Monday, February 1, 2010

This Week: Key West, Florida

Awesome Adventures

Gwen and I slept in on Saturday. We were in our hotel room and from the window we could see it was still a little cloudy from an early morning rainstorm, but the heat of the sun would soon burn off the clouds and it would be another gorgeous Key West day. What to do, what to do? Yesterday afternoon we soaked up the sun on the beach and spent the evening shopping and dining. Then at night we hit the clubs and danced until 4 this morning, just a typical day in the Keys. Gwen wanted to do something on the water, like rent jet skis or boating or sailing. Without a clue as to what I was looking for, I grabbed the phone book and flipped through the yellow pages. There was a category called “Water Sports.” The very first ad said “Awesome Adventures – Parasailing.” Gwen thought that sounded good so I called the number.

“Awesome Adventures! This is Mark.”
“Hi, Mark. We want to go parasailing today.”
“Well, talk to me.”
“How much?”
“Forty dollars per hour.”
“That’s sounds great. Where do we go?”
“Do you know where the Marriott Hotel is?”
“Yeah, we drove by it yesterday.”
“Well, they have a pier that they let us pick people up at. Just walk around the hotel to the beach and out on the pier. You need to be there at noon. Are there two of you?”
“Awesome. You sound like a lotta a fun.”
I rolled my eyes at Gwen. This was going to be interesting…

As instructed we parked our car at the Marriott Hotel. Then we walked around the hotel to the beach and pier. The pier had a sign that said it was for hotel guests only, but no one stopped us as we made our way to the end. We’d barely been there a minute when a sea green and white motorboat with chrome trim pulled up beside the dock.

“Hey ladies!” The sandy blonde driver said. “Did you just call me?” We said yes.

“Awesome! Get in” he said. “I’m Mark and this is my helper Sam. It’s his first day on the job.” Sam waved at us from the back of the boat. We asked Sam how he liked his new job. He didn’t know because we were his first customers ever.

“I have to warn you, it’s been extremely windy lately and we can’t sail in those conditions. If you’ll bear with us, we’ll drive you around to see if the wind will cooperate.” We sat down in the front of the boat while Mark took off. We went all the way down to the tip of Key West where the Atlantic meets the Gulf of Mexico. Mark whipped the boat around and we headed back watching all the people gathering along Smathers Beach. After this test of the waters and wind, Mark decided it was OK to parasail.

Gwen went up first. Mark showed her how to put on the jacket and straps that would attach her to the parachute. He then spent the next ten minutes explaining to Sam how to open up the sail and run the rope line. Finally, Mark was back at the wheel of the boat and he yelled at Sam to let go of the sail. On his first try, Sam threw the sail and it opened up as the boat moved forward. Gwen’s feet lifted. Sam turned on the motorized tow rope ring and slowly Gwen drifted into the air. I waved at her and took some photos. Mark easily moved the boat along the Key West shoreline.

“You wanna drive?” Before he could change his mind, I was behind the wheel and asked him where he wanted me to go.

“See where that dark water is. Head that way.” I did and when we got there Mark turned off the motor. The water was dark because the area was filled with kelp. Gwen slowly sank from the sky. She yelled down to us.

“What are you doing?!?”
“Taking you for a dip!” Mark replied as he took over the boat’s wheel.

“Noooooo! Not in that nasty water!” Gwen began kicking her feet in hopes she would rise again as she dropped closer to the kelp covered water. Just before Gwen’s feet touched the water, Mark hit the throttle of the boat and Gwen popped back up into the air and she was sailing again. I laughed hysterically at the trick Mark just played.

“Just wait until your turn,” he said with a grin. Mark made a sweeping turn to get the boat back around and heading south. As we rode, Mark’s cell phone rang and asked me drive the boat again. It was another customer. He told them he would pick them up at the Marriott dock in 45 minutes. A few minutes later Sam reeled Gwen back to the boat. When she landed, she gave Mark a piece of her mind about dipping her into the kelp water.

“Oh, com’on. I was just having fun. That’s what Key West is all about.”

It was my turn to strap on the preserver and get hooked up to the sail. Again Sam threw the chute perfectly and it popped open as Mark moved the boat forward. I began my ascent slowly as Gwen took photos. It was high, very high. Even though it looked like the boat was moving fast, I felt like I was hardly moving at all; I simply floated above the water. In the distance I could see the outline of a large cruise ship heading into the Caribbean. Nothing but the sound of the wind as I sailed along the coast. Then Mark stopped the boat.

I didn’t see any of that “nasty” kelp water below me. Whew! My only worry was just how wet Mark was going to get me. I sank fast. I heard Gwen laughing from the boat. As my feet hit the water I was pretty sure I let out an embarrassingly girlish scream. Mark gunned the boat and I flew up again; I had been dipped up to my knees. All too soon my time was up and Sam reeled me into the boat. Now I knew why Mark said the word “awesome” all the time.

“Hey, we got a family to pick up next. You girls wanna stay on the boat and help us out?” he asked. He got a ‘hell yeah!’ as a response. “Awesome,” he said.

