Our 25th

by Michael J. Navin

A Short Story



This story is dedicated to my best friend.

With special thanks to Wendell and Judy,

Who were the icing on the cake.

I have always heard that, too much anticipation of an event usually ends with disappointment. That theory, in no way, represents this trip. From the moment this adventure entered our minds, until the night that we wearily dropped our bags on our bedroom floor a year later, things just kept getting better. As with most vacations, we were expecting to encounter at least some minor, unexpected problems (weather, accommodations, finances, etc.), DIDN'T HAPPEN!!!

My story begins around the middle of April 2003, Darlene (a.k.a.: my wife) and I had just celebrated our 24th year together. We decided that, since we had never had a honeymoon and had successfully raised two responsible children, we deserved a vacation. Not one of our regular vacations: keeping sun screen on the kids, visiting relatives, keeping a time schedule. We wanted a vacation for us, no schedule, no worries, just relaxation.

The next decisions were: When? and Where? Our 25th anniversary sounded good; gave us time to plan and scrape together the money. The Where was a little tougher to decide. We considered Alaska (too cold), California (earth quakes), Caribbean Islands (not in US), Ozarks (to close to home). We finally decided on Florida; the weather would be nice, I had never seen the ocean, no need of a passport or strip searches.

The next several weeks were spent going over pamphlets, surging the internet and reading emails from various travel agents. Actually, Darlene did all the arrangements, but I was always there to say, "Yea, that sounds good." Finally, with the help of an agent named Jennifer, we had our plan.

As I said, awe had no troubles from the start; we found a place for Jamie to stay, that we felt comfortable with. Michael Thomas volunteered to feed the animals. Kourtney took Jamie's puppy. With neighbors like Kevin and Diane, the worry of someone to watch our property was never even discussed. Words of encouragement and more offers of help were a common occurrence from friends and relatives.

By July, the arrangements were set, we had paid more than half of the rent on the condo, all that we had to do was wait for March. Lana and Peggy were trying their best to irritate me, by telling everyone that would listen, that they were going to fly down to Florida and show up on the beach. Of course, I acted like it bothered me (didn't want to spoil their fun). I would have had a blast if they did show up, but I'd never tell them that.

Just when I thought the trip could not get any better, Judy called. She wanted to know if we cared, if Wendell and she joined us for a few days. Do We Care!!! If I didn't need to save all of my vacation days for the trip, I would have used a couple to drive to Tennessee just to give that woman a hug. From that day on, the stress in my life was gone, anytime that reality sucked, I went into my "Key West" mode. A few days with just the two of us, to relax and enjoy each others company, a few days of partying with good people, that we see way too seldom, now that's a vacation!!

As March 26th grew nearer, there was little else on our minds. Our bags sat on the bed in the guest room for at least 3-weeks, fully packed and ready to go. Every evening at supper, Darlene would give us the countdown; 22 more days, 15 more days. The phone calls and emails from well wishers were a daily thing.

Kevin and Diane took us out to eat for our anniversary about a week before we were to leave. While we were out, they invited us to eat supper at their house the night before we left, so that we wouldn't have to cook. Being the neighbors and friends that they are, we saw nothing unusual about their invitation. We should have known that something was out of the ordinary when Jamie was insistent that we drive rather than walk and that we not leave too early, but I just thought stat she was being a teenager. When we arrived for supper, we were greeted by not only the Thomas's, but also the Niles family Dustin and Mystie, as well as the Wolfe family; The Party was on!! How many people would plan a party, keep it secret and then drive 120 miles on a weekday evening, just to wish a friend well, not too damn many.

The day had finally arrived, we said our good-byes, dropped the dog off at Kourtney and Michael's, and were on our way. The plane trip was uneventful, other than our impatience waiting for the plane. We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale around 9:30 p.m., grabbed our rental car and headed south. We got a room on the ocean, ordered a pizza, and tried to get some rest, for what we knew would be a big day. We woke to the sound of waves hitting the beach, and after a quick walk along the ocean, which I had never seen; we set out for the Keys.

