Paradise—No Cheeseburgers

Paradise and I am No...

In one of the earliest book stories, I described one of my main duties here as being like the scene in an old I Love Lucy TV show. Lucy and her best friend and neighbor Ethel Mertz have taken a job working in a candy factory. It is their first day. A tough loud supervisor shows them how to wrap the small chocolates in paper as they come out through a low passage in the wall of the unseen “kitchen” on a conveyor belt. The chocolates slowly roll out on a conveyor. Lucy and Ethel pick them up one at a time and twist paper over them. The initial pace starts out slowly, and they are easily able to keep up. Then the conveyor speeds up a bit, and the chocolates come out more closely spaced. They begin to panic. Looking for a solution, Lucy puts a couple into her mouth. Ethel begins stuffing her mouth. They need to drag candies off the belt so they don’t roll past them—I guess to oblivion? Lucy takes off her tall floppy chef’s hat and sweeps chocolates into that. Then she begins stuffing them down her dress front. The supervisor reappears and sees no problem. All the unwrapped candies are hidden on or in Ethel and Lucy. She turns and shouts through the door where the candies are being manufactured:

“Speed it up!”

Hundreds of chocolates race out from the hidden kitchen. Lucy and Ethel’s first day will clearly be their last.

I’ve thought of putting conveyors into the warehouse for a variety of purposes. So far it hasn’t gotten beyond the hypothetical stage. Instead we mostly use 4 wheel rolling metal carts. Most are three feet long and have 3 shelves on each side. That is 18 linear feet of shelving per cart. I haven’t counted lately, but I’m pretty sure we have over 100 rolling carts of various vintages.

Every week about a lot of “Chuck” carts are created. The 5 book sorting stations put very old books and unusual books and “stuff” on these carts. Only a couple other people here have a good grasp of which old books are just “old” and have no inherent value versus old books that may be collectible and have value. Even they forward a lot of books (and stuff) to my attention. As more and more books come here, I’m beginning to fell like Lucy and Ethel. I can’t keep up!

It is 8 am. Monday, January 13th. I’m waiting in Reagan airport to board an American Airlines flight to Key West, Florida.

Why Reagan? It is a hard to get to from Frederick, Maryland. But it is a direct flight from here, and the “miles” to pay for the trip were very low. I have a phobia about connecting flights. Years ago on a family trip to Europe, Icelandic Air lost two family members’ bags. They didn’t seem to care at all, and as we all drove around Germany, we had to buy various necessities—like clothes. The bags finally caught up about a week later. A lot of stuff was missing. There was never any reimbursement for the lost items, the replacements that had to be bought or all the vacation time and trouble that was spent trying to track down the errant luggage. I don’t even remember there being an apology.

Why Key West? I have never been there before. I drove to Tampa/St Pete for the annual FABA Rare Book Show for almost 20 consecutive years. I’ve flown to Orlando an bunch for Disney and Universal. I probably won’t do that again unless I have more kids.

I was in Florida with my mom when JFK was assassinated. I was just a tiny kid. My mom had taken me to Alabama to see where she grew up and to meet her family. She was orphaned as a toddler. Her parents died in the influenza epidemic that killed millions worldwide. She was raised on charity at an Odd Fellows Home. I vaguely remember a couple half brothers and a woman named “Glaze” who had eventually taken her in. I recall vividly going to a barbershop. The barber said:

“I have never cut a Yankee’s hair before!”

I was born and grew up in Buffalo, New York. Dad was born in Texas. I was the only one of four boys born north of the Mason Dixon Line. I was indeed a Yankee child of southern parents.

We took a long bus trip from Birmingham to Florida to stay with a childhood friend of hers. We were in her friend’s big old Chevy driving somewhere when the news came over the radio. The image of that dashboard radio is seared into my memory. Everyone (who still lives) remembers where they were on November 22, 1963.

Why am I going alone? No one wants to travel with me. Must be a personality defect.

Why am I traveling? Why am I traveling so much?

I am running.

I don’t know if I’m running away from something or running to something.

Perhaps I am just “running” while I can. There will be plenty of time to stay home when I can’t run as much, or I don’t want to.

