It was New Year’s Eve 1994 when Andy and I first rolled onto Key West after riding our bikes from a campground at mile marker 19.5. (I should have read the travel guide more carefully as I thought we would be staying at mile marker 10.5.) No matter, we were in “paradise” compared to the negative degree wind chill, snow and frost we had left behind in Maine. A few days previously I had removed my socks when we crossed the border into South Carolina vowing to never wear socks again. But those warm sentiments only lasted half of that first bike ride down Route 1. We made it to mile marker 11 before I begged for relief and we turned back.
The next day I made the entire three hour ride to Key West. There were days of apartment hunting frustrations and job interview weirdness (being trapped in the back room of a head shop listening as the owner rambled about hiring kids from New England because of the work ethic and all his employees worked six days a week and by the way the government is the enemy…) Then each night another three hour bike ride back to sleep in a two person tent on the hard ground.
When we finally were shown a small two room apartment half a block off Duval street I broke down when the woman from the real estate company said the owner did not like to rent to people who did not have jobs. I started to pull bills and travelers checks from my fanny pack (sorry, it was the mid-90s don’t forget.)
“But we have the money” I sobbed, trying to give her the bills which she politely refused. That was also the day Andy had agreed to drive the truck loaded with all our belongings to Key West after three days of round trip bike rides and a flat tire incident the previous day. When we returned to the empty parking spot we noticed the broken, crumbing pieces of the curb we had parked next to did indeed have flecks of yellow paint. A trip to the city hall and a cab ride to the tow lot and later that night I broke again over a piece of peperoni pizza.
“I’m not feeling very welcome here,” I was sobbing again. And I’m sure Andy worried about his own future as he had only met me six months ago.
The next day armed with my manila folder of resumes and letters of recommendation I entered a small funky shop owned by a couple I had met in New York City the previous fall. The guy was on the phone and I’m sure did not remember me but still asked, “hey what do you have in that folder? You looking for a job?”
To which I replied in my best professional voice, “yes,” I said, naming the company I used to work for, “actually, I met you last October at the Boutique Show in New York.”
Over the phone receiver I could hear a woman’s voice.
“I remember her! Hire her! Hire her!”
That was also the day Andy was hired as a line cook as soon as he signed his application in a large hotel chain. Later we returned to the campground to find a message pinned to the bulletin board. The woman from the real estate company had called. We got the apartment. So that was it, we lived in Key West.
Six months later as we were driving down the boulevard discussing where we might move next when our lease was up I had a sudden vision of having that same conversation year after year. I don’t know when exactly we stopped having that conversation. No matter, we still live in Key West.