Keys Voices Main Archive

Keeping the Key West Promise

Carol Shaughnessy | August 2011

Key West is the kind of place that can turn a vacationer into a resident in a life-changing instant. Talk to a group of locals, and chances are a handful of them will tell you they came down to spend a week or a season, or take a break for a few months … but, somehow, they got hooked on the place and never left.

Upon my arrival in Key West, I was stunned to see palm trees seemingly everywhere. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Upon my arrival in Key West, I was stunned to see palm trees seemingly everywhere. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Take me, for example.

When I first came to Key West, I was a naïve 20-year-old Minnesota girl in a Salvation Army fur jacket (which I discarded as quickly as possible). I flew down to this exotic and then-unknown place to meet my Minnesota boyfriend John, who had friends living on the island, to spend a couple of months thawing out after a miserable Minnesota January.

John had to take a side trip to New York, so we didn’t fly together. I emerged from a tiny plane operated by Air Sunshine (also called Air Sometimes for its erratic on-time record) into a third-world airport and a light-drenched landscape.

The taxis outside the airport were startlingly pink, and there were palm trees EVERYWHERE. I gawked out the cab window during the entire drive to John’s friend Wally’s house, where we were supposed to stay.

When the pink taxi pulled up to an old wood-frame house, I jumped out eagerly, ran up the porch steps and knocked on the screen door. “Hello?” I called.

A glorious old frame house was my first temporary "home" on the island.

A glorious old frame house was my first temporary "home" on the island.

The door was opened by Willie Nelson. (Okay, it wasn’t really Willie. But it could have been his dark-haired twin.)

“Hey there,” he said, his eyes slightly glazed.

“You must be Wally,” I responded brightly, trying not to stare. “I’m Carol, John’s friend from Minnesota. Is he here yet?”

Willie/Wally looked at me. “John?” he repeated. “Hey, how’s he doing? I haven’t heard from him in six months!”

Apparently John had neglected to tell Wally we were coming — OR staying with him. But since this was Key West in the late 1970s, five minutes later Wally had offered me his spare bedroom to stay in until John showed up or I figured out what I wanted to do next.

Actually, John DIDN’T show up. But that didn’t matter because, 48 hours after my arrival, I knew perfectly well what I wanted to do next: live in Key West for the rest of my life.

This classic Jimmy Buffett album cover captures the Key West waterfront in the 1970s.

This classic Jimmy Buffett album cover captures the Key West waterfront in the 1970s.

The decision wasn’t reasoned, or even particularly rational. It came from my bones.

Admittedly, my new home was a fascinating place. In the late 70s and early 80s, shrimpers in white rubber boots ruled the island’s waterfront, and lobster and fish were free for the catching.

In those days, there wasn’t much money in Key West. But nobody noticed unless they went to the mainland, and people didn’t go to the mainland very often. Living was an impromptu affair and the pace was slow; Duval Street was so empty on hot summer afternoons that dogs drowsed undisturbed on the blacktop.

The Victorian houses in Old Town, the ones that stand lovingly restored today, were ramshackle and rundown, their paint peeling or absent altogether. But their clean, proud lines made them gorgeous anyway, and the hibiscus and bougainvillea blooming around them were all the adornment they needed.

Now, as in the late 70s, exuberant blossoms add a lush beauty to Key West homes.

Now, as in the late 70s, exuberant blossoms add a lush beauty to Key West homes.

Back then, Key West was a haven for adventurers — from treasure hunters seeking shipwrecked Spanish galleons to the spiritual descendents of Prohibition rumrunners. Everyone seemed to know they were living at the edge of a continent, in a renegade but strangely innocent world.

It was pretty heady stuff for a naïve Minnesota girl.

Fairly quickly, I was “adopted” by a group of longtime Key Westers — writers and shrimpers and pirate bartenders. Their passion for the island was enduring and true, and for some serendipitous reason they decided to share their stories and their lives with me.

Today, Key West and I have both changed a good bit, but my love for the place is stronger than ever. In essence, those old friends who opened their world to me earned an unspoken promise in return — that I would cherish that world like they did.

And you know what? It’s never been a hard promise to keep.