Eventually, there will be no running. No nothin’. Eternal rest…

Plus I’ve gotten to enjoy being in places I’ve never been to before. I like hotels and crisp white sheets. I like restaurants and exotic bars. I’m pretty shy, so I don’t engage strangers much. I just walk and observe and bask in being “someplace else.”

Plus Key West certainly has plenty of literary associations.

Actually, you can find literary associations just about anywhere in the world.

The most remote place I’ve bought a book was just outside the Iron Age fortress of Dun Aengus on the far west of the Aran Islands. These islands are off the west coast of Ireland. Looking west from the 300-foot shear cliff which made the seaside of the fort unassailable, all you can see is the Atlantic Ocean. The next land is North America. Canada, I imagine guessing at the latitude.

Near the entrance to the fort, there were tiny austere shops which sold mostly handmade sweaters and other woolens. One old Irish woman had a shelf of used books. I bought a Hammond Innes hardcover. Or was it Nevil Shute? Anyway, I bought a book at the “end of the Celtic world” just to have done it.

Where was I?


And metal carts.

Chuck carts.

I’ve estimated that 99% of old books—we arbitrarily define “old” as pre 1940—have no value to collectors or readers. Only that tiny fraction in a random sampling would appeal to a collector or a reader.

(And what comes into Wonder Book is usually quite “random.”)

The rest are just “old books.”

Still every old book needs to get a look by someone who can make the call that it is worthless.

I usually put off doing the “Chuck” carts until the weekend. On weekends I’m in alone almost always. I can put sports or a podcast on my laptop and sort through the carts uninterrupted. I often get into a zone and can breeze through the 300 or so books on each cart rapidly. I have seen millions of books over the years. I can usually judge a book by its spine. I can usually dismiss most old books as worthless by their bindings. Those I leave on the cart to be rolled back to our Books by the Foot department. There the old books of no value have some value for their appearance. We can clean and polish and sometimes repair them. Then they get sent off to Interior Designers. They get “installed” (i.e. displayed) in commercial or residential locations.

Some books stop my eye, and I need to bend in closer to actually read the spine. Usually those I can quickly dismiss with just a glance at the publisher’s name printed at the foot of the spine. A lot of publishers were exclusively or primarily reprint houses.

If it is a primary or first line publisher, then my eye scans up to the author and title. Most of these can be summarily dismissed as forgotten novelists or poets. Even if they are first editions, no one would ever buy them. Also nearly all non-fiction—religious, biography, history…—titles are also pointless to try to sell online or in the retail stores. Forgotten, obsolete…there is just no audience for most of these.

The same is true of almost all old children’s books. No one reads or collects most of the old series.

Vintage Kids

No one would buy any of these to read or collect, I’m afraid. They are just “eye candy.” Biblio eye candy.

But some old kids books I do pull off. I can tell an NC Wyeth illustrated classic from a dozen feet away. If there’s a vintage Pooh, I will slip it off the cart. I open it to the title page and then turn that page over to the copyright page. If it is a later printing, I will drop it into a box to go to one of the stores for a few dollars. Early Winnie the Pooh books are attractive and evocative.

I’m sure most of you reading this would love to hold one in your hands to read yourself or aloud to someone else.

If it appears to be a first edition, I will send it off to be researched and evaluated. Less than one out of a hundred (500?) Poohs that come in are firsts. Still, each one gets a look.

The books that really slow me down are those with blank spines or whose spine lettering is illegible…or those with no spine at all!

For I MUST pull each of those off the carts and take a look inside.

You never know what is inside a book that you can’t judge by its cover!

On Saturday, January 11th, I was scanning book after book on cart after cart. I was in a hurry. There were a lot of carts to do. Monday was the trip to Florida. It was a get away weekend. I had a lot of business and personal correspondence to tear open make “go away.” I knew there was a 50 plus page bank statement that I would need to scour through. Plus there are 5 or 6 other statements that I need to analyze each month. A good “CEO” wants to know where all the money went every month.

(CEO—I still laugh when I see that associated with my name.)

