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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

25 years ago this week

Twenty Five years ago this week I sat foot on the Island of Key West for the very first time. I had read about Key West a few years earlier in a magazine called "After Dark". Things were different back then. We did not have 24 hour per day news channels and travel channels to tell us about the world. We had magazines and books. The photos above are from the issue I read. (That's Randy from The Village People in the top photo. Those pics attracted my attention. I read the article and decided I must see for myself.

I drove down from Miami and thought if I didn't like Key West, I could return to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale for the second week of my vacation. When I got to Key West, I did what any red blooded American guy would do. I didn't read the map. I guessed which direction to take. I drove south along the ocean side and ended up in no man's land somewhere. I was really upset. I thought I had made a horrible mistake. Somehow I found Duval Street (again without aid of a map). Then I found the cross street where my guest house was located. I checked in and started to decompress. Within hours there was no stress at all. Like every other first time tourist I walked up and down Duval Street and some of the side streets taking in the still "beat" feeling that existed at that time. The town had not been gentrified the way it is now. Some places like Jerry Herman's two sisters houses on the corners of Fleming and Elizabeth were redone. But so many more houses looked like they were ready to fall down any day. The sidewalks were cracked and falling apart. When you walked down the sidewalks at night Palmetto bugs (dozens of them) would litter the sidewalks. The sidewalks are fixed and the bugs are gone. Thank God on both accounts.

Each day brought a new discovery. I met new friends at the guest house. Together we found great restaurants to enjoy and together created wonderful memories of one of my best vacations ever. I met some locals and got invited to a party at a really swank Casa Marina home. I attended Tea Dance at La Te Da. (They held Tead Dance on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons. The town was hopping!) I made the nightly trek to the COPA and the other bars that existed back then. There was a place called Michael's on Duval Street. The Old Plantation and another called Papillion were popular as well but now they are gone. The Monster had burned down a year or so before. So I only learned of it by legend. I made the pilgrimage to Atlantic Shores and was amazed at the mass of naked people, many college kids, and locals hanging out listening to loud disco music in the daytime. I'm not a party person, but I started thinking "I could live here." Then it became "I want to live here." It wasn't about the bars or the booze or the sun. It wasn't about the beautiful old houses or tall palm trees or the ocean. It was the way that the People that live in Key West relate to where they live and how they relate to each other.

It took me nine years of screwing around making goof-ball offers on real estate before I bought my first property. I was always trying to get the best deal. That got me no deal for nine years. Then I got lucky. Real lucky. I bought a property at an SBA auction in 1993 and outbid the others in attendance. And I moved to Key West the week before Christmas. So many great properties had slipped through my hands. I wasted nine years in the cold winter snows. Nevermore.

A few years ago I wrote an offer for an English couple that wanted to purchase a newly renovated two story carriage house on a small lane just off Eaton Street. That carriage house was on one of the very best of the best lanes. I delivered the offer that evening to the listing Realtor. My buyer called very early the next morning and left a voice message asking me to stop by their guest house. He said his wife had been up all night. Crying! I went over immediately. She started crying again. She said something about not wanting to come to Key West and walking up and down Duval Street every day. I told her locals don't go to Duval. Tourists do that. Locals have real lives. Some locals go to Duval Street to work. Some locals go there to party. A few unfortunate locals spend too much time there, but they are not the norm.

I was showing a couple around town the other day and the wife said "You really enjoy selling real estate, don't you!" And I said "Yes."

I enjoy my life so much in Key West. It's a small town with small town values when it comes to people but it's a big town when it comes to having lots of things to do on so many levels. If you are thinking of buying a place in Key West don't miss the present buying opportunity. Prices are low compared to years past and interest rates are still very low. Local banks are making loans to purchase single family homes. Please give me, Gary Thomas, a call at 305.766.2642 or e-mail me at Don't wait nine years like me. Life is too short to screw around over a few thousand dollars. I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

P.S. Trivia Question: What was the name of the rooftop restaurant at La Te Da (chinese that served drums of heaven chicken wings among other delectable foods)?


Anonymous said...

Beautiful blog Gary. If no one has said it yet, we love your blog, your views and your love of Key West. From a Conch who has been here forever, all I can say is, welcome home Gary - glad you made our island yours.

Anonymous said...

Those "drums of heaven chicken wings" were called La-La Wings on the menu.......

Gary Thomas said...

Thank you for the nice comments.

But what was the name of the rooftop restaurant? Anybody alive remember?

Old Timer said...

I went to that rooftop restaurant and I want to say it had a Key Westy name. But the brain cells carrying that info are long gone.... Pelican something? Key Lime something?

Ah: The Monster. There was a part of it that was outside, and when it rained, everybody just got wet and danced in the rain. Now THAT was sexy.

Anonymous said...

I tell you, those haircuts really went with those bikinis!


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Gary Thomas in a Nutshell

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Key West, Florida, United States
I first read about Key West in a magazine called "After Dark" sometime in the mid 1970's. But it wasn't until March 1984 that I made my first visit to the island that would become my home. I had two weeks for a vacation and reserved a room at Colours Guesthouse (now Marrero's Guest House) for one week. I thought that if I didn't like Key West, I could always go back to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale for the rest of my trip. But after a couple of days in Key West, that was no longer a consideration. But when I wanted to extend my stay for the extra week I found there was no room at the inn. The guesthouse owner did find me a room at LaTeDa, the infamous guesthouse/restaurant. That's a story I'll write another day. But those two weeks in Key West gave me the realization that I had found Paradise. Key West has been my home since 1993 and my only regret is that it took me so long to get here. I am a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties CRI. Let me help you find your new home or business in Paradise. Living in Paradise is not a slogan, it's a way of life.