It took us, all of about 5-minutes, to realize that our decision not to stay in Miami, was a good one. The traffic was terrible, the streets were shoulder to shoulder people, nothing that we farm folks wanted to deal with. As we left Miami behind us, I could actually feel a physical relaxing, the adventure had begun. We were on Hwy. 1, the only road through the Keys. I noticed that Darlene tilted her seat back a couple of notches (and quit telling me how to drive), I cranked the stereo up a notch or two, so that we could hear Jimmy Buffett wail about Margaritaville.

The first thing that we noticed, was a sign for air-boat rides in the Everglades and decided that we would ask Wendell and Judy if they would be up for that, when we picked them up at the Miami airport. Our first stop was the Walmart in Homestead, we loaded up on supplies so that we would not have to waste time and money shopping in Key West for groceries. I could tell that I was really relaxing on vacation, because I actually enjoyed following Darlene around the store and not once did I say, "Let's go!!"

Our next stop was at a sandal shop in Key Largo, the beginning of the Keys. I couldn't spend two weeks in Florida without some decent footwear. I was waited on by two young ladies from Amsterdam. OK, I don't know for sure that they were from Amsterdam, but they were tall, blonde, well built and had a habit of leaning over, with low-cut blouses and friendly smiles, to help me. They were probably from Boston and acting sexy to get me to buy a pair of $85. Sandals, but I'm writing this story and I say they're from Amsterdam.

The scenery on Hw. 1 was awesome, clear blue ocean on both sides, not a cloud in the sky, huge fishing boats, draw bridges, more girls from Amsterdam. We stopped in Islandamarada for lunch; found a marina with a deck overlooking the ocean and ate our first seafood. We decided right then, that we would try to eat at similar places as much as possible, it was so relaxing and scenic, you knew that you were on vacation.

After leaving Marathon, we crossed the 7-mile bridge (the longest of 20+ bridges connecting the Keys). On the South side of the bridge was Baha-Honda State Park, which we had read a lot about. We stopped to check it out and get signed up for snorkeling. Besides the highway bridges, there were also old railroad bridges that were used to fish off of. As we walked out on one of these that was used as an observation deck, I spotted what I thought was a shark, swimming past some people who were fishing off of the shore. It turned out to be a huge stingray, but it was awesome, just the same. Darlene took some pictures for a couple and their rug-rats, then they took our pictures, this became a pretty standard habit.

When arriving in Key West , we first went through what is known as New Town; the Marriott, Blockbuster Video, Burger Kin, etc., then you enter Old Town; century old buildings, the docks, huge tropical trees, people on scooters and bicycles everywhere. We stopped to pick up our key to the condo an meet Jennifer.

She was as great in person as she had sounded on the phone. We were a couple of hours early, so we drove around, to get our bearings, while they finished cleaning our condo. Duvall St. (the main drag) was definitely where the action was. All of the shops had open fronts without screen doors, and we could hear live music coming from numerous bars. Some of the buildings had 2nd floor balconies open to the street, with tables so that people could watch the crowd below while eating or having a Margarita, it reminded me of Bourbon St. in New Orleans.

After moving into our new home, we went to a restaurant recommended by Jennifer, where the tables sat outside under huge palm trees with several loose parrots in them. The waiter, Tommy, suggested their seafood salad, which was to become our favorite meal. Next, we walked down Duvall ST. to Mallory Dock to watch the sunset (ain't we romantic). Mallory Dock was an experience in itself. There were several street actors: jugglers, magicians, sword swallowers, as well as shops, coffee houses, BIG cruise ships and a beautiful sunset, complete with large sailboats gliding across the horizon. Something that caught our attention were the different languages that we heard. Besides the Cuban and Jamaican people that we expected, we noticed people from France, England, Germany and of course, all of those women from Amsterdam (I don't think that Amsterdam has any men, or at least I didn't notice any).

