Every year in late January my Activity Partner With Privileges and I trade in our matching snow shovels for kayak paddles and drive 1,300 hellish miles to reach heaven in the Florida Keys—the only foreign country for which you do not need a passport. What you do need is a willingness to just be.
One day, our so-called necessities fill a 3-bedroom house to bursting. The next, everything we need occupies a couple of frayed duffels.
With big sky, glittering turquoise sea, tropical birds and fish (and the occasional deadline) vying for my attention, my pulse slows from Energizer Bunny on speed to barely breathing.
Within 24 hours of arrival, I’ve forgotten my underwear, Google password, and the names of my grandchildren.
Against this backdrop my mind is free to wander. For hours I sit on my ass and feign reading while staring at the water. I create a toilet paper band on my boating hat in recognition of Winn Dixie’s “Crazy Hat Friday” and get $5 off my groceries.
I rise at dawn, overdose on fresh air, and collapse by 9 P.M. In the Keys I make small talk with stringy-haired, gold-toothed locals who may be ax murderers and off me before dawn. As long as the sun is shining, the beer is cold and I can go around with dirty feet, I don’t give a sh** about much.
In the Keys, I pursue one of my favorite pastimes—eavesdropping—without remorse or guilt.
The Keys provide fertile ground for my secret pleasure. The other morning, between mouthfuls of huevos rancheros at my favorite Cuban luncheonette, I was privy to a heavy intellectual discussion between a vacationing Danish couple and four uber-seniors from Minny-No-Place, Minnesota, who have been wintering in a Keys “resort” (read, trailer park) for more than 20 years. I know this because I pay attention.
The Danes had been in Florida for a week, spoke fluent English, and asked intelligent questions. But then the Americans stepped up to the plate. When Wife #1 asked the Danes what language they spoke in Denmark, I choked on my café con leche. Husband #1 inquired if Danish children learn English. “From the time they start school,” came the reply.
Having exhausted the language thread, Wife #1 switched topics to hair. She complained that she couldn’t control hers. As if any other kind of hair exists in a sub-tropical climate with 89 percent humidity. (And who gives a good goddamn anyway?) Wife #2 weighed in. “Why don’t you cut it?”Zzzzzz. Perhaps a discussion on the economy or incontinence would follow.
So spellbound was I that I put down the article I’d been reading on canal dredging in the 28-page News Barometer. I imagined the Danes arriving home, bursting to tell their friends what they’d learned from the Yanks they’d encountered on their travels.
I considered spraying habanero pepper sauce on the Ugly Americans. Then I caught myself and remembered where I was. Taking a breath and exhaling deeply, I reminded myself that in the Keys little—other than a poorly made Margarita, botched tattoo, or the bends—matters.