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If it sounds too good to be true ...

October 03, 2008|By VICKIE LAYTON, Hagerstown

Ah, Florida! Palm trees, warm breezes, white beaches and those big puffy clouds. These things seemed so appealing on a cold February day in 1997.

Our 20th wedding anniversary was coming up and because we honeymooned in Florida, we thought that a return trip would be nice. We had never been to the Keys and the commercials convinced us that if we went that far south, we would be among the beautiful and exciting people walking on a private beach, playing with friendly dolphins and watching the sunset from a sailboat as we sipped exotic drinks.

Armed with brochures and maps and no reservations, we headed south. After two days of leisurely driving, we arrived in a little town called Lantana, Fla. It was after dark, and we tried several motels until we were lucky enough to get the last available room. The pleasant man told us they had been doing "a little remodeling." This didn't prepare us for the gaping hole in the ceiling above our bed, or for the small lizards running up and down the walls. But, we were tired, and we were getting close to our destination.

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The next afternoon we arrived in Key West's Oldtown. Imagine trying to fit a bushel of apples into a peck basket. Key West was teaming with wild, sweaty people. They spilled out of bars and stores onto the sidewalks, and from the sidewalks into the streets. They walked, ran, bicycled and Rollerbladed. They drove motorcycles, scooters and cars - lots of them - on narrow little streets with nowhere to park. Amidst horns blaring and brakes screeching, I got out of our car and went in search of somewhere to stay while my husband, Merrill, (whose teeth were clenched so tightly it looked like his jaw was broken), drove around the block.

The old inns were lovely with their gingerbread trim, comfortable looking wicker furniture on big front porches and lazily spinning ceiling fans. So welcoming, so homey, so occupied. I was informed that we had arrived in Key West during a very busy time. It was spring break and biker week.

Stumbling back out to the sidewalk, I waited for Merrill to pick me up. He informed me that during his fourth trip around town he discovered a hotel with a vacancy sign. For an outrageous rate, we could have a room and share the hotel with several hundred college students. Perhaps, the clerk suggested, we would prefer their hotel across the street, which didn't accept students.

Wild-eyed, hot and exhausted, we snatched it up. It was a very small room with a nice picture window that looked straight out to a wall. But, it was clean and the air conditioner worked. Not well enough to drown out the sounds of the hundred or so bikers who were residing there, but at least we were cool.

Key West is actually a large coral reef, so there are no natural beaches there. We enjoyed the privilege of a small private beach at our hotel, which was some white sand spread over concrete. We discovered on our first visit that it was a "clothing optional" beach. We went to college in the 1970s and thought that we'd seen just about everything. We were wrong. We saw some things that no one should have to see. Merrill pointed out one woman who appeared to be wearing a bathing suit made of metal. On a second look, it was apparent that her nude body was glittering with a variety of hardware and an intricate little network of chains.

After several days in Key West, we headed for the West Palm Beach area to see our friend Linda in Lake Worth. We visited with her for several pleasant days except for a situation involving a bloodmobile at an Orioles game in Fort Lauderdale. An overly friendly young man promised us front row box seats to the game in exchange for a pint of blood. Merrill had never given blood before and it was an extremely hot, sunny day. Linda and I advised him against it, but he wanted to do a good deed, plus get us nice seats.

Forty-five minutes later, the blood had been donated without a problem, and we proudly clutched our orange ticket vouchers as the national anthem began. The person at the gate said that the tickets were for regular bleacher seats, not box seats. When we located the young bloodsucker, he feigned shock and protested that he would never have promised such a thing. Realizing that further argument was useless, we decided to just buy three box seats. We were informed that there were only two left.

We ended up with three nice stadium seats and enjoyed the game. The bloodsucker walked by several times and we had to restrain Linda from throwing something at him. I just pulled back my lips and snarled at him. The Orioles had the good grace to win, so the game was not a complete disaster. Plus, Merrill has been a faithful blood donor ever since.

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