Our first full day was our snorkeling day; we ate a quick lunch on the way to Baha-Honda State Park, and joined 20-30 other excited tourists. We boarded a large pontoon type boat that took us out 7-miles, to the coral reef. It was an unbelievable experience, the water, was crystal clear, the fish were even more colorful than we had imagined. It was 25 ft. deep and you could clearly see every blade of plant life and fish on the bottom.

As I was floating around in a very relaxed state, enjoying the underwater scenery, I spotted a 3 ft. shark cruising along the bottom. At the same time I spotted it, a young boy of about 10 also saw it, and all I could see were air bubbles escaping from his snorkel and a flurry of paddling, as he tried to get back to the boat. I didn't move a muscle, my thoughts were, who is more likely to look like something good to eat, this kid thrashing around, or a 260 lb. unmoving, floating object, sorry kid.

After returning to the boat I asked Darlene if she had seen the shark, she had but had not gotten a picture with her underwater camera, she had been too scared to move. After a tiring day of snorkeling, we again visited Mallory Dock for the sunset party, did a little shopping, ate some seafood and retired to the pool at our condo to rest up.

The next day was reserved for shopping, exploring and a trip to the beach. After breakfast at our favorite eatery, we headed for the water. We snorkeled, watched the wind surfers, and looked for shells, all the while, keeping one eye open for the elusive Amsterdam Women. It was windy and as we watched some people parasailing, being blown around like a kite, I had my doubts of ever getting Darlene to join me on that adventure.

We then spent the afternoon and evening on Duvall St., visiting the shops and docks during the day and hanging out in places like: Hog's Breath Saloon, The Bull, Sloppy Joes', in the evening. They all had live bands every day and only closed for two hours a day (4-6 a.m.) to clean up. Not being the party animals that we once were, we only made it till about midnight, but we had a riot.

The last place we were at was Jimmy buffet's Margaretville Bar, and it was awesome. It, like everywhere else in Key West was, to say the least, laid back. The band that was performing was incredible; the guy on the bass was a show in himself. He would move his hands on the strings so fast that you couldn't see them, then he would switch places with a either the drummer or guitarist and play them equally well. They played, and played hard for 2-hours without stopping. At the end they had all three carried their instruments into the crowd and played right at your table. We were really excited to bring Wendell and Judy to see these guys and then found out that it was their last night to perform, Bummer.

Our next quest was to go deep-sea fishing, without losing our lunch. We arrived on the dock at 7:15 a.m. with a cooler full of drinks and sandwiches, as well as a stomach full of butterflies. We had signed up for a split-charter , which meant that besides the two of us, the captain and the mate, there were also three other people wanting to catch THE BIG ONE. The weather was great, the water was calm and the adrenaline was running. As the boat pulled out of the harbor we encountered, what the mate referred to, as a local attraction. The Yoga Lady!! This woman, attired in an extremely skimpy thong bikini, was laying on her dock, which extended out into the water about 50 ft., doing her morning yoga exercised. Due to the fact that I am trying to keep this a G-rated story, I won't go into details, but to say that she was flexible, would not do her justice. I bet she was from Amsterdam.

We were told that the way a split charter worked, is that each person would be able to fish in one of the two fishing chairs until they hooked a fish. Whethe3er or not they actually caught the fish, did not matter. Somehow, Darlene and I ended up at the bottom of the list. The first three, each caught a fish, I fished for about 10 minutes, without any luck, and Darlene never got to fish at all, before the time was up. We were disappointed, but regardless, we had a great time and decided to inquire on the price for the boat with just us and Wendell and Judy aboard. Come to find out, since we could charter it directly with the owner of the boat, cutting out the cost of the travel agent, we came out cheaper.

