I’m trying my best to live out the lyrics to Jimmy Buffett’s song “Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season” this week during my family’s annual trip to the Florida Keys. There was some trepidation as we headed down, knowing Hurricane/Tropical Storm Elsa was projected to at least swoop by, but deposits were paid and my youngest brother’s family was flying in from Phoenix.
Hurricanes be damned.
So far it appears to have been the right decision. The Mobile area has been targeted by so many storms in the past year, tropical storms have almost become laughable. Preparation for any named storm not proceeded by the adjective “Cat” is strictly handled in the wine and beer aisles at Publix. We’re getting 30 mph winds here Tuesday morning. Even White Claw can handle that, and it tastes great with corn flakes!
But my brother has been living in the desert for 15 years, his wife is from the Midwest and his kids had gone 120 days in a row without seeing rain until a small band hit us Monday. So we have to be mindful not everyone is as battle-tested as the rest of us. Still, I was proud when one of my young desert nieces said she wanted to go out and play in the howling rainstorm. It’s nice to know she has the genetic lack of respect for tropical cyclones most of us who live along the Gulf Coast possess.
It’s all what you’re used to. I’m sure if we were in Phoenix and a massive dust storm kicked up, or my face started to melt off from the ridiculous heat, my brother’s family would treat me like a nervous house pet. “It’s just a haboob! No reason to worry! Just rinse the sand out of your eyes and nostrils, and you’ll be fine!” they might say. “Oh, and don’t let the dust get into your melted skin, it’s very hard to get out.”
Elsa mostly is just going to ruin some fishing/snorkeling time, which just means more time indoors eating and drinking. I suppose as far as disruptive storms go, she’s treating us fairly well. We’re in Islamorada, in the northern part of the Keys, and not even technically in the “Cone of Death.”
We stopped in Miami for several hours on the way down on Friday to meet my brother and hang out at his pool on South Beach. When I was in college, I visited Miami quite a bit, but it had been a very long time since I visited Miami Beach. It lived up to what I remembered.
We tried to park across the street from the very swank hotel to save a couple of bucks when we saw a sign for “only” $20. The garage was super sketchy, they wanted cash upfront and it turned out to be essentially $20 an hour, not overall. But we’d committed to driving down the dark entry ramp. I was cashless, so the guy cheerily directed me to an ATM across the street. It was in an empty, glassed-in office sitting by itself and looked like it should dispense heroin and needles. For some strange reason, an attractive young woman in a bikini was using this as the backdrop for a photo shoot. No kidding.
I was sure the ATM would shoot all of my credit card information directly into the phone of the guy at the sketchy parking garage, so I went back over, got in the car and we went to valet the car at the hotel. Yes, it was expensive, but our car was not set on fire.
The hotel was beautiful and the pool area was primed for people watching. We eventually went for a late lunch at a really cool Cuban diner and then got back into the clog that is Miami traffic.
The absolute 180-degree attitude difference between the Keys and Miami, even though they’re physically close, never fails to amaze me. I first fell in love with Islamorada after sailing from Miami to the famed Tiki Bar while in college a couple of times. The first time, we almost sank my roommate’s father’s boat. We knocked a grapefruit-sized hole in the bottom of it and The Shamrock was going under about the time we got into the dock and the industrial pumps came out and saved her. For some reason, my roomie and his girlfriend went and got a hotel room and left me and another guy to sleep on the still-leaking boat. I would sleep with my hand hanging off the bunk and when it got wet, I’d get up and turn on the pumps for a few minutes.
The second time, we got stranded in Biscayne Bay overnight during a huge winter squall. The radio was broken, the engine had no oil and the mast couldn’t handle high winds, so we were screwed. A large boat motored over to see if we were OK and came within six inches of putting its anchor through the side of our boat. Honestly, if it would have gotten me out of a night on a boat in six-foot seas, I’d gladly have watched my friend’s sailboat go to the bottom.
I can’t help but remember those adventures every time I come down here. It’s been 10 years in a row now with the family, but a Chevy Chase-style European vacation we’ve promised ourselves next summer will probably end the streak, unless I hit the Florida Lottery on the way home.
Maybe it is the closing of a chapter here. Ulysses heads off to college in a month, and next summer at this time, Ursula will be in the same position. My eldest niece, Heidi, will also be a high school graduate by July 2022. Who knows what we’ll be doing by the time we can resume the tradition in 2023. The younger kids will probably want to bring friends and the older kids may be too busy with life to vacation with us.
But I’m sure we’ll be back. As Jimmy says of the Keys, “It cleans me out, then I can go on.”
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