Key West sunset

KEY WEST— It is time for the annual migration of snowbirds. Houses are secured, SUVs are packed, and neighbors are waved farewell. Those fortunate enough to have a lifestyle that allows them to trade views of white snow for white sand are heading south.

The rest of us are left behind, envious, while these snowbirds (nix avis) head down Interstate 95 to Florida, often staying for several months.

Believe it or not, there are a few Florida natives that have reversed the trend and moved north. We’re the ones who are most envious because Yankee retirees are going to stroll our beaches, collect our sea shells, drink our Margaritas.

Dang it; why did we move?

There is a vaccination for winter, however. A concentrated blast of South Florida hedonism that carries through the long, cold months until June (when spring really arrives in Pennsylvania). And that’s a quick trip to Key West.

The southernmost city in the United States, closer to Havana than Miami, Key West is three miles wide by five miles long. It’s where U.S. Highway One begins. It once was the home to author Ernest Hemmingway and the hometown of singer Jimmy Buffett. You really don’t need more than three or four days in Key West, if you plan the trip well.

Day One, you arrive in Key West via airplane. For gosh sakes, don’t fly into Miami and then drive to the Keys. That’s a waste of time that could be better spent doing the “Duval Crawl.” The Crawl, by the way, is an ambitious venture down the main drag stopping in at every pub or bar, having one tropical drink after another, listening to live music and making new friends. A tradition in several bars is to leave a business card and wait – sometimes for years – for a “drunk dial.” That’s when a slightly sloshed person visiting the same bar notices your card and calls and you tell them to “have one for you!”

Day Two, you sleep off the Duval Crawl and around 1 p.m. or so, sneak into the hotel restaurant for a very light breakfast of coffee and toast, then sleep for a while at the swimming pool. When it’s dusk, you go back to Duval but this time you concentrate on the restaurants and the art galleries and watching the sunset at Mallory’s Pier.

Day Three, you take a boat trip or a plane ride to the Dry Tortugas for an afternoon of sightseeing and snorkeling. When you return to your hotel, sunburnt and exhausted, you shower, nap and then head for Duval Street and another evening of the Crawl. This time you limit yourself. Nothing to prove.

Day Four, if you’re still in Key West, you need to head back downtown and pick up presents for friends and family, grab lunch at the Conch Republic and continue down the marina to book a sailboat, sunset cruise. Don’t forget to pick up a small bottle of champagne and toast the most magnificent sunset in North America.

Day Five, catch the airplane home. Sigh.