Finally the big day arrived, we were up early and ready to go. When Alicia and Michael were just babies, and we lived in Tennessee, we partied with Wendell and Judy on a regular basis, but that was 20+ years ago. This was going to be great!! After grabbing some breakfast at a marina in Key West, we headed north. Their plane was to arrive early afternoon and we didn't want to be late. As with the rest of our vacation, everything worked out perfect, we were only in the airport 15-20 minutes before I saw them walking down the terminal. Another 15 minutes and we were in the car and gone.

Although I had only seen Judy a few times in too many years and Wendell even less, it was like we had never been separated. We hadn't gone 10 miles before the girls were telling us how to drive and we were giving them hell about how much they were talking. I felt more comfortable with them, than with people I see every day.

Our first stop was the alligator farm in the Everglades. We decided to take the walking tour and then the air-boat ride. Taking pictures was a priority, and as I watched Judy manipulate Wendell as to where he was to stand, I understood how she and Darlene had such a close friendship, they are a lot alike. They even told each other where to stand for pictures. It wasn't long before I heard the first fit of laughter from the girls. Darlene had told Judy to stand next to a ceramic alligator that sat on a half-wall, while she took a picture. The laughter had started after they realized that, in the position Judy was standing, it looked like her right breast was in the alligator's mouth. As I observed the girls, red faced with laughter and Wendell rolling his eyes, with a half-hidden smile on his face, I knew this was going to be a vacation to remember.

The first part of the tour, involved a young man that got into a pen with 800 full-grown alligators, with a bucket of dead rats to feed them. They chased him, bit at him, trying to get their nasty meal, and all the while, he was talking to the crowd and answering questions. He either gets a hefty pay check or has a death wish, I would have thrown the rats to them from outside the pen.

We bypassed the snake show in order to get to the air boat ride on time. It held about 20 people in each boat. They passed out cotton balls to use as ear plugs, which was a good thing because they were extremely loud. We started out slowly cruising up a channel that was more mu that water. We spotted several wild alligators and the first thing on my mind was, "What if the boat gets stuck in the mud? I'm not walking back." When we got to the grassy part of the Everglades, the driver opened it up. It felt like we going 100 mph through the grass and not even touching the 3-4 inches of water. About the time I got used to the speed, the driver cranked it into a complete circle without slowing down, mud flew everywhere, but the boat remained intact. It was easy to read the expressions on the face of the passengers, Let's do that again, and we did.

As we returned to Hwy. 1, Darlene and I acted like we had lived there our whole lives. I pointed out the sandal shop, where those flirtatious Amsterdam women had made repeated advances toward me (remember, it's my story). Darlene spotted the marina with the deck overlooking the ocean, that we had first ate at. We showed them huge nests on top of poles that we had thought belonged to eagles, but later found out that they were actually another breed of big-ass bird, that I don't remember the name of. We had two drawbridges to wait on, before we got to the 7-mile bridge. Darlene had spotted a resort, on the first trip down the Keys, which had a pink stone wall with gates that was simply named "Gay Resort". She talked about it all the way from Miami; that she was going to have Wendell and I stand in the driveway while she took our picture. Ha, Ha, Somehow I drove by it without seeing it (right).

After stopping for lunch at a nice little Bar/Restaurant with an open deck, we got back in Key West with just enough time to walk to Mallory Dock to catch the sunset. Wendell and Judy were as anxious to get there, as we were to take them, they dropped their suitcases on the floor, to be put away later, and we were off.

Since the sun was close to setting, we did the short version of a tour of Duvall St., and made it to Mallory Dock in plenty of time to enjoy some of the street acts. We watched an animal act that had some, very well trained dogs and cats, a sword swallower, and last but not least, "The Groovy Guy." This guy was an excellent juggler, tightrope walker, entertainer and queer as a 3-dollar bill. Being the 3rd time I had seen his show, I knew what to avoid. At the beginning of his show, he handed out nine shoe boxes to men in the audience, telling them not to give them to any women. I took Wendell aside, and told him to stay at the back of the crowd with me until the boxes were handed out. I must admit to having thoughts of letting him give Wendell one of the boxes, but thought better of it. Toward the end of his act, which involved juggling, unicycle riding, tightrope walking and a lot of humor, the Groovy Guy asked to see the boxes that he had handed out. At that time all the men that had the boxes raised them above their heads. He then thanked them for volunteering for his nest trick, and threw the boxes in a trunk. The so-called volunteers were made to stand in a line in front of the crowd and help by holing onto a rope that he walked on. That was not a big deal, but then, they were made to hold hands with each other and the Groovy Guy, while doing a little dance. The crowd roared with laughter, the gay dude was smiling ear to ear, and the nine men from the audience were in hell.