And I still had 400 or 500 flower bulbs that HAD to be planted that weekend. It may already be too late for some of them. They may never come up in spring. Or they may just stunted green fingers that protrude from the soil and don’t have enough stored energy or a good root system to cast a blossom. For that tardiness, I have been an irresponsible gardener this fall and early winter.

This black book was on a top shelf. Its spine was blank.


It was too tall to be pre 1940 in my opinion. Sometimes later books get put onto Chuck carts by sorters who are inexperienced. Sometimes experienced sorters want me to look at something for their own reasons. It could be an old textbook. A lot of pre 1940 textbooks are tall octavos—taller than the short octavos (about 7 1/2 inches on average) that were the predominant style in the old days.

I slipped it off, and on the front cover was the slightly dulled word “Relativity.”


‘Cool,’ I thought. ‘That’s worth 15 or 20.’

I opened it, and there was a bookplate of a physicist. His books started appearing here in the summer. Most were high level—wave mechanics. An occasional Max Planck or Niels Bohr. Many have been quite interesting. Some have been pretty valuable.

This was Einstein.

I flipped to the title page and then the copyright page.

‘It’s a first. We will need to look that up online and see what others are asking for this book in similar condition.’

We will ignore the amateur sellers who don’t know a first edition from a book club edition. We will also usually ignore the silly, flippant or poor vocabulary booksellers whose descriptions are as vague as “sweet.” Or “loved to pieces.” When (and if) we get good matches, we can decide what kind of dollar value to put on this book. (Oh, our computer will also price the book in Euros, Pounds and Canadian dollars automatically.) Then, if the books merits it, and this one most certainly will, we will have an experienced data entry person list the book for sale on the World Wide Web. This seminal book would almost certainly make the cut for the glass cases in our retail store as well. There it would also be on view—behind glass—for the public that visits us as well as the potentially millions of eyes that scan our online listings.

Why did I flip through the first few pages? We can’t look inside every book to see if there’s something special inside. The odds are increased if the book is by someone noteworthy. But still, we can’t flip through every Faulkner, Hemingway, Zane Grey… the odds against are astronomical.

But I did this time.



And there it was on the blank “half title.”

Relativity Signature

“A Einstein.”


I didn’t scream:


Or dance a solitary jig for my dogs’ amusement.

I’ve seen too many great books. Great autographs. Great owner’s inscriptions. Or great letters or notes or other ephemera left inside books.

Plus, I already have a few Einstein autographs. My nephew brought me a framed photo a few months ago. Below it was a typed letter tipped in with Einstein’s autograph at the foot. He regrets he “cannot accept all the honors offered to him” and refuses the sender’s invitation.

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What would it take after all the years and all the books to get me to spontaneously jump for joy?

I guess Milton or Keats or Dr Johnson autographs would get a “Wow!” out of me.

Or some extremely rare book. EXTREMELY.

Still this is very cool. VERY COOL. A nice bold unsmudged autograph.

Too bad he didn’t write in: “E=MC2” above his name.



Yet another unwanted book from an unwanted collection.

A great book that would have been destroyed if we had not gotten it.

This book was “touched” by 5 or 6 Wonder Book employees before it got to me.

It was acquired at one of the stores or brought to us by a scout.

It was unloaded and palletized.

This particular one was likely stored here for many months til we could get to it (since the guy’s bookplates have been appearing at least that long.) It was likely buried here by subsequent pallets of books coming in after it.

Sometime recently it was moved to a sorting station.

A sorter unboxed it and decided it should come to me.

That cart was pushed around by 1 or 2 or 3 people until I had time to get to it.









And all the other “Chuck” carts.

We are flying over the Gulf of Mexico. The vast sea appears limitless from up here. It appears a bit greenish.

Soon another adventure will begin.

Wednesday afternoon.

My legs are warm with Florida sun. I can feel they are a bit pink.

I’ve been winding down all day.

I fly out late tomorrow morning.

Maryland again. I’ll be back at work.

It’s 5 pm. I’m back at the hotel after books and beer and gardens, stone crabs, some rum and ice cream, bars and restaurants and shops.

Not in that order.

I don’t know if I’ll go back out tonight.

I should.

