In the great annals of First World Problems, it's hard to top, "I'm going to miss Labor Day in the Hamptons because I have to spend the weekend in Key West." I know. I knowww. But a new tenant was moving into our condo in Casa Marina, and because we are what some people call "fastidious" and others call "on the spectrum," we decided to fly down to ensure that the place would be ready. (Sure, we could have hired someone to inspect the place and make sure it was up to snuff, but have you ever seen my meticulous husband clean something? You'd think we let Ebola patients lick our plates.) And so we hopped a quick flight to Key West for what was shaping up to be a charmed visit indeed.
Well, at least until we arrived. Because sweet baby Jesus, it was hot. And lord, it was stifling. It was like being waterboarded by a sopping wet towel fresh out of a hot dryer, which doesn't even make any sense. That's how hot it was.
We cabbed it over to the condo, where we were mercifully greeted by the shady tropical gardens and inviting pool.
There's a man in New York City named Jimmy McMillan who turns up every four years to run for mayor. McMillan's political party is called, "The Rent is Too Damn High," a phrase that also happens to be his entire political platform. A reporter might ask about his position on, say, the treatment of carriage horses in New York, and McMillan will respond, "Ain't no money to be takin' carriage rides, because THE RENT . . . IS TOO DAMN HIGH!" Or a debate moderator will ask what McMillan proposes to do about the city's broken educational system, to which he will respond, "All I learned in school is that THE RENT . . . IS TOO DAMN HIGH!"
I was the Jimmy McMillan of Key West. No matter what anyone said to me, my response was the same. "Where do you want to go for lunch?" Angel would ask, to which I would respond, "Who cares? I'll be dead before we get there because THE HEAT . . . IS TOO DAMN HOT!" "Do you want to ride down Duval or Simonton?" he'd press. "What does it matter? The asphalt's melted clean off of both of them, because THE HEAT . . . IS TOO DAMN HOT!" Everywhere we went, I muttered this phrase over and over under my breath, while the sweat collected in the crooks of my elbows and my hair swelled to angora-rabbit proportions.
But before we could go oozing around town, we first had to take inventory of our supplies.
We had a handful of cleaning products, but a closet full of coat hangers. Priorities.
After a short discussion, we decided that Angel should start working while I rode to the store to pick up the items we still needed.
I idiotically thought I'd gotten the sweeter end of the deal, until I stepped outside and beads of perspiration popped out of my pores with an audible zoink, like a nervous cartoon character in the face of an oncoming freight train.
But the alternative was scrubbing the walls with a toothbrush, or cleaning in between the hardwood floorboards with a pair of tweezers, or whatever other painstaking projects Angel had invented for himself, so I soldiered on. Despite the disorienting heat, I still managed to remember the most important items on my list: Potato chips and piña coladas.
Now, Angel has a lot of great qualities, but unfortunately being lazy isn't one of them. When there is a task at hand, he absolutely refuses to slack off or take a break until the task is completed, thoroughly and perfectly. Which is great when the task is buying me a birthday present, but not so great when that task is scrubbing grout.
Even the Rain Man of Household Chores has to eat, though, and so I dragged him off to Southernmost for nachos and key lime coladas.
The three-minute bike ride from Southernmost back to our condo was a sickeningly sticky affair, so as soon as we arrived back home, I pulled my bike inside the gate, dropped it to the ground, and sprinted headlong into the pool fully-clothed, crying out, "SWEET RELIEF!!!!" as the pool overflowed with gallons of my sweat.
That night, Angel calculated that he'd lost approximately 82 minutes and 45 seconds of work thanks to that lunch at Southernmost, so for dinner he suggested that we stay in and order pizza.
The weather outside was an actual pizza oven anway, so it did make sense. Plus, I'd lost approximately 15 lbs. of water weight that day and needed to bulk up. Who needs one of those plastic sweat suits when you've got summer in Key West?
The next day we woke early to squeeze in a bike ride before the day got too hot.
We lasted about 20 minutes before calling in for reinforcements.
Soon it was time for lunch, so this time I dragged Angel to one of our go-to spots, Agave 308.
We settled in at our usual table in the window and ordered up our favorite drinks on the island: A sweet-tart Paloma made with strawberry-infused tequila, grapefruit juice, and muddled strawberries for me, and a Mexican Mule with ginger syrup, fresh lime, and a skewer of candied ginger for Angel.
As, er, side dishes, we split an order of chips and salsa, then enjoyed the island gazpacho topped with blue crab salad and the roast pork tacos with spicy slaw.
Later, the bartender brought us an experimental freebie: A "Samoa" cookie with house-made vanilla tequila, coconut, and dark chocolate. Or as Angel called it, a Girl Scout with a driver's license.
We worked nonstop the rest of the day, and that evening my furtive texts for help were finally answered when our friends Mark and Steve invited us over for dinner. Angel reluctantly put aside his latest project (I think he was perfecting the trim in the kitchen with an eyeliner brush) and we pedaled over, making a quick stop at funky Vino's on Duval to pick up some wine.
Mark runs the fabulous Key West Food and Wine Festival, which is a great event if you like food, wine, and seeing how much your liver can take before it cries "uncle." It soon became apparent that Mark had decided to do a dry-run for the fest that evening, serving up everything from grilled lobster and shrimp to steak, corn on the cob, asparagus, and melon and prosciutto skewers, along with roughly 6 bottles of wine . . . per person.