Comments

Discover Engaging Dolphins at Five Keys Centers

Josie Gulliksen | August 2011

Ever since marine researchers discovered dolphins just might rival humans among the world’s most intelligent mammals, people have been fascinated by the lively marine creatures.

At Dolphins Plus, Bob (the bigger one) and Jessica provide an affectionate Keys welcome.

At Dolphins Plus, dolphins Bob (left) and Jessica provide an affectionate Keys welcome.

In the Florida Keys, where dolphins are studied year-round, visitors to each of five centers can have a unique and wonderful encounter — sharing an in-water experience with these gentle animals while learning about them.

Before any in-water encounter, the facilities provide in-depth briefings that cover dolphin behavior, facts about the engaging creatures, and how to safely and respectfully interact with them. (FYI, during your encounter, don’t be surprised if the ever-curious dolphins use their sensitive bottle-shaped noses to give you the once-over — or present their chins to be scratched or even kissed.)

So where can you have an intriguing dolphin experience in the Keys?

Mandy Rodriguez, the guiding spirit behind Dolphin Research Center, shares some quality time with two buddies. (Photo courtesy of Dolphin Research Center)

Mandy Rodriguez, the guiding spirit behind Dolphin Research Center, shares some quality time with his buddies. (Photo courtesy of Dolphin Research Center)

Dolphin Research Center, mile marker (MM) 59 bayside on Grassy Key near Marathon, specializes in presenting marine mammal education and research programs to the public. Founded in 1984 as a nonprofit facility, DRC is home to a family of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions — most of whom were born there.

Enjoy daily narrated dolphin and sea lion behavior sessions and educational presentations to learn about marine mammals and the environment — plus interactive programs like Trainer for a Day, Researcher for a Day, swim and wade sessions and even the fun-filled Paint with a Dolphin.

At Dolphins Plus in Key Largo, Ocean Bay Drive at MM 100 oceanside, you can experience natural or unstructured swims with other participants and dolphins, structured swims or one-on-one interactive sessions with dolphins and sea lion encounters. Natural swim participants revel in the natural beauty and behavior of dolphins while snorkeling; structured swim participants follow a trainer’s instructions for hands-on interaction.

You’ll also find extended education programs, including Trainer for a Day and a three-day Dolphin Exploration Lab, that focus on a general study of dolphins and their habitats.

Marine life and lively parrots intrigue young visitors to Islamorada's Theater of the Sea.

As well as dolphins, lively parrots and other creatures delight visitors to Islamorada's Theater of the Sea. (Photo courtesy of Theater of the Sea)

In addition, dolphin therapy programs are offered on the premises to individuals with disabilities and their families. Coordinated by the not-for-profit Island Dolphin Care, these remarkable programs involve educational, recreational, and motivational activities.

Islamorada-based Theater of the Sea, MM 84.5 oceanside, offers dolphin, sea lion and stingray swim programs, along with bottomless boat rides, parrot shows and continuous marine shows featuring dolphins and sea lions. Plus there’s a guided marine life tour that features tropical fish, sea turtle, alligator and crocodile exhibits — and don’t miss Theater of the Sea’s four-hour adventure boat tour, which includes a bay ride and snorkel time.

Dolphin Cove is a marine education and dolphin swim facility at MM 102 bayside in Key Largo. There you can choose from natural or structured swims, shallow water encounters in waist-deep water or Trainer for a Day programs that include dolphin interactions and a glimpse into marine mammal care and training.

Even small children can safely participate in magical dolphin encounters in some Keys centers.

Even small children can safely participate in magical dolphin encounters in some Keys centers.

Based at Hawk’s Cay Resort, MM 61 oceanside on Duck Key, Dolphin Connection offers a group of appealing dolphin encounter programs. Dolphin Discovery allows supervised contact with dolphins from a submerged platform, while Dockside Dolphins offers interactions without entering the water. You’ll also find a fascinating three-hour Trainer for a Day session that includes a behind-the-scenes look at dolphin training.

Of course, all five centers maintain high standards for safeguarding the physical and emotional health of the dolphins under their care, and the environment these creatures call home.

There’s no substitute for an unforgettable firsthand dolphin encounter at one of the places described here. But if you can’t make it down to the Florida Keys quite yet, click here for webcam previews from Dolphin Research Center, Dolphin Cove, and Island Dolphin Care.

