Ahoy from sunny Pompano Beach, Fla. where I’m staying with ex-wife Suze in her townhouse, which is kind of a safe haven from the endless strip malls and kamikaze traffic of Route 1 up the way. If it wasn’t for the magnificent weather — all puffy-clouded blue skies — and the endlessly blue ocean in the other direction, Florida would be a nightmare of scrub pines and weird animals.
We spent the last couple days in Key West in a bait-and-switch bed and breakfast, which looked like a dream on the Internet, but which turned out to be little more than a motel room with bamboo furniture. It was so bad, we left two days early. To add insult etc., we found this truly magnificent Gardens Hotel across from my friend Chris’s old house at 707 Simonton, in Old Town a block from Duval. Chris shot himself years ago for reasons best known to himself, but I have deep and abiding memories of sleeping on just a sheet in his second floor front room and waking up every morning to look out on the Peggy Mills orchid garden across the street, which is now the Gardens Hotel, the hotel being in the old Mills house. We had drinks with the woman who owns it at the bar, which overlooks a pool and the winding paths through the gardens, complete with an outdoor whirlpool and a very large pet tortoise who just birthed some minis. And they had rooms available … if only.
Anyhow, we were walking on Duval and I had said to Suze that I’d probably see somebody I know and — lo and behold — who should I spy but my pal Dave (last name unknown), the king of waxed hands from the Wildwood Boardwalk. I’d forgotten that he’d told me he’d worked at a tee-shirt emporium on Duval last year and would be back this year and there he was. Suze snapped a pic of us and it’ll be along soon and will be added to this travel blog.
I’ve been going to Key West since the late sixties and every time I go there it has changed more and more toward the endlessly commercial. I remember when the Pier House was a bust-out cinder block motel, actually, and today it’s a veritable resort with every bell and whistle you could find at any Hyatt — which is next door. Immense cruise ships now dock at Mallory pier, which I remember as a little cement pad where we’d go every night to watch the sunset over Christmas Tree Island.
And my friends are gone. Suzie DePoo was from one of the oldest Key West Conch families — her grandfather was mayor and the hospital is the DePoo Hospital — and Suzie was a world class water colorist before taking up tile-making and producing giant floral tile masterpieces that are now going for $20,000 and $30,000 apiece. Alas, the gallery that represents her said that she’d passed in August, well into her nineties and working up to the end. When the gallery owner found I knew Suzie, she wanted to know if I have any of her stuff. When I said I had one little tile of a mermaid playing a mandolin, she offered to buy it sight unseen. No way, babe.
And Susie’s daughter, Martha, in her own right a fabulous artist and the girlfriend of my late friend Chris, was gone as well, departed with her boyfriend Bud to the Lake Okeechobee area where Bud had some land. The gallery owner was pretty pissed at Martha, and I suspect Marrtha probably was executrix of Suzie’s estate and pulled some of her tiles from the gallery. I have to E-mail Martha and see what’s up.
One very bright Key West moment on Duval Street was dinner at La Trattoria, a truly memorable Italian restaurant where we bumped into Eric Tolkien, who we’d met at the Gardens Hotel. Eric was pleasantly drunk and showed us around the Gardens grounds. He said he was related to that Tolkien and was himself a novelist and had been an animal keeper at some big Zoo for twenty years. Who knows? The lady who owned the Gardens sort of wrinkled her nose when we said we’d met Eric, but he seemed like a good dude as far as affable drunks go.
We even took the Conch Train around Old Town and got the lowdown on architecture and history from Johnnie, our driver. It’s a good crash course in Key West or, in my case, a good stirrer of memories.
Enough. I ramble. it will be good to get back to Wildwood.