My Sophomore year in College, I finally had enough with all the tests and the family stress, and decided I would make it for myself in Miami. To my surprise, life takes planning and diligence to accomplish Big Things, and flying to a Big City in Florida proved entirely different than Backpacking in India.
Miami was a Phantasm of a City in the Summer Heat. The doors were all closed, and the only people taking any interest in a young guy alone were not the types that a young guy alone ever wants to deal with.
After walking about 7 miles, looking for a youth hostel, I finally found a decent hotel for about $50, painted brightly and attended by a pretty Latina desk clerk. I wished I had stayed there longer, because it was one of the nicest places I found.
The library was nearby, and I looked around in there. Plenty of interesting characters, and a many locals who were too busy to stop for more than a moment. Outside, the street was in a morning bustle, but I wasn’t brave enough to stop anyone to ask for recommendations.
I ended up walking through Spanish town, seeing a world as brightly painted as it was poor, and finally found my way onto a bus. After a few stops, I made it over a few bridges, and onto the beach. Because of the layout, the beachfront is a few miles out from the main city.
Finally making to the surf by evening, I lied down in the sand of a deserted beach, and counted the stars overhead. The City’s glow cast a kind of shadow on the pale sand, but it was soon morning, and a huge Zamboni was approaching, sifting sand and trash.
After taking one more day, to enjoy the Surf, I found my way to the deserted mall outlets, by 6pm. There were a few shops with some food, but mostly everything else was closed. I wandered if there was a way to get back to the City, but the bus wasn’t running or at least I had no way of finding the stop.
Ending up on a short bridge back to the mainland, I wandered back, finding myself in a suburb with no sense of direction. I ended up walking all night, until I found a row of upper end hotels. When morning finally came, I waited around for somebody to give me directions, and found my way back to the hotel.
Giving up on Miami, I took a bus south, making arrangements to stay in Key Largo. When I arrived in the keys, the mangrove trees looked uninviting, but there was plenty of sand, and lots of space. There wasn’t much of a beach, and nothing but a bar and a long stretch of road.
Arriving at Key Largo I soon met my host, a College aged girl, Laney and her Mother. After a couple of nights on their couch they threw a big party, invited everybody over had hand-rolled sushi, and cake. Her Mom went out and let us throw a party, some more of her friends showed up and we played beer pong until 1 am. The girl I liked seemed to ignore though, and the night was over fast, and I woke up embarrassed laying next to her brother in my underwear. Eager to help clean up the mess, we picked up all the plates and trash, but I felt like I was becoming a nuisance.
The next day, we decided to meet up with Laney’s friend Michelle and her Brother. He was an Air force cadet and seemed to know all the perks of the Tropical life. We met them at a Huge pool of a Luxury Hotel, and they shared a drink while I floated at the other end of the pool, too nervous to say anything else about my life. They invited me to come with them to Miami to stay at another beach house, but I declined.
Finally not wanting to overstay my welcome, I left for Key West. Walking as far as his feet would take him, I found my way by bus to Big Pine Key. Finally sitting down in the late afternoon, on the hot sand I listened to the waves, and tried to cool off in the surf. There was a soft rhythm just over the next dune.
It was a group doing Reiki, trying to help the Ocean Heal from the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. There were two older ladies, and a surfer in his 20’s or 30’s who knew everything about life in the keys.
I really wanted to find a place to rent , hoping I could land a job as a waiter or a bus, but the surfer told me it wasn’t very hopeful down there. The Reiki lady too told me I could stay with her for a night or two. She had her own yacht, and a big house in Big Pine key. I learned that she had children, but her husband had passed away and she lived alone.
The four of us ate dinner at her home, and we helped clear the table and talked for a little while. I felt a small pang of regret for walking in on old memories, and we called it a night before long. I slept in the boat cabin, and was rocked to sleep by the gentle tide in the waterway.
I left Big Pine the next day, taking a bus to Marathon. there, the only sight was a broken bridge, a few Mexican Families, and some couples. Not really feeling like a vacation yet, I went to the top to watch the boats sail past the inlet. The ledge was sandy, and the water looked deep enough for a whale.
Looking down one more time for passing sailboats, I jumped off, feeling the microgravity as the water rushed toward me. The water was deeper than I expected, and as I swam to the surface I felt a current pulling me one way. I tried swimming against it but gave up and let it sweep me out past the shoal, where I could swim to shore.
Finally arriving in Key West by bus, everything was really colorful, and there were more people than anybody would guess from being in either Miami, or any of the other Keys, which all looked more like Natural Reserves. It was a paradise but at the same time, I was still too stubborn to pay for Hotels, but a local showed me a house being built, and I stayed in the half finished living room.
The bars were all full with tourists, and gays, and the locals were mostly darkly tan, Hispanic, or African-Caribbean. I thought I should check out the beach, but it was filled with trash, and bums rolled their beach cruisers and shopping carts. After a swim, I found my way back to the bar district, which took up most of the island, and a young person showed me to a youth shelter. There I ate a little, a picked up a sci-fi book from their small selection, but I couldn’t identify with any of the other youths there.
Giving up on Key West, I made my way back toward Big Pine, where the generous reiki lady allowed me to stay another night. I checked out the only hippy store on the island, selling energy bars, whole foods, and a few curiosities. I tried a green smoothie, and went out for a snorkel. The diving enthusiasts there made it clear, that without my own anchor, it wasn’t something I could keep up very long.
A couple nights later, working my way up the smaller islands, I finally returned to Miami, and began feeling the salt and sweat dry my skin out. The heat was tremendous, but the trees and the monorail offered a small oasis from the pavement. Staying up another night like this, I steered away from the noise and trouble of the nightclubs, but found myself wandering in circles looking for a place to rest.
Well into the next day after taking the outer loop of the public transit, I found myself lost again in the suburbs. Near the stop was a small neighborhood completely eclipsed by the Highway high overhead. I found my way across a major roadway to a grocery, but I couldn’t believe how many people there were commuting. It was a multitude compared the actual number of people outside in downtown Miami.
Getting lost once more, walking about 2 miles up a deserted strip, and then walking back where I started, getting lunch a knockoff Japanese restaurant, and finally finding a bus, the day was turning into a disappointment. The bus was going back into the city, so I got off at the next stop, and started walking until I found a true kind of Oasis.
Cut out from the brush, off behind a grocery, was a couch sitting in front of a elaborate painting of Abe Lincoln. It turned out to be a skate park of sorts, and before I could take a nap, 4 or 5 skateboarders showed up and started doing kickflips. It was a little awkward, and somehow to this day I feel like skateboarders are more akin to animals because of their stoic silence.
I borrowed a board and tried doing a trick, but I don’t skate so the other guys had some inside joke , and finally left without saying another word to me. In confession, I don’t know anything about the private lives of skaters but I guess they probably went home to watch TV. I went the store, grabbed a couple drinks and some directions.
The only thing left to do was head up the coast a little way. It was already the 20th, but my return flight wasn’t scheduled until August. Finding the train, I bought a ticket for West Palm Beach. On boarding, I saw how busy the terminal was, but it was mostly locals, and many looked quite poor. A dark Caribbean man was selling sent tickets, and I joked with him.
Looking out the window, it seemed like a different world. I daydreamed about living in one of the low lying bungalows, and seeing the water every day. We stopped at dusk, and I mistook the stop for mine, but once the train was off, the only thing to be found was a huge abandoned Cafeteria, and a Chinese restaurant and ate a tasteless meal with white rice and raw broccoli.