Time Traveler -The Oddities and Adventures of a Key West Bartender
Chapter 1 - The Dream
It wasn't as though he had any control over it. When the phenomenon started, he was asleep. That first time, when he woke, it seemed like such a vivid dream. On the other hand, it seemed like it was just too real, and, he didn't feel rested at all. As a matter of fact, he was quite tired! Odder than that, he felt the mild effects of alcohol from the night before, yet he hadn't drunk anything at all. In his quandary, the day went on and the memory was not at all like that of a regular dream that fades as the day and minutes.went on. It was so real. The people he met during the experience were so much in the flesh, as were the experiences. The other odd thing was that the “dream” occurred in the town he lived in, albeit many years prior. Here he was in the twenty-first century, but dream took place in the 1930's. It was so peculiar, bizarre even. If there ever was an appropriate word for it, Bizarre was indeed the correct word.
Key West. That was the town of choice five years ago. It was a small city on the outer limits of the U.S. an island town over one hundred miles out to sea. Curiously enough it’s a city you can drive to, island hopping across forty-five bridges that link the archipelago coral chain of islands known as The Florida Keys.
His name is Mark Straight and he has been around the world several times in his lifetime, approaching his fifth decade. He certainly was no green traveler. He had seen the good, the bad, and the evil and decided the bad and the evil were not his cup of tea. Key West offered the sanctuary he had been seeking. Key West wasn’t the real world. It was isolated and had a mentality of its own. The Keys in general, be it Key West, Key Largo, or The Dry Tortugas for that matter, had an entirely different way of life than the rest of the United States. Back in 1982, the island chain had actually seceded from the U.S. in a mock uprising. Declaring themselves independent, they coined The Conch Republic as the name for their brave new world. This was a cornerstone, long overdue, that reflected the independence of the islands and the very different mentality that they encompassed. In many cases, if something could be warped into a farce, the Conch Republic is where it was found. Laughter was the order of the day and this is what Mark craved at this juncture in his life. He moved and settled in the capital of The Conch Republic, Key West, five years ago.
At this stage of the game, he knew the island like the back of his hand. He learned all of the insights through the tradition of experience. For instance, he knew Key West is a town where you drive your car only out of necessity. Parking is too much of a nuisance. No, you generally either walk or ride a bike., unless you’re hauling goods, the vehicle stays parked.
Consequently, one tends to read between the lines as far as the geographical nuances go: when one walks or rides a bike innuendos pave the path. The town is loaded with nooks and crannies that you would never see driving in a car. As a matter of fact, even riding a bike, you tend to miss about fifty percent of what you would see walking. While Mark did a good deal of bike riding, he also did a lot of walking. He knew this town inside out.
Key West is a town; unlike its northern neighbor Miami, it preserves its past. Miami pledges its allegiance to the bulldozer and its trusty assistant, the wrecking ball. Key West has ordinances set out that forbid structures being torn down. It is permissible to restore older buildings, and the funny thing about this is that the restored versions tend to be much more opulent than the originals. It's all good, albeit there being more renovations rather than restorations, but the point, is that the town today looks quite the same as it did over one-hundred years ago.
In his peculiar sleeping experience, Mark found himself knowing points of interest and living where he currently lived, albeit in a different setting. Unlike regular dreams, there was no jumping from one point to another. If he was going from one point to another, there was time and traveling involved, just as in real life. The oddest thing was that it seemed exactly like real life.
Mark, in conscious life, works as a bartender making exotic drinks at an old, classic, Victorian bar in a mansion which dates from the 1840's, The Side Car. He also works in another bar which specializes in local beers from around the world, as well as wine and cigars, The Cork and Stogie.
As he rode his bike to work to the Victorian bar that morning, all he could think about was the very peculiar dream he had. The more he thought about it, the more puzzling it seemed. He actually had seen this very Victorian mansion in the dream, however, in the 1930's, it was a home and office of a well-known doctor.
The dream started with Mark tending bar at a restaurant on lower Duval Street, the main street in Key West, called The Victoria Restaurant. When the dream started, Mark was tending bar and mixing, fittingly enough, an Old Fashioned. As he turned to his left, he found himself facing his fellow bartender, Freddy. Freddy was quite busy vigorously shaking a whiskey sour.
“Got yours done? Glades is ready” questioned Freddy.
“All set. Here you go” replied Mark, putting his drink on Glades' tray. It was odd indeed. Suddenly, there he was in a rush hour, in the midst of mixing cocktails, yet thinking nothing of it at all. There was a job to be done. At that moment, all he knew was that he was mixing an Old Fashioned and the waitress was waiting. In this dream, he also knew everyone well.
Glades smiled. She looked like one of the Andrews Sisters. Her hair was up in a bon vivant style. Her outfit was much more like an old time nurse's ensemble. White, with red ruffles, It appeared to be full of starch and possess the flexibility of cardboard. Mark marveled at how quickly she scooted from the bar with the drinks in that stiff contraption she was wearing.
