Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"The World Famous Conch Train"

One of the things about Key West that jumped out at me was the availability of jobs there. If you need a job, there is employment in Key West.

Everywhere you looked; people were working.

Tourist traps just generate jobs --- hotels, restaurants, museums, souvenirs, boat rentals, tours, and yes, maintenance.

The t-shirt industry alone takes a round the clock crew, seven days a week, fifty two weeks of the year employees. Laura and I went into one shop that had all of these “sketchy” but employed twenty somethings clapping their hands and yelling every twenty seconds: “Five Dollars. All Five Dollars.” We were amazed that you can hire people to to do that, and then that they would do that -- without a cattle prod and medication. We ducked out pretty quickly since the music pulsated in that place -- like a disco with an agenda. We only went in there because it was pouring down rain. :)

With Key West getting so much harsh weather -- salt, sea, sand, heat, wind, rain, and hurricanes, there is something to paint, repair, and clean all the time.

Activity everywhere.

I didn’t’ say the jobs were dream jobs; I just said they were everywhere.

As we walking down Front Street, a guy was ten feet up in the air hanging on a light pole and scrubbing the traffic light with a toothbrush.

Joe: That’s got to be the worst job on the island.
Me: Uh, I dunno. The guy at the hotel who rescues the beach chairs from the wake is a pretty bad job.
Laura: How about the girl who stands in front of Cowboy Bob’s and says, “Tequila -- two for the price of one. Come on in,”then hands out a ticket to everyone who passes by?
David: I feel for the guy who has to monitor the topless beach. Phew, that’s a job.

On Monday, we took "The World Famous Conch Train" tour of Key West. [Thank you, Wingate for suggesting it.]

Tommy was our tour guide, and he was informative as well as funny. Not as funny as I am, mind you, but he had some good lines -- most of them were “conch” puns, but he had such a good attitude for a man who drives tourists on a kiddie train for ninety minutes at a time through the weirdness of Key West.

Me: I would hate this job. The same stories. The same jokes. Day after day. Week after week. Season after season.
Joe, Laura, and David look at me.
Me: Okay, it does sound like teaching without the train.
Joe, Laura, and David look at me.
Me: My jokes changed. Really. If I had a train to drive, I might have stayed in teaching another year.
Joe, Laura, and David look at me.
Me: I always wanted to drive the train at Disney World.


On our 10 o’clock tour, there were eight of us -- an older couple, a couple our age, and then David and me and Laura and Joe.

As hokey as the train was, and it was cheesy with its horn, little seats, and bright yellow sides and orange and blue awning, the tour was very informative. It covered many aspects of Key West including history, architecture, famous landmarks, as well as anecdotes of other incidents on the island.

Each of us was handed what my mom called “funeral home” fans, and Tommy drove us up and down the streets of Key West. At one point, he pulled the horn chain and scared the pants off a supervisor talking to his road crew.

We all waved our fans in front of our faces even though the rousing 10 miles hour speed of the World Famous Conch Train gave us a gentle breeze, but remember, it is hot in that town.

The information was a lot to take in --- and since he lead into his particulars with lines like “Up there on your left with the white picket fence, you will see Key West’s oldest structure… blah, blah, blah…" and then give quirky little facts... as well as hard history ... it was a combination Key West infomercial and useless information.

The biggest problem was keeping up with which side of the road and which white picket fence. The place was full of white picket fences.

David and I laughed out loud at one point when we passed two local teenagers throwing a Frisbee in the street; the train cut between their game, and one of the teenagers bellowed, “Look at the happy campers on the morning train.”

It was funny because I am sure we looked grumpy and staid and touristy and silly to two “cool “ teenagers. It was a kiddie train.

*toot, toot*

When we finished the World Famous Conch Train, we ate some lunch and then headed back to our rooms. This was my favorite afternoon and evening.

That afternoon, I put my feet up on the balcony of our hotel room and dug into my novel and New Yorkers. Laura did the same as she was reading Angela's Ashes.

BTW: What a contrast -- Angela's Ashes and Key West. Yowser.

In fact, I could see the back of her head from my balcony. Occasionally, I would yell at her to look at a boat or a jet skier, and we watched a fellow fish from the dock and catch pompano (we think that's what he's catching) over and over and over….

The topless beach was to the left and the right of the balcony -- when David wasn’t’ watching the boats, he was …. walking around and checking out all the buoys. :)

That night, we headed over to Mallory Square to see the famous Key West sunset. The square was packed with all kinds of people -- I mean, one of every flavor so to speak…. And there was all kinds of things to see before God’s contribution -- glass ornaments, jugglers, fire-eating, old sats sitting in the doorways, and a man who had trained his dog to take one-dollar bills from the hands of tourists while he drunkenly sang Lynard Skynard songs.

[David, Joe, and I at Mallory Square.]

The sunset was majestic…. Absolutely fabulous -- I took more than forty pictures as it sank into the Gulf of Mexico.

I felt insignificant. Small. Blessed. For a moment, I forgot the nutburgers of Key West -- this was pretty power.
Real pretty.. like you can't believe it pretty.



  1. What a sunset! I would have liked the yellow train, but I think David should have stolen the frisbee.

  2. Mallory Square couldn't have been too crowded - you are sitting down - I never got to do that! Did you guys go to the Hemingway House? I always wanted one of those Hemingway Cats with all the toes! Your beautiful pic reminds me that I haven't seen that site in too long!

  3. Did you ever get any good food? The restaurant at the Pier House used to be good. Did you like or hate Key West? It doesn't strike me as your kind of place but.....