Key-ping Paradise in your Honeymoon: Unexpected Gifts from Key West
If your first love is a tropical paradise, or you have a love affair with sunshine, we recommend getting married in Key West.
I first saw Key West up close in early 1993 and fell instantly and completely in love. The warmth seemed to marinate into the personalities of the people who lived there, and I wanted to be one of them. The laid-back, forgiving and accepting Keys style, the soothing salt waters and palm trees whooshing in the breeze offset what even then was a tourist economy, opportunistic, greedy and mean-spirited. Then as now, the character of the people, and the people who were characters, helped make up for price-gouging on everything from properties to Pina Coladas.
So I loved her and lived there for three impoverished but happy years. Since then, I have returned often. I learned about absence making the heart grow fonder … and about unconditional love, as I watched from a distance while her imperfections multiplied: Mortgages that could bankrupt millionaires. Airport cab fares that would buy lunch for two in Georgia. And, of course, commercialism that spread like a runaway virus. Still I loved her, and my yearning and infatuation grew.
But so did my job satisfaction and income in a city 950 miles away. Ah, fate.
I first saw Trina Allen in early October 2003 and fell instantly and completely in love. She was as warm as breezeless blue-skied sunshine in September. She was as lovely as the storied Key West sunsets and as accepting of me and my foibles as Key West had always been. But this time, I fell for a woman, not my beloved but fickle coral rock. Trina was challenged with returning my love. And over and over, she answered the challenge.
Oh, as with my relationship with Key West, there were and are low points. But I grew accustomed to Trina. I learned to trust her, and one day I realized that I couldn’t live without her. If Key West was Christmas to me, Trina was like keeping Christmas in my heart year-round. Near our first anniversary, I asked her to marry me, and on December 18, 2004, it happened. In Key West, of course, on Smathers beach just after sunrise. Our friends Mark and Jan trekked into the post-dawn drizzle and witnessed the nuptials, Mark’s camera snapping like a crazed turtle on crack.
Our wedding ceremony at sunrise that morning in Key West was a romantic dream. Standing with my feet in the cold sand of Smathers Beach I felt only happiness, not the cold drops of rain that fell on my face and wet my hair. I saw only love in my betrothed’s eyes, not the puffy clouds in the sky. I was aware that I was shivering as I slipped the ring on his finger. Was it cold that made me tremble, or the awesome realization that I’d spend this day, and every one after it with his man standing beside me?
I brushed rain from his tuxedo, unconscious that the same layer of water covered me. Tears filled my eyes as he read the vows he’d written to me. Although he said that like Key West, I’d given him sunshine, warm atmosphere and healing water, she had been his beloved long before our love was born. He is still bound to Key West as surely as the first day he touched his foot on her soil and fell in love with the southernmost Key. I realized I would never erase his first love from his memories. Tears ran from my eyes, mixing with the rain.
The bride and groom
End of story, right? Couple married at sunrise rides off into the sunset and lives happily ever after. We’re as sure of that as we are of the sun — and the cost of living — rising in Key West for years to come. But what we experienced in the next week of our honeymoon and before the rest of our life was special. Key West gave us many gifts:
Hospitality and fun
The El Patio Motel has been Harry’s home away from home for many years. Our friends, anticipating our arrival there, surprised us with a gift box and a bottle of good champagne. At the El Patio, there was the comfort of Steve and Sarah Baxter’s friendship and the usual great treatment from the staff.
There were romantic dinners at Louie’s Backyard and Abbondanza and casual lunches at the Hog’s Breath. A trip to Key West wouldn’t be complete without hearing David Goodman play at the Hog. When Trina was cold on that breezy afternoon, David used his discount to get her a half-price Hog sweatshirt and threw in an extra CD when I bought one. And we had the obligatory drink at Margaritaville and elegant breakfasts and early morning quaffs at Blue Heaven.
Michael Vernon from Conch Concierge not only presided over our wedding, but took great photos that we’ll have forever. He offered to take more photos of us a few days afterwards and produced a well-shot CD of photos for us. A man outside the Banana Café — our first choice for breakfast and a champagne toast after the nuptials — came up and congratulated us and chatted a while. And we got warm treatment along with tasteful presents at Besame Mucho and Kindred Spirits. We took the Original Ghost Tour and found it to be a campy, scary and fun time.
As a parting gift, when we were fogged in and unable to fly out of Key West International Airport, the El Patio offered us shelter on short notice. We stayed Christmas Eve and Christmas thanks to the hospitality that we have come to expect in Key West.
Merry Christmas throughout the year, Key West
On the way home from our wedding dinner at Louie’s Backyard, a man approached us. “You look like art,” he said. Trina thought, “Those four words, spoken by a passing stranger, should have filled me with happiness, but they interrupted our kiss. Our masterpiece in progress had been cut short. I pulled away from my husband’s embrace and dreamy love; gone was the passion I had felt but seconds ago when Harry wrapped me in his arms to shelter me from the cool Florida breeze. My irritation at the stranger passed, however, because I realized that his statement was profound.
Love is art. Does it wait to be sculpted by the hands of life, sculpted into a perfect statue that can withstand the elements -- or is it a worthless pile of sand, incomplete and lacking the substance to weather life’s storms? What shape would our love take?”
Whatever happens, whether we remain visitors or move here, Key West has had its part in bringing us closer. May the sun shine steady and that great reef protect you from hurricanes, overgrowth and greed. May you enjoy, always, the benevolence that you showed us on our honeymoon.
Here are some unexpected gifts that Key West can share with you on your journey:
El Patio Motel, www.elpatiomotel.com. Located at 800 Washington Street. Affordable lodging, great retro atmosphere and classic Key West hospitality in a quiet, off-the-beaten path location. 305 296-6531
Michael Vernon of Conch Concierge, www.ConchConcierge.com. Advice and assistance on travel, lodging and all things Key … and did we mention weddings performed with a flair? 305 292-2292.
Original Ghost Tours of Key West, www.hauntedtours.com. A lanternlight stroll down old town Key West lanes and alleyways in search of the supernatural. 305 294-WALK.
David Goodman. Original tunes that can make you laugh, weep and sing and good covers too. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Louie’s Backyard, www.louiesbackyard.com/backyard.htm, 729 Waddell Street. The Boston Globe calls it “one of the most spectacular restaurants in the South.” Great cuisine and oceanside atmosphere. 305 294-1061.
Abbondanza Italian Restaurant, 1208 Simonton Street. Classy Italian restaurant where the food is as good as the portions are large. Great service, too. 305 292-1199.
Hog’s Breath Saloon, www.hogsbreath.com. Great bar food, good people watching, strong drinks and a consistently good music. 305 292-2032.
Ricky’s Blue Heaven. Gobble with the roosters in this funky, fun hideaway. Great cuisine and an ambience all its own. 296-8666.
Kindred Spirits, 1204 Simonton Street. A New Age store with age-old good taste in books, cards, gifts, jewelry and art. 305 296-1515
Besame Mucho, www.besamemucho.net, 315 Petronia Street. An old-world apothecary with out-of-this-world merchandise and gifts. Call toll free: 866BESAME1 (866.237.2631), or 305 294-1928.