Key Largo was the setting for and the name of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacallâs last film together. Bogeyâs ghost retired here, perhaps drinking a beer at the Caribbean Club, the âpoor manâs retreatâ that opened in 1938 and was used as a location for the film. At midmorning, itâs a mix of bikers, leather-skinned fishermen and two guys who look as if theyâre staying at the Yacht Club, their Vineyard Vines shirts a match for their pink skin.
Driving through the Keys, I pass island after island, as well as the famous Seven Mile Bridge. The ghostly Bahia Honda Rail Bridge comes into view in the distance. I think of the Keys travel book that Joy Williams wrote. She is best known for her fiction, but I picked up her 1987 history and guidebook and it set up my last leg of the trip nicely. Her words about the abandoned structure echo in my head â âit is said that Henry Flagler loved concrete with a passion,â and that the sheer size of the project proved too daunting for his young engineer at the turn of the century who âliterally worked himself to death on the project,â a year into construction.
I make it to Key West and pull up to a bungalow. Iâm greeted by Mark Straiton, whom I know as Cowboy Mark, a guy I met years ago somewhere on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He is an old friend, someone I made sure was the last person Iâd get to spend time with on my trip.
We were both younger and drunker when we first met. He wasnât an actual cowboy, as far as I knew (he is from Connecticut); thatâs just always been his name. Markâs New York City life saw him D.J.ing in bars that arenât around anymore. He looks like a hoodlum from the 1950s, all tattooed up, dressed head to toe in vintage denim. After so many nights closing down bars, Mark made his way down to Key West. Like so many before and…