Comments

Key West: The Write Stuff

Carol Shaughnessy | August 2011

“I want to get to Key West and away from it all,” literary legend Ernest Hemingway wrote in a letter to his friend and editor, Maxwell Perkins.

Writers Tom Corcoran, Michael Haskins, Lorian Hemingway and Mark Childress -- who live in Key West or visit regularly -- recently gave a critically acclaimed reading during the island city's Hemingway Days. (Photo courtesy of Michael Haskins)

Among the notable writers who live in Key West or visit regularly are (from left) Tom Corcoran, Michael Haskins, Lorian Hemingway and Mark Childress. (Photo courtesy of Michael Haskins)

Hemingway, who lived in a Spanish Colonial villa on Key West’s Whitehead Street throughout the 1930s, is arguably the island’s most famous writer-resident — but he’s far from the only one. In fact, for decades America’s subtropical southernmost city has exerted an almost mystical attraction for writers of all types.

For example, Tennessee Williams owned a home on a quiet side street from the late 1940s until his death. Robert Frost was a frequent guest of hostess Jessie Porter Newton, and Thornton Wilder wrote “The Matchmaker” in Key West.

More recent literary residents have included Shel Silverstein, Annie Dillard, Tom Corcoran, Richard Wilbur, Alison Lurie, Thomas McGuane, Judy Blume, Mark Childress, Jimmy Buffett, Meg Cabot, Michael Haskins and Philip Caputo.

What is it that draws writers to Key West, captures their imaginations, and keeps them returning as visitors or inspires them to become residents?

Author Lorian Hemingway (right) is joined at a Key West book signing by her daughter Cristen, also a writer and editor. (Photo courtesy of Katharine Roach)

Author Lorian Hemingway (right) is joined at a Key West book signing by her daughter Cristen, also a writer and editor. (Photo courtesy of Katharine Roach)

Lorian Hemingway, author of the novel “Walking into the River,” the critically acclaimed memoir “Walk on Water” and the riveting “A World Turned Over,” has been coming to the island since the late 1960s. She’s currently chronicling its flavor, personalities and past in a book-in-progress titled “Key West: The Pirate Heart.”

Lorian is Ernest Hemingway’s granddaughter, but her reasons for referring to Key West as her second home have little to do with her grandfather’s legacy.

“Writers are drawn to places of fecundity and abundance, particularly when water is involved,” she says. “It’s a natural thing, being close to your roots — and the ocean is, in the very truest sense, our genesis. Perhaps writers, because of what they have to tap into in order to create, pick up on this subconsciously a little more than others.”

Phil Caputo’s best-known book is “A Rumor of War,” widely regarded as a definitive work on the brutal Viet Nam conflict. Several of his subsequent offerings took shape during his 11-year residence in Key West — a perfect setting, he believes, for those artists and writers who crave freedom from the mainstream world and its values.

Pulitzer Prize winner Phil Caputo, author of "Crossers" among other acclaimed volumes, lived in Key West for 11 years.

Pulitzer Prize winner Phil Caputo, author of "Crossers" among other acclaimed volumes, lived in Key West for 11 years.

“Artists and writers are a bit outlaw. They march to a different drummer — and it’s a lot more congenial when you’re surrounded by a lot of other people who also march to a different drummer,” says Phil. “That’s what’s great about Key West. You’ve got people who are treasure divers and fortune seekers and renegades and runaways, and that makes life interesting.”

Perhaps acclaimed playwright Tennessee Williams provided the simplest yet most important reason for the island city’s popularity with those who write. “I work best here,” he stated in a long-ago interview.

As an authors’ haven and favorite retreat, Key West has earned an indelible place in the literary world. The island’s undemanding atmosphere leaves plenty of room for creativity to flower — and many writers seem to feel the pull of an elemental magic that defies definition.

“I’ve always been drawn by the ocean and the great ships and the moon and the water, and there’s something magical in Key West that goes somewhere very deep in me,” says Lorian Hemingway, whose island hideaway overlooks the Atlantic. “There’s a mystical quality that has at times just taken me over. I feel like I’m home every time I come back.”

Comments

Cynthia Aguilar: Paddling into History

Carol Shaughnessy | July 2011

When she paddled ashore on a Key West beach not long ago, she was sunburned and exhausted — and as joyfully triumphant as a 27-year-old woman could ever be.

