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the staycation (of a sort, where we stayed in florida)

Key West May 2013
Everybody wants a photo here
Staycations came into vogue starting around 2007, when the Great Recession really began to exert itself late 2006/early 2007. Folks just didn't have the cash/credit to go gallivanting across the country, let alone around the world. And so they went back to doing what their parents and their prior generations used to do; they started to go to local spots close to home, spending as little as possible. And they've been doing it pretty much ever since.

Economic times since the start of the Great Recession have barely improved. Massive job losses, especially towards the beginning, were the norm. I managed to hang onto my job through the worst of it, only to finally loose my job back on 17 April of this year, when, without any warning it was coming, I went from gainful employment to out on the street unemployment in less than 30 minutes. And yet, in spite of the odds that were supposedly stacked against me (in particular my age), I managed to land my next job exactly three weeks after loosing my last job, with better benefits. Not too shabby.

With about a week and a half of time left before the start of my new job, my wife decided I should take a few days of the time left and have a mini-vacation here in Florida to decompress. Florida is, after all, a vacation destination for just about everybody else; Universal Studios, Disney, both coasts, and the Florida Keys are just some of the destinations for hundreds of millions of vacation travelers. Over the last three decades of my life spent living in Florida I've traveled just about everywhere within Florida (many spots more than once) except for the Keys. I've gone as far south as Miami and the Everglades, but I never traveled across the Overseas Highway to Key West. And so we got us a housesitter for the cats and the Labs, made some very hasty plans, filled up the Prius, and took off.

The Start (Sunday, 12 May)

I had to work like crazy the weekend we left, which included a quick half-day round trip to check on my oldest daughter living up in Gainesville. And then I had to spend the rest of the day Saturday, leading into Sunday morning, cleaning the house, the yard, and the Prius. I wasn't leaving the house in a mess I wanted to come back to, and I didn't want the house sitter thinking we were slobs. So I worked like a man possessed to get the place looking half-way decent, piled into the Prius on Sunday around 3 in the afternoon, and drove down to the first staging point, a Motel 6 on Caribbean Blvd, about six miles north of Homestead on 821/The Turnpike. I staged there because it was well south of Miami and I had absolutely no desire to get caught up in Monday morning rush hour traffic around Miami. Motel 6 actually turned out to be a pretty good place to stay (more about that later in the trip).

It was good we stopped near Homestead. Atlantic squalls had blown onto shore starting around Jupiter, and getting more intense the further south I drove. Since I was driving the Turnpike I drove further west, pulling away from the Atlantic coast. The rain was pretty bad until I was able to finally head due west on the Sawgrass Expressway near Pompano. With the black skies in my rearview, I started to make pretty good time again. But it was pretty late, dark, and I was too tired to try and find someplace to stay on the Keys themselves that night.

First Day In The Keys - Marathon (Monday, 13 May)

From where we stayed Sunday night it was less than 200 miles to Key West. You'd think I would have made good time down to Key West. If you think that then you've obviously never been to Key West. There is no such thing as "good travel time" on the Overseas Highway. It would take us three hours just to get from the Motel 6 to our first stop.

Our first major stop was Marathon for lunch. The morning through the keys was absolutely gorgeous. I should have taken a more leisurely drive, stopping at all the turnouts, state parks, and refuges, but we were intent on getting to Key West, and then having enough time to get back home by Thursday. My dear beloved wife had, right before deciding to head to Key West, scheduled a doctor's appointment for 8:30am Thursday. So we definitely had to be back by late Wednesday to make the next morning. Thus, the clock was ticking and I had to make travel time.
Marathon Key 2013
Marathon Key 2013
Marathon Key 2013
Major sun dog right over Porky's Pub in Marathon
Marathon Key 2013

We stopped at Porky's Pub for lunch, eating yellow tail snapper and key lime pie. The food was great, the service was great, and the wide-open pub let the wonderfully cool breezes blow through. It was the first time on the trip I could stretch out and relax. There may be better places in Marathon, but for that moment in time Porky's was "practically perfect in ever way." We lingered as long as we could, but the day was growing longer, and we starting traveling again round 1 pm. It would take another hour and a half to reach Key West.

First Day In The Keys - Key West (Monday, 13 May)

