I am at presently on the balcony watching the sun set for the last time. Not the last time, but the last Caribbean time until the next trip, whenever that may be. Maybe family will want to get away in March. I’d be up for it.

Daughter will probably want to go look at colleges.

Man, the sun goes down fast these days.

I shouldn’t see it at all - I’m on the starboard side, and we’re heading south from Key West, to our final destination, which is North. Perhaps we’re making a wide swing to chew up some hours -

- and the sun is gone. A cloudless sky, a beautiful gradient from blue to pink to bright blue above. It would be almost spiritual if the guy in the next room wasn’t clearing his throat of brackish phlegm. And screeching his chair around. But you can’t avoid the screech; it’s part of the soundtrack of the balconies. Everyone thinks they’re alone out here, so no one cares care to moderate the squeaks or the slamming doors or conversations. (“What about the booze?” I heard one middle-aged-lady-voice say a few decks above. “Has anyone thought about that?”)

I’m mostly packed. I could take a few more days of this, to be honest, and that’s rare. It’s always sad when the DEPARTURE PACKET shows up in your box. The spell is broken. The cold world crooks a finger.

I hear that snow is due in Minnesota soon. There were rumors it has fallen already. Haven’t checked. Had internet and phone in Key West today, and texted a bit with Daughter: Scout got out two times. Otherwise all is fine.

Anyway, Key West: I’ve been there before, so I didn’t feel it necessary to spend hours in museums looking at small old things that belonged to dead people. Nor did I want to go to a bar and have a tropical drink. I got up early along with the rest of the ship; new immigration procedures require a passport check, and everyone had to go to the main dining room and show their Papers, after which you got a punch hole in your room card. Which sounds like something you could say ruefully: man, ain’t that a punch hole in the room card. After a minor breakfast - I had mere cereal, because I just couldn’t take another glorious breakfast of Everything - I went into town. We were on the Navy pier, not the one downtown. A trolley car took us in, the driver keeping up a practiced patter, laughing at her own remarks with a certain charming style, as if none of this had ever occurred to her.

   
   
   

 

I had a destination: the Kress store. It’s a long story. As a Northerner, I am fascinated by the K-store situation of yore - how Kresge had stores in my part of the world, and Mr. Kress had stores down south. The latter built beautiful buildings, and oftentimes the remaining Kress is still adorned with signs of its previous life. The last time I was here the Kress was something of a flea market, and the floor still had the original markings of its dime-store life.

The building is still there. It’s a CVS now. Not a trace inside.

One fine old building had signs for a film festival, and I walked inside; boring little museum devoted to Jose Marti, Cuban Dude. Two tables with people selling tickets or pamphlets.

Can I help you, said one of them with a rather interrogating inflection. I said I was just looking around, and wanted to add “did you know this town is a tourist destination? It’s true. Folks wandering all over town, curious about things.” To show what an interloper I was, walking in a door that had been propped open and had a sign taht said FILM FESTIVAL and TICKETS and other ways of saying "no trespassing," I took a picture of their stairs. Just like I owned the place.

Outside on the wall, an ancient emblem of pre-Castro Cuba:

 

 

I found an interesting Post Office / Customs building, with some brilliant 30s Tropical Moderne:

And this nifty structure. Guess the date of construction.

 

1950, and it was a Scottish Rite temple. All this is instructive, no? Key West an island like any other down there, but the cultural, political, and economic systems to which it is attached make all the difference.

One last stop: the creepy sculpture garden. Heads on plinths.

They were quite life-like. Too life-like. Too alive and very much dead.

Back to the ship. Endured a really really REALLY upbeat trolley driver who sounded like a bad FM DJ and told bad jokes and rattled off a practiced patter that grated on my ears for all its mechanical cheer. He was in the middle of one bad joke when the trolley turned a corner just in time to see a woman trip on the sidewalk and go sprawling, her hat rolling away with unintended comic perfection. Imagine doing that and having 20 people in a nearby vehicle suddenly shout ARE YOU OKAY?

She was okay.

Another cocktail party tonight, then dinner, then the last sad Crow’s Nest gathering. Last night was fascinating and fun, as they’ve been all trip long. Dinner had its moments. One of the guests was a close personal friend of Joan Collins, and I told her to tell her friend that I loved her in Star Trek. This earned a look of depthless incomprehension. I really don’t want to go down to the dining room again tonight, because I have reached the end of being On. I’ve said everything and I’m almost hoarse and my store of merriment is depleted. But the odd thing is, it’s instantly refilled when I sit down and we start again. I’ll see many of these people again at the end of next summer, with luck.

The first star just popped out. If I had to wish: at least one more cruise with Daughter. Oh, she has complained about how she felt alone sometimes on earlier cruises, being the Child without a cohort, but we had great family memories of our trips, of the delights of exploring the ship, heading off to get a coffee, exulting in the breakfasts (I sent her a picture of Ship Jam, since I always manage to come home with a few containers of Red Raspberry Ship Jam, and she responded Ship Jam! It’s shared memories like that you can never anticipate happening. Some of the ports I’m sure she’s forgotten, but Ship Jam? Forever.) There was always time ahead for more in those days, but even then I knew that it would come to an end. Hell, the next National Review cruise I’ll be 60.

There’s another star. It doesn’t care whether we see it. The ocean doesn’t care whether we miss its roar.

The man in the adjacent cabin just stood and spit into the ocean, which gives me a concluding sentence for this entry: at least I can say the wind is in my favor.

That's the end. Three days, and I covered it all!

Except I didn't. But that's still to come.

What's possibly left, you think? Simple: I stuck around instead of going right home, and that'll lead us to something this site has never discussed.

Swimming medals.