Cynthia Aguilar cries with joy as she ends her incredible 103.2-mile prone paddleboard marathon on a Key Wes Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Cynthia Aguilar cried with joy as she ended her incredible 103.2-mile prone paddleboard marathon on a Key West beach. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

That’s because, when she reached that beach, South Florida lifeguard Cynthia Aguilar became the first solo prone paddleboarder ever to cross the Florida Straits — paddling an astonishing 103.2 miles in just 29 hours and 12 minutes.

Making her feat even more remarkable is the fact that prone paddleboarding doesn’t involve actual paddles.

Instead, participants in the sport propel themselves through the water using their hands and arms.

When she landed, Cynthia dragged her paddleboard onto the beach as crowds of supporters erupted in wild cheers, then hugged her parents while tears streamed down her face.

When a friend uncorked a bottle of champagne and moved to pour it over her head in celebration, Cynthia grabbed it and doused her bright yellow paddleboard instead — sharing her victory with the board that was her “partner” in the historic journey.

Cynthia became the first prone paddleboarder to complete a voyage across the Florida Straits -- and did it in just 29 hours, 12 minutes. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Cynthia became the first prone paddleboarder to complete a voyage across the Florida Straits -- and did it in just 29 hours and 12 minutes. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

“Everybody here kept me going to prove that anything is possible no matter what,” she said breathlessly as members of her support crew took turns enveloping her in jubilant embraces. “You’re knocked down, you get up, you keep fighting — you keep paddling no matter what.”

Strong and wiry, yet surprisingly small, Cynthia believes the phrase “keep paddling” also describes the best way to conquer life’s struggles — like the daily struggles of the Make-A-Wish Foundation kids she designed her crossing to benefit. It also inspired the name of the nonprofit she started.

And it certainly describes her unswerving determination to complete the Florida Straits crossing even after an initial attempt failed.

Cynthia first tried to paddle across the straits in September 2010. However, she encountered such strong currents and suffered so many Portuguese Man o’ War stings that she and her crew were forced to end the effort after 17 hours.

Cynthia's strength and determination kept her going even after a previous attempt to make the crossing was unsuccessful.  (Photo by Presley Adamson, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Cynthia's strength and determination kept her going even after a previous attempt to make the crossing was unsuccessful. (Photo by Presley Adamson, Florida Keys News Bureau)

“The greatest challenge for this attempt is letting go of the past, moving on and doing what I need to do at this moment, which is cross this body of water,” she said as she left Key West just before the 2011 crossing.

A seasoned endurance paddleboarder, she completed a 58-mile solo paddle in 2007 from Bimini to Dania Beach, Fla., in approximately 19.5 hours. And even after 2010’s unsuccessful Florida Straits attempt, she wasn’t about to give up on her dream.

“I know what went wrong last time, and not finishing last time made me even more determined. I’m meant to do it,” Cynthia said as she boarded the catamaran that carried her to a spot just outside Cuban waters, where she began the 2011 paddle. “That was a trial run the first time; this is the real run now.”

Cynthia's supporters welcome her with joy and open arms when she completed the crossing -- which benefits the Make-a-Wish Foundation. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Cynthia's supporters welcomed her with joy and open arms when she completed the crossing -- which benefits the Make-A-Wish Foundation. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

During the 2011 run, as she stroked her way across the straits on her board, she was trailed by the catamaran and a yacht carrying a support crew, supplies and a documentary film crew chronicling her incredible journey. Like her crossing, the documentary will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida.

And when Cynthia finally completed her marathon paddle, landing on that Key West beach, her success sparked such shared joy that it practically shimmered visibly in the air.

With true grace of spirit, she credited her victory to her team, her well-wishers, and even the elements.

“This year the gods, the ocean {and} mother nature were on our side,” said Cynthia Aguilar — whose athletic feat, determination and generous heart make her one of the most inspiring visitors ever to arrive on Key West’s shores.

Comments

Keys Reefs Provide Rehabilitation for Wounded Veterans and Families

Julie Botteri | July 2011

Life’s lessons present themselves unexpectedly, and this week mine came via the smiling face of a U.S. Army Special Operations Command soldier whose physical body was marred by war but whose positive outlook is as big as the ocean. His unflagging spirit reminded me what a great blessing family togetherness is.