The night before near Homestead I'd called down to a couple of hotels on Key West, looking for a reasonable rate (for Key West). We eventually settled on staying at the Sheraton Suites right next to the Key West International Airport, on the south side of the key facing Smathers Beach. We checked into the Sheraton the next afternoon around 2:30, spent an hour resting and looking for island landmarks via Google Maps, then went back out for the rest of the day, following a circuitous route that included Flagler, Truman, Whitehead, Eaton, Duval, and other tight and slow moving streets.
Key West May 2013
Strictly by accident we bumbled into Key West Cemetery. I ducked in real fast to take a look around, and found a small cemetery that has become so crowded they now stack the deceased in concrete condos for the dead.
Key West May 2013
Key West May 2013
Key West May 2013
After leaving the cemetery and driving further it became very evident that the preferred mode of transportation was anything other than a car. The streets were filled with people riding bikes, mopeds, little carts, while regular cars were parked off to the side as much as possible. Key West is small to begin with, and its streets, especially the back streets, are barely big enough to allow one lane of parked cars and another clear lane for traffic. I found a number of one-way streets that made navigating beyond the main thoroughfares pretty tough.
Key West May 2013
We soon found a spot on Eaton, not far from Duval, and parked the Prius not far from Tropic Cinema. Parking was with one of those machines that issues you a ticket to place on your dash with the expiration time. I didn't have any small change, so I tried to use my credit card. That didn't work. I was ready to try to get some change at a local coffee shop, when on a whim I stuck my fingers into the change return. I was amazed to find a lot of change. I counted out nearly $5 in quarters, which gave me more than enough time to stay there until the sun went down.
Key West May 2013
Fiberglass Norma Jeane in front of the Tropic Cinema
Tropic Cinema bills itself as "South Florida's only independent non-profit multiplex." If we'd had a few more days to spend in the Keys I might have gone in just to see "A Place at the Table" staring Jeff "The Dude" Bridges.
Key West May 2013
We weren't too terribly hungry, so we stopped by the Sippin' Coffee House for coffee and key lime pie. Yes, everywhere I went my wife and I sampled whatever key lime pie was on offer. It was all different, and it was all good. I liked Sippin' because it was a small funky place to sit and enjoy something to eat and drink. And if you were of a mind, you could surf the web. The place we stopped even had PCs connected to the internet for folks who didn't have a computer but needed internet access. I instantly fell in love with the place.
Key West May 2013
Late afternoon in the artwork corner at the sippin' coffee house
It was a good place for us to stay parked. It was about two blocks away from Mallory Square and Sunset Pier. We were headed there to watch the sun go down and see if they still applauded when it did.
Key West May 2013
Sights on the way to Mallory Square
Key West May 2013 - Sundown Mallory Square

When we got down to the pier we both discovered that that part of Key West has become heavily gentrified and re-re-redeveloped, all in the name of tourism. My desire to photograph pretty much shut down except for the documenting the egregious conspicuous consumption. What summed it all up for me was this biplane flying across the sunset advertising biplane rides. This was topped by the arrival of a rather large (three story) yacht that literally berthed right in front of us, in line with several other equally ostentatious yachts. We left before the yacht finished berthing and had a nice supper at Kelly's Caribbean Bar.

Second Day in the Keys - Key West (Tuesday, 14 May)

Key West May 2013
Morning has broken
Key West May 2013
Jewels on the beach

We got up early the next day to try to capture as much as of the morning as we could. It was glorious. While we weren't around to see the day truly break, the clouds and early sunrise gave us a special showing. Unlike the night before the morning had very few observers besides ourselves. The pleasant temperatures, the breeze off the ocean and the morning light combined to produce the best moments we'd experienced so far on our trip. For the first time in a long time I felt at piece, one of those rare moments to be cherished.
Key West May 2013 - The Baristas
We went back to the sippin' coffee shop and had a great breakfast. On the way out we photographed the barista and her boss. They were lovely people who didn't mind me taking a quick photo.
Key West May 2013

Key West May 2013

Key West May 2013

Second Day in the Keys - Bahia Honda (Tuesday, 14 May)

We deliberately stopped at the Bahia Honda State Park for a look around and a chance for me to try and capture the definitive beauty and color of the sunlight playing on the Gulf waters. I failed. But it will give me an excuse to go back down next Mother's Day and try again and maybe get it right.
Key West May 2013 - Bahia Honda
Our own "Bridge to Nowhere," an early twentieth century train bridge that was converted to an automobile highway across the top before it was completely replaced.
Key West May 2013 - Bahia Honda
A view of the Gulf from a section of that bridge
Key West May 2013 - Bahia Honda
Key West May 2013 - Bahia Honda

And The Rest

We drove on north back towards the mainland, eating lunch at Porky's on Marathon Key, before heading up to Cooper City and spending the night with a mutual friend. On the way to our friend's house we stopped back at the Motel 6 where I picked up not one, but two Olympus battery chargers I'd accidentally left behind two nights before, one for the E-PL2 and the other for the E-M5. I'd left them because I made sure to charge all my batteries that night before heading out that next morning, but forgot to pack the chargers.

On Wednesday we got up, ate a late lazy breakfast, and then headed back to Orlando. We got back home around mid-afternoon to a wild enthusiastic greeting from the two Labs and the three cats (yes, even the cats were wildly enthusiastic, for cats).

Although it was a fast and short trip, it was still a lot of fun. If nothing else I mapped out what to do next year. My wife has decided she wants to go down to the Keys next Mother's day. I think we've started a tradition. I can think of worse ones.

I probably should have taken more photos than I did, but there's a point in life where experiencing life becomes so involving that photography gets in the way. This was one of those points. I plan to spend more days traveling the Keys next May, so maybe then I'll come away with more interesting and varied photography. And if you're looking for travel photography, my wife and I are planning on another Great Northern Road Trip back to Toronto this year, but spread over three weeks instead of two.

Camera Gear Used

Yeah, I used cameras some of the time, the E-M5 (mostly) and the NEX-5N (for an upcoming review of the Sigma 19 and 30mm lenses).


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