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October 12, 2011

“Damn it, Nate – we’re gonna need another fitting!”

It was 6:00 on the island, and we were so close  to finishing. We had been working long hours on this project – I’d promised the Pheebs running water by the end of the day and it looked as if we weren’t going to make it.  Andy Strunk’s hardware store – a block from the house – had closed already, which meant a two mile schlep to the big box, do-it-yourself store in New Town.


When we’d bought the house on The Rock, I’d made a mental note – avoid traveling east of White Street except for plane trips and emergencies.  The ambiance of Key West is directly linked to the elegant albeit ramshackle architecture of Old Town; the stucco boxes and garish signage of chain stores found in New Town were both visually and psychologically jarring.  We’d chosen this place – this place – as it was the end of the road and thereby substantially different than all others we’d passed.  One does not pass through Key West; one makes a conscious decision to come here, as there is nothing beyond which is either easy or convenient.  A destination, yes.  Drive to the end of the road – MM 0 – turn right – we’re seven blocks up on the left.  Simplest directions home we’ve had in a quarter century.

To say we like the place is an understatement; from Day One it was the geographical equivalent of a favorite pair of shorts.  You slide them on and you know they’re the ones – you know them by the cut of the waist, the fit on your hips, the very feel of fabric.  You can tell they’re the ones in the pitch black darkness of predawn; such was the feel of the place as we alighted a little over four years ago.  By dint of hard work and a generous portion of good luck, we were able to buy a piece of the rock – 1800 square feet of paradise, to be precise.

No, sir – that’s not the square footage of the house, that’s the lot.

The house is less than half that; in Okie terms, so small you gotta step outside to change your mind.  We paid ten times the cost of our first house, quite nearly to the penny.  The first house – a fortune, this one a pittance. Odd how the lens of experience affects valuation.  Both needed work, so it was off to the store – a journey made no easier by the passage of years.

I swung a leg over the ‘Foon – a candy apple red 1971 Schwinn Typhoon complete with generator light, springer fork and chrome saddlebag baskets. Original and unrestored save for the springer and fresh set of wide whites, I’d bought it off the original Maumee, OH owner solely for the baskets and light; the functional and presentable bike underneath was a bonus.  A utility bike was essential on the Island – a way to lug stuff home from stores mere blocks away.  When we’d gone looking for a house, we’d quickly discovered we could get from A to B on a bike faster than by car, as we’d repeatedly beat the real estate agent to the next house with a pair of beat-up bikes we’d brought to the island with intentions of giving them away.  We did – but that’s another story.  A good bike, on the other hand, was gold – hell, I’d lugged a complete barbecue home the other day on the sturdy back of the almighty ‘Foon.

So – off to the land of chainstores and carbon-copy dreams.

The ‘Foon was flat singing; I’d recently given it a tune-up which allowed me to pedal at top speed rattle and squeak-free…no-handed.

Left on Olivia

Right on Eisenhower

Left onto the Truman bike path and;

To the big box store I went.

It was a typical summer day; we’d received a larger-than average share of our daily ration of tropical torrent.  Strangest damned thing, tropical rain – one minute the sky is clear, the next minute, God’s flushed His urinal.  Water drops straight from the holy P-trap onto the island; no wind, no drama – just a dump of unnaturally warm water which lasts about as long as a Sloan Flushmaster takes to complete a cycle.  We’d had about three flushes – like I said, more than usual.



Humid doesn’t quite capture the state of the island after a tropical rain.  I suppose it’s closest to being in your mother’s womb when you’re itty bitty – warm all ‘round with room to roam.  You’re covered with liquid, but it’s okay, ‘cause you’re neither hot nor cold…you’re not aware of any other state – you just are.

Such was my condition on my quest to complete a proletarian plumbing job – I just was.  About halfway there, I became aware of a potential hazard politely referred to on highway signs as ‘Water over Road’.