Just seven months after he lost both legs and full use of his right arm following an attack in Afghanistan, Army Chief Warrant Officer Scott Schroeder was reintroduced to scuba diving with his wife and son who were learning to dive in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Scott, his wife Laura and teenage son Zach — all from Clarksville, Tenn. — were part of a trip coordinated by Task Force Dagger Foundation, a Texas-based nonprofit organization. Established in 2009, the nonprofit provides opportunities for wounded warriors to become certified to scuba dive after sustaining life-altering injuries during military service.

“The Task Force Dagger Foundation is unique in that it allows the families to bond together by letting them participate in all the events,” Scott said. “A lot of foundations out there are very good at taking care of us wounded warriors, but not all of them include the family — and this one does.”

Scott, who’s 45 years old, sustained his injuries last December when his vehicle rolled over a hidden roadside bomb (which he described as 50 pounds of homemade explosives) in a rural province of Afghanistan.

cott Schroeder, a U.S. Army Special Operations Chief Warrant Officer severely wounded in Afghanistan, examines a brain coral while scuba diving in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off Key West. (Photo by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Scott Schroeder, a U.S. Army Special Operations Chief Warrant Officer severely wounded in Afghanistan, examines a brain coral while scuba diving in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

“When I was hurt, it wasn’t just me that was hurt,” he said. “It impacted the entire family.”

Before his injuries, Scott had contacted Task Force Dagger Foundation’s managing director Keith David, with whom he’d served in the early 90s, about donating his time and energy to the organization to help wounded comrades.

“I said I want to be a part of {the foundation} monetarily, with my time, with everything. I think about retiring, and this is one way for me to give back after a 24-year career,” Scott recalled.

He never thought he would be on the receiving end of the foundation’s mission.

“I originally thought I was going to be on the giving end,” he said. “I’m blessed that they were there to help me … help us recover together as a family.”

Keith David said Task Force Dagger Foundation’s family focus sets it apart from other organizations.

Scott Schroeder, center, scuba dives with his son Zachary, left, and wife Laura in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Scott Schroeder, center, scuba dives with his son Zachary, left, and wife Laura in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

“We try to assist when there’s a need,” he said. “One of the things we try and do is help them heal as a family unit.”

This trip to the Florida Keys was a first for the Schroeder family.

Despite being scuba certified in the late 1980s, Scott had to take a refresher course — primarily to adapt his knowledge to his new capabilities. Special hi-tech prosthetic “swim legs” helped propel him through the water during his dive on a shallow reef with his wife and son.

“It was so cool, like you’re in an aquarium,” Laura Schroeder said of the reef fish, barracuda and conch they spotted on their first ocean dive. “I thought the Keys were all about margaritas and salt.”

Although the diving is rehabilitation for him, Scott said he gets to do things he wouldn’t normally do while stuck in a hospital — getting on and off boats, walking up and down the beach and the dock — activities that I, and probably most of us, take for granted.

“Any ‘first’ we get to do as a family is a big event, and to be out here and to be able to dive with them on their first time is just great,” Scott said with a beaming smile. “You can see their eyes light up inside their masks while they’re down there.”

Comments

Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival Rocks!

Carol Shaughnessy | July 2011

According to divers at the annual Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival, held recently in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Elvis Presley never died. He simply took his act underwater.

Eel-vis Presley," portrayed by diver Eric Rolfe "strums on a colorful faux guitar during the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival. (Photos by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

"Eel-vis Presley," portrayed by diver Eric Rolfe, strums on a colorful faux guitar during the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival. (All photos by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Divers costumed as “Eel-vis,” “Bob Marlin,” “Joss Stone Crab” and other rock-and-rollers “performed” beneath the waves for an audience of more than 500 divers and snorkelers at the offbeat festival.

In addition to brightly-painted underwater guitars, their undersea jam session featured “fishy” instruments such as a “sax-eel-phone,” “clambourine,” “trombonefish,” and “wahoo kazoo” sculpted by talented Lower Keys artist August Powers.

Not only did participating divers and snorkelers enjoy watching the iconic “rockers” in action — they also had the opportunity to view the colorful marine life that inhabits the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef, which parallels the Florida Keys.

