It was a Wednesday evening, a few weeks ago, and I was glumly hibernating in the barren drifts of the East End.
I had been craving change. For one thing, ever since the New Year, I was determined to crack my habit of television-time and it was going to need to be something beyond the glory of shoveling snow.
January was surging unstoppably to the midway-mark; that awful moment in man-made time where bright possibilities have begun to dim and taunt.
On the TV a cheery male apologetically announced an advancing blizzard, and for the millionth time I fired up a travel website. Except that this occasion was different, it was for real and I bought myself a ticket to Florida. The flight departed in the middle of the following afternoon, but I was ready. After weeks of waffling, my rolling carry-on bag (with coffee-brown Zebra motif) was long since packed.
Less than 24 hours later and I was in a rented vanilla Mini Cooper. Something Calypso was coming out of the radio and I was driving southbound from Fort Lauderdale. Feeling tiny surrounded by a hundred lanes of juggernauts I was glad to leave the slipknot of Miami and its congestion. An hour or so and the road slimmed to two lanes and bridges connecting ever smaller islands.
And ultimately to Key West, where the highway ends in the thronging narrow streets filled with shops and tourists strolling slowly touching and fooling with the colorful knickknacks.
I took a room with a porch in the old town. Warm rain with hints of jasmine, and mango trees and palm trees and strolling cats, and roving roosters with their long lazy calls. Everyone here is from elsewhere, and the first question asked is, “How long are you staying?” And when I reply that I traveled here on a one-way ticket, people smile knowingly and mutter, “That’s what happened to me years ago.”
A pal points out I am following in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway. Short of producing masterpieces and blasting myself in the head, things might look that way. I’ll have to research it but my guess is Papa H did not shoot himself here in the magnificent Keys. This place is too giddily magical to be a tip off for self-destruction. Ergo the only mistake of Papa H was to leave.
A local bookstore told me to eff off when I asked after the chances of putting my books on their shelves. Their criterion was that I was not a local, “You gotta be born here, live here or write about here.”
In that instant a decision was forged, “It so happens,” I informed, “I am your newest author in residence. I just moved here.”
There are flimsier reasons for relocating a couple thousand miles, but since I’ve been here I’ve forgotten all about television and returned my attention to my true love of reading, everything from Hemingway, to McGuane, to Hiaasen in situ; life doesn’t get much better than that.