I sort of promised the abstract artist bartender at the Waldorf Astoria I would come back.

Last night she made me a Negroni and then a lemongrass Gimlet. Or was it wheatgrass? Really! She harvested the grass from a little chunk of sod. It was excellent and refreshing. Certainly unforgettable.

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If you don’t think, KNOW, we are in the renaissance of drink, wine, beer and food… look at any menu from 30-200 years ago. I grew up in a restaurant and beer wasteland. The wine of my youth was not much better.

Compared to then, the choice of ethnicities and new creations and varieties is astonishing. Nearly every little town has a microbrewery. Key West has at least 5 that I wandered past. Plus 3 distilleries. Plus a “winery”?! A Florida winery. Hmmm… I’m not so sure about that.

I finished last night with an Old Fashioned at the classic bar in the grand old Flagler hotel which is now a Waldorf…

I’d gone there Monday night as well, and we had chatted about classic drinks and bar books and books…

Last night she showed me her artwork on her phone. It was very cool. And big. She lives on Saddleback Key and bartends in the evening, so she can create during the day.

She left NYC 30 years ago and never looked back. She goes back from time to time. But now she is in an entirely different place.

That’s become a motif here. Stories told or overheard of how different people have come here and never “gone back.”

It’s not for me though. I may come back and be a tourist again. But the place is just so…two dimensional and sterile. Maybe if I was a full time writer or artist…

Let me rephrase the “sterile.” This little island—a “2 by 4″—2 miles deep and 4 miles wide has thousands of chickens roaming free. EVERYWHERE. Where I’m from, the authorities would go crazy over roaming livestock in outdoor restaurants and poolsides, streets and sidewalks.

Cock a doodle do!!!!

(You hear that everywhere you go and often.)

Key West Chickens

I think it is funny and charming. But part of me says this—one of the most politically correct places on earth—flaunts its double standards much as some of its denizens flaunt their idiosyncrasies.

Dog crap on the sidewalks. Yes, some of that.

Rampant smoking in restaurants and bars. Yes. Many of the famous top bars and hotels I was in had dirty ashtrays on the counters—everywhere. People had lit cigarettes in many venues where fines and police might become involved up north.

Shocking to think I was in the United States. Actually, many call this The Conch Republic.

We have been “civilized” up north. Tamed. I fought it. I’m no smoker, but I get it. I like pets and chickens.

Oh, the “anything goes” doesn’t extend to lizards. A massive slaughter has taken place, and the powers that be have targeted the iguanas. You can still see small ones here and there. Outliers whose doom is impending. They were called an invasive species. The chickens are not?

No political or gender agendas battered me over the head here.

So…what is ok and what is not. Anything goes but certain things… Who decides?

I have no problem with any of it. The chickens. The iguanas. The smoking. I was just surprised by it all.


I am troubled by the over legislation in American life. Someone gets elected, and so many immediately look for something to take away from people. A local official in Maryland is working hard to make the release of balloons from weddings or birthday parties a crime. I get around my county and state quite a lot. I don’t see fallen balloons littering the highways. The skies are not cluttered by floating objects trailing bits of ribbon beneath them. This person has gone so far down the rabbit hole looking for an issue to legislate, it is pathologic. He should spend his time picking up litter downtown or along the roadside. If he spent a day doing that, he would clean up far more messes than all the errant balloons on the ground I’ve seen in my life.

So, should other cities have chickens on the loose?

Why not?

They keep the bugs down. People can harvest their eggs. They add interest and color to the environment…

I’m sure the powers that be in most places would list numerous reasons to ban chickens on the loose.

Key West Florida—Monday January 13th.

We landed about 10 am. It was a very rough trip almost the entire way. I was exhausted and “all shook up.” The little American Airlines plane stopped about 100 yards from the terminal, and all the passengers followed a pair of green painted lines on the tarmac to the vintage building.

Key West Airport

I stopped in the men’s room, and this sign was above a urinal.

Hmmmm… Is this what the town is all about?

Key West Bathroom Sign

I headed for the Hertz counter for my rental car. I had booked the cheapest sedan. When I got to my designated parking spot number, there was a sexy black Cadillac parked there. I thought there was some mistake, but when I pressed the unlock button on the key, the car lit up in welcome.