Mark whipped the boat around and we headed back to the dock to pick up a family of four from Texas; mom, dad and two sons, I guessed around thirteen and eight years old. Mark drove the boat out into the open water and asked me if I would straighten out the boat while he got the jackets ready. Mom and dad were going separately and the boys would go together. Gwen helped Sam gather up the parachute and get it ready for launch. With mom ready to go, Sam threw the chute, but it didn’t open. I pulled the boat forward while Gwen and Sam gathered it up again. Second time was a charm and we got mom up in the air. She even played the good sport when it was time for her dipping. Gwen chatted with the boys while I drove and the dad took photos. Then it was dad’s turn. While their dad flew up in the air, the younger of the two boys asked me if I had worked for Awesome Adventures a long time. Sensing his nervousness, I nodded my head.

“So you’ve done this before?” he said pointing gingerly toward his skyward father.
“All the time.”
“So it’s safe then.”
“Of course!”

With the two boys ready to go in the double parasail strap, they looked rather odd with the older brother being so much taller; his legs dangled down awkwardly while the younger boy kept his legs tucked up. Mom expressed a worry that their odd sizes would affect the parasail, but Mark assured her they would be fine. Gwen drove the boat for the boys and she made sure both got a big dunk when the time came. They laughed and hollered. We dropped the family off at the Marriott dock and when dad asked how much, Mark told him it was 40 dollars for the hour. He gave Mark three twenty dollar bills and thanked him.

“This is why I work in the Keys!” Mark said as he pocketed the money. With no more customers we drove the boat around the coast and got to know our shipmates. Mark owned the boat and he looked like he came right out of a Beach Boys song with his dark sunglasses, board shorts and pearly white smile. Although I guessed he was mid-30’s, he didn't act that age. The boat was how he made his living, simply driving up and the down the shores of Key West seven days a week waiting for customers. And if there were no customers?

“Who cares,” he said as he held his arms up to show off the spender of the coastal waters and the beautiful shoreline.

Sam was a dread-locked Australian who began traveling the U.S. three months ago with nothing but a backpack. Mid-20’s or so, he had made his way across North America from California. Sam said Key West was, by far, the best place he had been on his travels. After meeting Mark at a bar, he asked for a job.

“Isn’t it great to be on vacation and not at work?” Mark asked us. Before we could reply, he said, “Oh, wait. I AM at work!” He and Sam laughed as Mark’s cell rang with another customer.

This time it was two teenage girls. They were with their mom when we met them at the pier, but mom didn’t know how to swim and didn’t want to get on the boat. We took the girls out to sea and they sailed together in the dual strap. Again Sam had a little trouble with the chute so Gwen had to come to his rescue. I drove the boat. Once we got the girls in the air, they wouldn’t stop squealing. We stopped over the kelpy water and girls squealed louder as they dropped toward it. One girl was begging us not to dip her in the kelp. Mark ignored them and actually let them sit in the kelp for a second until they stopped whining. Then he told me to gun the motor and up into the sky they went. When their turn was over, they were all giggles and smiles as they came back onto the boat. We dropped them back off at the Marriott pier where mom was waiting.

While cruising the Atlantic Ocean, Mark saw a friend of his riding a jet ski. Bob was enjoying his weekend on the water. Mark waved him over to the boat. After proper introductions, Gwen begged him for ride, climbed on the back and off they went. Mark, Sam and I went to pick up another customer. After an hour, Gwen and Bob cruised up near the boat and with Gwen driving. She turned the handles sharply and the ski almost came to a dead stop as the back end whipped around. Bob was thrown clear of the ski and despite trying to hang on to Gwen, she managed to stay afloat still on the ski. We laughed at the sight of tiny, demur little Gwen able to throw an experienced jet skier like Bob right off.

Now my turn on Bob’s jet ski with Gwen driving Mark’s boat. We headed down the coastline of Key West and I weaved in and around all the boat traffic. I did a sweep to the Gulf of Mexico side just because I could, and then we headed back. Bob wanted to drive so we traded places and with his more advanced skills he jumped some of the ocean waves. We were airborne! Soon Mark’s boat was in the distance. Mark didn’t appear to have any customers and Bob was running low on gas, so it was time to drop me off.

“5 o’clock!” Mark announced that he was done for the day and turned on the boat’s radio to a reggae station. The four of us motored around the gulf side of Key West toward the marina so we could see the famous Key West sunset, but first, some food. With his cell phone, Mark called his favorite pizza place and ordered two pizzas and some beer. He told the pizza place he would meet them at Pier 13 in 20 minutes. Soon enough we headed to Pier 13 and there was the pizza guy, standing on the end of the dock with pizza boxes and a six pack of beer. Armed with sustenance, we again headed out into more open water, waving at the passengers on the evening booze cruise ships that had just left the marina. We danced on the front of the boat until Sam told us to check out the sky. The sun had disappeared behind a cloud and rays of light were spilling out from above and below. Then the sun reappeared below the cloud and the sky filled with pink, red and orange. The water glistened as the huge, orange orb fell behind the water. With the sun gone it was time to take the boat in.

Mark and Sam dropped us off at the Marriott pier where we had met them seven hours earlier. We paid for the parasailing and our share of dinner. Arrangements were made to meet them at a Duval Street pub later, but for some reason they never showed. Actually, a more accurate story was that we arrived too late and they got tired of waiting for us. Oh well. They had been perfect gentlemen all day on the boat and meeting them at the bar may have ruined their cavalier perception. So ended an Awesome Key West Adventure.
Sadly, Awesome Adventures is no long around, but there are many fun things to do in Key West. Visit for more info and some great web cams.