Stats to Date:
Total Miles:9987
Total States (& Districts):17
Total Oceans Touched:2
Car Problems:1
Total Times Lost:6
Day: 24 Location: near Placida, FL
We spend our youth attaining wealth and our wealth attaining youth.
-- Bill Murray

When I wrote my journal last night, I hadn't yet experienced the essentials of the Key West culture... I love this place -- it's carefree, beautiful and the people are very friendly. Hawaiian shirts are as common as t-shirts, its the old stomping ground of Hemmingway and people say "Hi" on the streets. However, you may have heard that there is a large gay and lesbian population here -- a rumor I can confirm. Despite that, you can very easily distinguish which establishments are co-ed and which are not -- rainbow flags mark gay businesses. Oh, and if a guy checks you out (and you're a guy) -- he's probably gay. That's why I write these journals -- so you can be "in the know."

Anyway, I think the best way for you to get a feel for Key West is to tell you about two locals I met last night. I walked into a local bar (flying the American flag only) that had a guy on stage with only a guitar, a microphone and tip jar -- my kind of music. He was stinkin awesome -- he played a lot of great covers and had some pretty decent originals too. I kinda surveyed the place and decided to sit down at the bar. To my right was a tall, tan-skinned man with long hair pulled back in a pony tail, a very dirty, stained shirt and a scruffy beard. He was drinking from a clear plastic water glass (which I later found out was filled with vodka), singing along and cracking jokes. I asked him where he was from... "Pennsylvania." "Oh, cool... so you live here now?" I asked. "Well, yea -- I moved from Pennsylvania to Hawaii, lived on the streets there for 7 years and now I'm here. Homeless as ever. I'm just a fun-loving guy, ya know? My dad owns a 30 Billion dollar holding company in New York -- I could have anything I want... I know where I came from and I know where I can go back... but I'm just living life, ya know?" I had a feeling this guy was telling the truth, given his appearance and the fact that he had a cellphone. "So, where do you sleep?" He kinda hemmed and hawed for a second, looked around and said "You know, on the streets." I got the feeling he was not telling the truth this time, so I looked at him for a second and said "Really?" He kinda smiled, lowered his voice and leaned over close, as casually as the vodka would allow. "No, actually -- I live on a small deserted island that's about a three minute canoe ride from here... no one knows about it except me and two other guys. Don't tell anyone." There were tons of random, small islands everywhere -- so the story could be true... he continued, "If you wanna come out, I can get you there in 3 minutes... just don't tell anyone. Here, I'll give you my cell phone number." He then tore a piece from his gummy savers bag and wrote his cellphone number in marker along with the words "Christmas Tree" and left. Wierd... but not unusual here. Of course I didn't go, in case you were wondering... I'm not insane... now, if I had guys like Boozer and the VMI bouncer from Day 20 with me -- I might have thought about it... but instead I threw the number away.

After "Christmas Tree" had left, the girl next to me broke the silence: "So, why are you here all alone?" Once I had finished my story, she said "Cool. Well, I live here. It's like 'small-town anywhere.' Everybody knows everything -- its the same stuff every night." She went on to explain how she had quit school for a few years to move in with her boyfriend, which didn't work out -- so finally she moved here to be close to her parents. "Everyone here is running from something... they just try to whitewash it by having a good time. Me, I just wanted to find a man who loved me... instead I found my lousy boyfriend" as she pointed to a guy playing pool next to us. In vino veritas, I guess. After about 30 more minutes of conversation, I called it a night.

The next morning I was on a mission to find the most deep-swamp, backwoods Alligator Farm in Florida. Which I found. I got to watch Bubba feed the 'gators, wear a snake around my neck -- but I was mostly looking forward to the air boat ride. The driver was named Ramiro and his english was about as good as my Spanish (No hablo mucho, senor). So I get into the boat, he hands us cotton balls for ear plugs, starts the motor and we begin putting along at 3 mph. And the tour began, "Trey Ahea es iguana." "Leff is 'gater." "Das un flower call hybiscus." This stinks. I thought I was gonna do some crazy turns -- this IS an airboat! C'mon Ramiro, don't let me down. Right about the time I was thinking this, Ramiro suddenly said "Plez ev'body puh away camras. Hold on -- okay." At that, he hit the gas -- sending us flying through marshland, thick grass and mud. We were doing in-line, 360 degree spins at over 35 mph (I figured the approximate speed using the highly scientific method of sticking my head out my car window and accelerating until the wind was blowing as fast as it was on the boat) and hopping over small mud ramps! It was awesome!

I then drove through the Everglades, passing cypress forests and marshland on my way to my final stop of the day: Granny B's (my step dads mother) house. She took me over to her neighbors house for some spaghetti, bread, salad, coffee and ice cream cake -- the whole spread. Her neighbors were amazing -- we talked for over an hour and I later found out they had baked me cookies, bought candy and fruit... plus Granny B joined the long list of monetary supporters of this trip. It was such a great day -- and it was good to hang out with Granny B for a night. Goodnight!

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