After marveling at the size of the cruise ships, visiting a couple stands and watching another act or two, we proceeded back up Duvall St., where things were just starting to get wild. As I said, this is where the action was; even though it was a Wed. night, it seemed like New Years Eve. The streets were crowded with tourist of every type, the open-front bars and restaurants were packed, the shops had constant lines of customers, and everyone you saw had a smile on their face.

We stopped in an establishment called The Bull to rest our feet, and listen to the entertainment. They had a woman that sang everything form Country to old time Rock N Roll, as well as playing games with the audience, like music trivia, ring toss. etc. with T-shirts for prizes. Judy enlisted in the Hula-Hoop contest, and kicked butt. They had two contestants go at a time, the woman would say "Go" and the first to drop their hoop was eliminated. Judy, being Judy, would tell the judge to give the other girl another chance if they didn't do well, and then she would still beat them. At one point, she just kept her hoop going between contestants to give them a chance. As they crowned her, Queen of the Hoop, Wendell, with an ear to ear smile, yelled out "I taught her that."

I awoke the next morning at my usual time (5:30) and was not surprised to smell coffee brewing. I knew, without a second thought, that it was Judy. After coffee by the pool, we decided to take a "dip" so that she could practice using a snorkel, as that was our outing for the day. She caught on quickly, and by the time the two lazy bones were out of bed, she was an accomplished diver.

After getting something in our stomachs and a short sightseeing tour of the Key, we arrived at the marina for our afternoon of snorkeling and Dolphin watching. I was not sure how many people would be onboard this trip, as there were probably 40 people on the large pontoon bat that Darlene and I had first snorkeled from. There were only two other passengers and the Captain, which made it easy to have a visit while enjoying the day. The other tourists were two very pleasant women who had grown up together and were both tuning 50 years old, I don't think that they were from Amsterdam. We were hoping that the Dolphins would be in a playful mood and we would be able to swim with them, but that was not to be. We snorkeled on the Coral Reef and sighted several Dolphins during our adventure.

The evening was spent on Duvall St. and was without a doubt, the most enjoyable evening that I have spent in years. Trying to determine what made this day so special took some thinking. Could it be celebrating 25 years with my best friend in Key West? Spending time with friends, who are seen way too seldom? Maybe it was as simple as the fact that I was on vacation, with no stress or responsibility. Although all of these things added to the pleasure, they were not the core of the evening. I mentally went through the things that I remembered most about that night, to find my answer: Darlene, giggling like a school girl because she tricked Wendell and I into getting our picture taken, while unknowingly, standing under a Gay and Lesbian Welcome Center sign. Wendell and Judy, slow dancing in The Bull; The girls hanging over the side of the balcony at Crabby Dick's; Visiting with Wendell while we stood outside of every shop on Duvall St., waiting for Darlene and Judy to quit laughing long enough to move to the next one; And my favorite memory: seeing Judy stopping in the middle of the busiest street in Key West, laughing so hard at something that I said, but don't even remember, that she had to bend at the waist, with her legs crossed, to keep from wetting her pants, Now that's entertainment!!

I finally figured it out, we were happy. For the evening, all of the tragedies, worries, stress, etc. that reality throws at you were put on the back burner, and we just enjoyed each others company. If I were to choose my favorite time during this perfect vacation, I would definitely say that it was this night. Yes, it was even better than catching sharks, or looking at Amsterdam women.

