Mrs. Φ and I deposited the children with my parents on the way to Key West, FL for our first-ever no-children vacation. It was a long time in coming. I love my daughters, and sometimes I even enjoy their company, but I can’t think of words to describe how utterly and completely relaxing it was to spend several days with each other without having to worry about what destruction they were wrecking, what chores they weren’t doing, whether they were practicing the piano or doing their homeschooling, whether they were eating their dinner, whether they were safe. It’s sobering to think about: if I, the arch-conservative Christian, while on the one hand taking some satisfaction in knowing that I am contributing to the future of civilization in raising the next generation, can nonetheless luxuriate in a few days of freedom from the responsibilities of parenthood, can you imagine the incentives faced by the average go-along American, with so much less invested? It’s amazing we manage even the birthrate we have.
Key West was a lot like what I imagine New Orleans to be: warm, inebriated, and a little sleazy. Not really sleazy; I had read somewhere that the place was something of a gay mecca, and some of the resorts advertise themselves as catering to that particular demographic. But Castro Street it wasn’t. On the other hand, Duvall Street, the main tourist shopping area, is lined with the kind of establishments that elsewhere are heavily regulated. Lots of bars, many advertising lap dances and the like. I even saw one advertising a full-array of sex-related services, including escorts. And then there were the t-shirts.
Old Town, the “historic” district with the 19th Century architecture, was about as crowded as I would want in to be. Supposedly, February is the “off season”, but at least two carrier-sized cruise ships were in port there, which may have had something to do with it.
A noticeable fraction, if not an outright majority, of the proprietors sported foreign accents. It occurred to me to wonder the extent this was authentic, or a marketing strategy. I wonder if we Americans are more tolerant of the high-pressure peddling there in evidence when it comes from people we perceive to be alien. But taking it at face value, there were large numbers of middle-easterners and Europeans hawking the over-priced junk that is the main feature of tourist traps. (Relatively few Latin Americans appeared to be doing this.
I have to hand it to my wife: she was content in my efforts not to spend a huge amount of money on what could have been a very expensive vacation. Rather than stay at a resort in Key West proper, we stayed in Boca Chica at a fraction of the cost. Since our accommodations came with a refrigerator and microwave, we at breakfast and dinner in our rooms, saving on food cost. So I made it up to her by financing all the overpriced
junk souvenirs she wanted.
My wife and I are both certified scuba divers, but we haven’t been diving since having children. There are a log of dive operations in Key West, so the prices aren’t especially high.We took a “refresher” course in the expectation of getting in a couple of reef dives, which are supposed to be quite good in Key West, but the weather didn’t cooperate: scattered thunderstorms one day and high winds the next kept all the dive boats ashore. It also apparently interfered with the shrimping operations, but the shrimpers dropped anchor offshore rather than come into port so as to prevent the crews from coming into town and getting plastered. (Or so our divemaster explained.)
When we were driving down to Key West, the traffic heading north appeared to be pretty heavy. I speculated that these were the service-sector workers heading on a long commute home, perhaps to the mainland, but supposedly amidst the million dollar homes there are a fair number of housing opportunities for poor people. The “quality” of the public schools are highly variable, and not especially impressive. I suspect that most of the owners of those million dollar homes aren’t actually raising their children there.
Travel tip: if you are taking I75 across the Florida Everglades, be sure to get gas in Naples. It’s an 80 mile drive with no rest areas or gas stations.