Key West Caddie

I’d been upgraded! I don’t think I’ve ever driven a Caddie.

I headed out to my budget hotel—a Hampton Inn—but still a Hilton. It was about two minutes from the old school airport. My room wasn’t ready that early, but a nice concierge recommended a hop on hop off tour bus company that stopped at the hotel every 20 minutes or so.

The driver was funny and informative. I stayed on for 5 or 6 stops and then hopped off—never to hop on again. (I found out later that day that the last ride was 4:30. What a waste of money.)

I wandered about a bit getting the way the streets are laid out. Then I headed for the Hemingway House.

Hemingway's Typewriter

There was a short line on the sidewalk, but soon I was in the fenced in yard. The grounds are very lush. A woman at the front door offered a guided tour.

“I’ll meet you in the living room in a few minutes.”

She led a small group of us from room to room telling us anecdotes and history. I saw my first Hemingway cat in the dining room. It was napping on its front paws. I saw right away it was a polydactyl.

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The guide related the story of the Hemingway cats and how the polydactyls were all descended from Snowball—a cat gifted to Hemingway by a ship captain friend.

Snowball Plaque
Snowball Plaque

Snowball: The First Six-Toed Cat

Captain Harold Stanley Dexter was a highly respected shipwreck and salvage caption. He had sailed to Key West from his home in Massachusetts with a white six-toed cat named Snowball. They were both well-regarded on the docks of Key West.

Dexter and Snowball knew Hemingway from the docks. Hemingway was intrigued with the six-toed cat, so Dexter gifted him with a kitten from Snowball’s litter.

The Hemingway boys name the kitten Snow White, and as Hemingway once wrote, “One cat just leads to another.” Hemingway named the subsequent six-toed kittens after his famous friends.

Visit the Cat Cemetery to lean the names of all the cats that have lived on the estate. Yes, many of them are related to the original Snowball.

I’d always thought of Papa as an overly macho guy. Many macho guys are compensating for something, but I gained more and more sympathy for the man. His adventures put him in harm’s way often. In World War One, he was loaded up with a couple hundred pieces of shrapnel when a mortar shell struck an ambulance he was driving. He was 18. His life ended with lots of electroshock therapy in his last year.

She told us he was severely depressed and delusional while in Spain in the early 60s. When he returned to New York, he wouldn’t leave his apartment.

The shocking was prescribed at the famed Mayo Clinic. It made his condition much worse. He became paranoid and thought the FBI was watching him. He went to his home in Idaho, but when his fourth wife, Mary, found him holding a shotgun he was sent back to the Mayo clinic for more shocks.

He was released in late June and arrived home in Ketchum on June 30; he then “quite deliberately” shot himself with his favorite shotgun in the early morning hours of July 2, 1961. He had unlocked the basement storeroom where his guns were kept, gone upstairs to the front entrance foyer, and shot himself with the “double-barreled shotgun that he had used so often it might have been a friend.” Mary called the Sun Valley Hospital, and a doctor quickly arrived at the house, determining that Hemingway “had died of a self-inflicted wound to the head.” Mary was sedated and taken to the hospital, returning home the next day where she cleaned the house and saw to the funeral and travel arrangements. Bernice Kert writes that it “did not seem to her a conscious lie” when she told the press that his death had been accidental. In a press interview five years later, Mary confirmed that he had shot himself.


He was just 61 years old.

The story I’d always heard was he was doomed with cancer and cheated the disease by killing himself by putting his father’s shotgun in his mouth. The teacher that taught me that hinted at all kinds of masculine and phallic connotations there.

The way my tour guide related it, his whole life had been a series of adventures—hunting, exploring, wars and other danger zones. I hadn’t known he was injured so many times. In a plane crash in Africa, the docent said he was trapped, and the craft was on fire. She said he used his head to knock out a window, and that he fractured his skull and “brain fluid was leaking out.” I can’t find out that all of this is true, but it was reported he had been killed in the accident.