Being as we were up until 2:00 in the morning (Party Animals), I was not surprised that I slept in till 6:15 but what did surprise me, was that Judy didn't roll her lazy butt out of bed until at least 7:00. We unanimously decided that this would be a good, take it easy day. We stopped to have breakfast with Tommy, and then wandered down Duvall St. to see what was going on, that's when we meet Kevin a.k.a.: Caribbean Jack. This guy was a character. He ran a shop on Duvall St. selling T-shirts, swimwear, etc. I found a shirt that I liked, but could not find one in "fat-boy" size, so I asked Kevin if he had any in stock. He said nom but thought that a buddy of his, down the street did. I was expecting him to use the phone to find out, but instead, he asked Darlene if she could run a cash register, went to the rear of the shop, got on a 10-speed bike, rode it down the aisle and out the front of the door, telling Darlene to watch the shop until he got back. None of us said a word, just looked at each other like "Who the hell is this guy?" After about 20 minutes he came back and announced that he would have one for me by 3:00. Besides being a shop owner, he also did a radio show three days a week from inside his shop, hence the nickname: Caribbean Jack. Another of his many talents was the ability to tell you were to find whatever you wanted in Key West: the best Blues band, the freshest seafood, which shops to avoid. We completed the day with an afternoon of snorkeling, swimming, and viewing the sights of the local beach. Then we ate some supper while listening to a band at Jimmy Buffett's Margaretville Bar, and went to the condo for a relaxing evening at home.

We had an appointment to go deep-sea fishing at 1:00, so we decided that our morning plan was to have no plan. We drove around Key West until we saw something interesting, and then we would stop, take some pictures and continue on. One of these stops was a buoy that marked the southern most point in the continental U.S.A. While waiting in line to take our pictures, we had the pleasure of listening to, what had to have been the most obnoxious person in Key West. He probably weighed in at 85 lbs. soaking wet, and as rude as he was I was surprised that he wasn't wet from someone throwing him in the ocean. He was bossing people around like he owned the buoy when in reality I think that the only thing that he actually owned was his back-pack.

At 12:30 we were on the dock waiting to ship out. Instead of trolling for fish, as Darlene and I had done, we were fishing for shark and tarpon. This type of fishing involved anchoring in one spot, chumming (throwing fish guts in the water), and waiting for the big one. As I had described the Yoga Lady, in some detail, to Wendell, I was disappointed to see that her dock was empty. Bobbie, the first mate, explained that she only performed in the mornings. I made a mental note, to book only morning charters from now on. The day was perfect; sunshine, calm waters, good company. We anchored about a mile offshore, on a reef, with 4-5 other boats. It wasn't long before we had caught some snapper, grouper, grunts and a mackerel, so we were assured of a good supper. I had a hit on one of the smaller poles (30 lb. line), and knew right away that tit was something bigger than the others that we head caught. After Bobbie yelled "Clear the deck," I was thrilled to see a 37 lb., 38" Sharp-nosed shark, thrashing around the deck. All I could think was, "Damn, I caught a shark!!" Within minutes, Judy hooked a large Tarpon. I would guess it at 5-6-feet long. And it had to have jumped 10 feet out of the water, spinning and twisting with all of its might. Unfortunately, while in the air, it wrapped the line around itself and its sharp scales cut the line when it landed in the water. By this time, we ere in awe; we had a shark in the live well, along with our supper, Judy had hooked a fish that acted like something that you would see on TV, and the day was still young.

