Our arrival in Key West was punctuated by an intense landing on a short runway. The captain gave some advance warning, but hard braking on a plane is never pleasant. My wife, who had never experienced such a thing and who is constitutionally opposed to flying unless absolutely necessary, was less than thrilled with our landing and was incredibly happy to hop off the plane, even if it was to run across a hot runway.
It struck me before I left home that this was the first "adult" vacation I've taken in the thirteen years I have been sober. Sure, I've taken the kiddo on long road trips to see family, I've gone out of town to play music or visit friends, but this was different. This vacation was going to take place in one of the world's favorite party destinations; a place where many people go out of their way to get stumbling drunk and let it all hang out. I was going to need a smoke.
We stayed at a beautiful little hotel called The Saint. It was a few blocks from Mallory Square and conveniently located across from what I found to be the best cigar shop in town, the Key West Cigar Club. However, that first day, we wanted to walk around a bit so we chose to find a cigar for me somewhere further than across the street. But, before we get there, let's go back to the Saint Hotel for a moment.
When booking a big trip it's easy to get lost in the details. Booking several months in advance, we left Mississippi secure in the knowledge that the big shit was covered. That fell apart when we opened the door to our room. To say it was tiny, might be an overstatement. We both felt squished even viewing it from the hallway. We entered our room which was lit by blue lights that reminded me of the private room at a strip club. The shower head, visible through the glass door on our left, was glowing with multi-colored lights like a disco ball. Yes, it was a tiny place, but it's sleazy decor held a certain worldly charm. Rebecca, sure that we had been given the wrong room, checked our paper work to find that we had accidentally chosen the "petite" room. Deciding that we would likely only be in here to sleep, we opted to keep the "Petite Boudouir" with its tacky lights and tiny bed where my legs hung off just below the knee. At least it had a wicked air-conditioner.
Duval Street, Key West's mina tourist drag, bustled below the veranda down the hall from our room. From that vantage point you could see a beautiful church to our right and the Hard Rock Cafe to our left with staggering tourists everywhere in between. We chose to venture out that first day away from the throngs headed to Mallory Square and cruise the opposite direction on Duval.
We passed shop after shop selling local art, real shit. Not just some hack job of a pelican, I'm talking serious big money art. There were tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurants advertising their own spin on conch fritters. there were several locally-owned and operated ice cream and dessert shop. However, squeezed in between the great local places, the corporate chains had their claws entrenched, just in case you needed to feel like you were in any other city in America. There was Wendy's on the corner near our hotel. Rebecca and I both wanted to bitch slap whoever opened a the Starbucks on Duval Street. In a town rich with great coffee, Starbucks is an offense.
Speaking of great coffee, several blocks down Duval we came across the open door of a cigar shop. Having reached my limit of waiting, I moved us into this tiny shop run by a lovely Czechoslovakian lady. Picking through a few of the local selections, I landed on a mild stick for a hot afternoon. Before ringing us out, the lady asked in her thick Eastern European accent if we would like some Cuban coffee. Rebecca and I have lots of similar tastes, but coffee is where our tastes really merge into deep love and affection. No matter the heat, it never crossed our minds to turn down the offer.
She pulled two tiny cups of strong, thick coffee and we adjourned ourselves to an open-air patio past the open French doors at her register. Out back, a man with extremely long dreadlocks was knocking the dust out of some cheap, seats beneath a Banyan tree growing in the back corner. Even though he was not technically open for business as this was a bar attached to the cigar shop, he had no problem with us hanging out. We took our seats beneath the wild growth of the Banyan, sipped our Cuban coffee and I lit a cigar in the light but hot breeze of South Florida in August. All in all, it was great beginning.