In my travels around the United States, the most enchanting city I have ever encountered is Key West, Florida.
This semi-tropical paradise is the southernmost point in the continental United States and is blessed with sunshine and warmth throughout the year. Of course, the occasional rain shower will make its appearance and once a year you have to beware the hurricane season and its attendant flying boats, but these are small prices to pay for living in Paradise.
Key West began as my refuge, my personal sanctuary, my bolt-hole for failed relationships that happened back in dirty, cold New York. Upon the crash-and-burn of yet another relationship, I would fire up my jalopy and speed due South until the ice began to melt both on my windshield and in my heart. Only when the trees began to appear swaying and shimmying like green-tinted hula dancers did I remember to breathe. It was a breath of freedom, a breath of humanity returning to my stone-cold psyche.
Swimming with the dolphins, applauding sunsets with the locals, playing with Papa Hemingway’s cats … all of these activities and more served as touchstones for my soul, a sort of counseling session with sand between my toes. Skin-diving with only a mask, snorkel and fins revealed a hidden world of wonders only a few fathoms beneath the waves, a world both alien and comforting.
Reluctantly coming back to dry land and toweling off, my mood would gradually change to one of intrigue and celebration as I investigated the many bars, restaurants and clubs sprinkled around the island. Tourists mingled with locals, producing an electric atmosphere with never a dull moment.
Practicing T’ai-Chi the next morning at sunrise on the beach both reaffirmed my spiritual side and eliminated any lingering after-effects from the previous night’s revelries.
Someday I’ll return to the Conch Republic – but this time, as its newest citizen.