was an early lunch. When the two left behind chicks saw mom they took off like a bullet. At that moment I looked up and no one was watching me, there was no applause, but I didn’t care. I just spent 15 minutes of my valuable time in paradise helping reunite a family of chickens and I was happy to do it. I guess the benefits of being recently retired is finally setting in, that no rush to be somewhere by a predetermined time feeling or the pressures of someone depending on you to something for them. It's similar to being on a long vacation, but not really. On any vacation there comes a time when you know you will have to eventually go back to your regular life.

To be fair I need to explain something about the people of Key West. There is a large population of gypsy chickens on the island that create all kinds of problems. Over the years I have heard stories, whether true or not I can’t confirm, but that at one time the City of Key West had a telephone hotline you could call and they would send someone out to capture your nuisance bird and take it away. The city would pay this man a modest amount of money for every call he answered and successfully captured the trouble maker. The thing is they never asked him what he did with the captured chickens. I know what you are thinking, but you would be wrong! Each night he would take his prisoners to a secluded location on the island and release them back onto the streets. Now that’s job security!

With the chicken family all safe, I find myself inside the gate of the resort parking lot. Remembering the layout of the hotel from years before I am quickly able to find the main pool bar, down a breezeway and inside of another gated courtyard. I take a seat at the bar, finally order an iced tea and slowly cool back down to a reasonable temperature under the ceiling fans above me. After a while I've finished my tea and the bartender asks me if I would like a free refill, sure I reply, while watching everyone else enjoying the pool and lounge chairs. More time passes and Tricia calls to let me know she is done with her photography and is waiting outside the conservatory. I pull a $20 bill out of my pocket and placed it on the bar, soon the bartender comes over. She says, "Would you prefer to just charge your drink to your room?" to which I quickly reply, "No, I prefer to just pay cash". As I leave the pool deck I'm scanning the area for a restroom and remember seeing them in the middle of the breezeway I passed through earlier. I walk up to the men's room door and soon realize you need a room key to get in. What's with that? I walk back through the parking lot and come to a now closed gate on the sidewalk and there is a huge sign that reads "PRIVATE PROPERTY - REGISTERED GUESTS ONLY". I never saw it on the way in, I was too busy keeping those baby chicks corralled and moving in the right direction. Well if anyone had ever asked, I was a registered guest once, nearly 24 years ago.

Until next time

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