A "contraption" was the right word, as well. After she delivered the drinks to the table she was serving, she approached the kitchen, stopped and bent over to pick up a stray napkin, Mark watched her and was amazed to see what appeared to be the equivalent of a suspension bridge with straps going this way and that, under her dress. She looked back to see him looking at her in amazement, then quickly composed herself and rushed into the kitchen, nervously pulling her compact out, to check her makeup and lipstick, as she whisked through the swing doors of the bustling kitchen.
Mark didn’t realize it, but that was how she wanted it to look. She was looking behind her to see if Mark was still looking. He was, and she smiled to herself. Curiously, Mark found Glades to be indeed quite attractive. He even had a hankering to try out as a Flying Melinda high-wire act, and go for a swing on Glades’ trapeze.
Glades Valdez was twenty-six. Her parents came from Cuba before she was born after she was conceived in Cuba. She would joke “Hecho en Cuba, nacido en U.S.A.”. Which translates into “Made in Cuba, born in the U.S.A.”. She spoke Spanish with a Cuban accent and English with what is known as a Conch accent. Throughout the Florida Keys, the people born on the islands call themselves “Conch's”, a throwback from the original settlers who came from the Bahamas and referred to themselves after the crustacean prior to emigrating to the Keys.
The Conch accent is a unique one. It sounds a lot like if Brooklyn mated with Alabama. Glades and Fred had Conch accents. Mark, however, was different, he was from Connecticut.
“ I think that Glades has a thing for you, Bubba,” said Freddy. The colloquial term, “Bubba” being the term for, someone who was “one of them”.
“Seriously?” replied Mark.
“Uhm-Humm! No doubt about it. Hey, you want to hit The Blind Pig after we get off?”
“The Blind Pig? Sounds great I could use a cocktail made for me for once”
The Blind Pig was actually its old name from when it was a speakeasy, but that was only a few years before. In this town, old names are hard to shake and new names take a while to settle into the place. Mark looked at a paper a patron left on the bar. March 16th, 1935 it was the date.
“1935? How did I get here?” Mark was thinking. He looked around and immediately knew where he was. He was in Sloppy Joe's, but it looked a bit different. There were no fish on the walls. There was the men's room where the kitchen had been. The tables were all covered in white linen with matching napkins. When he looked up he saw the sign “Victoria Restaurant”.
Every now and then one realizes that they are in a dream, in the dream. This was now dawning on Mark
“This is one hell of a dream,” he was thinking. Then, he thought “I'm just going to roll with this. It could be fun!” Indeed, it was one of those very rare occasions where one actually realizes they are, in fact, in a dream.
He and Freddy finished up and, unlike a dream, it was as though it was in real time. It took an hour to clean and set up the bar for the next day. The bottles were all an older style, ornate and heavy, with beautiful labels. The fixtures were also heavy and quite stylish; and when he turned on the water, unlike a regular dream, he could feel it.
When they left, Freddy subtly leads them in a brisk walk across Duval Street to the other side and the corner of Greene Street. Arriving at the corner, Mark stopped dead in his tracks. He stared at the sign on the bar hanging over the sidewalk.
Freddy, impatient, took a few more steps and turned around and said “Hey! What are you stopping for? Let's get a beer!”
Mark looked at the sign. He knew the place as Captain Tony's, but there it was, plain as day, reading “Sloppy Joe's”. Everyone in town today knows that Captain Tony's was the original Sloppy Joe's. Sloppy Joe's is an institution, after all. It had been in this location from 1933 to 1937. Before that it was the speakeasy known as,The Blind Pig.
They walked through the open French doors. The layout was different than he knew it. Yes, there was the hanging tree growing through the middle of the bar, however, the bar was along the left wall, with booths in the back. In what he knew as the pool room, there was a dance floor instead. The sign read “The Silver Slipper”. Couples were dancing to Cuban music of the era, blaring out of a phonograph cone speaker from a 78 record.
The bar was dark. The only light seemed as though it was from the street lights outside.
“Hey! Grab us a couple of Royals from Skinner!” hollered Freddy, as he hurried to the men's room. Mark had seen a local beer named Royal back at the Victoria, so Skinner must be the bartender.
Skinner was a large black man, no less than three hundred pounds. He had a big grin on his face, yet at the same time, you could tell he kept a little bit in reserve, just in case. In a bar like this, that “just in case” most likely happened several times a day.
Mark walked up to the bar casually, but at a deliberate pace. “Hey Skinner, how are you?”
Skinner replied “Alright! You Mark? What will you be having tonight?” It was funny because everyone in this dream knew him, and he felt like he knew them.
“Could I get two Royals?”
Skinner reached down into the ice box and pulled out two cans of Royal beer. They were curious cans of the era, with a cone shaped top and a screw cap. Skinner opened them both and set them on the bar.
“That'll be twelve cents, Mark,” uttered Skinner
Surprised, Mark laughed shook his head and asked “Twelve cents?” Beers started at five dollars back in the Twenty-First-Century.