Here are some of his many brushes with death:

But this is not all. Not told was the car wreck in Ketchum where his arm was so badly injured it had to be repaired with a kangaroo tendon to replace one of his own.

I hadn’t known the extent to which his body and brain had been battered his whole life.

Perhaps he was just worn physically, mentally and spiritually to the breaking point.

The Key West house is gorgeous. Very “southern.” The rooms are large and airy. Verandas wrap around it on the first and second floors. It is surrounded by lush verdant grounds.

More cats appeared. Most were dozing on furniture or out on the grounds. How many? I saw over a dozen, and I’m sure there were many more. They are all healthy. Most appear to have the extra claws. We were shown the carriage house. The second floor holds his office where he would retreat to write.

Hemingway's Office

There was a cat lounging on the floor near his writing desk.

Outside we were told the anecdote about 2nd wife Pilar who spent a fortune excavating and building a large swimming pool. He ranted to her she had “spent his last penny.” She had a penny embedded in the cement deck at the foot of the pool.

Hemingway's Last Penny

A small trough below a tall olive jug which has water pouring from its top was there for the cats to have moving water. The trough was actually a urinal from the famous Sloppy Joe’s original bar. When his rent was raised by $1 in 1937, Joe Russell said he couldn’t afford it and had friends and patrons help him move everything to his new location just up the street. Hemingway saw the urinal being carried away and told Joe he had used it so often he deserved to have it.

Former Urinal

I, of course, would have been tempted had it still been in use for its original purpose. After all it would have been memorable to say I also went where Papa peed.

(It’s a ‘guy thing,’ I think.)

It was well worth the trip to Key West if only to have my misconceptions, misinformations and prejudices about the great Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning writer altered.

From there, I used my map to get me to Harry Truman’s “Little White House.” It was not far away and using the tourist map, I took a route that looked easy. It took me past the docked enormous cruise ships. Trying to get to the Little White House, I found myself stymied by a vast gated community that permitted no passage. I had to backtrack a long way through the sun and heat in the unshaded waterside park. I circled around the large ‘community’ with its fences and gates and sterile sameness of architecture throughout to get back to “Old Town.”

I passed Mile 0 of Route 1.

I traveled US Rt 1 a lot in Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland when I was in college. I’m sure I’ve been on many other stretches of it along the East Coast as well. This is where it all begins (or ends.)

Mile Zero

I got to the Little White House, and that tour was enlightening. Harry was essentially forced to leave DC for a mental health break.

In November 1946, President Harry S Truman had finished 19 months in office, but was physically exhausted. His doctor, Wallace Graham, ordered a warm vacation. Truman arrived in November 1946. As he was leaving, he promised to return whenever he felt the need for rest. His second vacation came in March 1947. This set the pattern for additional visits every November—December and every February—March. Changing technology allowed the President to communicate with multiple political or world leaders at one time and he could summon staff to Key West for a meeting in three hours flight from Washington. Most importantly, Truman realized that where the President was, the White House was. Documents issued from the Little White House read “The White House, US Naval Station, Key West, Florida.


He fell in love with Key West and ended up spending 175 days—nearly 6 months—of his presidency in Florida. I’d always wondered why he hadn’t run for a second term. I was reminded he served almost a full 4-year term after FDR died. After his surprising and hard fought victory for his own four-year term, (Remember the DEWEY WINS newspaper headline?) he did some amazing and important things. When it came time for re-election, he was worn out. His 22% approval rating near the end of his tenure was also probably a bit discouraging.

The house was very “1940s.” Most of the decor was apparently original. It was reminiscent of old people’s houses I would visit as a small child with my dad when he did house calls and let me tag along. One vast sunny room had a large poker table in the corner. To avoid scandal, the Navy had fashioned a wooden cover for it so its true purpose was not apparent when not in use. The guide said the Harry loved to play. His companions never let him lose but nor would he ever let anyone at the table go bust. He would slip them money under the table if necessary. It was low stakes any way. Harry just liked playing.

A handsome bar adjoined this room. The guide said Truman was a “day drinker” for “medicinal purposes.” He would have a tipple every morning. His brand was Old Granddad.

