We had never been to Key West, and we enjoyed its famous sights. But motel rates, even at the furthest point of the island, doubled on Christmas Eve, so we started for Orlando stopping in Key Largo.The Holiday Inn clerk evidently did not have authority to reduce rates even though the parking lot was empty, so we kept on looking. Just a little down the Overseas Highway on the Gulf of Mexico side was the Sunset Cove Motel.
We turned down the narrow road flanked by 1950s-era wood cottages. All along the lane were large ceramic animals. The last cottage on the right at the Buttonwood Sound water’s edge held the office.
We did get a break, however. We were given a room on the Sound, the only two-room suite and the only one on a second floor. And as we climbed the stairs, the large ceramic great blue heron above the door of the office moved — it was a huge real bird.We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon. We risked our marriage paddling a little boat — we both always want to be at the helm. We snorkeled. We relaxed. And in the evening, we watched a truly spectacular sunset from the comfort of a hanging wicker basket lounge-chair built for two — two lovebirds in a nest.
We celebrated Christmas at the Sunset Cove. Alie had unpacked a little fold-out paper Christmas tree and laid out our gifts to each other around it.Such memories are never duplicated. Nonetheless, twenty-five years later and again heading for Key West, when we saw the Sunset Cove Motel sign, we had to turn in. The cottages are the same, and the lane is still lined with ceramic animals.
The sign is the same but it is now called the Sunset Cove Beach Resort. Prices were outrageously high for such modest accommodations, but the clerk, a nice guy originally from Zimbabwe planning to move to South Africa, did have the authority to negotiate on a quiet mid-November evening, and he cut them about in half.He tried to put us back in the same room but it was occupied. So he gave us the former office, now a room with a picture window by the Sound.
The hanging basket-chairs are gone now, but there are still chairs by the dock to watch the sunset. The next morning I walked for breakfast a short way to Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen. It looked much like the place where we ate in 1988.
Breakfast is pretty much standard fare anywhere, but I was the first customer of the day and enjoyed a long conversation with the waitress. She had come to Key Largo a few decades ago, met her husband at Mrs. Mac’s counter, moved away for awhile and now was back with her husband, both finding their hearts lay in Key Largo.
Like many old roadside restaurants, the walls are decorated with license plates that regular customers brought from all over the world. There was even one from Yap. The waitress told me, the restaurant was the first stop for many Italian tourists. They flew each year into Miami, rented a car and headed south to the Keys for a vacation.I particularly liked the fact that many license plates were “vanity plates” whose letters sounded out a name or word. They even had fashioned license plates into shades for the lights above the tables.
One can’t “go home again,” and one can’t recapture a particular experience and place, but this little spot in Key Largo did an pretty good job freezing time for twenty-five years and more.