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Sunday, February 24, 2019

Oh, the People You Meet in Key West

There's nothing quite like escaping to the South during the throes of winter.

The throes of winter: it begins on December 26th and lasts until that last, sneaky snowstorm in April or May. Visits to daughter in college town and soccer tournaments have prevented us from baring our pasty white legs in a warmer climate for quite some time. This year, however, we decided to revisit Key West and celebrate some special anniversaries with our in-laws.

I will try not to bore you with details like how good it felt to unthaw our bones in the 80 degree weather. Or how a fresh pina colada is like drinking a nectar from the gods. Or how watching the sun set over the Florida Straits while dining on fresh fish cleanses the soul of all worry. Ok, so I'll bore you a little.

I've always known that I have a problem with giving my full and undivided attention to people and things. (Doug will hastily agree.) It's not because I'm bored of the company, usually. It's because my mind is clicking on a thousand different issues. I believe the universe decided to play a little game  with me in Key West – to help me with this affliction of paying attention.

The first incident took place in a French Cafe where Doug, Judy, Mike and I were having breakfast. I ordered an omelette and asked what type of toast I could have. (I prefer to have my wait staff list off the options rather than just ask for the bread I want.) The waiter, in his French accent said, "vite, veet, bagel, or grrrrrriah." I really didn't want white, wheat, or a bagel. But I had no idea what a grrrrriah was. I politely asked him to repeat. With his French sigh, he said, "vite, veet, bagel, or grrrrriah." Since grrrrriah didn't sound anything close to sourdough (which is what I wanted), I went with wheat. After he left, I asked anyone if they knew what a grrrriah was. Mike informed me he was saying "croissant." Mike obviously learned to speak condescending French on one of their many vacations.

As the sun dropped into the sea.
The second incident occurred on a pier where we decided to drink, eat, and, watch the sunset over the water. We all had a hankering for seafood, so asked our pretty little waitress about the "Catch of the Day." In her sweet, hispanic accent she replied, "It's called the fish." I looked at Mike, who was so good at translating. He said, "It's fish." Yeah. That's what I thought she said. Judy said, "What fish though?" We asked again. Again, she said, "It's called the fish." After a Dumb and Dumber flashback of the "soup de jour" sounding delicious scene, it hit us. She was saying, "It's cod, the fish." The sweet waitress apologized for her accent as we apologized for our inability to hear very well after several drinks. And the fish of the day ended up being quite delicious.

The third incident happened on the night before our departure. We had stumbled across a hole in the wall off Duvall Street. It was carrying an enticing aroma of fire-oven pizza. We approached a young Italian hostess who said something to me which I interpreted to be "follow me." I was, after all, becoming quite good at translation. So, I waved my arm to our group and we followed her in. She turned back, surprised to see me right behind her. "Not yet," she said with a benevolent smile – as if she knew she was dealing with someone who would need extra help. She led us back to the entry to wait. I saw her begin to take names for tables, so I asked if she needed my name. She smiled again and said, "No. I will remember you." Eventually we were seated. And after a close call of ordering something that sounded like bruschetta, but wasn't, we all had spectacular pizza. As we waddled out, with my head in a cloud of mozzarella cheese and sangria, I found myself once again running into our original hostess. She gave me that "you again" look before politely excusing herself and getting on to her busy tasks.
The smallest bar in the world, they say.

Pay attention, Stef.

We noticed throughout vacation that Mike and Judy have a way of running into very interesting people. Broadcasters. Football players. Actors. Old men who know all the best places to eat in Key West. Maybe we would meet some of these people too, if we would just pay attention.

I'll end with one final story. During our tour of the Hemmingway house, my sister-in-law noticed one of the six-toed cats which are believed to be good luck. She quickly petted it, as did I. Then Judy prudently suggested we buy a lottery ticket. So we did. We both agreed that a few more trips to Key West wouldn't hurt anyone.

I asked Hemmingway for some writerly luck.
What I love best about vacation is the sudden opening of time – time to observe and time to reflect. You'd think with all of this weather, we'd have plenty of time for that here in the North. But we prefer to keep ourselves busy – probably to keep warm and to earn a paycheck in case we don't win the lottery.

Just a few hours ago, Judy texted me texted me the winning lottery numbers with the message, "6-toed cat did not help me win." But I wonder. Maybe the cat knew that money doesn't bring you luck. Paying attention sure does though. She also mentioned they met a writer for National Geographic and saw Forrest Whitaker in Miami. Meeting interesting people. Having enriching experiences. That's the best kind of luck.