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The Florida Keys [Jan. 9th, 2010|10:13 pm]
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The week before we left for Florida, I was talking with my Aunt about our upcoming trip, and she suggested that our theme song should be “On the Road Again.” Last year sometime I had heard another song for us, and all I could remember was that the chorus was something like “Beep beep, yeah!” Well that afternoon it popped into my head, so now you can all use “Going Mobile” or “On the Road Again” as the theme music for our posts.

Our body shop (Gary’s Service Center in Downingtown) made a heroic effort and worked pretty much nonstop through the holiday season, working with us and keeping us informed all the way. Gary did an awesome job; the truck looks better than it ever has. He even cleaned the adhesive overspray left over from our interior redo off the windows. It looks so good now I want to have the tool boxes repainted to match.

On the 30th of December we made our plans to go right after we got the truck back, the morning of the 31st. When we woke up on the 31st, there was snow on the ground; the storm we thought we would beat by leaving first thing in the morning had gotten into town early. We went and got the truck and revised our plans; the roads weren’t too bad for our van, so MIL and I would leave that morning. If the weather continued to improve, J would follow us out in the afternoon, allowing for maximum melt and hopefully clear roads. If he couldn’t get out, we might have to just turn around and come back, because there was a second storm chasing the first and that would shut us down but good.

Fortunately the roads got better fast and by the time J was ready to go the only snow to deal with was a little crust thrown up by the plow in the storage yard. A snow shovel made short work of that and we were all on our way. J took the cats and they overnighted in rest stops for the three day trip; they got into the campground about 3 hours ahead of MIL and I. We were so happy to pull in and see the camper all set up, just at dusk. The weather had turned cold in south Florida, but as we kept saying, still warmer than home. The first full day in the Keys was a rest day; we drove around a bit and went out for dinner but that was it.

The next day we went to Key West, had a lovely seafood lunch and enjoyed touring the town. It was much bigger than J or I expected; we took a nice long tourist tram ride and got a good overview of the whole island. In the evening, the fishing charter captain we’d made reservations with finally got in touch with J. Apparently the cold weather was causing his charter customers to cancel in droves, and it wasn’t until someone told him to call us that he realized he had a charter for the next day. J and MIL were bound and determined to go fishing despite the cold. The captain hemmed and hawed, thinking that the cold and the anticipated high winds would scare them off, but conceded that it would be safe to go (the only thing that could have made them cancel would be unsafe conditions.)

The day dawned bright, clear and still, and I drove them to the marina in the morning. When we arrived, everything was ready to go. There was a small school of pilchards near the dock; the captain said they were rarely seen so close and J joked that they were volunteering to be bait to get out of the cold. The captain got a considering look and out came the small net, and a few minutes later the fish were scooped up and tucked away in the bait well of the boat, which was probably warmer than the bay. We got everyone settled in the boat and off they went. I drove back to the RV for a quiet day of tidying and quilting. About eleven some clouds rolled in, but they didn’t last long. The wind started up about 2, and I was glad they’d had the still time in the morning. I got back to the marina at 5 pm sharp to a call on my cell from J that they’d just gotten in too. The wind was blowing good by that time, and we tucked MIL in the car with the heater going full bore while J and I hung out and chatted with the captain as he cleaned their catch (another thing that made getting a charter worthwhile.) They’d had a fun day fishing, though the captain thought he should have done better at finding fish. MIL caught her limit in mangrove snapper, and J’s too; together they brought in the limit for the boat (15 keepers) and it made a great fish fry for five of us that night with a meal’s worth of leftovers to boot.

The crowning moment was when MIL hooked into a grouper at one of the fishing holes. It was a great fight and when it was finally landed, it was over 24 inches, a keeper. Sadly, it’s not grouper season, as of December 31st. The captain said it was a great mother-son moment, as they cried on each other’s shoulders while watching it swim away! The ban on taking grouper from January to March is new this year, and theirs was the first legal grouper to be released in the New Year.

My aunt and uncle came down with their travel trailer and their Chesapeake Bay retriever and joined us for a few days, so there was a good audience for the fish dinner and the fish stories. We spent the next day resting and enjoying each other’s company, and then on Thursday we went out sightseeing. J turned off highway 1 in search of the Key Deer interpretive center. We never did find the center but we drove out to Nameless Key and spotted a doe and fawn and later a four point buck browsing at the side of the road. With almost no traffic, we were able to drive up right next to them and get photos. They look just like whitetails at half-scale, except they’re totally habituated to humans. No fear at all with the car only a few yards away.

We drove on, and after a nice lunch at a place that was so dog-friendly they had a special menu for pets (the people food was good too) we arrived in Key West in good time for the sunset celebration. Buskers fill the square as the sun goes down, and everyone divides their attention between watching the entertainment and jockeying for the perfect sunset photo. With about an hour to go, we watched sailing ships leave the harbor one after another. As the sun set, their sails were outlined against the ruddy sky. It was a perfect moment, the sky all shades of orange, pink, and gold, the sailing ships and the shore birds in silhouette. And just as the sun was about to touch the horizon, the giant cruise ship in the harbor decided that the moment was perfect too and headed out to sea, pivoting as it went, so that passengers on both side of the ship could see the sunset. You should have heard the crowd! I was expecting pitchforks and torches. “Ruined! He ruined the whole thing!” one man yelled. Maybe it’s the Keys, maybe it’s the RVing, but the 10 minutes or so that the ship was blocking the actual sunset wasn’t enough to harsh my mellow. The one person of good sense in the crowd had the right of it, as he quietly said: “It will be back tomorrow for another show.”