OK, here comes the Grand Finale. The captain had informed us that we only had about 15 minutes left to fish, when one of the big rods (50 lb. line), went crazy. Bobbie set the hook, helped me put the pole in the bracket on the chair, and said, "Here is the big one you wanted." I still get chills up my back when I think about it. This pole, that was probably 1" in diameter, was bent 90 degrees, and I could not pull it up. As soon as I felt any slack, I would raise it as far as I could, which wasn't far, and then reel as fast as possible on its way down. Through the fog that was in my mind, I heard Bobbie tell the captain to release the anchor because the fish was probably 100+ lbs. and would be able to pull the boat, this was getting intense. After about 20 minutes, I could feel it weakening somewhat, and that was a good thing because my arms felt like rubber. Bobbie realized that it was coming to the surface, and he instructed Darlene, Judy and Wendell to bring their cameras to the edge of the boat. Just when I thought that nothing could be more exciting than this, Bobbie looked up at the captain with an ear to ear grin and said, "It's a hell of a lot bigger than I thought." I thought I was going to pass out, Bigger than 100 lbs.!!! Because of the crystal clear water, Wendell and the girls saw it before I could sneak a peak. It seemed as though they all turned toward me at the same time, with the same expressions on their faces, Total Disbelief. As I looked over the side to see it for myself, Bobbie said something about 300-400 lbs. and 11 ft. I thought that I must have misunderstood him, until I saw it, This was one Big-Ass Fish. I think that I was in shock. Bobbie had hooked it with a gaff, and told me that I could relax a little, not on your life, I had a death grip on that pole. We had discussed earlier that if anything huge was caught, we would release it, but it was not easy to say, "OK, let it go."

When he cut the line, I asked if he was just going to leave the hook in it's mouth. He smiled and asked, "Did you want to try and take it out?" While reeling the rods in and hoisting the anchor, we noticed that from where we were, we could see the beach that we had swam at, that's scary. Needless to say, the topic of conversation that evening was the fishing trip. There might have been some people in Key West that I didn't tell about my shark, but I doubt it. Wendell crowned me "The Hero," while the girls repeatedly said, "I still can't believe it."

As we walked back to the condo, I could sense the unspoken dread in all four of us, we were leaving to take Wendell and Judy to Miami in the morning. Since it was a good 4-hour drive to Miami, we had decided that it would be best to spend the night there, as the departure time was 9:00a.m.

I must retract my earlier statement that this vacation was perfect and just kept getting better; saying good-bye to those two was hard. There was a shuttle from the motel to the airport, and since Darlene and I would not be allowed past the security gate at the airport, they decided to use it. In my mind, I was thinking that the shuttle would make parting a little easier; they would get on the bus and be taken away before emotions got the best of us. What I hadn't accounted on, was a slow-moving driver. After some tearful goodbye hugs, they boarded the bus and then waited for what was probably only five minutes, but seemed like hours, till the driver finally got on and left. Wendell and Judy both looked straight ahead, I could feel Darlene's body quiver as she tried not to sob and I could feel tears dripping off of my chin. Yes, even World Famous Shark Hunters have feelings.

We arrived in Key West that afternoon with nothing planned, so we decided to explore the east side of the Key which we had not been to. We had been told that the beach on that side was not as clean as the one on the south end, so we had never ventured there. It might not have been as clean, I couldn't tell because of all the women from Amsterdam that were blocking my view of the water. This was the public beach, with not only beautiful women, but food vendors, chair rentals and parasailing.

We stopped at the condo to change into our swim suits, ate a quick lunch and headed for the beach. The afternoon was spent watching the parasailers being blown around by a strong wind, knowing that I would never convince Darlene that it was safe. While waiting in line at the Parasail stand to sign myself up to fly, we heard the vendor tell another tourist that they had a 100% safety record and that the wind was supposed to be calm the next day. That is what it took; the minute Darlene said, "OK, I'll try it," I handed the man our credit card and said, "Sign Us up."

By 10:00 a.m., I was sitting in the shade of a palm tree on a lawn chair, a concession stand with kick-ass iced tea 20 ft. behind me and the only thing blocking my view of the Atlantic Ocean was a sea of thong bikinis. Our appointment was at 2:00 so we had plenty of time to relax on the beach, with my binoculars (watching for whales, of course).

