Quest for Key West

When I was a teenager, I discovered Ernest Hemingway. His stories were definitely riveting, but I was drawn to the actual way he wrote. That man never wasted a word or included a useless word in anything he wrote. His sentences were pure, simple, and straight to the point. At the time, and sometimes even now, I felt he was the greatest writer I ever read.

True to form, I researched everything there was to know about Hemingway. I won’t bore you with the details, but there were parts of his life I found fascinating. When I moved to Florida, which I covered in my previous blog post, I made it a point to get to Key West somehow and see the Hemingway House and the famous Hemingway cats. These cats all hung around the house and were distinguished by their paws which had six toes. They’re known as polydactyl cats or Hemingway cats. I just wanted to see them.

I took a week off from work, borrowed my friend’s car, and made my way to Key West. It was a beautiful trip through the Everglades and I almost made it to Miami, but the car broke down. I was under the hood trying to figure it out when a car rolled up and parked in front of me. Four guys got out and I could tell by the look of them, they weren’t stopping to help me. I was right.

BAD GUY: Car trouble?

ME: Yeah.

BAD GUY: Too bad. Why don’t you give me your wallet and empty your pockets.

I did as he asked (I really didn’t have a choice) and he took all the money I had. Then he leafed through my wallet and pulled out a credit card I had borrowed from my friend’s dad. He looked at it for a moment, then looked at me for a moment, then put it back into the wallet.

BAD GUY: You’re going to need this for the tow truck.

ME: Tow truck?

BAD GUY: Yeah, we’ll call one for you when we get to town. Have a nice day.

They were probably the nicest bad guys I ever met. True to their word, a tow truck rolled up about a half-hour later. They fixed the car (loose cable) and I drove back home. There was no sense in driving to Key West at that point. I only had the credit card in case of an emergency, not for vacation money.

A few years later, I was on leave from the military and made my way down to Florida again. I was determined to try to get to Key West and this time I would take a boat. A very small sailboat. I packed enough food and water for a week and set sail. It didn’t go so well.

I had learned to sail as a boy scout in a small lake in Wisconsin. The Gulf of Mexico was a little larger and a little wilder. The winds worked against me and five days later, I sailed right back into the harbor I set out from. All I had to show from my trip was a deeply sunburned back, a stubble of a beard, and some sun-bleached hair. I failed again.

Many years later, my youngest son made it to Key West. He said he thought of me when he toured the Hemingway House and saw the cats. He brought me back a souvenir drawing of Ernest Hemingway and told me I would like Key West. He insisted I try again one day. Maybe I will. Third time might just be the charm.

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