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Saturday, January 23, 2021

A Lefty in the Right Lane - Our Camper Trip to Key West

On the road to the Florida Keys

50 years ago - Lulu and I eloped to Miami from Pennsylvania in 1971. We spent a month in Miami Beach and fell in love with this area. A few years later we visited Key West and our friend Doris Hollenbach Meneses who moved to Miami right after graduating with Lulu from Tamaqua High School in 1972. We vowed to one day live in Florida. 

Lulu teaches her FSU classes on Thursday nights - so we packed the camper and were ready to go Friday morning. We decided to drive our Roadtrek down the west coast of Florida and then circle back along the east coast. We set the cruise control at 60 mph and stay in the slow right lane. We eat - sleep - cook - bathe in the camper. Every now and then we would get some take out food. There was absolutely no place that was not a potential place to sleep. After spending hundreds of nights on the road - we have never been rousted. No one has ever pestered us. We now have spent 57 nights in this camper - and never felt in danger. 

Our first night was in Land O Lakes - the new home of Doris and Elias. We stayed in their driveway and had supper and breakfast together. I used my drone to take an overhead tour of her property. 

The second day we drove to Fort DeSoto Park near Saint Petersburg. It was cold and windy - so we chose to drive onto Naples for the night. Naples is a nice town with a really pretty downtown shopping district. We tried to keep our distance from the locals - we did people watching mostly from the camper. We slept at Cracker Barrel and ordered takeout for breakfast. 

The third day we drove all the way to Key West. Campers are usually concerned about finding a place to stay in Key West. Usually in January it is packed. This time due to the corona virus - I would guess the crowds were 10%. Key West strictly enforces the mask wearing. They realize they depend on tourists. Ernest Hemmingway used to eat at a pub called - Sloppy Joe's. We went there and ate isolated on a back porch. The food and drinks was great. The main drag is called Duval Street - named after the first Florida governor. We could easily walk the one mile long street that extends from the Atlantic to the Gulf. Many of the stately homes are made from mahogany that was salvaged from ship wrecks. 

Key West is 2 miles by 4 miles - it has been enlarged many times. In the winter it may swell to 50,000 people. With the virus - it was not crowded at all. There was enough crowd to keep the restaurants and tourist attractions open. Many people rent bikes - motor scooters - and golf carts to cruise the island. There are lots of fishing boats and plenty of beaches. It is truly tropical - the temperature does not drop below 41 degrees. 

We found a centrally located city parking lot. It said no camping but it offered 24 hours parking for $34. We did that for 4 nights. No one ever tested us about sleeping there. I am guessing that in normal times we might have been rousted. Two added bonuses were a super Cuban Coffee place there - and also really fast free wifi we found. We could watch anything we wanted on TV - and had great internet surfing. It was very clean - and quiet. 

We did have a visit with Dale and Judy - Lulu's cousins. They have a condo on the south shore. Dale used to be stationed here in the Navy. We had supper outside at Casa Marina - Henry Flagler's old hotel. It is a beautiful place right on the water. Flagler is famous for building a railroad all the way down the Florida coast and the 150 miles from Miami out the islands to Key West. One of the bridges is 7 miles long. What a local drive. When Lulu and I made our first drive to Key West in the 70's - the bridges were so narrow - they just paved over the rail bed. It was an arduous drive. Today some places it is 4 lanes wide - the only issue is heavy traffic jams. 

On Thursday - Lulu's teaching day -  it was raining hard. She found a hotel at Pompano Beach that was free for Marriott points. We decided to head north. 

At mile marker 25 is Summerland Key. This was the home of our friend Dr Ben Houser. He was a Tamaqua eye doctor. He loved to fish and had a home here on the Keys. The main reason he picked this key was that it had a private air strip. Ben used to fly down to fish from Tamaqua. We went to see his house and it had a for sale sign on it. We looked it up and it is for sale for $3 million. We used to stay there with Ben - it was a tropical paradise. Guest houses - pools - boat slips - decks - screen rooms - generator - and tropical plants all over. 

Our camper was doing fine. The gas refrigerator kept our food ice cold. Our batteries provided plenty of power for the TV - lights - hair dryer - microwave - vacuum cleaner - iPhones. We had a gas heat - gas hot water - and a gas stove for cooking. We filled our water tanks twice for showers and sink. We emptied the sewer tanks. 

At Pompano Beach - we got to see a sunrise over the waves from our hotel room. We paid nothing for the hotel room - but had to pay for valet parking for the camper. We also bought the super fast internet so Lulu could teach her two classes. We used Marriot points. 

Next we went to Cocoa Beach - halfway between Pompano Beach and Saint Augustine. We stayed a night on the beach at the condo of our friends John and Michelle. We had a morning coffee gab with them. This is the condo where Lulu and the cousins spend a week every year. 

Our last night on the road was spent with our friend Joan. She used to live in Tallahassee but now lives near Saint Augustine. We had a wonderful supper there. On the highway to Nocatee - we pulled over to watch the FSU versus North Carolina basketball game. We can received the game on our iPhone and transfer it to our camper TV with an HDMI cable. FSU won!

Our last leg home from Saint Augustine to Tallahassee was uneventful. Lulu and I shared driving - two hours each - when one drove the other one lounged in the back and watched the TV. It went fast. I napped. 

The total trip was 700 miles down - and 800 miles back up along the Atlantic. It was 9 days away from home. We had a little rain - a few cool nights. We saw lots of sun. It was easy staying socially distanced. We wore our masks whenever we left the camper. We both had our first vaccine shots. So did Joan. We call the camper our Covid Cocoon. 

This was Doris's our first night

This is the canal behind Doris's home

First lunch on the road

Lulu and Doris - class of 1972 - Tamaqua

The beach at Fort DeSoto was cool and breezy

Fort DeSoto - we were alone

Downtown Naples was decorated

Naples is a pretty and ritzy town

We stayed the second night at
Camp Cracker Barrel

We stopped for a picnic on the way to Key West

You can see the old rial bridge next to 
the new bridge

We stopped to see Dr Ben Houser's old home

We stayed 4 nights 
at the blue dot

Lulu got coffee here for 4 breakfasts

The Curry Hotel was near our camper

We had supper here - on back porch

Route 1 ends here

Shops were empty

Our view of the old train station from camper

We stayed here 4 nights

We went to the beach here - Smathers Beach

CVS now - was a Kress in old days

Monroe County Court House

This lizard paid a visit

Key West Public Library

Mini-moke was a British Jeep.
This is an electric replica. 

Camper lunch

Lulu at a faculty meeting

Ernest Hemingway lived here 1931-1939

House was a gift from his inlays

Hemingway's "laptop"

Hemmingways bedroom

Hemmingways's bathroom

Upstairs porch

Hemmingway's wife wanted a pool

His writing room over top the garage

Lots of tropical plants

Airstrip where Dr Ben landed

The old bridge thru the Keys.

Lulu would move anywhere there is water

Resident Inn - Pampano Beach

Pool was 87

Palm trees at hotel at night

Lulu's perfect pool

Sunrise over The Atlantic

Pompano Beach Airport

Pompano - home of the Goodyear Blimp

Watching FSU basketball in the camper

Joan and her garden plot

Joan's new home

A very organized garage