I recently returned from my annual trip to The Florida Keys, where I spent a week engaging in R, R, P and S– rest, research, parasailing and snorkeling. For those contemplating a trip to The Keys, I offer up the following cultural differences between the self-named Conch Republic and everywhere else.
- Many restaurant menus boast “generous portions.” Translation: it is literally impossible to finish a meal, which is served on a small meat platter. Entrees are accompanied by grilled vegetables, fresh rolls and the starch du jour, which can be anything from sweet potato fries to Caribbean rice. After deciding which part of dinner you won’t be able to finish, the server has the nerve to ask, “Did you save room for Key Lime Pie?”
- Don’t be confused when you go to a restaurant and you’re asked if you want a “well drink.” This is not Florida mineral water, but a cocktail, and not the top shelf stuff, either. If you want Johnny Walker, you have to request it. I learned this the hard way when I simply ordered Scotch and the bottle they served it from had a large red “S” on the label.
- All businesses, regardless of size, sell shirts and hats with their name or logo on them, thanks to the folks at Hard Rock Café who pioneered the concept. Let’s see, which would the folks back home like better – a t-shirt from The Lazy Gecko, Snook’s, Dirty Dick’s, The Square Grouper Lounge or the one with K-Mart Key Largo against a palm tree?
- When you come back you can adopt a new philosophy: “You can’t scare me – I drove through Miami!” People in Ohio complain about Michigan drivers, but they don’t pass the road rage test like the residents of Dade County. You’ll quickly figure out that the posted speed limits are merely suggestions.
- Key Lime products abound, encompassing everything from marmalade to shampoo. Many shops will gladly ship a fresh Key Lime Pie anywhere in the country for $49.95 (not including the cost of the pie).
- No trip to The Keys would be complete without a visit to Key West, where Jimmy Buffett has set himself up as a cottage industry. Next to his Margaritaville Saloon is his Margaritaville Souvenir Store on Duval Street, soon to be renamed Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Boulevard. Inside the shop you’ll be regaled with parrot heads on everything from key chains to thong bikinis. You can also view Jimmy Buffett’s literary output, including several mysteries, his autobiography and a series of children’s books. What a talent! I understand he sings a little, too.
- The current political controversy there involves a proposed resolution that would make it illegal for homeowners to rent their houses or condos to tourists. I’m not sure who’s behind this, but I suspect a strong lobby made up of innkeepers, desk clerks, and travel agents.
If you go, take plenty of sunscreen, enjoy the sunsets, and meet me on the beach so we can split some Conch Fritters and Rum Runners.
Tim Smith is the author of numerous books, ranging from romantic adventure to contemporary erotic romance. More info about his work can be found at his website, http://www.timsmithauthor.com/.