We enjoyed great food and good, if rather opinionated, company.
For dessert, Mark's friend Joey, a pastry chef extraordinaire, brought some coconut cake. If you've ever seen an episode of "When Animals Attack," then you know how the cake came to look like this after about 30 seconds.
The next day we gathered up anyone who wasn't still passed out from the night before and hoofed it over to Santiago's Bodega for a little hair of the dog.
The fire was just to make sure everyone was fully awake.
That afternoon we divided up the remaining tasks at the condo: Angel spent the afternoon using one of those CSI-style ultraviolet lights to ferret out invisible stains on the plantation shutters, while I lounged in the pool with a key lime colada.
After a few hours we assessed our progress and decided that the house was probably clean enough to pass inspection by the folks who sterilize hospital burn units, which meant that Angel was somewhat pleased with our work thusfar. We decided to celebrate at Kelly's happy hour, because nothing says a job well done like a bowl full of melted cheese.
The key lime margaritas at Kelly's turned into dark rum pina coladas at Louie's, and at that point there was no turning back: It was time to get down with our bad selves, as well as any poor unsuspecting bystanders, at the Green Parrot.
I decided to take the next morning's sluggish pace as a sign that Angel was due for a break and, more importantly, I was due for a burger. And so we headed off to Frita's Cuban Burgers, where the menu promised an explosion of flavor on a freshly-baked Cuban roll.
Frita's manages to squeeze an impressive amount of tropical bric-a-brac, homages to Cuba, and even bartender roulette into its charming little space.
If you need to eat-a-Frita on the fly, there's also a food truck outside.
We grabbed two seats at the tiny bar inside and ordered up a round of the house special, sangria slushies.
We both had to try the signature frita, a beef and pork patty seasoned with garlic and Spanish spices, then topped with spicy ketchup and crispy shoestring fries.
To that we added cheese arepas, freshly-baked empanadas, and a plate of rice 'n' beans that put all others to shame: Coconut-ginger jasmine rice with black beans, sweet plantains, and salsa verde, all smothered in melted cheese.
And a cute little flan for Angel.
The next day was our last full day of work, and it was sure to be a long one. We decided to fuel up with egg white omelets and fresh juice.
Just kidding! We had cheesesteak spring rolls.
In addition to the Breakfast of Champions, the Rum Barrel on Front Street also has some healthy options, like fresh green salads and grilled fish.
Along with that "juice" I mentioned earlier.
It was our last evening on island, so we met up with friends for dinner at Azur to take advantage of their locals'-only summer special.
All food and wine was half-off, so we decided that the best way to get our money's worth was to order everything on the menu and let the savages fight it out.
I don't know who thought it would be funny to pile up all those wine glasses in front of me for this photo, but the joke's on you if you think you're getting your glass back afterwards.
On our last day, our writer/blogger/photographer friend Claudia drove down to Key West for a planned stay on nearby Sunset Key, and invited us over to the island for lunch. Although our flight home was scheduled for that afternoon, the timing seemed doable, so I agreed.
I knew, however, that Angel would consider every possible scenario, and a whole bunch of impossible ones, before ultimately deciding that it would be way too risky to make the 10-minute boat ride over to Sunset Key on the same day that our flight was to depart. What if the boat breaks down? What if it sinks? What if it is torpedoed by a wayward Navy jet, or destroyed by a large mechanical shark? The variables were many, and thus my chances of getting Angel to agree were slim.
Or so I thought. Turns out, inhaling all those cleaning-product fumes was good for something.
As fate would have it, we ended up on the same boat over as Claudia, which gave us a little extra time to get caught up before lunch.
Or, you know, to post a quick Snapchat.
A cruise ship was in port as we departed, and while cruises are not my cup of tea, it's hard not to marvel at how man can design 150,000 tons of steel to stay afloat, but cannot invent a pair of pantyhose that doesn't run within 20 minutes of putting them on.
Upon arrival, we asked for a table indoors so we could eat in air-conditioned comfort, which is really a crime at a place as lovely as Latitudes. Still, it beat branding my forearm on one of those wrought-iron chairs baking outside in the sun.
After settling in, we ordered up an assortment of libations and then got down to the serious business of food styling.
Next up, a photogenic tuna tartare with miso-yuzu aioli, a perfectly posed lobster and crab cake with grilled corn salsa, and a casually candid fish sammich with key lime tartar sauce.
Our lunch was over all too quickly, and soon it was time to say our goodbyes and head back to Key West to catch our flight.
As usual, we skidded into the airport with just minutes to spare, worn out and exhausted, and even though the airport was nice and cool, I found myself again thinking of Jimmy McMillan's catchphrase, but tweaked just a bit.
"THIS VISIT . . . WAS TOO DAMN SHORT!"
What's up next? A marvelous Moondance in Anguilla, death-defying feats of stupidity in the Hudson Valley, a boozy "swingers" weekend in Philadelphia, and a rockin' New Year's Eve at an old folks home on Anna Maria Island. Check back soon or click here to subscribe and you'll receive an email when a new post goes up!
Just want more Key West? Come on vacation, leave on probation.