“Yeah, they went up a penny from last week.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a buffalo nickel and a mercury dime. “Here you go, keep the change”.
Skimmer smiled, nodded and then moved on to the next customer.
Freddy came back and Mark said to him “Price of beer is up to six cents. I got this round, but the next one's on you”
“Six cents! What's the world coming to?” Freddy exclaimed half in surprise half in jest.
“Just think, by the Twenty-First century they'll probably be five bucks each,” Mark said in a little tongue-in-cheek joke to himself.
“Can you imagine? No, that'll never happen, Five bucks a beer! HA HA HA!” replied Freddy, his Conch accent heavy and his a laugh loud.
Frederick “Freddy” Carpenter. He was a little younger than Mark, at thirty-three. He stood around five-seven, and maybe one hundred and forty-five pounds. He was full of energy, and easily excited about things in general. Born to a well to do and long established family in town, he nonetheless went out on his own instead of going into the family business. He loved his family but loved his independence more. He loved a good bar and this was his favorite. Freddy took a hard swig of his Royal, directly from the can. “Ahhhh! Now that's what I've been waiting for!”
To Mark's sophisticated palate, this Royal beer was actually a decent beer. It was an all malt pilsner product brewed in Key West. Not bad. He and Freddy joked for a bit drinking a few beers when Freddy nudged Mark and used his eyes to point to the side. Taking his cue, Mark turned around to see Glades and Erica, one of her girlfriends, walking through the front door.
They went directly for Mark and Freddy and gave them a friendly greeting. The girls ordered Manhattans, and the conversation took off from there. They first started talking about their common bond, working at the Victoria. Co-workers, customers, order mix ups. Mark thought that in all these years, the restaurant business never changes. After a bit, Mark suggested to Glades “Let's go cut a rug at the Silver Slipper!”. Glades thought it was a great idea, agreeing enthusiastically.
The Silver Slipper was off to the side and a couple of steps down. As things turned out, Mark was quite a dancer, as was Glades, and they made quite a hit with the crowd on the dance floor. It got to the point that on one energetic number the couples on the dance floor went off to the side and clapped to the rhythm of the beat of the music, cheering on Mark and Glades as they burnt the carpet to everyone’s enjoyment.
It was a great evening. When they stopped dancing they found that Freddy and Erica were no longer in the bar. He offered Glades another drink, but he had run out of change, so he pulled out his wallet and found it with several dollar bills from a different era than he was accustomed. He gave Skinner one and Skinner gave him the change, the beer, and the cocktail.
After a couple more libations, Mark offered to see Glades home. She didn't live far away, just a few blocks down on Fishbone Lane, which ran between Eaton and Caroline Streets. He knew it as Pecan Lane. It wasn't far from where the shrimpers hung out, and that was no place for a girl to go at night. She was a few blocks west of there, but Mark thought it best to walk her home.
Shrimpers were about as rough a crew as one would find. They’d just as quickly shake your hand with a warm greeting, as they would knocking your lights out. The latter happened when they were drinking. It was nighttime and a shrimper’s bar, the Bucket Of Blood, was just a couple of block’s down from where Glades lived. Mark would see her home at this hour.
Glades had a room above the corner store, which had a rear entrance. She jokingly called it The Pelican’s Nest. When they got there, Glades said “I know you are acquainted with a lot of old things. Collectible antiques and haberdashery-like things. I inherited this brooch and maybe you can give me some advice on it?”
“I'd be happy to. When would you like me to look at it?”
“Well, you're here right now. I know it's late, but it will only take a few minutes”
“Sure,” Mark said in a matter of fact fashion.
“Good! Come on, let me show you!” she said happily.
They went inside to review the brooch. It was classic and ornate. Mark was guessing it may have been around one hundred years old. He was impressed with it. Gauging it against five cent beer, he guessed it may be worth around twenty-five dollars. Glades was standing next to him and he felt her hand touch his back and slowly work its way up, and back down. He looked at her, embraced her and passionately kissed her.
When Mark started heading for home it was almost five in the morning. He arrived back at his apartment on United Street. The furniture was entirely different, however. The apartment was largely the same as it remained to be in the Twenty-First Century, even with the refrigerator, stove, and fixtures being different. He reached in his pocket and put the change on the nightstand next to the bed. He hung his shirt in the closet on metal hangers and draped his pants on the chair next to the bed, as he's always done.
As he climbed into bed, he thought to himself “What a weird dream I’m having,”. All of this was unlike anything else he'd ever experienced. It was all so real, and the timing was so accurate. Plus, he could smell things like the cigarette smoke at The Victoria Restaurant, the musky atmosphere at The Blind Pig/Sloppy Joe's and Glades’ French perfume. Then again, the sensations of making love to Glades were so real. However, he was very tired. Sleep came quickly, in only a matter of seconds.
If this caught your attention, there are twenty-nine more chapters which follow, where you can see where and who Mark Straight's adventures take him to! As of this writing, the book has twenty-two five star ratings.
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Christopher R. Rehm
("Key West Chris")
("Key West Chris")