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At that point Monday, afternoon was aging. I decided to visit the iconic Sloppy Joe’s Bar. It was very touristy on one hand while there was also a contingent of regulars as well. I overheard stories from “locals” of who had died since they had last met. There were so many old and wrinkled people. The natives or Snow Birds (those who come for the winter) were usually very brown and leathery wrinkled. Many of the tourists were white or sunburned red and wrinkled.

There were plenty of other bars and art galleries and restaurants and bike and scooter rental places.

The time came for me to hop on my bus and go back to the hotel and check in, rest and freshen up.

“We stop running at 4:30.”

Well, crap!

I decided I might walk part way back. Near the marker for the “Southernmost Point in the US”, I recalled passing the Waldorf Astoria Resort called Casa Marina.

I consulted my map.

Key West Map

It was about a mile. A nice walk through a pretty little city. At some point, I stepped onto a sidewalk lined with stately palms and Poinciana trees. Soon I had a feeling I was heading toward a dead end. There were no signs saying “No Exit or Private Property”, but somehow I had gotten into a large gated community. The townhouse walling me in were all the same. Is “Paradise” becoming sterile? Much of the charm of the place are the little tin roof shanties that are the predominant style. The way in easy. There was no way out. I was in no mood to backtrack. I saw a car park up ahead. If cars get in, they must get out. They do. Via huge metal gates that open or close with a code. I had no code so when I saw someone leaving I sped up my stroll to follow it out. Some geezer who was pulling in yelled at me repeatedly:

“HEY! Hey you! Use your code! Hey, hey, HEY!”

I ignored him and was just as pissed off as he was. But it was my only way out unless I climbed a fence.

I got to the “Southernmost” monument. Nearby was a Southernmost Resort with a little beach where Tennessee Williams swam every day.

Then I was at the Waldorf. I was nicely dressed and passed through classic old lobby to the beach and pools and cabanas and tiki bar in back. There were a dozen or so chickens—a couple were crowing atop large sun umbrellas.

I checked my phone. 17 minutes til sunset.

I ordered a Goombay Smash at the tiki bar and sipped it while the sun set—magnificently.

Key West Sunset

After the sunset I wanted to see what the indoor bar looked like. What was now the Waldorf had once been a resort conceived by Henry Flagler.

On New Year’s Eve 1920, Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, opened its doors as Key West’s most glamorous destination. Conceived by American railroad tycoon Henry Flagler, the resort was intended to accommodate wealthy customers of Flagler’s Overseas Railroad, which spanned from Key West to the Florida mainland. Three days after the grand opening President Warren G Harding visited.

I love classic hotels.

The bar was tucked away off the lobby. It was dark and cozy with lots of wood paneling. It looked the perfect place to finish my first day.

It was. The bartender was an expert mixologist. We chatted about iconic bars and cocktails. I told her I’d most likely be back the next evening.

I took a cab back and crashed pretty early. I’d started Monday around 4 am after a hard marathon weekend.


I got up pretty early. The sunrise was right outside the hotel and would occur in an hour. I crossed the street and sat on a bench and watched the sun rise from the sea.

When I went back across the street, I looked at my Cadillac and wondered why I rented it.

I decided I should use it for something…

I drove to the part of town I hadn’t visited the day before. I’d seen most of the very touristy part.

I’d been told the Key West Bookstore was worth a visit. It wasn’t open until 10. But there was the Key West graveyard nearby.

The little office had a box of flyers. The flyer had a map of the permanent residents’ “addresses.” I read the numbered directory of the more prominent denizens. The only one that really called to me was Joseph Russell (AKA Sloppy Joe—barkeep and friend of Hemingway.)

There were some other interesting entries. The earliest graves are from the 1840s. It seems from the beginning, the cemetery was very inclusive as to race and religion.

One listing had a husband and wife plot. They died the same day early in the 20th century. They had a “marital dispute.” He shot her and then drank carbolic acid.

Bad day…

Another contained two brothers who died the same day long, long ago as well. They got blown up in a dynamite accident.

Another bad day…

It took some looking, but I finally found Sloppy Joe’s grave.

Sloppy Joe's Grave

It was a very interesting place despite its lack of celebrities. I don’t think I’d ever explored a tropical cemetery closely before.