Luckily, the wind was calm, as we headed out to sea on another adventure. I must admit to some reluctance, when I noticed that the parasail was connected to the boat with a  inch nylon rope. I didn't mention my concern to Darlene until we were 200 ft. above the water and it was too late to back out. The view was awesome; we could see the whole Key and were able to distinguish different locations: Mallory Dock, Duvall St., our condo, tec. As they wee reeling us back into the boat, they would dip you into the water and then lift you back into the air. What they didn't tell me, was that I should keep my mouth shut when we hit the water, I damn near drowned. As I coughed and sputtered, trying to get some air into my lungs, Darlene laughed hysterically, funny, funny.

As we headed down Duvall St. that evening, we decided to distribute some of the excess food in the refrigerator to the countless street people. We gave two seafood salad sandwiches to a couple of homeless guys who were panhandling, and in return we had to listen to them yell, "We love you, man," for a block. We then woke up an old black dude that slept in the same place on the sidewalk every day, and gave him a hoagie sandwich, Â gal. of milk and a bottle of orange juice. He muttered thanks, as he wrapped both arms around the food, like someone would take it away from him, how pitiful.

As we awoke Wed. morning, we decided that, since our plane left Fri. afternoon, we would leave Key West a day early and stay in Fe. Lauderdale Thursday night. We spent our last day visiting the Ernest Hemingway Museum, which was actually interesting, saying our good-byes to Kevin (Caribbean Jack) and Tommy the waiter, and making one last trip to Mallory Dock, and Duvall St., just in case there might be someone that I hadn't told about my shark. That evening, we reluctantly packed our bags, cleaned the condo, and filled our cooker with the perishable foods that we head left: eggs, bacon, lunch meat, etc., and donated it all to a Women and Children's Shelter.

Thurs. morning we dropped our key off with Jennifer, and headed north. As we drove up Highway 1 for the last time, we reminisced about our adventures. There is the dock where we went deep-sea fishing a(and saw the Yoga Lady); there is the restaurant with the lobster stuffed mushrooms; there is Baha-Honda State Park; there is the Gay Resort, and NO I won't stop; there is the alligator form where Judy had her boob in an alligator's mouth.

Although we were not happy to be leaving, we knew that the memories of this trip would be with us forever. The relaxed, vacation attitude was interrupted when we hit the Miami traffic. It took an hour and a half to get through it, and I was stressed. We finally made it to the north edge of Miami, got off on an exit that took us east to Highway 1A and drove up the cast to the beach at Ft. Lauderdale. My traffic stress was relieved by an afternoon of hanging out on the beach, collecting shell, watching the boats rise and fall in the huge waves and of course there were more Amsterdam women. We found a motel close to the airport, washed the sand out of our pants, walked across the street to an Italian restaurant and then spent a quiet evening watching TV. Something that we hadn't done for 2-weeks.

After sleeping in late, we loaded our bags, and stopped for lunch at a seafood restaurant for one last taste of fresh seafood. They had tables outside on a patio that were built on gliders with a canopy above them, so that you could actually swing back and forth while you ate. That sounds like it would make you dizzy but it was really relaxing, and of course I took pictures of the mechanics of it, in case I want to build one for home. All too soon, the time was upon us, and we headed to the airport.

Arriving in Des Moines, one of the first things that reminded us that vacation was over was the shuttle bus driver. In Florida, where most of the people made their living from tips, they would trip over themselves to carry your bags, not here. The driver did not even get out of his seat, and we carried our own bags onto the bus and across the parking lot to our car.

It was after midnight by the time we dropped our bags on the bedroom floor and collapsed with exhaustion into OUR bed. As tired as I was, sleep would not come to me right away, I still had to go over in my mind, the events of the last two weeks, one more time. Snorkeling with my best friend at Baha-Honda State Park; Arlene and Judy laughing about nothing; Wendell smiling, as his wife showed Key West how to hula-hoop. Looking over the side of the boat at the biggest fish in the world (I'm writing this story). All in all, this was a perfect vacation.

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