Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Number Four - The Characters

What makes a trip more than just a vacation? What takes it from simply escaping from the drudgery of day to day survival and turns it into an exhilarating experience? An extraordinary adventure?

Why meeting the local characters, of course!

Those tiny random interactions form the tapestry of the memories. The nuances, the spice, the flavor of the area come to life through the people you encounter and engage.

It's so easy to get people to talk. Just find their favorite subject. Themselves!!

At the Art Co-op the lady who came from the back of the store to tend the counter was someone not easy overlooked. As we paid for our purchases Joe and I began to chit-chat with her. Up close, I got a good look at her and she was old. In her late 80's, white hair, stooped slightly forwards, her face tanned and lined as only many years in the Florida sun can sculpture. She was tiny, under five feet, with clear blue eyes.

I asked if she owned the place. "Oh no, I just work here several hours a week. The artists take turns doing this." She proceeded to tell us the hardships of paying the overhead!

I asked if she were an artist. "No, my husband was."

And so it went, "How did you arrive in Key West."

By the Alaskan way, husband in the Navy, terrible accident, retired in '63, lost the bottom part of his jaw (did not want to hear the details of that). How she and her son live in a home that was hit hard by Hurricane Wilma the year before. How they struggled to make ends meet.

It would not stop. She barely had time to catch her breath before starting in on another long dissertation about either repairing her porch for $38,000, or how much she spends on her electric bill. On and on and on. I had inched myself half way out the door, holding it open for Joe and apologizing on why we had to leave and could not stay and listen to her for the rest of our (life) stay in Key West.....

Then it was the Winery where we sampled all the wines before making a decision for the Strawberry and Blueberry. There we found a transplant from New Jersey who still operated shops on the board walk there. We fell into a discussion about 911. We learned how the real true owners of the winery shop were from Washington State and only came in every so often. Ah, to be rich.

Then to the convenient store to cool off and see if there were any unusual beers only available locally. The very young clerk told us he was "retired" form the service. He did not look to be over 20 years old! I commented on how young he appeared. I somehow must have hit a nerve because he stood up and assumed a military position and informed me that his father was Career Military and signed him in at 16. He was in Iraq in 1999...and gave us a look like I would know he was not suppose to be in Iraq on a mission in '99. He took a hit from a RPG in the arm, shoulder and left side of the body. Some of the shrapnel remains in his body as a reminder .

Then there was the guy who was sitting at the bar called the Hogs Breath Saloon. He was wearing a Wilma T-Shirt. We had a lively conversation about him staying on the island while the storm raged and how the water was up to his chest as he waded to higher ground.

And Clay, who arrived in Key West after a tour of duty in Viet Nam in 1968 and never left. He has visited his Mom only twice since then. The last earlier this year. He knows it will be the last he will see her alive in this life time.On the wall was

a picture of him with his company. I found him immediately and commented, "You were a handsome young thing." He glanced at the photo, took it down from the wall and looked at his image from 40 years ago, touching it lightly with his fingertips. "If only I had realized it then", he muttered.

As beautiful as Key West is and could be considered a character by herself, it is the people Joe and I met and spoke with. They are the true beauty of Key West.

And it is them that I carried home.


Paul said...

Terrific writing, Mary, and keen observation.

Bug said...

I love Key West too! And I love these characters. Very nice!

Anonymous said...

oh and the characters on mallory square! such interesting people and stories.

and again, this is very well written..... bee