“I’ve never had a snorkeling experience like this,” marveled first-time festival participant Gail Coad of Sarasota, Fla. “It’s just like a magic show with the different beautiful tropical fish.”

Samantha Langsdale, dressed as a mermaid, blows air through a "musical instrument" sculpted by Lower Keys artist August Powers.

Samantha Langsdale, dressed as a mermaid, blows air through a "musical instrument" sculpted by Lower Keys artist August Powers.

Staged by Keys radio station U.S. 1, the quirky Underwater Music Festival featured melodies broadcast into the undersea realm via speakers suspended beneath boats at the reef. It took place at Looe Key, a part of the marine sanctuary about six miles south of Big Pine Key.

“Sound underwater is incredible because you can sense it with your entire body,” advised festival director and founder Bill Becker of U.S. 1. “You can feel it coming through your head and your chest — it actually comes from all directions.”

The broadcast playlist included ocean–related tunes such as the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” Jimmy Buffett’s “Fins,” and even familiar themes from the film “Jaws” and television’s wacky “Gilligan’s Island.”

FYI, it wasn’t just human participants who appeared to be rocking at the sub-sea songfest.

“The fish seemed to enjoy the music as much as I did,” said Gail Coad. “They almost were dancing in unison to the melody — and the music just kind of surrounds you.”

"Eel-vis" and his mermaid backup singer jam beneath the sea during the offbeat underwater songfest.

"Eel-vis" and his mermaid backup singer jam beneath the sea during the offbeat underwater songfest.

Veteran festival participant Samantha Langsdale, who wore a vivid green mermaid costume and jammed with “Eel-vis,” reported that she made some undersea “friends” during the festival.

“I believe the parrotfish family has accepted me,” Samantha confided after returning to the surface. “We have similar colors.”

As well as being a one-of-a-kind event for divers and snorkelers, the Underwater Music Festival included diver awareness messages promoting preservation of the Keys’ unique coral reef ecosystem.

“We have a lot of fun, we dress up in costumes, but there’s a serious side,” said Bill Becker. “Coral reef conservation is the message.”

To all the divers and snorkelers who take the festival’s lesson to heart, and pledge to protect the Keys’ underwater wonderland, “Eel-vis” might add his own message: “Thank you … thank you very much.”

Comments

Fabulous Florida Keys Cuisine Steals Spotlight in ‘Man v. Food Nation’

Carol Shaughnessy | July 2011

If you’re craving a Florida Keys food fix but can’t make it down to the island chain right away, savor some “virtual dining” with the Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food Nation.” Show host Adam Richman samples signature Keys dishes from three favorite local restaurants in a taped episode that debuted July 6 and reruns nine times through July 18.

At the Key Largo Conch House, the show stages the Conch Republic Fritter Contest to determine who can eat the most conch fritters in 15 minutes. Below, watch Adam coach an engaging — and unexpected — underdog contestant in how to chow down on the classic Keys appetizer.

Other eateries spotlighted include the Hogfish Bar & Grill on Stock Island, where Adam enjoys the “Killer Hogfish” sandwich of locally caught fish in a casual waterfront atmosphere. FYI, the Hogfish is a must-visit spot for its great seafood (especially world-class smoked fish dip), friendly crowd of regular customers, and wonderful old-Keys vibe.

And what would a food show be without dessert? Musician and Florida resident Vanilla Ice joins Adam at Key West’s Blue Heaven to taste the historic spot’s towering meringue-topped Key lime pie (see below). He also explains why the Keys are home to the best Key lime pie anywhere.

Scheduled episode airtimes and dates (all Eastern/Pacific time) are 11 a.m. Saturday, July 9; 9 p.m. Sunday, July 10; 12 a.m. Monday, July 11; 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 13; 12:30 a.m. Thursday, July 14; 11:30 a.m. Saturday, July 16; 9:30 p.m. Sunday, July 17; and 12:30 a.m. Monday, July 18.

Be warned, however: watching is guaranteed to whet your appetite for your own food-focused Keys exploration.

Luckily, the Key Largo Food & Wine Festival is coming up July 29 through Aug. 7, Florida lobster season begins Aug. 6 and Key West Lobsterfest is set for Aug. 12-14. So make reservations now — and get ready to savor the flavors of the Florida Keys.

