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Tales from Paradise


I received an invitation from a friend who had just moved to Key West the previous month to visit Cayo Hueso . I jumped at the chance to escape the concrete jungle of the mainland. I had no inclination as to what, where, or any knowledge of even how to get to this tiny island. I packed a few things to stay for a week or longer and set our for paradise. As I landed in the Conch Republic I was captivated by the lush vegetation and colorful homes that lined the quaint streets and lanes. This tropical island is bordered by the most vibrant shade of turquoise waters I had ever seen. I visually consumed every fauna and floral possible.

Once I was unpacked and settled my friend let me borrow his scooter while he was at work. I had never operated such a device, yet I took to it like I had ridden one for years. I zipped along here and there overwhelmed by all of my senses to the point I thought I would burst. However, my state of euphoria diminished as my speed decreased and the motor gasped for fuel. I pulled off to the side of the road and laughed to myself. In all my years of driving I had never once ran out of gas!  As I stood next to the scooter scratching my head I tried to recall where I last passed a gas station. Do I phone Triple A for road side service? With a quick smirk I decided to push the fuel depraved machine around the corner hopefully to the gas station. If my memory was accurate the gas station would be right around the corner on the left.

Suddenly without sound a woman on her bicycle stopped and asked if I was OK. Blushing at my stupidity, I replied that I had ran out of gas and was heading for the gas station right around the corner on the left. Without hesitation she confirmed the gas station was where I remembered. I laughed it off and said, “I may not have gas, but I still have my sense of direction”.  Not missing a beat she asked if I needed money to buy gas. At first I was somewhat offended that she associated my empty fuel tank with empty pockets. In her eyes I then saw a genuine concern of compassion. I stumbled for the appropriate tone and words to match her kind offer. Instead, I smiled and said, “Thank you, I’m all set”.  “All right”,  she replied as she rode off in the same silence by which she arrived.

I pushed the scooter toward the gas station as a pick up truck stopped next to me. I thought I had pushed the scooter into the middle of the road and was waiting for the driver to blast me with every foul word. He instead said, “Hey Bubba do you have a flat?” I wasn’t sure what a Bubba was or who Bubba could be. I replied matter of factly, “No flat, just ran out of gas”  “Oh”, said the driver, “Do you want to throw your scooter in my truck and I’ll drive you to the gas station?”  At this point I believe he thinks I’m his friend Bubba. I looked straight at him to reveal myself and that I’m not Bubba. He wasn’t phased in the least that I’m a stranger and not his friend Bubba. “No thanks, the gas station is just around the corner, right?” I shouted into the air, looking to confim the station’s location. “Sure is Bubba”, he quipped. Then off he went.

After fueling up I was back buzzing around on the scooter. I came to what I now know as Smather’s Beach, parked the scooter, and gazed over the gin colored water. Watching the first of what would become many glorious sunsets it all came together so perfectly. These two brief acts of strangers’ generosity and kindness were given so naturally without any expectations. At that point I not only realized where I wanted to live, but how I wanted to live. The following month I moved to Key West permanently. Over the years I have given my time to total strangers in some form of need without any expectations.  I’m not sure if those moments have been as life altering for them as they had been for me, but I do know I will always give a stranger my time because I now know it’s time well spent.

Prior to moving to Key West I lived in a major city. The name doesn’t matter because the mentality is the same for most major cities. Live with blinders on and just charge on without any consciousness or consideration for anyone else. It’s the simple courtesies of a total stranger that can, or will, make your day. The number of times someone could have eked out an ounce of effort to hold a door, but didn’t, were countless in my former life. I know they saw me. They looked me in the eye, not with compassion or an inclination of concern, but to be sure I knew they would not make an effort. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that look.

As I celebrate my 15-year anniversary living here first, I’m amazed at how quickly times flies. Second, each day confirms I made the right decision to make Key West my adopted home.

– Dan

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