We drove through Florida on our way to the Conch Republic, passing the turn-off to Orlando, past West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami, straight to the “Seven Mile Bridge.” Not interested in the major tourist zones, the beaches looked too crowded, we passed them. Parts of Florida looked like you had to be flush with the cash to be there, while other parts seemed to be in disrepair after the hurricanes.
We arrived at the “Seven Mile Bridge,” temporarily blocked off. There was a long line of cars waiting to cross. Helicopters were buzzing around, and a plume of smoke rose from the bridge a little way up ahead. We thought there must have been an accident. We saw a policeman and asked what was going on. “Oh, they’re filming a scene for an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. I think it’s called ‘True Lies.'” Shortly, it was all over, the bridge opened back up, and we were on our way. Here’s a clip of the scene they were filming.
The “Seven Mile Bridge”
It was pretty interesting to drive out over the Ocean. This bridge appeared to go on and on as if you could cross the entire Ocean. Eventually, we came to a tiny island, soon across and past it. Then another little scrub of an island, and another. We finally went to a more oversized island where we saw a sign about a completely solar home and decided to see it. The long-haired man was in his mid to late 40s and, having lived alone for so long, was a little ‘cranky.’ Nonetheless, he showed us around recounting all the details of his failures and successes in building a solar home.
He and his brother had built the house, and most of the solar installation before the brother unexplainably left. The initial cost was a bit expensive, but he could now reliably run his refrigerator and lights without problems. “You could buy a solar solution for your house from me, and I could help you set it up.” He became more ‘cranky’ when he realized we were living in our van and had no house to furnish with solar energy. “You could probably make a little house around here somewhere.” Donna and I quickly decided to move on to Key West.
We returned to the van we drove until we arrived at the most famous of the Keys. Upon arrival, we went around, checking out the lay of the land before quickly circling back to where we started. Parking the van, we decided to check out the downtown strip. It was touristy and, of course, featured Jimmy Buffett’s very first “Margaritaville Cafe.”
To our surprise, we made our way to the famous “Sunset Pier” and saw Falafel Louie’s stand. We had met Louie and his wife on our first date at the Richfield, Ohio Grateful Dead show! They had given us a ride when we first hitchhiked after blowing our car up! So, this is where they live when not touring! We ordered up a couple of falafels and briefly caught up with them.
The Conch Republic
A quick history of the Conch Republic, of which Key West is the gem. The Conch Republic was born on April 23, 1982, responding to the Florida Keys, the United States Border Patrol Blockade. A seventeen-mile traffic jam immediately ensued as the Border Patrol stopped every car leaving or entering the Keys, supposedly searching for illegal drugs and aliens who might be hiding under the front seats, in glove compartments, and trunks. Since the United States insisted on treating the Keys like a foreign country, Mayor Dennis Wardlow seceded from Union. Today, they stand proudly as a community with a “Sovereign State Of Mind” and the “People who seceded where others have failed.”
After the delicious falafel sandwiches, we wandered slowly around the pier, checking out the various acts and sellers of jewelry. One man juggled bowling balls and could balance anything, and another trained cats to do whatever he said.
We also met “Love 22,” a man dressed like the bearded, top hat adorned, red, white, and blue “Uncle Sam” handing out 22 dollar bills. (You may notice that this is the 22nd article about our life travels! Strange how that worked out!)
“The number 22 symbolizes the master vibration of the ’22’ divine channels of the cosmic universe,” he said. “Assigning numbers to letters and letters to numbers is an ancient technique in developing and realizing logic and truth. When the letters of words add up to 22, they represent the universe’s harmony, order, and peace.” Then he folded an origami boot out of his self-imprinted 22-dollar bills and gave it to us. There were also artists, a magician, and a musician or two. We needed to get in on this pier business to sell some of our goods!
We slept in the van for a few nights but were made aware that van’ free camping’ was unsafe and illegal in the Keys, so we decided to try and find this “Rich in Spirit” guy and see if he could help or know of a place. So we went in search of the “Schooner Wolf.”
Rich in Spirit
When we found the “Wolf,” we found Rich in Spirit. He is a delightful man, soft-spoken with a kind-hearted smile. He invited us over to his house. After we arrived, we asked him if he knew of any place where we could rent a room. “I have a room for rent, but I normally only rent to a single person.”
“We are like one single person!” We assured him.
“Well, maybe we could try it. I’ll show you the room.” He said.
We walked out onto his porch, and he pointed at a bed. It was not an enclosed porch! It was as open-air as possible except for the many plants all around. There was a night-blooming Jasmin on one end of the porch, and behind the bed was a blooming plant of ‘the kind.’ I asked how much, he told us, and we agreed to move right in!
We fell asleep that night to the intoxicating aroma of the night-blooming Jasmin and woke up in the morning to the sweet skunky smell of the other blooming plant at the head of the bed. Heavenly! Rich played us some songs, and I accompanied him on Miss Guitara, after which he suggested we come on the sunset cruise with him. I would earn our tickets for the voyage by accompanying him on guitar.
The Schooner Wolf
The “Wolf” is a beautiful classic 74′ topsail schooner and the flagship of the glorious Conch Republic. We asked for, and so granted, permission to board by the illustrious Captain Finbar Gittleman. This lovely boat has teak decks, mahogany trimmings, and padded bench seating. Donna settled into a nice perch while Rich and I tuned our instruments in preparation for the voyage. The caterer arranged the hors d’oeuvres, beer, wine, and Champagne.
Soon the guests would arrive and are granted permission to board. After the guests were aboard, we cast off literally ‘sailing into the sunset.’ I accompanied Rich as he sang a wide assortment of songs, from sea chanties to classic pop favorites with a dash of his original compositions. The waters were calm, and the wind was perfect as Captain Finbar Gittleman and his crew sailed by many of the Conch Republic landmarks, including Fort Zachary Taylor, Mallory Square, Sunset Pier, and Sand Key Lighthouse. What a fantastic way to tour Key West!
Rich also suggested meeting one of his other musician friends, a Mr. Art Descoteaux. Art played violin and vibraphone and was another kindred spirit! We all decided I should join their duo “the Sundogs” to make, as they chose to call it, “the Sundog Orchestrio”! They also agreed that I could not play guitar in this group since there was already one guitar. Rich and Art decided I should play keyboards, but I didn’t have any! No problem. They had friends and acquaintances with various top-quality keyboards that would loan me one. Then they got gigs around town, including playing for the local television station. It was all a lot of fun!