Keep in mind that Key West is, on the average, about four feet above sea level.  A decent storm surge inundates two-thirds of the island (like Wilma in ’05) and the combination of a good flush, er…rainfall and an aging storm sewer system equals water in places it ain’t oughta be.

I’d passed a couple of small inland seas on North Roosevelt when it dawned on me that an errant (or self-absorbed) motorist could unleash a tropical tsunami in my general direction with the appropriate timing.  This, after all, was the simplest and most logical conclusion for the dunes of detritus piled on the path at 45 degree angles to the terminus of each roadside inland sea.

I’d vowed to keep my eyes open and give these hazards a wide berth when I found myself approaching of the mother-of-all seated squarely at the foot of the Salt Run Channel Bridge.  This sucker covered over half the five-lane-wide North Roosevelt, and was big enough to warrant its own tidal charts.  About the time I’d realized it held about as much water as Loch Ness, a silver Ford F-150 intent on mayhem hit it square at highway speed.

A wall of water, looking all the world like the product of a weather anomaly registering on the Saffir-Simpson scale, bounded stories high and straight at me with malicious intent.

But wait…

It wasn’t just water.

An explanation:

You see, Key West is home to a good 25,000 souls, an equal amount of feral dogs and cats, 1.2 million pretentious roosters (or so it seems to the hung-over brain, I’m told) and countless pigeons, doves, iguanas, geckos, scorpions, snakes, cockroaches and damned nasty biting bugs all of whom (save for the sober, non-residentially challenged of the first 25,000) regularly head out to the middle of the street to take a crap.  Said crap is then emulsified in the daily deluge, finding the low point on the island to reside – the foot of the Salt Run Channel Bridge.

I tell you now – God as my witness – I could not see through the grayblack wall of water and crap heading my way at 55 miles an hour. I headed for the far side of the bike path, but escape was blocked by a curb and a dense thicket of mangroves on the edge of Garrison Bight.  Besides – had I been both crazy and determined enough to make it through, Garrison Bight isn’t a far step up the sanitary scale from the septic wall about to engulf me.

I battened every hatch on my body, ducked my head and took the deluge like a man.  My shirt and shorts transformed from khaki to gray in an instant; whatever sanitary measures I’d taken were undone a thousand times over as the collective emulsified excrement of the island washed over me.

“Don’tcha just love that?”

A lady, the summation of her worldly possessions perched in an askew handlebar basket attached to a wobbly castaway rental bike, uttered those words as my vision cleared.  Seems she had the experience (and foresight) to time the partings of the effluent sea so as to avoid what just washed over me.  Who’s the smart one?  The erstwhile plumber or the vagrant?  The island serves up these turnabouts on a regular basis, I’m told.

“I’m okay.”  I smiled weakly at the lady as I passed her by.

Thought about what I’d just said – words uttered to save face…

I was okay.  More than okay, actually – I felt GREAT!

Maybe gecko droppings contain trace amounts of the chemical hippies licked off of frogs, but moments after being whacked by a wall of waste, I felt like I could take on the world!  Parked the bike, walked into the store, flipflops squeaking, dripping a trail of gray water – and felt like I owned the place.

The island had covered me with its leavings – and I had not strayed the course.  A cruise ship turista would never have ventured that far afield, much less continued their quest.  The island was on me; I was on the island.  The island was of me; I was of the island.

I’ve not felt the same since – God’s honest truth.  I’ve taken dozens of showers since, yet I’ve lost tolerance for air conditioning; going into a store is like walking into a refrigerator.  Leaving the island is like a root canal – it hurts.  

They say it takes seven years to become part of the Island, at which time you’re granted Freshwater Conch status.

While this may be true, there’s another way:

An old bike and a wall of island shit.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2011 4:50 am

    I loved it. Keep them coming.

  2. dangerboyandpixie permalink*
    October 12, 2011 5:43 am


    It’s a little harder to write stories, but I do have a few here and there. Some good – others…not so much. We will see.

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