Comments

Fly Like “James Bond” — Only in the Florida Keys

Andy Newman | June 2011

Visitors to the Florida Keys can now pretend to be — and actually fly like — “James Bond” with a new watersport providing levitation-like flight. The Keys are the first place in the United States to offer the amazing experience to travelers.

Jetpack Adventures is based in Key West at the Galleon Resort & Marina. A similar experience is to be offered by Sundance Watersports at Hawk’s Cay Resort & Marina near Marathon.

Participants strap on a flight pack that looks like the one actor Sean Connery wore in “Thunderball.” A 30-foot hose tethers the apparatus to a tiny boat with a pump that uses seawater as propellant. Flight controls allow adventurers to take off, make soft turns, hover and land. To watch a more comprehensive video of the experience, click here.

Of course, flyers who want to conclude their astonishing experience like Bond did (see the classic “Thunderball” clip below) will need to provide their own expensive sports car and sexy companion.

Comments

‘Big Man’ Clarence Clemons Left Us with a Love for the Keys

Andy Newman | June 2011

(Editor’s Note: This week’s Keys Voices, honoring the late Clarence Clemons, was written by Larry Kahn, editor of the “Florida Keys Keynoter.”)

"Big Man" Clarence Clemons, shown here onstage in the Florida Keys, was an unparalleled musician who loved the island chain. (Photo courtesy of Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series)

"Big Man" Clarence Clemons, shown here onstage in the Florida Keys, was an unparalleled musician who loved the island chain. (Photo courtesy of Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series)

Saxophone player extraordinaire Clarence Clemons, 69, for nearly 40 years Bruce Springsteen’s No. 2 man in the E Street Band, was well known in the Keys for playing gigs at various bars, sitting in with whatever bands were playing.

They include the Schooner Wharf in Key West; the Brass Monkey Lounge, Castaway, Dockside Lounge and the Hurricane Grille in Marathon; and Woody’s, the Lorelei and Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada.

Clemons, who died June 18, was also a staple fixture at a group of Florida Keys fishing tournaments that raise money for cystic fibrosis treatment and research.

“He always showed up with his sax and played, even though I never was presumptuous that he would play,” said Gary Ellis, founder of the Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series.

Ellis said that even though it wasn’t widely known, Clemons had an affinity for sportfishing.

“He was totally taken by fishing,” Ellis said. “He was all about Keys fishing … for tarpon and bonefish.”

Shown here releasing a catch, Clemons found pure joy in fishing Keys waters.

Shown here releasing a bonefish, Clemons found great enjoyment in fishing Keys waters. (Photo courtesy of Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series)

In the Keys, Clemons’ special place was in Marathon. His Stirrup Key home overlooks Florida Bay.

Clemons’ 2009 autobiography, “Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tales,” has a chapter called “Marathon Key.” In it, he writes following back surgery:

Most of my time lately has been spent in Florida healing. It’s a slow process but I’m doing well. I feel strong every day and look forward to dancing across the stage again on the next tour. As I write this, I’m sitting on my porch looking out at the bay toward the horizon where the ocean meets the sky.

The book also has a chapter called “Looking Back from Islamorada.” That recounts his chance meeting with singer Jimmy Buffett, who was signing books at an Islamorada bookstore, likely Hooked on Books.

Clemons went into the bookstore and saw a bunch of Parrot Heads {as Buffett fans are called}.

Clemons jams with the band at a favorite Keys watering hole. (Photo courtesy of Larry Kahn)

Clarence plays the Brass Monkey in Marathon in May 2010 at the Save the Monkey party. (Photo by Ryan McCarthy, "Florida Keys Keynoter")

I walked up to the head of the line and waited for Jimmy to notice me. It’s very hard not to notice me. Especially in a tiny Florida bookstore a few feet off the highway.

“You’ll have to get in line with everybody else, sir,” said Jimmy when he finally looked up.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“I don’t think so either,” said Jimmy, smiling. “Big Man! Look everybody, it’s Clarence Clemons.”

The folks in line smiled. Two big stars for the price of one in a very unlikely setting. Well, one big star and me. They applauded.

