Day 0: Seattle, WA to Key West, FL - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

April 12, 2011

Day 0: Seattle, WA to Key West, FL

It's 5:45 in the morning. While I'm barely awake and trying to figure out if this is the earliest I've ever been up, the Transportation Safety Administration is already humming along in top form and putting on a well-choreographed dance. 50 or more officers blanket the security area, each of them wearing comfortable shoes, a blue shirt, and a small silver badge attached just to the left of their heart that lists their name (first only) and six-digit ID number. Every one of them looks ready and willing to protect the good people of America from deadly liquids and explosive laptops. As I wait in a winding line with a hundred others, a serious-sounding female voice calmly explains how the machine that takes pictures of your naked body won't give you cancer, that the pictures aren't saved, and that really, come on, what's there to worry about? But if you're still concerned, you have the ability to opt out and let a stranger check your underpants for a blasting cap by giving your nuts a friendly nudge.

I just take the left-most lane at SeaTac Airport's north security checkpoint and skip all of that. I've only been here twice this year but already know that they don't have any nudie scanners or uncomfortable pat-downs on that side. If you wanted to do something that caused a lot of damage to an airplane, I bet you'd probably know to go this way, too.

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The air in the plane is recycled and a little stale. The big guy next to me takes up way more of the arm rest than he should. My feet are freezing from cold air shooting from the air conditioning vent. The seat in front of me is almost in my lap. The cabin is full of people who seem like they'd rather be anyplace else. A few sit with their head thrown back and their mouth hanging open, because that's the best way they know how to deal with this.

It's easy to forget how amazing modern flying is. Look out your window: it's America, 35,000 feet below your ass cheeks. Traveling all the way across the country only takes part of a day. The sun's always out because you're above the weather. Crazy powerful engines and skinny, floppy metal wings work together to lift you off the ground, fling you through the air at 500 miles per hours, and then advanced electronics plop you and a group of grumpy strangers down right in the middle of a 150-foot wide strip of colorful pavement. And you can do all of this for less than $200. It's incredible. The flight from Seattle to Dallas is only notable for the sheer number of bad haircuts.

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The hair is much better on the flight to Miami. When I step out of the airplane door I'm met with a rush of heat and humidity, only to walk into the terminal 15 seconds later and freeze in the air-conditioned cool blasting from every vent, in all corners of the airport. I'm in South Florida in mid-April and my nipples are about to wear a hole through my t-shirt. But I'm finally starting to feel excited about what's to come. At this time tomorrow I'll be on the road.

High above Texas.
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Key West gives me a warm, sweaty hug as soon as I step off the plane. I disappoint the cab driver—a huge beast of a guy—when I tell him that I'm just staying for the night, that I haven't come here to party for a week or two.

"Aww, that's too bad, man. Tomorrow's Mechanical Bull Night, gonna be naked chicks, topless and shit!"

"Yeah? Where's that?"

"Cowboy Bill's, man. Naked navy chicks. It's awesome. You're missing out."

I tell him I'm sorry I have to miss it, but I don't really mean it.

"Man, I wonder how much period blood they have to clean off that thing. Oh man!"

(Awkward silence.)

"Oh, I'm sorry man, sorry about that, that was too far."

Welcome to Key West.

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About an hour later I make my way over to the place of my CouchSurfing hostess. Carolyn came to Key West from Philadelphia four-and-a-half years and speaks with an incredible Philly accent. She's a BMW-driving, Parliament-smoking, fun-loving woman who lives with Lucy and Roxy, two snorty, smoosh-faced, snaggle-toothed, aggressively friendly English Bulldogs. We sit on the back patio and push through a bottle of wine as she tells me about her recent experience hosting Ernesto, a 70-something Swiss guy who fell in love with her in less than a week's time, and then professed it to her in a five-page love letter he sent shortly after leaving. I promise her I won't do the same.

Thanks to the early start, three flights, and a stomach full of wine, I fall asleep only a few minutes after I hit the couch.

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