I think that the reason I love the Florida Keys so much can be summed in two words: jalousie windows. They’re louvered slats made of hard plastic that can be opened and closed with a hand-turned crank. They’re something you really only see in the Deep South and they fit the Keys perfectly. Because if you want your house to be hermetically sealed, both literally and figuratively, jalousies are not for you. They don’t keep all the unsavory stuff out. Just like the Keys. Where the trailer park is next to the mansion and the cookie-cutter conformity of coastal developments like Seaside is oceans away.
When I was 10 or so, one of my favorite books was The Pink Motel. In the book, a conservative family inherits a motel on the Florida coast. The exact locale is never mentioned, but it could very well be the Keys. The first thing the parents want to do is repaint the motel in a more “respectable” color like white or brown. They are then somewhat taken aback by all the characters who call the motel home–I think there was a magician…one woman had lots of poodles…–naturally, the children of the family loved everything about the place–the more eccentric, the better. And in due course, the parents came around as well. And learned to celebrate all the differences instead of painting over them.
That’s the Keys in a nutshell. But be forewarned…if you’re planning a Florida vacation, there are a few things that you will not find in the Keys:
- Miles of sandy white beaches–the Keys are built on coral reefs and the few small beaches you find are most likely man made.
- Golf–there may be two or three golf courses, but that’s all. There’s just not enough room. If you want to play golf by the ocean, go to Pebble Beach. Or Scotland.
- Chain restaurants–there are a few, of course. But they are the exception, not the rule.
- High-speed interstate travel–if you’re going all the way to Key West, you’re riding on, for the most part, two lanes. Relax and enjoy it. The farther south you get, the bluer the water is. Just don’t get in a hurry.
But if the idea of grabbing a beer from a cooler in a bait shop and drinking it from a dilapidated dock overlooking the blue water sounds good to you, then you might need to plan a trip for points South. Save me a seat.