(Editor’s Note: Andy Newman contributed to this piece. An earlier version of it appeared in the Wednesday, June 22, edition of the “Florida Keys Keynoter.”)

Comments

The Vanishing Boot: a Wacky Return to Key West

Carol Shaughnessy | June 2011

One of my friends is moving from Marathon to the Lower Keys. Her days are filled with plumbers, pool cleaners, and absent cable installers. Her speech is disjointed; her eyes glitter feverishly.

Is this the face of a boot thief? (Photo by Joanne Denning)

Is this the face of a boot thief? (Photo by Joanne Denning)

I recognize her symptoms from the time, years ago, when I moved home to Key West with my then-boyfriend Gerry after 18 months in Nashville. In fact, I still can’t look at a moving van without twitching uncontrollably.

It all began with Clyde.

Nashville, Sept. 29. We hire a mover despite his peculiar nickname (Clyde the Magic Mover), and he asks how many boxes we have. Gerry and I are not fooled. We have moved before. We do what any other experienced householders would do. We lie.

Nashville, Sept. 30. Clyde the Magic Mover and his partner, Ezell (E´-zell), arrive. Both are in their mid-50s and so strong they have enough energy to joke as they lift our 300-pound couch into their moving van, a vehicle seemingly big enough to hold Sloppy Joe’s Bar.

When all our belongings are safely stowed, we hop in our car and follow the van south.

Exuberant blossoms add a lush beauty to Key West homes ... like our beloved cottage.

Exuberant blossoms add a lush beauty to Key West homes ... like our beloved cottage.

Key West, Oct. 1. Arriving at our new cottage during an island rain shower, we realize our attractive tropical yard is filled with tropical mud. Unfortunately, we must cross it to get the furniture in the back door.

Undaunted, we do what Keys residents have done for generations — we improvise. We lay a large board from the moving van over the mud. Clyde and Ezell speedily unload our household goods and disappear. With their board.

Key West, Oct. 2. While I wander the Historic Seaport, glorying in being back on my island, Gerry stays home to unpack. Unfortunately, another tropical shower turns our backyard into a mud puddle again. Carrying boxes in from the car, he removes his favorite cowboy boots and leaves them outside the back door so he won’t track mud inside.

Shortly afterward, he spots a floppy-eared puppy racing past the kitchen window with something in its mouth. At first he thinks the object is a dirty rag — but then realizes it’s one of his boots! Frantically, he gives chase but can’t catch the culprit.

After returning, I quickly headed down to the Historic Seaport.

After returning, I quickly headed down to the Historic Seaport.

When I get home, Gerry is pacing the kitchen (barefooted) muttering to himself. The remaining boot sits on the counter.

Gerry does not handle this kind of thing well. Indignantly he relates the boot-snatching episode. I collapse into a chair, laughing uncontrollably.

Later, as we dine on Key West pink shrimp at the Hogfish Bar, Gerry says,  “I’ve heard that animals do only what they need for survival. So why did that dog need my boot? He can’t wear it!”

We fantasize briefly about a local dog pack indulging in boot worship on Dog Beach beside Louie’s Backyard. I try to finish eating my shrimp, but can’t stop laughing.

Key West, Oct. 3. Gerry starts the day in his flip-flops. He’s not amused when I hum “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”

The missing boot reappeared behind the Southernmost Point marker, delineating the southernmost spot of land in the continental U.S. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

The missing boot reappeared behind the Southernmost Point marker, delineating the southernmost spot of land in the continental U.S. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Outside, savoring Key West’s tangy salt air, I begin chatting with two kids trying to crack a coconut on the sidewalk. Gerry unobtrusively searches the area for a boot.

Finally one of the kids says, “Mister, are you looking for something?”

Gerry relates the whole sorry tale.

The older kid grabs Gerry’s sleeve and urges him down Whitehead Street. There, behind the Southernmost Point monument, the boy indicates a boot. It’s muddy, bedraggled, and appears to have a few bite marks.

Gerry snatches it up with a glad cry.

Key West, Oct. 4. I bike over to Fausto’s Food Palace for groceries. On the way back, I encounter a puppy that looks suspiciously like the boot thief Gerry described. He’s carrying something in his mouth … but nevertheless, he manages to give me a wide canine grin.

Comments

Google

couk