Some plots had roofs built over them.

Roofed Grave

I’m not sure why. The folks under the slabs no longer need shade or protection from rain…

I went back to the bookstore. It was very cute. Not a lot of antiquarian books, but the owner was very nice. I bought a couple books on Key West ghosts and hauntings.

Dunno why…

“I really should drive this rental car…” I thought over a Margarita in Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. (No, I didn’t get a “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”)

Looking at the map there is only one way to go—East. The Overseas Highway. Route 1. 113 miles of Key hopping.

I was going to keep track of the Keys I crossed, but there were too many. But there’s a list here—with their mile markers:

I got as far as Marathon and ran out of gas—spiritually. I left the highway and drove to Sombrero Beach. Why? I don’t know.

There I turned around and drove back.

I took the hotel shuttle downtown and wandered around. I visited the Mel Fisher Treasure Museum. There I saw millions and millions of dollars of gold and silver artifacts that the man had spent much of his life searching for. He lost a son doing it. His motto for himself, his family and his investors was “Today’s the Day.”

Eventually it was. He discovered the Spanish treasure ship Atocha which was lost in a storm.

I found out the strongest hurricane to ever strike the US mainland also devastated the Keys and killed many. It is called the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane.

Eventually I made my way back to the Waldorf for another Goombay Smash and the sunset.

Then inside for more conversation with the bartender about my surprising cocktail that required “lawn mowing.”


I had passed the Botanical Gardens on the next Key east the day before. That was my first stop. I’m a plant nut. It was ok.

The bartender had said I should visit the library. A colleague had recommended that as well before I left. I wandered in, and it was just a typical public library until I turned a corner and saw a sign for The Florida Collection.

I walked in and introduced myself. That is a big stretch for me. But the sole occupant behind the glass wall was clearly a book person. I told him the name of my colleague who had recommended the visit. His eyes lit up. He led me over to a big steel door. He operated the combination lock, and the walk-in vault was opened. It was more like a large room. I saw archival box after archival box with my fellow ABAA bookseller’s name printed on it. Apparently, he has added to their Key West collection substantially over the years. The elderly librarian next stepped over a few aisles and lifted a small box.

“You’ll like this.”

He lifted the lid and a sheaf of yellowed typescript appeared. It was the final Galley of To Have and Have Not. Probably the most seminal book about the Keys and Cuba. There are some handwritten notes by Hemingway with a circled “P” on the front which is editor Maxwell Perkins’ seal of approval.

The movie, of course, features Bogart and Bacall. Slim (Bacall) surprises Bogie with a kiss. She tells him: “You don’t have to say a thing. Maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” Exeunt.

Yeah…seeing that was tingle worthy.

The rest of my last day I wandered about bar hopping mostly. The Green Parrot stands out.

The Green Parrot

No Snivelling Since 1890.

I didn’t make it back to the Waldorf. I regret that.

I got too tired and buzzed and sad.

Thursday I flew home…


It is payroll.

The state of Maryland made a mandatory raise of the minimum wage to $11 this week. It had been $10.10. The high school kids who work here are happy.

But a lot of people already making $11 are mad because now they are only making the “Minimum Wage.”

The people making over $11 are not happy because they’re not making much more than the minimum wage.

Guess what? I’m not happy either. The mandatory pay rate will go up 50% over the next 5 years. That’s gonna cause some problems here!

And some tough decisions.

I’m a bookseller.

I’m very happy to pay a lot of people here pretty well for “merit.”

This biweekly pay period we paid for over 6000 hours of work.

I don’t want to do the government’s work anymore.

I just want to rescue books.

It’s days like this I hate my job.

» $11.00 on Jan. 1, 2020
» $11.75 on Jan. 1, 2021
» $12.50 on Jan. 1, 2022
» $13.25 on Jan. 1, 2023
» $14.00 on Jan. 1, 2024
» $15.00 on Jan. 1, 2025

Montgomery County
» $13.00 on Jul. 1, 2019
» $14.00 on Jul. 1, 2020
» $15.00 on Jul. 1, 2021

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