The day dawned bright and clear, and we were on our way by 8:30 a.m. We stopped at a gas station to fill up, and Andrew found himself in urgent need of non-sour Bubble Tape (you know, to fortify himself for the journey through the Everglades--Steven had chosen Tic-Tacs), so I ducked in and bought him bubblegum and myself a large coffee. Thus prepared for our trek, we drove and listened to Agatha Christie's Cards on the Table. I stopped the CD periodically to recap the events thus far for the other listeners.
Our first stop was at the Gulf Coast Visitor's Center. I'd expected more, frankly; the federal government seems to have skimped in a big way, and the thinking seemed to be, "Oh, let's toss some alligator skulls and seashells on a table and call it a day." There really wasn't much to see and learn there, unless you counted getting to listen to someone being prepared for the eventuality that they could die from the boating trip they were planning with their son. Phrases like, "Be prepared to be on your own," and "Well, you'd better tell him what to do in case you're injured. He may not listen, of course..."
Anyway, we hurried along to the World's Smallest Post Office in Ochopee, FL. I had a mass of postcards to mail and I also had to buy postcard stamps (a new record: I went through almost 50 postcard stamps in under four days!). The lady behind the counter was friendly, and it was a nice stop.
From there, we drove further into the Everglades to the Shark Valley Visitor Center. We took the Bobcat Boardwalk trail--only a third of a mile--and took a few pictures. Though, really, there wasn't a lot to take pictures of, because it's all grass and trees and brush. There's a song about a man running through the Everglades, but I would never even make it to a walk. I'm pretty sure that if I set out on foot, I'd make it maybe a yard by tiptoeing, trip, fall, and get eaten by something. Or several somethings. In the annals of history, I will go down as the woman who was content to stay at home and drink coffee while the movers and shakers went out and explored.
At any rate, we continued our drive through the Everglades. We saw two turtles and a few birds, but no other wildlife. This was fine by me.
When we emerged into Miami, we realized that the Check Engine light had come on in my car. This was somewhat worrisome, so while we were eating at KFC, Chris found a local Toyota dealership where we could take the car. We had to drive about half an hour to get there, but it was sort of on the way. While we waited for the VERY NICE gentleman to run the diagnostic hoo-hah on the car, we reviewed the things to be thankful for: the car hadn't broken down in the Everglades. It hadn't caught fire or anything, just turned on a nasty light. We were in a city where there was a dealership, and they could look at the car right away. Of all the days on our trip, this was one where we didn't have to be anywhere necessarily--we'd be in the area for the next few days anyway.
Anyway, the man came back and told us that there's something wrong with the catalytic converter. The bad news is that it will be an expensive fix, most likely. The good news is that it can wait until we get home and won't cause our car to catch fire or anything. I was SO RELIEVED. I was also really proud of Chris and the boys for being calm and collected and not getting upset even though it was a troubling situation.
Anyway, after all that bother, it was nice to just get back on the road. We found our way to the route through the keys and took a series of bridges, Agatha Christie's detectives untangling human passions as we drove. At dinnertime, we pulled into the Island Grill, a planned stop: they offered a Mahi Reuben. Chris, of course, ordered this so that he could review it; I settled for a steak and sweet potato fries. The food was good, the service friendly, and eating out on the deck by the water was just...it was nice. It was peaceful and relaxing.
We drove some more and finished our story just as we drove into the Best Western parking lot in Key West. After checking in, we strolled down to the shore, and let me just tell you this: it's difficult to really revel in the feeling of being at the end of the world when you're standing on the edge of a concrete pier while a dishevelled man who looks like Michael Palin in a barely-buttoned shirt keeps trying to get you to let him take your picture so he can ask you for a tip. Key West is crawling with them, though they don't all look like Michael Palin.
Anyway, after wandering and learning how to say, "No, thank you," in a very ladylike and yet repellent voice, I followed the family back and we took a dip in the pool under the stars. The water was incredibly warm, and we stayed for an hour and then came back and sat around writing and looking at pictures and arguing about who got the last cold bottle of water. It's been a long day.