Keyhopping: the back and forthing via bridges and an automobile from one small island to another.
I saw three shooting stars the first night we were here.
Years ago, in our Volkswagen Bus, the Lady and I toured around the keys, living out of parking lots and the kindness of friends. We were bronzed, always slightly inebriated, and free to watch every sunrise and set over the water.
Years later, a considerably larger family in tow, we’re back in the most southern reaches of the US doing it all again.
The first shooting star was one of those corner of your eye ones, where you swear by it but can’t be fully certain of what you’d seen.
Strip mall beach toys, sandals and souvenir keychains crowd the spaces around US 1 as it serves as the primary, sometimes only, road from Florida’s mainland all the way to Key West. Palms of all types, hundreds of varieties, fill nearly every available plot of land not dedicated to the tourism industry which keeps the keys economically thriving, if a bit overrun by cash registers. The general speedy, honking, rushed nature of Florida drivers–easily the nation’s worst–toned down a bit as more of us are willing to plot our courses at a slower speed and take in the vast endless ocean and gulf to each side of the bridges. Black vultures circle plentiful above, pelicans patrol the coastal areas, swooping in desperate for another gulp of fish accompanied by a beak-full of salt water.
The hum of US 1 is impossible to avoid, most of the keys are not large enough for one to get far enough away from the easternmost US highway to muffle the sound. Every state park is booked up through May, when every one of us snowbirds will pack it up and head back north. A single star breaks through the night sky, an hour later a few more join in. The hope of a clear night sky rests on the mind of a dad sitting in his camping chair as mom puts the babies to bed. Whether they’ll shine through or not isn’t known yet, but the cool breeze softening the days heat, the faint smell of saltwater, sometimes fishy, permeates, and one can only hope that as twilight gives way to evening the cars will call it a night, and the stars will blossom alight.
Either way, Christmas is all flamingos and tank tops this year, and as far from tradition as that might seem, it’s a welcome change of season for the traveler who’s braved the steep prices and long trek south.
As our second night winds down, the Geminid meteor shower, also on the downswing, shows me three more blazers through the night sky. I watch them skip and fade through the atmosphere, all travelers themselves, likely wondering if where they’re headed is nice this time of year.