My friend Ross arrived from Scotland on Thursday 2 January. I greeted him with a bottle of bubbly, the odd frozen margarita and some food by the firepit. The following day Ross was tired from the journey so after I’d returned from a funeral we hung out in the backyard and after several beers we drifted into a bourbon whisky tasting session. Ross joined me for the Saturday Vigil Mass and then we returned for a light meal of whatever was in the fridge. While I did the usual heavy schedule of Sunday Masses Ross lingered a while before heading for Orlando for a bit of shopping and to collect members of his family who would spend the night in Miami before heading for Key West . I had expressed an interest in joining them as I had never been to KW and having found suitable accommodation for only $45 a night I was set on a New Year trip.
I spent Monday 6 January preparing for the next day’s travel and tidying up the house prior to the arrival of a long-term lodger, Eamonn. He is a distance runner with an expectation to represent Canada in the Tokyo Olympics. He drove all the way down from Ontario to Tampa in 2 days and arrived at 2am on 7 January. I had fallen asleep in the chair so I was able to give him some brief introduction to the house.
At 7am I was picked up by an uber and taken to Tampa Airport where I boarded the smallest plane I’d ever used to Key West. The views from the window were amazing. A little over an hour later I was in Key West itself.
The accommodation was NYAH (Not Your Average Hotel). The view from the street was unassuming but once through the door and the lobby the place opened up to reveal 3 pools, a hot jacuzzi pool and several blocks holding 35 rooms. This was a travellers delight of a place with each room offering two bunks and one shower/toilet. Yes it was basic but it was all I needed as I had no intention of spending any length of time in the room apart from sleeping. I passed the initial hours on the roof-top deck until my room was ready for occupation. Then having settled I went out for the first of several drinks. Ross and his family had agreed to meet me later on and we met at a very lively bar called the Green Parrot. 5 rounds later we moved on to sample at other bars before returning for a late night drink of a rather special Jack Daniels I had asked Ross to bring with him in his car. The lack of sleep caught up with me and I had to be guided home.
The next day Tuesday I decided to venture to another key Geiger Key. As the guide described it was very quiet and I saw only 3 people all day hut it cost quite a bit in Uber charges. The next day I was determined to return but this time by bus. The cost of the bus journey was just $1 and I was able to hitch a lift the three miles towards the sea.
I can’t recall much of what I did over the time in Key West for reasons that will not need to be stated! But the high point was an unusual one. Ross and I have a mutual friend in Graham Maule who was half of the most creative partnership with John Bell over almost 40 years. A month or so before he had been diagnosed with bone and lung cancer and on 29 december he had died. Ross and I wanted to spend time in prayer for Graham at the same time as the funeral in Glasgow’s St Mary’s Cathedral. The previous evening we had walked to the Catholic Basilica and met a very helpful man there who turned out to be a Catholic priest from New York. He was interested in our reasons for being there and offered to say a prayer for Graham too. So at 6am on Friday 10 January we met outside the catholic Basilica of Mary Star of the Sea and having been sent by email the Order of Service , we sang and spoke the same words used in Glasgow adding our own distant tears to those of the over 400 folk gathered there.
After almost an hour we finished our prayer and walked to the Southernmost Point. It was very windy and the waves wre engulfing the pier but we managed to take a photo. A little further from there we tried to get breakfast but nothing was open. We did bump into a couple who had just got engaged and who asked me to take a photo. Ross had to work during the day so I returned to NYAH for breakfast and chilled by the pool. Later that evening I met up with Ross and the family at the Blue Heaven restaurant. The music was great and as we arrived a table very close to the band became vacant. It was clear from the menu that this was going to be my best meal so I ordered a starter which featured brie mixed with cream and various salad bits. The main course was fish washed down with a fine bottle of Malbec. I had become very impressed y the trumpeter so I went over to thank him. He turned out to be Kenny Fradley of Kid Creole and the Coconuts. After the meal I ventured on with Ross for more drinks. This was probably unwise as I ended up falling off a barstool onto a hard marble floor, damaging my knee caps in the process.
The following day I spent by the pool as my knees were paining me and even at the evening Mass at the Basilica I found I could not kneel! I met up with Ross’s family again and we met at The Hair of the Dog where Kenny Fradley had assembled a wonderful group of young musicians who would play there every Saturday for the foreseeable future. I got chatting with a delightful woman who knew the young lead singer better as an actress which accounted for her command of gesture and facial expression. In the same way as when one visits an art gallery sometimes one has to leave before you’ve completed the tour … the artistry is so great … and we left to tour some other drinking holes and ate a simple meal near the marina where we had bought some fine rum earlier in the week. Ross left with me the ordinary Jack Daniels bottle and I finished this with fellow travellers around the jacuzzi pool back at the hotel.
The following day I spent around the pool until it was time to leave for the airport. In the bar there I bought a few double mojitos and had some amazing conversations. The flight was on time and I arrived back at Tampa having slept most of the flight. Later that evening I ventured out to my local and thence to bed.
On Tuesday 14 January I was back at work. It was not the easiest first day back and was followed by teaching my organ students at Jesuit but that was fine. I slept deeply and was better the next day but my knees were still troubling me. On Thursday 16 Jan I went to see the doc after work and she ordered an xray.
On Friday it was my day off so I completed my UK tax returns and paid the 14 pound payment! Later that evening I stopped at the Cornerstone for a couple of drinks and thence to the Local with Dennis for another 3 drinks. Then I got a message from Collette to join her father at a small gathering there. It was delightful and I was driven back to my home at the end of the evening.
Saturday was another work day and I managed to do more work on the liturgy for the Composers Forum (LCF). They had asked me to produce an Iona Morning Prayer.
The weekend liturgies all went well. this was surprising since I had chosen to use John Bell’s ‘ Broken Body’ as a post-communion song. I had introduced it with a spoken explanation of the pain which Christians must feel when/if they acknowledge that although Christ wanted us all to be one we are in fact a broken body. I only had one person come to me and question this choice but I expect there may be a few more who will harbour such thoughts. this reminds me so much of Walter Brueggemann’s theory that American Christians are a therapeutic society in which the prophet who sows uncomfortable thoughts is not entirely welcome.
Today, Monday, the temperatures have dropped considerably but it was still pleasant in the afternoon having spent the morning ironing a pile of washed clothes that I had tried to ignore for days. In the evening I returned to my local bar, quaffed a few vodka with water and returned to finish the fine bottle of red I had started the previous evening.
I now feel ready for the week ahead and sleep beckons.